Jack Ferver’s Everything Is Imaginable returns this week to New York Live Arts as part of the multidisciplinary American Realness festival. Below is our review of the work’s world premiere in April 2018; don’t miss this second chance to catch this extraordinary piece.
A few weeks before the world premiere of Everything Is Imaginable, New York City treasure Jack Ferver tore his calf while preparing a piece for Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung at the Guggenheim. But leave it to the Wisconsin-born actor, writer, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and director to incorporate the injury into the narrative of the two-act, seventy-minute show. As the audience enters the theater at New York Live Arts, the curtain is down, a rarity at the venue, upping the growing sense of anticipation that accompanies every Ferver work. The curtain soon opens on Jeremy Jacob’s playful set, consisting of four white cardboard columns with drawings of leaves on them, along with a central cardboard chandelier hovering at the top of a screen in the back. It immediately immerses the crowd into the wonders of Ferver’s imagination while exposing the artifice behind staged productions in general. The first act features four queer men in sheer, butt-revealing outfits dancing solos inspired by their childhood memories and one major role model: American Ballet Theater principal James Whiteside, in a short, glittering dress of silver sequins, pays tribute to Judy Garland, dancing to Garland’s version of Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York”; Martha Graham principal dancer Lloyd Knight honors Graham, moving to a recording of the legendary choreographer speaking about dance; dancer and actor Garen Scribner slides across the stage in socks and does spins like his hero, champion skater Brian Boitano, to the sound of ice skates being sharpened and gliding across the ice; and longtime Ferver collaborator Bartelme, a former ballet dancer and current costume designer (as part of Reid and Harriet Design, who made the costumes for the show), wears a long orange mane and dances with horse movements, since his idol is My Little Pony. Each solo combines humor with beautiful movement, taking advantage of each dancer’s strengths while adding the charm and whimsy that are mainstays of Ferver’s choreography. The four star turns are followed by a solo about sunglasses and then an ensemble piece danced to “club music,” including a Martha Graham–esque sexualized orgy that is uproariously funny.
After a ten-minute intermission (with the curtains closed), the second act begins with Ferver (Chambre, Night Light Bright Light) by himself onstage, standing over a miniature version of the set from the first act, evoking Stonehenge from This Is Spinal Tap. In a sheer bodysuit recalling Michelle Pfeiffer’s garb as Catwoman in Batman Returns, the compact Ferver towers over the tiny columns and chandelier, emphasizing his power as a creator while also poking fun at it. Ferver talks about his calf injury, explaining how that limited his ability to dance — his doctor advised him not to move forward, which is not part of his vocabulary, literally or figuratively — and forced him to reimagine the work, and discusses his difficult childhood, friendless and bullied for his overt homosexuality; growing up gay is a regular theme in his oeuvre. As always, his stage persona is that of a devilish cherub, wild and wacky one moment, making the audience roll around their seats with laughter, and then deadly serious the next, raising disturbing elements from his life that may or may not be true, causing everyone to reconsider their reactions. He’s joined by Bartelme, who looks lovely in a fringe dress, and the two dance together to heartbreaking effect while Ferver, soldiering on despite his injury, goes on to describe his process of writing a memoir, which took place alone, terrified, in a strange house, in the dark. Ferver is no longer friendless or alone, as evidenced not only by the crowd response to the supremely personal show but by the long line of well-wishers who waited to hug and congratulate him for giving them yet another unique, meaningful, and vastly entertaining experience, shining a light on his life, and ours, as only he can.
GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Saturday, January 5, 9:00, and Monday, January 7, 7:00
Series runs January 4-8
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a breathtaking thriller that instantly enters the pantheon of such classic space fare as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and The Right Stuff. While medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is fixing a computer glitch outside the shuttle Explorer, veteran astronaut and wisecracker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), on his final mission before retirement, is playing around with a new jetpack and Shariff (voiced by Paul Sharma) is having fun going on a brief spacewalk. But disaster strikes when debris from a destroyed Russian satellite suddenly comes their way, killing Shariff and the rest of the crew and crippling the shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski on their own in deep space, their communication with Mission Control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris, in a nod to his participation in Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff) gone as well. Kowalski is cool and calm, listening to country music as he tries to come up with a plan that will get them to the International Space Station, but the inexperienced Stone is running out of oxygen fast as she tumbles through the emptiness, Earth in the background, so close yet so far. Written by Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men) with his son Jonás, Gravity is spectacularly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, the master behind numerous works by Cuarón and Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life), among others. Lubezki and his team even created a new LED light box to increase the film’s realism, which is nothing less than awe-inspiring and mind-bending as it takes place in real time. Despite the vastness of space, Gravity often feels claustrophobic, particularly as Stone struggles to get a breath or attempts to operate a foreign module.
Close-ups of Stone and Kowalski reveal reflections of the shuttle and Earth, emphasizing the astronauts’ dire situation as they engage in a very different kind of pas de deux. Gravity also succeeds where directors like James Cameron often fail, as a solid, relatively unsentimental and unpredictable script accompanies the remarkable visuals, which evoke both harrowing underwater adventures as well as dangerous mountain-climbing journeys. (Cuarón also manages to bring it all in in a terrifically paced ninety minutes.) Cuarón and Lubezki favor long takes, including an opening shot lasting more than thirteen minutes, immersing the viewer in the film, further enhanced by being projected in IMAX 3D, which is not used as merely a gimmick here. Stephen Price’s score increases the tension as well until getting melodramatic near the end. Clooney is ever dapper and charming and Bullock is appropriately nervous and fearful in their first screen pairing, even though they only make contact with each other through bulky spacesuits, their connection primarily via speaking. Cuarón, who also edited Gravity with Mark Sanger, has made an endlessly exciting film for the ages, a technological marvel that should have a tremendous impact on the future of the industry. Winner of seven Oscars including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing, Gravity is screening January 5 and 7 in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Complete Cuarón,” comprising all eight of his movies (Y tu mamá también, Children of Men, Sólo con tu pareja, Great Expectations, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) in conjunction with the success of his latest, Roma.
ORIGIN’S 1st IRISH THEATRE FESTIVAL
The Origins 1st Irish Theatre Festival, now in its eleventh year, is dedicated to presenting works by Irish playwrights from around the world, both in and out of competition. This year’s schedule boasts seventeen events from Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Queens, and Manhattan, at such venues as Scandinavia House, the Playroom, the Irish Consulate, the cell, and NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House.
Alone It Stands, written and directed by John Breen, with Chase Guthrie Knueven, Ed Malone, Rob McDermott, David O’Hara, Henry Raber, and Sarah Street, 59E59, January 10-27, $35
On Blueberry Hill, by Sebastian Barry, directed by Jim Culleton, with Niall Buggy and David Ganly, 59E59, January 8 – February 3, $35
The Smuggler, by Ronan Noone, directed by David Sullivan, with Mick Mellamphy, the cell, January 14-21, $30
The Morning After the Night Before, by Ann Blake, directed by Paul Mead, with Ann Blake and Lucia Smyth, the cell, January 20-27, $30
Irish Women Lighting Up Broadway, with Geraldine Hughes, Fionnula Flanagan, and Dearbhla Molloy, moderated by Patrich Pacheco, American Irish Historical Society, $10 with RSVP, 1:00
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 6, $92
In his first new play since 2006’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, octogenarian genius Tom Stoppard takes a deep dive into nothing less than human consciousness. The opening of The Hard Problem lets us know just what we’re in for: An attractive young tutor and his student hotly debate “the prisoner’s dilemma,” preparing her for a major job interview. We are going to watch characters onstage swim in a British think tank where the big questions are asked. The “hard problem,” of course, is how the biochemistry of organic matter gives rise to consciousness, the realization of a “self” able to reflect on its own existence and concepts of goodness, self-sacrifice, and altruism. Another hard problem, of course, is how to make this cerebral subject work as live theater. Stoppard, who has explored issues of science, chaos theory, philosophy, history, and other intellectual endeavours in such previous works as Arcadia, The Invention of Love, and The Coast of Utopia, achieves his goal this time via a somewhat predictable though cleverly chosen cast of characters: the male “quant” with impeccable academic and professional qualifications who may lack human emotion, the female researcher with a tender heart, strong mind, and wrenching personal history, the overeager postdoctoral assistant, and an old school friend who remains resolutely sensible and cynical.
