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A View from the Bridge: The Poison of Honor

5 Dec

If you are planning to see the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge, I would encourage you not to read the following as even those familiar with the play will benefit from the shocks created by the staging.

For a year in college, I had a boyfriend who was tall and thin, more angular than delicate. I brought him home for Thanksgiving that year, and he slept, without argument on the floor of my parents living room, as they required. That they would not allow us to have a conversation in my bedroom with the door even  partially closed was the subject of argument, but only between myself and my father. The boy, a Southener, was achingly well-behaved.

Two days into the trip my parents informed me that they thought he was gay (he wasn’t), because he was thin. And it wasn’t what they wanted for me; that he’d give me AIDS. And they disinvited him from our home in which he was already staying in. Ashamed and awkward, I packed our things, and we drove back to Washington, D.C. A few months later, we’d broken up, because I was having an affair with barrel-chested man much older than me. That man had a wife too, but after the matter of the too skinny college boy, if I’d told my parents, they likely only would have been reassured.

It was with that story buried in a pretty large pile of weird, difficult drama in my Sicilian-Jewish family, that last night Patty and I went to see the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge. If you’re not familiar with the play, it tells the story of Eddie Carbone as he freaks out when Catherine,  the niece he raised as a daughter (and is now inappropriately attracted to), beings to date Rodolpho, a Sicilian immigrant who “just ain’t right” (he dances, he sings, he makes dresses, and he doesn’t fight back in a manner deemed correct when Eddie kisses him).

Sound familiar? Yeah.  I thought so too.

But despite having actually seen other productions of the play before, it had never registered to me just how much I knew this story personally. Mid 20th-century drama is often staged with stifling domesticity and focuses so much on the ordinariness of men that it becomes difficult to see how these stories actually revolve around non-male presences in the narrative.

Ivo van Hove’s production eschews naturalism for acute simplicity and an almost ritualistic performance of Greek tragedy. Opening with Eddie and another dockworker showering and dressing after a shift, the play immediately forces the audience to look at and appreciate male flesh in a way that was for me — again, raised in that Sicilian household — wildly uncomfortable.

To stare at a man way a man would stare at a woman is to feminize him, and this production of A View from the Bridge brings that home as all the characters assess the show’s men constantly — who is strong, who is desirable, who looks like a man should. The audience, made complicit in this gaze, squirms (truly, a highlight of seeing the show from the seats on stage — and this is where you should see it from) is hearing the bulk of the audience gasp, and even cry out in shock at several key moments. This was as extraordinary and terrifying as anything presented by the players.

While the emotional arcs of the play can seem peculiar, — Eddie, in particular, tends to go from 0 to 60 in rage — I can only say that the volatility felt truthful to the home I was raised in. The way Catherine shrinks into herself after these outbursts, I suspect also seems disproportionate to some audience members, but the reaction read to me as less to anger and more to volatility, and I should know, as a girl who can’t bear to be startled.

Perhaps most astounding though — other than how any actor can be asked to give the performance Mark Strong gives in this show 8 times a week — is the culmination of the show’s design, in which the shower that opens the show closes it, this time, with blood raining down into the final tableau of a melee in which Eddie is stabbed by one of the cousins. It’s a holy moment, at least if you’ve spent any time around the bloodily painted saint statues of Sicily. It’s also what should be an obvious moment — the water that rains down in the opening a gun that goes off with the blood raining down in the closing — but so wrapped up are we in the demand that we look at these characters, and their bodies, we miss it.

I should note, the blood, while surely some random theatrical compound, has a stench. Much like, one supposes, the poison of honor.

 

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Let the Right One In: The Nothing That Lives Next Door

3 Feb

On Saturday night, I went to see Let the Right One In at St. Ann’s Warehouse in NYC. Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s novel and film, both by the same name, the play tells the story of a peculiar friendship between Oskar, a young boy, and Eli, who seems like a young girl who lives next door.

Odds are, you know what happens next.  The film was something of a minor sensation when it came out, and you probably recall that the girl is actually a vampire.

Except, not really.

For one thing, she’s not exactly a girl.  “I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy. I’m not anything, I’m nothing!” she says at one point.  And she might not be a vampire either.  That word is never uttered in the course of the play, and at the moment it’s about to be she insists ferociously that she’s “Not that! Never that!”

