Essays and Reviews

Next Steps for Bigger Thomas: A Review of Native Son

Native Son - Image from HBO.png

This is not your Richard Wright’s Native Son. In a sampling and remix world, director Rashid
Johnson and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks jacked the novel for some beats to spin out an HBO
special. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You take great, ready-made source material
whenever you can find it. Goethe did it with Faust, Faulkner with Light in August, and Lerner
and Loewe with My Fair Lady. Norman Loftis drew liberally on Wright’s novel to frame his gritty
film Small Time. Of course, these artists did not choose to title their adaptations The Book of
Job, The Gospel of John, Pygmalion, or Native Son, respectively. But Johnson and Parks, in a
fairly bold move, drastically alter the material yet retain the tag. Is the result a bowdlerized
artifact or an admirable departure? Probably both. And the tension will just have to do.

Although set in contemporary Chicago, the outline of the first two-thirds of Wright’s novel remains clear. Bigger Thomas, mostly called Big (Ashton Sanders), is a disgruntled youth who lands a job as a chauffeur with the Dalton family. He experiences shame when forced to hang out in the ‘hood with Mary Dalton (Margaret Qualley) and her boyfriend Jan (Nick Robinson), accidentally smothers Mary to death with a pillow, places the corpse in the furnace, and eventually goes on the run from the law, dragging his girlfriend, Bessie, along in the process. But this fugitive is not the racially overdetermined, inarticulate victim of Wright’s novel. In fact, he quotes Du Bois regarding double consciousness, reads Harold Cruse on black intellectuals, and peruses Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. He listens passionately to Bad Brains and Beethoven, uses words like stereotypical, understands what Luddite means, and diagnoses certain people as having a slave mentality. He even quotes the Roman poet Juvenal, panem et circenses (bread and circuses, the means to control the masses), which he says is the only thing he remembers from school. Big has received the Baldwin-Ellison makeover. He has loads of dimensionality and charm, what both critics wished he possessed. Yet, for all his cerebral qualities, seventy-nine years after the novel, he flubs a pivotal scene. He can’t say to Mrs. Dalton, “Come get your drunken daughter, yo. I helped her up the stairs, but I’m out.” Instead, he pitifully implores Mary to be quiet and explains that he doesn’t want to lose his job. Of course, jobs are crucial, but the drama pales in comparison to the novel. In that text, Bigger fears for his life. The 1940 scene that Old Bigger acts in doesn’t work in Big’s 2019 world.

The killing of Mary Dalton begins the “Flight” phase of the film, which ends with an unarmed Big, not a threat and at a standstill, being gunned down by policemen---surely a nod to tragic and all-too-familiar contemporary scenarios. Viewers will notice that the film’s demarcations---“Fate,” “Fear,” “Flight”---are a shuffled version of the sequence in the novel---“Fear, “Flight,” “Fate.” Ironically, this suggests that modern Bigger is doomed from the start. His beginning is his end, and he provides some garbled commentary on fatalism along the way. In contrast, it is in the “Fate” section of the novel, which he journeys through fear and flight to arrive at, that Bigger expresses self-discovery. It’s a horrible revelation: “But what I killed for, I am!” As a product of Wright’s existentialist questioning, Bigger embraces murder as a positive act. This links Wright’s novel to works such as Albert Camus’s The Stranger and Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. It is a long and winding road to Bigger’s conclusion. We have to put up with some lengthy speeches by a lawyer and the prosecutor as well as discourse concerning religion. These are features of the novel that often are criticized. But Big has patience for the philosophical unfolding, though the filmmakers do not.

