Saturday, December 07, 2013
Long before Cole Porter observed that birds, bees and educated fleas do it, the French poet Alexis Piron made the same point in his X-rated “Ode to Priapus.” Anthologized in “The Libertine,” the literary historian Michel Delon’s delectable new volume of 18th-century French erotica, it catalogs an array of fauna (“Dromedary, whale, and duck, / Insect, critter, man”) united in their lusty predilection for verbs and nouns too obscene to print in this newspaper, though collectively identifiable by Porter’s own euphemistic pronoun of choice: “Everything does it, reasonable or not.” Reminiscent, too, of the catalog aria from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” — an enumeration of the skirt-chasing hero’s thousands of conquests by age, rank, nationality and hair color — Piron’s dirty laundry list underscores both the dogged ubiquity of the sex instinct and the inexhaustible variety of its expressions.
Delon’s anthology performs a similar function, displaying the dazzling breadth and depth of the 18th-century obsession with pleasures of the flesh. In the final decades of ancien régime France, an unsentimental, frankly hedonistic brand of thrill-seeking called libertinage — an enterprise in which, according to the playwright Pierre de Marivaux, “one still said to a woman: ‘I love you,’ but this was a polite way of saying: ‘I desire you’ ” — infused every genre from fiction to poetry, theater to philosophy, memoir to popular song (all well represented in short, artfully selected excerpts).
With any luck, 2013 should mark a watershed moment for Korean literature in English translation, thanks to the ten volumes being released by Dalkey Archive. They arrive with the support of the indefatigable LTI Korea, an institution whose existence—and budget—is frequently the cause of teeth-gnashing envy on the part of translators from less well-supported languages. All told, these ten—to be followed by ten more, currently scheduled for release in spring 2014—do an admirable job of showcasing the great range of talent to be found among modern Korean literature, which, in its contemporary iteration, seems to me to be one of the world’s most exciting, dynamic, and consistently impressive. This excellence is thanks, variously, to three things: the relatively stringent gate-keeping role still played by Korean publishers; a longstanding regard for the intellectual and the highbrow; and a traditional focus on short stories that has enabled the Korean novel to develop as a far more fluid, hybrid form than the calcified monoliths that have sometimes played a stultifying role elsewhere.
These ten Dalkey translations also cover a wide range of periods, from the colonial 1930s to the hyper-technologized postmodernity of the 21st century. Though this range makes the books useful in terms of providing a broad sweep for the uninitiated, it does make it somewhat tricky to draw any meaningful connections or comparisons between the works, aside from the obvious one of their being “Korean.”
Nairn didn’t even have a script: he pottered round in his Morris Minor convertible, saw buildings he either loved or loathed, said his piece, usually looking uneasy and unsociable, and moved on. He was a hugely influential figure in alerting the populace to the disasters created by the architect/planner/government-knows-best attitude that prevailed.
The critic Deyan Sudjic sees him as one of four men who shaped the way Britain saw its architecture 30 and 40 years ago, along with the cataloguer Nikolaus Pevsner, the lyrical nostalgist John Betjeman and the Los Angeles-lover Reyner Banham. Pevsner and Betjeman have never gone out of fashion; Banham’s exuberant theories have not weathered well.
Nairn, meanwhile, was the youngest of the four but the first to die – in 1983, aged 52, of cirrhosis. The drink had already done for his career as both a broadcaster and writer. For two decades he had blazed across the scene, first in the architectural press, then in books, finally on TV and in the Sunday newspapers. The creative industries have some tolerance for wayward geniuses but it is always finite, especially when alcohol makes them intolerable, and Nairn had stretched the tolerance beyond its limits. The obeisances were muted when he died, and then he was largely forgotten.
Via Andrew Sullivan, James Hamblin in The Atlantic:
Toxo[plasmosis gondii] has been all over the news in recent years, since it became known that the parasite manipulates people’s behavior. Maybe most interestingly and notoriously, it seems to make men more introverted, suspicious, unattractive to women, and oblivious to the way others see them. Infected women, inversely, have been shown to be more outgoing, trusting, sexually adventurous, attractive to men, and image-conscious. Infected men tend to break more rules than their uninfected peers, and infected women tend to pay them more heed. Infected men and women are 2.5 times more likely to have traffic accidents, more likely to develop schizophrenia, and more likely to engage in self-directed violence.
