“I have always been fascinated about the idea of Qi — the subtle energy that permeates everything in life and links all its elements together. This idea constantly makes me curious about how human beings and the material world are universally related and bonded to each other,” Hunan-born, New York-based multidisciplinary artist Shen Wei says about his latest photography exhibit, “Invisible Atlas,” continuing at Flowers Gallery in Chelsea through February 28. Shen Wei is curious indeed; since his founding of Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2000, he has guided his troupe in performances in such unusual locations as the Park Avenue Armory (in and around Ernesto Neto’s “Anthropodino” installation), the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Charles Engelhard Court, the Prospect Park Bandshell, and the Guggenheim Rotunda. On March 3, Shen Wei will be at the New-York Historical Society in conjunction with the exhibition “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion,” beginning his company’s fifteenth anniversary season by participating in a discussion with dance critic and historian Suzanne Carbonneau; the two also spoke this past November as part of Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance festival, which includes Shen Wei’s Rite of Spring and comes to Lincoln Center later in March. The talk at the New-York Historical Society will feature video clips, selections of the MacArthur Genius’s photography, and live performances of excerpts from Folding, Rite of Spring, and the new Untitled 12-1 as the guest of honor recounts stories from his life and career.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. between Ashland & Rockwell Pl.
Through March 15, $35-$180
BAM Talk with Brian Denney and Nathan Lane, moderated by Linda Winer, $25, 7:30
You’d be hard-pressed to find a sorrier collection of forgotten men, real or fictitious, than the group of pathetic drunks populating Eugene O’Neill’s great American tragedy, The Iceman Cometh, now enjoying a stirring four-hour, forty-five-minute revival at BAM (if the word “enjoy” can be used in describing this staggering work in any way). Written in 1939 but not produced until after WWII, in 1946, the play opens with most of a ragtag bunch of bums asleep on tables in Harry Hope’s (Stephen Ouimette) Last Chance Saloon and rooming house on the Bowery, awaiting the annual arrival of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman (Nathan Lane), a traveling salesman who comes to the bar once a year to celebrate Harry’s birthday by buying drinks for everyone. While the other poor souls are passed out, former anarchist Larry Slade (Brian Dennehy), pouring himself another shot of whiskey, tells bartender Rocky Pioggi (Salvatore Inzerillo), “I’ll be glad to pay up — tomorrow. And I know my fellow inmates will promise the same. They’ve all a touching credulity concerning tomorrows. It’ll be a great day for them, tomorrow — the Feast of All Fools, with brass bands playing! Their ships will come in, loaded to the gunwales with cancelled regrets and promises fulfilled and clean slates and new leases!” A moment later, Rocky, who speaks in a tough dem and doze New Yorkese, says to Larry, “De old Foolosopher, like Hickey calls yuh, ain’t yuh? I s’pose you don’t fall for no pipe dream?” To which Larry explains, “I don’t, no. Mine are all dead and buried behind me. What’s before me is the comforting fact that death is a fine long sleep, and I’m damned tired, and it can’t come too soon for me.” That mood of hopelessness sets the tone of the play, with Larry the leading “Foolosopher” of men whose pipe dreams have long since turned into nightmares, with nothing to look forward to except the next, preferably free, drink. Slowly but surely, the others awake, wondering where Hickey is. “I was dreamin’ Hickey come in de door, crackin’ one of dem drummer’s jokes, wavin’ a big bankroll and we was all goin’ be drunk for two weeks. Wake up and no luck,” gambler Joe Mott (John Douglas Thompson) opines. Also arising are Hope, circus man Ed Mosher (Larry Neumann Jr.), Harvard Law alum Willie Oban (John Hoogenakker), former Boer Commando General Piet Wetjoen (John Judd), former British Infantry Captain Cecil Lewis (John Reeger), former anarchist editor Hugo Kalmar (Lee Wilkof), young former anarchist Don Parritt (Patrick Andrews), and former war correspondent James Cameron, better known as “Jimmy Tomorrow” (James Harms). But these men — along with day bartender Chuck Morello (Marc Grapey), his prostitute girlfriend, Cora (Kate Arrington), and two streetwalkers who work for Chuck, Margie (Lee Stark) and Pearl (Tara Sissom) — have long ago run out of tomorrows. So they spend their days and nights slowly drinking themselves to death, some hanging on to those pipe dreams, waiting for Hickey like Vladimir and Estragon will do a few years later in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, except in this case, Godot/Hickey shows up, waving a wad of bills and waking everyone up — but it turns out to be not nearly as satisfying as they were anticipating.
