Friday, April 24, 2009

33 Variations

33 Variations is a new play by Moisés Kaufman, the man who brought us The Laramie Project. Now, 33 Variations is more of standard well-made play, whereas Laramie is more of a theatre-documentary of sorts, made up of soundbites Kaufman collected when he visited the town where Matthew Shepard was murdered.

Starring the formidable (and totally hot, still) Jane Fonda, Kaufman's new play tells the story of Dr. Katherine Brandt, a musicologist with a specialization on Beethoven, who is dying of Lou Gerig's disease.

Fonda as Barbarella; Fonda, present day: still hot.

Dr. Brandt is obsessed with Beethoven's interpretation of Diabelli's waltz. When asked to write one variation on the piece, Beethoven ends up writing an astounding thirty-three separate variations. And, if he'd had this way, and his health, he most likely would have written more. What was it about he waltz that obsessed him so? And why was he so determined to finish the variations when he was dying, and had more pressing compositions like The Requiem and the Ninth Symphony to consider?

Fonda is, unbelievably, 72 years old, and her presence at the beginning of the play seems to suggest a very, very young fifty. To cast Fonda in a role that calls for the character's severe physical degeneration only highlights the total and utter devastation of this illness. As a professor, it is most heartbreaking when Dr. Brandt points out to her research companion, that her tongue has stopped working. Communication, in this play, in life, is everything.

But then there's the art, and the music. She travels to Germany against the advice of her doctor's nurse, played by Colin Hanks, who, predictably, falls in love with Dr. Brandt's hardened, worthless daughter, played by Samantha Mathis. Mathis, a washed-up movie star from the early nineties, should have promise. But as I watched her in the play, I realized this is something I'd been saying her entire career. Honestly, Mathis cannot act. She is not an actress, and her failure in this role really damages the mother-daughter tension in the play.

I want to like you, Mathis. But, I just can't.

Colin Hanks does a little bit better job of being the comic relief-y goofball of the play, but being Tom Hanks' kid won't save you every time, Colin. If you really want to be an actor, you've got to learn how to be comfortable onstage. So do some more theater, and get back to me.

Overall, this play is entertaining, and heartfelt. But let's get real here, Kaufman. You've basically just written another version of W;t, and inserted Beethoven for John Donne . . . hence the semi-colon in its title. (W;t tells the story of a John Donne scholar, also a mature, formidable lady, dying of ovarian cancer). I suppose, if I hadn't seen W;t, I would think 33 Variations a damn good piece of work. But the fact of the matter is, I have seen it, and dammit Kaufman, you've just borrowed a bit too much. Unfortunately for you, Margaret Edson is smarter than you, and she's written a better play.

33 Variations surely has its moments. The set design is beautiful, and in one moment, during an x-Ray, Dr. Brandt leans back in exhaustion to find herself leaning against Beethoven himself.

Yes, he's in the play. For the most part, it works. Occasionally, it's annoying. W;it doesn't engage in these sort of shenanigans, and without comic relief, it can become totally depressing. But there, I've said it: 33 Variations isn't very original.

That said, it's still worth seeing for Fonda's performance. She has completely committed to this character, physically and emotionally, and to watch an actor like Fonda at the top of her game at her age is like watching an aging all-star athlete beat the hopeful young underdog. There's certainly something inspirational about this, and Dr. Brandt's final monologue, which reminds us that the whole point of a variation is to pick apart a theme, to see where each route leads, is the whole point of living. That it's about each moment. The details.

For us healthy people, this remains a very important message.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Dear Readers,

Today I launched an online literary journal called CANDOR.

Our aim is to create a space where women can spar with text and culture.

The theme for our first issue is SURVIVAL.

Call for submissions begins now, and closes June 1st. If you're interested, I hope you'll submit!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath

Gawker tagged this interview with Ryan Adams for Shelf Awareness. For those of you who don't know, he's written a book! It's called Infinity Blues. I've got to get my hands on a copy. Here's Ryan's interview below, followed by my answers!

