Podcast- The King and I: Look at You, Rufio! Edition

Norma and I bought our LincTix for The King and I way back when it was first announced, when our baby podcast was just a gleam in our eyes. We saw the show back in April, in the throes of busy Broadway season. We were covering shows we were contractually obliged to cover (aka they actually let us see them for free), and were pumping our reviews every fricking night, so The King and I stayed on the backburner for a bit.

That being said, this is one of our best episodes thus far, and we’re super excited to finally upload it. In this episode, we cover the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the strange gossip surrounding Madonna’s texting at Hamilton, and cell phone use in general. Then (around 12:45) we totally nerd out on The King and I, with special guest and King and I expert, David, a once total stranger and now our bffl.

‘The Qualms’ Unconfidently Tackles Sex at a Swingers Party

It’s hard to be polite at a swingers sex party. How do you refuse the stubborn advances of someone to whom you’re just not attracted to, or express discomfort without being called a prude? In this sense, I sympathize with The Qualm’s protagonist, Chris (Jeremy Shamos), whose first-timer apprehension quickly unleashes an avalanche of  arguments,  insults, tears, and a sizing-up  among the men folk. It’s a lose-lose situation for him, and his uneasiness is as full-bodied as the bottle of cabernet he keeps pushing on the party-goers.

Noah Emmerich and Jeremy Shamos in The Qualms. Photo by Joan Marcus

On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to questions Chris’s sensibility here. Why Chris would agree to bring his wife Kristy (Sarah Goldberg) to a sex party, especially without the open-mindedness or mutual discussion such an experience requires, is never quite explained and is the deepest hole in Bruce Norris’s (of Clybourne Park fame) airily revolving play. I only surmise that Chris and Kristy have ended up at Gary (John Procaccino) and Teri’s (Kate Arrington) beach house out of Chris’s clumsy fear to refuse Gary’s invitation. Chris’s nervousness also reveals  traditional expectations from marriage (he equates the party-goers to dogs) and homophobic insinuations. The fact that Chris can’t refuse a three-way with a man without expressing homophobic thoughts is equally a criticism of Chris’s beliefs and the persistent come-ons from the party-goers, the combination of which is lethal to the party’s sex drive. However, I also see Chris’s clear homophobia a fault with Norris’s writing– a much more nuanced discussion of human sexuality and our willingness to experience new things could have taken place if Chris’s fear weren’t attributed to a simple fault of character.

The cast of The Qualms. Photo by Tina Fineberg

That being said, Norris’s script is packed with laughs, both uncomfortable and riotous. There are also some interesting discussions of sexual taboos and the nature of love, but the play doesn’t exactly contribute anything new to the discourse. The most philosophical of the characters is by far Gary, an easygoing, middle-aged hippie who confidently welcomes all to partake in his medium-rare pork (which Chris rightly questions).  Then there’s military vet Roger (Noah Emmerich) who insists on pressing all of Chris’s buttons, particularly the gay one, even though Roger himself claims to have never had gay sex. Roger largely becomes the target for Chris’s anger, although in fact the two might actually be more similar than they think.

Rounding up the production is a stellar cast. Jeremy Shamos is reliably excellent in pretty much everything, and here, his sardonic insanity and comedic timing are perfect. You can see the wheels in Chris’s mind turning as he tries to express his feelings as politely as possible (and failing miserably) while still trying to maintain a dignified self-assertion. John Procaccino is a perfect fit for the cool and comfortable Roger, and Kate Arrington dizzily delivers some of the best lines in the show. Donna Lynne Champlin is certainly the heart of the show as Deb, a woman who finds love after her husband’s death…with his nurse.

Some of the best scenes in the show are largely silent. In one, a delivery guy shows up at the peak of the party’s chaos, and his gaping stare hilariously sums up the evening’s absurdity. In another, the group cleans up the house at the end of the evening, gathering up condoms and spilled food in  strife-filled quiet. It is the most emotion-filled scene in the play without a single word being said. And anyone saying that there wasn’t any sex in the show clearly missed the cunnalingus happening on the kitchen counter. This is good, guys. Let’s keep this trend going.

