ArticlesA Review of Renee Taylor’s “My Life on a Diet”

(This review was originally published in Manhattan with a Twist on July 27, 2018.)

On the night I saw Renee Taylor’s one-woman show “My Life on a Diet,” my plus-one texted me ahead of time to ask if she should “save some calories” for a drink or a snack after the performance. “Trying to adhere [to my calorie budget] as much as possible from July-August,” she explained.

She was referring to a meal plan that she’s been attempting, with various successes and plateaus, to adhere to for several years, involving eating almost anything she wants in small portions with an eye on the number of calories in each meal. It’s a lifestyle plan I’ve struggled with, finding more success and satisfaction in basing most of my meals around plants, reserving fatty indulgences to one or two meals a week, and drinking eleven glasses of water a day. (Eight is for amateurs.)

While I watched Taylor recount her life as a “diet junkie,” sharing various meal plans she’s tried throughout the years to make herself fit a thinness standard expected of Hollywood actresses, I was reassured by how reasonable our own meal plans were.

As an actress and a writer, Renée Taylor has never had the luxury of relying on charm and humor alone, but both charm and humor shine in her retelling of important parts of her life, punctuated by a slideshow of images. Sometimes these images are pictures of herself in various stages of her career, of her delightfully fame-seeking parents, and other famous performers she knew over the years. Sometimes the slides show the different diets she and her colleagues have tried, and she describes some of the amusing and disturbing side effects of, say, eating nothing but grapes for several days. (And that’s one of the less restrictive diets mentioned during the show.)

The revelation of each list (and which celebrity followed which diet) soon becomes a predictable part of the show, but we still wait in equal parts anticipation and dread to see the specific details of each set of guidelines for disordered eating. Taylor doesn’t show any bitterness, or even mild snark, about the pressures put on her and her fellow working actresses to be impossibly thin. She approaches her story from the perspective of a woman settled in her career, happy in her longtime marriage and creative collaborations with co-writer Joe Bologna, and old enough where restrictive diets and beauty and thinness standards no longer apply to her.

While “Diet” uses different celebrity meal plans as a framing structure, the show is about much more than eating habits. Taylor’s anecdotes about her family and colleagues in the entertainment industry reveal more than eighty years of interactions with larger-than-life people, Taylor herself included. Occasionally, these anecdotes are slightly meandering and seem to lose the plot, but sometimes they’re the best part of the show. Her stories about one particular actress are touching, revealing the gentle and insightful side of the legend we know as Marilyn Monroe. Taylor imbues each one of her “characters” with this humanity, and the result is a lovely way to spend with the performer I first knew as Sylvia Fine from The Nanny.

My Life on a Diet can be seen at the Theatre at St. Clement’s on 423 W 46th St for a limited 6-week engagement.

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ArticlesReview: Gay Pioneers and Preservationists in “The Pattern at Pendarvis”

Photo credit: Dennis Cahlo

(This review was originally published in Manhattan with a Twist on July 24, 2018.)

Straight people have a tendency to view gay people as breakers of tradition, or rebels against the status quo. Whether this perspective manifests itself in bigotry and discrimination or in a positive appreciation of gay culture, it effectively categorizes gay people as “other.” With their vibrant subculture, they are seen by straight people as changing or challenging tradition.

Gay people are rarely portrayed as preservers of tradition, which makes The Pattern at Pendarvis so remarkable. An understated drama playing through the New Dog Theatre Company at Streetsigns Center for Literature and Performance, the play is adapted and fictionalized from interviews with Edgar Hellum, a curator who helped restore the homes of Depression-era migrant Cornish miners in Wisconsin. Edgar (a wonderful Lawrence Merritt) recounts his memories working and living in Pendarvis, one of the restored houses, and his life with his partner, Bob (historically, Robert Neal).