The piece is filled with unanswered questions — about Eli’s gender both now and in the past, about what she is and how she got that way, about the reasons for her flat and abrasive affect, and about her motives.  One of the most weirdly shocking moments of the piece is when she insists to Oskar she has money, and then proves it by pulling a Faberge egg out of the trunk in which she sleeps.  The egg is never addressed further and barely explained (“What’s it for?” Oskar asks.  “For having,” Eli says, both disinterested and certain). But despite its mystery, that egg feels indicative of the great wrongness that has led to the current circumstances of murder in a small town, isolation, and the desperation of friendship.

Presented in a dreamy movement-heavy manner with a filmic score, Let the Right One In is consistently seductive, but in a manner completely inconsistent with vampire mythos.  There is no desire for glamor or eternal life here.  Instead the desire engendered by the play focuses on the methodical nature life in a small town, the strength to do what it is necessary, and the silencing power of snow.

Oskar’s encounters with bullies that help drive an otherwise languid narrative towards a jarring conclusion may be difficult for some audience members to endure. A significant number of effects involve copious stage blood, and one — thanks to the addition of excellent light and sound work — is genuinely terrifying thanks to the startle factor.

The performances are uniformly brave, but Rebecca Benson‘s demanding work as Eli possesses a disturbing intricacy that gyrates between flat and fey.

Ultimately, the show is driven by silence and physical language. And while the audience engages it as an often amused collective (Both Oskar and Eli are, at times, hilarious; and we are addressed in turn as concerned citizens and frightened children by police authorities as the murders in the town are investigated), after it was over it was difficult to speak, as if over its two-and-a-half hours we had all moved from identifying with Oskar to becoming something just a little bit like Eli.

Strange, hard to describe theater, but wildly recommended.  The show was supposed to have closed this past weekend, but is now running at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 8.

Pop-culture, witches, and fame @ The Bell House, October 13, 2014

9 Oct

witches

This coming Monday, I’ll be one of the presenters at  BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES, a live podcast recording and variety show at The Bell House in Brooklyn.  I’ll be talking about American Horror Story: Coven and what is has to say about notorious women, witchcraft and fame.  (Hint: Fame is the worst).

The event has gotten some press on Gothamist and other high-traffic sites, so I do recommend getting advance tickets.  While this is not at all a book event for me, I will have a couple of copies of Starling on hand in case anyone wants to grab one after. If there’s something else from my catalog you want, please drop a comment here so I know to bring it with me.

 

BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES
MON, OCTOBER 13, 2014
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House – Brooklyn, New York
$8.00 / 21+


Tickets available online and at the door

“All Of Them Witches” is the third in a series of live variety shows by Kseniya Yarosh & Eleanor Kagan, the hosts of the Brooklyn-based film podcast, Bonnie & Maude.

Sure to boil the blood and alight the brain, join us for an exploration of witches as seen in movies, television, and pop culture. From green-skinned, be-broomstick’d villains to benevolent sources of high female power, from goddesses of nature to Satan-worshippers, to actual practitioners of Wicca…celluloid representations of witches are contradictory, to say the least. Scholars, artists, and film enthusiasts from all walks of life will toil up some trouble, and revisit favorite on-screen moments of witchcraft in Bewitched,Buffy, The Craft, Hocus Pocus, Black Sunday, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, and more.

Presenters: Tom Blunt, Lyra Hill, Eleanor Kagan, Racheline Maltese, Rosie Schaap,Tenebrous Kate, Cassie Wagler, Kseniya Yarosh

Music throughout the show will be performed by Brooklyn-based chamber pop singer AK, and the 8-piece, all-female a cappella group Femme Rhythm.

Exciting word related things

20 Jun

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

Julius Caesar: But Brutus Says He Was Ambitious

4 Nov

Friends keep telling me to see Donmar Warehouse’s all-female production of Julius Caesar set in a women’s prison.  It’s a lovely recommendation, and a funny one, since I actually saw it just a day or two after it opened. That I haven’t, until tonight, found my way to writing about it speaks perhaps to its impact on me as as much as to my schedule.

Although it felt muddled at times in terms of devices — Was this Julius Caesar set in or performed in a women’s prison?  Was the rupturing of the forth wall about placing us in the prison or having prison escape its bounds? — the heightened reality and evocation of war through petty politics and electric guitars evoked more Oz than Orange is the New Black, and the acting was uniformly stellar.

