No woman can rock like Polly Jean Harvey, not even punk priestess Patti Smith. With seven albums under her belt (counting 4-Track Demos and the shamefully under-heard Dance Hall at Louse Point), Miss Polly is as consistently grandiose as she is ever-evolving. At her best (To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?), Harveyâs haunting moans and shattering screeches flatter her epic, almost primordial meditations on love and sex. With Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, itâs New York City sheâs singing to, and as such itâs only fitting that Harveyâs 2001 Headlining Tour commences in the Big Apple, the city that breathed life into half of Stories, culminating at Londonâs Brixton Academy (Dorset gave birth to the albumâs other half).
Waiting for Harvey to take the Hammerstein stage at her second New York date, a cohort informed our immediate area of the singerâs rumored romantic imbroglio with the shamelessly abrasive ex-model-actor-turned-director-incognito Vincent Gallo. An accomplished, lyrically campy opening jam session by Morris Tepper served as a comedic backdrop to our fantastical musings on the sexual escapades of Harvey and her soul sisters Björk, Fiona Apple, and Tori Amos. Intense and empowering as her compatriots may be, Harvey asserts her femininity with pagan guns ablazinâ and itâs force thatâs unfettered, raw, and truly erotic to behold. We concluded that Gallo must be a lucky guy. Waiting for Tepper to clear the stage for Harvey, we hoped he understood that the son of God had to die for his all-powerful sheela-na-gig.
A simple blackness serves as Pollyâs backdrop as she emerges from backstage. (Madonna can put on a fierce spectacle, but with Polly it is all about the music.) Her contradiction is instantly on display as she steps up to the mic. Clothed in a black satiny skintight outfit, she could easily be showcasing some Adult Contemporary Vegas act. But this is Miss Polly, picking up a guitar and strumming silently on stage to “This Mess Weâre In.” Outside, the moon shines brightly over New York as she sings, “You must leave now/Before the sunrise.” Sheâs an undeniably shy creature when it comes to thanking her audience. Her apologia is her music, though, so itâs okay. Back aching from standing on the floor for two hours, I couldnât help but read every Harvey tale of urban angst as a love paean to New York. Her morbid playfulness is on full display with “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,” possibly the best of Storiesâs uptempo tracks. Polly spent six months in New York before writing the songs for her last album, but “Whore” feels as if it were telegraphed from Hellâs Kitchen in the late 70s, when the streets were worked by loveless pimps and beat-up whores. Her sly cackle is her speed-induced call for loveâeveryone needs a fix, even Polly fans.
How will Boston, Los Angeles, and Brixton react to Harveyâs New York flavor? Theyâll dig “Hair” and rejoice in “Send His Love to Me,” but the softly cataclysmic “Good Fortune” will ring extra true to the New York native who has walked whoâs ever thought about the fantastical nature of the Big Appleâs dreamy, structural iconography. Harvey seems to occupy a space between Chinatown and Little Italy, celebrating a culturally defined theft of love. “Big Exit” is the singerâs fight for uniqueness before a neon-doused cityscape threatening to tighten its grip on the soul: “I walk on concrete/I walk on sand/But I canât find/A safe place to stand.” “The Sky Lit Up” is the lone rep from Is This Desire?, an apt piece of urban lore through which Harvey celebrates nature as a symbiotic companion to the pangs of love. Although she criminally failed to perform “The Wind” at her last headlining tour, the wounds have healed. The brilliant Desire? was a metaphorically dense, disquieting affair that has given way to the more enamored and playful Polly Jean standing before us on stage.
“Somebodyâs Down, Somebodyâs Name” (from the “Down by the Water” EP) and “Nickel Under The Foot” (from the Cradle Will Rock soundtrack) will appeal to hardcore Polly fans although their inclusion seems random at best, if not a tad alienating in relation to the relatively hit-heavy set. Indeed, Harvey strikes the biggest nerve with her performance of the hyper-punk “Rid of Me.” Harveyâs stage rendition is as cogent as ever; the songâs post-feminist subversion is in full effect as Harveyâs girlish stage garb ironically complements her ode to the fetishistic nature of her womanly demands. Another Ride of Me anthem serves as a show highlight and a startling reminder of the power of the female stroke when Miss Polly straddles her guitar for a scorching rendition of “Man-Size.”