The premature conclusion also omits the brutalization of Bessie (Kiki Layne). The Jerrold Freedman version in 1986, starring Oprah Winfrey, made the same omission. In the novel, to free himself of his girlfriend and now coerced fellow fugitive, Bigger bashes her with a brick and throws her down an airshaft. This is the key scene because it is the one that casts Bigger beyond redemption in the eyes of many readers and accomplishes Wright’s goal to transcend the sentimental feel of his earlier work. It also clinches his thesis: oppression will breed inexplicable eruptions. Violence against Mary is accidental. Murder against Bessie is intentional, not to mention the rape. She is a blues figure, and we don’t miss the significance of her name. Moreover, critic Edward Watson extracted some of Bessie’s dialogue in the novel and demonstrated how it breaks down into blues lyrics. He argued, “Native Son is one extended blues the spirit of which is particularized in Bessie. Wright chose Bessie, perhaps because of another soulful Bessie, and, perhaps, because she is the only black woman in the novel who could sing of broken hearts and broken dreams, of Fear and Flight and Fate; of a life full of ‘just plain black trouble.’” Naturally, it’s understandable if the filmmakers don’t want to get as tragically blue with Bessie as Wright does. She’s practically helpless in the novel. But to erase her suffering or minimize it---she’s a striving college student in the film---misses an opportunity to explore deeply the effects of oppression through her eyes or song. The film also minimizes a leftist critique in general as well as Wright’s criticism of “do-good” liberals. Jan refers fleetingly to “one percenters,” but is more serious about getting high than doing political work. This is certainly not the committed Jan Erlone of the novel. Furthermore, it is implied in the film that Mr. Dalton could own the Thomas dwelling, but the novel is explicit that Dalton is a slumlord who owns the building on Indiana Avenue in which Bigger lives at the same time that Dalton is giving him “a chance” on the other side of town.

With all the ideological losses, then, that one can associate with the film, what recommends it? I assume there is much because the most frequent summation that I have encountered is that the movie is interesting. This is the most non-descriptive description in the English language, so I take the comments to mean that the film draws interest or, in business terms, adds interest. This makes sense. The cultural text Native Son, which includes the novel, previous screen versions, theater renditions, and assorted scholarship, has been commendably expanded by a deft, visually stunning, well-acted portrayal of modern times. The film does things that Wright could not do: explain the relevance of his work in 2019, capture a poignant twenty-first-century encounter with racism, and mediate current (to us) conversations about black identity. You don’t come across much postmodern blackness in Wright; the green-haired, punk-attired, disdainful-of-hip-hop Big drips with it. One of his cronies, who had previously called Big a clown, judges him to be not a “real nigga” but a “pussy oreo.” This prompts Big to thrash him and then ask heatedly, “Am I Black enough for you now.” What he wears, listens to, and kicks ass for, he is---at least in part.

Unlike the novel Native Son, which barely makes mention of any, music, as suggested, is central to the film both as subject matter and, of course, as soundtrack. Big, whose mother describes him as a special boy who always did things his own way, constructs much of his identity through heavy metal and classical, some of which we hear. In the car, Mary asks him what kind of music he likes; he promptly turns to a radio channel playing rock and then quickly to a channel broadcasting classical. Shortly thereafter, he attends with Mary and Jan a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which he describes as a “true fucking masterpiece.” None of the musical transitions seem jarring. They match the images of an unfolding life: Beethoven in the concert hall, popular music in the longue, party music at the party. Perhaps the most marvelous musical moment occurs at the end. We hear “Cristo Redentor,” trumpeter Donald Byrd’s 1964 classic, playing from the moment the police arrive through the closing credits. This is a crucifixion-to-ascension sequence, the spirit of the Christ-like Big now hovering above us.

As indicated, Big’s complexity makes him an anti-Bigger. But he also paradoxically and essentially still is Bigger. He was born with “black guilt,” that peculiar donation of white supremacists: We hold it in our minds about you and thus it is so. Big then gets physically convicted, welcomed by bullets to the end that he had coming. But he lived among a new generation of talkers and critics, and that, with all said and done, is a good development. Johnson and Parks have not adapted the novel Native Son so much as they have elongated it. Big did not need to be awakened by an alarm clock at the top of the morning, as Bigger needed in the novel. Big was mainly awake and astute, though experiencing lapses in judgment, as he took us on an important tour of some of the repetitions that occur in Old Bigger’s afterlife.

