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Marianna Torgovnick

Feb 23
2014

Meta-Theater With a Heart

How few words make a scene? Can 4 words capture emotion? Those are the kinds of questions asked by Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information—a brainy but also fun play now on view at The Minetta Lane. It was fun to catch up with this playwright, who is always worth a look. Fun too to see The Minetta Lane theater up and running again. In fact, it was my second time there this year.

Meta-Theater With a Heart
How few words make a scene? Can 4 words capture emotion? Those are the kinds of questions asked by Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information—a brainy but also fun play now on view at The Minetta Lane. It was fun to catch up with this playwright, who is always worth a look. Fun too to see The Minetta Lane theater up and running again. In fact, it was my second time there this year.

Tags: Minetta Lane Theater New York Caryl Churchill plays words love information

Feb 13
2014

Fact Fiction Part II.  Two delightful pieces of recycling fact and fiction to make art now on view at MoMA. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s charming 1975 polar bear is so convincing because it’s real—kind of. Actually, it’s a carefully artful photograph of a diorama at NY’s American Museum of Natural History that makes you want to say (as the day does) brrrrr.  Below, Robert Rauschenberg”s Canyon (1959) recycles a stuffed eagle the artist found on a garbage heap outside Carnegie Hall.  SW meets NW meets NYC.  

Tags: MoMA AMNH museums art recycling polar bears eagles ny

Jan 22
2014

Fact Fiction Now. Part One.

I’ve always been a sucker for factual fiction: making history or literary history come alive, while giving play to the imagination. Hilary Mantel is one of the best and inspired me to do work of my own once I realized that Hilary Mantel was not always Hilary Mantel. A profile in The New Yorker revealed that she had middling success with her early fictions, her success coming late, as it has for E.L. James, Suzanne Collins and other women who have produced best-selling novels. What I love in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is the amount of sheer suspense—the urge to know what happens next—on the way to a well-known ending, the beheading of Anne Boleyn. We’ve been there recently, in The Tudors; we were there in A Man for All Seasons and The Other Boleyn Girl. The lucky folk in England who see the Royal Shakespeare Company do these plays will once again have the pleasure not of suspense, but of lucid, lively language and the familiar made unfamiliar again. In short:  intelligent factual fiction.

Fact Fiction Now. Part One.
I’ve always been a sucker for factual fiction: making history or literary history come alive, while giving play to the imagination. Hilary Mantel is one of the best and inspired me to do work of my own once I realized that Hilary Mantel was not always Hilary Mantel. A profile in The New Yorker revealed that she had middling success with her early fictions, her success coming late, as it has for E.L. James, Suzanne Collins and other women who have produced best-selling novels. What I love in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is the amount of sheer suspense—the urge to know what happens next—on the way to a well-known ending, the beheading of Anne Boleyn. We’ve been there recently, in The Tudors; we were there in A Man for All Seasons and The Other Boleyn Girl. The lucky folk in England who see the Royal Shakespeare Company do these plays will once again have the pleasure not of suspense, but of lucid, lively language and the familiar made unfamiliar again. In short:  intelligent factual fiction.

2 notes Tags: plays Hilary Mantel Royal Shakespeare Company England The Tudors anne boleyn Susanne Collins e.l. james

Jan 14
2014

MoMA IN 1939. Back then, the building had the shock of the modern:  you can see that here. Now the low-scale brownstones on W 53rd Street are long gone, though the glam apartment buildings on W. 54th remain. The picture below is fascinating, worth many words. I loved seeing it and pass it along. 

    Fourteen years ago, The Museum of Modern Art rehung all its galleries for an illuminating year of self-study and then closed for a major expansion and renovation. When it reopened in 2004, it acquired more women’s art—mostly, at today’s prices, photographs; it acquired some African American art, especially Jacob Lawrence’s great Migration series; it looked towards Russia and Eastern Europe, purchasing Malevich in 2007. Now the Museum plans to expand again at the cost of the old Museum of Folk Art.

