Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What Becomes a Legend Most?

What Becomes a Legend Most? A Kennedy Center Honor, That's What! 
It’s No Mystery — Tracy Clark’s “Broken Places” is a Terrific First Novel! ... The dazzling “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” of Drew Droege.  Also Miss Liza Minnelli — Kennedy Center Honoree in Waiting.
by Denis Ferrara

“I DIDN’T expect her to answer. Maise Ross had been in and out of the system her entire life.  She ate intimidation for breakfast.”

That’s private eye Cass Raines, trying to get some information, all the while knowing she is on the losing end a combative conversation.

This is from “Broken Places: A Chicago Mystery” by Tracy Clark. (Kensington Books). I am a sucker for this genre, and Ms. Clark a native of Chicago, who has written for mystery magazines and anthologies, hits it right out of Wrigley Field in this, her first novel. I loved the grit, the twisty twists (long lost father shows up — is he a suspect?) the dogged intelligent heroine, the fast snap and realistic dialogue. I read it in one night and wanted more of Cass Raines.

And apparently, there will be more.  This is the first in a series. Cass can confidently join the top ranks of other crime-solving women of fiction, right up there with Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.  “Broken Places” is available for pre-order on Amazon and other outlets. It releases Tuesday, May 29, 2018.

In the process of full disclosure, author Clark is known to me, although we have never met.  For 23 years, with patience and humor, she edited the Liz Smith column for syndication. Since Liz’s passing we are no longer syndicated.  But I always sensed that the intelligent Ms. Clark had more than editing to offer.  I was right.  She had the formidable Cass Raines waiting in the wings, between the commas, restructuring sentences and deleting what was too risqué for our readers in the middle of the country.

I look forward to more from Tracy Clark — more characters eating intimidation for breakfast!
IF YOU were to ask me what Drew Droege’s 90-minute, one-man play “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” was about, what the point was, I’d have to admit, I really don’t know. If you asked if I’d ever seen such a compelling performance by an actor, I’d have to say — rarely. 

Mr. Droege — who I have never heard of before — has devised something, now at the Soho Playhouse, that I can only describe as a one-man “Boys in the Band” with Droege embodying the best and worst of the Emory and Harold characters from that long-ago tale of conflicted gay men.  But he is the only man onstage.  At least that’s how it starts out.
Russ Rowland,
Droege plays Gerry, the guest from hell (or heaven, depending on your stamina!) at the wedding of a friend in Palm Springs.  He’s hungover, recently dumped, bitter, funny, outrageous, and has a history with two of the three other guests we encounter.  We know they on the premises because Gerry interacts with all three, at various times — this remark to a chair, that monologue to a chaise lounge, biting exchanges with somebody lurking behind him.  It’s a work of art and witchcraft, but he makes us see his friends, feel his pain — and relish his rapier insults. In the end, we embrace his exhausted vulnerability. 

The many (hilarious) cultural references seem to place Gerry about age 45, and the time is the present.  But the old-fashioned “Boys in the Band” vibe is powerful, and initially off-putting. (For one thing, Gerry is hard put to understand same-sex marriage, although there he is, in attendance. He says: “Aren’t you just a little bit scared that all of a sudden, we’re in this race to be normal, whatever that means. Is that really the goal?”)
The first twenty minutes of Droege’s performance is frenetic to the point I felt I might break out in a rash. Or he might!  But there is a slow, masterful shift in mood, as more is revealed.  I can’t say I came to like Gerry, or understood the “meaning” of “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” which is directed by Michael Urie.  Likely there is nothing to understand.  It’s just one of those liquor and emotion fueled evenings that everybody more or less forgets the next day, over brunch and mimosas. 

What I did grasp is that Drew Droege is giving one of the most fascinating and powerful performances in New York at the moment.  If it’s showcase acting you’re after, head on down to The Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street). Call 212-691-1555, for tix, until January 7th.
AS ALL readers of this column know, the fact that Doris Day has been denied an honorary Oscar has long been a thorn in our side. In mentioning her name, under any circumstance, we’re apt to add — and Doris Day has never won an Oscar!!  I just like to keep the heat on the Academy. 

