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About Last Night
TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City
(with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO)

Thursday, February 2, 2006

    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here's my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I either gave these shows strongly favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened or saw and liked them some time in the past year (or both). For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter, strong language, one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    Bridge & Tunnel (solo show, PG, some adult subject matter and strong language, reviewed here, closes Mar. 12)
    Chicago (musical, R, adult subject matter, sexual content, fairly strong language)
    Doubt (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, implicit sexual content, reviewed here)
    The Light in the Piazza (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene, closes July 2, reviewed here)
    Sweeney Todd (musical, R, adult situations, strong language, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee* (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)
    The Woman in White (musical, PG, adult subject matter, reviewed here)

    Abigail’s Party (drama, R, adult subject matter, strong language, reviewed here, closes Apr. 8)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)
    The Trip to Bountiful (drama, G, reviewed here, closes Mar. 11)

    Mrs. Warren's Profession (drama, PG, adult subject matter, closes Feb. 19, reviewed here).

    posted by terryteachout @ 02/02/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Words to the wise

    DC Moore Gallery, one of my favorite midtown art galleries, is about to open a pair of shows that I mean to see as soon as possible, “Milton Avery” and “Jacob Lawrence: Mural Studies.” Both go up next Wednesday and run through March 11.

    For more information, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ 02/02/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Artists are not, on the whole, intellectuals; they do not try to be particularly articulate and, when they do speak of their art, they do not do so in the terms of the critic or connoisseur. But that is not their job. They simply do it."

    Peter Ackroyd, J.M.W. Turner

    posted by terryteachout @ 02/02/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

    TT: New kid on Broadway

    I wrote yesterday about how much I was looking forward to Lincoln Center Theatre’s upcoming revival of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! Well, guess what? I’m looking forward to it even more today. Says Playbill:

    Mark Ruffalo will star in Lincoln Center Theater's spring 2006 revival of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing!, it was announced.

    As previously reported, the show will also star Lauren Ambrose, Ned Eisenberg, Ben Gazzara, Jonathan Hadary, Peter Kybart, Pablo Schreiber, Richard Topol and Zoe Wanamaker.

    Ruffalo, who will play Moe Axelrod, first garnered notice in the original Off-Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth Soon after, he was discovered by Hollywood, and has appeared in such films as "You Can Count on Me," "In the Cut," "Just Like Heaven," "Rumor Has It" and "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." This will be his Broadway debut.

    Those of you who read my last film column for Crisis may recall that of all the films I wrote about between 1998 and 2005, Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me was my favorite:

    Lonergan’s directorial debut [has] a novelistic richness that defies the simplifying art of the pitchman. To say that it is about Terry, an immature drifter (Mark Ruffalo), and Sammy, his stay-at-home older sister (Laura Linney), orphaned in childhood and desperately lonely as young adults, is to convey nothing of the moral complexity of Lonergan’s script, which pays the viewer the compliment of not making his mind up for him. Terry is never romanticized and Sammy is never treated with condescension: they are both treated as human beings, deeply flawed but not without virtue....

    That was my introduction to Mark Ruffalo, who may not be a Hollywood star—yet—but whose on-screen presence has briefly brightened any number of movies (he also had a nice little bit in Collateral). I’ve never seen him on stage, alas, and for a time I feared I never would: he survived an operation for a benign brain tumor in 2001. So that’s all the more reason for me to look forward to Awake and Sing!, which goes into previews at the Belasco Theatre on March 24.

    For more information, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ 02/01/2006 11:06 am | Permanent link
    TT: Time capsules

    I once knew a man who saw Nijinsky dance, heard George Gershwin play, and was present at a recording session by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson. The party in question was B.H. Haggin, the famously curmudgeonly music critic. He was in his eighties and I was in my thirties when we met, and the vast difference in our ages gave additional force to his memories: Gershwin, after all, died in 1937, while Nijinsky’s only visit to the United States was in 1916. Even more powerful, though, was the fact that Haggin’s memories were unique, since Nijinsky was never filmed and the only surviving sound film of Gershwin at the piano is a mere snippet.

    Now that I’m on the verge of turning fifty, I find myself wondering what memories I’ll trot out to stun the youngsters of 2036. (Note the planted axiom in that sentence!) My last “Second City” column for the Washington Post was a list of the ten most memorable events I covered for the column, which ran from 1999 to 2005. They were all extraordinary in their various ways, but this is the one I expect to still be talking about thirty years from now. It happened in 2001, three months after 9/11:

    Of all the things I did in December, the one that best summed up the spirit of this wounded city was a midweek visit I paid to the Village Vanguard, New York's oldest jazz club, down whose narrow stairs I stepped gingerly one night to hear the Bill Charlap Trio. Imagine my astonishment when my eyes adjusted to the dimness and I spotted Tony Bennett sitting in the corner—and imagine my delight when he sauntered up to the tiny bandstand and sang "Time After Time" and "The Lady Is a Tramp." Yes, we're battered and bruised and living with the worst kind of uncertainty, yet there we were, drinking up our minimums and goggling at a living legend, after which we all rushed home to call up our envious friends and tell them what they'd missed.

    The age of mechanical reproduction, alas, has sharply diminished the value of the eyewitness account: I saw Count Basie in concert a half-dozen times when I lived in Kansas City, for instance, but I also saw him on film and TV so many times that it’s hard for me to distinguish between my first- and second-hand memories. Still, I’ve seen plenty of amazing things at which no cameramen were present. What else measures up in sheer uniqueness to that unforgettable night at the Village Vanguard? Here’s my top-ten you-had-to-be-there list, arranged in rough chronological order and subject to revision without warning:

    • I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dance Spectre of the Rose—and I was sitting directly behind Lauren Bacall when I saw him.

