Male Bonding

Film 2 Comments »

humpday-movie.jpgI was having lunch recently with a friend who I consider to be fairly sophisticated and open-minded, when, during the course of conversation regarding sexual and gender identity, she categorically, flatly stated that she didn’t believe that there was such a thing as bisexuality – that men who claim to be bisexual were really closeted gay men.  I was a little taken aback, and of course, I vigorously disagreed, since based on my experience as a gay man with complicated relationships with both gay and straight people, I’ve come to believe pretty strongly that sexual identity is not as simple, as easily labeled into defined quadrants, as many people seem to, or want to, believe it is.  I’m very convinced that sexual identity shifts and moves along a continuum, settling at some steady state during a particular period of time, which may or may not be permanent.  In our contemporary times, sexual fluidity seems to be more pronounced and embraced that it was even as recently as ten years ago.  But American film is light years away from reality most of the time, so no Hollywood movie has so far touched this topic with a ten foot pole (except for the bromance comedies such as I Love You, Man, which dilutes the provocation by making fun of it).  That is why Lynn Shelton’s low-budget independent movie Humpday, winner of a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and official Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight selection, about two straight male friends who, on a drunken dare, agree to make a home movie of the two of them having sex, is so current, so fresh, so insightful, so riveting; it’s possibly the best film I’ve seen so far in the half year.

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Broadway IS in Chicago

Theater 2 Comments »

which-precinct-are-these-boys-at.jpgChris Jones is writing on his blog today about what Chicago theater aficionados have been excitedly buzzing about the past several weeks since the confirmation of the Broadway productions of Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain (first produced at Chicago Dramatists in the fall of 2007 and then transferred to the Royal George Theatre for an extended run during the first half of 2008) and of Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts (first produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre in the summer of 2008) came out:  Chicago theater is going to be KING OF THE HILL in the New York arts and culture season this fall, when these two amazing new plays open within days of one another.  I loved, loved these two’s original productions.  Written by Chicago-based playwrights, they are so quintessentially Chicago:  from their shared Uptown setting (as I said in my rave for Superior Donuts:  “Uptown, for me, is a great microcosm of a Chicago in flux, in the midst of change and renewal, but yet still stubbornly, and, at times, proudly, holding on to what made, and makes this city great and unique, both the good and the not-so-good.”) to their distinctive Chicago dialogue and accents (particularly in A Steady Rain) to their uncompromisingly uniquely Chicago points of view on life: straight-shooting, salt-of-the-earth, calloused, pragmatic, a city that’s got it’s people’s backs.  Snobbish New York theater patrons will get the wind knocked out of them!  I am very thrilled to hear too that the entire Steppenwolf cast of Superior Donuts will be recreating their roles on Broadway – our wonderful Chicago-based talent, from Jon Michael Hill to James Vincent Meredith to Cliff Chamberlin, all making their Broadway debuts, will prove once and for all that our city is the go-to city for actors who want to be nurtured and cultivated. A Steady Rain, on the other hand, is going the traditional Broadway mega-star route – instead of the brilliant Randy Steinmeyer and Peter deFaria, Chicago storefront theater actors who definitively created the lead roles here, Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman will be taking them on in New York.  Frankly, I’m ambivalent about this:  I’m thrilled for Huff and Chicago Dramatists, because there will definitely be an audience for the work (Chris is reporting that several millions of advance tickets have already been sold for the play), but I’m not really convinced, having seen the original, that Craig and Jackman are the best choices for these roles.  Tell me where to find a Chicago cop who looks like Hugh Jackman, and I’ll show up wearing only gift-wrapping paper and a red ribbon!  Seriously though, regardless of how good actors Craig and Jackman are (and I saw Hugh in his Tony-winning turn in The Boy from Oz where he was terrific), they’re still stars, known commodities with personas shaped by pop culture (James Bond and Wolverine) so I think it’ll be quite the effort, for me at least, to suspend disbelief that they are indeed truthfully inhabiting the lives of these gritty, emotionally raw Chicago cops (and I hope they’re doing research on those South side accents!).  Regardless, it’s going to be a watershed time for Chicago theater this fall and that’s a GREAT thing!  PS- Since I can’t seem to find the Broadway posters for either A Steady Rain or Superior Donuts, I think no one’s going to complain if I put up these photos of Hugh and Dan instead!