In this context, “partner,” is a loaded word with more than one meaning, a nuance that interviewer Rich (Gregory Jensen) is as eager to explore as the head of Pendarvis historical society Norm (David Murray Jaffe) is to obscure it. As Edgar shares his wistful memories and amusing anecdotes about Pendarvis and Bob, Rich sits with pad and paper in hand, at the edge of his seat in the admiring posture of a man interviewing a role model, while Norm sits forward just as upright, ready to stop the interview if the subject wanders too much into the area of Edgar and Bob’s unconventional relationship. Merritt has the lion’s share of dialogue in the first half of the play while Jensen and Jaffe have to communicate mostly through body language; they do so admirably well, creating dramatic (and some light comic) tension with their posture and facial expressions.

Edgar’s monologue is accompanied by etchings and drawings of Pendarvis projected on the back of the stage in monochromatic light, creating a visual reference point for his stories while casting a shadow of memory, an excellent set and lighting design by Daniel Ettinger and Joseph Amodei. A play that goes into great detail about its description of a setting while taking place entirely within a man’s living room shouldn’t work so well, but it does.

The major accomplishment of The Pattern in Pendarvis is how Edgar’s life story comes across as extraordinary and ordinary all at once, and how each character views his work in preserving the culture of a small, working-class American town. Rich is eager to portray Edgar as a pioneer, a role model for other gay men. Norm would prefer no attention be called to Edgar’s sexuality at all, seeing it as an aberration in an otherwise admirable man. Edgar, meanwhile, is grateful for the opportunity to talk about Bob, whom he misses and loves, but doesn’t want too much attention paid to his “sex life,” seeing it as unimportant in the greater story of Pendarvis or his life in general. He rejects being categorized as an “other,” whether for positive or negative reasons.

Written with great affection and care by Dean Gray, The Pattern at Pendarvis is a play whose effect sneaks up on you slowly. At first, it seems like a pleasant enough way to spend eighty minutes, but it gradually becomes something special, and concludes with a beautifully understated ending that respects the nuance that came before.

The Pattern at Pendarvis is running through August 5, 2018 as part of SubletSeries@HERE, on 145th Sixth Avenue (entrance on Dominick Street).

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ArticlesReview: A Colorful Romance in “First Love”

Photo credit: Monique Carboni

(This review was originally published in Manhattan with a Twist on June 25, 2018.)

First Love, currently playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre, takes place in the surrealist world of Magritte, where a young woman (a magnetic Taylor Harvey) wears a top hat that appears in many of the Belgian painter’s pieces and smokes a pipe reminiscent of the one featured in “The treachery of images.”

But a background in art history isn’t necessary to appreciate the charm of First Love. The stage design, with set pieces painted in colors so bright that they seem to have been dipped in liquid candy, creates a world with a slightly altered reality. The characters can have lengthy conversations about the nature of romance with stylized, lovingly crafted dialogue by playwright Charles Mee, that’s sometimes hard to imagine coming from the mouths of real human beings who aren’t professional writers. On this brightly colored stage, where slightly fantastical elements come into play but the emotions are always real, Harold (Michael O’Keefe) and Edith (Angelina Fiordelissi) can be simultaneously analytical and poetic without suspending disbelief.

The premise of the play is simple: two people meet and fall in love, both for the first time in their lives. It’s a classic meet-cute with a twist, because the protagonists are both much older than the typical leads in a romantic comedy. Harold and Edith are in their sixties. They’ve both been married before – Harold more than once, and has had children – but Edith shares that she’s never truly been in love until now. Harold never repeats that sentiment, but it’s implied that he feels the same way, and that’s exactly what terrifies him. Their love story develops under the eye of the Young Woman who takes on many forms as a waitress, a flower seller, and mostly a Cupid figure who observes their romance with an amused eye, sometimes intervening to help them. (She’s noticeably absent when conflict arises between them.)

As an independent woman who has lived an adventurous life with few regrets, Fiordelissi shines as Edith in the flush of new love, and immediately wins the audience to her side in her openness and spirit. O’Keefe has the harder job as Harold, who is far more beaten down by life, and sometimes speaks so harshly to Edith that we’re left wondering what exactly she sees in him. Occasionally, it’s hard to tell whether his performance is detached, or if Harold the character is detached, forcing himself to hold back emotion to keep himself from being hurt again. That said, few actors can portray a scene of a man beating up an inflatable kiddie pool in a fit of petulance, followed by a teary monologue that opens a window into his pain, with all of the humor and heartbreaking gravity that the scenes require.