As these stories made news, though, they lacked a logical explanation. At least 60 million Americans have it, if almost always unknown to them, so understanding this is beyond academic. Thinking about the potential scale of the parasite’s effect on civilization and history can be overwhelming, like imagining the twin brother you never had. If you do have a twin brother in real life, it’s like imagining your triplet. Already have a triplet? You get the idea.
Why, though? Why does Toxo affect human behavior? In The New York Timeslast year, Choire Sicha channeled cats in a memo (“From the desk of: Cats”) that read, “We have trained, by means of this gentle biological warfare, your women to let us into your homes, and your men to stay home and scratch us in our difficult places.”
Who are you going to believe? The cats?
Heather Havrilesky in Bookforum:
When everything fell to pieces for Didion—her husband of thirty-nine years died of a heart attack in 2003, and her daughter died of acute pancreatitis in 2005—her signature foreboding tone needed few adjustments. In The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, Didion describes these losses in the same melodramatic yet detached style that she once used to describe Los Angeles’ pristine blue skies as “the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse,” or to capture the uneasy course of a family holiday in Hawaii, taken “in lieu of filing for divorce.” Didion’s unmatched dexterity as a writer hasn’t changed, but something feels wrong for the first time. Closing her last two books, it’s hard not to implore of the book-jacket photo, “But, Joan, how do you actually feel about all of this?”
Ephron, on the other hand, tells us exactly how she feels every step of the way—whether she’s clashing with her former boss, New York Post owner Dorothy Schiff, or reflecting on cheesecake and pot roast and the futility of making egg rolls that aren’t even as good as cheap Chinese takeout. Ephron does all this in the plainest language, with the least fanfare and the greatest amount of humor she can manage. Here is how she describes, to a reporter from the New Yorker, her mother’s death by cirrhosis, which was aided by an overdose of sleeping pills administered by her father: “When that happened, I don’t know how to say this except . . . it was a moment of almost comic relief. It seemed entirely possible, in character, understandable, and I think we all filed it under Will I Ever Be Able to Use This in Anything.” Likewise, when Ephron discovered that her husband, Carl Bernstein, was cheating on her while she was pregnant with her second child, she translated that nightmare into the surprisingly giddy best-selling novel Heartburn, which subsequently became a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.
Jerry Adler in Smithsonian:
Twenty feet under Delancey Street in Manhattan is a trolley terminal that hasn’t been used in 65 years—a ghostly space of cobblestones, abandoned tracks and columns supporting vaulted ceilings. An ideal place for the city to store, say, old filing cabinets. Yet when the architect James Ramsey saw it, he imagined a park with paths, benches and trees. A park that could be used in any weather, because it gets no rain. That it also gets no sunlight is a handicap, but not one he couldn’t overcome. If the 20th century belonged to the skyscraper, argues Daniel Barasch, who is working with Ramsey to build New York’s—and possibly the world’s—first underground park, then the frontier of architecture in the 21st is in the basement.
There are advantages to underground construction, not all of them obvious, says Eduardo de Mulder, a Dutch geologist. Although excavation is expensive and technically challenging in places like the Netherlands with a high water table, underground space is cheaper to maintain—there are no windows to wash, no roof or facade exposed to weather. The energy cost of lighting is more than offset by savings on heating and cooling in the relatively constant below-ground temperature. Cities with harsh winters or blazing summers have been at the forefront of the building-down trend. Underground real estate in crowded Shanghai and Beijing, expanding at around 10 percent a year since the turn of the century, is projected to reach 34 square miles in the capital by 2020. Helsinki’s master plan calls for significantly expanding its tunnels and more than 400 underground facilities, which includes a seawater-cooled data center.
Of course, you give something up to relocate underground, namely, windows. Even de Mulder thinks below-ground living (as distinct from working and shopping) has a large obstacle to overcome in human psychology.
Meeting the Mountains
He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turn to a trapped pool
He puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torent and the mountains
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!