Dressed in a sharp suit and wearing an even more impressive smile, Hickey bursts in at the end of act one, but he is not quite the good-time guy they have all come to know. Instead, Hickey is no longer drinking, and he has arrived with a message for each and every one of his minions, determined to tell them the truth about their sad lives. He is like a boisterous Bill W., the traveling stock speculator who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s going to buy them all drinks but make them pay in other ways, forcing them to look at what they’ve become. “If anyone wants to get drunk, if that’s the only way they can be happy, and feel at peace with themselves, why the hell shouldn’t they? They have my full and entire sympathy,” Hickey tells Harry. “I know all about that game from soup to nuts. I’m the guy that wrote the book. The only reason I’ve quit is — well, I finally had the guts to face myself and throw overboard the damned lying pipe dream that’d been making me miserable, and do what I had to do for the happiness of all concerned — and then all at once I found I was at peace with myself and I didn’t need booze any more. That’s all there was to it.” Of course, that’s not all there is to it, as is revealed during the next three acts.
In 1990, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre staged a revival of The Iceman Cometh, directed by Robert Falls and starring Dennehy as Hickey. More than twenty years later, Dennehy told longtime collaborator Falls that he wanted to play Larry in a new production. Upon hearing that, Lane contacted Falls, explaining that he had always dreamed of playing Hickey. The show was a huge success in Chicago in 2012, and it is now a huge success at BAM, where it fits in wonderfully with the Harvey’s artfully distressed shabby chic interior. The Harvey doesn’t usually use a curtain, but it does so for The Iceman Cometh, revealing a different set for each act, designed by Kevin Depinet (inspired by John Conklin); there is actually an audible gasp when the third act begins in the main bar area, shown in an unusual narrow perspective leading to a doorway that offers a kind of freedom — and real life — that no one in the play seems to want. Natasha Katz’s lighting design often keeps things in the dark, echoing the lost dreams of these miserable characters. This nearly five-hour production, with three full intermissions, might be epic in scope, but it is beautifully paced by Falls, never dragging, instead moving with a sometimes exhilarating gait. Dennehy (Love Letters, Death of a Salesman) fully captures the heartbreaking duality that exists inside Larry, a clearly intelligent man who has given up his reason for being, someone who could make a difference in the life of all those around him — especially Don, who is seeking him out as a father figure — but he has instead buried himself in the bottle. Lane (It’s Only a Play, The Nance) shines as Hickey, bringing an exuberance to the role that occasionally goes over the top, particularly in the final monologue, not quite hitting its darker quality, but he and Dennehy have a beguiling camaraderie together in these iconic roles. (The play premiered on Broadway in 1946 and has been revived on the Great White Way in 1973, 1985, and 1999; over the years, Hickey has been portrayed by James Barton, James Earl Jones, Dennehy, Lee Marvin, Kevin Spacey, and, most famously, Jason Robards onstage and on film, while Slade has been played by Robert Ryan, James Cromwell, Conrad Bain, Tim Pigott-Smith, and Patrick Stewart.) The Iceman Cometh has never been an easy show to put on or to sit through; don’t be surprised when you see a handful of people exiting the theater and hailing cabs at each intermission. But it’s their loss, as this is a staggering production that looks deeply into the heart of America with a raw honesty that compels audiences to look deep into their own hearts as well.
CABARET CINEMA: PANDORA’S BOX (DIE BÜCHSE DER PANDORA) (G. W. Pabst, 1929)
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St. at Seventh Ave.
