“Godot vs. the Machines” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, Goodo versus the Machines, Ed. It’s Wednesday, May 19th, 2021. On today’s show, The Mitchells versus the Machines, it’s an animated would be blockbuster. It’s about an ordinary family called upon to save the world from a robot apocalypse. It’s yet more shrewd content from the producer team behind the Lego and 21 Jump Street movies. You could find it on Netflix. And then the original portmanteau couple may be back. Social media rumor has it. We discuss the cultural resonances of benefactor, the romance between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. And I’m not even really being sarcastic like it has deeper cultural resonances. And finally, Waiting for Godot, the great play by Samuel Beckett about being stuck in place, has gotten a new production suited for a pandemic lockdown. We discuss a very Zoome Godot with Isaac Butler. I irate Isaac. I think he’s a hit flop, a high tone friend of the program. There’s just something so high toned about Isaac Butler anyway. Can I hear name Amen. Or just derisive laughter.

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S2: Now, that was

S3: a lot of Tory laughter.

S1: Oh, that was a lot. OK, I got I still don’t know the difference from you, Julia, but Julia Turner is, of course, the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times. Hey, Julia.

S3: Hello. Hello.

S1: And Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate Dotcom. Hey, Dana.

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S4: Hey, Stephen.

S1: The Mitchells versus the Machines is an animated movie. It’s from the producers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The Lego Movie is 21 Jump Street there. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, they are bidding to be, I think, maybe the sequel to Pixar by making animated blockbuster spectacles with the human heart. This one is some very cannily delivered satire tainment. What if an amusingly dysfunctional Goober family had to save the world from A.I. run amok? The Mitchells are their kind of slobs, as the movie depicts them, as they tend to get everything a little wrong as a family. This makes them, of course, relatable. The dad is a goofus who can’t use a computer. Mom is a hyper competent sweetie nerd that turns into a mama bear if her kids are endangered. The older sister is a weirdo misfit, the younger brother a charming innocent and their dog is cute. But are they up to saving humanity at Caltech? Bro, it seems, has unleashed a robot apocalypse headed up by a kind of a Siri figure in the movie. It’s called Powell and voiced by the wonderful Olivia Colman. Paul’s plan is to encase every member of our species in a little luminescent cell, then upload it to a giant glowing honeycomb and then launch us en masse into deep space. Can this one Dufy family evade the Panopticon and save all of us? It’s voiced by Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, among many, many others. Let’s listen to a clip.

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S2: Catch you. OK, remember our survival training. Yankee, Alpha Foxtrot, Bravo, Tango Alpha, Alpha. Aaron, your code name is Sweet Boy. Mine is Protect Your Pride. Your mother is the Crimson Scorpion. You’re walking away.

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S5: One of these robots, greetings, humans,

S2: there appears to be 14 of you. Does it seem good that they’re counting us? Right. We have food and entertainment for you to enjoy in our human fun Funspot, who here likes fun. I like fun, trust me, but you do not like fun. No, I really do like it. Everyone says that about me. You do, man. Yeah. Wow. I wish I could be in there.

S1: Oh, dear. I guess that making us laugh already. Dana, the challenge of such a movie is sort of the same one facing the Mitchells in the movie to rescue a recognizably human story from computer animation and a 100 million dollar budget. Did they did they do it?

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S4: Steve, before I answer, I have to throw out one important title that you missed in your rundown of the Lord and Miller versus the producers of this movie who have produced so many other great animated movies. You mentioned The Lego Movie, but not Spider-Man into the spider books, which we discussed on this show and which, when it came out a couple of years ago, really kind of blew the minds of both animation heads and superhero heads. We, as we talked about on the show, I don’t think that I was quite as crazy about that movie as you guys were. But I think that more has to do with my own burnout on, you know, any sort of iteration of superheroes. And even I could not deny that the animation and the movement and the sort of dynamic spectacle of the spider verse was was really, really unusual. And so I think that’s a good reference for this movie, not because this movie quite reaches that level of ambition, but it has that same dynamic energy. And so just to sort of describe what you’re seeing, as you heard that that audio clip we just played, this movie is full of, this is going to sound so cacophonous and awful, but it’s actually extremely pleasurable. But this movie is full of emojis, sort of animations of upon animations, projections of characters, imaginations onto what you’re seeing. So there’s these kind of all these layers of color and movement and kind of explosion constantly in this movie, which to some degree I feel like with small children might make it hard to follow, but does not have the expected effect of sort of making your brain turn off Transformers style. And I think that’s just because the script is really strong, the voice work is strong and there are good characters all the way through. So the story remains clear. And the heart of the story is this family. Even when you can’t quite track exactly who is putting who into honeycomb rockets to be launched into space, I really, really love this movie. I’m not sure that it’s the greatest little kid movie because it is a little hard to follow and sensorially overwhelming, especially maybe in a movie theater. But I think once you got your kid got to be about eight, nine, maybe a little younger. If they were a very tech savvy and and superhero friendly kid, this would be great family viewing. And I’m excited that these guys are starting to have their own little fiefdom in the animation world because I love their spirit. This isn’t quite The Lego Movie, but that is one of my favorite animated movies of the century so far. So. So that would be saying a lot.

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S3: Yeah. I mean, I have to say, I adored spiders. I felt like I felt like I was watching the future and watching a technological innovation in filmmaking. And I’m like not even a person really with opinions about animation, believe it or not, but despite my having opinions about everything. But, you know, it felt almost like when we were trying virtual reality, somehow it just felt like such a fresh and exciting visual style. And the level of the writing and the humor is so consistently, um, I don’t know, smart, not treacly, you know, satisfying, witty, but has a has more heart than the. Kind of rimshot sarcasm of The Avengers, the early the early Marvel Universe. I just love it. And then I also think it’s really fascinating that they’re different animated projects have such different visual styles. You know, they’re their writers and producers, but somehow they partner with different directors or the director here in Mitchell versus the Machine, the Mitchells versus the Machines is a first time feature director. Mike Rinder, the visual surprise of. These Lord and Miller movies, combined with the satisfying craftsmanship of their screenwriting, is just really delightful and I long listeners of this program will know that my children, who are eight year old boys like don’t like watching movies. One of them just finds the stakes too high and too emotionally wrenching. And the other one is starting to get into movies. But only old monster movies like he just wants to watch like Godzilla movies in Japanese, which is especially not compatible for the other one who finds the stakes too high. So anyway, I learned on Saturday morning I sat down and I was like, guys were doing family movie. Tonight it’s mandatory. I got to watch this show. We’re going to have family time.

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S2: And one of them burst into tears like you owe me.

S3: No, I was like, oh, my God. Oh, we raised children this far.

