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You probably know what a trivia night at a bar is like. You may know something about contemporary art. But did you know that the hosts of Culture Wars coordinate their outfits? Last time it was dark waistcoats and ties. This time it was button-up, v-neck cardigans and t-shirts.
The questions are plenty obscure, as you might expect from a contemporary art trivia night. (The only one I got asked, whose presidential face graces the more esoteric prime number bill. I also half guessed a question about Marc Chagall.) The bar space at the TriBeCa 92nd street Y is huge, has a stage and all the A/V equipment a 21st century technophile could want, and it was put to good use. There were audio questions, video questions, and, of course, visual art questions. It looked to me like most of the teams (up to 5 people per) were groups of interns from various museums around town. My group was composed of a bunch of older (over 30) types. Needless to say, we lost.
The most 21st century aspect of the game was the “Twitter feature.” For those of you who follow me on Twitter, probably saw that I tweeted “#culturewars neue gallery.” That’s because “neue gallery” was my incorrect guess to the “Twitter question.” What will they think of next?!
The lights come up, and a group of girls parades into a classroom. Three march in military cadences around their acknowledged queen standing on a desk: Chelsea, whose name evokes the precincts of money and class in both New York and London. They carp in posh English accents, the kind that set my teeth on edge when they aren’t done well. (American actors usually slip into something that sounds like a poor man’s Monty Python.) But the actors keep it together admirably as Chelsea self-consciously plays the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland to her sycophantic entourage. Then a fifth actor comes on stage, taller than the rest, with a lean and hungry look, but also painfully shy. Alice in Wonderland meets Mean Girls. Queen Chelsea and her court give the new girl the standard test for rank in their disciplined hierarchy: Name?! Hazel. (Rather boring and dowdy – points off.) Family vacation spot?! France. (Also boring, but better than Brighton.) It looks bad for Hazel when she tells the court – without being prompted! – that her family went to France on a cheese tour. Definitely not cool. The hierarchy is settled and the ladies take their desks in order of rank. Hazel, being the lowest, has to take the creepy, ancient, wooden desk in the corner.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if gravity changed its direction? Like, what if left was all of a sudden down? How would the stuff in the room that’s not nailed to the floor readjust itself ever so violently into the wall? The thought is a pleasantly anxiety producing mental exercise – what would I do if the room I am in was suddenly tipped on its side? It’s good to get some perspective on life, even if does require being head over heels. Isn’t that why people go to the theater or see movies anyway?
Romantic love, the kind all the movies are about, often produces the same vertiginous feeling, as if the room you are in is about to be suddenly and without warning tipped on its side, and you and the charming person you are with might be literally thrown together in to all kinds of awkward, unexpected physical intimacies. Poets have used anthologies full of metaphors to explain this effect: love is magic, transforming a skinny, awkward duckling into a graceful swan; love is a hallucinogenic drug that can give you angelic (or demonic) visions; ultimately, love is the feeling of flying, and the attendant fear, complete with sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, and the desire to squeeze your eyes tightly shut, so you can’t see what a predicament you’re in.
Ars Gratia Artis
Are you the kind of person who got a bonus from Santa Blankfein, and wants to blow it on a family trip to see a revival of “West Side Story” from seventh row center? Do you like your theater to observe the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action? Do like it when a play is “realistic” or “believable”? I bet you watch a lot of reality TV too. Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Simple plots, syrupy sentiments, lots of slow-mo’s and major key power chords, that’s what you like, you philistine.
Now, if you prefer the nitty-gritty, avant-garde; if Zach Galifianakis and John Hodgman leave you in stiches; if you live for the excitement of theater so live you can feel the blood, sweat, and tears of the performers sprinkling your hair and getting caught in your mustache, the FRIGID festival, on till March 7th is for you. Give thanks for New York City, where you can see theater that is truly “state of the art.”