It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2015 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

I’m not sure how many shows I saw this year, and I didn’t keep good enough record to count. Suffice it to say, I saw a lot, but not everything. Therefore, I’m not in a position to tumake a “best of” list or anything of the sort. Instead, I present to you a list of my favorite theater from 2015, in alphabetical order.

Last year, I listed a top 13, with one honorable mention plus three additional shows I had loved enough in previous years to see for a second time during 2014. This year’s list includes 15 shows, two of which were return trips, plus two honorable mentions, so I guess I have a fairly consistent amount of love in my heart available for great theater.  Continue reading

It’s dlevy! A Gay Country Waltz

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear.
I’m sure it’s the late-night Chinese food to blame but I just can’t seem to care.
Loneliness haunts me and Grindr’s no help to bring sexy men to my door
But my trusty Chinese food delivery restaurant’s available with more.

Now I know it’s cliche to cry ‘bout my waistline when I’m solely to blame
See, I hate the gym, and I really like food, and I refuse to feel any shame.
And God bless the dudes into bears who greet me with woofs and grrs and all that.
Lord knows it isn’t a hardship these days to be gay, hairy, and fat.

But all of the stir fry (and the condoms and the KY) adds up to a financial toll
And even a bear has the vanity to care about what covers his pole
Going online for a new pair of designer briefs each day of the week
Is draining my money so I just can’t be sunny ‘bout the dilemma of which I now speak:

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear
And the Fluff And Fold service is making me nervous cuz the delivery guy isn’t here.
How can I venture out into the world with these too-tight briefs round my waist?
But I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair, and I’m feelin’ debased.

Maybe some creative thinking is all that I need to raise my mood,
Which would not only answer the problem but keep me from ordering any more food
I should just forego this sideshow and let go of briefs forever more
Going commando means never again running out to the department store
when

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear
Fuck it, who needs em, they’re just a tool of the patriarchy and I shouldn’t care
Proudly I’ll slip on my fat pants without them and know deep within
The true liberation can only be felt when there’s denim against your skin.

I feel too fat to fit into my only clean pair of underwear
So I will subvert the options because I’m an academic queer
Love me or leave me it really don’t matter because can’t you see?
Now that I’ve stopped wearing underwear, deep within, I’m finally free.

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! Another small Ragtime thought

There’s a clear theme of mobility in the show, which is not the same thing as progress. For all the societal push that happens in the show, only two characters have any kind of mobility: Coalhouse, with his car, and Tateh (and his daughter) with their wanderings.

But not all mobility is upward. Coalhouse’s mobility is the very thing that is threatening to the poor white volunteer firemen who ultimately bring about his downfall. The idea of a black man who’s going places (in both senses) terrifies them, so they crush it. It’s tempting to blame the victim and accuse Coalhouse’s immobility when it comes to demanding justice as the cause of his undoing, but it’s not his demand for justice that drives him over the edge—it’s society’s unwillingness to provide it to him. The society of New Rochelle can’t keep up with the changes Coalhouse represents; he’s travelling on roads that are still under construction.

Tateh, on the other hand, moves more frequently than anyone else in the show: from Latvia to New York to Lawrence, MA to Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Like generations of wandering Jews before him, Tateh stakes his future to an idea rather than a plot of land. Unlike Coalhouse, he attempts humility in the face of degradation, but he finds that a fruitless strategy. It’s only when he, like Coalhouse, fights back (by joining the union battle in Lawrence) that his fortunes begin to change. Unlike Coalhouse, Tateh doesn’t see his battle through to the end. When he sees his opening for further mobility, by jumping on the train to Philadelphia with the departing children, he takes it, and his fortunes change. Ragtime seems to be saying that justice is great, but true greatness is knowing when to get off.