First Love runs just under ninety minutes and is a play that feels like it doesn’t know how to end. I could have used ten more minutes to resolve the story, or at least get a peek at how, or if, Harold and Edith could manage to build a life together. Perhaps this feeling is another part of the mystifying nature of romance – are we ever really ready for a love story to end?

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ArticlesReview: the Beautiful Intensity of Female Friendships in “Let’s Get Ready Together”

Photo credit: Ashley Garrett

(This review was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on June 5, 2018.)

Let’s Get Ready Togetherwritten by Lizzie Stern and directed by Lily Riopelle, is a story about the friendship between three young women navigating their first semester of college. It is a story about daughters separated from their mothers for the first time, and the young women’s need for continued closeness with their mothers, conflicting with their desire for independence. It is a story about the way women talk with one another and past each other, and how the need to be heard can clash with the responsibility to listen.

It is an ambitious play, exploring multiple layers of different relationships in only ninety minutes’ time, capturing essential elements of the college experience in a way that leaves the audience feeling as though they’ve been transported back to their own dorm room.

An early scene depicts the three main characters (Ella, Nina, and Clara) taking part in an RA-mandated “getting to know you” game: Two Truths and a Lie. Within minutes, the young women (played by Rachel B. Joyce, Marieta Carrero, and Arielle Goldman) lay out some of their deepest insecurities and fears with buoyant energy. They come from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, but their relief in sharing their secrets creates an instant bond between them.

This bond carries them through the social challenges universal for college freshmen – navigating parties, fretting about Parents’ Day, negotiating new romantic and sexual experiences, creating the perfect BFF selfie – until a hate crime on campus upends their relationship. Nina, suddenly, can no longer focus on the day-to-day college experience or even her declared major (she’s the only one of her friends who has one), because an ethnic slur carved in a dining hall table has shaken her to her core. She can’t find comfort in her new best friends, who care deeply about her but can’t understand the depth of her pain. The differences between the characters, once a complementary force in their friendship, are thrown into focus and become a source of interpersonal and internal conflict.

Most of the drama takes place in the middle of a dorm room in the center of the small stage. The room sometimes belongs to Ella, sometimes to Nina, and sometimes to Clara. The fluid way in which the room becomes one character’s room, and then another’s, highlights the universal experience of being a confused first-year student, while simultaneously giving their individual struggles room to grow. Ella is secure in her sexual identity but uncomfortable with exploring sexual pleasure. Nina, in addition to finding her place as a first-generation Latina student on a white-dominated New England campus, tries to balance her excitement of pursuing her lifelong dream and her homesickness for her mother. Clara struggles to manage her social anxiety and explore the confusing identity of being a Jewish woman in America (declaring once, innocently and a bit defensively, “I’m Jewish – I’m not that white!”).

The last scene between Nina and her mother (Ruth Aguilar) feels a bit abrupt, as though the play doesn’t quite know how to end. Perhaps this is intentional to show how little of life can be resolved after two months of college. Or maybe the play is just reluctant to say goodbye to these complex, beautifully crafted characters portrayed by a universally strong cast. I was left wanting more time with Ella, Nina, Clara, and the other women in their lives. I wanted to see the people they would become at the end of their first semester. Anyone who goes to The Tank for the run of Let’s Get Ready Together is likely to feel the same way.

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ArticlesReview: Collaborative Energy Shines in “Martyrs”

Photo by Theo Cote

(This review was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on May 8, 2018.)

Martyrs, a new play at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club written by Romana Soutus, raises a question regarding plurals. The press release and website advertise the play as “a convent slumber party turned upside down as tensions rise and relationships erupt. Cats and Kittens let you in on midnight whispers between sisters.”

The play itself has three actresses (Lindsay Rico, Kayla Jackmon, Madison Fae) as the Cats, the leaders of the group of women gathered in a space that looks like a comfortable room in the midst of an underground bunker surrounded by barbed wire. Six actresses play their respective Kittens, younger women who look to their Cats for wisdom, affection, and nourishment of the mind and soul.