But nothing mattered so much as the performance of one of Mark Antony’s critical speeches, which continues to haunt me some four weeks later.  The role is performed by Cush Jumbo (my Whovian readers may remember her as Lois Habiba in Torchwood: Children of Earth). In it, he (the production does not change pronouns for these women) attempts to make sense of why Julius Cesar has had to die, while also grieving his friend.

But Brutus says he was ambitious is repeated throughout the speech with increasing bewilderment, contempt, and even bitter acceptance by Mark Antony.  It’s always been a powerful moment, but in this production, it carried even more force — justifying both the all-female cast and dwarfing the other elements of the production both stylistic and narrative.

Nothing in the play felt like it mattered more than that speech as I watched it, and four weeks later, I remain in the same place — clutching at the indictment of Antony’s words, at a woman pronouncing ambition (and gossip) the reason for the death of another woman. A group of women decided Caesar was ambitious and whispered about it, curse and sentence.

The nature of the ambition, the form of its execution, was ultimately rendered irrelevant, because of how the moment forced the audience to confront its own beliefs not just about ambition in general, but about competition and ambition amongst women.  It is not comfortable and requires an eye towards misogyny both internalized and external.

Since seeing the production, but Brutus says he was ambitious has become something of an internal catch phrase for me, a reminder of the spaces between ambition as generalized virtue, gendered sin, and useful tool for specific achievement amid the also often gendered consequences of desire.

Having been reminded of these spaces, however, I am left with no answer, not for Caesar, not for the Donmar’s production which reaches far and stumbles often (mostly around the characters that were also female in the original text), and not for myself.  But I do keep wondering if there was some way Caesar could have wanted the world — a world, any world, no matter how small — politely, and if that would have made any difference.

Julius Caesar runs through November 9 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY.  Catch it if you can.

Kinkstarter II: The 7 Deadly Virtues

10 Mar

It’s baaaaImageaack!

Please join us for an evening of cabaret as Dogboy & Justine alumni and friends once again bring Broadway to its knees by putting a naughty, kinky twist on musical theater classics with Kinkstarter II: The 7 Deadly Virtues.

The event will be at the historic Stonewall Inn on Monday, March 18, 2013 at 9pm. The Stonewall Inn is located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City.

There’s no cover and a two drink minimum for this event as we pass the hat in support of Dogboy & Justine‘s ongoing development.

Last time we did this it involved a BDSM striptease version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and the mouse was a dude.  Do you really need more incentive?

8: Realer than real

6 Mar

I’ve been watching the big star-studded benefit performance of 8 in bits and pieces since it was performed and broadcast on the Internet. I’ve been fighting not just against time zones and travel but a series of remarkably spotty Internet connections to do so.

Obviously, the piece is interesting to me for what it is as its core – mostly actual text from the Prop 8 hearings. While the transcripts are accessible to the public, video of the proceedings has not been and really, who reads transcripts like this anyway? Sure, we all know someone who does, but the fact is most of us just don’t.

What’s really interesting to me about 8 – other than that it exists and that the cast of this particular performance involved enough A-listers (among others) to command some serious attention, is the way it straddles the line between fact and fiction, and the way it reminds us, constantly, about both. 8 is relentlessly knowing about its content and the context of the stars who have performed in it.

I also know that it being a staged reading can throw people. Why don’t the actors know their lines better? and Ugh, I can hear them turning pages. I’m by and large no fan of staged readings myself. They’re a useful vehicle for some material and often enjoyable, even if I personally prefer a more immersive experience when I got to the theater.

However, in the case of 8, I love that it’s a staged reading, because it reminds us, at every moment, that these are the words of real people, not characters, that we are hearing, and that the documents exist for us to find life and truth in. It also means that every moment on stage reminds us that this is what we were not allowed to see.

8‘s casting is also fascinating and chilling. I’m only talking about the recent benefit performance in Los Angeles right now, but watching Jane Lynch (who is openly gay) portray, with a truly ferocious anger that’s as frightened as it is frightening, a leader in the anti-equality movement is just about one of the most wrenching and exhausting things I’ve ever seen.

And while it’s humorous in its way, Lynch in such a role is also a sneaky nod to the suspicion that many of us have that at least some vehemently anti-gay individuals may be struggling with their own experience of same-sex attraction and taking it out on the rest of us.

So 8 is a weird animal. It’s largely a preaching to the choir show that tells us nothing we didn’t already know, at least in the abstract. Were there any surprises in Chris Colfer’s performance as Ryan Kendall, a witness in the case who was enrolled in reparative therapy by his family? No. But did I feel shocked and unable to breathe during those two and a half minutes he was on stage anyway? Yes.