- Keith Gilyard

The Tethering of Classes in Jordan Peele’s Us by Cherish Pierre-Louis

Jordan Peele’s Us has taken the media by storm perhaps more than his debut blockbuster film Get Out. Peele’s use of satire throughout the film leaves the audience to feel one out of two things: Enlightened or Confused?
- The movie Us begins with a young Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) peering at a tv screen that displays the Hands Across America campaign in the late 80’s, when approximately 6.5 million people held hands across the United States for fifteen minutes.

Jordan Peele uses a memorable event in the United States and creates a film with the abbreviation and gives the audience migraines. He shows us the irony in unity in a world where our President is Donald Trump. There is a scene where Adelaide’s doppelganger s Red tells Adelaide in Us that they are “Americans ,Tethered together”. But is there more to it than that?
- The idea of being tethered is repeated all throughout the film. Red tells Adelaide that they are “tethered together” numerous times. Besides the tethering being seen in the Hands Across America Campaign, there are other moments where the tethering is emphasized.

Red refers to herself and her people as “Shadows.” Shadows are soulless and dark. They are our outlines but what makes them truly shadows? Red, dressed in a red jumpsuit and wielding golden scissors, explains to the audience that they were created by a powerful faction to control the population, but the project is abandoned and so are the doppelgangers. They are forced to fend for themselves in abandoned underground tunnels and copy every single movement made by those on earth above.

If we were to compare Peele’s film to modern day civilization, we could see the “shadows” as the less fortunate. The idea of one group of people being above another is shown literally in Us; we see it amongst our people as well. Those who are fortunate live their lives in ignorance and bliss while those that are unfortunate must live off their scraps. They must get the bud of all the decisions made by the fortunate.

Another identification of the “tethered” might be those who are incarcerated today. This theory was taken from the fact that the doppelgangers are adorned in orange jumpsuits and are living someplace where they are boxed in. Those incarcerated also connect with the ideology of the “forgotten” in Jordan Peele’s Us.

Jordan Peele’s film set social media on fire. Fans were enraptured with the usage of Jeremiah 11:11 all throughout the movie. “Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them”. This biblical verse explains Jordan Peele’s breakdown of Us. Peele tells Empire’s Chris Hewitt that the film is about the monster within us. The idea is that the hero is simultaneously the villain in this film.

The film’s soundtrack further intensifies the idea of the conflict with the self. In the beginning if the movie we hear Janelle Monae’s “I Like That,” Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleur” and “I Got 5 on It” by Luniz. These songs play on Adelaide and Gabe’s ride to their vacation home, and Adelaide snaps her fingers to the song, off key. The last scene of the movie where Adelaide goes toe-to-toe with Red is the most chilling of all. We realize that the tethered has no rhythm and that Red is not in fact a part of the tethered. The tethered remix to “I Got 5 on It” plays in the background of their encounter. This composition is composed by Michael Abel and features Michael Marshall. The orchestral track gave the film a haunting and unforgettable effect.

According to Slate______, Composer Michael Abel’s goal with the track list was to try playing instruments that don’t belong together, creating a sense of dissonance that speaks to the scenes where the tethered fight those they are tethered to. This helps to amplify the horror and the sense of violence within the film. A true horror, thriller masterpiece.

Mayakovsky Maximum Access: poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky translated by Jenny Wade

Review by Peter Bushyeager


Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky is a giant of 20th century literature who defined “literary rockstar” decades before the term existed. He starred in films, propagandized relentlessly for the Soviets, and ended his own life in 1930, feeling betrayed and exhausted by the Revolution he had so passionately espoused. His persona and life story are dramatic, but far more compelling is his poetry, which is vividly brought into the 21st century thanks to Sensitive Skin Press’s Mayakovsky Maximum Access.

The bilingual volume offers 24 of Mayakovsky’s best-known works ably translated into English—and with copious notes and an essay— by Jenny Wade. Mayakovsky Maximum Access is not a dry, scholarly book, although Wade’s keen scholar’s insight shapes it. She has obviously lived for some time with Mayakovsky’s work and has a graduate degree in Russian Literature, so she has in-depth knowledge. But she’s not simply a source of information. She’s also an enthusiast with a well-tuned ear for translation who wants to share and enhance an appreciation of Mayakovsky’s achievements. She makes sure that the hallmarks of this poet’s oeuvre— irrepressible passion and energy, pugnacity, melancholy, wit, and poetic innovation—come through loud and clear.