Now, I feel, I have to perform due diligence in the matter of Liza Minnelli and the Kennedy Center.  A few years back I posited that wasn’t it time for the legendary actress/singer/dancer to be honored by the Kennedy Center?  Did she have something more to prove after her Oscar, several Tony Awards, a Grammy and an Emmy?  Can anyone who has ever witnessed the force of nature that is Liza onstage, deny that she deserves this recognition for her “lifetime of contributions to American culture”?   I say not. And yet, she is Kennedy-less.

The most recent recipients of Kennedy Center awards, held over the weekend were the great dancer/choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, TV titan Norman Lear, singer/songwriter/producer Lionel Ritchie. Cuba’s tiny powerhouse of music and business savvy, Gloria Estefan and rapper/actor/entrepreneur LL Cool J.  Worthies, indeed. 

Although at the youthful age of 49 — it’s youthful to me! — perhaps LL could have been wait-listed, with his slot going to, oh, I don’t know — Liza Minnelli!

I’m afraid this is going to become a cause. 
ENDQUOTE:  “Engrave this on her tombstone in your mind: ‘It is important to live a complicated life.’” 

That’s how Jonathan Van Meter ended his excellent reminisce of Liz Smith in the November 27-December 10 issue of New York magazine.  I’ve tried to avoid most of what has been written about Liz.  The New York Times obit was enough of an aggravation.  I didn’t want to spend time correcting facts or chastising because of tone.  I knew her, had my own say, let it be. 
But Van Meter’s tribute struck a pleasant nerve.  He got it. And he got it because Liz was a realist and not a grudge-holder.  When he first interviewed her for 7 Days magazine, back in 1989, he caught her in grumpy moods and over-candid. She was under pressure for being too popular, not mean enough, not willing to talk about her sex-life or “out” celebrities. (Not that she lived covertly, or hid anything; she simply refused to label herself. And the more that gay activists pushed and criticized, the more she dug her heels in. “I’m almost 70 years old!  Do they really want the details of the sex life of a 70-year-old woman?!”)  

When Van Meter’s piece appeared, she was not happy.  But when she asked me what I thought, I said, “It’s you, at your most pissy. You’re not doing your good ole gal from Texas thing. Every quote is accurate, right?” Liz gave me a look that said, “I should have known better than to ask him.”

She quickly got over it, as she tended to get over everything, because she knew the “everything” in this case — herself, her image and career — wasn’t very important, really.  And, she admired Van Meter as a writer.  That talent went a long way with Liz.  She told Jonathan that it was important “to live a complicated life.”  She did, and it served her — and many others who encountered her complications — very well indeed. 

Thank you, Mr. Van Meter.  Liz would have approved.  I’ll now go back to avoiding anything written about my friend.
ENDTHOUGHT:  I am tired of fake outrage and people being found guilty on the basis of allegations. As much as I admire HBO’s John Oliver, his prolonged hectoring of and lecturing to Dustin Hoffman about groping and “inappropriate” behavior that the actor supposedly indulged in 40 years ago, was in itself wildly inappropriate. (This happened at a Tribeca Film Festival panel the other night.)  Oliver behaved as if he was interrogating Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey or Louis C.K. One question about it, one answer, move on.  I admire Mr. Oliver considerably less today.
Ditto on Seth Myers’ self-important raging about Matt Lauer last week. If this is a preview of Seth’s Golden Globes hosting, I might skip the GG’s.

Are we supposed to be impressed because Oliver and Meyers are men — but “good” men — and so very deeply offended by the trespasses committed by “bad” men against women?  Maybe.  But in the current climate, perhaps the less said, the better.  Because the guillotine is working overtime, and The Terror seems not to be abating. Who’s next in the tumbrel?  Who can say?
Contact Denis here.