S2: OK, well, watch movies with us. This is terrible.

S3: But we did in fact force them to watch the movie and they both loved it and delighted in it. So I think you’re your age appropriate gauge was correct there and they just were tickled like cracking up, laughing and a lot of the different visual jokes and found, you know, there’s a scary plot, but it’s not rendered in particularly scary fashion. I don’t know. I just strongly recommend for this film.

S1: Yeah, it’s terrific. I agree. I mean, I recommend it. Here’s my life situation vis a vis this movie. I recommended Family Movie Night and instead ended up watching Waiting for Godot alone with a laptop, you know, just everyone repaired to their corner and their own screen. And I couldn’t I couldn’t get a teenage girl now legal adult teenage daughter with access to a car to agree to stick around and watch it.

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S2: But the story of the movie that it’s probably not a relationship. That’s where I was going. Dana stole your father.

S1: Now it’s OK. It’s so easily pilfered. But anyway, I know it’s it’s what’s not to love, right? I mean, it’s like it depicts our world is, you know, this hideous panopticon of our own devising. It’s very wise about that without being too knowing or, you know, sly about it. It’s like a one social media is one giant machine for generating envy. The movie knows what it’s up to, is very smart about it. And but as you say, at the heart of it is I mean, this is the Pixar move and they’ve made it their own. These producers. I don’t mean to place them in the shadow of Pixar, but they they are very good at indebting the relatable, Paphos driven human story at the center of it. And this one is about a father and a daughter, a daughter who’s getting ready to leave home in her own mind for good because of how alienating negative she finds her father about her dreams to be a filmmaker.

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S2: What what’s the face? Oh, well, I just wonder, do you really think you can make a living with this stuff? Dad, can you finish watching it? At least I will.

S1: But, you know, he finds his misfit artsy daughter completely mystifying. And the movie only works if you know. And I resisted it, too. I felt, oh, no. I mean, I saw it coming a mile away. This is so manipulative. All the bits of the movie are going to be about them drawing closer and and repairing the relationship. That’s I mean, you know, it was it was knowing exactly how the paint by color schema is going to get filled in. And you know exactly what the painting is when you’re going to see it completed, but it’s going to look like. And then at this, I was still fighting the lump in my throat by the end of it. Like I was like, I screw them. They got me.

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S4: I wonder, though, what you guys think about the technophobia versus technophobia of this movie, because it would be so easy for a film like this to feel like it’s scolding about technology. I mean, the villain, to the extent there is a villain is technology. And those who make technology, even though seriously demonize Siri

S3: goes rogue and is played by Olivia Colman,

S4: essentially. Right. I mean, it’s imagining this Alexa Siri like, you know, servant robot that sort of achieved sentience and resentfully takes over the world. And because it’s voiced by Olivia Colman and kind of animated as this charming little bouncing phone, it never seems that scary. But I just wonder, especially, Steve, given that you I sort of identify you with the dad character in this movie, right. Because he’s this mild technophobe, but somebody who is willing, for the sake of love, to overcome his resistance to Yabe Toub as he calls YouTube and figure out, in fact, there’s a big action sequence that hinges on him learning to just type A you RL into a browser. So I wonder how you, as maybe the most technophobic or at least tech hesitant of the three of us, felt about that, that aspect of the movie?

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S1: I thought it would be easy to be. A critical snob about the cake and eat it, too, attitude towards technology of the movie, but in fact, that’s our attitude, you know. It’s on Netflix, that’s how we’re watching it. We’re surrounded by tech. Our lives are enabled. We are cyborgs. We are now information age cyborgs. It’s perfectly fine to opt out of that. But ninety nine point nine percent of us don’t. We all opt in and derive a benefit from it to try to save our conscience by saying, oh, you know, by being a technophobic Luddite. I mean, that chip for most of us sailed a long time ago. And I thought the movie was actually quite it achieved an interesting equilibrium in its in its satire on the degree to which we, by opting in, end up compromising our own privacy and perhaps our own sense of agents in the world. Right. We’re just watched and judged all the time with an acknowledgement that we’re all using technology. We’re we’re using technology all the time, including the movie is meta about this. The girl, the misfit daughter makes movies using technology. Her creativity is expressed using the technology, which is, you know, a more rudimentary version of the technology being employed to make this creative thing, the movie itself. And so I thought, you know, I I at the end, I thought the movie kind of nailed that balance in a weird way. Julia, would you think,

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S3: wow, Steve, I’m not sure. I realized that in addition to becoming someone who loves television, you’ve become someone who does not loathe technology and quite the same way that you did several years ago or at least have a more balanced view of it, although I guess after this pandemic here, we all do. Um, it’s

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S1: it’s finally it’s finally drained off the last of my humanity. Julie, congratulations to you and your cyborg for turning one.

S3: Hi. Welcome, Robot Steve.

S1: All right. We like this movie. It’s the Mitchells versus the Machines and it’s on Netflix. Check it out. All right. Moving on. All right, before we go any further, this is typically where we talk business. Dana, what do we what do we have this week, Steve?

S4: The business this week is just to tell our listeners that if you’re a slate plus member, please stick around afterwards for a special segment about the return of live theater, because we have Slate’s own Isaac Butler, who’s our expert on all things theatrical. He is going to stick around to talk about the reopening of Broadway. Tickets are already on sale now for Broadway shows that are opening in the fall. We’re going to talk about what that says about the theater industry more broadly and what is the future of the stage in our age. So if you’re a slate plus member, you can hear that after the show. And if you’re not, as always, you can sign up at Slate dotcom culture plus one dollar for your first month for access to add free podcasts and exclusive plus only content like the aforementioned bonus segment. Again, you can sign up at Slate Dotcom Slash Culture Plus and if you’re already a slate plus member, thank you so much for your support. And please send us ideas for Future Slate plus segments. We always love hearing from you. All right, back to the show.

S1: Like the cicadas, after 17 years of dormancy, Beneful has resurfaced,

S4: best introduction you’ve ever written

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S2: or done?

S1: I was hoping someone would would get me that.

S3: I have to point out that that was also the leader of the L.A. Times piece on the subject.

S2: But no. Oh, no.

S1: I promise. I promise. I did not plagiarize it. I didn’t I didn’t read the read that even if it may have been in our prep materials. OK, anyway, continuing on, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez appear to be back together. And for those of you who don’t remember, for whatever reason, before Brangelina and Kimia, there was Jennifer. The couple fell for one another while making the movie Gigli. Is that how that’s pronounced? I seem to remember it.

S4: Is Julie, right?

