This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

CONQUEST: A POPE.L CRAWL

Pope.L. "The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street" (2000-2009). Performance. ©POPE. L. COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS AND MITCHEL-INNES & NASH, NEW YORK.

Pope.L., “The Great White Way: 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street,” 2000-2009 (©Pope.L, courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York)

Seravalli Playground, St. Vincent’s Triangle, Washington Square Park, Union Square Park
Saturday, September 21, free, 9:45 am - 3:30 pm
www.publicartfund.org

On September 21, Newark-born, Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist Pope.L will lead “Conquest,” a crawl starting at Seravalli Playground at Hudson and Horatio Sts. at 9:45 am, continuing to NYC AIDS Memorial Park at St. Vincent’s Triangle around 11:00 and Washington Square Park at approximately 12:30, and then concluding at Union Square Park from 2:45 to 3:30. More than 140 volunteers will make their way on their bellies, becoming one with the New York City landscape. “The reason it’s called ‘Conquest’ is because that’s not what we’re gonna do at all!” (William) Pope.L explains in a Public Art Fund video. “We’re gonna give up stuff. And in giving up stuff, we’re gonna make more stuff for more people.” The one-day-only site-specific, 1.5-mile relay journey will offer up, according to the artist, humility, generosity, mirth, puzzlement, a guffaw, and maybe even some hectoring during these hard times, bringing a new perspective to how we all get by in this thoroughly amazing yet maddeningly frustrating city. Pope.L (eRacism: White Room, Thunderbird Immolation a.k.a. Meditation Square Piece) will be at the Frederick P. Rose Auditorium at the Cooper Union on September 20 at 6:30 for a Public Art Fund talk (free with advance RSVP) about the project, which leads up to two concurrent New York museum exhibitions: “Choir” at the Whitney (beginning October 20) and “member” at MoMA (October 21), which with “Conquest” form “Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration.”

DON’T BE NICE

Bowery Poetry Slam prepare for national championships in

Bowery Poetry Slam prepare for national championships in Don’t Be Nice

DON’T BE NICE (Max Powers, 2018)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, September 20
212-924-7771
www.dontbenicemovie.com
www.ifccenter.com

“I’m writing as a form of activism,” Joel Francois says in Max Powers’s Don’t Be Nice, an intense and inspiring fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows the Bowery Slam poetry team over nine weeks as it prepares for the national finals in Atlanta. Representing Bowery Poetry Club, Francois, Ashley August, Noel Quiñones, Timothy DuWhite, and Sean MEGA DesVignes, are in it to win it, led by coaches Lauren Whitehead and Jon Sands, who work hard to get the most out of each of them. Sands is more of a cheerleader as Whitehead pressures the multiracial poets to reach deep within themselves to get to the root of who they are as they write about their often tenuous place in a dangerous and difficult world, sharing thoughts and feelings from their core. Filmed in the summer of 2016, Don’t Be Nice explores issues of race, class, sexual orientation, physical and emotional abuse, violence, and gender without apology as the members of the team bare their souls, particularly relating to racial injustice and the whitewashing of black culture as a stunning number of black men are killed by white police officers that year.

It’s not always easy to watch as they confront their demons in the name of their art — and in so doing challenge viewers to face their own biases with such works as “This Body,” “Octoniggas,” “Black Love,” “Black Ghosts,” and “Who Am I.” Powers also includes performances by rival teams from Brooklyn, Jersey City, San Diego, and Dallas, revealing the universality of these feelings and the desire to change things. “Don’t be nice; be necessary,” one of the poets says, while another asks, “What can I do with three minutes, a couple of mics, and a bare stage?” Don’t Be Nice opens September 20 at IFC and will feature a series of nightly postscreening Q&As through September 26 with Powers, producer Nikhil Melnechuk, editor David Lieberman, director of photography Peter Buntaine, casting director Caroline Sinclair, and others, moderated by Sarah Doneghy, John Buffalo Mailer, Randall Dottin, Otoja Abit, Michel Negroponte, and Randy Jones of the Village People. None of the Bowery Slam poets are scheduled to appear, perhaps because, according to a May 2018 New York Times article, they were upset at some of the creative decisions made by Powers involving offensive and misleading material regarding racial divide.

