We’ve been Kory Stamper groupies ever since we happened upon one of her “Ask the Editor” videos on YouTube nearly seven years ago. Since 2010, Merriam-Webster associate editor Emily Brewster, editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski, and associate editor Stamper have been making short videos delving into the etymology and usage of words and phrases, from the serial comma and “It is I vs. It is me” to weird plurals and “lay vs. lie.” In introducing her “harm·less drudg·ery | defining the words that define us” webiste in December 2011, Stamper, explained, “We might as well start this blog with a confession: I never planned on being a lexicographer.” Stamper has now written her first book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (March 14, Penguin Random House, $26.95), in which she goes behind the scenes of how dictionaries are put together, making the most of her playful sense of humor. “Language is one of the few common experiences humanity has,” she writes in the preface. “Not all of us can walk; not all of us can sing; not all of us like pickles. But we all have an inborn desire to communicate why we can’t walk or sing or stomach pickles. To do that, we use our language, a vast index of words and their meanings we’ve acquired, like linguistic hoarders, throughout our lives.” Among the book’s chapters are “Hrafnkell: On Falling in Love,” “Irregardless: On Wrong Words,” “Bitch: On Bad Words,” and “Nuclear: On Pronunciation.” Describing her initial meeting with M-W director of defining Steve Perrault, who would become her boss, she remembers, “Apparently, neither of us enjoyed job interviews. I, however, was the only one perspiring lavishly. ‘So tell me,’ he ventured, ‘why you are interested in lexicography.’ I took a deep breath and clamped my jaw shut so I did not start blabbing. This was a complicated answer.” On March 28, you can join the ever-growing number of word nerds as they throng the Upper East Side B&N to venture even further (farther?) down the hallowed halls of M-W and hear from one of its superstars, there to share her inside info and regale all with her morphological magic.
222 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 2, $49-$147
In 2012, Joshua Harmon’s terrific Bad Jews debuted at the Roundabout’s tiny subterranean Black Box Theatre; the following year it moved upstairs to the much bigger Laura Pels, where it continued to play to sold-out houses. In 2015, Harmon’s equally terrific Significant Other debuted at the Laura Pels, and now it’s moved west to Broadway’s Booth Theatre, where it continues to attract well-deserved accolades. Significant Other is the sassy, heart-wrenching story of twenty-seven-year-old Jordan Berman (Gideon Glick), who becomes more and more depressed as his three best friends, Kiki (Sas Goldberg), Vanessa (Rebecca Naomi Jones, replacing Cara Patterson from the original production), and Laura (Lindsay Mendez), one by one find their significant other while he remains solo, terrified that he will never find his Mr. Right. He’s also afraid of maturity in general. “I wish we still lived together,” he says to Laura. “Grown-ups live alone,” she responds, to which he replies, “We’re grown-ups. I keep forgetting that.” He turns to his grandmother Helen (Barbara Barrie) for advice, but her memory is starting to slip and she occasionally discusses ways to kill herself. “I know life is supposed to be this great mystery, but I actually think it’s pretty simple: Find someone to go through it with. That’s it. That’s the, whatever, the secret,” Jordan says to Laura. “You make it sound so easy,” she says, to which he replies, “No, that’s the hardest part. Walking around knowing what the point is, but not being able to live it, and not knowing how to get it, or if I ever even will.” Jordan gets a sudden burst of energy when he suspects dreamy new coworker Will (John Behlmann) might be gay, but that only amplifies his deep-seated fears and worries.
