Penultimate Day in CA Pre-NYC: Brief Note on American Buffalo, the C Word, Rescue Me and Preview of Cabaret Cares for AIDS and Ben Vereen Tribute

After the final performance of American Buffalo at the Geffen Playhouse (in a not great photo taken by a stranger as J lives in SB, so in LA I must make do with people on the street rather than my talented photographer boyfriend).

I’m writing this on the porch of J’s condo. My Saab fob is in my friend’s SUV in LA (or by now in his house) as I left it there on Tuesday after an outstanding lunch at Maison Giraud with two LA friends.

A frequent visitor to France who commented on my Pacific Palisades Patch blog about Maison Giraud, which I opened with a prefatory note about never having been to France or any of the “Grand Tour” countries as Alexander Pope put it in Book IV of the Dunciad, thought it peculiar I would review the restaurant based on two breakfasts. But I wanted to plug it as the most romantic, comfortable and elegant dining room in the Palisades and say that while I generally avoid pastries, the new raspberry Danish is scrumptious and addictive. We didn’t take pictures but here is the Yelp update to my review of breakfast, which formed the kernel of my Pacific Palisades blog posted last week: Victorian Chick\’s Maison Giraud Yelp review.

I am so excited about my first few days in the city: a modern dance performance with my new Atlanta dancer friend’s friend, Cabaret Cares AIDS benefit at the Laurie Beechman theater, and the Ben Vereen tribute on Monday night to benefit the Laguardia arts organization.

Cabaret Cares at the Laurie Beechman Theater to benefit children in NYC living with HIV and AIDS


















I was overjoyed that the tribute to Ben Vereen coincides with my trip, as I’ve spent a little time with Ben since meeting him through Luigi Jazz Dance Centre and the Metropolitan Broadway World awards for which he was nominated (and won) for the show to promote the new album, Stepping Out (Ben Vereen \”Stepping Out\” on Amazon.  I saw the marvelous show last summer and fall, first at 54 Below and then Broad Stage in Santa Monica. (I am irked that the pictures from the Broad–pronounced “brode”–never got emailed. Mom knows people on the board or donors circle or whatever but we’ve been unable to find the cute picture of us taken by the professional photographer at the soiree after the show.)

Ben Vereen Tribute: Monday at 7:30

I enjoyed American Buffalo on Sunday, though it’s not Glengarry Glen Ross. I saw Life in the Theater on Broadway in the fall of 2010 with Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight (George O’Malley for fellow Grey’s Anatomy fanatics) and even bought a hat which of course I can’t find. That was around the time Mamet renounced his “braindead liberal” roots, much to the consternation of both his NYC and LA theater communities and fans. American Buffalo is early Mamet: 1975. I was three!

The three actors were all tremendous but Ron Eldard, whom I first saw as the ex-Coast Guard cop who pulls over Al Pacino with Chris O’Donnell in Scent of a Woman, truly stole the show. The first act was unbelievably funny: “Fuckin’ Ruthie!” Steady laughter filled the packed house on closing night, not least at the first (and to some shocking) appearance of the C word, as “cunt” isn’t a word your typical WLA liberal Geffen Playhouse subscriber uses in everyday life.

I was writing to a friend raised in NYC on my iPhone–which necessarily streamlines one’s thoughts to their essence–about my Naomi Wolf remarks in Monday’s blog: “Pussy. Needs to grow a pair.” (You can read the memoir-length blog which includes meditations on feminism, feminist criticism and my stance on these large topics here: Mother\’s Day blog with Naomi Wolf remarks.)

Later in the conversation I wrote on an unrelated topic, “She’s an unambiguous and unmitigated cunt.” He wrote back: “Pussy. Grow a pair. Cunt. Look at you with the NY talk.” But in fairness, “pussy” and “cunt” were not part of my verbal repertoire until Rescue Me, in particular the fourth and fifth episodes of Season 2: “Twats” and “Sensitivity.” Both episodes feature some of the finest writing for television I can recall in the last 10 years, though admittedly my relationship of nearly three years (this August) reduced my TV watching almost to nil, as J and I have diametrically opposed tastes in this area. (For a fuller explanation, see my blog from earlier this year: \”Reflections on the Relationships and the Relinquishment of High and Pop Culture Investments, or the Challenges of the Life of the Mind Outside the Academy).

Now (and since 2005), I use the word “pussy” regularly, but only as a synonym for wimp or coward. I never substitute “pussy” for “vagina” and there is literally no phrase in the English language so vulgar and repellent to me as “eating p****.” I can’t even bear to write it out and must abbreviate or use asterisks to diminish its force, the way an Orthodox Jew writes YHWH for Yahweh or G-d for God.

Some enlightened and feminist men eschew “cunt” in solidarity with women they know and love who object to the name. Many men have told me they think it’s okay for a woman to refer to another woman as a cunt, but that they cannot use it for the same reason a white person can’t use the N word. I think this is nonsense. There are cases of spectacular female misconduct for which bitch is woefully inadequate and only “cunt” suffices. “Bitch,” like “asshole” (one of my father’s most used words since I was a little girl) is too broad and has too many meanings, ranging from the petty and catty to the malicious and manipulative.