And what of the WASP family at the center of Ragtime? Father departs for Alaska in the first scene—why doesn’t his mobility translate socially? The key is in “Journey On.” While Tateh is “coming to America,” Father is “going from” it, fleeing the force that powers the progress of everyone else in the show. Is exploration no longer part of the American dream? Perhaps, but Father is not an explorer. His initial exchange with Peary makes it clear that Father is a privileged tourist, and when he returns later in the show, we learn he was not allowed to reach the destination. Only Peary and his first mate, Matthew Henson, reach the North Pole. Father merely gets within orbit.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for movement in the family. When things come to a head in the second act, and the balance of power in that family shifts towards Mother, they journey to Atlantic City. This trip plants the seeds to the eventual unraveling of their family’s dynamic, so that it may be reassembled in its final configuration… but not until after Father attempts one more time to journey, this time on the ill-fated Lusitania, another trip away from America that ultimately leads to oblivion.

What does it mean that after all this mobility, Mother and Tateh end up back in New Rochelle while Coalhouse ends up dead? Coalhouse’s choice to dig in his heels for justice rather than move when it became a necessity proved his undoing. Tateh’s arrival in New Rochelle, married to Mother, represents a final step forward for him and his daughter. But Mother is back where she started, in that same house on the hill. Sure, her family looks significantly different, and perhaps she has achieved more agency than she was ever accorded in his first marriage, but has she moved? Or did she not need to move, since it was her decision to take in Sarah and her baby at the top of the show that set the rest of the play in motion?

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! Vagina by Naomi Wolf

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

 

I’ve started reading Vagina by Naomi Wolf.

Toward the end of her introduction, she offers something of an apology for her handling of the book’s subject matter entirely from a heterosexual point of view. She suggests that it was not a matter of heterosexism (although she doesn’t use that term) as much as it was an acknowledgement that lesbian and bisexual women’s experience of their vaginas (in general) and sex (in particular) merit their own handling rather than being lumped together under one rubric.

I understand what she’s saying here, but I’m not sure if the argument that by lumping them together, lesbian and bisexual women’s experiences would necessarily become the afterthought is accurate. They become the afterthought because the author privileges the heterosexual experience. Is lesbian and bisexual experience of body and sex and sexuality so different that the book would balloon beyond a reasonable scope should they be included? I’m certainly not the one to say.

But even if you accept her argument, I’m not sure that it should give her the free pass to write the rest of the book as though lesbian and bisexual women certainly don’t exist. I am fairly certain that a responsible author can cordon off a section of the topic as out of scope without pretending it doesn’t exist. The heterosexism of the language is incredibly off-putting for me, and the apology in the introduction intensifies my feelings rather than mollifying them.

Wolf’s complete erasure of transgender people (who, surely, have a lot to add to a conversation about vaginas) is further troubling, since she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. I can absolutely understand why the myriad was vaginas and embodiment in general for transgender people—those of various genders who have vaginas as well as transgender women who don’t have vaginas—interrogate, challenge, and threaten Wolf’s hypotheses. But simply writing them out of existence without so much as a half-assed apology makes me angry, and it makes it difficult for me to read the rest of the book without their absence informing my reading.

I am not the target audience of this book by any measure. I’m only a few chapters in, and it’s already clear that this book is written for the same audience that made Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues a hit. Things that I take for granted as obvious parts of the human experience (e.g. “Women’s bodies are different from each other, so one woman’s experience of her own vagina might not match another woman’s experience of her own vagina.”) are presented as great revelations. Maybe there are a great deal of women in America who just assume that their own experience of, well, anything, can automatically be generalized to all women everywhere ever. But I thought by 2012 we had all moved past that.

There a lot of book left to devour, so stay tuned for further updates. After the first page or two I tweeted that it’s hard to read this book without live-tweeting the experience, and I wasn’t kidding. Whether I’m frustrated or intrigued, this is the kind of book that calls out for the reader to say to anyone who will listen, “would you believe this?!” And isn’t that what Tumblr’s best at anyway?

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower this week.

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

I’ve wanted to read it for a while because a) when I was a teacher, my students were always reading it; b) the trailer for the film had me intrigued; c) I remembered something about “gay themes;” d) Sarah* recently mentioned reading it and I am highly susceptible to suggestion; but mostly e) my iPhone battery ran out the other night when I was in Cambridge, and I needed something to occupy myself during the hour-long public transit ride home.