Deck the night with weddings of bygone days.

Pour gaiety from body to body.

Let no one forget this night.

Today I will play the flute—

my own backbone.

—from “Back Bone Flute”

Wade’s approach brings “Back Bone Flute,” one of Mayakovsky’s longer poems, to life. I’ve read this poem before in versions that weren’t quite as immediate as hers, and although I knew the poem was inspired by his intense, troubled love affair with Lilya Brik, I was missing many nuances that Wade’s nimble translation and detailed notes bring to the fore.

Rather than the usual symbol for poetry—a lyre that, in ancient tradition, orders the forces of nature—Mayakovsky chose the flute, Dionysus’ instrument of passion and madness, for his central image. His choice of “backbone” echoes contemporary Osip Mandelstam’s lines from “The Age,” where the poet “must bind together the broken vertebrae of two centuries” and “bind together the joints of nodular days with a flute.”

The opening stanza of “Backbone Flute”:

To all of you

who I love or have loved,

watched over by icons in the cave of my soul,

I raise my skull, filled with poetry,

like a chalice of wine before the table

matches perfectly with the final stanza, which appears after nine pages of linguistic and emotional twists and turns:

Color today’s date a holiday.

Come into being,

Magic equal to the crucifixion.

You all can see—

I’m nailed to the paper

with words.


Wade succinctly summarizes the symmetry in this way: “the chalice/the cross; the skull overflowing with poetry/the paper to which the poet is nailed.”

Wade’s commentary helps us realize that this poem, although passionate and a bit unhinged, is quite carefully considered and calibrated. Her notes also include the backstory of the poem’s creation, which adds a special edge. Lilya Brik, the subject of the poem, dutifully reviewed and blessed each ardent stanza as it was written!

Mayakovsky Maximum Access highlights each stage of the poet’s high-wire life. Alternating between all-embracing, seemingly grandiose declamation; outright propaganda; and desperate, pathetic loneliness, Mayakovsky’s writing was always ready to generate intensity.

In the beginning, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution; his innovative, iconoclastic spirit and aesthetic seemed to dovetail perfectly with Soviet politics. “Khrenov’s Story About Kuznetsk Construction and the People of Kuznetski” is one of his better propaganda pieces. It celebrates the heroic construction of a Siberian industrial city. Structured around the echoing chorus “Four years from now we’ll have a garden-city,” the poem talks about the Siberian cold and other hardships, and ends with the confident “I know there will be a city. I know a garden will bloom, when there are people like this in our country, our Soviet land!” The poem was recited to the workers to motivate them to continue construction despite having their hands frozen to frigid iron scaffolding. From all reports, it was highly effective.

Ultimately, however, Mayakovsky lost faith in both communism and his practice as a poet, became alienated and isolated, and committed suicide. “About Trash” presents his disenchantment.

Bourgeois threads have tangled the revolution.

… Better

to twist off the canaries’ heads

so communism

is not beaten down by canaries!”

“Unfinished”, his final sequence of poems, summarizes his state of mind in a poignant, understated way.

the sea goes away again

the sea goes away to sleep

As they say the incident is closed

love’s boat has crashed on convention [. . .]

Look how silent the earth is

Night has laid a starry yoke on the sky

In hours like these you stand and speak

to centuries to history and to the universe [. . .]

I know the power of words. It looks like a trifle,

a petal fallen under the heel of a dance,

but a man in his soul, his lips, his bones

—excerpts from “Unfinished”


Mayakovsky Maximum Access earns pride of place in my collection of Mayakovsky translations. For those familiar with his work, it offers added insight and a fresh immediacy. For those new to his poetry, it provides a concentrated selection of some of his best works, accompanied by commentary that humanizes Mayakovsky’s accomplishments by placing the poems in a clear context. This book is a key addition to the Mayakovsky canon for English-speaking audiences.