On some level, 8 may be a more effective tool than the video of the actual proceedings we’ll never get. Because 8 is not just an act of information, but of protest, and it makes the courtroom environment as vibrant and dramatic as most people expect from TV but quickly learn it rarely is in non-fiction life after an experience or two of jury duty.

8 will go on to have performances with celebrity casts in other cities in all probability, as well as be performed in smaller cities and towns and colleges as an act of information, protest and fundraising, much as The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues have been and continue to be. There is also talk of it being turned into a film.

What I’m curious about is what 8 can do beyond preaching to the choir (and raising money). Do you know anyone who has watched it and gone from silent support of equality to activism or contribution? And more than that, have you seen it change anyone’s minds? I’m really curious to know people’s personal experiences with it.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen the Los Angeles performance yet, it is currently available online for the next few days only. I’d urge you to check it out, even if you are already deeply familiar with this case and its issues.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: Ambition and the desire to disappear

23 Jan

Since I had a friend in town this weekend (and that was sort of chaotic, since he wasn’t staying with me and I got sucked into bad work stuff and the amount of time we got to hang out outside of shows we went to see was super minimal), I wound up seeing How to Succeed… again. Yes, that’s an excuse. I would have done it anyway. But that’s also not the point.

The point is that since the show remains slight and still drags in the middle and all the other things I tend to think are wrong with it structurally, I had to stretch a little to find something to hold my attention for the two and a half hours in question (Darren Criss: cute, but not that cute).

On the surface How to Succeed… is a show about ambition: Finch wants to climb the corporate ladder; Rosemary wants to escape the life of a secretary and marry a rich executive; Heddy wants to be a star at whatever she does. Even Bud Frump wants to be important, and the head of the mail room is proud of his promotion to shipping.

There’s just one problem. How to Succeed… might actually be a show about people who want to disappear: If Finch has a self, not only does the audience arguably never see it, but Finch probably hasn’t seen it in a long, long time either; Rosemary fantasizes about having the perfect man who will look right through her as she wears the “wifely uniform”; Heddy drinks and plays the bimbo with little goal-oriented intent, while Bud Frump’s ambition doesn’t involve distinguishing himself in the slightest; meanwhile, the head of the mail room’s entire strategy for success is never being noticed. Through a certain lens, what all these people are striving for seems to be an absence.

Of course, all of this is creepiest with Finch, who generally gets played as innocent and lucky, or charmingly (and mostly, but not entirely, non-maliciously) conniving. But if I really start thinking about Finch, I frankly start getting entirely creeped out.

I noticed it a little bit the first time I saw the show, in that I just couldn’t get a handle on what was going on with Finch’s sexuality. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in Rosemary, only realizing he’s in love with her to avoid another woman’s advances. Then he installs her as his secretary so that they can’t have a personal relationship until they marry, when, based on the songs Rosemary sings, they stop interacting again except for the occasional entertaining the neighbors and enough obligatory sex to produce a child. But all of that nonsense is in keeping with the public face of the period, especially in satire, and I sort of blew it off as another oddity of an odd show.

But then I saw it again. And Criss’s performance was a lot weirder and a little darker.

So I started asking myself, who is Finch when he’s at home? What does he do? Does he have hobbies? Friends? Does he ever pop into the local bar? What does he fantasize about? Is he crazily breaking into libraries to research the Old Ivy fight song in the middle of the night? Or is he sitting on his couch, staring at a blank wall and being empty until it’s time to go into work and find the next executive to push off a metaphorical cliff?

Between that thought process (and I do think Finch sits in his miserable little apartment and stares blankly at a wall practicing his self-erasure) and a performance that seemed to deliver a Finch who is terrified of female sexuality and only marginally more comfortable with male sexuality yet seemingly equally uninterested in it, I was suddenly a lot more engaged with this odder than I had previously realized show.

By the time Finch sang, “I Believe in You,” the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up, because whenever I tried to picture what Finch was seeing in that mirror, the only thing I was sure of was that it wasn’t his own face. I wondered if the moment was for him any different than the moment when the show starts and he’s peering in at the world he wants to conquer through window glass. Whoever and wherever Finch is, there doesn’t seem to be any there, there. Ever. And the creepiest part is that he seems to be aware of this only about half the time.