      MoMA gets crowded, more and more so. One recent afternoon, at the very late hour of 4:30, it resembled Grand Central more than MoMA. I’m reserving judgement on the new plan, especially on the proposed opening of the beloved Sculpture Garden—the word “beloved” is always used, for good reason. But I am bemused by this image of change around MoMA and of old-time beauty, lost.

MoMA IN 1939. Back then, the building had the shock of the modern:  you can see that here. Now the low-scale brownstones on W 53rd Street are long gone, though the glam apartment buildings on W. 54th remain. The picture below is fascinating, worth many words. I loved seeing it and pass it along. 
    Fourteen years ago, The Museum of Modern Art rehung all its galleries for an illuminating year of self-study and then closed for a major expansion and renovation. When it reopened in 2004, it acquired more women’s art—mostly, at today’s prices, photographs; it acquired some African American art, especially Jacob Lawrence’s great Migration series; it looked towards Russia and Eastern Europe, purchasing Malevich in 2007. Now the Museum plans to expand again at the cost of the old Museum of Folk Art.
      MoMA gets crowded, more and more so. One recent afternoon, at the very late hour of 4:30, it resembled Grand Central more than MoMA. I’m reserving judgement on the new plan, especially on the proposed opening of the beloved Sculpture Garden—the word “beloved” is always used, for good reason. But I am bemused by this image of change around MoMA and of old-time beauty, lost.

Tags: museums MoMA New York Architecture

Nov 1
2013

HURRICANE SANDY, POST-HALLOWEEN MUSINGS 2013

Natural disasters and man-made ones often have uncanny beauty but horrific real-time effects: witness the photo of Hurricane Sandy attached or the many reprinted this week. Bridge arched in a tender, stable horizontal; clear, almost luminous grey sky; water ominously breaching the shore.  Like everyone else in the city, I saw the floods as a game-changer, even though most of its effects were invisible for days, weeks, and even a complete year afterwards.  Lights out in my neighborhood and startlingly, everywhere Downtown? Sure. Subways not working, no running water, sketchy supplies?  Sure again.  But the Chelsea galleries flooded and closed for weeks; three major hospitals for months?  Not as well known or publicized.  Tunnels so flooded that now they have been closed for year-long work; Ellis Island too?  Not understood at all until recent postings. Plus, of course, relatives and friends still working to restore homes and businesses, one year after.

       What does all this have to do with Halloween? Some random observations.  There were more trick-or-treaters this year than any I recall:  a sauntering out after a forced recoil?  The night was good-natured and (in the Village) fairly raucous, as always.  But a somber thread ran just below the surface. Ghosts, skeletons, and witches abounded, as usual.  But they were rivaled, this year, by zombies:  zombie nurses, zombie schoolgirls, zombie astronauts, zombie rock stars. Among little girls out early, Snow White and princesses prevailed. Oddly enough, and touchingly, I saw no zombie Snow Whites.

HURRICANE SANDY, POST-HALLOWEEN MUSINGS 2013
Natural disasters and man-made ones often have uncanny beauty but horrific real-time effects: witness the photo of Hurricane Sandy attached or the many reprinted this week. Bridge arched in a tender, stable horizontal; clear, almost luminous grey sky; water ominously breaching the shore.  Like everyone else in the city, I saw the floods as a game-changer, even though most of its effects were invisible for days, weeks, and even a complete year afterwards.  Lights out in my neighborhood and startlingly, everywhere Downtown? Sure. Subways not working, no running water, sketchy supplies?  Sure again.  But the Chelsea galleries flooded and closed for weeks; three major hospitals for months?  Not as well known or publicized.  Tunnels so flooded that now they have been closed for year-long work; Ellis Island too?  Not understood at all until recent postings. Plus, of course, relatives and friends still working to restore homes and businesses, one year after.
       What does all this have to do with Halloween? Some random observations.  There were more trick-or-treaters this year than any I recall:  a sauntering out after a forced recoil?  The night was good-natured and (in the Village) fairly raucous, as always.  But a somber thread ran just below the surface. Ghosts, skeletons, and witches abounded, as usual.  But they were rivaled, this year, by zombies:  zombie nurses, zombie schoolgirls, zombie astronauts, zombie rock stars. Among little girls out early, Snow White and princesses prevailed. Oddly enough, and touchingly, I saw no zombie Snow Whites.

