When a West End musical about Ernest Hemingway's final days gets savaged by critics, a hearty band of camp-loving theatergoers braves its final curtain.
Illustration Graham Roumieu
ON A RECENT EVENING in the West End, the aroma of Korean food wafts through the Comedy Theatre, where Too Close to the Sun—an unlikely musical about the days leading up to Ernest Hemingway’s demise—is halfway through its final Ernest Hemingway’s final days gets savaged performance. As the house lights come on for intermission, a theatergoer tucks into a chicken curry. Smuggling hot food into a theater is usually frowned upon, but there are few fellow audience members around to complain. “It’s the highlight of the evening,” the diner says.
London’s theater critics are thought to be fairly generous compared to their Broadway counterparts, but every once in a while, a show brings out their darker side. This season, Too Close to the Sun—nicknamed “To Close on Sunday”—was that show. At preview performances, audience members broke into laughter at serious moments, earning a scolding from the production manager. A critic suggested that the singing would be “best appreciated by canine members of the audience.” After the musical posted its closing notice, a small group of devotees—people the Daily Mail called “connoisseurs of stage disasters”—began turning up for the remaining shows, not to revel in its failure so much as to remind themselves just what a miracle it is when a show actually works (London standouts this year include A Streetcar Named Desire and Waiting for Godot).
After the curtain call, sympathetic fans wait by the stage door to congratulate the cast. The show’s librettist, Roberto Trippini, is first to emerge. “Please, no—not for me,” he says of the halfhearted applause that greets him. “The real stars are still to come.” A few minutes later the cast appears and is showered with confetti (theatergoers, in a winking reference to the show’s climactic shotgun blast, have brought party poppers). James Graeme, who gamely portrayed the singing-and-dancing author, seems to enjoy the attention, smiling sheepishly as one fan yells, “You’re finally free!”
The evening concludes more with a whimper than a bang. “It’s a bit like commiserating with the family at a funeral,” observes a fan after the actors disappear into the night. “After all, Ernest Hemingway has just died, and so has the show.”—PAUL EWING
ABOVE IT ALL
Tiago Primo and his younger brother Gabriel spent much of the summer relaxing on a cushy orange chair, napping in a hammock, playing video games and enjoying leisurely lunches (ham and cheese sandwiches, mostly). Their lifestyle might have been the envy of slackers everywhere were it not for one key detail:
They did it all suspended from a wall 30 feet above a hectic street in Rio.
One balmy afternoon pedestrians walking along Rua Gonçalves Ledo on their way to work stop and stare as the pair literally hang out, attached to the building by rock-climbing equipment that allows them to maneuver from bolted-in bed to dining table to dresser. Since July 1, Tiago, 27, and Gabriel, 20, have spent an average of 12 hours a day on the building.
What drove them up a wall? In a word, art. The vertical living space occupies an external wall of A Gentil Carioca, one of a growing number of art galleries in a downtown neighborhood better known for the bustling Saara shopping area and a thriving nightlife. The gallery has been sponsoring bizarre art projects on the wall for four years, but this twomonth residency is the first time the artists themselves were part of the exhibit.
Tiago denies that the brothers—both art students—have any deep message. No commentary about urban landscapes, modern society or Rio’s homeless. “We just want to make it as interesting as possible,” he says, reclining on the chair and sounding suspiciously slackerish. Gawking levels indicate a mission accomplished. This afternoon, a passerby asks if the room is for rent. Another wants the hammock when the exhibition ends. “No way,” says Tiago. “It’s from my bedroom.” —SETH KUGEL
The Play’s The Thing
In the tiny Brick Theater, six teenage actors in shorts and sneakers sit behind laptops, their backs to the audience. As the Xbox logo begins glowing on a large white sheet hanging on the stage, the house lights go down and armor-clad soldiers from the popular game Halo 3 appear. An act of 21st century puppetry begins unfolding as the faceless troops become characters in a 2,000-year-old story of hubris and suffering. “May her insults recoil on her own head!”
This is the tale of “Niobe and Her Children” from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. And it might be theater’s future.