Seeing Significant Other for the second time was like reconnecting with old friends. The main characters are beautifully drawn by Harmon and exuberantly brought to life by the cast, with Behlmann and Luke Smith playing all of the potential significant others. Director Trip Cullman (Yen, A Small Fire) hasn’t missed a beat with the transition to Broadway, retaining the play’s intimate charm; in fact, some scenes work even better, particularly those in which Jordan dances with Laura at several weddings. Mark Wendland’s vertical set features more than half a dozen inside and outside spaces, lit with pinpoint precision by Japhy Weideman; the lighting in the scene in which Jordan delivers a detailed monologue about seeing Will in a bathing suit is breathtaking and funny. All of the elements come together, but at the heart of everything is Glick’s (Spring Awakening, The Few) heartbreaking performance, which had me more teary-eyed the second time around. The scene in which he decides whether to send an email to Will is an out-and-out riot, while a later argument with one of his best friends is a spellbinding tour de force of writing, acting, and directing. Significant Other is the second of three Roundabout commissions for Harmon; we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
A MAN AND A WOMAN (UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME) (Claude Lelouch, 1966)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, March 28, $40, 7:30
Winner of both the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman is one of the most popular, and most unusual, romantic love stories ever put on film. FIAF is celebrating the work’s fiftieth anniversary by screening a newly restored version on March 28 as part of the Focus on French Cinema festival, followed by a Q&A with the seventy-nine-year-old Lelouch, who has also made such films as Vivre pour vivre, Les Uns et les Autres, La bonne année, and La Belle Histoire, and writer-director Philippe Azoulay. In A Man and a Woman, Oscar-nominated Anouk Aimée stars as Anne Gauthier and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Jean-Louis Duroc, two people who each has a child in a boarding school in Deauville. Anne, a former actress, and Jean-Louis, a successful racecar driver, seem to hit it off immediately, but they both have pasts that haunt them and threaten any kind of relationship. Shot in three weeks with a handheld camera by Lelouch, who earned nods for Best Director and Best Screenplay (with Pierre Uytterhoeven), A Man and a Woman is a tour de force of filmmaking, going from the modern day to the past via a series of flashbacks that at first alternate between color and black-and-white, then shift hues in curious, indeterminate ways. Much of the film takes place in cars, either as Jean-Louis races around a track or the protagonists sit in his red Mustang convertible and talk about their lives, their hopes, their fears. The heat they generate is palpable, making their reluctance to just fall madly, deeply in love that much more heart-wrenching, all set to a memorable soundtrack by Francis Lai. Lelouch, Trintignant, and Aimée revisited the story in 1986 with A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later, without the same impact and success. There will also be a special twenty-minute excerpt from Azoulay’s upcoming documentary about Lelouch, Tourner Pour Vivre (Shoot to Live); the evening will conclude with an after-party featuring wine, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres.
The Newman Theater at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through April 30, $120
David Byrne and Alex Timbers have followed up their 2013 extraordinary extravaganza, Here Lies Love, with the very ordinary and chaste Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, which continues at the Public’s Newman Theater through April 30. Here Lies Love followed the adventures of Imelda Marcos in the Philippines; of course, Joan of Arc is a very different kind of woman with a very different story to tell. Into the Fire starts off promising enough: At the front and center of the stage hangs a banner that proclaims, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” immediately placing Joan in context with the battles of today’s women, referencing the recent congressional silencing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren reading from a Coretta Scott King letter. The company of ten men begins by asking, “What can one person do?” as a shadow of a mysterious figure grows taller and taller behind the banner until Joan (Jo Lampert) tears it down and stands at the ready to fight for what’s right. But the rest of the show — taking place in the same room where such vastly successful historical musicals as Timbers’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton happened — lacks the dazzling innovation and imagination that Byrne and Timbers (and Fatboy Slim) brought to their previous collaboration. The music is uninspiring and the lyrics are surprisingly pedestrian, merely telling the audience what is happening, offering little more than platitudes. “Sir, God reasons not / When he touches your soul / Fight for what you believe / We will send them all home / Look me in the eye / No one wins on their knees / You can do this, I swear / Sir, it’s you that we need,” Joan sings to royal garrison captain Baudricourt (Michael James Shaw).