“Edmond,” Alexis Michalik’s Love Letter to Cyrano de Bergerac

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a French novelist who lived during the 17th century and inspired the most notorious play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The love triangle between the shy, poetic and large-nosed Cyrano, his less articulate friend Christian and the charming Roxane, has been staged across the globe and adapted for cinema several times; as well as reworked into operas, ballet and other literary forms.

However the young director Alexis Michalik, through his theatrical background and experience behind and in front of the camera, brings to life a witty and enthralling ode to the author of Cyrano de Bergerac and his creative process.

Michalik’s first feature film, Edmond, is set in Paris in December 1897, exactly when the young French playwright was struggling for inspiration. Thanks to his admirer, the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, Rostand meets the most famous actor of the moment, Constant Coquelin, who insists on acting in his next play and having it debut in just three weeks. But Edmond has a wife and two children to take care of, many bills that are due, and most importantly he has yet to write the pièce. However he eventually finds his muse who will inspire the famous ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’

Director Alexis Michalik sublimely retraces Rostand’s use of verse, creating parallels between Edmond’s mundane activities and his poetry. The entire film is paced by rhyming couplets, with references to the classical alexandrine form, whilst homaging the great legacy of the Académie française. Michalik’s approach in intertwining the biopic with the fictional work, reminds of John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, but in this case the focus is on the genesis of the most famous story of the French Theater.

Michalik, who is also a stage actor and playwright shares some similarities with Rostand: they both had their first theatrical success at 29 years old. The contemporary metteur en scène turned réalisateur, notwithstanding his extensive career as a performer, did not choose to keep the role of Edmond for himself, casting Thomas Solivérès to play Rostand. Michalik opted for a cameo as Rostand’s rival: Georges Feydeau — who was much more successful than Rostand during the 19th century and was also known for being unsympathetic. By playing this role Alexis made a humble choice, mocking his position as an acclaimed author.

Olivier Gourmet performs majestically as the actor that Rostand cast to play Cyrano, Constant Coquelin; and the flamboyant Clémentine Célarié makes a stupendous Sarah Bernhardt. Lucie Boujenah is gentle and courteous in portraying Jeanne (who will inspire the character of Roxane), and Alice De Lencquesaing intensely embodies Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde, who is torn between jealousy and the demeanor that is required by the spouse of a writer of that time.

This film powerfully conveys the elements of dramedy of the original play, through the suave original score composed by Romain Trouillet. The music instills raw authenticity to the historical narration, making it a universal parable about an ambitious artist tackling with the turmoils of an ordinary man. The experience that is left with the audience is the desire to go back and read the original text and discover the nuances of the French hero par excellence: a man without beauty and ambition, but who placed his feelings above anything else…and with great panache.

With Edmond, Alexis Michalik enacts a magnificent cross-fertilization of the arts. He lyrically brings to life a work of metafiction in which theatre acquires a new dignity through motion pictures and where all the world is much more than a mere soundstage.




Glenda Jackson Reigns Supreme as a Gender-Blind King Lear

Review by Katherine R. Sloan

George Bernard Shaw declared that “No man will ever write a better tragedy than King Lear” and, according to many, he was absolutely correct. Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century masterpiece deals with tragedy in its most intimate form and is, at its core, about human failing, the unrealistic need for complete love and the quest for power. What is so unsettling are the crimes committed within a family where something akin to solidarity should exist but, to our appalling dismay, fails. Recently in previews for over a month at the Cort Theatre, King Lear officially just opened on Broadway April 4th and is a most exciting spectacle because of its lead actor: Glenda Jackson. Having Jackson play the role of not simply a man but the king—and one of theater’s greatest parts—is a gender role reversal perfect for 2019 (she brought the role to life two years ago at the Old Vic in London).