The Qualms is playing at Playwrights Horizons through July 12. The Qualms is written by Bruce Norris and directed by Pam MacKinnon. Tickets here.

‘Guards At The Taj’ Asks If Beauty and Violence Must Exist Together

There is a legend that upon the completion of the Taj Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan ordered that his architect and laborers have their hands cut off  so that nothing more beautiful than the Taj Mahal would ever be constructed. The legend juxtaposes an event of great beauty, a veritable human triumph, with an act of terrible, depraved violence.

Omar Metwally, Arian Moayed in Guards at the Taj. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

Our world seems to constantly remind us that good cannot exist without bad– that for every beautiful thing in the world, some hideous truth lies just beneath it. The Taj Mahal legend is only an exaggerated narrative of power, inequality, and the its role in creating beauty. Think, for example, of how a visit to the dazzlingly, awe-inspiring Versailles simultaneously underscores the extreme poverty of the lower classes and the royalty’s ignorance of its people’s plight. Or how the crown jewels in London were only made possible by an era of brutal colonialism. Given our history as flawed, power-prone people, it would seem that beauty and violence are dialectically related: one is constantly feeding the other so that nearly every beautiful thing has a history of violence behind it.

Rajiv Joseph examines this dilemma in his previous works, and newly in Guards at the Taj at the Atlantic Theater Company. It is this dilemma that two ordinary  guards are faced with when they start their watch the morning of the Taj Mahal’s unveiling.  Huma (Omar Metwally) and Babur (Arian Moayed) are simple and sincere imperial guards who pass their long dawns together pitching hypothetical inventions and hoping for a promotion to guard the royal harem. Huma is a bit more ambitious–his father is a high-ranking guard– while Babur gives off a James Franco vibe in  his amateurish philosophical and artistic musings, though far more genuine that Franco’s reputation. Babur’s awe at the new Taj Mahal resounds with our own desire to see the rewards of our long work and to bring out the best in humanity. The Taj Mahal is not just a beautiful structure two decades in the making. It’s the embodiment of what our intellect, imagination, artistry, and labor can achieve.

The play alternates between scenes of comic, pedantic, and contemporary banter, and scenes of horrible violence. Being low on the imperial guard totem pole, Huma and Babur are entrusted with the task of cutting off the hands of 20,000 laborers, including the architect. In one scene, the guards wade in an ankle-deep pool of blood for a solid twenty minutes, and we don’t lack in fake hands.  Although the shah’s cruel measures are supposed to ensure that beauty remains in Agra, Babur recognizes the truth: that beauty has died with this act.

It’s an interesting and honest twist to the idea that beauty and violence must co-exist. For in a fair and compassionate world, this atrocity could have been avoided. As Babur reiterates, beauty does not live beside violence; it dies with it. We could live in a world where beauty is not an object to be accumulated or owned but rather shared, celebrated, and dreamt up in infinite bounds. Like knowledge (and unlike wealth), one person’s gain of beauty does not diminish another person’s beauty.  Unfortunately, Huma and Babur’s society commodifies beauty and greedily guards it, robbing us us beauty just as it produces it.

Guards at the Taj is playing at Atlantic Theater Company. Written by Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Amy Morton. Tickets here.

New Tony Awards Podcast!

Sara and Norma are back from radio silence with an unfocused, profanity-filled, takedown and/or lovefest on the 2015 Tony Awards. Sara and Norma swap notes, including lamentations over co-hosts Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, praises of the musical performances, and deal with some of the broadcast’s problems, including their refusal to show the special Tony Awards speeches and the Tesori/Kron win.

 Links to outside info discussed:
-We mention a vlog channel belonging to a Broadway fashion designer. We incorrectly say its on Stage 32, but it’s actually found on Stage It’s called Dress Up! with George B. Style.
Discussion of Anna Wintour and fashion at the Tonys

‘Airline Highway’ Dares You to See Yourself In Its Characters

A group of addicts, sex workers, and nightclub regulars gather at the Hummingbird Motel in New Orleans to celebrate the life of ailing burlesque performer and community matriarch, Miss Ruby. The group is a family of sorts, and a dysfunctional one at that. Having known each other for years, none of them seem to have been able to free themselves from their own particular rut. For example, Krista is a young stripper highly dependent on others for her own self-confidence. She used to reside at the motel but is now homeless and worse off than ever. Tanya is an aging prostitute with a drug addiction whose past fills her with regret.