2 notes Tags: Hurricane sandy Halloween NY subways beauty horror zombies

Sep 29
2013

REVISITING 1944 in 2013

Claude Lanzmann began his interviews for Shoah with what he intended as an expose of the head of the Jewish Council at Theresienstadt, Benjamin Murmelstein. Then he found himself convinced not only that the man was not guilty of sacrificing his fellow Jews or a Nazi collaborator but someone facing no good choices at a time when history offered none. At great length, Murmelstein makes his case that reinforcing the artificial image the Nazis cultivated of the “privileged camp”in a propaganda film made in 1944 represented the best chance for his own and his fellow inmates’ survival. [I think of Sebald’s masterful sequences in Austerlitz and feel glad to have seen clips of the original propaganda films here. Even without slow motion, the faces look so sad.] Murmelstein is witty, urbane, and filled not with self-hatred but with a sense that he made mistakes that history has judged harshly but he—and, after a lapse of almost 35 years—Lanzmann see as reasonable choices and perhaps even the best ones. Long, tough, and dense, like many of Lanzmann’s films, this documentary opens up new insights even for me, someone steeped in WWII history (including Nisko, a prominent stop in the film). I felt most impressed by the director’s hallmark: showing place and letting the site (empty and peopled by his interviewees) speak. 1944 lived in 1975 when Lanzmann filmed the original interviews. Now 87—his subject’s age back then— Lanzmann has produced a thought provoking film.  

Tags: Nazis WWII Jews film NYFF morality history age Holocaust Shoah

Sep 9
2013

After seeing the new bio-doc Salinger @SecretSalinger, I almost did not want to print J.D. Salinger’s photo. Privacy, people! Part hagiography, part celebrity porn, it both taught me things I did not know and yet, curiously, made me feel the poorer for knowing them. Teaching the book this term and pondering whether to recommend this film to students. 

After seeing the new bio-doc Salinger @SecretSalinger, I almost did not want to print J.D. Salinger’s photo. Privacy, people! Part hagiography, part celebrity porn, it both taught me things I did not know and yet, curiously, made me feel the poorer for knowing them. Teaching the book this term and pondering whether to recommend this film to students. 

Tags: Salinger novels Weinstein Company movies documentaries the catcher in the rye books

Aug 19
2013

TV MOSTLY WORTH BLOGGING ABOUT—AND ONE DISAPPOINTMENT

Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad: it’s no secret that tv has gotten more interesting than movies, especially with the availability of streaming and the dearth of serious films. Blue Jasmine and The Butler are holding down the cinema fort this August. While tv is so crackling that I wish I had thought to write Difficult Men, because, gee, there are quite a few!

Liking to be positive, I am still going negative about a favorite show last season—Network. In 2012, Network set itself against recent news that managed to have relevance. When it mentioned the Koch brothers and the Tea Party on air and in highly critical terms, I thought perhaps bad news was going mainstream and that Americans at large would be informed. But the current season has lost the gift of relevance.

The pseudo-scandal that provides the continuing plot (a reported U.S. use of Sarin) lacks teeth because it, unlike the Koch brothers and, say, drone attacks, is fictional. The series’ love duets continue to sail past each other in the night until I say, enough all ready. 

But it’s the political punch I’m missing.  Breaking Bad has me guessing like mad and rooting for the bad guy, Walt, as well as for Jessie, one of the more fascinating characters on tv.  Not to mention Skylar. After Episode One, Orange is the New Black hones in on the backstory of one of the inmates quite hauntingly. So, good for tv. I guess I can become a tv critic but still hope to find some thrills at the movies too!  Fall … that’s the ticket.