jackson as lear.jpg

After coming out of a twenty-plus year retirement and a career in politics, Jackson’s acting chops are just as compelling and captivating as we remember from her stunning films of the 1960s and ’70s. According to The New York Times she is still the “mightiest of them all.” Her performances in such films as Women In Love (1969) and A Touch of Class (1973) (both of which garnered her Best Actress Academy Awards) remain in the imagination as paradigms of daring female energy. Now that she’s 82 years old, Jackson possesses an even more palpable essence of power and prowess. Instead of a uniquely feminine energy, she brings a ferocity to Lear that is without gender and, ultimately, human. When she takes on a Shakespearean role we have complete faith in her vision and understanding of the part: we feel her greed, wrath, madness and, in the last minutes of the play, her heartbreak. As Jackson recently expressed while promoting the play, the ultimate tragedy of King Lear is the realization of love only when it’s too late (Lear dies of a broken heart upon holding Cordelia’s dead body in his arms). With over 1,000 lines, it’s staggering to behold Jackson’s boundless vitality and seemingly effortless projection of some of the finest sentences to exist in the English language.

Under the direction of Sam Gold (Hamlet for The Public Theater, Othello for the New York Theatre Workshop) with original music composed by Philip Glass and costumes designed by the legendary Ann Roth, this version of King Lear has classic, well-honed talent on display along with a great deal of inclusion and modern touches. Russell Harvard (who plays the Duke of Cornwall) is deaf so the use of sign language is employed throughout and, other than Ms. Jackson as Lear, a second male role is played by a female actor with Jayne Houdyshell as the Duke of Gloucester. Roth’s costuming choices add a wonderful flair of sophistication as Jackson dons smart tailored suits and shiny patent leather loafers (until Lear descends into madness and is dressed in torn pajamas and a garland for a crown) while Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Law & Order: SVU) has tattoos on display as Goneril. The women all wear trousers and full-on pantsuits with tunics as short dresses paired with high-heeled boots instead of corsets throughout (although all three daughters wear more traditional, jewel-toned regalia during the first scene where Lear divides his kingdom among them).

The second most rewarding performance is given by Ruth Wilson (The Affair) as she, per tradition, portrays both Cordelia and the Fool. Her Fool is extremely reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp with a Cockney accent and, upon watching, is a delight as she has the energy and physicality of a teenage boy. Wilson’s Fool supplies comic relief but, as we discover later, also has a great deal of depth and is not foolish at all. On the contrary, Wilson’s Fool is quite brilliant. One of the directorial liberties taken by Gold is that he seems to be letting the audience in on the secret that, yes, Cordelia is the Fool.

glenda jackson and fool.jpg

This is never blatantly stated and no direct theatrical evidence points to the fact that these characters were written as one and the same by Shakespeare but that they are simply played by the same actor out of convenience (as they share none of the same scenes) although Lear does state, upon seeing Cordelia’s dead body, “And my poor fool is hanged.” This utterance serves as more than a hint that Cordelia is the Fool in disguise and that Lear knows this. In this production of Lear Wilson (as the Fool) removes her wig and reveals to us her true identity as that of the King’s daughter, Cordelia. This decision by Gold adds another layer to Cordelia’s steadfast, genuine love towards her father thus making the Cordelia/Lear relationship deeper and her subsequent death even more poignant and tragic.

This production of King Lear has all the Shakespearean elements that make going to the theater awe-inspiring, frightening and exciting. With the epic storm scene where Lear literally rages against the natural elements, a deceitful and carnal affair between Edmund (Pedro Pascal of Game of Thrones fame) and the two malevolent sisters, extreme violence (the scene where Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out is wonderfully done but not for the faint of heart) and death, there is never a minute where action and raw entertainment coupled with superb language are lacking. All of these happenings are just as Shakespeare wrote them but are modernized to be even more salacious at times (there’s a satisfyingly raucous sex romp between Edmund and Goneril) while some aspects are almost an afterthought (as Regan—played by Aisling O’Sullivan—is poisoned and dies in the background). The most overwrought part of the play comes at the end when Cordelia is hanged and, justifiably so, but, if just for a moment as she’s lowered onto center stage with a noose around her neck, it seems that, although very effective, this could have been done with a bit more finesse and subtlety.