....................................VI69, Kai at Sawmill Lake
by Gary Snyder
from No Nature
Pantheon Books, 1992
Friday, December 06, 2013
Isaac Chotiner in The Nation:
When Justice Antonin Scalia dissented from the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas(2003), the case that struck down the Lone Star State’s anti-sodomy law, he wrote, “If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ‘no legitimate state interest’ for purposes of proscribing that conduct…what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution?’” The more recent decision in United States v. Windsor—which did not legalize gay marriage in all fifty states—allowed Scalia to make another slippery-slope prediction: “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.” Scalia’s views are odious, but it’s hard to look at the history of the issue and doubt that he is right: gay marriage is coming to all fifty states, and he can’t do a thing about it.
To John Gray, the British philosopher, political theorist and wide-ranging cultural critic, the optimistic narrative I have sketched is another example of fanciful, misguided optimism. According to Gray, human flourishing is cyclical, and does not inevitably increase over time. Advances are followed by setbacks, and eras of peace by horrific wars. Unprecedented developments in medicine, science and women’s rights in the first half of the twentieth century were succeeded by the worst conflict in human history. Jim Crow came after Reconstruction. And revolutions that initially seemed to offer the promise of more freedom—whether in France or Iran or Egypt today—have led to violence and depravity, if not chaos. One imagines Gray arguing that of course the Western world could see a further entrenchment of gay rights; at the same time, an unknown series of events might lead to the reverse scenario. All we know is that we don’t know.
Daniel Mahoney in The American Conservative:
Much of [Pierre] Manent’s previous work centered on making sense of modernity as a self-conscious “project” for liberating humankind from the West’s dual classical and Christian heritages. This theme finds elegant expression in Metamorphoses of the City. As Manent puts it in a particularly notable passage,
the modern State … rests on the repression, in any case the frustration, of the two most powerful human affects: on the one hand the passionate interest in this world as expressed in active participation in the common thing, and on the other the passionate interest in the eternal and the infinite as expressed in the postulation of another world and participation in a community of faith.
Modernity represses or frustrates “two fundamental movements of the soul” and creates a human order that is both post-civic and post-Christian. Manent is one of the rare thinkers to appreciate that the de-Christianization of the West is part and parcel of the same process as its de-politicization. As he writes near the beginning of his book, “In Europe today, the civic operation is feeble and the religious Word almost inaudible. The two poles between which the Western arc was bent for so long have lost their force.” Manent’s work as a whole is in large part an explanation of how Europeans arrived at this remarkable depletion of civic and religious energies.
Yet paradoxically, the modern project first came to light as a political project, a great endeavor of human thought and human action. One of the tasks of Manent’s book is to locate the project of collective action that is modernity “in the history of European and Western political development.” To understand our late modern condition with its “dearth of political forms,” its utopian quest to leave politics behind altogether, one must return to the pre-modern period, when a great variety of political forms—the city, the empire, and the Church—competed for the loyalties of men.
I am indeed truly humbled to be standing here today to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. I extend my heartfelt thanks to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for elevating us to the status of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate my compatriot and fellow laureate, State President F.W. de Klerk, on his receipt of this high honor. Together, we join two distinguished South Africans, the late Chief Albert Luthuli and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to whose seminal contributions to the peaceful struggle against the evil system of apartheid you paid well-deserved tribute by awarding them the Nobel Peace Prize.
It will not be presumptuous of us if we also add, among our predecessors, the name of another outstanding Nobel Peace Prize winner, the late African-American statesman and internationalist, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr. He, too, grappled with and died in the effort to make a contribution to the just solution of the same great issues of the day which we have had to face as South Africans. We speak here of the challenge of the dichotomies of war and peace, violence and non-violence, racism and human dignity, oppression and repression and liberty and human rights, poverty and freedom from want. We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war, violence, racism, oppression, repression and the impoverishment of an entire people.