S1: Oh, there we go. Yes. So, so sorry. It was an epic bomb. They became a huge social media thing, though, as a couple, a fixture in the tabloids and on tabloid TV. He appeared in her music video, Jenny from the Block. I’m still I’m still trying to.

S5: I have a lot of.

S1: It was a whirlwind romance, and here’s the thing about whirlwinds, they’re made of air. No sooner were they engaged to be married than they were done. Dana, among the many things I love and admire about you is your casual and repeated use of the word portmanteau.

S2: Can you define it for us?

S4: Uh, I can’t believe you asked me the first question on the benefit topic.

S2: Well, I gave you what I

S1: would think of as a Dana Stevens softball.

S4: I actually now I’m curious about the etymology of portmanteau, this specific usage of portmanteau. I mean, a portmanteau just is simply a suitcase, right? It’s a it’s a it’s a coat carrier, literally. But I do feel like that the compulsive need to not only watch celebrity couples, but turn their names into a weird name. Sandwiches began around the time of the first benefit. I think we can venture to say in the early 2000s.

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S3: They did they did predate Brangelina. I think that’s true. And I had previously Ben Affleck had dated Gwyneth and I don’t think we had Gwyneth.

S4: But it’s not like back in early Hollywood history, they were taking Bogart and Bacall and squishing them into, you know, Bhogle or something like that.

S2: Honfleur.

S1: Oh, dear. I look, I set this whole thing up saying there were deeper cultural resonances. Julia, I turned to you to tell us what those are.

S3: OK, all right. I am delighted by the story. So we got to get a little modern back story of these two figures who, you know, rose to prominence in the in the very early OT’s and now have been with us for twenty years. We’ve got Ben Affleck, who, after breaking up with Jennifer Lopez, eventually found his way to another Jennifer. Jennifer Garner married her, had a bunch of kids, divorced her, has been public about his struggles with alcoholism, spent a bunch of the pandemic dating on a Dharma’s, spanning the portmanteau banana,

S2: which which

S3: we can all agree is a good one.

S4: I think you should have asked Julia first.

S3: You they were, you know, much observed drinking Dunkin Donuts as Ben Affleck is. You know, I think after his kind of the seediness of his divorce from Jennifer Garner, who herself is, I don’t know, just just become like this delightful Internet phenomenon who seems like an authentic celebrity dork in a very charming way, but also seems to have sort of an amicable divorce with this struggling middle aged alcoholic. Um, you know, I think people sort of root for Ben Affleck, said Zachary a little bit a few years later. And he had Unida AMAs broke up and there was a scene where his he had like a life size cardboard cutout of Anna Dafnis that was in his trashcan after the break up. And then there was the scene of him, like coming out, looking very dead, bud, and picking up like a door dash delivery of Dunkin on his doorstep and looking sort of hostile, like he’d just come out of the sun for the first time in eight months anyway. So there’s a little bit of like, woo, poor Ben in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, then we’ve got Jennifer Lopez, who is just this, you know, dominant cultural tycoon with this amazing performance in Hustler’s great Super Bowl halftime show a couple of years ago, you know, seeming confident, dating Alex Rodriguez for many years. And then there are these rumors this spring that they’re maybe on the rocks, maybe they’re not. It seems like Alex Rodriguez had an affair or some kind of dalliance with some sort of reality TV star. And anyway, finally, Alex and Leno do break up, you know, a couple of months ago. So we’ve got these like people we’ve known for decades whose relationships we followed, both newly single and ready to mingle and what should emerge, what to our wondering eyes should appear. But a photo of the two of them appearing to be in the back of or near the same white SUV causing tantalised, tantalised interest across the celebrity Internet, particularly among people of a certain generation, a.k.a. my exact microgeneration. And then what should follow what to our wondering if you should follow. But the word that they have decamped to Wyoming or Idaho or somewhere picturesque in the Northwest for a week of hanging together. And what to my wondering heart should appear but a deep interest and and like rooting for this celebrity couple to get back together when I did not give a crap about them the first time around. And in fact, it was sort of very skeptical that they were overhyped and that they were, I don’t know, dumb or like I just was not a stand for this couple in their early odds and thought it was stupid that they were getting so much attention. And now I want nothing more than for them to fall in love.

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S2: And why why do I care? I don’t know.

S3: And so that to me is the fundamental mystery. And, you know, I think there’s a few a few possible theories. I mean. Just initially thinking about it, whatever the notion that the that the old flame, that there was something that you never worked out with the old flame and maybe as an older and wiser self, there is something that could work out. It’s like a romantic one. Like that’s a good plot. Right. Just generally in life, the notion of a post divorce, love and or companionship or a post split romance is also, you know, a sign of rebirth after a time of darkness, which is a cultural moment, we maybe find ourselves in more generally and abstractly. And then Meredith Blake, one of our TV reporters here at the L.A. Times, wrote this wonderful piece last week, sort of assessing a very similar question in which she pointed out, she argued that the reason we’re obsessed with this now is because we fucked it up so badly last time. And she went back and read a ton of the coverage of their romance the first time around. And it was just like deeply racist and stupid and like really dismissive of like Jenny from the Block, who used to date Dedi ensnaring, uh, you know, this nice Boston guy who used to date Gwynneth. Like there was just a lot of racist bullshit in the dismissiveness of the coverage of them the first time out. And so she argues that it’s sort of a chance for a for a do over for these two, which I found persuasive and compelling and interesting.

S1: I mean, I think it just once again been proven that the wrongest thing ever said was when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, there are no second acts in American lives. It’s like American lives are made of nothing but second, third, fourth, fifth acts. So we don’t even have first acts. Right. This country is a country. It’s a society built on do overs where Europe’s do over. It’s just a do over culture. And this is another do over Juliar. I think you’re right. Like it was the first of all, it was completely racist. Diane Sawyer on her primetime live intro to her interview with Jennifer Lopez back in 2002, said that called Lopez the racy, impetuous pop star,

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S2: the racy, impetuous pop star with that flashy ex-boyfriend, not to mention two marriages. He the towering actor who romanced an uptown goddess.

S4: Just the idea of Ben Affleck as a towering actor. I mean, God love him, but that’s not exactly where I would first class him.

S1: I mean, he’s physically very tall. I mean, kind of the loveable thing about Affleck is, is he’s just the ultimate alpha male package with kind of a weird ultimate beta male inside. Like he’s he’s proven, you know, good will. Hunting was prophetic in this regard. He’s just proven to be utterly Beita to Matt Damon, who has emerged as an absolutely bona fide A-list Hollywood movie star, whereas Affleck is just kind of, you know, he can win an Oscar for directing a movie and he still just doesn’t really emerge fully as an as an alpha. And so in addition to race, there was this gender aspect, which is that he was widely perceived as I reread this coverage. Now, Ben Affleck at the time was widely perceived as having been somehow emasculated by Lopez, who was also depicted in addition to being depicted as trashy. She’s not trashy, but she was depicted as trashy, also kind of as Lady Macbeth, like highly manipulative of Affleck in the video. He kisses her, but, you know, literally, but also

S2: the block video.

