February 28, 2006

One Man's Perversity Is...

Well, you be the judge. In an article about upcoming New York theater offerings entitled, "Sweet Are the Uses of Perversity," Ben Brantley writes:
As it happens, the great Teutonic ancestor of the comedy of the perverse is on hand for inspection this season as well. That's "The Threepenny Opera," Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's mordant 1928 reworking of John Gay's 18th-century "Beggar's Opera." Brecht's signature alienation effect was never writ as briskly or bouncily as it is in this capitalism-bashing study of thugs, whores and mercenary parents in Victorian London.

Bourgeois morality, and what have come to be called family values, are reflected and splintered in the cracked mirror of an underclass that eats its own for breakfast. Last revived on Broadway in 1989 (in a much-reviled production starring the rock star Sting), "The Threepenny Opera" is being reincarnated again, in a new translation by Wallace Shawn opening on April 20 at Studio 54, with a creative team that specializes in fashionable shock effects.

The director is Scott Elliott, a specialist in comedies of bad manners ("Hurlyburly," "Abigail's Party") and a man who believes that nothing suits the stage like an unexpected flash of full-frontal nudity (which he managed to inject even into Broadway revivals of "The Women" and "Present Laughter"). Alan Cumming, who won a Tony for playing that ultimate ringmaster of decadence, the M.C. in "Cabaret," shows up here as the polygamous archbrigand Macheath (a k a Mack the Knife).

He is sandwiched between two charmingly contrarian pop stars — Cyndi Lauper (the anti-Madonna of the mid-80's) as Jenny, the piratical prostitute, and Nellie McKay (the anti-Norah Jones of the mid-00's) as the demi-virginal Polly Peachum. The role of Polly's romantic rival, Lucy Brown — famously portrayed by Bea Arthur in the fabled Off Broadway revival half a century ago — is in this version played by a man, Brian Charles Rooney. Anything goes in the name of alienation.
On my beloved Opera-L list, there has been much discussion about Cyndi Lauper playing Jenny. I suppose I could go all elitist on you: "Lenya, Lemper, Lauper. Did they just pick someone whose last name starts with L, no matter how revoltingly wrong she is?? Does Lauper understand the complexities of tonality in Weill, and can she possibly execute the composer's intricate and subtle demands of his interpreters? The sublime Teresa Stratas now appears to be retired from opera, so why not get her, for God's sake? She's recorded two incomparable Weill albums. And Stratas knew Lenya, who personally designated Stratas to record some previously unknown Weill works -- and Stratas promised Lenya when Lenya was dying, to 'carry on the torch for Kurt Weill's music.' Stratas, yes! Lauper, no!"

Stratas would be absolutely brilliant in the part, although she's too old to do it on stage. (But with the magic of the theater, and since Stratas is a superlative actress...) But then, Lauper might be brilliant too, for all I know. So no elitism from me on this one. And I suppose I could be catty about a man playing a role once taken by...ahem, Bea Arthur...but I'll be polite, and just let that one go by. See, I can too be well-mannered. Now and then. In any case, if I were in New York, I'd go to this production in a heart beat.

I have no segue for the following (unless you think I'm being perverse, in which case send me an email -- I read all emails with "perverse" in the subject line with tremendous care and attention) -- but my great thanks to those who have made donations in response to this entry the other day. It's still not clear where my landlords and I end up on this dispute, but I'm not too hopeful, damn it. But the kindness of readers has brought me within a couple of hundred dollars of what I will probably need. So if you have a couple of spare bucks hanging around, I would be enormously grateful. I've reposted below a couple of essays that are directly relevant to my ongoing foreign policy discussion, and I'm working on a number of new pieces, including the conclusion of the Iran series. So there will be quite a lot of additional reading throughout the rest of this week. I shall endeavor to do my perverse best.

My deep thanks once more to all of you who are so wonderfully generous. And remember: one person's perversity is another's normalcy. More profound thoughts later.

P.S. And do yourself a wonderful favor, and get the "Stratas Sings Weill" album. All of it is superb, and if her performance of "Lonely House" from Street Scene doesn't reduce you to a quivering mass of radiant ectoplasm...well, don't tell me about it. You obviously have no soul. Not that I have passionate and deeply-held feelings on this subject...