“It’s about survival strategies hard-wired into our brains millions of years ago. Who eats, who gets eaten, who gets to advance their genes into the next generation,” Spike (Chris O’Shea) tells Hilary Matthews (Adelaide Clemens), who is up for a job at the prestigious Krohl Institute for Brain Science. He continues, “Competition is the natural order. Self-interest is bedrock. Co-operation is a strategy. Altruism is an outlier unless you’re an ant or a bee. You’re not an ant or a bee; you’re competing to do a doctorate at the Krohl Institute, where they’re basically seeing first class honours degrees and you’re in line for a second, so don’t be a smart arse, and above all don’t use the word ‘good’ as though it meant something in evolutionary science.”
Hilary has just about everything going against her: She went to the wrong schools, didn’t do the expected internships, didn’t ace the proper tests, and has different ideas about the mind and consciousness than does Amal Admati (Eshan Bajpay), who is seemingly the perfect candidate for the job — but Dr. Leo Reinhart (Robert Petkoff) chooses Hilary for the position because of her rather unique and somewhat unscientific thoughts on the relationship between the brain and consciousness. It all comes to a head when the fiercely ambitious Bo (Karoline Xu) joins Hilary’s team and takes the lead on a complex project that doesn’t go quite as planned.
Despite all the talk of statistical tendencies, evolutionary behavior, moral intelligence, computer programming, binary operations, egoism, and other high-falutin’ terms, Stoppard is not so much interested in science than in personality; the characters in the play are splendidly drawn, from Jerry Krohl (Jon Tenney), who Spike describes as “a squillionaire with a masters in biophysics who decided to try hedge-funding,” and Jerry’s bright young daughter, Cathy (Katie Beth Hall), to Julia Chamberlain (Nina Grollman), a former classmate of Hilary’s who runs Pilates classes at the institute — serving the body in a place built around the mind — and Julia’s partner, Ursula Tarrant (Tara Summers), who doesn’t shy away from discussing panpsychism. Stoppard also explores the idea of a supreme being among all this science. “How does God feel about your model of Nature-Nurture Convergence in Altruistic Parent-Offspring Behaviour?” Spike asks Hilary, who prays every night before she goes to bed. But Hilary and Stoppard are concerned with more down-to-earth subjects. “Who’s the you outside your brain? Where? The mind is extra,” Hilary says.
Three-time Tony-winning director Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, Hapgood), who has helmed such other major Stoppard works as The Coast of Utopia and The Invention of Love, has a clear handle on the material, never allowing the play to get overly pedantic, keeping it all real on David Rockwell’s cool set, in which props and furniture are wheeled on or off or drop from the ceiling. Various cast members sit on a couch watching when they’re not involved in the action, taking in every poetic phrase just as we are. Clemens (Hold on to Me Darling, Rectify) is a revelation as Hilary, an unpredictable, fascinating woman who in many ways is representative of the average, regular person facing a changing world. “Explain consciousness,” Hilary says early on to Spike, who doesn’t have an answer. In The Hard Problem, Stoppard isn’t seeking answers but is asking all the right questions.
THE 16th MoMA INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF FILM PRESERVATION: THE VENERABLE W. (Barbet Schroeder, 2017)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Festival runs January 4-31
“To Save and Project: The 16th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation,” comprising newly restored and preserved works from throughout the history of cinema, kicks off January 4 with a tribute to Iranian-born Swiss-French director Barbet Schroeder’s self-described “trilogy of evil”: 1974’s Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait), about the Ugandan dictator; 2007’s L’avocat de la terreur (Terror’s Advocate), a portrait of Siamese-born French lawyer Jacques Vergès, who has defended such clients as Klaus Barbie, French philosopher and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, and Carlos the Jackal; and last year’s Le vénérable W. (The Venerable W.), a look at controversial Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu. According to long-standing traditions and beliefs, Buddhists have empathy and compassion for all sentient beings. For example, in the 2017 documentary The Last Dalai Lama?, His Holiness expressed such feelings even for the Chinese military and government that have waged war on the Tibetan people for more than fifty years and have decided that they will select the next Dalai Lama.
