New York Cool: In this Issue
submit listings
New York Cool:


What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy


New York City - Theatre

Karen Finley as Jackie

Karen Finley’s
The Jackie Look
Saturdays at 7:30pm
Now thru April 24
Laurie Beechman Theater

Reviewed by Justin D. Quackenbush

It's an utterly miserable Saturday the evening I attend The Jackie Look, Karen Finley’s newest offering at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Outside is a drenching squall, the kind that impedes the MTA from any kind of function. The gales are gusting, the gutters are gushing and the audience trickles in. This affords me much time to sit back and survey the room and I find myself questioning this little gem of an Off-Broadway theatre as a venue for Finley’s work. The space almost feels too pretty and refined to house the queen of performance art and there are certain patrons who seem as out of place at the cabaret tables. Near me there is a pair of young men dressed identically in Kelly green corduroys, Necco-Wafer-toned argyle sweater vests and orange bandanas tied as ascots. It’s extreme, but it’s a style.

Then it occurs to me. I’m about to watch a piece on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who is just that: an iconic symbol of style and refinement. So maybe, I decide, Finley and her posse do belong here. As I sit and absorb the ambiance, I become aware of something else. I am likely the youngest person in attendance and I am suddenly nervous that I may be at a severe disadvantage for understanding this piece. I know little of the queen of performance art (other than that she is one of the NEA Four and that her material usually leaves her dripping in gallons of honey or melted chocolate) or for that matter Jackie O, other than what I’ve learned in history books. I’m nervous that I may not relate to the artist or her subject, as I have little to no personal connection to their obvious cultural contributions.

I’m happy to report that Ms. Finley leaps gracefully over both of these hurdles and manages to entertain, educate and unnerve the room in a way that few can. The piece begins with a digital slide show of Jackie through the years, as Bouvier, Kennedy and Onassis and the stills are slyly juxtaposed with an underscore of Fergie’s “Glamerous” and Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me.” Upon her entrance, Finley –looking stunning and timeless in white pants, the trademark 3/4 sleeved blazer and Gucci shades- interposes herself between Jackie’s life in photos and her life on the stage. With a light and breathy voice, she announces that she’d like to give a talk on “The gazing or looking-at of Trauma.”

Before launching into this lecture, Finley’s Jackie gives us a preliminary glimpse into what she means by that. The home page for The Texas School Book Depository, which is now a museum, is projected on the screen behind her. She takes us on a tour of the site showing us the Abraham Zapruder film, photographs of the gun Oswald allegedly shot JFK with and many more. Via Jackie’s genteel scrutiny, Finley impressively compares and contrasts much of the collection with controversial works of art like Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ.” She examines the photos and pontificates on how her public pain has been turned into a museum.

We even browse the gift store and are shown the various collectibles one can buy from the museum: a “tasteful” holiday ornament -to which she remarks “if this is tasteful then I don’t want to see the ones that are not”-, a die-cast replica of the limousine they rode in on the day of the assassination and a set of silver spoons with JFK’s portrait on the handle. Of the spoons, she quips “I’m so happy that I don’t have to put my husband’s head in my mouth.” She seems at once amused and miffed with these tacky trinkets and the clear disregard they represent toward a National Tragedy. It forces one to wonder what kind of objectification we will see at the 9/11 Memorial.

It’s here, with her audience warm and her motive clearly defined that Finley finally lets us have it. She derails from the hitherto polite and organized train of thought and launches into a bold and alarming stream-of-consciousness diatribe on how photography provides organization of catastrophe and that life is more important than art but is meaningless without it. Moreover, that we benefit from photographs of traumatic events because we can see our emotional responses to a condition by contrasting our current emotional experience versus a past emotional memory time. Simply put, that images of suffering create a canvas for communal grievance.

Retiring the honey, Finley’s Jackie drips with sarcasm acknowledging her own contribution to the style of looking at trauma. She reflects on becoming a public grieving space by her demonstration of grace in public in lieu of shattering. As she reveals the tremendous damage this emotional baggage has cost her “you wonder why I hide my eyes behind dark glasses…” her voice drops into the primal and you expect a flood of tears at any moment. Finley is a master at vocal manipulation and while her guttural utterances evoke a certain emotional strain, her action remains firmly disconnected from her sound. It’s confusing and nearly a turn-off until we realize that through not showing her grief, this becomes part of her statement, as she is always on for the camera. We can hear her tears, but brilliantly, we never see them.

Instead, it’s on to the next instance of style, “And now … let’s watch … some Johnny Weir.” Or -in a particularly moving, albeit startling, bit about the media attention surrounding Caroline Kennedy’s use of the phrase “you know”- to discuss the scrutiny of powerful women. Finley makes the attempt to elucidate the phrase, as an utterance, was first used in the 1960’s. She explains that Caroline’s use is not, you know, unintelligent but rather a reaching out to or an inclusive gesture to whom she is speaking. She posits that perhaps this sole-survivor of the Kennedy lineage isn’t actually saying, “you know” at all. Rather she may be unconsciously pleading to be released from the indignities she’s dealt with her entire life: “YOU … NO.”