Joan proves her virginity, cuts off her hair, and disguises herself as a man as she prepares to lead forces to return the Dauphin (Kyle Selig) to his rightful throne. “I’m not a boy and I’m not a girl / The King of Heaven rules my world,” she declares. For some reason, Joan morphs into a punk rocker, clutching a microphone and stand and, dressed in black leather, sings like she’s part of a music video. The guitarists occasionally play right next to her or in small spaces cut out of large, spinning stairs on Christopher Barreca’s curiously ineffective set. (The drummer is off by himself at the upper back of the stage.) Steven Hoggett’s choreography and Darrel Maloney’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them projections don’t disturb the staid nature of the proceedings. The cast, which also includes Terence Archie as Warwick, Sean Allan Krill as Bishop Cauchon, Mike McGowan as La Tremouille, Mare Winningham as Isabelle, and James Brown III, Jonathan Burke, Rodrick Covington, Adam Perry, and John Schiappa in multiple roles as priests, judges, and soldiers, is often standing around, waiting for the next cue, which can’t come fast enough. It feels all too procedural and chronological, straightforward and direct. Here Lies Love went through a much longer gestation period, beginning as a song cycle, then becoming an all-star album and, eventually, an immersive stage production over a seven-year period. During that show’s run, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis suggested to Byrne that Joan of Arc might be a good subject for him to tackle next, so perhaps this production was too hastily put together, or it never lit a fire inside the former Talking Heads leader the way the Marcos story did. For the curtain call, Lampert comes out wearing a large white T-shirt that proclaims, “I am not afraid”; the shirts are available for purchase ($30) from Byrne himself in the lobby after the show, with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. It’s a cool idea; it’s just too bad that most of Joan of Arc: Into the Fire fails to ignite the same kind of spark.
Who: Sanford Biggers, Saya Woolfalk
What: Artist conversation
Where: Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, 535 West 22nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., sixth floor, 212-255-8450
When: Saturday, March 25, free, 6:00
Why: In conjunction with the multimedia solo exhibition “Saya Woolfalk: ChimaCloud and the Pose System,” which continues at Leslie Tonkonow through April 1, New York–based artists Saya Woolfalk and Sanford Biggers will talk about their work. Woolfalk, who is from Japan, builds dramatic, fantastical worlds inspired by her family background, while Biggers, from Los Angeles, creates provocative installations, as evidenced by his 2011–12 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, “Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk — An Introspective.”
I CALLED HIM MORGAN (Kasper Collin, 2016)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Opens Friday, March 24
On February 19, 1972, during a massive blizzard, thirty-three-year-old jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Lee Morgan was shot to death by his common-law wife, Helen, in Slugs’ Saloon on the Lower East Side. Swedish director, writer, and producer Kasper Collin takes viewers behind the scenes of the tragedy in the sensational documentary I Called Him Morgan. The Philadelphia-born Morgan was a young prodigy, studying with Clifford Brown, playing with Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra when he was eighteen, and joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at twenty. Preferring the term “black classical music” to “jazz,” Morgan was caught up in a lifestyle of fast cars and drugs, ultimately hitting rock bottom until he was rescued by Helen Moore, thirteen years his elder, a farm girl from North Carolina who loved throwing parties in her adopted hometown of New York City and was a beloved fixture in the jazz community. Collin amasses an impressive roster of jazz greats who share their insights, including saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, and Billy Harper, drummers Albert “Tootie” Heath and Charli Persip, and bassists Larry Ridley, Jymie Merritt, and Paul West, along with Morgan neighbor Ron St. Clair, Helen’s son Al Harrison, and Morgan’s very close friend, Judith Johnson, many of whom are going on the record for the first time. “There was never no doubt in anybody’s mind: Lee was gonna be a star, Persip remembers. “They cared about each other. They loved each other,” Maupin says about Lee and Helen. There are also rare audio clips from an interview British writer and photographer Val Wilmer conducted with Morgan in October 1971 in Lee and Helen’s Bronx apartment. The film is anchored by a remarkable interview Helen gave writer, teacher, and jazz radio announcer Larry Reni Thomas in February 1996, a month before she died. “I will not sit here and tell you that I was so nice, because I was not,” she tells Thomas, speaking often in broken phrases. “One of the . . . will cut you. I was sharp. Yeah . . . I had to be. And I looked out for me.” It all culminates in a spellbinding, detailed account of the murder itself, told by numerous eyewitnesses with “Stagger Lee”-like swagger.