The petite Miss Polly is forever imposing, a slithering creature of female-cum-hitherness who has reshaped her Chrissie Hynde vocal talents and Patti Smith punk-power into what is the most multifarious musical talent to ever hit the indie circuit. (“Knockinâ On Heavenâs Door” played silently before the set, a soft reminder of Bob Dylanâs influence on the punk priestess.) Harveyâs headlining tour is significantly less bibilical than usual (with only three or four references to the Lord Jesus) but “66 Promises” attests to the ongoing power of her female-whip as sinewy horns and electronic blips accent the moans that fall from our hostâs lips. Walking into the New York air, “Sheela-na-gig” (the showâs closing number) seethed into my consciousness. I pictured a fertile Harvey making her way through the streets as an urban reincarnation of the mythical Sheela.
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
Itâs not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both sound editing and sound mixing.
The movement to merge the two Oscar categories for sound into just one is finally picking up some steam after an academy subcommittee favored consolidation in December, but we regret to inform you that the exceptionally rational decision hasnât yet been ratified, and thus wonât spare us one more year of double-feature kvetching. While the nominating members of the sound branch might know the exact difference between sound mixing and sound editing, and while compulsory Oscar blogging has forced us to know the exact difference as well, numerous academy members clearly donât.
Case in point: Last year they awarded Bohemian Rhapsody its expected award in sound mixing, where musicals always have an advantage, but also an upset win in sound editing. Unless voters metabolized Singerâs violent blitzkrieg of a film and simply misremembered hearing explosions throughout, thatâs not the vote of an informed electorate.
From our perspective as prognosticators, though, itâs not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both awards, especially in the absence of a musical. While there have been plenty of years weâve carbon-copied our predicted winner in both categories only to see them split (even three ways, as in 2012, when Les MisĂ©rables took sound mixing, and Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied for sound editing), getting one prediction right is better than getting none at all, especially in a year like this where, to judge from both slates, sound equals fury.
One thingâs fairly certain: You can probably go ahead and count out Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Not only has the new trilogy failed to add any more Oscar wins to the franchise, never once has a Star Wars film won an award for its sound effects, not even the first one (that year, a special award was given to Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Episodes seven and eight lost to, respectively, a chase movie and a war movie, and this yearâs top two contenders here are arguably the exact same pairing. While 1917 is still considered by many to be a frontrunner for best picture, weâre pretty sure the onslaught of vintage motors roaring for the climactic quarter-hour of Ford v. Ferrari will get voters right in the dad spot.
Will Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Could Win: 1917
Should Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature
Completist-prone Oscar prognosticators were dealt a merciful hand last week when the Oscar nominations were announced and Frozen II didnât show up in this category. But the winning hand belongs to Toy Story 4, which likely lost the Golden Globe to Missing Link as a result of a vote split between the two Disney properties. Sentiment to reward the American-based production studio Laika is brewing, and the fitfully droll Missing Link will, like Kubo and the Two Strings before it, probably find favor at the BAFTAs, but Laikaâs latest and most expensive production to date dramatically bombed at the box office. And while no one will be weighing between the film and I Lost My Body, a singularly and actively morose and creepy film that wonât appeal to the academy at large, this categoryâs short history tells us that the Mouse House is only vulnerable to the biggest money makers. Also, Forky rules.
Will Win: Toy Story 4
Could Win: Missing Link
Should Win: I Lost My Body
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Pitt winning here will seem like the stars are lining up given what went down when he was first nominated in 1995.
We didnât predict Anthony Hopkins to get nominated here, thinking that the Golden Globesâs enthusiasm for The Two Popes was a fluke. We were wrong, and he ended up becoming the elder statesman in an acting lineup that contains, on average, by far the oldest nominees. The person we predicted to get in instead, Marriage Storyâs Alan Alda, is a year older than Hopkins, so we certainly werenât betting the farm on any male ingĂ©nues.
On the other hand, it sure feels like spry 56-year-old Brad Pitt, who opened his acceptance speech at last nightâs SAG Awards with a joke about having a Tinder profile, had this award in the bag the moment his Marlboro Man-ish handyman hopped atop his buddyâs roof to fix the antenna in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, whipping off his shirt to reveal a tawny, fully-abbed torso that scarcely seems to have aged in the nearly 30 years since he seduced the country in Thelma & Louise. He, as Leonardo DiCaprioâs co-lead, has a lot more to do throughout than just doff tees, but the âIâm still hereâ virility of that moment embodies the entire filmâs love letter to old-guard masculinity in Tinseltown.
Not that anyoneâs reading too deeply into it, not when thereâs good old-fashioned awards numerology to fall back on. Within minutes of the nominations being announced, Oscar Twitter jumped on the fact that the best supporting actor slate this year is composed of acting winners from 1990 (Joe Pesci), 1991 (Anthony Hopkins), 1992 (Al Pacino), and 1993 and 1994 (Tom Hanks). Fewer pointed out that Pitt was also a nominee in 1995 for 12 Monkeys, losing out to the now-canceled Kevin Spacey. Which makes it seem all the more poetically like the stars are lining up when Pitt wins for a film whose finale proposes a rousing bit of alternate, corrective history in which the âgoodâ guys obliterate the âbadâ ones.
Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Could Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature
Every film nominated in this category grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war and shaped by technology.
Few Oscar categories are bigger snub magnets than this one. And while the failure of Apollo 11 to secure a nomination this year was indeed surprising, it was not as telling as the omission of The Biggest Little Farm, a handsomely, if conspicuously, sculpted âpopâ documentary thatâs very much in the academyâs wheelhouse. It was almost as if the committee responsible for selecting the nominees here was sending a message by embracing, at a time of increased global instability, five documentaries that looked only outward: not at mankindâs possibilities, but at the ways in which weâve become our own worst enemy.
When discussing the potential winner in this category, Eric and I were pulled in two different directions. âDoc will go American Factory and, by extension, the Obamas, right?â Eric asked. âHoneyland notched an Oscar record by being the first documentary to also be nominated for international feature. That has to mean something?â I asked. Which is to say that he and I, no strangers to this Oscar-predicting process, were sacrificing ourselves to rigamarole, forgetting that, at the end of the day, academy members vote with their hearts above all else.
Every film nominated in this category grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war and shaped by technology. American Factory specifically takes the closing of a Chinese-owned factory in Ohio as a jumping-off point for a study of the wiles of global capitalism, and itâs every bit as smart as you might expect from a film produced by the Obamas. A more sobering reminder of how the global order of the world has been cataclysmically disrupted in the last four years is another Netflix documentary, The Edge of Democracy, about Brazilâs own national(ist) sickness. Itâs a harrowing lament, but it offers the viewer no sense of escape.
Which isnât to say that the The Cave and especially For Sama, both filmed in Syria and in the midst of war there, are escapist. The two most viscerally powerful documentaries in the category confront us with the chaos of imperial domination. Both films center the female experience of war, but For Sama does so more shrewdly, positing itself not just as a chronicle of war, but an act of remembrance. In a film that doesnât lack for gut-wrenching images of the dead, one particularly stands out: of a child, after being pulled from his motherâs womb via C section in the wake of a bombing, being brought back to life. Combined with the scenes depicting the citizens of war-torn Aleppo finding humor in the midst of conflict, the film attests not only to the perseverance of the Syrian people, but to the possibility that the country might still be brought back from the edge of oblivion.
Will Win: For Sama
Could Win: The Cave
Should Win: For Sama
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling
There doesnât seem to be much standing in the way of the triumph of the red, white, and blue neo-Juggalo.
We couldnât really say it any better than Odie Henderson, who recently scoffed: âWho wins the Costume Design Oscar for Joker? The Goodwill? Who wins the Makeup Oscar for Joker? A blind Mary Kay consultant?â While we think the Academy will stop short of awarding the motley threads of Todd Phillipsâs risible throwback machine in the costume category, the fact that they were nominated at all over, say, the imaginatively garish â70s finery that Ruth Carter created for Dolemite Is My Name indicates a level of affection for Joker that no one who doesnât use the word âsnowflakeâ on a daily basis seems prepared for.
While, to us, Joaquin Phoenixâs Joker looks like nothing so much as Marge after sitting still for a makeup gun, as Homer put it best, âWomen will like what I tell them to like.â From his lips to the Academyâs ears (and face). And given this categoryâs expansion didnât add more multicolored prosthetic creations along the lines of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, but instead more invisible character augmentation along the lines of Judy and Bombshell, there doesnât seem to be much standing in the way of the triumph of the red, white, and blue neo-Juggalo.
Will Win: Joker
Could Win: Judy
Should Win: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: International Feature Film
Parasite is a pervasive presence in the news cycle, and at just the right time.
Bong Joon-hoâs Parasite is a pervasive presence in the news cycle, and at just the right time. As I write this latest prediction for Slantâs rolling Oscar coverage, the top article on the front page of Rotten Tomatoes is a ranking, by Tomatometer, of the nine films nominated for best picture this year. Number one? Parasite. Immediately next to that article is a callout to readers to vote for their favorite film of 2019 that uses Song Kang-hoâs face from Parasiteâs poster as the featured image. Regarding that poster, in simply placing black bars over the actorsâ faces, it succinctly, eerily, perfectly underlines the filmâs obsession with social strata. And you donât need to look far beyond the aggregate site to land on some article praising the perfectly lit and designed architectural purgatory that is the filmâs main setting.