S1: Yes, exactly. And and and his career took this huge hit. I mean, as do overs go, this isn’t a bad one to have because it was flubbed so badly. They’d call me skeptical, though, because I somehow do not believe that social media will get right what US Weekly got wrong the first time around, but.

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S3: Well, but it might get different things wrong. I mean, I also just say you’re right to point out the sexism and the and the emasculation as well and the coverage. And and if you look at the long arc of Ben Affleck’s romantic life, it’s like he’s dated these very type A women, like he dated Gwyneth, he dated Jennifer Lopez. He dated Jennifer Garner like, you know, on a this is kind of on the come up like a friend of mine who pointed this out. I was like, yeah, I joined that book club. Like, that’s about

S2: that’s a

S3: bunch of, like, badass women, like he’s not afraid to to date and romance like Alphas Alpha women, which as I find to be an admirable quality in a man, even a man with with struggles. And so, yeah, that that was sort of sexism inherent in that coverage, too.

S1: Right. And also, by the way, I want to add, it just shows how preposterous in their own way anachronistic categories like Alpha and Beta are when applied to men. I mean, it you know, it is only a strong man can, you know, date, stay with marry a strong, self-possessed woman like that’s a form of masculine strength, not weakness. And it’s fucked up to think otherwise.

S4: Yeah. Julia, I was thinking about what you said about, you know, the first time around you. You’re not rooting for this couple and now you don’t understand why. You are there’s a whole wonderful piece in Slate by Heather Trudel, who’s one of our, you know, best celebrity spotters and chroniclers, I think, on Slate about that fact, just revisiting the fact that from a sheer popularity point of view, nobody was really rooting for them the first time. And that could have been because of the coverage. It could have been because of the general tone of tabloids back then, which were always negative. I mean, we’ve talked about this in relation to Britney Spears recently, the documentary about Britney Spears that, you know, gossip in the early 2000s was just vicious. I mean, in particular about women and about race and class. But really just putting people in the spotlight was an act of violence in the in the early 2000s in a way that I think social media has changed. And I’m not trying to, you know, cover this with hearts and rainbows, Mitchell and the machine style and say that that makes everything better. But I think that fandom organizes itself in a very different way now that we have these places to congregate online. I mean, I’m pretty disinvested from this couple both times around, but it is fascinating to see that people still care and that they maybe even care more and care in a different way than they did 17 years ago.

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S1: Can I just can I just button this segment by saying I just did a word search of our prep document for Secada and it appears at least two or three times. I swear to God, I’ll cop to the laziness with which I read the material. And not being a plagiarist, I really

S3: it’s it’s just a good it’s just a good joke. It’s just a natural joke, I think.

S1: And it’s there for the picking. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. I mean, I guess

S3: I’ll also just say that the stakes of reading quote unquote, rooting for a couple or shipping a couple at this phase of our lives and theirs feel different. Like if all that happens is they had a fun weekend in the scenic northwest, like great. That sounds like a great way to unwind from your very public breakup if they never see each other again. That sounds great if they stay together for the rest of their lives. That sounds great. Like, you know, there’s something about this phase of their lives where it’s like find some connection and have some fun, you know? And and I think we’re slightly less attached to the, like, walk down the aisle happily ever after mode of covering celebrity romance and understanding celebrity romance. But it’s also the phase in life that they’re at that makes it feel like easy to root for because you can define, quote unquote, victory in any way you want.

S4: All right. People just gathered together every 17 years a week of romance like the cicadas.

S1: Oh, I love it. Jennifer, swipe right. All right. Let’s let’s move on. Are we still human, Mitchell versus the Machine says yes, Samuel Beckett said, alas, we are we are still bored, co-dependent, exploitative, and maybe above all, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for Godot was a head scratcher, a confounding whatsit. When it first appeared in 1953 during its first English language production, actors asked Beckett himself what he meant by it, and he basically said, Fuck, if I know it’s very Bacardi and answer if you think about it. But it has since become a staple of the canon. It’s even been voted the most significant English language play of the 20th century. A new production from the new group has arrived there, an off Broadway theater group. They have transferred Beckett’s meditation on human claustrophobia into the heightened claustrophobia of the small screen in a time of pandemic lockdown. This version stars Ethan Hawke as Vladimír John Leguizamo is Estragon. They’re the two archetypal tramps at the center of the play. It also features Tariq Trotter as Pazzo and Wollar Shawna’s Luckie. It’s directed by Scott Elliott. In the clip we’re about to hear, we get Leguizamo and Halk riffing on the supposed imminence of Godot.

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S2: I’m curious to hear what he has to offer and then you will take it or leave it. What exactly we ask him for. Were you not there? I can’t I’ve been listening. Well. It wasn’t anything very definite. Kind of a prayer. Yeah, precisely a vague supplication. Exactly. And what do you reply that he’d see that he couldn’t promise anything to think it over in the quiet of his home console with his family, his friends, his age and his correspondence books, his bank account before taking a decision on it is the normal thing? Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think it is. Yeah, I think so too.

S1: All right, well, we’re joined by Isaac Butler, author of the forthcoming The Method How the 20th Century Learned to Act, a book I’m very eager to read and discuss on the show about Stanislavski and Method Acting. He’s also the co-host of the Slate podcast, Working Isaac. Welcome back.

S6: Thank you so much for having me.

S1: Isaac, here’s the thing about totems, right? When you direct Hamlet or GOODO, I imagine they need to be approached both reverently and irreverently. In a way, you have to understand the cultural treasure that’s been handed to you and you have to both kind of destroy your preconceptions about it and make it new for a new audience. How do you feel this was handled with this one?

S6: Yeah, I mean, I definitely agree that, you know, one of the director’s big jobs on any production, really, but especially with the classic, is having a clear point of view into the material. And that has been a difficult thing to do with plays written by Samuel Beckett, because the Beckett estate is extremely controlling about what interpretational choices they will and will not allow. And they have shut down many productions, including high profile ones, because they felt the director took too many interpretational liberties. So in some ways, one of the triumphs of this is that it exists at all and that we were able to navigate whatever permissions issues were required to do it in this way because the characters are not dressed the way the play specifies the environment looks nothing like as it’s what it’s supposed to be as described in the play. And those are the kinds of choices that the estate usually cracks down on.