How to Succeed… remains an uneven show burdened with workplace culture history that’s too recent for us to really distance ourselves from no matter who is in it. But I don’t regret braving it more than once now, if only because my restless brain was apparently impelled to turn it into a horror narrative.

Certainly, I’ll now be chewing over the idea that ambition is an act of wishing to disappear rather than wishing to be seen for a long time to come.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: Slight show, chewy meta

4 Jan

Growing up, one of my best friends was David Merrick’s daughter. If you don’t know your Broadway history, you don’t know that he was known as “the meanest man in show business.” But because I knew her, I saw 42nd Street as a child early and often was there the night that Gower Champion’s death was announced.

Which is to say, I have been to a lot of Broadway and have seen the spectacle of it for a long time from some pretty odd angles.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is, aside from a weird show, a slight show. It, like the world it is about, gets by on design and surface. The Rosemary plot isn’t awful, so much as dropped; and Finch’s final fate is unclear. The songs aren’t anything that randomly pop into anyone’s head six months, six weeks, or really even six days after they’ve seen it.

Finch is also the perfect role for stunt casting, because he’s supposed to be less than those around him. Or at least just middling. Which means Darren Criss had a lot of wiggle room for mediocrity in his performance last night and then rose entertainingly above that rather low bar.

Certainly, his comedic timing was flawless and his ridiculous facial expressions are far more suited to the stage than our televisions. His dancing was good, for what Finch has to do, and while his voice is pretty (and was thankfully not pitchy) it had little power behind it, which would matter less if the women in How to Succeed… weren’t exceptional (they are, see it for them). As it was, however, the thinness of his voice showed. At times badly (although he sounded a lot stronger in the second act). And if Criss weren’t such a joy to watch, it would have been a lot worse.

But back to my childhood. I have seen a lot of Broadway madness. I started going when people still wore tuxes (or at least suits and ties) to the theater and when standing ovations meant something other than “I want to see your beautiful face.” I saw Richard Harris on stage. Jerry Orbach. Peter O’Toole. I was there the night Gower Champion died. And for an extremely likeable, high energy, but somewhat middling performance that was more about promise than fact, I have never see the type of madness I saw last night.

And I don’t mean the fans and the posters and the swooning (and there were fans and posters and swooning and a massive crowd at the stage door on the coldest night of the season). I mean the whole audience holding its breath and rooting for this guy and his character. It was an Event. Some random three week run by some random teen idol is not an Event. And I say this as a fan, a big one (come on, you read this blog, how any times have I seen Criss gig in the last year? Please don’t answer that). But there it was.

But How to Succeed… is also hilarious as meta. Hilarious as something that was both the creation of fandom but also the creation of marketing (regarding, I must reiterate, a show about marketing and self-invention), in a way most of the audience either seemed to miss, made the choice to miss, or was at least magnamimous enough not to mention.

My dad was an ad man in New York City from the 50s – 90s. He was the son of shoemaker with little formal education and he joined the Army to get the GI Bill to pay for Cartoonists & Illustrators College; That’s right, my dad joined the army so he could draw comic books.

One of my most vivid memories of my 70s childhood was the office gossip I would hear him speaking about with my mother: tales of account executives who weren’t good at anything other than drinking and being fresh with the secretaries and stealing ideas and wearing really loud sports jackets — always plaid or houndstooth, he’d say.

And so there was a moment, somewhere in How to Succeed…, when I was being charmed and boggled by Criss as Finch where I thought, “Screw you and your charming face. And screw me for rooting for Rosemary and her desperate desire to be ignored by just the right man.”

Stunt casting How to Succeed… is really the perfect response or use of fandom ever, isn’t it? All those heteronormative tropes — tropes that I think all of us in fandom recognize from so many fanfics, except this time with girls — that even as they were skewered I wished I weren’t old enough to feel quite so keenly.

But more than that, Rosemary’s story is perhaps oddly and theoretically justifying for the fannish audience. Rosemary may get the boy in the end, but her happy ending aside, she is the collective us, clamoring for just one little moment so that she can say to the boy she thinks is adorable, “It’s not enough” instead “it’s not anything.”

In the end, How to Succeed… is a sort of weirdly perfect Broadway night, full of imperfection, story and longing. How little of that has to do with what’s explicitly on stage, however, is what makes it rise to a level of rather peculiar brilliance. It’s a surprisingly thinky joy, and if you want to see Criss in it, you best get tickets soon. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see it until the next Finch, Nick Jonas, takes the stage, something which will undoubtedly be suitably surreal in its own right.