Leopardi regards paganism’s lapses as purer than Christianity’s because at least pagans who act unethically are acting naturally, not contradictorily. At least the Greek and Roman gods were humane, he maintains, in that they felt human passions, even to the point of meddling in our affairs; they patronized, and were influenced by, our art. If you died as a Greek or Roman you took your memories and emotions with you into a sort of exile. This was infinitely preferable to the Christian heaven, which cast life on earth as the exile, from which redemption was a calculation, or a transaction. In the Roman Catholic rite Hell became avoidable via a formalized penance, the sacrament of confession. Each dead person’s soul, however, had to be judged for assignation — this suggested a Purgatory: an amorphous transitional state, until the Medieval Church deemed it a locatable space or place because the fate of dead unbaptized newborns required the accommodation of a Limbo, located adjacent. The next logical provision was time, and though each sin earned its sinner a designated wait, the popes offered swifter passage for a price: indulgences. To Leopardi, each innovation merely distanced humanity farther from the true religion, which wasn’t the one Constantine adopted, or the one Jesus bled for, or even Olympus’s — but “certainty,” “negligence,” unicity.
On the subject of death I’m inclined to turn to my two favourite writers. Vladimir Nabokov beginsSpeak Memory, an autobiography of sorts, with the kind of banality any reader of his knows better than to get cosy with: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ Given how much respect he had for common sense we shouldn’t be anything but wary. Before the end of the paragraph the old ‘chronophobiac’ (though he claimed it to be ‘a young chronophobiac of his acquaintance’) is trembling at the memory of a home movie of his mother waving from a window just weeks before he was born (‘some mysterious farewell’), and most frightening, ‘the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin’. Then: ‘I rebel against this state of affairs. I feel the urge to take my rebellion outside and picket nature’. Quite right, and common sense go hang, I say.
Mailer’s novels—there are twelve of them—resist easy groupings. No logic connects them, only the circumstances of their author’s working life. There were four books he conceived of as the first parts of epic series he never got around to completing. There were two he was able to dash off in the course of a summer, Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967) and Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984)—he considered them “gifts.” Another resulted from a commission from Esquire to write a novel for serialization. And one, Of Women and Their Elegance, indeed amounted to “a quick turn for his creditors,” or in this case the swift fulfillment of an outstanding British publishing contract. His fame allowed him to be something of a literary hustler, writing his first drafts in public, promising interviewers books that would never be written. Novelists are cannier than that today, but few of them are as well paid. Starting in the 1990s, Mailer received $30,000 a month from Random House. With more than a dozen dependents, he still needed another $300,000 yearly on the side (speaking engagements, teleplays, consulting on films) to keep the Mailer machine in motion.
It’s easy to think of Mailer’s career as a case of overcompensation for a youth in Brooklyn as a diligent student and “physical coward.” When he was a freshman at Harvard, he read the books that gave him “the desire to be a major writer”: Studs Lonigan, U.S.A., The Grapes of Wrath. He majored in engineering, but wrote constantly.
I Dreamed I Got A Letter From Ezra Pound
Oh I got jammed among the bodies as
they yelled away the air, enclosed. I slept
naked between to living pains. My chin-
bone plowed the floorboards as my talk,
all teeth, chewed at the salt ankle of
a raving man. I have been sent here
to commit the psychopaths to violence
and have succeeded. I have my disciples.
by Alan Dugan
from New and Selected Poems 1961-1983
Ecco Press, 1983
From which he drew inspiration while in prison, often reciting it to fellow inmates at Robben Island, was "Invictus," by English poet William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
John Hewitt in MedicalXpress:
Perhaps the most controversial book ever written in the field of psychology, was Julian Janes' mid-seventies classic, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind." In it, Jaynes reaches the stunning conclusion that the seemingly all-pervasive and demanding gods of the ancients, were not just whimsical personifications of inanimate objects like the sun or moon, nor anthropomorphizations of the various beasts, real and mythical, but rather the culturally-barren inner voices of bilaterally-symmetric brains not yet fully connected, nor conscious, in the way we are today. In his view, all people of the day would have "heard voices", similar to the schizophrenic. They would have been experienced as a hallucinations of sorts, coming from outside themselves as the unignorable voices of gods, rather than as commands originating from the other side of the brain. After a long hiatus, the study the inner voice, and the larger mental baggage that comes along with having one, has returned to the fore. Vaughan Bell, a researcher from King's College in London, recently published an insightful call to arms in PlOS Biology for psychologists and neurobiologists to create a new understanding of these phenomena.
