Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Hottest Ticket on Broadway

Literally. And this theater critic can be bought for the price of a backstage ménage a trois.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Outing the Outers

“Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual who fucks around with guys!" So proclaims Al Pacino as the notoriously ruthless McCarthyite in a clip from Mike Nichols' film version of Tony Kushner's “Angels in America.” While the lines are meant to play for camp laughs, the words astonishingly morph into something absolutely revelatory in Kirby Dick's latest documentary about the outing of gay Republicans, “Outrage.” Kushner penned the lines in an effort to understand Cohn's way of thinking, to humbly step inside the head of someone whose life experience was so foreign from his own. Which is something the self-righteous, outing bloggers and journalists profiled in Dick's documentary never even attempt to do. For what Cohn is really saying is just an extreme version of what the Republicans who "fuck around with guys" are really thinking. Which is, "I am not your definition of homosexual. I have a right to decide my own identity, and I will not be pigeonholed to fit your narrow-minded, simplistic point-of-view."

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation.

Working Stiff: Offices

"Tedious" is not a word I often associate with the Coen brothers — or with theater director Neil Pepe for that matter. But Ethan Coen’s latest onstage diversion, “Offices,” three short comedies about the cubicle world, is about as fun as a day job. One can never be sure what’s going on inside the brothers’ collective mind though, in this case, one question begs to be asked of the Ethan half, “O Brother, What Art Thou Thinking?”

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Soderbergh Experience: The Girlfriend Experience

According to IMDb’s plot synopsis, Steven Soderbergh’s latest indie tryst, “The Girlfriend Experience,” starring porn star Sasha Grey, is a "revealing look at the world of prostitution from an elite call girl's point of view." While it’s true that Ms. Grey plays high-priced hooker Chelsea (a.k.a. Christine), the film is less a "revealing look at the world of prostitution" than it is a narcissistic indictment of the director’s own world. Rather than bravely and avidly explore lusty new territory, Soderbergh merely grafts the wheeler-dealer movie industry he knows so well onto the sex biz and calls it a day.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New World Order

Perhaps the most surprising revelation uncovered in “New World Order,” Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel's look at conspiracy theorists, is just how downright boring the people who make up the underground anti-globalist movement truly are. The doc is less an expose than a classic case study of filmmakers asking all the wrong questions. From its unoriginal opening of JFK's voice over the credits, warning newspapermen of the dangers of secrecy in society (before a cut to images from the Zapruder film), to filmmaker/radio host/showboat Alex Jones's long, crazy, on-air rant that resembles an audition for “The Exorcist,” the directors have announced their intention not to dig too deep, but to merely reaffirm mainstream perceptions of New World Order theorists as disenfranchised crackpots.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Way to Heaven

“Way to Heaven (Himmelweg)” was inspired by the true story of the Nazis’ charade at the Theresienstadt concentration camp where “Himmel Weg” or “Paradise Way” was the name of the street leading to the gas chamber. The play, which recounts the stormtroopers’ building of a happy-go-lucky fake town for international inspectors to visit, is an off-Broadway must-see, not for the obvious historical reason but for two equally important artistic ones. Between Juan Mayorga’s intricately layered script, which probes the meaning of theater as literally life and death event, and Francisco Reyes’ tour de force performance as the Commandant, “Way to Heaven” comes alive like few contemporary dramas in recent memory.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sasha Grey Interview

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sasha Grey Interview

“I have to say that the adult films have been a total pleasure. They were like getting paid to live out my greatest fantasies. The rest of the stuff … sometimes got to be a real grind.”

So sayeth the late, great Marilyn Chambers. And though porn star Sasha Grey, who makes her “mainstream” debut as a high-end call girl in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” would most likely disagree with the latter part of that sentiment, I couldn’t help but think of Chambers’ often wasted talent as Grey and I sat down to chat. This self-proclaimed “performance artist” is every bit as intelligent and articulate as Soderbergh’s latest HD fling is tedious and condescending. Here’s hoping Grey’s next experience is worthy of her wonderful lust for life.