In the program, the characters are listed as “Cat 1, Cat 2, and Cat 3,” and the same format is used for the six Kittens. Yet the play leaves a question in the audience’s mind that is never answered – are there nine women in this bunker, or two? Are the Cats three separate women or three sides of the same person?

When a Kitten slaps one Cat in the face in an act of anger and defiance, all three Cats react to the pain. If a Cat asks a Kitten a question, more than one might answer. But every Cat and Kitten uses the word “I,” not “we,” when referring to herself, and when Cat 2 tells the story of Creation, one Kitten eagerly adopts the role of the Serpent, three other Kittens listen with varying levels of interest, and two turn their heads and fall asleep during the performance.

The three Cats also have clearly defined personalities. Rico’s Cat 1 is a fierce general, the clear leader of the three, managing to be both cold and passionate at the same time. Jackmon’s Cat 2 is the most maternal and warm, inviting her brood of Kittens to share her experience. Fae’s Cat 3 seems least prepared for the responsibilities of leading a group of younger women, easily flustered and frustrated, as though she were a big sister thrust into the role of a mom. Yet all three Cats react in sync when the Kittens disobey them, and they all have the same desire: to be “lifted,” and achieve enlightenment.

In another play, this ambiguity could lead to frustration and confusion on the part of an audience member. The question of the characters’ identities lingers throughout Martyrs, and while it is occasionally distracting, the ambiguity is largely a feature of the production rather than a bug. Whether each Cat or Kitten represents multiple women or one woman each, the play still works as a rich, emotional portrayal of the relationships women have with one another, with themselves, and with their bodies.

The strength of the play lies in the collaborative nature of the production. Martyrs was written by Romana Soutus and developed with and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, and imagining the conversations between playwright and director to develop the story is worthy of its own play. The actresses have a natural, effortless chemistry, encompassing all of the intense emotions inherent in relationships between women.

The most surprising part of Martyrs is the twist on the mentor/student dynamic. The Kittens alternate between disobeying the Cats and begging for their approval, but they also worry about the Cats more than their older counterparts worry about them. The daughters are encouraging their mothers to eat when the mothers refuse food; the little sisters reassure their big sisters that they are “good enough” and worthy of love. Living in a world where women are socialized to be hard on themselves, I wondered if Martyrs was a hopeful statement about the power of the younger generation – how today’s teenage girls and young women will grow up to be more accepting of their bodies and less hard on themselves for failing to achieve perfection.

There were moments during Marytrs where I wished the script was less vague in its purpose and in its dialogue. I wanted the play to be more direct about why these women were having this slumber party and what they hoped to achieve from it. I wanted to know more about their relationships before they entered this bunker. I wanted less time with karaoke machines and looking for double meanings behind Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” and more time focusing on the uncomfortable parallels between the language of a devout, fasting nun and a teenage girl with an eating disorder.

Mostly, however, I wish I had taken a friend to see the show so we could have spent the train ride home talking about it. There would have been a lot to say.

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Articles‘The Simpsons’ Helps My Family Connect with My Autistic Brother

(image courtesy Fox)

(This article was originally published on Vice on November 2, 2017.)

By Theresa Basile

Some siblings show their love with a high five, an inside joke, or a punch in the shoulder. My brother Daniel, an adult on the autism spectrum, has his own way of showing his affection: letting me choose the episode of The Simpsons to watch half an hour before dinner.

“You already watched ‘Kamp Krusty’ this morning,” I remind him. “Can I pick this episode?” “Yes,” he says, a hint of mistrust in his voice, though his face relaxes slightly when I choose a disc from the same season. Including mandatorySimpsons breaks in a daily routine sounds like every fan’s dream, but in our house, it’s a necessity. If there’s one rule we live by, it’s doing whatever we can to make Daniel’s life easier, which includes scheduling his day around the misadventures of our favorite family.