“Sometimes the audience is confused, but we want that,” says Eddie Kim, the 31-year-old head of the drama department at Connecticut’s Pierrepont School, who made the 90-minute drive to take part in “Game Play: A Celebration of Video Game Theater.”
Back onstage the recorded voice of 15-year-old Maxime Olshan-Cantin recounts the story of Niobe, a mortal woman in ancient Greece who insults the goddess Leto, angering her son Apollo. He climbs a hill, fiery arrows in tow, and begins picking off Niobe’s children one by one. You don’t talk about Apollo’s mother.
The story is acted out via Xbox controller, with a metal-faced behemoth portraying Apollo. Instead of shooting arrows, he squeezes off rounds from a machine gun. After one particularly violent sequence, the game announces: “Triple Kill!”
The evening began with a Japanese Noh theater classic performed within World of Warcraft and a Samuel Beckett piece translated into Warcraft 3.
“I bring the stories, and we all decide which game works best,” explains Kim. “They’re the experts.”
“There’s a lot of creativity involved,” says Maura Verne, whose son Connor is in the play. “They’re not just playing video games.”—ADAM K. RAYMOND
At the Calico cat café in Tokyo, an establishment devoted to the appreciation of man’s second-best friend, a smartly dressed Japanese businessman in his forties dangles a plush fuzzball over the impeccably clean carpeted floor with what looks like a miniature fishing rod. He coos, smiles and flicks the rod back and forth, trying to catch the eye of a sprightly snow-white member of the “feline staff.”
A server nods approvingly as she passes with a tray of tea for a young couple on a first date. “She’s the prettiest girl we have at our café,” she tells the woman, who’s eyeing the white cat. “Everybody wants to pet her.”
When it opened in March 2007, Calico was viewed as something of a curiosity. These days, it’s often booked to capacity on weekends, and business is brisk throughout the week. Dozens of similar establishments have opened their doors in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Beyond a national love of cuteness, or kawaii—from Pokémon to Hello Kitty to Sony’s AIBO robotic dog—what accounts for the phenomenon? Many Japanese work long hours and often travel on business, and many apartments have no-pets policies, so animal companionship can be hard to come by. Enter cat cafés like Calico, where for just $10 a hour, patrons can sip tea and stroke one of the twentyodd exquisitely bred, docile felines padding around or curled up having a nap.
The trend is growing: A bunny café recently opened its doors in Tokyo. Sounds like a cat fight.—MIMI HANAOKA
Some Like it Cold
It’s a muggy afternoon in Nashville’s 12South neighborhood, and the usual line has formed under the hot sun in the parking lot at the corner of Kirkwood and 12th, next to the Suite One Salon. There’s no sign indicating what these people have come for— unless you count a pile of multicolored sticks in a trash can—but the locals mostly know. A crowd of regulars sweats it out under the fire escape of the two-story brick structure. Some appear a tad bleary-eyed—honky-tonk fans, by the look of things, just waking up. There are moms with antsy young kids in tow, office workers on break, and a guy from New York who’s in town for a nursing convention. They’re all here for the same thing: popsicles. The nurse, who goes by the name A. Fuzzy Bunny (it checks out; he had it legally changed), cranes his neck, trying to get a peek through the window at the menu.
“I chose to attend this convention solely to try these paletas,” notes Bunny, who discovered the popsicle shop, Las Paletas, and its proprietors, the Paz Sisters, on a foodie website. “My favorite so far is avocado, but they’re all sublime.”
In the four days he’s been here, the chalkboard has listed everything from mango and peanut butter to pineapple-chili, chocolate-wasabi, cucumberjalapeño, rose petal and prune.
The sisters were raised on paletas, as they’re known in Mexico. “They’re part of the daily diet, part of the culture,” says Irma Paz-Bernstein, a former news producer for Telemundo and Univision, who grew up in Guadalajara and shares blending, squeezing, chopping and pureeing duties with big sister Norma Paz-Curtis. “You stop by a paleteria after school, before Mass, again after Mass.”
Residents of Music City seem to have wholeheartedly adopted the custom. “Outside, the world is very complicated,” Irma says. “In here, everything’s simple.” —PAM GROUT
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