Perfect. Thatâs a funny word. There are no objectively measurable criteria for perfection, but given how many times Iâve heard Bongâs film described as being âperfectâ since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme dâOr, youâd think that there were. Still, the impulse to use it to describe this particular film, so balanced and attuned to the ties that both bind and separate us, evident in everything from the dimensions of Bongâs aesthetic, to his actorsâ faces, to their words, makes a certain kind of sense. Quick, can you name the other four films nominated in this category? How apt if you canât, as this is a film profoundly obsessed with the subterfuge that can be weaponized during class warfare. Or awards campaigns.
Will Win: Parasite
Could Win: Pain and Glory
Should Win: Parasite
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Original Score
John Williams is in no danger of winning, but a case could be made for any of the other four.
That one of the five films nominated for original score this year is not a best picture nominee nor had any shot at being one almost makes this category an outlier among this yearâs Oscar races, which seem otherwise fixated on frontrunners. John Williams already had the record-setting strength of 51 previous nominations leading into this weekâs announcement, so his nod for the third Star Wars installment, or sixth, or ninth, or…does The Mandalorian count? Anyway, suffice it to say that the only thing that couldâve been more knee-jerk than to select nominations solely from among this yearâs best picture probables would be to rubber stamp Williams uploading yet more variations on intellectual property.
Williams is in no danger of winning, but a case could be made for any of the other four. Alexandre Desplat already has two wins here, both in the last six years, but Little Women is finally picking up momentum at just the right time. His richly romantic cues, which are practically wall to wall throughout the film, come on like a crushed-velvet dust jacket, binding Greta Gerwigâs shifting timeline together in a way that makes just about everyone who isnât Sasha Stone want to clutch the entire thing to their bosoms.
Arguably, another film thatâs still reaching its crest stage is 1917, and unlike Desplat, composer Thomas Newman is still waiting for his first win, and now holding the categoryâs longest losing streak. It canât be said that Newman doesnât pull out all the stops, piecing together a work that feels inspired by both Hans Zimmerâs pulsating Dunkirk score and Samuel Barberâs âAdagio for Strings,â most memorably used in Oliver Stoneâs Platoon. And yet, weâre kind of with Bilge Ebiri, who after the nominations were announced, tweeted, âYou didnât give it to DUNKIRK, youâre not allowed to give it to 1917. Sorry, weâre very strict on this matter.â
Not to say that we expect 1917 to roll snake eyes on its 10 nominations. Only that any nominations for the film related to things that Dunkirk already did better two years ago are a tough sell, despite the draw of Newmanâs increasingly amplified Oscar backstory. Thatâs presuming that the narrative doesnât wind up over-shadowed by the sidebar-friendly cousinâs duel between Thomas and his cousin, Randy Newman, whose jaunty, Terms of Endearment-esque Marriage Story score appears to have as many detractors as it has fans.
Until the nominations were announced, we admit to assuming that Hildur GuĂ°nadĂłttirâs Golden Globe win for Todd Phillipsâs Joker was going to go down the same way as Justin Hurwitzâs did a year ago: with an Oscar snub. We reasoned that GuĂ°nadĂłttir, who also perked ears up and won an Emmy last year for her work on HBOâs Chernobyl, was still too fresh a talent for the more cliquey AMPAS musiciansâ branch. But now that sheâs there, Globe in hand and attached to the film that, by the numbers, the academy loved best this year, she offers even conscience-wracked voters the chance to hand a feature-length 4chan fantasy a guilt-free win by also awarding one of the filmâs few female nominees.
Will Win: Hildur GuĂ°nadĂłttir, Joker
Could Win: Thomas Newman, 1917
Should Win: Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Tags: Academy Awards, Hildur GuĂ°nadĂłttir, Joker, Thomas Newman, 1917, Alexandre Desplat, Little Women, Randy Newman, Marriage Story, John Williams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Under the Radar 2020: The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, Not I, & More
Experiencing the Under the Radar Festival replaces the usual sense of familiarity with a sense of wonder.
Most of the plays I see in New York City are created by able-bodied, Anglophone playwrights. (More often than not theyâre men, and more often than not theyâre white.) For most New York theater critics, most of the time, âinternationalâ means âimported from London.â If it doesnât, it probably means âdirected by Ivo van Hove.â But at the Under the Radar Festival, the Public Theaterâs 16-year-old annual international theatrical extravaganza, the thoughtfully curated program of new works blasts apart the predictable comfort of knowing what youâre getting yourself into.
Despite the relentless pace, marathoning in a festival setting like Under the Radar works against the critical impulse to get in and get out. Lingering in playing spaces beyond the curtain call to soak in the experience and seeking threads of connections between plays before cementing my verdict on any are rarer opportunities than Iâd realized.
