COLUMNS

  • Here Comes the Son

    AS A THEATER PRACTIONER who has participated in the presentation of work at major museums in New York City and Europe, I’m no stranger to how the art world loves “hybrid” works of performance, which usually means the poor medium gets run through the blender of conceptualism in the name of some opaque inquiry, only to be spat back out in a so-called novel gesture. Reductions of theater to “performance” are often also thin, begging the question: How does an art practice grow when the porous social exchanges that feed its makers emotionally and aesthetically have been so utterly misappropriated by

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  • Tell It Like It Is

    STATISTICS TELL US THAT, at any given time, someone in our immediate vicinity has been raped—someone in our classroom, our office, someone ahead of us in line for coffee, or next to us on the subway. Which means, necessarily, that someone in our immediate vicinity has committed rape. We just prefer not to think that way, not to put the verb in the active tense, to consider that anyone—say, a fellow audience member watching Adrienne Truscott’s (Still) Asking For It on a Monday night—might have committed sexual assault. That would make rape a normal thing to do.

    Which it is, as Truscott forcefully

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  • Dancing in the Dark

    “GOD TOOK NO PLEASURE IN HER.” A nod or some form of unbidden recognition ran through me. She was made to die, or allowed to die; in either case, she refused her fate, punching through wet earth from grave toward unaccommodating sky. Obstinate, the hand could be mastered only by the one who had borne it; the mother was swift and unhesitating with the rod—and so the buried girl stopped moving for good. 

    This story, The Willful Child, by the Brothers Grimm, haunts Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody), 2018. Water Will is the third in a trilogy of stage works, each of which wrestles with one color

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  • Round and Round

    HOW AM I THIS I? So asks composer and playwright Michael R. Jackson’s brazen and brilliant game changer A Strange Loop, a “Big Black and Queer-Ass American Broadway Show” that’s as thrilling and excruciating as having an existential crisis in a hall of mirrors. At its center is Usher (the sublime Larry Owens), who works as an usher in a Broadway theater while struggling to write a self-referential musical called A Strange Loop, about a man named Usher who works as an usher in a Broadway theater while struggling to write a self-referential musical called A Strange Loop. The title, he explains in

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  • Butch Chasers and Femmes Fatales

    I ARRIVE TO SEE BAR DYKES at the Flea just a few minutes before 7 PM on a Friday. I spot Becca Blackwell and their best friend Casey ambling toward the theater from an unremarkable Tribeca watering hole; Jennifer is waiting inside with the tickets. Tanya texts me—“hold the curtain!”—and I can only guess what special dose of hell the MTA is serving her this evening. Returning from a quick visit to the all-gender bathroom, Becca excitedly informs us that bottles of wine are going for twenty dollars at the lobby bar. It’s a forgone conclusion that two will be purchased, and drunk, before the play

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  • Forbidden Love

    ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the LGBT Center on West Thirteenth Street, at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, Sebastián Castro Niculescu stands in teacherly repose next to a large screen. An academic goth of indeterminate age, she begins to introduce her performance, Tired Selena, by gently bemoaning the heat of the room. She gives us permission to do what we must to survive our enclosure and assures the crowd that she herself will only get shinier over the course of the next hour. Appreciative titters travel over the small audience that has gathered here, although I’m doubtful anyone will

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  • VEILED MEANING

    SINGULAR BEINGS LIKE THE DANCER, artist, and poet Paul Swan (1883–1972) are best approached with curiosity rather than a firm thesis. Those whose work has fallen out of favor—or whose tastes were out of step with their times—are often burdened with narratives of failure, of irrelevance, which anyone who understands the unpredictable values of art should dismiss outright. As Jack Smith, one of the great reader-recuperators of culture, wrote in his bravura encomium “The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez” (1962–63): “A highly charged idiosyncratic person (in films) is a rare phenomenon

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  • CROWD CONTROL

    IN 1792, Robert Barker, the Irish painter and inventor, exhibited a 360-degree view of London as seen from the roof of Albion Mills, a flour mill roughly five hundred feet west of where Tate Modern now stands. His “panorama” and others like it were technological marvels, popular attractions that rendered sweeping landscapes—both foreign and domestic, historical and contemporary—from the standpoint of an all-seeing visitor, the sublimity of the ungraspable world translated for ready capture by the centered individual. London from the Roof of the Albion Mills triumphed in Leicester Square before

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  • Open Access

    I VIVIDLY RECALL participating in a workshop hosted by Park McArthur and Constantina Zavitsanos four years ago in Glasgow as part of “We Can’t Live Without Our Lives,” the seventh episode of an annual festival put on by the political arts organization Arika. Their discussions of “access intimacy” based on Mia Mingus’s insight that the body should be treated as a “medium through which we can become one another’s means” profoundly shaped not only my art but also the way I relate to and care for my chronically ill mother.

    A related three-day festival held in mid-April at Performance Space New York,

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  • Nice Troy

    NORMA JEANE BAKER/MARILYN MONROE: a well of sadness/a siren of the silver screen. “War creates two categories of persons,” wrote poet and translator Anne Carson in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy. “Those who outlive it and those who don’t. Both carry wounds.” Stardom also splits one into two—a celebrity, a person—and like war, advances and succeeds on the brute power of the myths that fuel it. (Few have ever pillaged this world defending unadorned fact.) And although it is true that a persona is not a war, it is also true that Norma Jeane didn’t survive the bombshell.

    This is the Nile and I’m a liar.

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  • All Falls Down

    YVONNE RAINER ONCE QUIPPED that, if she invented running, then Steve Paxton invented walking. At the opening of this major retrospective, “Drafting Interior Techniques” at Culturgest in Lisbon, Paxton walked through the exhibition space clutching a hand-held camera. We followed, watching him walk around, watching him watch and film himself on projected documents around us. The observance of others and the performance of the everyday are governing principles of much of Paxton’s work, evident in the very first room of the exhibition, which is dominated by an elongated projection of Waiting, Walking,

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  • Live After Death

    IN THE LOBBY OF THE KITCHEN, a small black table offers tiny plastic cups of clear alcohol—wine or liquor I can’t be sure, and I don’t actually know the color of absinthe, but it seems like an appropriately gothic choice for this event—a staging of Anohni’s SHE WHO SAW BEAUTIFUL THINGS, advertised as “a two-act surrealist and absurdist drama containing music, painting, video and performance.” I imagine the preshow drink as ritualistically endowed with a kind of ceremonial magic useful for conjuring up the past. A merch table offers, among other staples, vinyls of Anohni’s music, which I first

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