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S1: Well, there’s an obvious, like almost screaming aptness to doing goodo in a time of pandemic lockdown. Did that work for you?

S6: Yes and no. I mean, I think the thing that does not work is the the length this goodo is I did some Googling to try to figure this out anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes longer than almost any other production I could find a record for. It’s over three hours long. Scott Elliott, the director, I’ve seen many of his plays. Pacing is really not his strong suit. He tends to let actors kind of luxuriate in the language and the pauses and not to keep a firm hand on the work. And I think you see that here in that in the beginning. I think this is it’s totally delightful, actually. I mean, I’m really enjoying this phase of Ethan Hawke’s career where he’s having fun. He’s having so much fun. He had so much fun in that true west that was on Broadway a couple of years ago. He had so much fun in the Good Lord Bird. He’s having so much fun here. And he and Leguizamo have great chemistry. And then after a while, you realize it’s just going to kind of be this for three hours. And it started, I’ll be honest, it started to wear out its welcome. Eventually, I found it pretty hard to take by the end. One of the problems with Goodo, because the dramatic action of it is largely static, is if you have a really great production of Godot, it’s like it’s it’s so brilliant. It’s so much more fun and interesting and moving than like anything else out there. But if you have even like a pretty good or mediocre production of Godot, it could get really intolerable really fast.

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S3: Yeah, I think you got to mark me down in the intolerable column and I will say I read this play in school and loved it and found it to be like revelatory and hilarious and funny and fascinating and like a really interesting text to engage with as a written text. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it performed. And Delonge. Oh yeah. And I was trying to remember if I had that, I don’t think I have. And I was excited about the casting, but I just I didn’t I remember reading the play and feeling, you know, I understand that it was received as a mysterious object when it was first written, but feeling like it was in very firm grasp of what it was doing and had a pretty pretty clear view and took all kinds of detours and byways and liberties with language. But just in terms of character and plot and pacing made a lot of sense. And this production. Make some big choices, which are maybe the deviations from these states, which is that that you find exciting, but that I don’t think actually makes sense. So it’s all of the characters appear in zoom boxes, and we are to understand the play as being the interactions of people through Zoom sort of. And it’s seen the hawk and like those characters are wearing masks and pulling masks up and down at various points. And they’re sort of a light air of late pandemic to the whole production. But then they’re also able to pass food to each other through the Zoome windows.

S6: I was really frustrated by that immediately.

S3: Like, what the fuck what? So are you in the room or not? And is this supposed pandemic play or not? Like it seems like it could be interesting to rigorously set this text in late pandemic after a year in which so many of us have been, you know, frustrated by futility and waiting for salvations of various sorts and struggling in our ability to communicate with one another on broad sociological levels and wondering what the point of it all is and struggling with depression and despair and human futility and, you know, like what better way to do now, but just the general like, what the fuck of it? It made no sense. What are you in some boxes or not? Are you in post pandemic in separate apartments trying to connect through the alienation of technology? Well, if you can pass a fucking turnup over the laptop to the other guy, then no, you’re just in the same room. So then why are you like, then why am I just not watching? Why didn’t you actually sit under a tree on a stage? Why am I not just watching a filmed production like it made all of the choices feel? Arbitrary, poorly thought through and stupid.

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S1: Oh, my God, I so totally disagree with that. I want to interject, but then we have to hear from you.

S4: Overall, I would say that I liked this production. I’m not sure that it’s the ultimate production, but this is such a robust text. I mean, I almost believe the opposite of what Isaac was saying about, you know, when you mess up Godot, it’s really boring and you mess it up really bad. I almost feel like this is such a robust text that you can’t mess it up that badly if the actors understand what they’re doing. And I think these actors do understand I’m not sure the director, as you said, Isaac, made very great pacing choices and that this is some square business makes a lot of sense. But it’s such beautiful language and it’s such a simple story at its heart. I mean, it really is a story about, you know, these these two friends who have nothing but each other. Right. And Gojo, these two central characters who just keep on repeating essentially the same pointless, futile day over and over and the previous day gets erased. It’s it’s just tragic and hilarious. And it’s almost hard to go wrong with it. And I wanted to say something about reading versus watching because Julia, like you, I know this is a as a read text. I mean, I think we read it in grad school and probably seen scenes from it. And one thing that’s interesting about watching it in a in a set of zoom squares on your computer is that you can read it at the same time. So in a separate laptop screen, I just had the text pulled up and was looking at the stage directions because Beckett. Right. Isaac is is really extremely specific about stage directions sometimes and literally say things like he crosses right. Stands there, stares out the audience, crosses back, left, right. And so I was sort of seeing how they did that in the zoom squares. And it was kind of neat to to read it and watch it both at once. But overwhelmingly, I would just say that while Sean steals the whole thing we can get to his performance is lucky. But Lucky is the one character in the movie who has only one speech and who gives this sort of long monologue in gibberish. And, you know, it’s kind of the showpiece of the play. But other than that, a completely silent role, one that is dear to me because it is a role that was originally offered to Buster Keaton in the first English language production. And he turned it down because he didn’t. His wife read it and said the script makes no sense. And he obviously would have been an incredible lucky right, because Lucky is almost completely a pantomime part. And I just think Wallace Shawn really steals the show and that of the four of them, he is the one that Beckett probably would have cast. I mean, he just has a very Beckett like face. He’s got that extremely characterful face that can do so much with nothing. I would actually love to hear an audio clip of Lucky’s speech because it’s I just I think it’s one of the high points of this production. So here’s a little bit of Wallace Shawn as lucky in Waiting for Godot,

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S2: given the existence has entered fourth in the public works of puncturing Wartman of a personal God, quack, quack, quack, quack with Whitebeard, quack, quack, quack, quack outside time without extension. Well, from the heights of divine, puffier divine assembly, a divine officier loves us dearly with some exceptions, for reasons unknown. But time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who, for reasons unknown but time will tell, are plunged in torment, plunged in fire whose fire flames. If that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament. That is to say, blessed hail to heaven.

S4: I just felt like he grasped more than anyone else the combination of tragedy, comedy, absurdity, physical comedy that the play requires, but they were all great.

