Archive: March, 2011
Life of Pi was much buzzed-about; that’s been less true for Yann Martel’s latest novel, Beatrice and Virgil. That may be because it’s deeply harrowing—all the more so because the painful latter half arrives with little warning. The novel begins as a deceptively comfortable tale of a successful author’s writers’ block, but it eventually takes on a secondary story that’s a stark Holocaust allegory. As Henry, the novel’s protagonist, points out, little fiction has been written on the Holocaust: what volumes we have about the tragedy are largely nonfiction. After a slow beginning, the novel picks up speed and, after some excruciating moments, leaves the reader stunned.
At the beginning of Beatrice and Virgil, Henry is living off the success of his first novel. After his second—an attempt at a Holocaust-themed work—is panned before it’s even published, he gives up writing and lives a relaxed existence with his wife in an exciting (though unnamed) city. One day, he receives a letter from what appears to be a reader seeking his help. It happens that this reader is a taxidermist, with a studio full of mounted animals. What he needs help with is a play that brings two of the animals—Beatrice, a donkey, and Virgil, a monkey—to life. Little happens in the play, but the two characters discuss a mysterious event which has altered their lives forever, making them perpetually fearful and confused. Henry soon comes to see the play as symbolic of the Holocaust. The taxidermist is seeking to do what Henry couldn’t. And as Henry tries to help the man with the play, Beatrice and Virgil itself becomes a work of fiction about the Holocaust, trying to succeed where Henry failed.
By writing about writing about the Holocaust, Martel addresses the tragedy indirectly, but perhaps in the most accurate way he can. Martel himself did not live through the period, and neither he nor Henry can know the experience of a survivor—but Martel certainly knows the experience of an author writing on the Holocaust. This lends the book an honesty that Martel could not have achieved with a more direct approach.
Rather than a novel of the Holocaust itself, Beatrice and Virgil is a book about its inescapability, about talking about and remembering it. Even the play-within-a-novel doesn’t tell a Holocaust story: it comes after the fact. Beatrice and Virgil are trying to figure out how they can ever discuss what happened. “What happens is they talk about talk,” Henry tells the taxidermist, who corrects him: “I think of it as talking about memory.”
WHO: DJ Champe, Soundjack, Hydrophonic
WHAT: From the people that brought you the Bob Marley Birthday Bash a minute back, you get this Sunday's jump off. They're dedicating this session "to all the women in our lives who make the world a beautiful place." Expect a wide variety of reggae sounds throughout the night, with leanings towards hip-hop and dubstep for a little added spice. So ladies and lovers of ladies, you now know the fun spot to shake them booties. And if you can't make it out, there'll be a live broadcast on 88.1 WPEB.
WHEN & WHERE: Sun., March 6, 10 p.m., $5, Dahlak, 4708 Baltimore Ave., 215-726-6464.
WHY: When was the last time ya partied at an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly?
NBC is facing an interesting moment in the history their perennially dominant Thursday night comedy lineup. They arguably have the 4 funniest sitcoms on TV. But here's the problem: Their two strongest brands--The Office and 30 Rock--are both creeping to the point of potential sitcom hospice. Through no fault of their own, they are starting to lose "it". It happens to every sitcom no matter how amazing, and these two have actually managed to stay transcendentally hilarious for an unrealistically long period of time. In fact, the only sitcoms (relevant in the past 20 years) which were consistently funny for longer are The Simpsons (which kept getting funnier up to it's ninth season, and plateaued for a solid few years) and Seinfeld (which was arguably less funny than the other shows in this discussion, but stayed relevant up until they "went out on top" in season 9).
Let's break it down.
The Office--whose heart and soul comes from the chemistry of the characters--is going to be losing its centerpiece, Steve Carell at the end of this seventh season. It could still be funny without him, but the fact remains that a lot of the characters and their relationships have gotten stale. When this happens, the four options are (1) hire new writers, and hope that new talent can squeze fresh ideas from the same characters, (2) keep things as they are and hope unrealistically that the show will come upon an upswing, (3) get new cast members--risky because you're messing with your sure-thing (although, their ensemble has managed well in doing this steadily over the years--and will certainly have to do this when Carrell leaves) or (4) pull the plug (noble, but unlikely while the ratings are still good). NBC is certainly going to pump in as much money as possible to keep The Office among America's most popular sitcoms, and it will likely get stuck on life support even when things get awkward (i.e. Scrubs).