    • I saw Van Cliburn give a solo recital in 1978, the year he retired from the concert stage.

    • I saw Carlos Kleiber conduct Der Rosenkavalier at the Met.

    • I saw Jerome Robbins’ Broadway four times—once from the front row.

    • I saw Suzanne Farrell’s last public performance.

    • I saw the 1992 Matisse retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

    • I was in the studio when Diana Krall recorded All for You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio (and wrote the liner notes for the album a few weeks later).

    • I’ve interviewed Paul Taylor twice, once at his Manhattan home and once at his Long Island beach house (and was present at the performance of Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera seen at the end of this documentary).

    • I saw Bill Monroe play at the Grand Ole Opry, then met him backstage after the show. This is what I wrote about the latter experience in the Teachout Reader: “He stood six feet tall and looked at least seven, and his expressionless face might have been carved from a stump of petrified wood. He wore a white Stetson hat and a sky-blue suit with a pin in each lapel—one was an enamel American flag, the other an evangelical Christian emblem—and everyone in earshot called him ‘Mister Monroe.’ Never were italics more audible.”

    • I saw the original off-Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

    Does anyone else feel a meme coming on?

    posted by terryteachout @ 02/01/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "There is no reason why an artist of genius should not also be an astute businessman."

    Peter Ackroyd, J.M.W. Turner

    posted by terryteachout @ 02/01/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
    OGIC: This morning's assignment

    Just read Maud.

    UPDATE: Also Outer Life. Then you can have a snack.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ 01/31/2006 10:19 am | Permanent link
    TT: In lieu of an obit

    Wendy Wasserstein died yesterday morning. I met her several years ago when I interviewed her for a story in Time about Central Park, a trilogy of one-act operas to which she had contributed a libretto. I liked her enormously—everybody did—and I was always pleased to run into her at New York City Ballet, which she frequented once upon a time. Then she dropped out of sight, had a baby, and more or less vanished from the theater world. Her plays were no longer being performed in New York by the time I became a drama critic, and it wasn’t until last October that I had occasion to write about her in The Wall Street Journal.

    Alas, her last play wasn’t any good, and I said so. I hated to give Third a bad review, not least because I knew Wasserstein was sick, though I didn’t know she was dying. (One of the characters in the play had cancer.) In fact, I didn’t think much of any of Wasserstein’s plays, and I dreaded having to say so in print, since she was an exceedingly nice lady. I fudged the point in my review, calling her “one of our best theatrical journalists, a keen-eared social observer with a knack for summing up cultural watershed moments like the coming of age of the baby boomers and putting them on stage to memorable effect.” All true, and none of it incompatible with the fact that I considered her to be a glib, punch-pulling lightweight, a kind of feminist Neil Simon who never cut too close to the knuckle.

    Needless to say, you won’t find such heretical sentiments in any of today’s obituaries. Even John Simon wrote affectionately about Wasserstein, making it clear that he liked her both as a writer and as a person. Might my own feelings about her work have been softened had I gotten to know her more than casually? It’s quite possible. George Orwell once wrote a letter to Stephen Spender in 1938 in which he made this wholly characteristic confession:

    You ask how it is that I attacked you not having met you, & on the other hand changed my mind after meeting you….Even if when I met you I had not happened to like you, I should still have been bound to change my attitude, because when you meet anyone in the flesh you realize immediately that he is a human being & not a sort of caricature embodying certain ideas. It is partly for this reason that I don’t mix much in literary circles, because I know from experience that once I have met & spoken to anyone I shall never again be able to show any intellectual brutality towards him, even when I feel that I ought to, like the Labour M.P.s who get patted on the back by dukes & are lost forever more.

    It is partly for similar reasons that I don’t mix much in theatrical circles. In addition, The Wall Street Journal is extremely fussy about conflicts of interest (as it has to be, seeing as how it devotes so much of its space to financial affairs), so I mostly keep theater people at arm’s length. If I did otherwise, I’d be a different kind of critic—not better or worse, just different. There are many ways to be a critic. I write about theater as an interested spectator. I write about the visual arts as a connoisseur and collector. I write about music as an ex-practitioner. I write about writing as a working professional. It’s always me—everywhere you go, there you are—but it isn’t hard to tell which me has the floor at any given moment.

    In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m feeling a little guilty about my review of Third, which is one of the risks an honest critic runs. It isn’t the first time I’ve felt that way, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Criticism is a morally dangerous profession, and those who practice it without ever feeling guilty are…well, not very nice. As I wrote early in the life of this blog:

    You don't review a college opera production the same way you review the Met. That's another reason why critics should ideally have hands-on experience in the areas about which they write: It teaches them proper respect for what Wilfrid Sheed calls "the simple miracle of getting the curtain up every night." It's hard to sing Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin, or to dance in Concerto Barocco. It's scary to go out in front of a thousand people in a dumb-looking costume and put your heart and soul on the line. Unless you have some personal experience of what that feels like—of the problems, both psychological and practical, that stand in the way of getting the curtain up—then you may err on the side of an unrealistic perfectionism, and your reviews will be sterile and uncomprehending as a result.

