Culture, culture, culture. Wow, what a week! The unofficial end of summer has ushered in a slew of new cultural happenings without dropping the temperature much. On the theater front, Edward Albee's new play, Me, Myself, and I, opened off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. Just the mere mention of a new Albee play makes me giddy, so I was psyched to say the least walking into the theater the other week. My hopes were quickly dashed, though, as the play's first act played out stagnantly. A large part of the problem is that half of the characters are confined to a bed and the other half don't venture far from it. A couple flings witty insults at each other as they sort out their child's declaration that his twin doesn't exist.
The idea of the phantom child is well-trodden territory for Albee and has played a prominent role in many of his most interesting plays including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Play About the Baby. Brian Murray won an Obie for his performance in Baby and turns in a memorable performance here in similar paternal role despite the fact that he's not actually the twins' father, something that's pointed out many times and given as the reason that the boys can never love him. Elizabeth Ashley plays his slightly deranged companion who inexplicably names her sons OTTO and otto, distinguishable only in print. They couldn't be more dissimilar though. One is planning to move to China, is kind of mean, and decides suddenly that his brother doesn't exist, while the other is content being with his girlfriend and allowing his brother his own existence. There's actually a lot here, and in the second act, the play really opens up as the bed is pushed aside for other scenery and livelier altercations. If it had been written by another playwright, Me, Myself, and I might be a perfectly satisfying experience, but for Albee, it seems like a first draft.
Ivo Van Hove's The Little Foxes is an absolute masterpiece. It's the reason we go to the theater. From its jarring opening, Van Hove throws us into the ferocious action as the characters claw at each other to assert their own identities. It works on many levels: as a sprawling southern drama, a scathing commentary on race and class relations, and an unflinching look at greed that speaks to the recent financial meltdown. The cast, led by the Elizabeth Marvel, who played an equally unhappy woman in Van Hove's viscerally striking production of Hedda Gabler, works seamlessly, showing off the strengths of each member without sacrificing the power of the group. The minimalist set clad in lush purple upholstery provides the perfect playground for the actors to explore the depths of their characters, many of which are on the brink of some kind of breaking point. Van Hove seems in complete control (after the less than successful Teorema at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer), masterfully revitalizing a classic play while keeping Lillian Hellman's text in place. The result is an exhilarating experience that seems to exist both in the past and present.
Before this year, Pavement hadn't played together in a decade, but you wouldn't know that from listening to them in Central Park on Tuesday night. Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, and co. sounded remarkably like their albums, freewheeling charm intact. Malkmus never seems to exert too much energy, slightly mumbling and playing with a loose energy, sometimes starting a song over because he messed up. But it doesn't matter because the songs are so good. They combine occasionally dissonant and distorted chord progressions with abstract lyrics that never seem to hit a false note and don't tire you over repeated listens. Hearing bands like Pavement and Built to Spill a couple years back at Siren, makes me feel there's something missing now in the heart of indie rock. Hopefully, the tour will spark the band's interest in creating a new album.
Of Montreal's new album is a quite a departure from the excellent Skeletal Lamping and Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. False Priest seems to be the band's attempt to add more Goth to their disco-glam revival fabulousness, but during their show at Terminal 5 this past weekend, their image felt kind of false. Their last tour was awash with psychedelic color and richly illustrated scenes that explored issues of sexuality in exciting new ways, but the recent infusion of darker images in their show has dulled their magic rather than deepened the experience. Somber black and white images filled the screen while the band thrashed about playing the new songs without any of the lightness of "Id Engager" and others. There were also a number of alien-based scenes that didn't seem to go with anything. The best moments were when they played older songs. My personal favorite, "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethea," never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Another reliable fave is the storytelling group the Moth. Their season opener this year was particularly strong and included an ex-cop recounting a particularly hectic day, a former Jet Blue flight attendant on how being nice is sometimes really hard, and Blue's Clues' Steve Burns date with a Playboy playmate that goes horribly and comically wrong. It was a fun evening as always thanks to the performers and lovely ladies of the Moth who put together consistently good shows all across the city. There's something special, though, about the Player's Club on Gramercy that exudes the old world charm of gathering people to tell stories as people did before TV, film, and even radio.