Experiencing the Under the Radar Festivalâespecially taking in shows at high quantity in quick successionâreplaces the usual sense of familiarity with a sense of wonder. I havenât adored every offering at this yearâs festival, but, in each theater space, Iâve been keenly, refreshingly alert to my presence and my perspective as an audience member, to the ways in which I hear and watch and engage. Iâve looked sideways as well as dead ahead, and over the weekend, I saw two performances that required lengthy, committed conversations with the strangers sitting next to me. (And thatâs especially valuable for critics, who sometimes need the reminder that other peopleâs opinions coexist alongside ours.)
This yearâs lineup of plays has been particularly successful in making audiences acutely aware of themselves as a whole, as people who lug assumptions and anxieties and uncertainties into their seats. Take The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, the first play I saw this season and the festivalâs most rewarding in its complexity. Throughout its hour-long run time, I had occasionally taken note of a long strip of yellow tape at the front of the playing space. During the play, the four actors, all of whom are neurodivergent and play characters who are neurodivergent, frequently step up to that line to speak to the audience. I imagined the line as a necessary, neon beacon for the performers to find their way forward.
Yet, in the final moments of the play, actor Simon Laherty (who also co-wrote the script with his castmates and other members of the Back to Back Theatre, an Australian company), tears the tape off the floor and exits. The gesture reads as a direct rebuke to the very ideas Iâd been holding for the playâs duration: It seems to ask, âWho are you to assume that the world of this play was built for its performers instead of for the characters they play? How can you, sitting there, decide what we, putting on a show for you up here, need in order to perform?â And I wondered, not for the first time: How did they read my mind?
Directed by Back to Backâs artistic director, Bruce Gladwin, The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes stars four performers with disabilities playing characters (with their own first names) who host a sort of town hall meeting to educate the people in attendance about what itâs like to have a disability. The shared names between characters and actors are a red herring. These actors have disabilities, yes, but that doesnât mean the characters with disabilities they play are them, any more than neurotypical roles match the neurotypical actors playing them. Again and again, through moves so subtle Iâm not sure I didnât imagine them, The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes sets graceful, invisible traps for the audienceâs assumptions about the capabilities of the performers and the distance between performer and character. And while Iâm not entirely sure of the titleâs meaning, it might have something to do with the playâs constant shadowy evasion of comforting resolutions: Never once is an audience member allowed to feel like they have mastered the art of empathy.
An early sequence seems deliberate in putting an audience on edge, as the long stretches of silence as actor Sarah Mainwaring prepares to speak made me wonder whether it was the actor or the character who had forgotten her lines. Was this discomforting silence performed or real? Itâs part of the play, of course, just like most of neurotypical theaterâs long pauses. But I feel sure that The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes anticipated my discomfort and my doubt. That dark cocktail of emotions following the clarifying momentsârelieved admiration for the performers, guilt for the assumptions I had made, embarrassment that I had been caught feeling uneasyâstayed with me for the rest of the playâs rich hour.
In that regard, The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is very much about the audience, and thereâs nimble, layered playfulness as the characters obsess around whether the imagined audience at the town hall meeting are understanding their message. And while some of the sections of the text work better than others (Iâm not sure about the suggestion that everyone will be deemed disabled when artificial intelligence overtakes human thought), the actors also engage brilliantly with the supertitles, which are supposedly transcribed live at the meeting by Siri. Supertitles seem at first like a tool for us, the audience, to understand the performersâ speech. As Scott Price laments, âI have autism, and, unfortunately for me, I also have a thick Australian accent.â But the projected text also doubles as a symbol for the dehumanization of people on the spectrum. âYou can tell we have disabilities as everything we say comes upon a screen,â Sarah notes with disdain. âThe subtitling is offensive.â
This point of view leads to a heated argument about language and representation, with Scott claiming the label of disability: âIâm a disabled person here and Iâm proud and I donât want to weave my way around language.â But thereâs no unified front in how these four characters perceive themselves and seek to be perceived.
Perhaps the playâs sharpest touch is that Michael and Scott talk down to Simon, describing him as âvery childlikeâ and insinuating that he canât understand whatâs going on or fully participate in the meeting. Sarah calls them out on this (âYouâre talking like Simonâs not even in the roomâ), and itâs not just an indictment of how individuals with disabilities can be dehumanized to their faces but also an illuminating glance into how internalized measures of normalcy have permeated the disability community. This quartet of characters doesnât include heroes or victims or saints and the play relishes in catching the audience in the act of attaching such labels to the performers. Itâs a play I want to see again in order to try again, to use what Iâve learned from my first encounter with Back to Back to do better the next time.