TV MOSTLY WORTH BLOGGING ABOUT—AND ONE DISAPPOINTMENT
Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad: it’s no secret that tv has gotten more interesting than movies, especially with the availability of streaming and the dearth of serious films. Blue Jasmine and The Butler are holding down the cinema fort this August. While tv is so crackling that I wish I had thought to write Difficult Men, because, gee, there are quite a few!
Liking to be positive, I am still going negative about a favorite show last season—Network. In 2012, Network set itself against recent news that managed to have relevance. When it mentioned the Koch brothers and the Tea Party on air and in highly critical terms, I thought perhaps bad news was going mainstream and that Americans at large would be informed. But the current season has lost the gift of relevance.
The pseudo-scandal that provides the continuing plot (a reported U.S. use of Sarin) lacks teeth because it, unlike the Koch brothers and, say, drone attacks, is fictional. The series’ love duets continue to sail past each other in the night until I say, enough all ready. 
But it’s the political punch I’m missing.  Breaking Bad has me guessing like mad and rooting for the bad guy, Walt, as well as for Jessie, one of the more fascinating characters on tv.  Not to mention Skylar. After Episode One, Orange is the New Black hones in on the backstory of one of the inmates quite hauntingly. So, good for tv. I guess I can become a tv critic but still hope to find some thrills at the movies too!  Fall … that’s the ticket.

Tags: tv breaking bad organge is the new black Network blue jasmine the butler drone strikes

Aug 12
2013

DOWNTIME, CAROLINA STYLE

I met a man once who called these majestic North Carolina trees “scrub   pines” and I could tell he did not have, and never would, a feeling for this place of massive greenery. I am spending some downtime here, as most people do during summers but I have not so far this year.  Reading, doing little things, and maybe (if I can’t help myself) tweaking my novel or my syllabi a bit. My theme word for the day is “immediacy.” “Immediacy” and presence. Downtown, Carolina style.

DOWNTIME, CAROLINA STYLE
I met a man once who called these majestic North Carolina trees “scrub   pines” and I could tell he did not have, and never would, a feeling for this place of massive greenery. I am spending some downtime here, as most people do during summers but I have not so far this year.  Reading, doing little things, and maybe (if I can’t help myself) tweaking my novel or my syllabi a bit. My theme word for the day is “immediacy.” “Immediacy” and presence. Downtown, Carolina style.

Jul 21
2013

If you think this image is wacky, it is—but, then, so is the play it comes from: The Explorers Club, currently at Manhattan Theater Club in New York. In a delightfully overstuffed set designed by Donyale Werle, who also did Peter and the Starcatcher and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, a cast of characters plays out a high British farce, written by American (I think) Nell Benjamin, that is laugh-out-loud funny. The heroine Phillida Spotte-Hume has discovered a lost city where life is harsh and people worship spoons. When a warrior from the tribe inadvertently hits Queen Victoria during an audience, all hell (or all fun) breaks loose. The play is for anyone, like me, who loves Tarzan stories and cult films like Mountains of the Moon. The warrior, nicknamed “Luigi,” is hilarious when he masquerades as the London’s worst bartender. And you’ve got to love any play with a crackerjack ensemble cast and a heroine named Phillida.  

If you think this image is wacky, it is—but, then, so is the play it comes from: The Explorers Club, currently at Manhattan Theater Club in New York. In a delightfully overstuffed set designed by Donyale Werle, who also did Peter and the Starcatcher and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, a cast of characters plays out a high British farce, written by American (I think) Nell Benjamin, that is laugh-out-loud funny. The heroine Phillida Spotte-Hume has discovered a lost city where life is harsh and people worship spoons. When a warrior from the tribe inadvertently hits Queen Victoria during an audience, all hell (or all fun) breaks loose. The play is for anyone, like me, who loves Tarzan stories and cult films like Mountains of the Moon. The warrior, nicknamed “Luigi,” is hilarious when he masquerades as the London’s worst bartender. And you’ve got to love any play with a crackerjack ensemble cast and a heroine named Phillida.  

Tags: modern primitives theater Nell Benjamin MTC-NYC Tarzan farce laughter