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New York Film Festival 2012 Antonio Méndez Esparza’s Here and There

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New York Film Festival 2012: Here and There

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New York Film Festival 2012: Here and There

Antonio Méndez Esparza’s Here and There is as studiously unself-dramatizing as its subject, whose signature song, which functions as the movie’s theme, includes the refrain, “I just want to be humble with real people.” A fictionalized biography, it reimagines a slice from the life of Pedro De los Santos Juárez, a 30-ish amateur musician from a small town in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Like so many of his countrymen, Pedro must periodically desert his family in order to support them, leaving his wife and daughters at home for months or years while he earns money in the United States. But the film doesn’t show those journeys or any part of his life north of the border. Instead, it focuses on the home life Pedro clearly cherishes but is forced to keep leaving behind.

Lost and Found in Translation: Playwright Rajiv Joseph on Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

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Lost and Found in Translation: Playwright Rajiv Joseph on Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Lost and Found in Translation: Playwright Rajiv Joseph on Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which opened March 31 on Broadway, heralds the arrival of compelling new voice in the American theater. And it’s not just because the production has snagged A-list comedian Robin Williams to play the title role, or because the play was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize. This surrealistic dark comedy, set in the early months of the U.S. occupation of Iraq’s capital city, is a bold and vividly theatrical take on issues and concerns that face Americans in the 21st century. The buzz about the 36-year-old Ohio-born writer has been building for some years now. His first play, Huck and Holden, debuted Off Broadway in 2005. Numerous awards and grants, as well as productions of his plays in theaters across the country, followed. Bengal Tiger, his most powerful play to date, has been given a gripping and imaginative production, directed by Moisés Kaufman, twice in Los Angeles and now in New York at the Richard Rodgers Theater. I spoke with Joseph last month, when the play was still in previews.

NYU Strikes Again!

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NYU Strikes Again!
NYU Strikes Again!

According to the New York Times, New York University, the alma mater of Slant Magazine’s publishers, is proposing to demolish the Provincetown Playhouse, which is adjacent to Washington Square Park, the heart of NYU’s “campus.” A stable and bottling plant before being turned into a theater in 1918 by the Provincetown Players (among them, Eugene O’Neill), the playhouse was where Bette Davis made her New York stage debut at the start of the Great Depression. NYU has a long tradition of swallowing up real estate and putting profit before culture and community: Some of the school’s most recent acquisitions include the decades-old concert hall and nightclub Palladium, which was torn down and then courteously christened “Palladium Hall Dormitory,” and the Bottom Line, one of the very first concert venues I went to when I moved to New York 10 years ago, which was put out of business after NYU refused to agree to a reasonable payment plan for the back rent that was owed to them (which amounted to little more than one student’s tuition over the course of four years). Then, of course, there’s that monstrosity of a student center that was erected shortly after I graduated, which didn’t result in the destruction of any landmark building but, with its gigantic staircase and looming shadow, sticks out amidst the tasteful turn-of-the-century Greenwich Village architecture like the obscene monument of bureaucracy that it is. It’s almost as bad as that glass-shaft eyesore on Astor Place that, according to its advertisements, promised to be “provocative!” and “undulating!” and which now houses a Chase Manhattan bank (the “Mercedes-Benz of banks,” I was told by a customer service agent when I closed my account there several years ago) on its ground floor. But I digress. In the Times article, the architect for the new building claims that his design “looks more similar to what was there [originally] than when it was renovated in the 1940s.” Oh, well in that case, bring me a bulldozer!

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.