So when Schroeder, who is best known for such fiction films as Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, and Single White Female, first heard about Wirathu, a Buddhist monk in Myanmar advocating violence against a Muslim minority known as the Rohingyas, he headed to the country, formerly known as Burma, where he was so shocked and disturbed by what he saw that he can still barely say the monk’s name in interviews; nor could he bring himself to use it in the title of his film about Wirathu. The Venerable W. consists of archival footage and new interviews with Wirathu, as Schroeder essentially lets the leader speak his mind, in sermons to his rabid followers, at public events, and in his monastery, where he espouses his beliefs to the filmmaker. “The main features of the African catfish are that: They grow very fast. They breed very fast too. And they’re violent. They eat their own species and destroy their natural resources. The Muslims are exactly like these fish,” Wirathu, who was born in Kyaukse near Mandalay in 1968, says with a sly smile. He regularly boasts of his accomplishments in subduing the Rohingyas, whom he often refers to using a slur that is the equivalent of the N-word in America.
A megalomaniacal nationalist with extremist positions on patriotism, protectionism, and border crossings and a clever manipulator of social media, Wirathu, inspired by the 1997 book In Fear of Our Race Disappearing, also makes extravagant, debunked claims using false statistics, from declaring that he started the 2007 Saffron Revolution to arguing that the Rohingyas are burning down their own villages so they can blame the Buddhists. Much of what he is saying sounds eerily familiar, evoking racist, nationalist sentiments that are gaining ground around the world, particularly in France, England, and America. “In the USA, if the people want to maintain peace and security, they have to choose Donald Trump,” Wirathu says. Schroeder also speaks with seven men who share their views about Wirathu: W.’s master, U. Zanitar; investigative magazine editor Kyaw Zayar Htun; Saffron Revolution monk U. Kaylar Sa; Fortify Rights creator Matthew Smith; Muslim political candidate Abdul Rasheed; Spanish journalist Carlos Sardiña Galache; and highly revered monk U. Galonni. Together they paint a portrait of a dangerous fanatic who is fomenting bitter hatred that has led to extensive episodes of rape, violence, and murder while the military and the government, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, either support what Wirathu’s doing or merely look the other way. In numerous voiceovers, Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros recites quotations from Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutta, and states various sociopolitical facts. “The Buddha is often above good and evil, but his words should help us limit the mechanics of evil,” she narrates.
Meanwhile, Wirathu, who was declared “the Face of Buddhist Terror” in a June 2013 Time magazine cover story, insists he is doing the right thing for his country. “I help people who have been persecuted by Muslims,” he says. “The threat against Buddhism has reached alert level.” It’s a brutal film to watch, infuriating and frightening, as Schroeder and editor Nelly Quettier clearly and concisely present the facts, without judgment, including scenes of people on fire and being viciously beaten; the director might not make any grand statements against what Wirathu and his flock are doing — he lets the monk take care of that by himself — but the film is a clarion call for us all to be aware of what is happening around the world, as well as in our own backyard. The Venerable W. will be preceded by the short film Où en êtes-vous Barbet Schroeder? (What Are You Up to, Barbet Schroeder?), which goes behind the scenes of his decision to tell Wirathu’s story. Schroeder will be at MoMA to introduce multiple screenings of The Venerable W., Terror’s Advocate, and General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait as well as Charles Bukowski par Barbet Schroeder (The Charles Bukowski Tapes) and “Four by Barbet Schroeder,” a compilation of Koko, le gorille qui parle (Koko: A Talking Gorilla), Le cochon aux patates douces, Maquillages, and Sing Sing. “To Save and Project” continues through January 31 with such other international films as Yvonne Rainer’s Journeys from Berlin, Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII, F. W. Murnau’s Faust, and Chantal Akerman’s Histoires d’Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy.