S1: I loved all four of them. And I have to say, I found this production just mesmerizing. I kind of adored it. And as to the passing turnips back and forth between that, I mean, you have the script which which constrains you. There are things passed back and forth in the script. You are constrained also by the pandemic. You’re going to do a socially distance performance involving Zoom. I think it’s an absurdist play to begin with. There were a lot of things that you don’t question in a literal fashion about the play anyway. And so I thought, fine, I’m just going to I’m going to go with it. I mean, I understand, Julia, early on, something just just rubs you the wrong way and then and then you’re not going to flow with it at all. I just had the opposite reaction. I thought the casting was inspired. I love late period Ethan Hawke, the playful little period, Ethan Hawke. I thought Leguizamo is an inspired piece of casting. I think he’s terrific in it. I also just want to say some things about the but the play, which is to me, this is just a play, first of all, eminently. It’s just the piece of evidence of a time when newness and strangeness of a genuine sort of a genuinely alienating sort were were prized still, which is a legacy of modernism and high modernism. And secondly, it’s a play about about boredom and poverty. And you’re meant, I think at times, to be kind of mystified, bored and and it’s spareness is its essence, certain spareness of language, total spareness of of stage props and scenery. And it gets what Beckett does that. So it’s so called for for it’s always important. Right. For Beckett was trying to find, I think, how much solace he could deliver with how little sentimentality could you drain off all sentimentality, all recourse to bullshit and still deliver some kind of solace, because whatever that solace is would be real. And I think that that’s that I get that from this play every time I experience it, I just find it incredibly powerful that you could completely impoverish all of the traditional elements of language and setting and and give us just almost absolute, absolutely denuded archetypes. And then, Dana, as you beautifully say, they find comfort, you know, in one another and bizarrely in their lifes tendency to repetition. And that just came through to me what was supposedly possibly boring about this production. I actually did find mesmerizing because it seems to me to get at something at the heart of the play.

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S2: Well, I want to the one thought I had Isaac was.

S3: This is my first pandemic, Zoome Theater, a lot of theaters went to virtual productions this year and this is our first time talking about them. So I wonder if just before we adjourn, you could situate this a little bit in different experiments in Zoome Theater, because I also will say that the timing, like if I had seen this, I don’t know, last October when it felt like there were no alternate possibilities for entertainment as opposed to at this moment of more reawakening, might I have responded to it differently? And I, you know, not ashamed to confess. Like, I don’t know if I had been trapped in a dark theater, what I have been able to just lose myself in the performances, which are all strong. I mean, these are wonderful actors, but just having it like contained in this little box of boxes on my lap, you know, some of the problem was clearly me. But how did this square with you, along with other virtual pandemic theater that you’ve watched?

S6: There have been a range of different experiments. Some people some theaters have taken just productions of theirs that they have already filmed for archival reasons or whatever and put them online and you can buy a ticket to them and see them. People have done readings of plays over zoomed, sort of like a staged reading, but in some boxes there are much more elaborate things. Dan Khoisan, I wrote about one of them actually a little brief oral history sequel to The World Only Spins Forward because as a benefit, a group of artists got together and actually did a very sophisticated filming of scenes from Angels in America using I think, like, you know, using careful camera angles and special effects wizardry to simulate that the people were in the same room at the same time while they were acting. So there’s a really, really wide range of ideas out there. This one felt like it was sort of halfway between the kind of really elaborate stuff that Angel’s reading did and the much more stripped away, just like we’re just going to read the script online in that they were clearly in carefully designed environments that were either lit or color corrected to all look like they were in the same palette. Actually, one of the fascinating moments of the. The production is when the color palette changes, it goes from warm to cold because I guess the sun is setting or something like that and it happens on all four screens simultaneously. So it is. And and obviously it has very famous people in it. Right? It has Black Thought from The Roots and Wallace, Shawn and Ethan Hawke and John Leguizamo. So, I mean, it is definitely a more souped up thing than a lot of what other theaters have been able to do online. Yet at the same time, to echo, I think, an issue that Julia had with it, that I had with the two. They have they did decide to overtly embrace the aesthetics of a zoom, meaning. Right. Like they didn’t. And in a way that makes the breaking of those rules, the passing of objects back and forth, things like that, much more heightened. You like, at least for me, my awareness of it much more heightened. So so it is sort of in between and feels to me like Julia stranded in between a bunch of possible interpretive choices and ideas.

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S4: Yeah, it’s so high concept, the Zoome thing, that that in a way I might have just prefer to table read, you know, just to see them all just sitting there. And I started to realize this goes along with maybe reading the play at the same time on a different screen, that this wasn’t an extremely business dependent production of Godot and Godot. Right. Isaac is all about the business and a lot of the business is scripted. Who’s going to pass a hat to whom and, you know, passing the turnip in the carrot and so forth. Those are all things that would be prop comedy in a real production. And so when they’re not as visual, there’s no point in looking at it.

S6: Yeah, it should feel like Laurel and Hardy a lot of times when you’re watching it. Right. It should have that feel of like these two expert clowns and they keep sort of whether they want to or not, kind of falling into these routines. And then they’re kind of doing these routines and they’re trying to make sense of the world. But they they kind of almost can’t stop doing these routines. Actually, the clip we heard at the top of this segment is a great example of it. It’s one of my favorite moments in the whole production, which is when they just start riffing on Gaydos wealth and they’re kind of egging each other on and yes, ending each other as their impressions get sillier and sillier. The whole place should kind of feel it should have a lot of moments like that, particularly physical moments like that. But you can’t actually do those physical moments, you know, trapped as you are in different spaces and things like that.

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S1: All right, well, we agree to disagree, if you want to break the tie, check it out. You can find it at the new group, stop work and you can purchase tickets there and watch the production and then send us an email. But, Isaac, thank you so much again for joining us. That was great. And stick around maybe for the plus segment.

S6: Yeah. Love to super.

S1: All right, now is the moment in our podcast, and we understand. What do you have,

S4: Stephen, in honor of our literary segment this week that we’re talking about, Waiting for Godot, which is as much a work of literature as a work of theater. I’m going to read a poem, and it’s by a poet that I know you love. Philip Larkin. Oh, he’s one of your

S2: face, right? Oh, yeah. He’s my guy.

S4: Yeah. He’s one of your pantheon guys who I whose work I don’t know extremely well. Although obviously he has some poems that almost everyone knows. He’s one of those poets who even if you don’t read poetry, you probably know a couple of his poems. This isn’t really one of them, though. I didn’t know this one before. And I have to thank my yoga teacher, who I have actually shouted out before on the show, Ellen Nelson Brown, for this poem, because one of the wonderful things she does in her Zoome yoga class is read a poem every week, the same poem every day without any commentary. She just picks a great poem and reads it every day. And of course, every time you hear it, you hear it in a different way. And the one this week is so apropos for our moment in history and in the season. And and I just I love this poem. And the rhyme is the rhyme scheme is just so beautiful. So The Trees by Philip Larkin. The trees are coming into leaf like something almost being said, the recent buds relax and spread their greenness is a kind of grief, is it that they were born again and we grow old? No, they die to their yearly trick of looking new is written down and rings of green. Yet still, the unrest in Cassells thresh in full grown thickness every day last year is dead. They seem to say begin afresh, afresh, a fresh.