A coherent inner narrative in synch with our actions, is something most of us take for granted. Yet not everyone can take such possession. The congenitally deaf, for example, may later acquire auditory and communicative function through the use of cochlear implants. However, their inner experiences of sound-powered word, which they acquire through the reattribution of percepts of a previous gestural or visual nature, is something not typically shared or appreciated at the level of the larger public. A similar lack of comprehension at the research community level exists regarding those with physically intact senses, but with some other mental process gone awry. We may note with familiarity the shuffling and muttering of a homeless schizophrenic, yet have no systematic way to comprehend their intuitions, no matter how deluded they may appear. Bell notes that current neurocognitive theories tend to ignore how those who hear voices first acquire what he describes as "internalized social actors."
Thursday, December 05, 2013
"What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves." —South African president Jacob Zuma
Justin E. H. Smith in The American Reader:
What is Europe? Where are its cracks? The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben recently argued that a ‘Latin Union’ should be carved out of the crumbling EU, on the basis of shared linguistic and cultural heritage. Agamben would like to include France in this breakaway federation, yet there is in fact some ancient and medieval basis for the belief that French identity, unlike Italian, is not simply descended from the Romans, but indeed is forged out of a significant encounter with the Germanic and Celtic worlds.
For one thing, the very ethnonym, français, denotes in the first instance Frankish people, speakers of the Germanic Old Franconian language, who also left their name to a certain fort that would grow into a city later distinguished as the birthplace of Goethe and the home of the German stock exchange. Students in traditional programs of Romance philology were required to master the non-Romance languages of influential neighbors; those specializing in Spanish also took Arabic, while those focused on France had to prove mastery of German. But here in fact the neighboring relation does not do justice to the nature of the influence in question. The two cultural spheres are co-generated, and share much of the same stock of treasures. Before there was Tristan und Isolde there was Tristan et Yseult. La Fontaine and the Brothers Grimm tell many of the same tales, gathered from the French and German countrysides like mushrooms. The German word for ‘France’, Frankreich, hits us like Thor’s hammer, even as it accurately describes the thing in question. France is the Reich of the Franks.
Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
The Nonhuman Rights Project, an organization founded by Massachusetts lawyer and animal rights activist Steven Wise, has this week filed a series of lawsuits in New York demanding that chimpanzees be granted ‘legal personhood’. The lawsuit seeks to extend the concept of habeas corpus to chimpanzees, drawing an analogy with one of the most famous anti-slavery cases, that of James Somerset in 1772, an American slave:
...who had been taken to London by his owner, escaped, was recaptured and was being held in chains on a ship that was about to set sail for the slave markets of Jamaica. With help from a group of abolitionist attorneys, Somerset’s godparents filed a writ of habeas corpus on Somerset’s behalf in order to challenge Somerset’s classification as a legal thing, and the case went before the Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench, Lord Mansfield. In what became one of the most important trials in Anglo-American history, Lord Mansfield ruled that Somerset was not a piece of property, but instead a legal person, and he set him free.
‘We are claiming that chimpanzees are autonomous’, Wise has said. ‘That is, being able to self-determine, be self-aware, and be able to choose how to live their own lives.’
I hope to write a proper response to this. In the meantime, I am republishing an old debate between myself and Peter Singer on the question of rights for Great Apes. In the form of an exchange of letters, it was first published in Prospect magazine in in April 1999.
Brandon Keim in Wired:
It's a question that's perplexed philosophers for centuries and scientists for decades: where does consciousness come from? We know it exists, at least in ourselves. But how it arises from chemistry and electricity in our brains is an unsolved mystery.
Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer. According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be. That's just the way the universe works.
"The electric charge of an electron doesn't arise out of more elemental properties. It simply has a charge," says Koch. "Likewise, I argue that we live in a universe of space, time, mass, energy, and consciousness arising out of complex systems."