FERN HILL

Close friends gather to talk about their future together in   (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Close friends gather to talk about their future together in Michael Tucker’s Fern Hill (photo by Carol Rosegg)

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St. between Park & Madison Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 20, $75.50
212-279-4200
www.59e59.org

The Big Chill meets Cocoon and the Friends episode “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break” in Michael Tucker’s wonderfully spry Fern Hill, which opened tonight at 59E59 in its New York City premiere. The play takes place at a farmhouse called Fern Hill, owned by Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) and Jer (Mark Blum). They have invited two other couples, longtime friends Billy (Mark Linn-Baker) and Michiko (Jodi Long) and Vincent (John Glover) and Darla (Ellen Parker), to celebrate the men’s milestone birthdays and also discuss the possibility of all six of them living together at the farmhouse, enjoying life and caring for one another as they face the inevitable: old age, sickness, and death. Jer, a philosopher and writer, is seventy that day; Billy, who is in a semi-successful classic rock band, will turn sixty the following week; and painter Vincent will hit the big eight-oh in a few months. The usually stoned Billy, always quick with a joke, refers to the three of them as “the father, the son, and the holy shit.” The six musketeers talk about wine, clam sauce, drugs, music, new hips, bourbon, art, and sex — they have a lot to say about sex, as the three couples are still getting busy in bed, apparently on a near-nightly basis. “What do you say, darling? Shall I bend you over the plow for a few minutes before we start dinner?” Jer asks Sunny.

One of the central questions is whether they will refer to their new living arrangements as an orphanage or a commune, almost as if they were children or young adults again. As Dylan Thomas wrote in his 1945 memory poem “Fern Hill,” which was published in his book Deaths and Entrances: “And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns / About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, / In the sun that is young once only, / Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means.” It’s all fun and games until an affair comes to light; the sexual betrayal has an immediate impact not only on that couple but on the future of all six of them. “How is it that we could be married for all these years and had sex — what? — fifty thousand times? — and still be so fucking dumb about it?” Sunny declares at the end of the first act.

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

A promising weekend turns sour for Jer (Mark Blum) and Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) in New York premiere at 59E59 (photo by Carol Rosegg)

It’s genuinely refreshing to watch six older, mature men and women discuss sex, sharing how often they get it and how good — or not so good — it can be. Not everyone is comfortable delving into the gory details, but these friends have long ago decided not to keep any secrets from one another, even about what’s going on under the covers, especially if they’re going to be spending their golden years together, living side-by-side-by-side. Jessica Parks’s kitchen set is charming and welcoming, and director Nadia Tass (Malcolm, e-baby) provides just the right gentle touches to Tucker’s (The M Spot, Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy) sharp dialogue. What could have been pompous and doctrinaire — listening to seemingly well-off drunk and high people theorize on how great their lives are — could have been torture, but instead it’s illuminating and insightful.

The chemistry among the stellar cast is superb, starting with Obie and Emmy winner Eikenberry (Lemon Sky, The Kid), Tucker’s wife and LA Law costar, whose vulnerability is the key to the drama, and she displays it beautifully, her youthful spirit intoxicating; a terrific Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers, On the Twentieth Century) offers the comic relief, Obie winner Blum (Mozart in the Jungle, Gus and Al) is the dour naysayer, Long (Flower Drum Song, Long Story Short) is smart and alluring, Tony winner Glover (Smallville, Love! Valour! Compassion!) is as ineffable as ever, and Parker (The Heidi Chronicles, 20th Century Blues) is as steady as they come. It often feels like they’re six real friends hanging out, not six actors performing a fictional work to an audience. The ending is liable to lead to arguments about which characters are right, which are wrong, who gets off easy, and what will happen next; a few days after having seen the show, I’m still debating with the person I went with. And when theater can have that kind of an effect on you while also being vastly entertaining, it has more than done its job.