Friday, February 20, $10, 9:30
Upadana, or attachment is one of the three Buddhist poisons, along with aversion and ignorance. The Rubin Museum’s latest Brainwave series, “The Attachment Trap,” featuring film screenings and discussions and intimate talks that pair scientists with performers, explores the notion of the attachment trap, which it describes as “a metaphor for a core Buddhist principle: by holding tightly to external sources of happiness, we prevent ourselves from being truly free.” Running through April, the series includes Jake Gyllenhaal and neuroscientist Moran Cerf talking about “The Actor’s Dream,” writer Kevin Sessums and neuroscientist Carl Hart examining “I Left It on the Mountain,” and game designer Eric Zimmerman and neuroscientist John Krakauer attempting to answer the question “Is Life a Game?” Another key component of the Brainwave festival is the Friday-night film program, this year titled “Fixation,” consisting of movies that deal with attachment, which can also be interpreted as desire or greed. The series began, appropriately enough, with Brian De Palma’s Obsession and continues February 20 with G. W. Pabst’s 1929 silent Weimar classic, Pandora’s Box. Based on plays by Frank Wedekind, Pandora’s Box stars Kansas-born Louise Brooks as Lulu, a good-time girl who loves drinking, dancing, and the attention of men. Lulu, in a trend-setting hair bob and bangs, seemingly just can’t say no, whether it’s as the mistress of married newspaper publisher Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner) or her aging first patron, the father-figure Schigolch (Carl Goetz). Schön’s grown son, Alwa (Francis Lederer), and Countess Augusta Geschwitz (Alice Roberts) also have taken quite a fancy to Lulu. Even after Dr. Schön gets engaged to the well-connected socialite Charlotte Marie Adelaide von Zarnikow (Daisy D’ora), he can’t stay away from Lulu, despite knowing the harm that could bring to his reputation and his future. He helps finance and publicize a variety show that Lulu joins through trapeze artist Rodrigo Quast (Krafft-Raschig), a friend of Schigolch’s. But when Dr. Schön brings his fiancée to see the revue, jealousy takes center stage, and things starting going downhill for Lulu in myriad ways, including murder, blackmail, prison, and sex slavery.
Brooks, a former Ziegfeld dancer who also starred in Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl, is riveting as Lulu, a role that almost went to Marlene Dietrich, who ended up playing the lascivious Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel instead, a film with similar themes. Brooks practically floats through Pandora’s Box, as nearly every character puts her up on a pedestal, desiring her in one way or another — most often, of course, sexually. But she is no mere beautiful angel whose life spirals out of control because of others, nor is she a devious devil out to destroy all in her path; however, she does make her bed and is ultimately forced to lie in it, as most clearly evidenced by her outrageously sly smile upon getting caught in flagrante backstage with Dr. Schön by his fiancée. (The revue scene is a staggering tour de force of acting and directing, with Sigfried Arno as the haggard stage manager, providing necessary comic relief.) The relationship between Dr. Schön and Lulu is reminiscent of the ill-fated romance between Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) and Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) in Welles’s Citizen Kane, which might not be mere coincidence, as Kane coscreenwriter Herman Mankiewicz escorted an eighteen-year-old Brooks to see No, No Nanette on Broadway in 1925 and, after he became alcoholically incapacitated, Brooks ghost-wrote his New York Times review, a scene that also worked its way into Kane. More than eighty-five years after its release, Pandora’s Box is still a racy, surprising cautionary tale well ahead of its time, centered by a legendary performance by Brooks, one that is easy to get attached to; Brooks made her last onscreen appearance in the 1938 John Wayne Western Overland Stage Raiders and, after trying her hand at a number of more menial jobs, became a successful film writer, with her works collected in the well-received 1982 book Lulu in Hollywood. The 9:30 Cabaret Cinema screening of Pandora’s Box at the Rubin will be introduced by documentarian Lana Wilson (After Tiller); tickets are $10, but admission to the museum is free starting at 6:00, so get there early to check out such current exhibits as “Witness at a Crossroads: Photographer Marc Riboud in Asia” and “The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide.”
Gōng xǐ fā cái! New York City is ready to celebrate the Year of the Wood Goat (aka the Year of the Ram and the Year of the Sheep) this month with special events all over town, in all five boroughs. The sixteenth New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival will explode in and around Sara D. Roosevelt Park on February 19 at 11:00 am, with live music and dance, speeches by politicians, drum groups, lion, dragon, and unicorn dancers making their way through local businesses, and more than half a million rounds of firecrackers warding off evil spirits and welcoming in a prosperous new year. The Flushing Lunar New Year Parade takes place February 21 at 10:00; following the parade, there will be a family festival at the Queens Botanical Garden ($2-$4, 1:00 - 4:00). Also on February 21 ($5-$12, 1:00 – 4:00), Asia Society will present its annual Family Day: Moon over Manhattan, featuring lion dance and kung-fu demonstrations, live music, and arts and crafts. The New York Chinese Cultural Center will present a Lunar New Year program with folk dances, paper cutting, calligraphy, and lion dances at the Bronx Museum of the Arts on February 21 (free, 2:00 - 4:00). One of our favorite restaurants, Xi’an Famous Foods, will be hosting a culinary Lunar New Year concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on February 21 with MC Jin, Wanting Qu, Clara C, Esther & Lara Veronin, the Shanghai Restoration Project, and Mree, benefiting Apex for Youth ($50-$165, 6:00). There will be a performance by Chinese Theater Works, a zodiac-themed scavenger hunt, and sheep meet-and-greets at the Prospect Park Zoo February 21-22 ($6-$8). The Museum of Chinese in America will give Lunar New Year walking tours on February 21-22 ($8-$15, 11:00 and 1:00), followed on February 28 ($10, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm) by its Lunar New Year Family Festival, with lion dances and workshops, food tastings and demonstrations, storytelling, calligraphy, balloon animals, arts and crafts, and the Red Silk Dancers. The sixteenth annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival will wind its way through Chinatown, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, and Columbus Park on February 22 starting at 1:00, with cultural booths in the park and a parade with floats, antique cars, live performances, and much more from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and other nations.