Shakespeare is not easy-going theater: one’s ears must remain pricked throughout as tensions run high and complexities grow ever higher. One of the most refreshing aspects of true art is its ability to reflect the most intense, beautiful and terrifying characteristics of life and what it means for even the most powerful among us to be proved fallible. In his 1816 poem On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again John Keats writes of delaying his own writing in order to enjoy one of his greatest inspirations and, in the last line, states: “Give me new phoenix wings to fly at my desire.” This implies that Keats hoped for a more effective way of writing poetry and that King Lear was a work of art that could provide him what he needed in order to continue creating. Upon seeing King Lear on Broadway the audience is rewarded not only with one of the greatest spectacles ever written for the stage but, with Glenda Jackson as the lead, one of the most impressive and exhilarating portrayals of Shakespeare’s tragic king.






You’re Never Too Old to Blush (An Excerpt from a Memoir by Steve Cannon)

You’re Never Too Old to Blush (An Excerpt from a Memoir by Steve Cannon)

CHAPTER ONE (Spring, ‘62)

I arrived in New York from England in the spring of 1962. Existentialism was in the air and so was the theatre of the absurd. John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and Shelagh Delaney’s Taste of Honey was all the rage in England. In the downtown theatre scene, Harold Pinter, Eugène Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett were the talk of the town. It was also true for the three-penny opera with Lotalinia, Bobby Daren and Louis Armstrong singin’ “Mack the Night.”

Reggae Rock Movement

Reggae Rock Movement

Reggae rock exists as a subgenre of reggae that started in Southern California and rose to popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bands like Sublime and Slightly Stoopid became the leading forces of the reggae rock movement, whose lyrical focus on consciousness, love, and daily struggles incorporates elements of punk, rock, hip-hop, and root reggae. Artists within this genre were able to cultivate a movement that is both a reflection and combination of all these elements.

Alassio Wave Walking: a burgeoning tide-march born from female vision

Alassio Wave Walking: a burgeoning tide-march born from female vision

In the mesmeric Italian region of Liguria, a new sport has made its way through the waves, thanks to the empowering initiative of two women, one working in hospitality and the other engaged as an avid surfer. Maddalena Canepa and Lorena Rasolo have imported to the enchanting Alassio a competitive physical activity that was founded in 2005 in Northern France and introduced on the Côte d'Azur in 2014 by Sophie Chipon, a Professor at the Sorbonne, who felt the urge to enhance her coastal city with a new sport that is now expanding across the globe.

Sarà il caos — It Will Be Chaos, Exclusive Interview with the Filmmakers

Sarà il caos — It Will Be Chaos, Exclusive Interview with the Filmmakers

Partners in life and in filmmaking, Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo, have always made documentaries that would spread awareness on social justice, human rights, the environment, and the arts. Their most recent work, It Will Be Chaos (Sarà il caos) is an HBO documentary, in Association with Film2, that depicts how life in the South of Italy is thrown into disarray as refugees arrive by the thousands.

The Global Acclaim of an Arabic Poet - A Review of Adonis: Selected Poems

The Global Acclaim of an Arabic Poet - A Review of Adonis: Selected Poems

In an interview aired by the Louisiana Channel, Adonis recounts memories from a simple childhood. “There was no school in the village,” he reflects on his first home, a poor Syrian farming town. “There was no electricity either.” He sketches a portrait of an uncluttered life: one without cars, or high-tech gadgets, or formal education. What he had, he testifies with a wistfulness intrinsic to his work, was his culture. “And the essence of the old Arab culture,” he asserts, “is poetry.”

If to Create is to Live Twice James Baldwin has Nine Lives

If to Create is to Live Twice James Baldwin has Nine Lives

Albert Camus said that to create is to live twice and, in the case of James Baldwin, this is especially evident in 2019. Why, do you ask, has Baldwin’s fiction recently been adapted into an Academy Award nominated film by Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) while his life has inspired the art exhibition God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin curated by Hilton Als at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City (along with accompanying film screenings). The 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House) was a runaway success and it seems that our appetites are barely whetted for more.

Memorializing Melancholy - A Retrospective on the Beginning of Barry Jenkins' Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacy

Memorializing Melancholy - A Retrospective on the Beginning of Barry Jenkins' Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacy

Jenkins’ latest feature, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, concludes what can be considered a Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacies. All three of Jenkins’ features assume a position about intimacy, more specifically a position about the shared romantic, albeit often warped, intimacies of Black men.