THE BIG CHOCOLATE SHOW

big chocolate

Resorts World Casino
110-00 Rockaway Blvd.
September 20-22, $15 – $188
www.thebigchocolateshow.com

Chocolate is king in Queens this weekend, as the Big Chocolate Show comes to Resorts World Casino for three days of tastings, demos, workshops, book signings, classes, and more. Among the participants are chef and author Kathryn Gordon, cake designer Kate Sullivan, chef/owner Zach Golper, chef and culinary historian Maricel Prescilla, pastry chefs Alexander Zecena, Samantha Benjamin, Gale Gand, and Lindsey Farr, Hugo Orozcooof La Slowteria, Peter Botros of the Stone House, Jonathan Pogash the Cocktail Guru, Penny Stankiewicz of Sugar Couture, and Michelle Tampakis of Whipped Pastry Boutique. Classes include Coffee & Chocolate – Understanding the Roast, Tequila and Truffles, Bourbon & Bon Bons, and Gluten Free Chocolate Brunch. Admission is $15-$30 for children and $75-$188 for adults and various packages, with part of the proceeds benefiting Cookies for Kids Cancer. The festivities begin Friday night with Legends of Chocolate and Decadent Evening of Chocolate & Cocktails, so come hungry.

DANIEL FISH: WHITE NOISE

White Noise

Bruce McKenzie stars in Daniel Fish’s multimedia adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 La Guardia Pl.
September 20-22, $55-$65
212-992-8484
nyuskirball.org

I first encountered the endlessly inventive, unpredictable work of Daniel Fish four years ago with A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a brilliantly devised piece that combined a tennis-ball machine with actors performing lines spoken by author David Foster Wallace from audiobooks, interviews, and speeches. The New Jersey–born, New York City–based creator also involves film and classic theater in his avant-garde oeuvre, which includes adaptations of Molière’s The Misanthrope, Clifford Odets’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life, a piece titled Tom Ryan Thinks He’s James Mason Starring in a Movie by Nicholas Ray in Which a Man’s Illness Provides an Escape from the Pain, Pressure, and Loneliness of Trying to Be the Ultimate American Father, Only to Drive Him Further into the More Thrilling Though Possibly Lonelier Roles of Addict and Misunderstood Visionary. More recently, his Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma! is dividing audiences and critics at Circle in the Square.

White Noise

Daniel Fish’s White Noise runs at NYU Skirball September 20-22

Fish now has turned his attention to consumerism run rampant as depicted in one of the best American novels of the second half of the twentieth century, Don DeLillo’s National Book Award–winning White Noise. Initially staged last year by Theater Freiburg and Ruhrfestspiele Recklingshausen in Germany, the seventy-minute multimedia work, running September 20-22 at NYU’S Skirball Center, focuses on DeLillo’s extensive use of lists within his narrative. For example: “The ashram is located on the outskirts of the former copper-smelting town of Tubb, Montana, now called Dharamsalapur. The usual rumors abound of sexual freedom, sexual slavery, drugs, nudity, mind control, poor hygiene, tax evasion, monkey-worship, torture, prolonged and hideous death.” And: “You know how I am. I think everything is correctible. Given the right attitude and the proper effort, a person can change a harmful condition by reducing it to its simplest parts. You can make lists, invent categories, devise charts and graphs. This is how I am able to teach my students how to stand, sit and walk, even though I know you think these subjects are too obvious and nebulous and generalized to be reduced to component parts. I’m not a very ingenious person but I know how to break things down, how to separate and classify. We can analyze posture, we can analyze eating, drinking and even breathing. How else do you understand the world, is my way of looking at it.” White Noise: Freely Inspired by the Novel by Don DeLillo is performed by Bruce McKenzie as Hitler Studies professor Jack Gladney, with live music by composer and percussionist Bobby Previte. The bold projections are by Jim Findlay (including an appearance on video by nineteen German teenagers), with sets by Andrew Leiberman and costumes by Doey Lüthi. I could make a long list of reasons why you should see this, but it’s not really necessary. Just go if you want to experience another unusual theatrical adventure by the amazing Mr. Fish.

THE COOPING THEORY 1969: WHO KILLED EDGAR ALLAN POE?