Lauren Wissot: So how did you hook up with Steven Soderbergh?

Sasha Grey: One of his writers contacted me through my MySpace page. They’d both read an article about me in a Los Angeles magazine, um, about three years ago now. So Brian Koppelman said Soderbergh’s casting his next film and he’d like to talk to me, and I was like, “Yeah, right, whatever. O.K., have him leave me a voicemail.” And then I get home one day and there’s a message on my voicemail and it’s Steven Soderbergh and I was, like, “Oh, wow! O.K., this is getting interesting.” (laughs) So we had a meeting about three days later. It was really an unorthodox way of casting. Literally, it was a forty-five minute meeting and that was that.

LW: So it just kind of fell into your lap? That’s interesting. As someone who’s been around the sex industry for over a dozen years, though in the S&M area, and who spent six years with a high-end male escort, one of the things –

SG: You were in a relationship with an escort?

LW: Yeah, but a guy.

SG: Oh.

LW: Oh, yeah. Anyway, I didn’t really recognize the world of “The Girlfriend Experience,” and I’m wondering, is this a fictional take? Is there something from your own life represented in there? It just seemed really foreign to me and I’m trying to figure out why that is. Did you have anything at all to do with the script?

SG: No, actually there was already an outline written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. The casting director then found these two escorts. So things like Chelsea’s screening process, where she relies on personology books – that came from a real escort. Also, how Chelsea goes home after appointments and writes in detail in her diary in order to remember conversations she’d had with the clients. One of the escorts did that so it would seem like she was genuinely interested in them. She’d always look back on her notes before the next date, next meeting, what have you. Or the guy in the diaper – one of the girls had a client like that. Or the Hasidic Jew, that was another guy this girl had.

LW: So this was kind of a new thing for you. You didn’t really know about the escort industry. You had to do your own research.

SG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, after Steven and I met I went home and Googled “escorting, escorting,” (laughs) trying to find information. I mean, unless you want to hire a woman to go out on a date with you it’s really difficult to find actual personal information, or how these people really feel about what they do. So the casting director gave us her research information and also all these links to escorting blogs.

LW: So did you get to speak with escorts? Did you do your own first-person research?

SG: Steven and I met with one the day before I came to NYC to shoot. And then the day before we started shooting in New York we met with one. So within a couple hours I was trying to get as much information as I could.

LW: So you didn’t actually go out and escort?

SG: No, no.

LW: Let’s talk a little bit about the production. It seemed as if Steven was trying to draw parallels between the business of moviemaking and the business of sex. What I’m more interested in is, what are the differences? What stood out for you about the differences between the porn industry and the indie filmmaking industry?

SG: Actually there are a lot of surprising similarities. You’d think there’d be more differences. I guess for me, personally, it was the preparation. I put a lot more preparation into this character than I do into my sex scenes. I’m playing myself in my sex scenes. There might be certain things I want to say or do within those scenes but I’m still myself, whereas in “The Girlfriend Experience” I’m playing somebody else. I wrote a back story – where she’s from, what her parents are like. Is she rich? Is she poor? I just took all that and presented it to Steven.

LW: So how long did you prepare for your character?

SG: A couple months. And a lot of it you’re not even going to see onscreen. It was more a matter of I had to exercise my skills as an actor.

LW: One thing I liked was your rapport with Chris Santos who plays your boyfriend. What was the rehearsal process with him like?

SG: We hung out in LA a few times before we shot the film just because Steven really wanted us to be comfortable with each other and not feel robotic and stiff. As far as rehearsing the scenes we didn’t really do that. Whatever we did we shot it.

LW: The other thing that really stood out for me about your character is Chelsea’s patience. Not only with these self-absorbed clients, but with the boyfriend, and then she’s got to deal with this journalist who’s asking her these inane questions. And she’s just sitting there nicely and patiently answering him. I mean, if it were me I would have strangled him with his statements like, “I’ve never met an escort in a committed relationship.” Which to me is quite condescending.