30 Rock has a more optimistic future ahead of it. It's Tina Fey's baby and she will not want to see it suffer. Her writing staff will probably start kicking in some extra brainstorming hours to refuel the magic they once captured. If this doesn't get the show's freshness back on track, you can expect a Seinfeld-esque announcement that it will plan to go out strong after a year or so. 30 Rock's magic is intrinsically different than The Office's. Rather than being character-driven (and don't get me wrong, the characters are insanely hilarious--different characters wouldn't be nearly as funny), 30 Rock is essentially powered by good old fashioned writing chops. I can't even realistically call them "old fashioned" because they are amongst the highest quantity and quality of jokes per minute that the sitcom world has ever seen. 30 Rock has raised the bar on comedy writing, and is now struggling to stay in reach of their own high water mark.
Community is more of a cult-hit, and tends to demonstrate early-era Scrubs sensibility. That is to say, high risk, high reward. The result is more hit or miss than its Thursday night peers, but the hits are pretty powerful. In attaining a word-of-mouthy, semi-love-or-hate audience, Community is perpetually in danger of going the way of Arrested Development. However, times are slightly different than the early 2000's, and we are now officially in full swing comedy boom being fueled by the young and hip. The late 40's middle class is in many ways still the market's bread and butter, but liberal-minded 20/30-somethings are responsible for the surplus of comedy dollars going around. NBC learned a tough lesson from the Conan fiasco, and will probably be slower to alienate the outspoken comedy-savvy proletariat in the future as long as numbers are passable. While their opportunities for damage control with the next wave of 40-somethings is good news for Community, the show is unlikely to be able to carry the weight of Thursday night should 30 Rock and Office fall by the wayside. Especially if CBS attempts to usurp that throne by throwing How I Met Your Mother and *gulp* Two and a Half Men next to Big Bang Theory on Thursdays. Community a solid supporting player and good for hipster cred but it will probably never have the ability to generate huge numbers on its own.
Now we get to the alpha puppy, Parks and Recreation. In its third season, Parks and Rec is really coming into it's own as the strongest product in their flagship rotation. It manages to capture the essence of both The Office and 30 Rock with quirky, over-the-top absurd characters and their interactions--as well as straight-man balance armed to the teeth with flamethrower-caliber joke-writing. You can even see direct branches from the 30Rock/Office family tree, with Rashida Jones (Jim Halpert's former love interest) and Amy Poehler (Tina Fey's butt-buddy). With characters like Ron Swanson (think Dwight Shrute with different hobbies) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe's take on Jack Doneghy's photo negative) they are capitalizing on the prototypes that work. Parks and Rec also captures Community's indie-cred with faces like Aziz Ansari and Aubrey Plaza (and somehow, history has shown that Rob Lowe is perpetually lame-proof).
So, we're seeing that Parks and Rec is able to capitalize on the essence of the entire Thursday night lineup. The exception, of course, being Outsourced which, God-willing, will be gone by Spring--note to execs: taking out the laugh track does not AUTOMATICALLY make your show hip and hilarious. Also, I'm not really sure what the story is with Perfect Couples (I usually turn the tube on at 9 for Office and catch the earlier Community on Hulu), but it's gonna take a miracle for a new relationship comedy to distinguish itself in Modern Family's wake.
With Parks and Rec able to emulate the best qualities of it's elders while maintaining a unique voice, the time is right to start grooming it as heir to the Thursday night palace. I think they've already started working on this by snuggling it in the cozy spot between their two heavy hitters smack at 9:30, but I hope they're thinking realistically about exit-strategies for their mighty Clydesdales. The days of Cheers and M*a*s*h--that is, decade-long ratings busters--are over, and the cultural attention span plummets every year.
Think of how more valuable The Simpsons would be as a franchise if they had premiered The Simpsons Movie as a television grand-finale some ten years ago while the show was still unmissable. You would have had a true pop-culture event on your hands and the ratings of a Superbowl. DVD box-set prices would be worth an absolute premium, and fans would be celebrating the legacy of the series till the end of time (which right now, trust me, they don't). I know this doesn't seem as valuable as the immediate gratification of running it into the ground, but it's hard to calculate the long term dollar value of religious devotion to a brand.