    None of this is to say that criticism should be bland and toothless. Sometimes it’s your duty—your responsibility—to drop the big one. But you shouldn’t enjoy it, not ever. And you should always make an effort to be modest when writing about people who can do something you can’t, even when you don’t think they do it very well.

    That’s the hard part.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/31/2006 12:13 am | Permanent link
    OGIC: Hello Teatro!

    Hey, ALN pal and local public radio impresario Edward Lifson has a new blog! It's called Teatro Lifson, is part of the website of his Sunday morning arts show Hello Beautiful!, and is off to a very auspicious beginning. Edward is a great arts polymath, though he's especially passionate and knowledgeable about architecture and design. In fact, he was responsible for one of the great moments of Terry's visit to Chicago last weekend. Following the Chris Thile-Mike Marshall mandolin concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music, we strolled with my friend David down Lincoln Avenue to indulge in what turned out to be one of the best cups of hot chocolate I ever have encountered. En route, we passed a striking storefront, but it wasn't until we retraced our steps that I discovered it was none other than Louis Sullivan's last building, the Krause Music Store. And the only reason that I, alone among us, knew of the significance of the Krause Music Store? Mr. Edward Lifson, natch.

    Last summer Edward hosted a special live edition of HB! devoted to music and architecture, which I attended. I wrote about it only briefly here, holding back the best material as the show hadn't aired yet. (It has now, and you can still listen.) Edward's guest for that show, Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, ended the episode with a story about the symmetry of the ends of two great careers, Scott Joplin's and Louis Sullivan's. By the end of his life, each man had outlived the fame and fortune of his earlier career and, around the same time, each pursued what would be his last projects in relative obscurity. The last building Sullivan designed was the facade of the modest Krause shop; he needed the money, if you can believe that. Joplin's last surviving composition was the luminous "Magnetic Rag." That evening at the Cultural Center, Tim Samuelson had brought with him a player piano reel of "Magnetic Rag" that recorded Joplin's own performance—his last known recording of his last surviving composition. We looked at slides of Sullivan's building while listening to Joplin play. I don't know when else I've been in an audience that was simultaneously so hushed and so electrified by a recording. It was an amazing thing to see and, especially, to hear. And that's why it was so cool to run headlong into the Krause Music Store last weekend, even without the benefit of the proper soundtrack. And that's one of the reasons we might kind of gush when we say, Hello Teatro!

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ 01/31/2006 12:12 am | Permanent link
    TT: Pigeons on the grass

    Fame is intense but fleeting in a TV-driven culture, which is one of the many reasons why I love watching the old What’s My Line? kinescopes that air at three-thirty each morning on the Game Show Network. Most of the celebrities who appeared on the show between 1950 and 1967, when CBS cancelled it to make way for Mission: Impossible, are now dead, but a few are very much with us, though many of them are long forgotten. I saw an episode a couple of nights ago in which Mitch Miller was the mystery guest. The audience all but tore the roof off when he came on stage—yet who now remembers him save for pop-music historians and retired oboe players? On the other hand, Jerry Lewis, a guest panelist on another of last week's episodes, is both alive and well remembered, so much so that I’m actually giving serious thought to reading his new book, unlikely as it may sound.

    The difference, of course, is that Lewis was a movie star. As a rule, TV stars are remembered until their shows are cancelled, after which they fade away quickly. Sometimes they find work in the legitimate theater, but it’s been a long time since success on Broadway made anyone a household name. (Pop quiz for readers outside the New York area: who is Cherry Jones? Don't peek.) Yet the producers of What’s My Line? regularly booked stage stars, confident that the show’s viewers would know who they were. Sic transit gloria Broadway!

    Ben Gazzara, the mystery guest on a 1961 What’s My Line? that I saw recently, is a case in point. He created the role of Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof before relocating to Hollywood, where he appeared in a hit TV series, Run for Your Life, in 1965. Alas, he never quite managed to parlay his short-lived small-screen celebrity into bonafide big-screen stardom, though he’s worked steadily ever since and turns up from time to time in choice little roles (he’s in The Big Lebowski). Still, Gazzara is far from famous, and the fact that he starred in the original Broadway production of a celebrated American play is scarcely more than the tricky answer to a better-than-average trivia question, especially since some other fellow was tapped to play Brick in the movie.

    It happens that Gazzara is returning to Broadway this spring: he’s been cast in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing, which opens April 17 at the Belasco Theatre. Odets, who died in 1963, is another one of those half-remembered names who used to be really, really big. In the Thirties he was one of the best-known American playwrights of his generation, a red-hot fellow traveler who palled around with all the big left-wing names (he commissioned Aaron Copland’s wonderful Piano Sonata, for instance). Then, like Ben Gazzara, he moved to Hollywood, and now he’s better known, if at all, for Sweet Smell of Success than Awake and Sing, Golden Boy, or even Waiting for Lefty.

    It happens, too, that I’ve never seen a production of an Odets play, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing Awake and Sing, about which I first learned from reading “Clifford Odets: Poet of the Jewish Middle Class,” one of Robert Warshow’s finest essays (it’s collected in The Immediate Experience, an essential book to which I paid tribute in the Teachout Reader). I’ve never seen Ben Gazzara on stage, either, though I remember watching Run for Your Life as a child, and more recently was impressed by the videotaped snippet of his stage performance as Brick that Rick McKay included in Broadway: The Golden Age.

