Spotlight: “Murder Porn,” Parte Trois

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed, I get along with the voices inside of my head.”

Water we doing here?!

In all seriousness, though, I never thought I’d be writing another “murder porn” piece so soon, but last night’s episode of American Horror Story necessitated it.

But first, a disclaimer: I am a feminist. I believe in equality for men and women. I believe it’s closer than ever before and is still somewhat far off.

What I saw on television last night, I believe, is detrimental to the feminist cause. In a nutshell- from plot convolutions unknown to me, we got Lena Dunham playing Valerie, a deranged man-hater (and real historical figure) looking to suppress the male gender through revolutionary acts of gratuitous violence (shocker).

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It’s clear that this season of American Horror Story is hyperbolically “ripped from the headlines,” addressing topics such as groupthink, racism, and the 2016 Presidential election. Because women’s rights had become a component of this situation, they were bound to make an appearance as well.

I spoke to my boyfriend recently about how to system needs to be “fixed, not overthrown.” As I see it, a coup d’état mandates violence, which is never the answer. And in an age where people seem to be on the brink of “snapping,” so to speak, equating violence with female empowerment- as Dunham’s character is doing- is hugely misguided.

And, frankly, she seemed to be enjoying every minute of acting out this most twisted feminist fantasy: calling men “scum,” reigning over them, physically harming them if they do not submit.

Did I imply that Lena Dunham is a “bad feminist?” I didn’t say that, did I?

Look, I get that a lot of Americans are angry by the current state of our country. I’m upset too. But men aren’t the enemies of feminism, and to present such an idea is dangerous to the true meaning of the cause. And, to present the idea on an extremely popular TV show makes it widely available as fodder for those who don’t outwardly support equality. “Y’all crazy feminists think women should be superior to men; I done saw it on the tube!”

Not good, Ryan Murphy. Not good.

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L.A.M.B. Album Appreciation Post

Is it just me, or does one of these “guilty pleasure music Appreciation Posts” pop up on my blog every year? First it was for Teenage Dream, then Spiceworld, and now…2004’s Love Angel Music Baby, the solo debut for Gwen Stefani. Can I start by saying that this album has one of the weirdest covers ever…and that it’s totally awesome?

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I would probably like this artwork more, though, if the shapes/colors weren’t morphed and gel-like. But what can you do.

Anyway, my first exposure to the record was actually from hearing my mom’s favorite track on the radio. Since then, that song- “What You Waiting For?”- has become one of my favorites as well. With Gwen’s signature vocals and a pounding electro-beat, it has an energizing effect on the listener. Mom wound up purchasing the CD for herself, but I basically stole it, and I don’t believe she’s noticed. It’s been over a decade.

I guess you could describe the underlying theme of the music as…megalomaniacal? Almost all of them are about love, fashion, money, or any combination of the three. So hey, it may not be great art, but sometimes you need that level of fun.

What makes L.A.M.B. unique is the fact that it spawned an entire franchise here in the United States. Gwen Stefani has a notorious fascination with Japanese street culture, so she used this album to share her love with us. Clothing, perfumes, and (really cute) fashion dolls were just some of the paraphernalia.

Unfortunately, that created quite a bit of controversy related to cultural appropriation…particularly when she went on tour. You see, Gwen had four backup performers at the L.A.M.B. concerts: young Japanese women she called her “Harajuku Girls.” This dynamic generated many ill feelings, as the girls were referred to as “modern day Geisha” by critics. I’m not looking to generate a discourse here; I will only say that their concerns are pretty valid.

Nevertheless, Love Angel Music Baby‘s controversial elements don’t prevent me from enjoying the record itself. If you feel like indulging in some “Bubble Pop” sound or acting like a “Rich Girl,” this is how you do it. So “what you waiting for?” Go B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

A Bronx Tale Vs. Diner: Old America onscreen and onstage

When we hear the phrase “period piece,” our minds tend to conjure up an image of a lady wearing multiple petticoats having romantic problems in Britain. And that would indeed fit the bill. But at the same time, a story about a kid growing up with the mob in 1960s NYC…or one about 20something friends navigating love in 1950s Baltimore…would also fall into this category. The classic films A Bronx Tale and Diner are both pieces of Americana during decades that were quite different from the one we live in. Perhaps that is what can take credit for their lasting appeal; we are fascinated by this somewhat foreign climate, as it stands in stark contrast to the country we have become, for better and for worse. For those who did live through those prior decades, the movies can also be a great source of nostalgia for “a simpler time.”

But how much simpler was it, really?

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At their cores, these two films are about a certain social issue: Diner focuses on male coming-of-age and A Bronx Tale deals with racial strife and Mafia politics. In these eras, it was perfectly acceptable for boys to catcall their girls, and the decimation of black people’s property was a fairly regular occurrence. Both of these movies were made some 20 years after the fact, so it’s clear that such behavior was not necessarily condoned. Rather, the pieces served as portraits of the ever-changing times. And this “snapshot” status is part of what solidified them as classics of cinema.

However, within the last five years, both stories have also found their way onto the stage. And suddenly, they’ve lost their classic status and must be looked at through fresh eyes once more. But live theatre is an entirely different animal than the silver screen.

Seen through today’s progressive filters, and in the flesh, both of these musical adaptations have come under heavy criticism. They’ve been called “dated,” “offensive,” and “no longer relevant.” Granted, A Bronx Tale has found much better commercial footing on Broadway; Diner never even made it out of regional theatre. (I have no good explanation for such a discrepancy.)

But the fact remains- does today’s America need to be reminded of its past imperfections (some of which persist to a degree) in a musical? Or, with the advent of groundbreakers like Hamilton or War Paint, should Broadway only be looking ahead?