Office and 30 Rock are GOING to slump (or, have started to... and at some point their numbers will follow). NBC has to decide whether they want to French-steak-sear the juices in while the titles are still valuable, cauterizing the deflation and cryogenically freezing them as perfect specimens of pop-culture done perfectly. Or, do they want to piss off a huge incoming generation of prime comedy viewers by maintaining their reputation for tossing Conan around like a rag-doll--which goes back to offering Seinfeld $5 million an episode (which would be worth, what, $20 million today) after the show had run its course to sully his accomplishments for the benefit of faceless greed?
The value of legacy aside, there's also precious real-estate to think about. Thursday night Comedy Done Right is a strong palace, but not impregnable. Protect your kingdom by putting your resources into smart new shows, and as you reap so shall you sow.
More than just the grafting of watch gears and typewriter keys onto modern appliances, Steampunk is a thriving culture of artists, engineers and technomancers. Inspired by the retro-futurist works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, Steampunks fuse the cutting edge gadgetry of today with the ornate designs of the Victorian Age. Over the years, there have been a few instances of Steampunk crossing over into the mainstream spotlight, though the bulk of the culture remains a cult favorite. For newcomers and those already familiar with the scene, a two-day exposition of Steampunk wares should provide a healthy dose of imagination and mechanical whimsy.
Dubbed the "Back Home to the Future Show & Sale," the gathering will be a vision of a yesterday's tomorrow, today. With vendors specializing in everything from interior design to revamping computers, the expo's attendees can expect to get bootstrap-deep in vacuum tubes, bronze and cast iron. Though Steampunk-appropriate attire is not required, you might look a little touristy in jeans and a t-shirt. Instead, try a canvas coat and welding goggles. For the ladies, find a corset and something frilly. Sat. & Sun., Mar. 5 & 6, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., $15 - $20, The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Ave., Oaks, PA, 781-784-0250.
Devoted poet/avid concert-goer/nerd-grrrl extraordinaire Jane Cassady's weekly horoscopes run in this space every Friday morning (and sometimes Thursday afternoon).
Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Things to do while you're waiting for the next season of Portlandia: Memorize famous bridges. Send lavish bouquets to Aimee Mann. Listen to Sleater-Kinney records backwards, for the hidden messages. Remember your mantra: Put birds on things. Put birds on things. Put birds on things.
Aries (March 21-April 18): The stars told me to tell you that Ira Glass is your guardian angel. He watches over everything you do, asking thoughtful questions and moving the story forward in such a patient, soothing voice.
Taurus (April 19-May 18): "The sum of all known reverence I add up in you whoever you are" (Walt Whitman). Etch that into your mirror, paint it on your coffee cups, write it in the middle of your palms for luck.
Gemini (May 19-June 21): I like Steve Carell's character in Dinner for Schmucks. He loves his ex-wife so much that he makes her a whole parkscape diorama. Peopled with little dressed-up taxidermied mice, but still, endearing!
Cancer (June 22-July 23): Dress optimistically, even if it means your ears might get cold. Show your faith with just-light-enough sweaters. Believe it's warm out until you touch the window pane.
Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): Last night as I was snuggled up, reading in bed with my sweetie, she with her Wonder Woman graphic novel and I with my Bitch magazine, I thought, "This is exactly what I always hoped for." Be prepared for similarly snuggly revelations.
Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): "Love the music our beatbox bodies loop over sunrises./ Love the soft spots we leave for each other" (Elliott D. Smith). The whole universe is waking up next to you, blinking its eyes, with swoony thoughts and fancy plans.
Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Last week when I was freaking out about an upcoming math test, my tutor pal came over to help me. Even though he only stayed for an hour and most of that hour was spent on gossip, he helped me to improve my score by 14 questions worth of points. Someone's waiting to work that kind of magic for you.
Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Hooray for Barb on Big Love! She's realizing that she can have access to the divine without a man's intercession! Sister-wife, listen more to your inner Margene, and less to your inner Nicki.
Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Last time my nephew Holden visited, he was very, very disappointed that he could not give a cheeseburger to either of our cats. But as for you, in the words of T.I. as paraphrased by Lolcats: You can haz whatever you like.
Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): I unsubscribed to my previously favorite podcast after the host made me cry on Twitter. Maybe we don't need to interact with everything we love, or maybe we just have to keep trying. #stillalittlebrokenhearted
Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Like a ghost in a library, you have access to everything, but need help turning the pages. What little winds can come along and flutter you forward? Maybe an Aries can lend you her guardian angel?
While everyone else is drawing adorable fawns and ubiquitous owls, City Paper designer Alyssa Grenning is tackling the mystique of the coyote in her first solo show. Each piece tells two stories (hence the show's title, "Nose to Tail"). Sure, that phrase can mean a rigid measuring from one end to the other yet it also implies a softer image of a curled-up animal, asleep and vulnerable. Grenning's is a world of paradoxes, right down to the sheer fact that the drawings of coyotes typically countryside dwellers are hanging out at a coffee shop in West Philadelphia.
Through meticulous detail, Grenning brings to life expressive mammal faces. She uses minimal color and faint lines that never get lost against bold punches of red. Bone structure is something she clearly understands and respects, made evident in perfectly drawn paws and muscles in movement. The dogs are at times playful tricksters yet alternately pensive or nervous. Individually the drawings are strong, solid depictions, but as a unit they murmur back and forth. "It's a conversation between coyotes," says our talented co-worker "and the viewer can weave their own tale."
Opening reception Fri., March 4, 7-10 p.m., free, Green Line Café, 4239 Baltimore Ave., 215-222-3431, greenlinecafe.com.
Have you ever thought about what you look like? Probably, but have you thought about what you and all your friends look like? If the answer is again "yes," then you might want to give your pals some space. Nevertheless, artist (and friend of CP) Mat Tomezsko is offering a series of 14 portraits of what he found to be the "look" of West Philadelphians. Based on pictures he took at a December concert at the Danger Danger Gallery, Tomezsko is showcasing his larger-than-life portraits at the same venue's inaugural First Friday exhibit. Tomezsko's vibrant paintings capture the inhabitants and passers-through of West Philly in candid, conversational joy.
Along with the paintings to admire, DDG's First Friday will also feature live music from Roman a Clef, Motorcycle Maus, Bridge Underwater, Gypsy Death and You and Flat Mary Road. Plus, perhaps to help you feel like one of the West Philly-ans, Sarah Jane Patwell will be filming the night's proceedings, perhaps for future exhibition. Tomezsko's paintings will be on display at DDG through the end of the month. Further intrigue: The show he so coyly observed was the Reading Rainbow/Coasting show. Further, further intrigue: One of the 14 West Philadelphians rendered in oil, acrylic and spray paint is, in fact, me (but I'll let you guess which one). Fri., March 4, 7-11 p.m., free, Danger Danger Gallery, 5013 Baltimore Ave.
|Hannah, Winner||Nicole, Loser|
This season's intro borrows from Black Swan, with models and Tyra in leotards, yoga tights, and kooky tricks with mirrors. And like Black Swan, the point of this episode was to drive these bitches crazy. The models' penthouse apartment is decorated with photos of the semifinalists with labels like "elusive" and "sexy." Then Tyra shows up with her nutritionist to tell them in a hackneyed French accent that being thin is not about deprivation. You can indulge in decadent treats like wheat waffles with peanut butter, or even spaghetti and meatballs. Before the tutorial, Ondrei reveals that both of her brothers are dead, one the victim of a murder. Bummer... Poor Nicole is told that at 20 she looks old and haggard (like, 35) in her photos. Bullshit.
Alexandria gets pissy because it's brought to her her attention that she left raw chicken in the fridge; it went bad, and that's gross. She insists that she knows how to properly store raw meat in spite of her inability to do so, and swears revenge on Dalya, whose name is spelled incorrectly.
Next up, it's acting time, and the girls get asked a bunch of personal questions by acting coach Eugene Buica. They all have to draw their "inner critic." Molly's inner demon looks like Uncle Sam (no, really) and Ondrei cries about her two, count 'em, two dead brothers. Which the producers keep bringing up for dramatic effect, and some of the girls bring up to psych her out. Man, this show got way depressing. The models are rewarded for crying and humiliating themselves with designer jewelry. And Nigel reveals that the point of this is too bring out their humanity for the camera.