Like many autistic people, Daniel has limited verbal and communication skills. Most of our interactions with him involve a lot of echolalia, as he repeats our words back to us to demonstrate comprehension (“Did you have a good day?” “Have a good day. Yes.”). He also has many anxieties that he can’t express through words, though we can see it in the way he carries his body: when he fidgets his fingers, or darts his nervous eyes around the room.

His anxiety is eased whenever there is regular order in his schedule: going to work, taking a bath, eating dinner with family. Weekends are more difficult—longer days with less structured time—and we fill them with long walks, swimming at the YMCA, and church, with its blessed foundation of routine, prayers, and songs.

My mother was the one who encouraged regular church attendance for Daniel, and coincidentally, was also the one to cement the role of The Simpsons in our lives. She first watched the show to prove to nine-year-old me that she was rightto ban it because of Bart’s bad influence. After watching “A Streetcar Named Marge,” she became a fan instead, and waiting for new episodes every Sunday became as much of a family tradition as church.

Mom and Dad watched the show for its literary and 1970s cultural references, while my brother Luke and I enjoyed the absurdity and rapid-fire jokes. I’m not sure what about The Simpsons specifically appeals to Daniel, as he lacks the language to tell us. It could be the bright colors and the animation. It might be the broad physical humor and silly sound effects—I still remember him giggling for a minute straight while watching Homer twiddle his thumbs and sing to himself.

Image courtesy Fox

Whatever makes him a fan, he doesn’t go a day without watching at least one episode. As my father Michael puts it, “The Simpsons provides some measure of order for Daniel. Surely the producers of the long-running show could not have predicted that an autistic young man would use their 22-minute episodes to know when dinner is to be served. ‘One more Simpsons’ is a common statement in our house.”

The show has become such a necessity that we ordered a second copy of season four to be delivered, rush shipping, to our annual vacation spot in upstate New York when we realized we left it back at our house. Daniel would need the comforting familiarity of “Kamp Krusty” and the other episodes on disc one to ease his anxiety over our vacation’s breaks in his routine. But far more than a schedule-filler, The Simpsons is a way for us to connect with him.

Daniel knows the words to every original song on the show, including all of the clothing items listed in “See My Vest,” and we can trust him to fill in the blanks when we sing it together on our Sunday walks. When Luke and I engage in lengthy quote-offs at the dinner table, Daniel will pop in with a quiet “Lisa needs braces” in response to a call of “Dental plan!” We know we can get a sly grin out of him when we imitate Homer; he’s not even afraid to give his own “D’oh!” every once in a while. 

I wonder if the show speaks to him because it’s a story about a family: five weirdos who have silly arguments, get into ridiculous situations, and at the end of the day still love each other. Maybe he sees us in these strange animated creatures, art reflecting life and life reflecting art. Daniel is the middle child. If we were Simpsons characters, he’d be the Lisa in terms of birth order. But he’s really the Maggie of our clan: He’s the smallest of the group, he says very little, and there’s a lot going on behind those watchful eyes, including love for his family.

So when we let him watch an extra Simpsons before dinner, it’s not just so we can enjoy the show ourselves—we do it for him.

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Blog PostsAdvice for White Women From a White Woman

Photo by Kevin Banatte

Photo by Kevin Banatte

There’s something very specific about being a white woman in the United States. We have a privileged status because of our skin color, but experience disadvantages due to our gender. That intersection of whiteness and womanhood makes us convenient objects for the white supremacist movement, as those deplorable leaders will uphold the image of the pure white woman as victims of men of color who want to “prey” upon us, while also treating us as vessels to reproduce and maintain the white race.

Take the tragic death of Heather Heyer, a white anti-racist activist who died when a Nazi plowed into her with his car. The editor of The Daily Stormer called her a “fat, childless slut” who had failed to do her only duty in life, which was to have white babies.

It would be ignorant, however, to pretend that white supremacy is only upheld by white men, and white women are simply tools in their master plan, having no agency of their own. In the 1920s, white women were active participants in the Ku Klux Klan and in some ways more successful than their male counterparts (yay feminism?) Almost 100 years later, white women continue to participate in white supremacy: women like Lana Lokteff (who resembles an evil Kristen Bell) run their own “alt-right” media companies and spread propaganda maintaining the superiority of the white race.