Further food for thought: A forum thread on A Bronx Tale‘s adaptation and an interesting article on why Diner really shouldn’t be a musical. What do you think?

Film Challenge 2: WAITRESS (2007)

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Ugh…this second installment of my movie-reviewing challenge is so delayed, it might as well be an airport during a blizzard. (What?) All bad jokes aside, here it is. Fresh from the oven and steaming hot. (Okay, I’m done now.)

As mentioned in a previous post I caught the Broadway musical adaptation of Waitress with my guy on my birthday. It was so lovely, fun, and heartfelt that I felt a need to take in the source material- and Barnes and Noble had the DVD for less than $8. You really can’t get a better deal than that. The movie is the final work of actress/screenwriter Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically the victim of a homicide not long before the film hit cinemas. Understandably, it was dedicated in her honor, as stated in the end credits.

And indeed, Shelly not only wrote the script, but she also directed it and played the supporting role of Dawn. The leading role is Jenna (Keri Russell), a small-town waitress and expert pie maker with unfulfilled dreams and an abusive husband. The movie (and stage show) is a testament to how Jenna uses her baking talents and finds the inner strength to “start fresh.”

I think my favorite performance in the film, apart from Russell’s, was Andy Griffith as elderly diner owner Joe. Joe is such a wonderful character, for many reasons; Griffith was able to pull off the character’s gruff exterior AND secret heart of gold with both realism and hilarity.

When I compare films to their Broadway adaptations, it’s often fun to see what changes were made from screen to stage. Waitress had a few. For one, Dawn and her boyfriend’s relationship was more thoroughly explored in the musical. Jenna’s jerk of a spouse, Earl, behaved a LOT worse in the movie. (Although, granted, his character did get booed during curtain call at the theatre.) The character of Becky (played by Cheryl Hines onscreen and Keala Settle onstage) also takes on two very unique interpretations from her actresses. But the most striking difference was that the film was VERY “Jenna-centric,” while the musical definitely felt like more of an ensemble piece. I’m not sure which take I preferred…perhaps each medium’s defining traits make both valid.

Overall, however, the soul of the story itself is present in both forms and hits equally hard. It’s a sassy tale, often filled with dry/sarcastic/awkward humor. But it’s also a tale of new beginnings, supportive friends, and believing in yourself. As some of you might know, these themes resonate with me very much. I highly recommend entering Jenna’s world whenever you need an emotional pick-me-up. And remember, when life gives you lemons…always make lemon meringue pie.

Heroines from Screen to Stage- Take the Poll!

30DDC- Day Twenty Two

Bravest Heroine

And as long as we’re talking about bravery…

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Look, I love all the Disney princesses. Each of them is extremely special and admirable in her own way. However, when it comes to which one has the most gusto, there’s only one correct answer in my book. She joined a war. She risked her life in multiple ways. She took on a new identity. She saved an entire nation. Whoa. None of the other gals can say that they rescued an entire country. Way to go, Mulan, you win!

Maid in Washington Square

Shameless self-promotion time!

I’m currently playing the role of Maria in a production of The Heiress at Seaview Playwrights Theatre, and we open this week! If any of you are in the Staten Island area and feel like seeing a fabulous cast tell a classic story, come on down! We have been working so hard on this show and (as you probably know) the experience can only be made better if we get a wondrous turnout. Performances are this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and the same three days next week. The Friday and Saturday shows are at 8pm and the Sunday ones are at 3pm. Tickets are around $20 and must be purchased at the door.

Here’s a shot of me in costume. Hope to see you there!

As Maria

On Being an Artist- and a Mother?

This is more of a traditional “blog your feelings” post than the information-filled stuff you’ve come to know from Puccini’s Chronicles. But in light of some recent personal events, the topic had been on my mind. I’ll share one such event with you- it’s been happening when I attend religious services. Parents bring in their small children, and some of these kids tend to cry. Like, they cry A LOT. They don’t stop, and most of the parents still don’t think to bring the child out to the lobby. I’ve heard that some churches/temples have “crying rooms” where the moms (or dads) can hear the minister through speakers, but the room itself is soundproof. I think that is a spectacular idea. For me, it’s quite hard to be spiritual when a little member of the congregation is screaming bloody murder.

Do I sound intolerant or mean? I definitely don’t intend to be in saying this. It’s just a fundamental question that all people ask themselves at one point or another: do I want to go HOME with that screaming tyke? Or am I more content to enjoy kids if I can hand them off when they get upset? Another thing to consider- how will raising a family impact my career goals and artistic ventures? This is a particular pertinent issue for ladies, who will often split parenting duties with a husband 70% and 30% respectively.

More than once have I wondered whether or not I can balance the responsibility of self and parenting. What do I mean by “self?” Well, it seems to me (strictly based on personal interaction) that once a woman becomes a mom, she loses an entire locus of identity. She ceases to be an independent entity, defining herself as a mother first and foremost. This has long troubled me. Just because you have children, you have to abandon pretty much everything else that makes you who you are? On the other hand, raising offspring IS a full-time job; maybe you need to become that engrossed in it if you want well-adjusted kids. I’m just not sure.

Plenty of actors, writers, and directors have found harmony in both career success and motherhood. To name just a small sample: Victoria Clark, Lisa Howard, Chita Rivera, Kelli O’Hara, Judy Kuhn, Patti LuPone, Andrea Martin, Megan Hilty. All eight of these ladies are ridiculously good at their craft, and they were all employed in said craft as they brought up their little ones. I don’t know if they call themselves moms first and thespians second or even third- but if they do, they don’t seem to have let it deter them from pursuing something else they loved. It’s a beautiful thing, and this evidence implies that it CAN be done.

Alas, for me…time will tell. And it’s also gonna take heaps of soul-searching!