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I saw one of the waterfalls erected by Olafur Eliasson and the Public Art Fund last night. For a nicely literary review check out Roberta Smith’s article in the New York Times. Sadly, my camera was inadequate to capture the beauty of the art.

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Construction on the fountain in Washington Square Park continues. It is being moved some feet to the right to make its center align with the arch and fifth avenue. To know more about the controversy behind the “redesign” of the park check out Washington Square Park blog.

The park’s history is the struggle of American urbanization writ small. Since the time of Robert Moses, anti-urbanists have tried to break it up or privatize it. Moses succeeded in extending 5th Ave. through it, and wanted to widen LaGuardia place to make it a thoroughfare, but Jane Jacobs and Shirley Hayes blocked the plan. The street was closed and Moses, who is legendary for bulldozing over neighborhood residents’ objections, was successfully checked for the first time. Ric Burns’s New York documentary is also a great place to learn more about Moses and the anti-urbanists.

A city not only attracts all kinds — people from outside the country who have come to trade or build their fortune, people from the countryside who want the same — it encourages people to develop their persona more actively than in their home community, where the self is developed mostly through the expectations of others rather than from a desire to be seen. Or, to put it another way, in a city of millions of inhabitants, it’s easy to be invisible, and if you want to stand out you really have to work on it.

This cowboy drove his herd down from Maine. The car was parked on 43rd between Lexington and 3rd, so maybe he was rustlin’ up some shares at a stock broker’s ranch. Yippie-kai-yay, dude. Yippie-kai-yay.

Saturday, June 7th I went with Ryan Beckwith, my buddy who illustrated our joint effort The War In Heaven, to two comics conventions in Manhattan. The Big Apple ComiCon (a. k. a. the Big Apple Art, Toy, and Sci-Fi Expo) was at the Penn Plaza Pavilion on 7th Ave at 33rd St. It was, in the words of the website, ” A fun day for sure [with] throngs of comic, art, sci-fi, and toy fans, celebrities, artists.” I saw throngs. I also saw Storm Troopers, Jawas, and girls with sexy, skimpy outfits and silicone enhanced breats (both drawn and living).

Obviously guys who read comics also like girls with slim waists, big breasts, and bigger guns. It was definitely a nerd masculinity-fest. And no man-party would be complete without some aging starlets to drool over.

I am sure the relationship is reciprocal. The guys love looking at lady pillows, and the ladies get all the devoted male attention they’ve been starving for since their series was canceled (ten years ago).

(This is the obligatory Facebook photo taken at Big Apple CmC.)

Ryan and I went downtown to the Puck building to check out MoCCA-fest, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art show. The crowd downtown was decidedly different. In the first place, men with tattoos of Vargas girls were replaced by girls with tattoos of quirky Americana.

The greeters at MoCCA were sweet and deferential, quite a contrast to the Storm Troopers and Jawas who greeted us in Midtown.

Inside, the comic books expressed a different mood.

More honest? Look at it from both perspectives: either the writers/artists in Midtown are proud, meat-eating men who disdain girly books filled with poncy, indecipherable art, or the writers/artists downtown are more sensitive to the fact that being an artist means putting your energies into something other than attracting the right sort of woman. To be fair, downtown artists are interested in slutty girls too. But for them it’s just another genre.

The downtown guys also seem to have a more refined sense of irony vis-a-vis the masculine posturing that seems inherent to comics. For example:

Kidding aside, both conventions were fun and a great opportunity to meet the major players in the graphic arts world.

I went to check out Oskar Eustis’s production of Hamlet last night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The skies threatened rain all day, and finally delivered just as the play was about to start. It misted more or less heavily until I left, which was thirty minutes into the show.

I kind of feel bad for the actors. They’re the ones who have to suffer the brunt of shame when things go bad. On the other hand, a sense of self-preservation is necessary in all living things. If you can tell things aren’t going right, it’s your responsibility to take up the slack. And Shakespeare isn’t boring! If people are bored the text is not the problem — it’s the production. Hamlet is, in my opinion, the hardest role — ever — for an actor. Hamlet’s indecision has to be rendered by an actor with incredibly strong instincts for nuance and timing or it comes across as mere confusion.

The obvious and avoidable screw ups — when Hamlet forgot his lines in hist first scene, or when Polonious (played by Sam Waterson) got so off track in Act II, scene i you could hear crickets chirping — that I can blame on the weather. But some problems were in the production concept, and those problems aren’t going away even after the rain clears up.

Michael StuhlbargHamlet is definitely not a he-man or a “decider“. When Claudius tells him in the second scene that his grief for his father is “unmanly” he tells us, the audience, that Hamlet is going to have a crisis of heroism. I was no fan of Mel Gibson’s Hamlet for this very reason: Hamlet is a sensitive boy. But casting Michael Stuhlbarg as the dithering Dane made Hamlet into Alvy Singer, a neurotic bumbler who tosses out one-liners like a borscht belt comedian.

Sam Waterson played Polonius, and as I said above, the rain may have had something to do with his inability to deliver his lines. It could also have been because Richard Easton was originally cast for the part (though in the program Waterson credited as Polonius). Did they have a last minute personnel switch-up? Is this a sign that Eustis’s ship has leaks?

The biggest problem with the show was the direction, which is a little surprising considering Eustis’s reputation. All the actors from the bit-player guards to our hero decided to convey the intensity of tragedy by yelling, from the first scene where Francisco and Bernardo see the ghost to Hamlet’s first soliloquy. If there is one iron-clad rule that all directors who tackle Shakespeare must follow, it is to let the poetry do the work and restrain the actors’ desire to over act. Ironically Shakespeare dramatizes this fundamental truth in Act III, scene ii with the “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it” speech:

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus; but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and—as I may say—whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it smoothness. O! it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise: I would have such a fellow whipped for o’er-doing Termagant; it out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.”

Pray you, Mr. Eustis, tell your actors this. They start the play by shouting, and have no other means to increase the dramatic tension than by increasing the volume of their voices.

I encourage all bored transit riders, art students, hipsters with something to say, and people with Sharpies to try and do a little better than “Woman with a Goatee” at the Lorimer L station. This is not very creative. If you’re going to take the time to marker in a goatee, why not add horns? Make her walleyed. But seriously, the best interventions are the ones that use an exacto knife, like Deion and Pillar at the Clinton Washington G station.