And 53% of white women who voted in the 2016 election voted for Donald Trump.

Like many Americans, I was almost paralyzed with shock and dismay on November 9, 2016. The previous day had started on a note of energy and celebration and quickly devolved into despair and fear. I couldn’t believe that this was my country, and I especially couldn’t believe that a slim majority of white women voters would choose a misogynist sexual assaulter over an immensely qualified woman.

I was shocked, but people of color were not. My Twitter feed was filled with people of color expressing their dismay but complete lack of surprise that white women would betray their gender. One that struck me in particular: “Black women have been trying to tell us for YEARS that white women will choose their race over their gender, every time. And here we are.”

Here we are, indeed.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I first started to realize that many people of color don’t see white women as any more trustworthy than white men. I naively, and selfishly, thought that the systemic sexism we faced put us closer to our friends of color than white men. I wasn’t ignorant of racism among white women, but like the #notallmen crowd, believed deep down that the racist white women were the outliers.

Perhaps they are. Perhaps most white individually are not personally, hatefully racist. But we are ALL complicit in systemic racism and white supremacy, even if we find racism and white supremacy repugnant.

Realizing that white women en masse are no better than white men on the subject of race was an uncomfortable epiphany.

I have some advice for other white women experiencing a similar epiphany: don’t ignore that discomfort.

Sit with it. Ruminate on it. Think about how you can do better. Resist the temptation to say #notallwhitewomen; reflect on how similar that is to #notallmen and how much we dislike it when men try to disown their complicity in inaction.

Listen to black people. Listen to black women in particular when they talk about their complicated feelings about the feminist movement.

Quash the impulse to make your discomfort all about you and your white guilt. Take that discomfort and turn it into righteous anger to fight against racial injustice.

It’s not easy to come to terms with your culpability in an oppressive system when you’ve tried to be a good person in your life. But as Albus Dumbledore said, we all have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.

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Blog PostsWhat Counts as a Strong Female Character, Anyway?

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick - © 2017 CTMG, Inc.

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick – © 2017 CTMG, Inc.

Yesterday, I saw Spider-Man Homecoming during a matinee at the Alamo Drafthouse. My boyfriend and I laughed and applauded for almost two hours straight through mouthfuls of truffle butter Parmesan popcorn, enjoying, finally, a Spider-man movie that truly embraced the humor in Peter Parker and his Spidey alter-ego.

Today, I looked at reviews of the film and one in particular caught my eye – The Mary Sue’s Spider-Man Homecoming and the Bechdel Test. On The Mary Sue’s Facebook page, the line above the link reads, “The new Spider-Man has strong female characters, but…” and most of the article points out how none of the women in the film have scenes with each other.

They’re not wrong with that observation, but I’m still distracted by that line on the Facebook page. The new movie has strong female characters? Really?

There are three women in the film who are important in some way to Peter Parker – his aunt May and two of his classmates and co-members of the academic decathlon team, one of whom he has a crush on. (I’m avoiding using their names for a reason.) All three of them are well-played by the respective actresses (Marisa Tomei, Laura Harrier, and Zendaya). They all have distinct personalities. Zendaya in particular has some of the funniest laugh lines of the script in the most unexpected moments, and it was refreshing to see an Aunt May with a playful sense of humor who does more than grieve for her husband and worry over Peter.

But does that make them strong?

After watching and enjoying almost every moment of both Guardians of the Galaxy movies but being very disappointed that Gamora is the only team member who never gets to be funny, the wit and energy that came from Aunt May and Peter’s classmates was a delightful change of pace.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that Spider-Man Homecoming is a male-driven story, and all of the interesting backstories and clearest character motivations are reserved for the male characters. Peter Parker wants to help people while also having adventures and find meaning in his life. The Vulture wants to provide for his family and will do anything to reach that goal, including criminal activities. Tony Stark wants to mentor Peter and mold him into a better superhero than Iron Man is. And Ned wants to be “the guy in the chair” and live vicariously through his super cool friend.