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Bye Bye Blackbird

Theater 2 Comments »

blackbird-at-victory-gardens.jpgHaving lived in Chicago for more than ten years now, summer in this city is all about the lakefront, outdoor festivals such as Ravinia and the Grant Park Music Festival, slow, lazy afternoons grilling with friends and sipping Coronas.  The major arts groups in the city are either on hiatus, wrapping up their seasons, or putting on light, easy-on-the-eyes-and-on-the-brain fare.  I don’t think there has been a recent summer where one of the big arts and culture news is all about the fact that one of the city’s major cultural institutions is presenting a provocative, complex, deeply uncomfortable but undeniably memorable work.  Part of it is probably because a lot of people (especially the ones who aren’t familiar with his gritty, pre-stardom work in Chicago’s burgeoning off-loop theater scene in the 1970s) have been caught off-guard that CSI superstar William Petersen will take on material that goes to a very dark place, with surprising, and to some, disturbing, overtones of moral ambiguity.  But I think most of it is due to the fact that we haven’t seen material as brilliant, as complicated, as gnawing as David Harrower’s Blackbird, winner of the 2007 Laurence Olivier Award, the British theater’s equivalent of the Tony Awards, Best New Play (besting a heavyweight group comprised of Tom Stoppard’s Rock’n'Roll, Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, and Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer), on a Chicago stage in a while.  If there is one thing that should pull you away from summer’s airy distractions, it is to see Blackbird at Victory Gardens Theatre, assuredly directed by Artistic Director Dennis Zacek, the best local production I have seen so far this year.  If for some inexcusable reason you are not able to see it, consider yourself culturally and artistically malnourished.

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Slower Pace

Personal 1 Comment »

In my day job as a business and organizational transformation consultant for a major consulting firm, I’m proud of the fact that I always seems to be at the right place at the right time.  Everytime I’m wrapping up a client project, a Chicago-based project seemingly miraculously appears.  Although I tell the candidates I interview for the company that our management consulting jobs are 100% travel, I really haven’t been on the typical Monday-Thursday consulting travel grind since late 2003. The cliche “good things never last” is a cliche, yes, but it’s true!  Last week, I started a client project that will have been travelling to the great Buckeye state for the next six weeks.  I’ll only be in Chicago from Friday to Sunday, which will mean less opportunities to go to arts and culture events, which will translate to a slowdown on blog posting.  It’ll be an adjustment (especially since summer in Chicago is quite lively with the Grant Park Music Festival, the season wrap-ups of the theater companies, etc.), but it’s the right move for me in terms of where my “real” career is right now and where I want it to be.  I’ll still try my hardest to post at least once a week, and if it’s not on an arts and culture event, it could be on my perspectives regarding things I’m reading, hearing, thinking about. I’ll also be attempting shorter blog posts as compared to the novella-like lengths that I sometimes go to.   I’d like to continue the dialogue and engagement with you my dear blog readers, so please feel free to continue leaving comments.  It could be a slow summer….but it’s not going to be a lifeless one.

Civilized Ritual

Food 5 Comments »

Any legitimate, laminated-card carrying foodie will at some point in his or her life decide to make the pilgrimage to the nirvana, the apex, the Shangri-La, call it what you want, of American culinary greatness, Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry tucked away in the small, bucolic town of Yountville in Napa Valley, California.  A trip to The French Laundry is a singular experience for the food-obsessed, a combination culinary bar mitzvah/confirmation ritual, cattle branding, and pledge initiation – a rite of passage, a marker, an indication that one has indeed earned his or her foodie stripes.  So when I had the opportunity to dine at the restaurant during my recent trip to the wine country (with heartfelt thanks to my friends Dulce and Greg, who managed to get my reservation around the convoluted FL system!), I was on the road faster than anyone can say “bouillabaise”!  And The French Laundry experience was indeed quite the experience – dining as a civilized, leisurely, luxurious ritual; food as a vital, centrifugal life force.  I probably ate some of the best dishes I have ever eaten in my life in that one night two weeks ago at the restaurant (and more on that below), and there were mostly hits, very few misses, in the twelve course (including two amuse bouches) Chef’s tasting menu.  The service was impeccable. Yes, it was worth the trip, the expense, the hyperventilating.  But I do think I hyperventilated a little too much, since I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be.  Although the dishes were excellent and sophisticated, the techniques superlative, and the ingredients top-caliber, I really didn’t think the menu had the risk-taking, the imagination, the redefinition, the capability to astound and flabbergast of, say, an Alinea, (which has recently overtaken FL in the 50 Best Restaurants in the World ranking, and, yes, just in case people forgot, Grant Achatz trained under Keller at FL). I will always take provocative over comfortable, and for this 21st century foodie, FL felt like an early 2000 artifact.  And for most people, that’s not a bad thing.

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