The men, women, and children in Jane Dickson’s subway mural “Revelers” have been celebrating New Year’s Eve in the Times Square subway station nonstop for ten years, with no appearance of ever slowing down. The Murano glass mosaic depicts dozens of partyers in all kinds of colors, dancing, kissing, shaking noisemakers, blowing into horns, wearing silly hats, and checking their watches to see how far away midnight is. Actually, a few do look plum-tuckered out.
Dickson was an inspired choice to design the work. Born in Chicago, she came to New York City in 1978, a few years after college, and moved into the Times Square area, where she got a job operating the Spectacolor billboard. She also took photographs and made paintings of the neighborhood and its denizens, which has been re-created in the HBO series The Deuce; Dickson used to hang out in the real bar that James Franco’s character runs in the show and was friends with the bartender who Margarita Levieva’s character (Abby) is based on. The artist shares her story in the new book Jane Dickson in Times Square (Anthology Editions, October 2018, $50).
Dickson quickly became part of the New York art world, joining the influential Colab collective, going to late-night clubs, and meeting Mimi Gross, Nan Goldin, Kathy Acker, Peter Hujar, Kiki Smith, David Wojnarowicz, Jenny Holzer, Fab 5 Freddy (who wrote the afterword for her book), and her soon-to-be husband, Charlie Ahearn. Dickson and Ahearn, the writer-director-producer of the genre-defining hip-hop graffiti flick Wild Style, even raised two children in their apartment on Forty-Third St. and Eighth Ave. These days, most of us wouldn’t go anywhere near Times Square on December 31, but the rest of the year you can catch these revelers having a lot more fun in the subway than the rest of us.
The First Nations Dialogues Lenapehoking/New York festival takes place January 5-12 with live performances, community gatherings, discussions, and other special programs focusing on Indigenous cultures in the US, Canada, and Australia. The centerpiece is KIN, a series of events curated by Emily Johnson that includes three conversations with Paola Balla, Genevieve Grieves, and Johnson; a fabric workshop with Spiderwoman Theater cofounder Muriel Miguel; the play-reading series “Reflections of Native Voices,” with Muriel Miguel, Gloria Miguel, Carolyn Dunn, Ed Bourgeois, Henu Josephine Tarrant, Rachael Maza, and Nicholson Billey; presentations by Joshua Pether and S. J. Norman; and the outdoor ceremonial fire gathering “Kinstillatory Mappings in Light and Dark Matter.” Kicking off the Global First Nations Performance Network, First Nations Dialogues is held in partnership with the Lenape Center, Amerinda, American Indian Community House, Abrons Arts Center, American Realness, Danspace Project, La MaMa, Performance Space New York, Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective, Under the Radar, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and the International Society for the Performing Arts. Below are some of the highlights.
Saturday, January 5
Tëmikèkw, an honoring and welcome gathering, with Muriel Miguel, Gloria Miguel, and Deborah Ratelle of Spiderwoman Theater, Diane Fraher (Osage/Cherokee) of Amerinda, the SilverCloud Singers led by Kevin Tarrant of the Hopi and HoChunk Nations, Laura Ortman of the Apache Nation, and fancy shawl dancer Anatasia McAllister of the Colville Confederated Tribes and Hopi Nation, Danspace Project, free with RSVP, 12:30 – 4:00 pm
Saturday, January 5, 7:00
Sunday, January 6, 3:00
Jupiter Orbiting, by Joshua Pether, immersive movement-based work about dissociation and trauma, Performance Space New York, $15
Tuesday, January 8, 7:30
Cicatrix 1 (that which is taken/that which remains), by S. J Norman, four-hour durational ritual, Performance Space New York, $15
Wednesday, January 9, 10:00
Thursday, January 10, 10:00
Friday, January 11, 1:00
Serpentine, by Daina Ashbee, performed by Areli Moran to music composed by Jean-Françoise Blouin, La MaMa, Downstairs Theater, $20-$25
Friday, January 10, 2:00, 6:00, 8:00
Footwork/Technique, by Mariaa Randall, incorporating contemporary Aboriginal footwork and dance legacies, Performance Space New York, $15