On February 22 (free - $25, 11:00 – 3:00), the China Institute’s Chinese New Year Family Celebration boasts lion dance and kung-fu performances, gallery tours with receptions, and dumpling and lantern workshops. Dr. Hsing-Lih Chou has curated a Lunar New Year Dance Sampler at Flushing Town Hall on February 22 (free, 2:00). The New York Philharmonic gets into the party spirit with Yo-Yo Ma leading a Chinese New Year musical evening on February 24 at Avery Fisher Hall ($45-$115, 7:30); the program includes the U.S. premiere of Zhao Lin’s Duo concerto for cello, sheng, and orchestra, conducted by Long Yu. Earlier that day, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company and students from the National Dance Institute will perform traditional dances on Josie Robertson Plaza (free, 4:30). The annual Lunar New Year Festival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is set for February 28 (free with suggested museum admission, 12 noon – 5:00), with puppet shows, martial arts demonstrations, dances, storytelling, tea presentations and ceremonies in the Astor Chinese Garden Court, and activities inspired by the exhibition “The Art of the Chinese Album.” And the Queens Zoo will honor the goat/ram/sheep February 28 - March 1 with scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, live live performances, calligraphy workshops, and meet-the-sheep programs.
Museum of Modern Art
Special Exhibitions Gallery, third floor
The Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Painting and Sculpture Gallery, Gallery 5, fifth floor
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Daily through February 22, $25
Walking into MoMA’s “Sturtevant: Double Trouble” exhibit, you’re likely to be overcome with a feeling of déjà vu, or perhaps wonder whether you’ve actually sauntered into one of the museum’s painting and sculpture galleries featuring works by a multitude of artists. Ohio-born artist Elaine Sturtevant spent her long career — she died in May 2014, while participating in this first major American survey of her oeuvre — taking the work of others and making it her own, leaving some critics to cheer her bold individuality and others to decry her as little more than a plagiarist. “Same is a copy but it’s not the same,” she said, fiercely defending her method, which delves into wide-ranging questions of authorship, gender, and originality. “Her longstanding concern with the political, economic, and cultural circumstances that underpin art’s creation and consumption is an essential part of her work,” MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry writes in the foreword to the exhibition catalog. “‘Sturtevant: Double Trouble’ draws attention to that aspect of her bold and groundbreaking practice, suggesting that she opens the art history of her time — and ours — in new directions, challenging us to rethink many of our assumptions about what we see, how we value what we see, and the histories that our institutions perpetuate.” Sturtevant didn’t just “repeat” random works of others; instead, she asks viewers to reconsider iconic images by major artists, usually done without the express permission of those artists, aside from Andy Warhol, who let her do whatever she wanted with his films and silkscreens. In “Warhol Flowers,” she has taken an image, generally associated with femininity, by a sexually ambiguous Pop artist, and forced the viewer to reconsider it in multiple ways. In “Johns 0 through 9,” she stencils the numbers zero through nine in the style of Jasper Johns, in encaustic on a ripped piece of newspaper from the business section, adding her own element of the financial nature of art. In “Study for Muybridge, Plate #97: Woman Walking,” Sturtevant has photographed herself, naked, walking in front of re-created paintings by James Rosenquist, Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein. (Interestingly, this past November, Sturtevant’s painting “Lichtenstein, Frighten Girl” sold at Christie’s for more than $3.4 million, up from $710,500 in 2011; multiples of the Lichtenstein lithograph on which it is based, “Crying Girl,” have reached as high as $78,400.)