    I’m not going anywhere with this: I’m just rambling. It's the privilege of a blogger with a long memory who turns fifty next Monday. Believe it or not, I don’t live in the past. No working journalist does, especially one with so many young friends. Even so, I do enjoy rummaging around in my well-stocked memory, and I don’t mind admitting that there are times when I prefer communing with the increasingly distant past to grappling with the uncomfortably proximate present. Ben Gazzara, Clifford Odets, Aaron Copland, Robert Warshow, even Jerry Lewis: today they all seem far more real to me than the pretty people I’d be reading about in Entertainment Weekly if I read Entertainment Weekly. No doubt this has something to do with my recent brush with mortality. To borrow a line from Patrick O’Brian, I’ve been a bar or two behind ever since I got out of the hospital, and though I’m sure I’ll catch up sooner or later, I find it oddly pleasant to linger among ghosts.

    I reread Brideshead Revisited last week, and found that Evelyn Waugh had once again summed up my mood better than I could myself:

    My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time.

    These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past—were always with me. Like the pigeons of St Mark’s, they were everywhere, under my feet, single, in pairs, in little honey-voiced congregations, nodding, strutting, winking, rolling the tender feathers of their necks, perching sometimes, if I stood still, on my shoulder; until, suddenly, the noon gun boomed and in a moment, with a flutter and sweep of wings, the pavement was bare and the whole sky above dark with a tumult of fowl.

    I, too, am surrounded by pigeons this morning, and I'll be sorry when the noon gun booms.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/31/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    Against stupidity the very gods
    Themselves contend in vain.

    Friedrich von Schiller, The Maid of Orleans

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/31/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
Monday, January 30, 2006
    OGIC: Fortune cookie

    On longer evenings,
    Light, chill and yellow,
    Bathes the serene
    Foreheads of houses.
    A thrush sings,
    In the deep bare garden,
    Its fresh-peeled voice
    Astonishing the brickwork.
    It will be spring soon,
    It will be spring soon -
    And I, whose childhood
    Is a forgotten boredom,
    Feel like a child
    Who comes on a scene
    Of adult reconciling,
    And can understand nothing
    But the unusual laughter,
    And starts to be happy.

    Philip Larkin, "Coming"

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ 01/30/2006 2:29 am | Permanent link
    TT: Who could ask for anything more?

    I got up first thing Saturday morning, ate a whole-grain English muffin and a bowl of raisin bran, took a cab down to Integral Yoga in Chelsea, and spent a couple of hours twisting myself into heart-healthy positions. I came back to my Upper West Side apartment to take a shower, then picked up a Zipcar and drove to the Newark Museum of Art, where I spent a couple of hours looking at paintings like this and this.

    Once I’d seen enough, I drove to Rutt’s Hut and dined on a pair of “rippers” slathered in Rutt’s secret relish, thereby satisfying to the fullest a long-standing wish. (No, they weren't the least bit heart-healthy, but ooooh, did they ever taste good!) I read the first chapter of Peter Ackroyd’s newly published brief life of J.M.W. Turner as I stood at the counter.

    I popped a Fats Waller album into the CD player of my Zipcar as I drove home on the New Jersey Turnpike. At five o'clock on the nose I pulled off the exit ramp of the George Washington Bridge and onto the Henry Hudson Parkway. The sun was mere seconds from setting and the bright blue sky was flooded with Turneresque orange light (it looked something like this). Mr. Waller obligingly chose that precise moment to launch into It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.

    I dropped the car off at a garage around the corner from my apartment, picked up some oatmeal-raisin cookies and two bottles of lemon-lime seltzer at the neighborhood deli, and spent the evening watching Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait. As Laird Cregar leered diabolically at Don Ameche, I said to myself, I couldn’t possibly be happier.

    I hope your weekend was as good as mine.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/30/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Book 'em, Sony!

    Some of you may have read my Wall Street Journal column about the return of the e-book, in which I reported on the Sony Reader and speculated on the possible effects of the e-book on the culture of reading and writing. (If you didn’t see the column, it’s here.) In that column I made a point of saying that eventual popular acceptance of the e-book was inevitable:

    So will it fly? I don't know. Still, I'm certain that something like the Sony Reader will catch on, if not this year then in a short time. The phenomenal success of the iPod strongly suggests that many, perhaps most, consumers are ready to start buying digital books on the Web and storing and reading them electronically.

    I did this for three reasons. One was rhetorical: I thought it would make the column more effective to take the coming of the e-book for granted. One was practical: my “Sightings” columns are only 850 words long, and I preferred to devote my space to speculating on the long-term effects of the e-book rather than taking the time to explain why I thought it would become popular. And one was a simple matter of honesty: that’s really what I think.

    I got an e-mail the other day from my friend Rick Brookhiser, author of many fine books about the founding fathers (I especially like this one), in which he begged to differ:

    e-book = iPod? Same solution, different problem, so maybe not.

    The iPod created a universe of immediately available songs—not in the order the Beatles laid the album out; not with the dumb songs included (don't like “Maxwell's Silver Hammer”? Skip it!). Glenn Gould's paradise had arrived, as you wrote in the Teachout Reader.

    The DVD does the same thing for movies. Watch that car chase fifteen times!

    But, unlike albums/CDs or movies, readers already enjoy immediate availability, in the form of pages. This was the book's great advance over the scroll, and the reciting bard. You can skip ahead, go back, read one paragraph over and over, etc. If you had been alive in the dark ages, or whenver scribes began writing in books, you would have commented on it in Ye Teachoute Reader (Gutenberg made reproduction faster).