What do the women want? Well…I guess his classmates want to do well in the academic decathlon. And have fun in high school. And Aunt May wants Peter to be safe. Oh, and Zendaya wants to fit in some “light protesting” before the decathlon begins.

Their motivations, if they’re clear at all, aren’t related to the story of the film. They take no part in the main action.

I don’t even mean this as a criticism; I’m just stating it as fact. There are a lot of things to like about the women in this movie. As I said, they’re given witty dialogue, and they’re victimized a lot less than most women in superhero movies that aren’t Wonder Women. I suspect that Aunt May and one of the other classmates will be fleshed out in the second movie in this franchise, so I’m not annoyed that they didn’t have much to do in the first installment. I also loved that both of Peter’s classmates are women of color – in fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a diverse supporting cast in a superhero movie, and I was thrilled that a movie set in New York City actually looks like the population of New York City.

Still. Let’s not go calling female characters “strong” just because they’re better than the average sexy window dressing we have to settle for in most action movies. The women in Spider-Man Homecoming have potential for more growth in the sequel, and I’m optimistic for that possibility. As of now, the girls are all right.

 

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Blog PostsBaby-sitters Club: Welcome to Hogwarts

1,_Kristy's_Great_Idea

Welcome, girls from Stoneybrook Middle School. I have reviewed your permanent records and determined that you are all eligible to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Five of you are two years behind the typical schedule for a Hogwarts student, but you can catch up in our accelerated summer program. Before you begin your journey, you will be sorted into your appropriate houses where you will spend the next seven years of your lives.

“KISHI, CLAUDIA!”
House: Hufflepuff
You demonstrate loyalty to your friends and a willingness to share your snacks, even though getting those sweet treats into your room under your parents’ nose was a near-impossible feat. The cunning you demonstrate with that act shows signs of a Slytherin, but ultimately, your easygoing nature makes you an ideal Hufflepuff.

“MCGILL, STACEY!”
House: Ravenclaw
You show a strong aptitude for mathematics, and we trust that this aptitude extends to other academic subjects. Even if it doesn’t, you’re the only one of your cohorts who shows any particular strength in any particular academic area, so you get to be in Ravenclaw by default. Congratulations.

“PIKE, MALLORY!”
House: Hufflepuff
The amount of time you spend writing indicates that you really want to be in Ravenclaw. However, most of your stories consist of poor caricatures of your younger siblings where you make them even more annoying than they are in real life. You’re not ready for the academic rigor of Ravenclaw, so Hufflepuff it is.

“RAMSEY, JESSICA!”
House: Hufflepuff
I’ll be honest – the sorting hat doesn’t know where to put you. Athletic ability is almost an afterthought in the magical world. Witches and wizards hardly need to be strong when they use spells to get whatever they want. Even the best Quidditch players come from each house. Anyway, you’re a great dancer and you seem nice – into Hufflepuff you go.

“SCHAFER, DAWN!”
House: Gryffindor
Yes, we put you in Gryffindor – you can put your hand down now. Between the relentless pursuit of your different causes du jour, there’s no way you’d end up anywhere else. In the end, your passion for fighting for the little guy outweighs your arrogance about it, and that’s admirable. Just stop talking to me for the next month or so.

“SPIER, MARY ANNE!”
House: Gryffindor
Don’t be scared. See that Neville Longbottom over there? You’re basically him, in female form, and probably better in school (sorry, Neville). You think you’re a mouse, but you’re really a lion. It’ll just take a little while for that lion to roar, and this is the house to nurture that courage. Now please try to stop crying.

“THOMAS, KRISTY!”
House: Slytherin
The Sorting Hat screamed the Slytherin name as soon as it touched your head. You believe in rules and making others follow them, but will break them when it suits your own interests. Your need to be in charge of every situation even if it means alienating your closest friends. Salazar would be proud of you.

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ReviewsThe Public’s Julius Caesar: Uneven but Fascinating

 

Photo by Joan Marcus - ©The Public Theater

Photo by Joan Marcus – ©The Public Theater


During the first half of
The Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar, two banners of past presidents hang from the rafters on the set. On one of them looms the portrait of George Washington, a man who removed his name from consideration for reelection when his popularity could have made him president for life – a man who handed over his power to preserve our young democracy.

