Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul reluctantly views Father’s Day three different cultural ways in Tex and the City.
For many years after I moved to New York, I stopped even noticing Father’s Day. But thanks to generic Facebook shout outs it’s now hard to be anything but painfully aware of the “holiday,” which some of us would rather forget. That could be why everything I did this weekend I atypically viewed through the prism of parenthood—recognizing that a trio of strong characters rounded out the third weekend in June—Joan Rivers, Molly Ivins and the King of Sicily, the latter by way of Shakespeare in Central Park.
First up, the groundbreaking comedienne. With a lull in my book tour schedule, I ducked into the San Francisco Embarcadero Center to catch a late afternoon showing of the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Say what you will about Joan, but this film does a masterful job of portraying her as a nose-to-the-grindstone, take-no-bullshit workhorse. She paved the way for current female faves like Kathy Griffin, and in Joan fashion says, “Fuck you,” when they thank her for opening doors. To Joan, she’s still opening doors and will be doing so until her dying breathe. She takes every job offered, finagles her way into others that were originally scripted for men, and is constantly trying out new material. While filming NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, she heads every evening to a club in Queens to play a room of what looks like no more than 30 geriatric patients—with little complaint. Made me feel better about reading to a group of 7 in a hotel lobby.
The tender moments come in Joan’s fierce protection of daughter Melissa, and the betrayal she felt over the suicide of her husband Edgar. Like many, I thought it outrageously odd that Joan and Melissa starred as themselves in a TV movie recreating the events and emotions around that tragic event. Joan explains it as just one more way to work through it—albeit a weird, only in Hollywood therapeutic type of way, that actually brought the two closer together. This is a movie worth seeing if only to understand the ups and downs of an artist’s career. I left feeling energetic and enthusiastic about working every room and meeting every Alphabet City reader. Evidently, others left feeling exhausted. I overheard one 20-something queen at the urinals remark to his companion, “I don’t want a job where I have to work that hard. You know?”
Despite the uncontrollably distressed child behind me on the flight back from SFO (click here to laugh or cry), I zeroed in on a biography of legendary writer Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life. The witty, no-nonsense, uber-liberal columnist was a favorite of my father, the two crossing paths many times over the years. Molly’s brand of liberal politics, and her willingness to flout convention at the uptight New York Times of the ‘70s and ‘80s, no doubt helped pave the way for current iconic columnists like Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof. What’s so fascinating about the book is its in-depth look at Molly’s tortuous private life haunted by a judgmental father and early death of her young love. She turned to the bottle to help numb the pain and depression—never willing to dig too deep into her life to understand the roots of such addiction. Instead, she turned her focus outward to right injustices in the world. In that regard, she reminded me of another famous Texas liberal—my father. The book is must read for an understanding of the evolution of modern journalism, as well as how the rough and tumble word of Texas politics affects the global stage.
Finally, nothing caps off Father’s Day like a trip to Central Park to see one of the world’s worst dads—the King of Sicily in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. The Public Theater’s staging off the Bard’s classics outdoors is always a highlight of my summer with Chef. We’ve attended so much now that we even have favorites. Will the hilarious Kristin Johnson return this year? Julie White? Jesse L. Martin? Hamish Linklater? Score! The latter two are part of this year’s reparatory company appearing in both Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino. Bonus this year was the opportunity to see Jesse Tyler Ferguson (JTF) from ABC’s Modern Family. The play as written is a bit of a mess. The first three acts are set-up as a tragedy along the lines of King Lear with a jealous King of Sicily insistent that his wife is cheating on him with his friend the King of Bohemia. The queen’s imprisonment causes the death of his son, and he order the youngest child abandoned to be eaten by animals. The later acts lighten up—as does the scenic design by Marc Wendland—into a typical Shakespeare comedy with disguised identities, fools and weddings all around. Truthfully, I’m not sure how to fix the disparate parts unless the first acts are played as over-the-top foolish comedy to help balance the later froth. But director Michael Greif chooses to play it straight up tragedy followed by unabashed comedy, leaving me feeling even more disjointed.
Hamish and JTF score the plum comedic roles with timing as good on stage as they are on screen. But the true heart of the show is Marianne Jean-Baptiste in the role of Paulina, the only member of court to hold the outrageous king accountable for his actions. Her fiery presence is just what the show needs to keep it on track. Unusually, there were many open seats at the performance—making me think that audiences are clamoring to see Pacino devour the stage in Merchant. Unfortunately, because of the grueling (or expensive process) of scoring tickets, audiences won’t actually get to see the genius of actors in reparatory—the challenge of playing multiple roles in a short space of days. Instead, they have to opt for one show or the other. Reparatory may be a challenge for the actors here, but in this set-up there’s not much reward for the audience, really.
At the end of the show, pretty much all is forgiven of King and Father. I couldn’t help thinking that Joan or Molly would have gone the other way—offering no forgiveness, and no end of grief. Come to think of it, me too.