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S1: I mean, far be it from me to be the first person to point out that I’ve read that poem on this show every year for the last six, seven years, this time of year. But it is is just the greatest condensation of the language anyone ever produced. I agree. I love that poem.

S4: Just something about hearing that hearing that at this moment, you know, it was two days, I think, after my my second vaccine, basically the you know, practically the day that I became street legal again to rejoin the world to hear that poem was just extraordinary. And I think this is a moment when, you know, a lot of things are sounding new. So I’m sorry if I forgot that you read this now times.

S1: And also, by the way, you read it beautifully. Dana, I didn’t mean to in any way undercut that. Undermine that. All right, Julia, what do you have?

S3: I have been talking in this week to an interesting book called Uncanny Valley, a memoir. This is the Anna Weiner memoir of her time as a tech worker in Silicon Valley, working for various startups and observing startup culture. And it’s written very interestingly, this was commented on when it came out last year. You know, there’s sort of no proper names. And, you know, Facebook is the the social network everyone hates. And Instagram is the photo sharing app that was bought by the social network everyone hates. I mean, it almost has this like Homeric quality where Rosie Finger done everything. Everybody has their own little middle name. But I’m finding it to be very readable and just an interesting window into Silicon Valley culture that’s that’s very different than the sort of founder gossip biography Talaal or the Triumphalist Founder autobiography memoir or some of the other book tropes around tech, culture and Silicon Valley. I think you might really like it, Steve, actually, now that you’re ready to think about the technical education of our society with slightly more open mind. So anyway, Uncanny Valley and Memoir. I’ve been meaning to read it for since it came out and I’m finding it enjoyable.

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S1: That does sound very cool. All right. Well, today, I think I have maybe the Steveston McCarthyist endorsement of all time. It involves Hannah Arendt and Pizza. First, the event. There’s an essay in the New York Review of Books by Corey Robin, who I regard as just an absolutely brilliant intellectual. He writes about neoliberalism, who’s in some ways the most authoritative person writing about Jaak Friedrich von Hijack right now and what he means to our time, not in an esoteric way, but in the way we are all living and being forced to live unexpectedly. He wrote a piece for the New York Review of Books comparing of all people, Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth, who had a correspondence with one another that he’s partially unearthed from the archives. But also there are echoes of one another’s work in addition to real life admiration had for one another. There are thematic echoes between the two that Robin explores, I think brilliantly. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is a brilliant essay with the additional challenge of saying something new, fresh and not at all offensive about Philip Roth in the wake of horrific revelations about his biographer that cast Roth’s alleged misogyny in a new light. Nonetheless, this is this is admiring and intelligently admiring about what Rotha did as an artist in relation to what I was doing as a philosopher. It’s about doubling and the theme of doubling in both of their works. So the essay is up on the New York Review of Books by Corey Robin. It’s called A Rant and Wrath, an uncanny convergence and is very highly recommended. And then as highly recommended, is a pizza parlor in Troy, New York, that I discovered years ago driving to Vermont. Because if you go from my house to points at Lake Champlain, Ways takes you this completely arcane route through the city of Troy. This was before I got to know Troy a little bit because my daughters go to school there and literally just driving in this in this totally unfamiliar neighborhood without much apparently going on in it that I could tell from a moving car. I just pointed at a storefront and said to my family that I’m telling you, that is a great pizza parlor to Fazio’s in Troy. And we Googled it. And sure enough, people were like legendary, like pizza temple, pizza mecca. You have to go there. It’s been there since the 1950s, not as a pizza parlor, but as an Italian food importer. There’s a huge Italian community in Troy, New York. In the 1980s, the adjoining storefront was turned into a pizza parlor using the ingredients from the original one, the cheeses, the meats. It’s now been taken over by a third generation. They’re using all fresh, all organic ingredients. It is the most perfect convergence of the old and the new. And finally, last night, I was in Troy to see a girl’s lacrosse game. I drove over and I picked up to DeFazio. Those pizzas is so good. This pizza is it’s it’s just the perfect refinement of everything. Platonically, beautiful and perfect. And this worldly garbagey about pizza, I mean, that sounds insulting. It’s not meant to at all. Like, you don’t want pizza to be too good. You want pizza to retain its it’s you know, it’s it’s just built out of elemental parts and you don’t want them to become too froufrou. It is one of the best pies if not the best pie I think I’ve ever had to Fazio’s in Troy. I’ll put a link to a wonderful article about the family history behind it. Those are my endorsements, pizza and honna around. No one is going to make fun of me for this.

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S2: I know

S4: Stephen. I’m struck speechless and I want both right now. I want to stuff the. Article and that piece in my

S2: face,

S1: perfect response. Dana, thank you so much. Thanks to you. Thanks, Julia. That was great. Thanks. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that Slate dot com culture fest, and you can email us at Culture Fest at Slate Dotcom. We love getting your e-mails. Please email us. Our theme music is from the wonderful Nick Brittelle. Our producer is Cameron Drus. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner, I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us.

S4: Hello and welcome to please, the segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest, we asked our guest, Isaac Butler, to stick around and talk to us some more about theater. We talked about the Waiting for Godot production that just launched online in our main segment. And now we’re going to go a little bit deeper into the future of theater. We heard just recently in the last couple of weeks that Broadway is going to open back up in September. And I think tickets are already on sale for some shows. But is Broadway still a viable model? This is the question we’ve been asking about movie theaters. But the viability question becomes all the more intense when it comes to an endeavor is rarified as the model of trying to keep live theater alive. So that’s going to be our topic of discussion. So we’ll start with you, Isaac. I guess since we brought you in for your theatrical knowledge, do you have any tickets yet for Broadway or off Broadway shows? What are your plans for the fall? What is your vision?

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S6: I have already seen live theater. I have already seen live theater because my very good friend Mike Dazy has a monthly engagement at the Crane Theater on East 4th Street, where he is premiering new monologues. He’s a he’s a monologue guest. And so I went you in order to see it in person, you have to be fully vaccinated. And so once my two weeks after the second shot were up, I went in and saw it. And I got to tell you, when the when the preshow announcement started saying turn off your phones and the house lights went down, I cried. I was just like so moved and just could not believe I was back in the theater again. So I’ve actually already been. But there aren’t that many things you can go to right now that are actually live theater. There’s basically the stuff that’s happening at the crane and that’s about it. But yeah, but Broadway is going to come back. I think everyone is really trepidations and has the exact same questions that you’re asking, Dana. And I think it’s going to be hard to know until we’re doing it how successful it’s going to be and how willing to congregate in a small area and be spat on. Ticket buyers are. But I will say that, you know, vaccine rates are going up. That’s even true. You know, even even Republicans are letting go of their vaccine resistance if the latest studies are to be shown. And so, I mean, hopefully by the fall it will be actually like a safe and pleasant thing that you can do again.