If The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes invites us to project imagined limitations on to the performers and then to watch those assumptions crumble, the creator of Samuel Beckettâs Not I at BRIC (the Brooklyn venue hosting this show) wants us to know exactly what to expect from the beginning. Yes, this is a performanceâand an exhilarating oneâof Beckettâs 15-minute, stream-of-consciousness monologue, first performed in 1972, but this production positions the piece at the center of a conversation with the performer, Jess Thom.
Thom, who’s best known in the U.K. for Touretteshero, an alter ego aimed at educating and spreading awareness of Touretteâs syndrome, has a number of repeating verbal tics that spark from her speech: Among the most frequent are âbiscuit,â âsausage,â and âI love cats,â plus a few words and phrases that arenât quite so âcute,â as Thom describes them. Unlike The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, the sense of unpredictability here is shared by the performers. A few times throughout the day, Thom explains, she will lose control over her body and speech, and this possibility creates a space of âgenuine jeopardy.â
Such pre-show disclaimers are neither warnings nor apologies but a crucial aspect of Thomâs central work here: envisioning a truly inclusive performance space and then co-creating that space with her audience. There are no surprises in Not I. Thom explains, in detail, that her wheelchair will be lifted eight feet into the air atop a hydraulic lift; that only her mouth will be lit (as in all productions of Beckettâs monologue); that an ASL interpreter (the warmly expressive Lindsey D. Snyder) will sign every word of Beckettâs explosively high-velocity text, plus each unexpected tic along the way; that the post-performance experiences will include watching a video, discussing the monologue with a stranger, and participating in a Q&A.
The audience sits on padded benches and pillows on the floor, and Thom invites people to move and make noise during the piece as needed. An online guide to the performance even includes a sound map, alerting audience members to patches of loud noise, like applause and a section of the monologue featuring terrifying screams. With its shrieks and terrorizing, relentless intensity, Not I certainly defies expectations for the sorts of theater pieces that tend to offer relaxed, inclusive performances. But by reclaiming the character of Mouth through the lens of disability, Thom has made the jumbled thoughts of the character suddenly specific and, if not quite understandable, accessible through empathy.
Though Beckett meant for Not I to unnerve its auditors with its impenetrableness, Thom uses the text to grant entry into her own experiences of losing control over her own speech and movement. Thomâs tics remain present throughout the monologue, absorbed into the labyrinthine, spontaneous stitches of Mouthâs words. In fact, as Thom explained in the Q&A section, the tics actually multiply to fill the spaces between breakneck sections of monologue; the speed with which she articulates the text temporarily displaces her tics, âlike a stone in water,â but they flow back in during Beckettâs indicated silences. âMy version of silence,â Thom clarified, often sounds like eight or 10 âbiscuitsâ in a row. If we can embrace and understand the charismatic, wisecracking Thom, we should be able to extend that compassion toward embracing and understanding her version of Mouth too.
After the performance of Beckettâs monologue, Thom sits on the floor as a short video about the making of this piece plays. In the video, Thom attributes her emergence as a performer to the exclusion and isolation she experiences as an audience member: on-stage seemed to be âthe only seat in the house I wouldnât be asked to leave.â And even as we hear her words, their truth immediately confirms itself: Itâs only during this section of the performanceâa few minutes in which Thom herself is not visible as she sits in the darkâthat I reverted to experiencing Thomâs tics as disruption or interruption. At the exact moment I was nodding along with the videoâs celebration of inclusive theatrical spaces, I was simultaneously sensing my own flashes of concern or maybe frustration or maybe fear that someone sitting beside me in the darkness was breaking the sacred rules of stillness and silence. With love and warmth and unvarying good humor, Thom manages to shine a glaring, pointed spotlight on our own limitations as compassionate stewards of the spaces we strive to co-inhabit. Then she asks us to look around the room and gives us the chance, right then and there, to change.
The limitations of the human intellectâand the human spiritâare put to the test in Grey Rock, an English-language commission by Palestinian playwright-director Amir Nizar Zuabi which premiered at La MaMa a year ago. Zuabiâs play, besides being performed in English, boasts an instantly recognizable form: Itâs a family comedy, actually one of the funniest Iâve seen in a while, with a bittersweetness that calls to mind, in a very different geopolitical context, Neil Simonâs Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound.
Lila (Fidaa Zaidan) is perplexed that her father, the widower Yusuf (Khalifa Natour), has suddenly started working out vigorously. Why the sudden focus on getting in shape? At first she thinks heâs seeing someone newâitâs been three years since her mother diedâbut that doesnât explain why heâs also spending hours assembling mechanical parts in his shed with a brilliant young engineer, Fadel (Ivan Kevork Azazian). Yusufâs plan, it turns out, is to build a rocket to the moon, a feat that will put Palestinian fortitude and ingenuity on the map.