We don’t, as women, do our sex any favors by denying the evil some women cause. The silly line that if women ran the world, there would be no wars–presumably because women love their children so much–is about as credible as the airy fairy notions underlying memes I see on idealistic FB walls which ask,  “What if we lived in a world where money didn’t matter?” To this my response is, “What if I were a size 2 and tenured in English at Yale?” Lovely for a fantasy but never gonna happen. So it isn’t surprising that I have little patience for women too squeamish or dishonest to call a spade a spade (or a “cunt” a “cunt” as the case may be).

When malice reaches critical mass, you’re heading into “cunt” territory. A bitch can be stupid; a “cunt” has to have enough gray matter to distinguish right from wrong and to implement her evil plans successfully.  I don’t like “twat,” which strikes me as low class (or appropriate only when spoken by someone like Paulie in the Sopranos and even then it makes me cringe).  My aversion to “twat” may reveal my inherent snobbery, but I think it’s a gutter word. “Cunt,” on the other hand, is a terrific and efficient word, which in one syllable conveys the notion of female evil. Lady Macbeth, for example, is the quintessential cunt.

Fans of the Rescue Me will remember that Laura (Diane Farr) makes a mistake on a call and gets chastised by Lou, played by the inimitable John Scurti. He calls her “a stupid twat” and Lou refuses to apologize, feeling that if she wants to be one of the guys, she has to accept male speech acts though of course Lou doesn’t cast it in such lit crit terms. Laura reports Lou to HQ and the crew of 62 Truck must therefore undergo “sensitivity training.”

When the crew finds out, this is what ensues: Name calling, Rescue Me Season 2, Episode 4, \”Twats.\” The monologue is truly extraordinary:

Look, the point is: when I run into a burning building, I don’t go in with a Bible in my back pocket or God at my side. I run in with a couple pieces of steel in my hand and you guys, all of you guys.

And if we’re lucky enough to make it back here alive, part of the job is sitting down and owning up to the mistakes you made. Like the Proby today. He screwed up and he owned up. That’s the deal. 

You can’t legislate courage (emphasis mine). You can’t run down to HQ and buy yourself a big bag of balls. There’s no judge on earth that can order you to give enough of a shit that you run into a building with eight floors full of flame. It takes guts. 

You let Lou down. He called you a twat. Get over it. The real issue is the next time we’re in a fire, are you going to be where you’re supposed to be, watching someone else’s back? Twat, Quat, Bitch or Twunt.  Do your job the right way, people call you names you wanna hear.

In episode 5, they crew is abruptly transported to HQ for the sensitivity training. Here is a clip from the seminar which no one, probably including Laura, wishes to attend. The scene begins with a humorous catalog of ethnic slurs and concludes with a profound statement about the courage and humanity of firefighters, civil servants after all, who risk their lives on a daily basis to save others: Sensitivity Training: Rescue Me, Season 2, Episode 5. The money shot here is of course Tommy bitter explosion: “”Let me tell you something: the next time I run into a burning building and refuse to pull out someone who isn’t the same color as me, that’s when you can haul my angry, sober, pink Irish ass back down here.  I’m going out for a smoke. [Slams door.]”

As a side note, I love the smoking in the show. I’m not a Mad Men fan: I think the writing, acting, direction, set design and costumes are magnificent. But after an AMC marathon of an early season, I was bored to death. Never has such a brilliant show with such stunning people (and what straight woman doesn’t want to sleep with Don Draper?) compelled me so little.  But when I began to smoke at age 36, I smoked Marlboro Lights 100s because that’s what Tommy Gavin smoked and I have to say, growing up in a Hollywood world where even in the 1970s, it was not cool to smoke, I found the smoking by members of the FDNY and NYPD extremely hot.

The encapsulation of this dense episode, like many episodes in the early seasons, is the musical montage or mini-video to “Rebirth of the Cool,” by Denis Leary’s close real-life friend Greg Dulli.  Music is integral to Leary’s art, both on stage and screen and the hour which made him a star, the 1993 No Cure for Cancer, includes the hit song “Asshole.” Leary got his start in acting post-standup comedy stardom on MTV after all, thanks to his dear, late friend and director Ted Demme who then cast him in a starring role in the brilliant 1994 comedy with Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, The Ref. These highly choreographed sequences set to music selected by Alexandra Patsavas are among the most powerful minutes in the episode, where actors must rely exclusively on non-verbal communication (facial expressions and body language).

Patsavas has worked on many hit shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, which perhaps even more than Rescue Me, depends upon music to tell its stories: whereas you have one or two songs in an episode of Denis Leary’s labor of love and brainchild, a typical episode of GA–particularly in later seasons–might feature three to five songs, many by unknown artists.  Keri Noble’s “Emily,” for instance, appeared on David Letterman and she acknowledged that were it not for Grey’s Anatomy, she might still be relatively unknown.

In the album jacket to the 2006 soundtrack with songs from the first three seasons, Denis Leary notes that Ms. Patsavas and her people at the Chop Shop pour through 800 songs to find one song which distills the essence of each episode in the season (13 on F/x as on HBO). The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is of course the Rescue Me’s trademark and no single episode exemplifies this more than this montage from Season 2, episode 4: Afghan Whigs video for Season 2, episode 4 of Rescue Me (Uptown Avondale).

Talk to you all from NYC this weekend!

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