Rick Moody and the Role of Writer and Innovation on Upcoming Political Action

Rick Moody and the Role of Writer and Innovation on Upcoming Political Action

Rick Moody—acclaimed novelist, short story writer, essayist and incredibly socially and politically-conscious individual—was kind enough to speak with us regarding the impact of innovative technologies (most specifically social media) and their effects on upcoming political elections. He also discusses literature, the impetus to combine politics and aesthetics in his prose, his 2016 Election Diary and political involvement by those who dwell outside of the “process.”

A Candle for Amos Oz: The Passing of an Artist, Academic, and Activist

A Candle for Amos Oz: The Passing of an Artist, Academic, and Activist

When my mother first received the breaking news of Amos Oz’s passing, gasping as the Haaretz news headline slid across her iPhone screen, I could sense her shock from opposite Starbucks. Glancing back from the barista counter, in line for our drinks and watching her expression absorb grief from the report, I read her lips as she mouthed the headline: “Amos Oz, Author and Peace Advocate, to Be Laid to Rest.”

Review of 'Sly Bang' by Larissa Shmailo

Review of 'Sly Bang' by Larissa Shmailo

What do you do when there is a, “Army of serial killers, mad scientists, and ultra rich sociopaths” after you? 

Why, you summons your alter, “Larissa Ekaterina Anastasia Nikolayevna Romanova, tsaritsa of all the Russias,” and embark upon Larissa Shmailo’s cornucopiac literary odyssey, Sly Bang, of course.

We deserve more than a corny, highly processed past: Ishmael Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda”

We deserve more than a corny, highly processed past: Ishmael Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda”

During the 2016 election, I worked at a large, well known national nonprofit. The organization was firmly part of the political establishment, and among my colleagues, getting tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s frequently sold-out musical “Hamilton” was a marker of social status on par with visiting Cuba in the wake of the warming of Cuba-US relationships. I personally never really understood the appeal of Hamilton. It was everywhere, so I had of course listened to parts of the soundtrack, but it never appealed to me. Overdone. Corny. Yet it sparked something in others.

A Lesson In Love: Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk

A Lesson In Love: Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk

The first time I saw Kiki Layne perform, I was 17 years old. She was playing Oya in a production of “In The Red and Brown Water,” and I was running props backstage. I remember seeing her in this powerful role and thinking, “Wow. She is going to be famous. She has to be.” When I saw that this year, she was starring in Barry Jenkins’ newest feature film, I knew that “If Beale Street Could Talk” would be a must-see movie. I settled into a plush movie theatre seat last week and was drawn into a delicate, honest, and dynamic romantic drama that James Baldwin would have been proud to witness.

Searching for American Truth

Searching for American Truth

Over the past several years there has been a number of American history books that have taken up the task of providing the reading public with a grand narrative of who and what we are as Americans.

Mysticism contained: af Klint’s Paintings for the Future

Mysticism contained: af Klint’s Paintings for the Future

The af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim is a sublime encounter, simultaneously entirely familiar yet alien and unexpected. Born in 1862, af Klint was a painter preoccupied with mysticism. One of the first women to receive a higher education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, she painted commercially for money but pursued mysticism throughout her life. As a teenager, she “participated in spiritistic séances but gave them up due to their lack of seriousness” and in her 30’s she and four other female artists founded a spiritual group that met once a week. The group made contact with spiritual beings which culminated in af Klint channeling the messages she received in a collection of 193 paintings, the majority of which are shown in this exhibition.

Centering the Black Woman

Centering the Black Woman

A common refrain in current activism is “Listen to Black Women”. When the latest traumatic news cycle starts, a chorus of commentators and thinkers invariably chime in, trying to either explain or deny or commodify the moment we find ourselves in. A pervasive response? Listen to black women. This moment is a deep and long overdue reckoning that will take years to unfold - it has of course been building for hundreds of years and is so nuanced so as to require a continual deep engagement etc. But for guidance - what do we listen to? And how?