Itâs in Yusufâs very insistence that his rocket-building is about humanity rather than political conflict that Zuabiâs play becomes, in fact, forcefully political. Much like The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes foretells the audienceâs expectations of the performersâ failures, Grey Rock anticipates the need for viewers to see conflict and war in every image and line of dialogue with Palestine attached to it.
Israel is a reality in the world of Grey Rock, of course, and one which diminishes what some of these characters think they can become: Fadel describes the Israeli forces as âstop signs for the imaginationâ and Yusuf later tells Lilaâs ill-matched fiancĂ© Jawad (Alaa Shehada), âYou have the occupation [as] your excuse for your lack of creativity.â But Zuabi seems less interested in using the play to protest the Israeli presence in Palestine than in advocating for a Palestinian uprising of imagination and creativity in the face of dehumanization. Thereâs an aspect of 21st-century fairy tale to Grey Rockâs structure and plot twists, but the play remains grounded enough to suggest real-world pathways forward for oppressed peoples to dream big. (The fact that these performers, who all identify as Palestinian, have overcome complex visa hurdles to perform in New York twice in the span of a year, is a dream realized already.) Except for the final scene (a tonal shift that doesnât entirely pay off), Grey Rock keeps the darkness at bay. The Israeli occupying forces are a constant off-stage presence, an invisible menace that the characters must sometimes ignore in order to live and shape their own stories.
Most of the story careens through amusingly familiar tropes, but itâs a familiarity that seems to be there by design. I think I would have found Grey Rock just as absorbing in supertitled Arabic, but thereâs something appealing in the transparency with which it draws us in. The play was written for English speakers, with the intention of exposing the ordinary vibrancy of quotidian Palestinian existence. Knowing some of the well-trodden arcs of the plot in advance narrows the space between Anglophone audiences and the world they encounter.
Zuabi is a far nimbler writer than director; the playâs magnetic energy only diminishes in its awkwardly staged moments of physical comedy and occasionally rudderless transitions between scenes. But his dialogue briskly fleshes out his five characters, who also include the villageâs anxious imam (Motaz Malhees). Thereâs a particularly delightful rapport between Natourâs gruff stargazer and Azazianâs overeager yet tentative assistant.
Beyond the crisp comedy, the relationship between Yusuf and his beloved, aspiring daughter Lila feels almost operatic in its balance of tenderness and tumult: Lila harbors years of resentment that her father allowed himself to be jailed for anti-occupation propaganda, leaving her mother to raise Lila independently for five years. When Yusuf leaps to his feet jubilantly upon hearing that Lilaâs broken off her engagement, and then tries to backtrack his demonstrativeness, itâs both hilarious and sweetly moving.
Iâm not sure if Zuabi deliberately snuck in one particular idiom for this festival run: âI order things in small quantities so I go under the radar,â Yusuf says, explaining his rocket-in-progress to an ever-expanding community of supporters. But to go Under the Radar, the Public has ordered up a series of shows which are anything but small in their expansive commitment to transforming audiences, preparing them to be more perceptive, empathetic people, perhaps even in time for the next performance.
Under the Radar runs from January 8â19.
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Actress
Well hi, everybody, itâs nice to see you.
Well hi, everybody, itâs nice to see you. Loyal readers of Slantâs Oscar coverage know that we donât like to beat around the bush, and this year we have even less reason to do so what with the accelerated awards calendar forcing us to kick-start our rolling predictions earlier than usual. So, as we busy ourselves in the next few days catching up with some remaining blindspots, and being thankful that we donât actually ever have to see Cats, we will be bringing you our predictions in some of Oscarâs easier-to-call categories.
Which isnât to say that weâre going to be drama-free. Case in point: the revelation that Eric Henderson, my fellow awards guru, made on Twitter this week that âScarlett Johansson is genuinely better in Jojo Rabbit than in Marriage Story.â He also asked us to throw the tweet back in this face four or five years from now, but I say right now is as good a time as any.