Complicating things is the return of Krista’s ex, Bait Boy, now Greg. Bait Boy left New Orleans to shack up with an older, wealthier woman in Atlanta and is on track to becoming a ‘normal’ middle-class, white-collar man. He arrives to Miss Ruby’s funeral with his step-daughter, Zoe, an honor roll student writing an anthropology paper on ‘subcultures,’ a term that implies inferiority in more ways than one.  She decides to write about the Hummingbird Motel gang. The characters resist Zoe’s detached, scientific  study of their lifestyle and consistently remark on the foolish notion that one night spent with them could result in a comprehensive analysis of their lives and behaviors.

The cast of Airline Highway. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Zoe’s reductive study is a healthy reminder to the audience to not approach the characters in the same way. Audiences often walk out of a play with the assumption that the play has provided a whole and comprehensive view of its theme or characters, and we can then summarize either with a simplified statement or message.For some plays, this is the endgame: Spend two hours with a small group of people and understand what they’re all about by curtain call.

Lisa D’Amour sophisticated script, however, acknowledges two important things–1) you can’t ‘figure’ someone out by observing a fraction of their daily lives, and 2) that act of detached study is an act of superiority, especially when the subjects are perceived as lower on the socioeconomic ladder. There’s a world of depth to her characters.  Any realistic representation of them is assuredly incomplete, and we can only do our best to respect their truths and experience their lives.

Happily, Steppenwolf makes this an easier task with a lineup of courageous performances. Though Julie White and K. Todd Freeman deserve their Tony nominations (as Tanya and Sissy Na Na, respectively) it’s hard to isolate any one of these complicated and indisputably honest portrayals. D’Amour’s dialogue is rich and nonlinear, jumping between characters and interactions so that the result is a clutter of intricately woven fractals, seamlessly directed by Joe Mantello. Airline Highway is messy, it’s fragmented, it alternates wildly between joy and disappointment. But that’s life. And somehow, it magically bonds together into a brilliant and exciting piece.

For more thoughts on Airline Highway, listen to our podcast!

Airline Highway runs through June 7 at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Podcast #8 on Hamilton at the Public Theater!

Sara and Norma FINALLY talk about Hamilton and prep for the Broadway transfer! Fangirling ensues.

Sara refers to an American Theater article in her discussion of hip-hop in theater. The article is “Sure, ‘Hamilton’ is a Game-Changer, But Whose Game?” by Danny Hoch.

Podcast on ‘Airline Highway’ and ‘The Visit’

We discuss the brilliant, fractured, messy, and joyous Airline Highway at Manhattan Theater Club, and the new Kander & Ebb musical The Visit starring Chita Rivera.

Our discussion of The Visit starts around the 20:00 mark.

For more information on Airline Highway and The Visit.

A link to a mentioned review by Ben Brantley in the New York Times.

Podcast on ‘Living on Love’ and ‘It Shoulda Been You!’

Norma and Sara discuss the shortcomings of It Shoulda Been You and how Living on Love excels by not falling into the same traps. This podcast was recorded before the today’s announcement that Living on Love would close, so there is no mention of it, but we are obviously sad to see it go!

Discussion of Living On Love starts around minute 25:15
Link to a mentioned review of It Shoulda Been You.

Link to our review of It Shoulda Been You

Podcast 5 Out on Doctor Zhivago and Fun Home!

Sara and Mariaisabel discuss the brand new Doctor Zhivago musical and the Broadway transfer of Fun Home. From Russia, and lesbians, with love.

Link to our review of Doctor Zhivago.

Please note that we incorrectly refer to one of the actors in Doctor Zhivago as “Paul Nolan Alexander.” His actual name is Paul Alexander Nolan. We hope he forgives us. Because we sort of love him.

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