The Pacific has long been the hole at the heart of world history. For two centuries, global historians from the First World have hardly known what to make of the “fifth part of the world”. There’s just “so much ocean, too many islands”, the late Australian historian Greg Dening lamented ironically: over 25,000 islands in an ocean covering more than a third of the Earth’s surface and spanning from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from Southeast Asia to Central America. In the ages of paddle and sail, steam and propeller, every traveller could feel the connections between land and sea, the continents and the islands. The jet age seemingly rendered the Pacific Basin a kind of intellectual flyover territory – “the earth’s empty quarter” – for outsiders to Oceania and Australasia. The upshot, as the i-Kiribati scholar Teresa Teaiwa noted in 2002, was that “the dialogue between studies of humanity and studies of the Pacific” broke down. Only lately has the conversation resumed among historians. It now includes fish, mammals and birds. It takes place amid metaphorical mountains of fur, blubber and faeces. And it has lessons, even warnings, for the rest of the world.
“I hate traveling and explorers.” A great and famous first line (from Claude Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques) because, for the reader—and who knows, maybe even for the author as well—it is such a provocative untruth: we love explorers. When we’re tired of every other kind of reading expedition, we’ll trudge along in the footsteps of the great explorers; even if we no longer have the stamina to read about them, we’ll settle for pictures of them.
And what about Albert Camus’s claim, in the opening line of his essay “The Minotaur or the Halt at Oran,” that “There are no more deserts, there are no more islands”? How can that be true, even at some metaphorical level? Okay, the Maldives might sink beneath the waves in the not-too-distant future, but there are still plenty of islands left—I live on one—and there are loads of deserts. The danger, as I understand it, is that if we’re not careful we’ll lose some islands and there will be nothing but deserts.
It’s the ice that’s endangered, receding and melting by the day, making polar exploration a thing of the past when it’s already a thing of the past.
David Rooney in The New York Times:
Since the dawn of time — well O.K., since the mid-’60s — gay men have been fiercely divided into love-her or hate-her camps by their feelings for Barbra Streisand. The intensity of those relationships is perhaps equaled by the subject’s self-regard, at least based on the evidence of her hilariously unnecessary 2010 coffee-table book, “My Passion for Design.” The volume is a personal tour and chronicle of the creation and construction of Ms. Streisand’s extensive Malibu compound, a “dream refuge” that includes a Connecticut-style mill house and water wheel. (Why not?) The author is also credited as principal photographer for the book, available in both regular and limited signed-and-numbered deluxe editions, the latter in a cloth-covered box that also includes a DVD, directed and narrated by... guess who? A steal at $500! But even in the more modest $60 version, this is a jaw-dropping digest of narcissism, obsessive folly and stifling tastefulness, which makes it a delicious target for satire. Jonathan Tolins has turned this tome into a springboard for “Buyer & Cellar,” a featherweight but irresistible play about celebrity false bonding, the solitude of über-fame and the seductive allure of expensive chintz.
A wonderful solo vehicle for Michael Urie to purvey his wicked winsomeness, the show, which opened on Wednesday at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is a work of extravagant fiction, albeit one rooted in bizarre fact. The sheer excess of Babs-ylonia is of less interest to Mr. Tolins than the actual underground Main Street in the basement of a barn on the estate. Inspired by Winterthur, the American decorative arts museum in Delaware, it’s an avenue of quaint storefronts — a doll shop, an antiques emporium, a gift shoppe, a vintage clothing boutique, etc. — all built to house Ms. Streisand’s vast collection of “stuff.” “Remember, this is the part that’s real,” Mr. Urie says before he slips into character, with a nod of complicity that reads, “Crazy, right?” That character is Alex More, a struggling gay Los Angeles actor licking his wounds after being fired as the mayor of Toontown at Disneyland. The play’s cheeky premise is that since Ms. Streisand has fabricated herself a shopping mall with one customer, it also requires an employee to run it. That’s where the freshly hired Alex comes in. Idling away his days in this subterranean arcade with only the purr of the frozen yogurt machine for company, he is a symbol for the indignities endured by out-of-work actors in survival jobs. But Alex’s boredom is instantly forgotten when his employer pops downstairs to browse.
More here. (Note: This is the best play I have seen in NY in the last year! Go immediately if you can!)