In “Duchamp Man Ray Portrait,” Sturtevant depicts her face, neck, and head covered in shaving cream, a decidedly male activity, echoing Man Ray’s 1924 gelatin silver print “Duchamp with Shaving Lather for Monte Carlo Bond.” In the collage “Working Drawing Wesselmann Great American Nude Lichtenstein Hot Dog,” Sturtevant juxtaposes works by two seminal artists, making a deliciously wry and decadent statement about women as sex objects. She also copies, er, appropriates, um, pays homage to, uh, skewers, well, echoes, eh, repeats, oh, reconfigures works by Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Joseph Beuys, Keith Haring, Frank Stella, and Robert Gober. There are also several video installations from 2010 and 2012, further repurposing pop-culture imagery in the digital age, including re-creating the decidedly analog “Pac-Man” game as if she herself is eating up and spitting out art history. In the September-October 2005 issue of Index magazine, she told Peter Halley, in reference to criticism of her 1973 show “Studies for Warhols’ Marilyns Beuys’ Actions and Objects Duchamps’ Etc. Including Film,” at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, “The reviews for that show were the same as always — that I was reviewing history, or that the pieces were all copies, blah blah blah. I realized that if I continued to work and get that kind of critique, then the work would get diluted. So I decided to wait until the mental retards caught up. And, indeed they did.” It’s a shame Sturtevant didn’t live long enough to see what everyone had to say about MoMA’s stellar survey, which continues through February 22. (On February 21 at 11:30, there will be a special Gallery Session, “20 Questions in the Wormhole,” which examines the intentions of this fascinating, exciting, and controversial “copycat artist.”)
CINÉSALON: THE TREE, THE MAYOR, AND THE MEDIATHEQUE (L’ARBRE, LE MAIRE ET LA MÉDIATHÈQUE) (LES SEPTS HASARDS) (Éric Rohmer, 1993)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, February 17, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through February 24
Éric Rohmer’s The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque is a delightfully simple, outrageously funny satire that stands apart from the majority of the French auteur’s works, especially his three famous series: Six Moral Tales, Comedies and Proverbs, and Tales of the Four Seasons. “French can be illogical, as we’ll see,” school principal Marc Rossignol (Fabrice Luchini) tells his young students at the beginning, and the same can be said for the French characters in the film as well, each one thinking they are nothing if not completely logical. Rohmer divides The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque into seven chapters, each built around a conditional “if” clause; for example, chapter four begins, “If Blandine Lenoir, at the monthly ‘Tomorrow,” had not, while recording a cultural broadcast, inadvertently unplugged her answering machine…” Each chapter pits philosophical, sociopolitical foes against one another as the small rural town of Saint-Juire-Champgillon prepares to build a new cultural, sports, and media center on an expanse of greenery that is home to a large, beautiful old tree. The center is the pet project of the mayor, Julien Dechaumes (Pascal Greggory), who aspires to higher office, while Rossignol is dead-set against anyone tampering with the natural environment. The battle heats up as magazine editor Régis Lebrun-Blondet (François-Marie Banier) hires freelance journalist Blandine Lenoir (Clémentine Amouroux) to do a story on the town’s situation.
Arguments abound over parking lots, the relative values of country vs. city, traditional farming vs. new advances, form vs. function, politics and ecology, and chance vs. the imponderable nature of history, involving Rossignol, Dechaumes, Lebrun-Blondet, Lenoir, architect Antoine Pergola (Michel Jaouen), the mayor’s girlfriend, author Bérénice Beaurivage (Arielle Dombasle), and even Rossignol’s ten-year-old daughter, Zoé (Galaxie Barbouth). Oddly, and most refreshingly, the extremely French rational, irrational, scientific, metaphysical, subtle, obvious, logical, and illogical discussions don’t involve any smoking, drinking, or sex. Even so, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque, which features an endearingly goofy score by Sébastien Erms, is a purely French film from start to finish, a lovely little slice of life that is one of Rohmer’s unsung masterworks. The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque is screening February 17 at 4:00 & 7:30 in the French Institute Alliance Française’s CinéSalon series “Eccentrics of French Comedy” series; the 7:30 show will be introduced by film critic Nicholas Elliott, and both shows will be followed by a wine reception. The series concludes February 24 with Luc Moullet’s The Land of Madness, introduced by theater director Pavol Liska.