“He knew how to tell a story,” 2016 Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Shorter says of Morgan, who released more than two dozens albums (among them The Sidewinder, Search for the New Land, and Lee-Way) in his too-brief career, primarily for Blue Note, while also appearing on records by John Coltrane, Blakey, Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and many others. With I Called Him Morgan, Collin (My Name Is Albert Ayler) proves that he knows how to tell a story too. Initially inspired by a YouTube clip of Morgan performing, Collin spent seven years putting the documentary together, combing through archives and convincing people to participate. The film unfolds like an epic jazz composition as Collin and editors Hanna Lejonqvist, Eva Hillström, and Dino Jonsäter interweave amazing archival footage, a wide range of personal and professional photographs (mostly by Wilmer and Blue Note cofounder Francis Wolff), new interviews, and poetic, atmospheric shots of snow, sunsets, cityscapes, and other outdoor scenes by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, Arrival). Throughout, Morgan’s glorious music is heard, front and center or in the background, including such songs as “Gaza Strip,” “Tom Cat,” “New-Ma,” “Lament for Stacy,” “The Procrastinator,” “Absolutions,” “Angela” (for Angela Davis), and “Helen’s Ritual,” tunes that are not only revelatory but also a constant reminder of the talent the world lost in 1972. “I find that the essence of creativity is the newness of things,” Morgan told Wilmer in 1971. “And the only way to keep things new is to have constant changes in environment and surroundings and people, and all that, you know. And that’s the thing that makes it so exciting about being a jazz musician.” It’s also what makes Collin’s film so exciting. I Called Him Morgan opens March 24 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Francesca Beale Theater, with Collin participating in Q&As on March 24 at 6:00 (with jazz critic Gary Giddins) and 8:15 and March 25 at 6:00 with jazz historian Ashley Kahn; it will expand to Metrograph on March 31.
In the interactive Beneath the Gavel, making its New York City debut at 59E59, there is a very good scene in which the cast gives the audience an auction lesson, complete with inside information about bidding and price manipulation by an auction house. (Former Christie’s and Sotheby’s employee Barbara Strongin served as consultant; in addition, the theater is on the site where Christie’s once housed its galleries.) Unfortunately, the rest of the two-hour show, presented by the Hartford-based Bated Breath Theatre Company and written and directed by troupe executive and artistic director Mara Lieberman, never reaches that level. The play goes back and forth between 1985, when elderly art collector Haddie Weisenberg (Debra Walsh) meets American painter Daniel Zeigler (Corey Finzel); 1990, when Zeigler is painting Weisenberg’s portrait; and 2016, when part of the now-deceased Weisenberg’s collection is being sold at auction, including works by Zeigler. For much of the show, auction house employees Tracey Allister (Missy Burmeister), Geoffrey Thompson (Gabriel Aprea), Stewart Felso (Sean Hinckle), and Charlotte McHenry (Moira O’Sullivan) and other characters (all played by the six-member cast) engage in boring, clichéd discussions about the art world and then start moving in bizarre interpretive dance straight out of the 1980s-era SNL skit Sprockets. Along the way, such real-life artists and gallerists as Andy Warhol, Larry Gagosian, Roy Lichtenstein, Leo Castelli, Wassily Kandinsky, and Damien Hirst are portrayed in annoying scenes that go nowhere.
During the show, there are three auctions in which the audience participates, using fake money that can be reserved in advance and accumulated when a cash cannon shoots it out over the crowd. While some people scramble for the bills, others just ignore it all; several of those disinterested audience members did not return after intermission. The auctions are actually fun, but there’s also something inherently demeaning about them, starting with that you have to get on your hands and knees and pick up bills off the floor if you want to amass quite a wad. Perhaps that is the point, but when Geoff states, “We’ve billed this sale as a sale for the ‘everyman.’ We’ve invited more VOPs than ever before,” and the auction employees chime in, “Very Ordinary People,” it’s not too hard to take that as an insult, even if that’s not what was intended.