S1: Yeah. Let me jump in and just say I predict not only normalcy, but but but but buoyancy. The same reaction, Isaach, that you had, which is very moving to hear. I think there’s going to be widespread. I mean, first of all, I think that there’s a huge subset of the population, hopefully only getting larger, that not only is vaccinated, but believes in the numbers behind the vaccine efficacy and are perfectly willing to be spat on by actors and and, you know, and be in a crowded space with with strangers. I’m one of those people. I assume that what I’m being told by Anthony Fauci and others is true. And I’m ready for four to return to normalcy. There could be a roaring 20s awaiting us. I hope that the creative explosion is equivalent to the financial explosion that appears to be ready to burst the economic explosion. And the only other thing I can add to such a discussion, in addition to my own willingness to be a guinea pig here is, you know, what suffers more really than live theatre. I mean, there’s just no substitution effect. You know, there’s no the essence of it going all the way back to the freaking Greeks is night after night. And audience forms a single responsive intelligence in relation to the material being presented to them. And it’s in the circuitry between the written word, the performed word, and that unified sensitivity of the audience. Right. It’s like that miraculous thing that an audience does form this this this intelligence of of like it’s so the filament is so sensitive. Right. It’s the audience responding to the audience’s response, responding to the play, and then the performers themselves are responsive to it. I mean, there’s no possible way to substitute for that experience.

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S6: I mean, yeah, I obviously totally agree. And that’s a very moving way to to put it. And, you know, as we’ve seen in the various experiments with Zoome performance, some of which work, some of which don’t, some of which are lovely, some of which aren’t, there is this essential thing about theatre that you cannot replace. You actually do have to be in that room with that show and that kind of I do think it’s easier to form that weird, magical creature of the audience when an audience is full, you know, like the part of the weird. And so, you know, I think one of the reasons why they’re waiting till September is it takes a while to, like, restart these machines. Do you know what I mean? Like, it does take a few months. You’ve got to re rehearse. You know, there’s some roles that need to be recast. There’s all that sort of stuff. But it’s also that, like, you want as many people as possible to be in those seats, and it’s not just about the money, although on Broadway it really is about the money, because you need a you know, you need more than 60 percent of your house to be able to to in order to be able to keep the show open. But the other reason is, you know, the audience as it’s sort of own third entity is healthier. The more people there are in that room, the more seats are filled, the more shoulders are rubbing up against each other, as uncomfortable as that could be for people.

S4: So I think I know that the show I’m really interested in trying to see in the fall, as soon as it comes back, is is company, the Sondheim show and Patti Leupen is in it. And that was sort of the hour number one on the list to get tickets for before everything shut down. I’m wondering if you want to send people in any particular direction, if people are planning any sort of Broadway excursion this fall, what’s coming back and what new productions are being mounted?

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S6: You know, I think 22 or 23 shows have announced their dates for when they’re opening or reopening. And that’s everything from Hamilton to, you know, new productions or productions that have been called off. The one that I had tickets for that I am very, very much looking forward to is the new production of Caroline or Change, the Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori musical that there it’s a production from the Chichester Festival in the U.K. that was supposed to open, I think it was in its first previews when the pandemic shut it down. I actually, you know, like my holiday present from my wife was tickets to go see it. We were at a reservation at a nice restaurant. You know, we were really, really looking forward to it. I saw the original production back when it was at the public. I think it is one of the great American musicals of this century and it deserves to be seen by a lot of people. It is also thematically reckoning with the things that we are reckoning with now. It is a play who’s, you know, culminating action in the second act is the defacing of a Confederate monument. You know, it’s a play that is very much about this moment, even though it’s set in the early 1960s. And and it’s beautiful. It’s the music is astounding. So that’s the one that I hope, you know, I want to advocate for people getting getting tickets to see. I’m also could not be more excited that Alice Childress is sort of almost lost. Classic trouble in mind is going to be on Broadway that is opening on November 8th. It is one of the like just it’s an absolutely brilliant, brilliant play in part about kind of race and representation and theater itself and humanity. It won the OBE, you know, for its initial production. I don’t think it’s ever been done on Broadway. It’s an incredible play and I just really hope as many people as possible see it. But, yeah, if you if you go online, you can see, you know, there’s tickets available for like twenty, twenty three of the shows right now. Some of them are big ones that you might have struggled to get tickets to before the pandemic. And so so it’s worth checking it out. The other thing we should mention this year is that we still don’t really know what’s happening with off Broadway non-profit and with national regional nonprofit theaters. It’s still very unclear what’s going on there. Right. The vast majority of theaters in America, thousands of them, we really actually don’t know when they’re reopening, when they’re coming back or in what format. So as exciting as it is to go back to Broadway and I am legitimately, genuinely excited by that, it is worth mentioning that there is still like huge uncertainty about everything below Broadway and what’s going to happen with it.

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S1: Isaac, I called you in the introduction to the whole show at the top. You are are hip hop, are high toned friend of the program. I just think of you as a Renaissance man. Thanks. Are you directing anything?

S6: I am not directing anything right now. I mean, all of my energy went into finishing the book during the pandemic while trying to figure out, you know, how to keep my child taught and fed and from going crazy. So, you know, I actually haven’t really been thinking about anything other than the book until about like two weeks ago. I have ideas for theater stuff that I would like to do. The Darcy James argue with whom I created real enemies. And I have an idea for a show if we can get the funding together to do it. So, I mean, there’s there’s sort of stuff percolating, but I haven’t made any active moves in that direction. And since the pandemic started, which is sad, I miss it. I miss directing. I mean, it’s a different way of I heard this interview recently with Frances McDormand where she said that what she loved about theater was it was an act of collective engagement with literature, which I thought was a really, you know, like and I miss that kind of energy of being in a room, a room with other people. You know, working together through the problems of a text and engaging each other’s creativity and creating something that is greater and more interesting than we could have done as individuals. I mean, that’s like the most wonderful thing in the universe when it goes well.

S1: Yeah, that’s amazing.

S4: All right. Well, Isaac, you’ve performed over-the-top duty as a hit up today in both our main segment and in our last segment. So thanks so much for sticking around and joining us to enlighten us on theater.

S6: It is always such a pleasure to come on the gabfest, so thanks for having me.

S4: And that does it for this week’s Slate plus segment. Thank you to all of you for subscribing and helping to support the work that we do at Slate. And we’ll talk to you next week.