The Wright Stuff: Manhattan Avant-Garde Praises Lawrence Wright’s Al-Qaeda Outtakes
On Monday, March 5, the Culture Project theater house reopened in Soho after a two-and-a-half-month-long hiatus with the premiere of New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright’s one-man show, My Trip to Al-Qaeda.
“The unique production,” a press release had trumpeted, “follows in Al Gore’s footsteps by using facts, figures and PowerPoint to weave the details of a complex global issue—in this case the rise of Al-Qaeda.”
“It was fascinating to get to understand their way of thinking,” said the avant-garde artist-musician Laurie Anderson after the show, which featured no PowerPoint whatsoever, while theatergoers filed out as if leaving a funeral. “That they have no plan, that they’re interested in death, not life. I found it shocking and, in a way, more devastating.”
“Devastating,” agreed her husband, singer Lou Reed. The diminutive couple, both in hooded parkas, resembled a pair of really hip Eskimos. “It’s an astonishing explanation. It makes terrible sense. We seem to be doing what they wanted us to do. I don’t know anyone who knows how to get out of this or why that guy’s still here–Bush.”
“You know when people say, ‘Can art change the world? Ehhh,’” Ms. Anderson said. “But then I think about Bob Dylan: He wrote songs about losers. So people went, ‘Hey, being a loser can be kind of cool.’ You know, it can be romantic. It expanded people’s idea of what a role model can be, and that’s really good in America, where your role models are very restrictive. You know: cowboy, salesman, movie star—that’s about it.”
The Transom tried to get Mr. Reed to expand on this, but he indicated with his hand that he was done.
Many of the promised luminaries—editor Tina Brown, TV host Phil Donahue, even, to The Transom’s disappointment, Vagina Monologuist Eve Ensler—didn’t make it to the after-party at the new Bowery Hotel. There was no dance floor, no disco ball, but the wine and conversation flowed freely.
“There was no greater party place than West Berlin, and they were always on the verge,” said Culture Project’s white-pinstripe-suit-clad founder, Allan Buchman, explaining why the festivities were a wise idea. “It’s a way to release the tension.”
Mr. Wright said he’d been mulling a venture into drama ever since David Hare asked if he could use a line from one of Mr. Wright’s articles for one of his plays. “When I finished my book [The Looming Tower, about the road to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks], I still had some things I wanted to say,” Mr. Wright said. “I’m not a character in my book, but I’d had some really interesting experiences and I had been changed myself. I want people to understand why they attacked America, what caused them to be the people they are, how are we seen in the rest of the world. Those are themes that I want people to understand.”
He added, “It’s a very odd thing for a reporter to do, write a play.” Not to mention act in it—move over, Joan Didion! “It takes a lot out of you,” Mr. Wright said. “I think next I’m going to write about learning how to play the piano.”
New Yorker editor David Remnick praised his employee’s experiment. “What I liked about his performance is that it was him,” wrote Mr. Remnick (who attended the performance but slipped away early to relieve a babysitter), in an e-mail the next morning. “There was no attempt to make himself into a broader character, thank God.”
Heyday! Heyday! Shiny Vanity Fair Crowd Fêtes Kurt Andersen’s Second Novel
Kurt Andersen’s second novel, Heyday is barreling towards bookstores, and on Wednesday, Feb. 28, his old buddies Graydon Carter, of Vanity Fair, and Jim Kelly, of Time, threw him a party at Mr. Carter’s restaurant, the Waverly Inn.
Researching the book, a piece of historical fiction, “was like the graduate school I never had,” Mr. Andersen said. “Taking the hard facts of history and then seeing how much you can try to voyeur and play around with it is part of the fun and the puzzle of doing it.”
In the crowd was Jonathan Franzen, author of the 2001 best-seller The Corrections and erstwhile Oprah antagonist. “I like him a lot,” he said of Mr. Andersen. “But I have problems with the genre.” Though he admitted to digging Deadwood.
“The two things I don’t like about historic fiction are when they try to backdate modern attitudes,” said Vanity Fair contributing editor, Walter Kirn. “Kurt doesn’t do that. And also, he sounds contemporary—even though he’s writing about a hundred years ago. And that’s the essential accomplishment.” Is that two things?
Never mind—it was onward to contributing writer David Margolick, who fondly recalled listening to the audio version of Michael Shaara’s Civil War novel The Killer Angels while driving home from covering the O.J. Simpson trial in 1994. His colleague Kevin Sessums, meanwhile, was bemoaning the forthcoming review in The New York Times of his new memoir, Mississippi Sissy. “They got a right-wing lesbian to review the book,” he said, referring to Norah Vincent, author of Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man. “Believe me, I’ve done my research on that bitch.”
She-Bop in Reebok: These Bold Broads Miss the Crazy 80’s
The upsetting 1980’s fashion flashback just refuses to stop, as evinced by Reebok’s blindingly Day-Glo party celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Freestyle sneaker at Culture Club on Thursday, March 1.