Beneath the mirage of Finley’s blanket theme, stews a mother load of historical commentary and feminist insight through which she plows with dizzying urgency. It is not surprising that this piece has already enjoyed two extensions, as there is something here for everyone: the clinical psychologist culture-junkie, the socially conscious Jackie disciple, the parade of devoted Finley-philes and yes, the anxious 27 year old theatre buff alike. Ms. Finley raises the bar for simple, captivating performance art and leaves one wanting more. Fortunately for us, with The Jackie Look, when it rains, it pours.

The Jackie Look runs January 30 - April 24, 2010, Saturdays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20, plus $15 food/drink minimum, available at 212-352-3101

The Laurie Beechman Theater West Bank Cafe | 5407 West 47th Street
At Ninth Avenue, accessible from the A,C,E,N,R,V,F,1,2,3 trains at 42nd Street.




Geoffrey Nauffts’s
Next Fall

Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Opens March 11
Open Run
Helen Hayes

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Next Fall arrived on Broadway this month with so many critical hosannas from those who saw it off-Broadway last year that the single thought I had going into it was that it could never live up to the hype. Lofty statements proclaiming that it is the first play to deal with the interfaith conflict in a gay relationship make it one of those “I-dare-it-to-be-that-good” events.

Much has been written (even by me) about the bold producers who flew in the face of convention to transport the entire ensemble intact to the Great White Way--and the director who has the terrific task of trying to retain the intimacy of the original when 400 more seats are involved. How could they live up to the ballyhoo?

Well, miraculously, it is and they do. Next Fall is quite simply the best American Broadway play since August: Osage County.

Let’s get one further thing clear, to label Next Fall a ‘gay play’ or ‘a play about religion, love, death, life, faith, blah-blah’ is doing the show a disservice. Yes, it’s all of those things but it is so much more. And what should sell Next Fall to audiences is that it’s a damned good play!

First time playwright Geoffrey Nauffts has fashioned a compelling narrative around a relationship between two men and in the process, asks many questions about the couple and the people in their lives. What he does not do is answer each question. There are no simple explanations. No happily tied together loose ends. This can be maddening for the sitcom-oriented viewer. It is, however, heaven, for the ravenous theatergoer.

Each character is carefully etched so that they all have real and interesting journeys beginning with the central couple. Adam (Patrick Breen) is a mess of a human being. He’s a slightly bitter, mostly pessimistic hypochondriac who also happens to be an atheist or agnostic, depending on the moment and the scene. He meets the Pollyanna-optimistic, adorable, sweet and devoutly Christian Luke (Patrick Heusinger). Luke is much younger than Adam and his view on homosexuality is that it’s a sin punishable by eternal damnation—which is why he prays for forgiveness after sex. This does not sit well with Adam but he stays with Luke. And Luke’s religious views are complicated by his intense love for Adam.

The play bounces back and forth in time telling the story of Adam and Luke (note the obvious biblical names) framed by more somber scenes happening in real time.

Along the way we meet Luke’s estranged parents as well as Adam’s best friend and a quiet and rather mysterious man who Luke used to be friends with.

Under Sheryl Kaller’s seamless and fluid direction the actors are given the freedom to explore and expound on the playwright’s script and they do so effortlessly. Maddie Corman is hilarious as Holly, the self labeled fag-hag. Connie Ray’s marvelously etched performance as the flightly Arlene is a wonder to behold. And her final moment in the play stayed with me long after the show was over.

Cotter Smith’s work is like watching a Master Class in acting. He takes a character that is impossible to like and gives him just enough dimension that you actually have sympathy for him.

The best performance in Next Fall is by Patrick Heusinger. Throughout the play I kept asking: Why does Adam stay with Luke? Besides the obvious answer that Luke is young and adorable and sexy. Heusinger provides the answer as each of his relationship scenes develop. We, the audience, fall more and more in love with him, not just because HE loves life so much but because he loves Adam so much. Heusinger allows us into Luke’s mind and heart and we are able to experience his conflict first hand.

The play left me wanting more, which is what good theatre should do. There is an amazing eleventh hour hospital scene that is cut too short by a playwright intent on keeping a balance. I longed for the rest of this scene to be played out. Then I realized, I had a rare opportunity to play it out myself in my head. Nauffts treats his audience as intelligent beings not idiots that need to be preached to. Bravo.

Tickets $81.50 - $116.50 212-239-6200 &

Helen Hayes | 240 W. 44th Street


© New York Cool 2004-2014