    The e-book will NOT increase immediate availability, because you must hit a control of some sort to move. Even a thumb click or a finger tap is as much of an effort as a page turn. (The e-book you showed doesn't even have two pages open at once, though that presumably is fixable.)

    The great gain of the e-book is having several thousand books in one little machine. But apart from the psychotically inattentive—a large audience, given computers and the tempo of TV editing—people read one book at a time, or at most two or three. In that situation the e-book provides no advantages, or few.

    What e-books will make wonderful is research—Grove, the encyclopedia, and all those bound volumes of the Atlantic Monthly may well be killed by them.

    If your prophecy is fulfilled, and all books are sent to a landfill, in five years some geek in Bangalore will announce breathlessly his newest discovery—the printout, bound together with glue for easy live-ware accessibility.

    These are all good points. The printed book, as I said in my column, is an “elegant” technology, meaning that it solves a great many problems in an attractive, simple, and economical way, and e-books will not catch on if they don’t solve the same problems with comparable elegance. But assuming they do, here are some of the further advantages of the e-book:

    • It will allow you to buy books without going to a brick-and-mortar store and have them delivered to your computer more or less instantaneously.

    • In theory, it will give you immediate access to a vastly larger number of books than even amazon.com can provide.

    • You’ll be able to carry dozens of books with you wherever you go (unlike Rick, I think this is one of the e-book’s biggest draws).

    • Books in bulk are heavy and awkward and take up a huge amount of space. E-books take up no physical “space” at all, thus freeing up wall and storage space—a major consideration for apartment-dwellers and other people with good-sized personal libraries. Yes, books do furnish a room, but I’d rather furnish my living room with more art—and I’d be more than happy not to have to box up my thousand-odd books the next time I move to a new apartment.

    In addition, the e-book is a technology so powerful and far-reaching in its implications that I’m sure it will offer countless additional advantages I can’t even begin to foresee. Scott Walters, who blogs at Theatre Ideas, suggested two of them in this e-mail he sent after reading my column:

    As a 47-year-old recent convert to the iPod (which I use for listening to books on tape from Audible.com), I am fascinated by the new Sony e-book hardware. As a college professor, I can see all kinds of opportunities. For instance, what if students could download all of their textbooks to their Sony e-book—no more huge backpacks filled with a dozen heavy textbooks! Also, it might help us disconnect from the pirates running current textbook publishers. I published a textbook with McGraw-Hill that is about 120 pages and lists for $30, which is ridiculous! I would certainly consider pulling the book from the publisher and selling it myself via download. This could be a real solution for the student!

    All of which serves as a reminder that the coming of the e-book will trigger the law of unintended consequences. That’s what I was getting at in my column:

    Best-selling novelists, for instance, will soon be in a position to "publish" their own books, pocketing all the profits—but so will niche-market authors whose books don't sell in large enough quantities to interest major publishers.

    Might the e-book make the writing of serious literary fiction more economically viable? Consider the experience of Maria Schneider, the jazz composer whose CDs are sold exclusively on her Web site, www.mariaschneider.com. Ms. Schneider uses ArtistShare, a new Web-based technology that makes it easier for musicians to sell self-produced recordings online. Not only did she win a Grammy for her first ArtistShare release, "Concert in the Garden," but she kept all the proceeds as well. Several other well-known jazz musicians, including the guitarist Jim Hall and the trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, have since signed up with ArtistShare, which frees them from the need to compromise with money-conscious record-company executives. Will e-books have a similarly liberating effect on authors? I wouldn't be surprised.

    I’m not saying, by the way, that the unintended consequences of the coming of the e-book will all be pleasant or desirable. Our Girl and I went shopping the other day at a well-stocked brick-and-mortar bookstore in Chicago. I bought three books for myself and a belated Christmas present for OGIC, and enjoyed the experience immensely. As we drove home afterward, we chatted about how delightful it is to browse the shelves of a good bookstore. But is it delightful enough to survive the coming of the e-book? I doubt it. To be sure, I had a lovely time—but it was the first time I’d done any serious in-person book-browsing in nearly a year. I now buy virtually all of my books online.

    As I wrote in the Journal:

    Yes, I miss the bookstores of my youth, and I'm sure I'll miss the handsomely bound volumes that fill the shelves in my apartment as well (though I won't miss dusting them, or toting them around by the half-dozen whenever I go on vacation). The printed book is a beautiful object, "elegant" in both the aesthetic and mathematical senses of the word, and its invention was a pivotal moment in the history of Western culture. But it is also a technology—a means, not an end. Like all technologies, it has a finite life span, and its time is almost up.

    Am I right? We’ll see—soon.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/30/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “Perhaps the strangest aspect of life is the sense it conveys of having a pattern—everything falling into place, nothing happening by chance; outward phenomena an image of the inward reality; and therefore inevitable in their relation to that inward reality.”

    Malcolm Mugggeridge, Affairs of the Heart (courtesy of Christopher Porterfield)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/30/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
Friday, January 27, 2006
    TT: Rolling over

    I just spent a pleasant hour doing some long-overdue maintenance on "Sites to See," our blogroll. Here's what I did:

    • I added a number of interesting-looking new blogs and sites (new to us, anyway) on various subjects, all of which are marked with asterisks. We'll leave them on the roll for a month or so to see whether they're full-fledged keepers or mere flashes in the pan.

    • I revisited and reconsidered the last batch of starred blogs and sites. Some made the cut, and are no longer starred. Some didn't, and are no longer there.