Book Brahmin: Ryan Adams

My name is Ryan Adams. I am going deaf from Ménière's Disease. I am 34. I am a recovering drunk and amphetamine addict. I am a visual artist first, a writer second, and I bang on guitars to sell my poetry to the dulled masses. I love, love, love donuts, skateboarding, my girlfriend, our dog, sunshine, Los Angeles, reading and daydreaming. I used to live in New York City for a long time. I fought like hell for the city when people left for Brooklyn and dumped every penny I could into the mission and the museums. I got shat on by the New York Times for long enough so I moved. I will always love David Letterman and 2nd Ave Deli forever. Akashic Books has just published my collection of non-music pieces, Infinity Blues.

On your nightstand now:

Cup of coffee, digital shitty hotel clock, broken channel changer holding up computer cable into wall socket and Reading & Writing Chinese: Traditional Character Edition by William McNaughton and Li Yang.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand, Light in August by William Faulkner.

Your top five authors:

Edward Estlin Cummings, Henry Miller, W. H. Auden, Sylvia Plath and Anne Frank.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Paul Auster's New York Trilogy.

Book that changed your life:

Roget's Thesaurus.

Favorite line from a book:

"Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos."--Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Bell Jar.

Why you write:

It feels like the noble thing to do in a world of fake smiles, cowards and so, so many undocumented miracles if standing in the middle of parking lots and laughing for no reason was one. And to see how many times I can get away with the word unicorn in otherwise unsettled text. And vanity. Vanity. Vanity.


Book Junkie: Jessica

My name is Jessica. I am 23. I am a recovering shoe and tote bag addict. I am a performer first, a writer second, and I'd probably be a florist in some other life. I love, love, love french bulldogs and pugs, clothes, my boyfriend, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, spring, New York, reading and restaurant-ing. I used to live in Georgia for a long time. I still love the South and wax nostalgic, but mainly I just miss my family. I worked in publishing for a while until I got dumped. I will always love book parties and the New Yorker forever. I hope someday to publish a book of essays, the most unpublishable kind of book, ever.

On your nightstand now:

Glass of water, my journal, The Diaries of Louise Bourgeois, The Complete Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath, The Complete Poems of Robert Lowell, and Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Scarlett Letter. Young Young: Slightly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Your top five authors:

Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, and William Styron.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Ha! Paul Auster's Collected Prose.

Book that changed your life:

To the Lighthouse.

Favorite line from a book:

"Life; London, this moment of June." - Mrs. Dalloway

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Franny and Zooey.

Why you write:

Writing I think is the ultimate test for the brain. I write nonfiction, so I'm always trying to hone in on getting my point across and being as concise as possible while introducing some artistry and creativity into the idea. I find it challenging, and I like a challenge.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

My apologies for the lull in postage. I've been working on the four book reviews I have forthcoming in the next month. Luckily for me, I love to read. The times are tough, however, and money's tight. I'm very lucky to be employed, but sometimes I feel a little like Susan up there, dragging my bag around town, and taking a bath in the public restrooms. Ok, so I don't really do that second part. You know what I mean, though, right?

Everyone's been tossing this little ditty around the internet. It's a tough sell for me. Frankly, unless you've got a cushy job or a trust fund I think it's difficult to be creative with the looming grim reaper of unemployment flashing his shit all over town. That said, I'm trying to focus on the positive. I figure, Susan had plenty of fun even though she was basically a squatter and lived out of a box. Albeit, a really chic box.

Thinking positive: it's almost spring / summer (really the two are combined in New York). Soon I'll be moving into a new apartment with my beau, and it'll be Saturday and Sunday in the park, with iced coffee.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Are you a bookslut?

If you're a bookslut in need of something to read, I highly recommend Leanne Shapton's faux auction catalog, Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including Street Fashion and Jewlery. Through the lot descriptions Leanne tells the story of the four-year failed realtionship between Hal and Lenore. The book is subtle, heartbreaking, and smart. And it's just been optioned by Brad Pitt, for a movie version starring himself and Natalie Portman. I was lucky enough to interview Leanne for Bookslut, a fantastic site dedicated to interviews, reviews, and features on literature . . . read our conversation here.

Bookslut was also kind enough to run my review of Molly Haskell's book on Gone with the Wind, Frankly My Dear, which was really a pleasure to read . . . Haskell gives a refreshing break-down of Scarlett's character and makes a convincing argument for the staying power of the film, even in the face of its less than savory presentation of slavery. Haskell really hones in on the gender studies and sexual politics of the film . . . a must-read if you're interested in the intersection of cinema and zeitgeist.

Thanks to Bookslut, and Happy Reading!