 The Cooping Theory

The Poe Society brings in a medium to try to find out who killed Edgar Allan in The Cooping Theory

RPM Underground
244 West 54th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Through November 2, $75 (plus $25 beverage/food minimum per guest)
www.knock3xs.com

On October 7, 1849, short story master and poet extraordinaire Edgar Allan Poe died a mysterious death at the age of forty. In conjunction with the 170th anniversary of his demise, Poseidon Theatre Company has brought back a revamped version of The Cooping Theory 1969: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe?, which the Manhattan-based troupe calls “An Immersive Paranormal.” The show, previously presented two years ago in a Brooklyn speakeasy in a somewhat different form, takes place in a series of rooms in RPM Underground, a funky karaoke bar on West Fifty-Fourth St. filled with old-time memorabilia, from typewriters and gas signs to radios and a dentist chair. It’s 1969, and the Poe Society is holding a séance to try to contact Poe so he can tell them how he died, whether from drink, natural causes, murder, or, as many believe, the nineteenth-century practice called cooping, in which men were kidnapped and tortured in order to force them to vote for a political candidate multiple times.

Every night, an audience of no more than sixty adults is sworn in as new members of the society by wealthy, budding psychologist Tom Turner (Aaron Latta-Morissette), upbeat actress Anna Carver (Makaela Shealy), the heart-on-his-sleeve Jimmy Harder (Johnny Pozzi), and the ever-dependable Gina Standen (Samantha Lacey Johnson), along with WASPy pledge twins Crispin (Brian Alford) and Cordelia Carlyle (Estelle Olivia), who have hired Madam Harlow (Dara Kramer) to lead the proceedings. (The names of the characters were inspired by Poe’s real life and writings: for example, he was born on Carver St. in Boston; MGM once claimed that Jean Harlow was a direct descendant of Poe, who had no children; he would have been named Cordelia if he were born a girl — his mother had recently portrayed the king’s youngest daughter in Lear; he publicly decried the work of Thomas Carlyle; and he used to find respite on a rocky knoll he named Mount Tom along the Hudson River.)

The Cooping Theory

You never know what’s going to happen in The Cooping Theory

The evening begins with a cocktail hour during which the audience can mingle with the characters, having one-on-one conversations that can be both entertaining and informative; I learned a lot while talking to Anna and Cordelia and catching Jimmy playing a haunting ballad on his guitar. Then Madam Harlow enters and the show really takes off; audience members are free to stay in one space, follow specific characters for extended periods of time, or just go with the flow. You will not be touched or asked to do anything you don’t want to; the rules and recommendations are supplied early on by director Aaron Salazar, who conceived the fab project. You can navigate at your own pace, although the narrative grows more and more frantic and exciting as it nears the grand finale, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and not settle in anywhere for too long a stretch. The dialogue — the aptly named Nate Raven, formerly known as Nate Suggs before he married Rick Raven, is credited with writing the book — is chock full of direct and indirect references to Poe’s work, from such popular stories as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Masque of the Red Death, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, Berenice, and Eleonora to such poems as The Raven, Annabel Lee, Spirits of the Dead, and The Conqueror Worm. Knowledge of Poe’s work is not a prerequisite, but it is a bonus.

The cast is delightfully energetic and extremely careful not to bowl anyone over as they race down hallways and close doors for more private moments. You don’t have to be a Poe fan or believe in the spiritual world in order to have a great time at The Cooping Theory 1969, but the more you invest of yourself, the more thrilling it all is. “It’s gotten a bit freaky, hasn’t it?” Anna says at one point. It sure has, but only in the best way. (Poe addicts will also want to check out John Kevin Jones’s one-man performance piece Killing an Evening with Edgar Allan Poe at the Merchant’s House Museum from September 24 to November 3.)