    • I knocked off a half-dozen other blogs that had become inactive, insufficiently active, or irrelevant to the interests of our regular readers.

    • I moved a couple of blogs to more suitable categories.

    Take a look at the new starred blogs in the right-hand column and see what you think. As always, please let us know about any other high-quality art-related blogs that you'd like us to add to "Sites to See."

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 1:33 pm | Permanent link
    TT: Two women on Mozart...

    “We all drew on the comfort which is given out by the major works of Mozart, which is as real and material as the warmth given up by a glass of brandy."

    Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

    “The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.”

    Susan Sontag, Styles of Radical Will

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 12:13 pm | Permanent link
    TT: ...and one more for good measure

    "There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper."

    Camille Paglia, interview, International Herald Tribune (April 26, 1991)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 12:12 pm | Permanent link
    TT: Just in case you were wondering

    I kept all my promises to myself (and to you), and had a delightful day.


    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 10:48 am | Permanent link
    TT: Birthday boy

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 250 years ago today, and everybody’s writing about him. Arts & Letters Daily has a roundup of links at the top of today’s page (including a link to my own essay in last month’s issue of Commentary, which will be available for free on line through the end of January). I especially like Tim Page, who quotes the ever-quotable Ferruccio Busoni:

    He disposes of light and shadow, but his light does not pain and his darkness still shows clear outlines. Even in the most tragic situations he still has a witticism ready; in the most cheerful, he is able to draw a thoughtful furrow in his brow. He is young as a boy and wise as an old man—never old-fashioned and never modern, carried to the grave and always alive.

    If you’re in the mood to listen to something beautiful, my Commentary essay ends with a list of ten of my favorite recordings of works by Mozart in minor keys. This is the one to buy if you’re only buying one.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Modern Kicks, I found this link to a wonderful W.H. Auden poem about The Magic Flute that (horrors!) I didn’t know. It’s on PostClassic, Kyle Gann’s artsjournal.com music blog. (In addition to the complete text, Gann's posting also contains a link to an audio file of Auden reading the poem.)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 9:11 am | Permanent link
    TT: Minority report

    Just to keep you on your toes amid all the Mozart-related hoopla, here's the first paragraph of an essay on Haydn I wrote for Commentary:

    In 1945, Arturo Toscanini told the music critic B.H. Haggin that he preferred Haydn to Mozart. “I will tell you frankly: sometimes I find Mozart boring,” he said to his astonished interviewer. “Not G-minor [the G Minor Symphony, K. 550]: that is great tragedy; and not concerti; but other music. Is always beautiful—but is always the same.”

    I don't agree, but I do know what he meant.

    (If you’re curious, this CD contains Toscanini’s recordings of the Mozart G Minor and Haydn “Surprise” symphonies.)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 9:10 am | Permanent link
    TT: Mixed doubles

    In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I report on my recent playgoing in New Haven, Connecticut, where I saw the Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Private Lives and the Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of The People Next Door:

    Is there a more perfect comedy than “Private Lives”? It’s not my favorite Noël Coward play (I prefer “Present Laughter”), but for sheer elegance of craft it can’t be beat, and it’s madly funny to boot. Written in a mere four days, it contains more of Coward’s best-known lines than any other play, from “Very flat, Norfolk” to “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs,” and it never fails to make its effect, even when performed by amateurs. I have yet to see a hopelessly bad “Private Lives,” and Long Wharf Theatre’s new production is splendid….

    Of the making of tendentious plays about 9/11 and its aftermath there is, apparently, no end. I have yet to see a watchable one, and Henry Adam’s “The People Next Door,” now playing at the Yale Repertory Theatre, is no exception. Mr. Adam is a Brit, and like virtually all British playwrights a Man of the Left, which tells you most of what you need to know about this ostensibly black comedy about Nigel (Manu Narayan, lately of “Bombay Dreams”), a wimpy, heroin-sniffing slacker of “mixed, indeterminate race” (so says the script) who falls afoul of Phil (Christopher Innvar), a fascist-type Scotland Yard detective in search of a likely-looking pigeon to spy on the neighborhood mosque. What ensues is utterly, agonizingly predictable…

    No link, and that’s only a sample of this morning’s column. To read the rest, go to the nearest newsstand and plunk down a dollar for a copy of the Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will provide you with instant access to the full text of my review, together with many other worthy art-related stories.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Words to the wise

    This just in from the Duplex Cabaret Theatre:

    We're continuing our CINEMA DUPLEX series this Monday, January 30th at 8 p.m. with a free screening of Broadway: The Golden Age. I'm thrilled to say that the film's director, Rick McKay, will drop by before we see the film to chat and answer questions.

    If you haven't seen this acclaimed and enormously important documentary, or even if you have, I urge you to come. It's an essential recollection of the history of the Great White Way, told by the people who were there. There are dozens of interviews from the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Barbara Cook, Bea Arthur, Elaine Stritch, Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury and the list goes on and on...

    So come—Monday, the 30th, 8 p.m. Free with a two-drink minimum. These intimate screenings in our 70-seat theatre have been such fun, and the 30th will be no exception, seeing this film with a room full of theatre fans. I can't wait to chat with Mr. McKay about putting this enormous undertaking together.

    I couldn’t agree more. Not only have I raved about the film, both here and in The Wall Street Journal, but I met Rick McKay for the first time in December and can personally vouch for his capacities as a raconteur.

