Thursday, May 17, 2007


Normally our free-floating yet rigorous imagination prefers not to be hamstrung by redundant explorations of the same topic (especially because we utterly exhaust each topic’s essence in the few short paragraphs we devote to it), but on occasion a subject is so deeply relevant and rich in possibility that it requires a more in-depth meditation. Such a subject is the Tony awards.

As we hinted on Monday, few art forms say more about life as it is currently lived than the Broadway musical, and there is no more succinct and reliable snapshot of our times than its yearly ceremony of honors. (Straight plays remain and will always be little more than half-baked musicals, lacking in the essential fabulousness – comparable to reportage without facts, or cheese without milk.) We’ve already analyzed the nominees in the pivotal category of Best New Musical; now let us turn our attention to one that is arguably even more important, judging from Broadway’s defiantly retrograde tendencies: Best Revival of a Musical. The nominees are as follows:
  • 110 in the Shade
  • The Apple Tree
  • A Chorus Line
  • Company
First of all, let us point out how telling it is that, alphabetically speaking, none of these titles go past the letter C. The C is for “conservative”; these are deeply reactionary times that find Broadway holding back at the essentials – the ABC’s, as it were – thereby reflecting the national mood as a whole.

It’s also no accident that all of the nominated shows reflect Biblical themes. The most obvious is The Apple Tree, which takes the tale of Adam and Even as the starting point for a whimsical exploration of original sin. Less obvious, however, is 110 in the Shade, an encrypted retelling of the Deluge myth, in which a formerly repressed woman causes a massive flood by sinfully embracing the life of the body.

There are also secret evangelical overtones in A Chorus Line, with its group of wannabe dancers representing the population of the world, only a small number of which will be “raptured” away to musical-comedy success by an all-powerful director/deity. Rounding out the list is Company, Stephen Sondheim’s allegory for the life of Christ, in which the Messiah (played in this production by a mesmerizing Raul Julia) proves himself all too human by sleeping with and/or being jealous of his various disciples. To gather all of these semi-scriptural events under the rubric of “Revival” is merely the unpopped cherry on top.

It will be fascinating to see which aspect of Judeo-Christian legend the Tony committee will choose to designate as the zeitgeist. However, the die is essentially already cast – by favoring this particular worldview over all others, any winner will serve to support the status quo. And this is simply how the system works. In a sense, the Broadway musical represents a utopian eden, a mythological past during which mankind sang instead of speaking and danced instead of dying. The immense and epoch-making importance of this art form only confirms this primal dream of plenty.

Bearing all of this in mind, one should perhaps not be surprised that the Apocryphist’s heart belongs to the stage. We are only human, after all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


It is time for us to take a break from our work-imposed exile from the blogosphere to weigh in on one of the most salient reflections of contemporary culture available to those without a PhD. We refer, of course, to the Tony nominations.

Named for Marie “Antoinette” Perry, the nation’s first hard-nosed female theatre producer (whose penchant for firing artists at the drop of a hat led to the misplaced decapitatory overtones of her nickname), the Tonys are a yearly tradition in which Broadway congratulates itself for being so fabulous. The nominations for the 2007 awards were announced this year by actors Jane Krakowski and Taye Diggs as they skydived from a plane above Manhattan before a stunt parachute landing in the middle of Times Square.

Broadway babies have been predicting the nominees since well before any of the shows opened, meaning the result will have come as no surprise to those in the know. For the rest of the world, however, the list presents a fascinating matrix of the state of the world (at least the musicals do; nobody pays attention to the plays). Let us examine the shows that are in the running for Best Musical.
  • Curtains
    In this musical adaptation of the hit television sitcom Frasier, David Hyde Pierce (playing, in a typical piece of Broadway stunt casting, the title role originated by Kelsey Grammar) goes from radio shrink to private eye to musical-theatre star and finally back to radio shrink when the whole thing turns out to be a dream. It is the final collaboration of Kander and Hammerstein, the duo responsible for such hits as South Chicago, The Cabaret and I, and The Sound of the Spider Woman. This show represents old people.

  • Mary Poppins
    Remember how everybody loves movies and nobody loves theatre? Mary Poppins does, and she’s going to use a “spoonful of sugar” to make sure that people forget that truism while forking over $100 a ticket instead of slapping the film onto the end of the Netflix queue. For some reason things that happen right in front of you are more expensive than things that happened in the past that someone pointed a camera at. Anyway, this show represents children.