Photo shoot! The girls not only models with live bees, but their jewelry is sprayed with pheromones to attract them. This is officially female Jackass. We saw doorknocker earrings covered in bees, and man was it nasty. Anyone remember Candyman? Hannah's copious tears are supposedly great for the camera, and I was pretty curious about the photos.
Tonight's guest judge was Alek Wek! That exclamation point was not sarcastic. For once, they got someone I'm excited to see. Trust me, you've seen her, and she's gorgeous. Ondrei drops out, which is too bad, since she was good competition. But if anyone did worse than her, they still had to go home. The photos are mostly shwang wang wang. I hate to admit it, but Hannah's crying photographed like a dream, and she got best photo props. Nicole, the old biddie, was sent home, and Andre Leon Talley will buy Tyra a sálon at the swap meet. Next week: makeovahs!
There were only six performers Tuesday night at Mugshots in Fairmount and it was wonderful. Everyone got to play four or five songs, and there was no rush to get through them. Each performer had a chance to chat with the audience; even I, who am normally petrified of talking onstage, managed to squeak out a few words of introduction. Others were much more at ease, telling extended stories about their songs' origins and asking the small audience what they wanted to hear.
Mugshots Coffeehouse and Café is divided into several sections, including a cozy nook to the left of the door where the open mic took place. Curtains and art are hung around the dark-red walls; tables, chairs, and couches are distributed in comfortable bunches. The coffee is robust and tasty, and there's a wide selection of reasonably-priced food. It's hip without trying, and sizable without being overwhelming. The open-mic setup was simple: just a microphone and a tiny amp, which many people didn't use, resulting in a night that was very much acoustic.
Performances included a string of guitar players and a single ukulele man. The talent was consistent, though for many it was their first time playing at the venue. Opening things up was Cranston Dean, who fit a great deal of lyrics into his upbeat, bluesy tunes; his ease with words was quite impressive. Check him out if you like story songs. Sean Breslin kept up the quality with some bittersweet, alt-rock-flavored songs. Next was Ross Garlow, who offered some lightning-fast licks on his guitar, including a snappy acoustic version of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)." Mark Harper had the crowd rapt and laughing with a set of darkly funny, personal songs about drugs, alcohol, girl problems, and the 11 guys who share his intensely messy house. He handed his 12-string to his friend Dylan Loughey, who explained he was from Scranton, where the open mics are a bit less polished but his performance, charged with emotion and lyrical complexity, defied that statement. Following him was another Scrantoneer (Scrantonite? Scrantonian?): Adam Catscratch, who asked the crowd if anyone was offended by the word "dick" before launching into a song about oral sex. That may sound either crass or hilarious in writing, depending on your taste, but his tunes accompanied by a confident ukelele were witty and packed a satisfying punch.
The night, which began at 7:30 p.m., ended by 9:15 p.m., even though there was no host moving things along. Lighthearted, short and sweet, it was a fun way to spend a weeknight.
The nitty-gritty for performers: Tues., 7 p.m. sign-up, 7:30 p.m. show, Mugshots, 2100 Fairmount Ave., 267-514-7145. Performers get four or five songs each.
For more locations, visit the Open Mic section of our online listings database.
|The space at Bahdeebahdu|
In life we tend to remember the highs and lows, with most of our stories starting with the phrase, "this one time " But what about the time in between the way you make coffee in the morning, the daily walk to work, the book you read before drifting off to sleep that often goes unnoticed. "Having Fun?" is an exhibition that turns these stones over, exploring the intimacy of the daily routine, surrounding, social sphere and location. The opening reception is from 7-10p.m. on Fri., March 4 at Bahdeebahdu (1522 N. American St., 215-627-5002), and will show through April 2.
The exhibition is organized by and features work from a group of friends who met while growing up in Kingston, Pa, a small town a stone's throw from Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. On display will be photography from Jesse Dean Lipfert, a Kingston native, and Lindsey Jardine, a Liberty, N.Y. native who met everyone during her time at boarding school in Kingston. The curator, Lily Fierman, collected her inspiration from living in Kingston and eventually making the move down to Philly. "The work is about an expanded definition of intimacy," Fierman says, "the photographs are evidence of intimacy."
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