    To make reservations, call 212-255-5438.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “Contentment is the drug of fools. I prefer truth. And the truth is that we are animals scratching and rutting under an empty sky. Here in this theatre we can pretend that our lives have meaning. But the pretence only holds if we are given the truth. That is why I wish to see you shine on this stage, that is why, selfishly, I wish to train you. The theatre is my soothing drug, and my cynic's illness is so far advanced that my physic must be of the highest quality.”

    Stephen Jeffreys, The Libertine (courtesy of twang twang twang)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/27/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
Thursday, January 26, 2006
    TT: Call me Bartleby

    Three weeks ago I resumed a more temperate version of my regular schedule. Since then I’ve seen plays in Washington, D.C., New Haven, and Chicago, from the last of which I returned two days ago. My trusty old iBook blew up and I bought a replacement. It wasn’t ready for me until yesterday afternoon, so I went downtown yesterday morning to write my Friday drama column for The Wall Street Journal on an unoccupied terminal, then picked up my new computer on the way back home and spent the afternoon breaking it in. Last night I went to a Broadway show, my first since the night before I went into the hospital. I had dinner with a friend after the show, then came home, answered my e-mail, and read a few pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop before falling asleep.

    I woke up this morning at nine-thirty, an hour later than my normal get-up-and-go time. As I descended from the loft in which I spend my nights, it struck me that I had nothing whatsoever to do today: no deadlines, no shows to see, no meals with friends, no plans of any kind. For a moment I felt myself revving up, trying to think of culture-related activities with which to fill all those empty hours. Then a new, unfamiliar reflex kicked in. Why not do nothing? I asked myself, and a smile flickered across my face.

    The New Me has one important thing in common with the Old Me, which is that we’re both having trouble getting used to the Concept of the Weekend. The problem is that while most people take Saturday and Sunday off, I don’t: I usually go to the theater, and for me that’s work, not pleasure (not necessarily pleasure, to be exact). I write my Journal columns every Tuesday and every other Wednesday, which means that my “weekends” fall some time between Tuesday afternoon and Friday evening. The habits of a lifetime tell me I ought to be working during that time, but the realities of my new life as a middle-aged drama critic with acute workaholic tendencies and a recent history of congestive heart failure demand a change of schedule. This morning—for the first time—I got the message, loud and clear.

    So what am I going to do with myself today? Well, I think I’ll start by popping a Bocaburger in the microwave and a whole-grain English muffin in the toaster and taking a Fuji apple out of the crisper. After lunch I’ll put my clothes on (yes, I'm writing these words in the unclothed state) and stroll over to the Central Park reservoir for a nice long walk. When I’m done with that, I might go to the Metropolitan Museum, which I haven’t visited since well before my illness. Or not: I might come straight home. Either way I’ll pick up my laundry on the way back to the apartment, then take a nap, followed by an early, solitary dinner at Good Enough to Eat. I might spend part of the evening pruning my CD collection or cleaning out the living-room closet. Or not: I might watch a movie on TV instead. Whatever I end up doing, though, I’ll definitely round out the evening by calling up my mother in Smalltown, U.S.A., and finding out what she did all day. Then I’ll put on the new Chris Thile-Mike Marshall album, post Friday’s blog entries, check my e-mail, spend a few minutes gazing happily at the Teachout Museum, and climb back into the loft to read a bit more of Scoop before falling asleep.

    Not very exciting, is it? I mean, here I am, a compulsive aesthete in Manhattan, swimming in a sea of cultural possibilities. How dare I fritter away a whole day and night when I could be hitting the boulevards in search of illumination? But I prefer not to. Instead, I'm going to spend Thursday doing what I want to do when I want to do it, not including anything remotely resembling work. What’s more, I expect to have a perfectly lovely time. How about that?

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for lunch. See you tomorrow.

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/26/2006 11:15 am | Permanent link
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here's my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I either gave these shows strongly favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened or saw and liked them some time in the past year (or both). For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter, strong language, one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    Chicago (musical, R, adult subject matter, sexual content, fairly strong language)
    Doubt (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, implicit sexual content, reviewed here)
    The Light in the Piazza (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene, closes July 2, reviewed here)
    Sweeney Todd (musical, R, adult situations, strong language, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee* (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)
    The Woman in White (musical, PG, adult subject matter, reviewed here)

    Abigail’s Party (drama, R, adult subject matter, strong language, reviewed here, closes Apr. 8)
    Mrs. Warren's Profession (drama, PG, adult subject matter, closes Feb. 19, reviewed here)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)
    The Trip to Bountiful (drama, G, reviewed here, extended through Mar. 11)

    In the Continuum (drama, R, adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes Saturday)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/26/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "The truth is that we mediocre men cannot even imagine what it is to be a great man like Mozart and Shakespeare and thus to be free from the domination of the contemporary prejudices, beliefs, morals, artistic rules, scruples (call them what you will) with which even the most enlightened of us are—often unconsciously—obsessed."

    W.J. Turner, Mozart: The Man and His Works (courtesy of Bill Kristol)

    posted by terryteachout @ 01/26/2006 12:00 am | Permanent link


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Terry lives in Manhattan. He's the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and the music critic of Commentary, but he writes about... More

This is a blog about the arts in New York City and elsewhere, a diary of Terry's life as a working critic, with additional remarks and reflections by Laura Demanski (otherwise known as Our Girl in Chicago), who is also, among other things, a critic. It’s about all the arts, not just one or two... More

Terry's latest book is All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine... More



(syndicate this AJblog)


A list of things we've liked (subject to unexpected and wildly capricious updating).