SG: Uh-huh.

LW: I just thought that really rang true for the character. I mean, you do have to have the patience of a saint to be in the sex industry. Did you purposely try to convey that? Was that something you’d written in your back-story about her? That this is how she deals with people?

SG: Yeah, yeah. Well, her angle is always money. She’s always working to make more money and to save more money. So whether it be granting an article to a journalist to better her career and make the public aware of her so that she gets more clients, whether it’s placating her clients…it doesn’t matter if they’re easy to work with or tough to work with –they give her money! (laughs) So the end result for Chelsea is always the money.

LW: Which is probably different from porn, right? I mean, there’s other things involved than just going out and getting the money.

SG: Yeah, exactly. I look at what I do as performance art. There’s definitely a difference between what I do and the way Chelsea lives her life. Solely as a performer in the adult business you don’t make that much money. It’s a good income, but –

LW: Well, you do if you use it to escort.

SG: Huh?

LW: I mean, if you use porn as a promotional tool you can make a lot of money.

SG: Oh, yeah. (laughs) A lot of girls do that…but unless you’re directing or producing or have your own company in the adult business you don’t make a lot. You just have to be happy with what you do. I think that’s the most important thing.

LW: Is this something you’re gonna invite all your relatives to come see?

SG: (laughs) Yeah!

LW: Because everyone walks that tightrope differently. I know people that tell their family absolutely nothing. And then there are the people who are totally open with their families. How do you negotiate that?

SG: My family knows what I do.

LW: But obviously they don’t watch your films.

SG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, my mom keeps calling me now. “When is your movie coming out? I wanna come see it!” So she keeps bugging me. (laughs) I told her, “I’ll let you know as soon as it comes out because I want you to tell all your friends because I’m actually getting backend.” And she’s like, “What? You’re getting back-ended?” So I’m like, “Mom, you’re an undercover pervert. You just don’t want to admit it!”

Love in the Time of Terror

Though the press notes cite Brecht, Beckett, Ionesco and Lynch as inspirations for “Love in the Time of Terror” there’s a Dada feel to this WOW Café Theater production. Right from the start three characters, at turns sexy and bedraggled, announce to the audience that the play may not necessarily make sense to us. To offer a plot summary of a show that includes a Rubenesque diva in a sequined, aqua blue number straight out of “The Little Mermaid” (belting out sultry tunes in a dynamic voice that seems to weigh more than she does), bickering lesbian couples, and a blind woman whose family and cat were murdered in a genocide is to merely fall down a rabbit hole.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reasons to Yawn at Neil LaBute

Provocateur playwright/filmmaker Neil LaBute traffics in alternate reality, in a world where perfectly timed jabs and witty comebacks abound. He transforms “what we wish we could say” into pretty bits of dialogue. It’s been obvious right from his audacious directorial debut, “In The Company of Men,” that LaBute is in love with the stylization of language over emotional substance. That film—brutally shocking in its misanthropy, with its use of words as blood sport—was a risk-taking revelation for its time. But in the dozen years since “In The Company of Men” stormed the indie scene, LaBute hasn’t grown much as an artist. He’s been creating on autopilot, merely repeating himself with colorful stunts that masquerade as deep explorations of the human psyche. Simply put, if you’ve seen one LaBute piece you’ve seen them all. Which brings us to his latest play, “reasons to be pretty,” now playing at the Lyceum Theater.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Little Ashes review

“Little Ashes” examines a love affair between renowned poet Federico García Lorca and surrealist genius Salvador Dalí during their college days in Madrid in 1922, where the legendary Luis Buñuel formed the husky hetero point to their bizarre triangle. But you won't buy any of this while watching British director Paul Morrison's predictable flick, whose characters bear absolutely no resemblance, physical or otherwise, to their real-life namesakes. We get no inkling that these amigos would go on to become three of the greatest masters in their respective crafts since they've been reduced to a stereotypical sensitive poet, a goth Johnny Depp type, and a raging homophobe. The movie stars exactly one actual male Spaniard, Javier Beltran as the doomed writer, and two of Morrison's fellow Englishmen, Robert Pattinson as Dalí and James Dean lookalike Matthew McNulty as Buñuel. Indeed, beginning with the ridiculous casting, “Little Ashes” is less a film than just a series of bad ideas piled on top of one another, many courtesy of first-time screenwriter Philippa Goslett.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Nosemaker's Apprentice: Chronicles Of A Medieval Plastic Surgeon

