What was the climax to my Memorial Day? I might say mourning or remembering a lost New York, but that’s only a half truth, for Penny Arcade’s new work-in-progress Longing Lasts Longer is only partially that…ultimately I’d call it a call to arms from a bona fide cultural warrior. We’re New Yorkers. We don’t just lay down and die!
If you’ve read my earlier interviews (here and here) you have some idea of the content of the new work. Live and in person, the piece is very much an elaboration on the things she spoke about when we talked, with lots more to boot. It’s kind of like a TED Talk for bohemians and anarchists, backed by a soundtrack of relevant tunes (the ones Scorsese might choose), and some kickass writing (when she gets rolling I hear echoes of Whitman and the Beats), plus evangelical style preaching. At certain points when the rapture takes over, she just dances. She dances — how do they say in West Side Story? “Like [they] gotta get rid of something.”
I won’t shut up about this show because I think she’s on to something. What she is saying strikes a chord. This is not just the right message for the right moment, but it’s brave — which means she’s the only one daring to send this message. And swimming against the tide is exhausting. This is America! Who DARES attack the young? To attack the young is to declare yourself old. Everyone in America is TERRIFIED to do this, to the point of absurdity, to the point of sickness. You think I’m kidding?
Look at Marlo Thomas, who will be turning 80 in two years:
And Marie Osmond, aged 55:
I don’t say these women ought to look like my teachers looked at those ages back in the 1970s, with mustaches and reeking of Lanacane. But they certainly oughtn’t to look like the STUDENTS looked back in Junior High School. And everyone knows this isn’t how these women actually look; it’s a triumph of the embalmers’ art. These ladies are obviously terrified anyone will get the idea they’re older than 24 years old.
Penny’s piece isn’t really about this, by the way. Nor is she afraid of her cleavage, either (see above). But my point is she also doesn’t pretend her career didn’t start in 1969… and (heresy of heresies) she says her actual age! Out loud! In public!
Anyway, at bottom, the conflict she describes isn’t really between old and young, but between urban and suburban. It’s just that young people just HAPPEN to be the ones dragging this culture and this city down into a morass of conservatism and proto-fascism.
Yeah, I said dat!
The takeaway thoughts she leaves you with at the end are Joy, Gratitude and Authenticity. But with authenticity she really gets at the crux of it. What is the famous New York “rudeness” but being honest to a fault? Saying what you think, and not sugar-coating it? People seem so terrified of this nowadays.
Do you know that the theatre critics of this town used to be a sort of platoon of berzerkers? They wrote to entertain and they also cared deeply about the theatre, so the newspaper critics of this town, oh, people like George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woolcott (I honestly don’t give a fuck how you spell it) brought their famous wits to bear and took no prisoners. That was another day at the office. When I get goin’ I try to emulate them, and on those occasions when I let ‘er rip, you can generally cut the atmosphere of terror and unease with a knife. Not because I wasn’t very nice, but because I had the effrontery to be a drag! And that simply isn’t done! It’s so unhip to be a “hater.”
Hey screw that. I just learned I ‘m related to John Adams, and I’m going to go with his famously brusque manner as a family trait. We don’t need any more cheerleaders for mediocrity in this town. It’s sinking to that level fast enough without encouragement. Let’s get back to telling the truth, shall we? Let’s do it precisely because it SUBVERTS the protocols of marketing. This is the point, I think. If you can free yourself from the cradle to grave drumbeat of pre-chewed marketing messages, only then will you have earned the ownership of that very unique organ you carry around behind your eyes and under your wig.
Its early days in the development of Longing Lasts Longer. There are two more performances at Joe’s Pub and Penny said last night she may add some New York performances before she heads off to Edinburgh and London and then she will probably bring it back here for a proper open-ended run. When she does, I’m telling ya — this piece merits a NY Times feature, above the fold, in the Arts section. Penny Arcade’s got her fingers on the pulse of this ailing town.