A few feet away from that banner struts Julius Caesar, the spitting image of Donald Trump, the greatest threat to our democracy since its inception. Gregg Henry walks like Trump, sounds like Trump, and embodies the swaggering, bullying persona of Trump – but is Shakespeare’s Caesar Trump-like?

The text is ambiguous on that front. Cassius, Brutus, and the other assassins fear that Caesar will become a true dictator, but their fear is based on the idea of absolute power belonging to any one man. We don’t spend enough time with Caesar to see if he’s the power-hungry would-be tyrant the conspirators say he is.

In that sense, this production of Julius Caesar is, ironically, a gift to the Trump supporters disrupting performances and making angry phone calls to the wrong Shakespeare theaters. Caesar’s motivations remain unclear, while Trump’s desire for tyranny to feed his ego couldn’t be more transparent. This Caesar who resembles Trump has his Melania sound-alike/Ivanka look-alike wife beg him to avoid the Senate for his safety, his best friend weep for his body, and his killers die with their mission failing and their legacies ruined. Casting Trump as Caesar doesn’t just caution the audience about using violence to preserve democracy; it asks us to wonder if the bully in the White House isn’t so bad after all.

I doubt that Oskar Eustis intended to soften Trump, but aside from a ham-fisted line about Caesar shooting people on Fifth Avenue, the worst thing he does in the play is greet his visiting Senators while nude. That makes him rude and sick with self-love, but not a dictator.

While the comparisons to Trump himself are questionably accurate and have the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the production’s other parallels to modern-day America are more complex and interesting. It’s notable that Brutus (a great Corey Stoll) is the only white man among the conspirators. When Cassius (an excellent John Douglas Thompson) and the other Senators try to rally him to their cause, they recognize the need to have a white male voice legitimize their mission if they have any hope of reaching the public. And when the conspirators (all people of color and women) stab Caesar, he turns to his old friend expecting, despite evidence to the contrary, for Brutus to save him. When he says the famous, “E tu, Brute?” before his death, he’s wondering how someone in his base could turn against him.

Also interesting is the choice to cast Mark Antony as a woman. Elizabeth Marvel’s costumes change from a tracksuit to a pantsuit to military gear, leaving me puzzled over which modern-day political figure she was meant to represent (Ivanka? Kellyanne Conway? Sarah Palin? Nikki Haley?) But while her image and her Southern accent are both uneven, her passion and oratory are mesmerizing. We can’t take our eyes off of her when she gives her “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech, and it’s impossible to tell when her genuine grief for her friend morphs into the famous incitement to violence. I’m left with two burning questions: was Antony the bigger threat to democracy all along? And is a Southern conservative woman the only kind of American woman who could rally an entire divided country to her side?

In that sense, this production is a threat to Trump, but not for the reason his supporters would have you believe. The Public’s Julius Caesar is a threat because it asks its audience to think, to self-examine, to question. It cautions against falling into mob mentality and making rash decisions based on emotion – all of which led to Trump’s election. Critical thinking is the biggest danger to the success of his administration and his chances for reelection.

Whether we have enough critical thinkers left in this country to make a difference at the ballot box is still up for debate. When my friend and I left the theater, we saw a man holding a large American flag that read “Trump 2020.” Other audience members asked him if he was serious. The man replied, “Trump forever. Barron 2050!”

I still don’t know if that man was joking. The other man with a Trump sign a few yards away was definitely not. Behind a line of police officers, this man shouted epithets against Kathy Griffin, Madonna, and Snoop Dogg, condemned America’s war on white male heterosexuals, and praised Trump and Putin.

When I first read Julius Caesar, I thought the crowd’s immediate shifts in opinion were too exaggerated for dramatic effect. I understood Shakespeare’s point but didn’t believe that the people would be that easily led.

After listening to this man chant about the CIA murdering John F. Kennedy and Trump wanting peace with China and Russia, I now wonder if Shakespeare was too kind. 

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