The incredibly weird world of Kitty Perry and her dancing gingerbread men

16 Oct

It’s nearly impossible to write a review of a Katy Perry show and not somehow call it, or her, a teenage dream. But even if the struggle to avoid that is awkward (as it surely is here), it has to be noted, because it speaks to the marketing genius that is the Katy Perry phenomenon: you can’t talk about what she’s selling without helping her sell what she’s talking about.

For me, who knew about four of her songs definitively going into this (“Teenage Dream,” “Firework” and “Last Friday Night,” which were each brought into my life by Glee; and “I Kissed a Girl” who was brought in my life by virtue of being queer and appalled), I really had no idea what to expect. But I had 20 hours in London, and the trip really needed to be about something other than curry and grocery shopping.

So, at the last minute (like, sitting in the Zurich airport last minute), I bought a ticket to the Katy Perry show. Assuming my plane landed on time, I could get to my hotel, shower, change, go to Picadilly to pick the ticket up, and head out to the 02. Half of my Twitter friends said it would be no problem, and half of them cackled at the thought of me trying to dodge crowds in central London on a Saturday in those weird hours no one knows whether to call afternoon or evening.

It was, shall we say, an ordeal. And if I never have to set foot in the Trocadero again, it will be too soon. The Seatwave people were very nice though, and dear lord, for the cheapest seat I could get at the last minute, it was perfect: dead center, lower tier (the 107 block for those who know the 02), just slightly higher than the stage. I saw David Bowie on the Glass Spider tour at Madison Square Garden with seats like that with my mom when I was in high school, and sure, everything was really far away, but for scale and the sense of how bizarre it must be to perform for an arena, it couldn’t be beat. This was exactly the same.

So, here’s my teenage dream: as a teenager, I was really obsessed with London. Anglophilia, boring, I know. But most of the music I listened to was British, and I bought expensive magazines about British music and dreamed of the all-night night life there without parents to sneak away from. When I got older, it wasn’t that important anymore, but it still twinged in my heart a little when friends would come back from trips and talk about all sorts of not entirely appropriate things they did stay awake at dance parties lasting not until 4am or 6am, but 9am or noon.

Even in a mess of trips to London in the last year or so (five now) and with the Anglophilia still going embarrassingly strong (even if it’s more Doctor Who than the club scene now), I’ve still never been dancing there. To be frank, I’m probably just a little (okay, a lot) intimidated.

But one of Perry’s opening acts on this tour is a DJ, and watching the huge floor crowd move together, arms in the air, I knew that whether it was travel exhaustion, missing Patty, or just memories of the girl I wanted to be when I was fourteen (I wrote to a boy from the pen pal section of one of those music magazines, because we liked all the same bands; he was 18 and in the military, and when the letter came from whatever British base he was stationed at, I got in a world of trouble because he didn’t care about music, my parents said, and I wasn’t allowed to have British music magazines after that), this show was somehow going to hit all my emotional buttons.

After an introductory video narrative that was seven parts fairy tale, two parts Alice in Wonderland and 1 part Sweeney Todd that later wound loosely through the entire show, Perry opened with “Teenage Dream.” To say I wasn’t ready for the glitter-drenched dancers who weren’t doing much more than the Warblers’ step-touching (don’t worry, they redeemed themselves later) and parading around a Candyland set as Katy fell down the rabbit hole crawled through her flat’s cat-door in search of her missing Kitty (we’ll get back to Kitty, so hold that thought), would be vastly understating the case. I laughed my head off. It was delightful. And weird.

And I kept laughing, even if it was sometimes deeply awkward. “Peacock” was already a dirty song, but Perry in a remote controlled tail that could pop up and down and her and a bunch of dancers really, really, bobbing their heads over their microphones in a move that did, remarkably, read quite clearly as fellatio all the way to the back of the arena, made it a really dirty song, and I was sitting next to a nine-year-old and her really bored dad. The kid kept sneaking glances at me, wondering, I guess, either why I was there alone, or if I knew what the song was about. Oh yes, honey, I so do.

But really, when “Peacock” isn’t the most absurd moment of the night, you’re onto something. At various points the stage show also involved assaultive mimes; a slot machine named Slot (“Slot not Slut!”); girls spinning on circus contraptions in a manner that was oddly evocative of a Victoria’s Secret ad; giant slabs of cartoon meat; and the return of Kitty (after Kitty was found, then blended with Katy into Kitty Perry, then unblended with Katy and rescued) as a dancer in a full fur suit.