A bitter divorced alcoholic and unlicensed plastic surgeon (Ian Lowe) tells a bedtime story to his wise beyond her years, eight-year-old daughter (Molly Ward). It’s a fantastic tale of the medieval roots of reconstructive surgery loaded with characters salvaged from somewhere on the cutting room floor of “Young Frankenstein” and “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” The father, as a means of both explanation and exculpation, sees himself through the role of innocent apprentice hero Gavin (Eric Gilde), rescued from the Ivanhoe Workhouse for Criminally Impoverished Boys by the local nosemaker Wulfric (Corey Sullivan). “No one has shown me such love since my mother – and she died long before I was born,” a grateful Gavin laments. To which Wulfric later replies, “Poor boy – parents died before he was conceived.”

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Wink and a Smile Review

Originally published at SpoutBlog:


The ten brave students at Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque, who shimmy in pasties and heels, unexpectedly and touchingly reveal themselves in more ways than one in Deidre Timmons’ “A Wink and a Smile.” The film combines talking head interviews with the mostly average Jills and their anything-but-average headmistress Indigo Blue (who also serves as an enlightening guide and narrator through the burlesque scene of both today and yesteryear) with actual performances courtesy of the exhibitionist men and women of Seattle’s vibrant scene. But the biggest revelation of all is that this breathtaking doc just might be the sexy feel-good flick of the year.

It’s no coincidence that the performers of burlesque and “boylesque” tend to run in the same circles as the mistresses and masters of the BDSM scene and the queens and kings of drag art. Not only do these stripper artistes share costumes (with the fetish world a penchant for corsets and stilettos, with the drag scene a preference for the lovingly handmade over the store-bought, a la the grand balls most notably featured in “Paris Is Burning”), but also a common goal. As much as the students in “A Wink and a Smile,” who come to Miss Blue’s school from every walk of life and for an equal variety of reasons, might profess a desire to wield their taboo female sexuality as a power tool, the reality is that burlesque (and S&M and drag) is really a tool of transcendence, rising above the simplistic gender binary of male/female (and by extension any gay/straight sexuality). As Miss Blue notes, the definition of burlesque is to mock something, in this case the very notion of a fixed female sexual construct. “The distinctions between male and female in our society are not as rigid as they were in the past – and neither are they in the burlesque world,” Miss Blue proclaims. Indeed, the biologically female Swedish Housewife was “raised by drag queens” and incorporates camp into her performance, while the male-born Waxie Moon makes a female student swoon that she’s “in love” even as he commands the stage in the ultimate symbol of femininity, a white wedding dress. Boldly, Timmons’ film makes visual that which is so freeing about burlesque – and also so terrifying.

And like with S&M play and drag shows, body type within burlesque – the mere physical form – is truly irrelevant, while the melding of sexiness with silliness is crucial. It’s a return to an adolescent stage of sexual exploration, an infinite realm of possibility. One student chooses to create a Little Red Riding Hood routine in which she takes on the roles of both innocent child and wolf. Another was astonished to see that “gawky little girl” that she once was, staring back at her in the mirror as she rehearsed her dance. By the time the students reach the end of their life-changing journey, shown in a montage sequence in which the director deftly quick cuts between the (now nine) women’s class final/live show, their transformation onstage is nothing short of astounding, all the more so since it’s got little to do with tassels and boas. Miss Blue had defined the basic burlesque formula routine at the very beginning as, “Performer enters with some clothing, magic happens, and performer exits the stage with less clothing.” What’s truly remarkable is that Timmons’ lens has managed to capture that middle part.