To purchase or investigate, click on the link.

  • CD: Sweeney Todd (Nonesuch, two CDs). The original-cast album of John Doyle’s current Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, in which the instrument-playing cast members double as the onstage orchestra. Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone are formidable, and Sarah Travis’ ingenious chamber-orchestra reorchestration of Sondheim’s score is surprisingly effective, though by no means a substitute for Jonathan Tunick’s 1979 full-orchestra version, which remains available on CD. That one’s better, but this one is far more than a mere souvenir (TT).

  • DVD: Lust for Life. Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 film of Irving Stone’s best-selling novel about Vincent Van Gogh, with Kirk Douglas as the lopsided painter and Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin. The screenplay is by Norman “On a Note of Triumph” Corwin, the gorgeous score by Miklós Rózsa, the paintings mostly by the man himself (Minnelli borrowed two hundred original canvases to use in the film). Yes, it has moments of biopic corn-on-the-cob, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the power of Douglas’ performance—not to mention his close physical resemblance to Van Gogh. Very definitely worth seeing (TT).

  • BOOK: Peter Ackroyd, J.M.W. Turner (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $21.95). A superbly succinct 173-page small-format biography of England’s greatest painter. Good illustrations, good index. Except for the too-high price, this is everything a brief life should be (TT).

  • PLAY: Bridge & Tunnel (Helen Hayes Theatre, Barrow Street Theatre, 240 W. 44, through March 12). Sarah Jones’ acclaimed one-woman show moves to Broadway. I reviewed the original production two years ago in The Wall Street Journal: “The simple premise of the show—a multicultural open-mike poetry reading at the imaginary Bridge and Tunnel Café in South Queens—gives Ms. Jones more than enough elbow room to show off her near-miraculous knack for slipping into other people’s skins. In rapid succession she becomes an anxiously ingratiating Pakistani emcee, a grumpy Jewish grandmother from Long Island, a Vietnamese slam poet, a pretentious Jamaican performance artist …and that’s just for starters” (TT).

  • DVD: Junebug. A hip Chicago art dealer marries an improbably dashing small-town mama’s boy from North Carolina, then goes home to meet the family. One of the smartest indie flicks of 2005, now on DVD (TT).
  • More on the Top Five


“The Beatles were the first rock-and-roll musicians to be written about as musicians. Elvis Presley, for instance, had attracted vast amounts of attention from the press, but for the most part he was treated as a mass-culture phenomenon rather than as an artist, and so were the other rock musicians of the 50’s and early 60’s (and the swing-era band-leaders and vocalists who came before them). Not so the Beatles…” More


"The e-book is back. So are the technophobes who swear it'll never catch on. They were right last time, and they might be right this time, too. Sooner or later, though, they'll be wrong—and when they are, your life will change..." More

“You don’t pour years of your life into writing a biography unless you feel an initial bond of sympathy with the subject, and, though many a biographer has grown disillusioned along the way, it’s obvious from reading Mencken: The American Iconoclast that Rodgers still admires and, just as important, likes the man about whom she has written. But how closely does that man resemble the real H.L. Mencken? Have Rodgers’s sympathies led her to smooth his rough edges, or downplay less palatable aspects of Mencken’s work that might not sit well alongside her frank admiration? The answer, I suspect, will depend on how much you yourself like Mencken…” More

"Scott was secure enough to let his colleagues do the talking, knowing that his gritty, hard-faced on-screen presence would speak for itself. The dashing young leading man of the Thirties now looked as though he’d been carved from a stump, and every word he spoke reeked of disillusion. Yet he continually found himself forced to make moral choices that were always clear but rarely easy. What Scott should do at any given moment is never in doubt, but we also understand that doing it will never make him 'happy' in any conventional sense of the word: he must do the right thing for its own sake, not in the hope of any immediate reward…" More


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"Terry Teachout, author of 'All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine,' 'A Terry Teachout Reader' and 'The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken,' started writing 'Second City,' a monthly column about the arts in New York, in the fall of 1999. In September, after six years and 64 columns, he filed his final report for The Post. 'I can't even begin to tell you how much I'll miss Second City,' he says. 'Not only was it a pleasure and a privilege to report to the readers of one great city about the artistic doings of another, but I learned to love Washington along the way.'...

"It's profoundly unsettling for a Manhattanite to be following the news these days. I've found it all but impossible to tear myself away from the televised scenes of mounting chaos in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, though I did take a quick look the other day at the first 'Second City' column I filed after 9/11. It started like this: 'We're all right, thanks. It took a week or two for us to pull ourselves together, but New Yorkers have finally started to emerge from their holes, looking for all that art offers in times of trial: inspiration, diversion, catharsis, escape.' It will take a lot longer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina to reconstitute their lives, and longer still, I fear, for them to regain access to the solace of art..." More

“Respighi is known in this country for 'The Fountains of Rome', 'The Pines of Rome' and not much else, but in Italy he's rightly admired as a witty, wonderfully lyrical composer. 'La Bella Dormente' is all that and more, and Basil Twist's magical staging commingles singers, puppets and puppeteers to tell the familiar tale (at the end they all dance together, in a breathtaking piece of theatrical wizardry). The puppets were bewitchingly characterful, the singers first-rate. How sad to think that this show received only a half-dozen performances! It belongs in an off-Broadway theater, where it would surely run until the end of time…” More

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