“For me, it’s glory,” said Brooke Shields, comparatively subdued in a black Donna Karan pantsuit accented with giant diamond earrings. “It was my sort of era, when I arrived. It was responsible for me—I respected it then and I respect it now. And the fact that we’re still here”—she gestured at her mother, Teri, and an unidentified man—“is a testament to longevity.”
Ms. Shields, 41 (which is 61 in model-actress years), took a moment to recall what was perhaps the decade’s sartorial high point. “Jeans with the leg warmers—and you couldn’t leave without the leg warmer,” she said, adding poignantly: “I never really had friends in high school until I invited them to Wednesdays, when they had disco night at Xenon—and then all of my friends in high school decided they liked me, because I invited them to a party.”
Party girl turned master thespian Tara Reid, meanwhile, was wearing a sequined white dress picked up on Portobello Road in London. “I love the 80’s—the 80’s never came back because they never went away,” declared Ms. Reid, 31. “I mean, you have the Madonna videos and you have Boy George. I remember me and my friend growing up—we had a dance-off to ‘Karma Chameleon.’ I still know the dance moves.”
Before she could demonstrate them, The Transom ducked into a back stairwell, where relentlessly festive former MTV V.J. “Downtown” Julie Brown, 43, was stepping aside to allow a plate of mini-cheeseburgers to pass. “The world is in quite a messy little place,” she said, as the Fine Young Cannibals tune “She Drives Me Crazy” blasted in the background. “I think it’s fun to go back to something that’s … fun.”
Please Sir, May I Have Seymour? Birthday Cake for Model Husband Brant
Wynton Marsalis was on the horn. Little wooden peace pipe making the rounds. A bunch of slick-looking millionaire art dealers noddin’ and bobbin’ and shakin’ their domes to that sweet, sweet music.
“It’s an honor to be here,” said Mr. Marsalis, coming off the stage. “Here” was the surprise 60th birthday party for Peter Brant, art-world publishing mogul, polo player and hubby of supermodel turned homemaker Stephanie Seymour—at the Gramercy Park Hotel’s not-yet-opened Asian-inspired restaurant Thursday, March 1. “I play like it was my own birthday,” said the jazz great, looking timeless in a three-piece tweed suit.
“It was perfect, especially in this smoky room,” said gallerist Larry Gagosian, who’d just returned from Oscar week in Los Angeles.
“I think Peter was very moved,” said the artist Jeff Koons. “There was definitely some moisture around his eyes. It was just really good people, good friends.”
These good friends included Robert De Niro and Baby Jane Holzer. But the surprise element of the illustrious gathering was almost ruined. “Peter had heard something about a party earlier in the day,” said gallerist Tony Shafrazi, who played M.C. for the evening. “We had to distract him for a couple hours, so we took him to the bar and told him we were going to a restaurant somewhere else.” Sneaky!
Nearby, Ms. Seymour was sizing up a Warhol print of a cow that everyone had signed for her husband. She was moved by the gesture, but said birthdays don’t really mean much to her. “It’s just an excuse to have a great party with great people and great music.”
A faraway look came over Ms. Seymour’s eyes. “Jazz is so sexy,” she intoned. “I think it has something to do with the lips.”
Flamed! Gay Prison in L.A. Bars Carrot-topped Comedienne
On Monday, Feb. 26, self-described D-list comedian and “honorary gay” Kathy Griffin met with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, in an attempt to convince him to let her bring her act and her cameras from the reality show My Life on the D-List to the openly gay division of his jail, known as cellblock K-11.
“He didn’t know me from Adam,” Ms. Griffin said. “He kept saying, ‘Now who are you again?’ I was like ‘Um, I sold out Carnegie Hall? Anybody?’”
It was a brief and somewhat desultory meeting. “I was like, ‘I speak gay fluently.’ He didn’t laugh at anything I said,” the carrot-topped comedian complained.
“Sheriff did not think it would fit into the core values of the jail,” said Mr. Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, of the proposed performance. Mr. Whitmore acknowledged that Mr. Baca didn’t know who Ms. Griffin was, but said that “she clearly did not know who he was, either”—as demonstrated by the fact that she had tried to bring an uninvited camera crew into the sheriff’s office.
“The sheriff wants to eliminate the locker-room mentality and to bring out a sense of integrity and dignity when it comes to language and conduct in the jail,” Mr. Whitmore said. “He didn’t think that her act would be appropriate at this time.”
Ms. Griffin had her own insights into the workings of Mr. Baca’s mind. “The sheriff is not gay. If he were gay, I would have been in for sure,” said the comic, who dates her homosexual bona fides back to high school, when she hung out with the “theater queen” set.
Undaunted, Ms. Griffin will perform at a prison in Perryville, Ariz., this week. “What’s weird is that the heterosexual prisons are like, ‘Come on down! Do whatever you want!’” she said. “I’m planning to open with: ‘What time is the gang rape? I’m here for the 6:30 gang rape!’ I’m hoping nobody makes a citizen’s arrest.”