ARTHOUSE THEATER DAY: PUTNEY SWOPE

Putney Swope

Putney Swope is back in a fiftieth anniversary 4K restoration screening at Alamo Drafthouse

PUTNEY SWOPE (Robert Downey, 1969)
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn
445 Albee Square West
Wednesday, September 18, 7:00
718-513-2547
drafthouse.com

The past, present, and immediate future of indie cinema are represented in the fourth annual Art House Theater Day, taking place September 18 at several venues in New York as well as around the country. Peter Strickland’s 2018 In Fabric and Brett Story’s 2019 The Hottest August will be screening at IFC; In Fabric will also be shown at Nitehawk’s Prospect Park cinema. But the film to see is the fiftieth anniversary 4K restoration of Robert Downey Sr.’s counterculture cult classic, the low-budget 1969 satire Putney Swope, playing at the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn and Yonkers. Downey Sr. is still alive, and this presentation includes a prerecorded introduction from the eighty-three-year-old writer-director of such other movies as Chafed Elbows, Sweet Smell of Sex, Greaser’s Palace, and Rittenhouse Square.

Downey skewers race, religion, politics, the corporate world, and Madison Ave. in the absurdist comedy, featuring a crazy cast of characters portrayed by professional actors as well as first-timers Downey found in city bars and cafés and on the street. When ad agency owner Mario Elias Sr. (David Kirk) drops dead during a meeting, the rest of the board, consisting primarily of a bunch of conniving, corrupt white men, accidentally vote the one black man, musical director Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson), to be the next chairman. Instead of stepping aside, Swope decides to take over and make radical changes, renaming the company Truth and Soul, Inc., firing white employees for any reason whatsoever, and hiring a team of Black Power men and women with no advertising experience to produce commercials that go far beyond industry standards, featuring foul language, nudity, and interracial relationships while promoting such products as Dinkleberry Frozen Chicken Pot Pie and Lucky Airlines, where one lucky passenger will win a trip to a back room with nearly naked stewardesses. However, he refuses to make ads for alcohol, toy guns, and tobacco. Putney courts favor with US president Mimeo and the first lady, portrayed by real-life husband-and-wife little people Pepi and Ruth Hermine, whose right-hand man, Mr. Borman Six (Larry Wolf), is a neo-Nazi. But power corrupts, and Swope soon becomes more militant and dictatorial, getting away with his bizarre business plan as the film turns into a fable of rebellion gone astray.

putney swope 2

Putney Swope almost didn’t get distributed. In 1969, at a special advance screening, Native New Yorker Downey, the father of Robert Downey Jr., reluctantly allowed Don Rugoff of Cinema Five in, even though Rugoff was late; afterward, Rugoff told him, “I don’t understand this movie, but I like it,” and shortly released the film to sold-out audiences. Downey and cinematographer Gerald Cotts switch between black-and-white for the main narrative and color for the television commercials, giving extra oomph to the latter, which get stranger and stranger, while Charley Cuva provides the groovy music and New Breed Inc. the chic costumes. The cast and crew had such trouble understanding Johnson’s mangled line readings that Downey dubbed in his dialogue in postproduction himself, using a raspy black voice that is way over the top; Putney Swope might be an equal opportunity offender, but it could never be made today, given the current politically correct environment.

Much of the acting is terrible, but a few familiar faces show up to offer a bit of a respite: Antonio Fargas, best known as Huggy Bear on Starsky and Hutch, plays the ever-angry Arab; Allan Arbus, who was Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H (note that the poster to the left is a takeoff of the marketing campaign for Robert Altman’s film version of M*A*S*H) and is the son of photographer Diane Arbus, is Mr. Bad News, filling in Swope on the continuing adventures of serial sex offender Sonny Williams (Perry Gewirtz); Shelley Plimpton (the mother of Martha Plimpton) and singer Ronnie Dyson, who were in Hair together, appear as the interracial couple pushing face cream; and Allen Garfield, a successful character actor in such films as The Conversation and Nashville, is Mario Elias Jr. The tall, awkward Stanley Gottlieb is a hoot as Nathan, who speaks primarily in bad jokes, while poet Donald Lev is a lone anarchist. Added to the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2016, Putney Swope — a major influence on such films as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, in which Don Cheadle plays a character named Buck Swope, Cosmo the firecracker boy is inspired by Chinese businessman Wing Soney, and Downey Sr. makes a cameo (in addition, Louis CK hosted a Q&A with Downey in LA five years ago) — holds up better than expected, despite its cutting-edge story and small details that leave no one unblemished. It’s certainly no Mad Men, but it’s still a far-out document of a critical time in American history.