No, seriously, shocking as that tweet was to this fan of Marriage Storyâs entire acting ensemble, that some are already predicting the actress as a possible spoiler in supporting actress in the wake of Jojo Rabbit scoring six nominations, itâs gotten us thinking about the ostensibly evolving tastes of AMPASâs membership at a time when itâs struggling to diversify itself. And based on how things went down at last yearâs Oscars, the only conclusion we can come up with is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Immediately after Glenn Close lost the Oscar last year to Olivia Coleman, Eric sent me a text wondering why AMPAS hates the former so much, to which I offered that thereâs nothing more unwavering than Hollywoodâs support for actors playing real-life individuals. Well, that and its support for actors who actually want to be exalted by the industry. Even in a world where RenĂ©e Zellweger isnât also being helped by a comeback narrative, and has yet to follow Joaquin Phoenixâs savvy lead by getting arrested at Jane Fondaâs weekly climate change protest and erasing our memory of her performance at the Golden Globes, sheâs nominated for a generally well liked performance in a film that has actually performed well at the box office.
On Monday, more outcry was provoked by the Oscar nominations, again for women being shut out of the best director race, but also for the snubbing of several actors of color, most notably Jennifer Lopez and Lupita Nâyongo. Some will speculate that Cynthia Erivo, the only actor of color to be nominated this year, is a potential spoiler here, but whether she stands to benefit from a core of protest votes is something that can never be known. This fine actressâs performance checks off almost as many boxes as Zellwegerâs, if not, at the end of the day, the one that matters most: representing a film about the industry itself, in this case one that will allow a reliably backward-looking Hollywood to atone for sins committed against their own.
Will Win: RenĂ©e Zellweger, Judy
Could Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Should Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
The 25 Best Janet Jackson Songs
We count down Janetâs 25 greatest songs, from her most iconic hits to her least heralded cult favorites.
Nothing summarizes Janet Jacksonâs contributions to pop music any clearer than the interlude that serves as the transition between Rhythm Nationâs opening trio of socially conscious tracks and the largely feel-good love songs that follow: âGet the point? Good, letâs dance.â Sheâs gone through many phases (industrial trainee, man-conquering vamp, spiritual gardener, 20-year-old), but span her entire career and those stages seem less clearly delineated than most comparable iconsâ respective chapters, with symmetrically uniform peaks and surprisingly rare valleys. With Janet, the pleasure principle has always served as her musical conscience, and itâs guided her through a career near unparalleled in its ability to serve unfussy pop confections. Unlike that of big brother Michael or her rival on the â80s and â90s dance charts, Madonna, there ainât no acid in Janetâs delivery, just bubblegum. The nasty boys of Slant have decided once and for all to count down her 25 greatest songs, from her most iconic hits to her least heralded cult favorites. Eric Henderson
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2015.
Technology is the thrust of 2008âs infectious and ridiculously weird single âFeedback.â With it, Jan got her 4/4 back, equating her vagina to a subwoofer (and, notably, her clit to guitar strings) and her swagger to a heavy-flow day. The beats are spare but oppressive, the synths scratchy and impatient, the perfect accompaniment for the singerâs libidinous frustration. Sal Cinquemani
24. âAll for Youâ
Hard to tell which was bigger: this comeback disco anthem (which sat atop the Billboard charts for a lusty seven weeks in 2001) or the size of the impressive basket the guy who caught Janetâs eye apparently had (and upon which, according to the lyrics, she later sat atop). What was striking about âAll for Youâ at the time wasnât its unabashed frankness (the entire song is Jackson basically knocking the listener upside the head with the promise that sheâs not hard to get), but the atmosphere of airless frivolity around it. Itâs a sex jam that sounds like a carnival ride. Henderson
23. âFunky Big Bandâ
Realness, as anyone whoâs seen Paris Is Burning knows, presumes aspirational designs among those who espouse it. âFunky Big Bandâ grasps that harshly glamorous concept right from its opening interlude, âThe Lounge,â which drops listeners into the illicit milieu of a password-only speakeasy before reminding them, âYouâve got to be real/If you want to hear the funky big band.â From its tangy clavinet doodles to its roaring Lionel Hampton-sampled jazz loops (producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had clearly spun Soho once or twice), âFunk Big Bandâ is the militant bastard stepchild of the zoot-suit antics of âAlright.â Henderson
22. âVelvet Ropeâ
A song about self-empowerment, featuring a childrenâs choir and violin solo to boot, smacks of inevitable mawkishness. But with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewisâs thoughtful production, Janetâs unpretentious delivery of even lyrics like âOne loveâs the answer,â and violinist Vanessa Maeâs edgy solo, this potential schmaltz-fest became a thoughtful theme-establishing introduction to Janetâs most personal album to date. Cinquemani
Throughout Janetâs imperial phase, the template called for each of her albums to close out with a suite of love ballads. Skippable as any of them may have seemed when all you wanted to do was follow Janetâs own mantra âGet the point? Good, letâs dance,â the best of themâlike this sultry, intimate invitation from one isolated soul to anotherâexpose themselves at the most unexpected moments. Just like sex. Henderson