The first thing I noticed was that it took place in 1991, meaning that Charlie is one year older than me. It turns out the book was published in 1999, when I was a senior in college, which explains why I never heard about it until I was in regular contact with high school students again a few years later. But just as when I finally watched My So-Called Life earlier this year, I was so swept up in the setting’s ability to recapture the specifics of my high school experience that I forgave a lot of things that might have otherwise annoyed me about the book.

And that’s the thing. This book so distinctly recalls my high school experience that I wonder if Stephen Chbosky and I weren’t friends. There’s no one character that maps to me or any specific friends (except maybe Patrick), but the group of kids portrayed in the book is exactly the crowd I spent freshman year with. I know, I’m not the first, last, or only kid to have formative experiences around The Rocky Horror Picture Show and making a zine and reading Naked Lunch and feeling bad for not liking or understanding it and driving around just for the sense of freedom. But that’s the point of the book, right? That we’re not alone.

When I mentioned the book today at work to a colleague who’s just a little bit younger, she mentioned that she and her friends all read the book in high school. I said that I was aware of it because of my former students, adding that I think it’s on the syllabus in most high schools now. She was surprised, saying that in her day it was definitely the kind of book that was passed around behind teachers’ backs because it was dirty.

I hadn’t gotten to the “dirty” parts yet when we had that conversation, and even now I’m more… shocked? I don’t know. surprised, I guess, by the drug content than the sex. But that tells you a bit about who I was in high school too.

(I had originally, accidentally written “who I was in high school tool.” Paging Dr. Freud.)

Anyway, I’m glad I read it, but learning that Mr. Chbosky wrote the screenplay to the misguided film version of Rent has left me with more complicated feelings than anything in the book itself.

(* Was it Sarah? Now I can’t find the post. Regardless, whether it was Sarah or someone else, I agree with her assessment of the ending, in that it wasn’t handled well, but I think the lack of visibility of that kind of situation with that kind of gender dynamic in other popular books makes it important even if ham-handed, so the educator in me gives it a pass.)

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! One of my favorite parts of this weekend…

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

One of my favorite parts of this weekend…

…and this actually happened a couple of different times…

But first, at the Paley Center during the Q&A with Sheldon Harnick, the moderator kept speaking in shorthand, or apologizing when he didn’t because “we all know about the aborted She Loves Me film that was to star Julie Andrews” or saying things like “I’m going to tell you about the lyric changes in the TV version of She Loves Me so you’re not distracted agonizing over them when they happen.”

And then the following day at the park, when we played a game that somehow managed to get two people – NEITHER OF WHOM WERE ME – to submit “Paul Geminagni” as a celebrity name and I could get Reese to guess “Kevin Kline” in our game of celebrity by charading what it might look like to have sex with a young Patti LuPone….

There’s something really special about finding your tribe and being able to share in that shorthand, that code, the secret handshakes and mottos that only you know.

Pretty much all of us who came to the meetup yesterday have been posting on various media about how amazing it was to meet each other, and I guess this is my version of that. And yes, that was amazing, and it’s thrilling to finally get to spend in person time with some of my favorite Tumblr people and introduce some of my favorites to each other. (And the flirting! That was fun too!)

But there’s something more than that.

While I have other tribes like that in Boston, I don’t have my theater tribe. (And even in my Jewish circles, because we’ve become so (rightly) sensitized to being inclusive of everyone at various levels of knowledge, we rarely geek out in this way any more…)

There have been a few times in my life when I’ve had this feeling of suddenly *belonging* after years of alienation. My first steps into the Jewish youth group world; my entrance into junior high show choir; moving into West Hollywood (which I described at the time as the gay man’s equivalent of a Jew’s first trip to Israel)…. This weekend felt like one of those moments. And I’m not sure why at this point in my life having a theater tribe feels more important than it has for a long time, but it does.

So now I’m embarking on a process to figure out how to hold on to it.