  • Grey Gardens
    Another movie show, but this one based on an obscure documentary. The original film posits the theory that JFK was murdered by arrangement of his wife, Jackie O, and that she tried to frame her relatives, a couple of crazy old women on Long Island, for the crime. In this version, the crazy old women don’t actually kill JFK, but instead sit around their crumbling house singing about food and clothes. This show represents gay people.
  • Spring Awakening
    Based on August Strindberg’s controversial play of the same name, this show is about how rock-and-roll originally emerged in late 19th-century Germany, only to be repressed by the Powers That Be for another sixty years. As with any show about of rock-and-roll, there is sex between underaged people, and power ballads. This show represents older people who wish they were still younger people.

As you can see, the entire span of humanity is represented by these four choices. If we feel like it, we’ll weigh in tomorrow on how the nominees for Best Revival of a Musical do the same thing, only in an even more cutting-edge fashion.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


Continuing the aviation theme of this week’s posts, we regret to announce the passing away of Apollo astronaut Walter Schirra. Though he never technically flew in space (all pre-shuttle U.S. space missions were executed by robot facsimiles implanted with the astronauts’ brains while their bodies were kept frozen in suspended animation at the National Cooling Chamber in Los Aburres, NV), he will always remain a beloved historical figure, portrayed by Lance “Pumpkinhead” Henrikson in the immortal 1983 astronaut film, All the Right Moves.

There is nothing more to add about Schirra that hasn’t been stated in any of the official obituaries (except for that bit about the robots). With his passing, only two astronauts from the historic Mercury Seven flight remain – John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. With the final survivor standing to take possession of the wives and property of all of his deceased fellows (in addition to the indisputable title of Best Astronaut Ever), you can expect some brutal, Renaissance-style backstabbing between these elderly American flyboys over the coming months.

Throughout this melancholy moment, it is important to remember that outer space will never be out of style. It’s where we came from, after all, and it’s where we’ll be going when the earth explodes in a fiery, psychedelic blast. We salute Wally Schirra, a true hero of the brief period in human history where space travel was actually a novelty.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Today is May Day – the holiday in which we celebrate the Bolshevik invention of the maypole, an ideological community-building device designed to empower the proletariat by educating them in three-dimensional weaving skills. It’s also a phrase employed in World War II films to denote the malfunction of aircraft. What do these two concepts have in common?

Answer: they were both created by the same man. And who was this man? No less than Orville Wright, co-inventor of the airplane and secret leftist (pictured above left, with ectoplasm).

Orville and his brother Wilbur stand as case studies in the political history of the Twentieth Century. Orville, a Communist sympathizer who later defected to the nascent Soviet Union, was less outspoken than Wilbur, an arch-conservative who inspired the younger Charles Lindbergh in the fields of both aviation and reactionary politics. But despite his lack of bombast, his beliefs were no less deeply held.

Though their epoch-making initial flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 is the one immortalized in the history books, we’re concerned today with a lesser-known event the following year. On May 1, 1904, the Wright Brothers returned to Kitty Hawk to try out a second-generation prototype. This new version of the airplane, however, proved even more recalcitrant than the first, and flew straight up into the air several times before landing propellor-first in the dunes. Orville, the pilot, giddy with the repetitive dizziness and savage brush with death, attempted to joke with his brother about how the first day of May would go down in history as the antithesis of their original flight, but the only words he could get out of his bruised, bloodied mouth were “May day… May day…” The phrase went on to become shorthand for aviatory disaster.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that Orville, living in Moscow since the death of his brother, was asked by Lenin himself, on his deathbed, to create a spring diversion to inspire Russian air workers. He originally conceived a gigantic ballet in the sky, in which airplanes with long ribbons connecting them would draw out beautiful, Spirograph-style patterns upon the sky. In the event, the choreography was poorly planned, and the ribbons became entrapped in the propellers, causing them to crash into each other and the surrounding countryside. Chastened by this experience, Orville brought the procession to earth, taking the added precaution of attaching the ribbons to a pole to lessen the chances of strangulation. And thus our modern May Day celebrations were born.