With all that weirdness (and with Perry floating over the crowd on a tiny, tiny cloud named Cloudy at one point), it would be easy to actually avoid talking about the particular sexuality Perry was selling, but when “I Kissed a Girl” was a sultry and angry followup to her inviting a shirtless boy on stage, critiquing his figure, distracting him so she could plant a kiss on his cheek without him going for her lips and then shoving him off-stage, I got interested fast.

Because sure, sex is just as much a product as Katy Perry herselves (that’s Perry the character in the performance narrative as well as Perry the public persona of the performer in question). But the degree to which the sexuality wasn’t unintelligent, excessively coy (oh, it was coy, all right, but with a delighted eye-roll from her) or about her being at anyone’s mercy was startling.

I won’t say it was empowering, because when it comes to the lives of women and talking about how we feel about sex, the phrase is so overplayed I’m no longer sure what it means. But I will say I found it hot, because it seemed like it was happening entirely for her own amusement and that our amusement was merely a secondary good. I think it was how I was supposed to feel about Madonna in the 80s but didn’t; and despite all the glitter and fluffy short skirts, on Saturday night all I could think was (is this blasphemy?) Annie Lennox.

Audience participation wasn’t limited to the boys, either. At another point in the show, a hoard of people were dragged up on stage. They ranged in age from young, young girls (like aged six), to a mixed-gender group of folks in their teens and 20s. It was hard to feel like my heart wasn’t bursting for them, because it doesn’t mean anything, but they’ll ride that high, and that story, for a long time. What a way to get chosen.

When they were chased off the stage at the end of the song, Perry held one girl behind and asked if she had a camera. The girl, it turned out, didn’t speak English, but with pantomime they figured it out, and Perry snapped a picture of them together (so it really happened!). Then, as it was time for her to go, her purse up-ended! So there Perry was, down on the floor with this girl in front of 15,000 people, laughing and helping her pick up her money.

It turns out, of course, that I knew more Perry songs than I realized, including “Hot and Cold,” which I’ve always really liked, and “California Gurls,” which closed the show as Perry sprayed the crowd with an incredibly phallic looking candy-cane striped water-gun as a kick-line of gingerbread men danced behind her (she’d found her true love, Baker’s Boy, you see) and beach balls bounced around the audience.

But the show’s emotional highlight, perhaps predictably, was “Firework,” which, truthfully, is one of those songs I don’t want to love, but apparently excites my brain’s pattern recognition systems in a way that means I can’t resist it. Of course, I had a nine-year-old on one side of me and some teen girls in hijab on the other and a group of gay men in their 40s in front of me and we were all singing along, as loud as we could, staring straight ahead, lost in what seemed very private, if perhaps, non-specific moments. Yes, there were tears, and no, they did not belong to the nine-year-old.

So was I a Katy Perry fan walking into this? No, I was bored and felt like doing something ridiculous. And I’m not sure I walked out one either; I don’t enjoy her ballads, and I thought the narrative that strung the show together (and allowed for her constant awesome costume changes) was too incoherent.

Certainly, “I Kissed a Girl” still annoys me, even if the tonality of it at Saturday’s performance nearly changed my feelings about it and involved some lesbian tango action. In fact, as a side note, I can’t stop being interested in what happens to Perry’s songs when they are performed as if they are something other than vapid pop; Darren Criss’s weird, melancholy live version of “Teenage Dream” certainly hasn’t stopped fascinating me, and I think there’s a certain richness that could probably be added to a lot of Perry’s songs (and, okay, really any random pop if we’re being fair) with some deftly applied emotion and tempo changes.

But, one thing I am sure of, is that I am now a huge fan of the Katy Perry experience, from the large number of fans cosplaying as her in both the “to find your true love wear the blue wig” and the “Last Friday Night” 80s teen with head-gear versions, to the intensely diverse audience that I can’t blame just on London.

All of it put me in mind, more than once, of Absolute Beginners, which is a very weird 80s movie musical about racial strife and the construction of the teenager as a marketing demographic in late 50s London. It features David Bowie as an evil ad executive tap-dancing on a giant typewriter. It’s both amazing and awful, but more than that, is just weird (and, like Perry’s show, it’s the weird that makes it work).

Anyway, Katy Perry — I’d go again in a second. And if her music even faintly amuses you, you might want to too.