What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

March 31, 2014 Issue

Reading John Lahr’s superb “Joy Ride,” a profile of the director and choreographer Susan Stroman, in this week’s issue, I found myself wondering what Roseanne Barr would make of Stroman’s “ring-a-ding smile,” her “tapping into joy,” and her “turn to the musical as her own Rx for heartbreak.” Roseanne is the subject of Lahr’s masterpiece “Dealing with Roseanne” (The New Yorker, July 17, 1995; included in his wonderful 2002 collection Show and Tell), one of the most brilliant profiles ever to appear in the magazine. “Rage is Roseanne’s ozone. She exudes it. She creates it,” Lahr says. Would Roseanne have catered to Woody Allen’s taste for Snickers bars, as Stroman does in “Joy Ride” (“Stroman, who looked tired, set out two Snickers bars for him”)? I don’t think so, not unless she was on Prozac. Stroman’s escapist world of skittering chorus girls, dancing hotdogs, and sprung chairs is completely different from Roseanne’s hard reality. In “Dealing with Roseanne,” Roseanne says of working-class women, “They don’t kowtow to men like middle-class women do.” But maybe Stroman has an inner Roseanne that she keeps well suppressed? We catch a glimpse of her subversive side when she instructs her dancers, “Kiss with the middle finger.” Now that’s a gesture Roseanne would appreciate.

Even though these two vivid portraits differ from each other in subject, their structures are similar. They both describe the process of creating a show. I relish this form of profile. Nobody does it better than Lahr. In “Dealing with Roseanne,” he takes us into Roseanne’s studio, where we see the first reading of one of her show’s scripts and later look in on one of the “joke rooms” in the writers’ compound, where the writers focus “on the last of their jokes to beat.” In “Joy Ride,” we’re thrillingly present for various stages of Bullets Over Broadway’s production, including the first day of work (“The handouts sat on a Formica table at the entrance to the rehearsal hall, beside a set of black script binders, fanned out flamboyantly like a royal straight flush”), the “meet and greet” (“a ritual of Broadway that is a cross between a kaffeeklatsch, a pep rally, and a shareholders’ meeting”), and the first preview (“At the curtain call, Allen rushed up the stairs toward his private room, but paused at the top. There, alone in the low amber light, he bent over the balustrade to gaze at the crowd standing to applaud. For a full minute, he studied the jubilation, then finally slipped away”). “Joy Ride” is a great addition to Lahr’s magnificent oeuvre. I enjoyed it immensely. 

Postscript: Also in this week’s issue, Amelia Lester scores another inspired sentence with “If you feel like eating a carrot-and-black-trumpet-mushroom salad with your second tequila cocktail, you’re in luck, and perhaps it’s the right call—the windows frame an obnoxiously bright Equinox gym, where Lululemoners reading Us Weekly on the elliptical pedal through the night in silent rebuke” (“Bar Tab: Wallflower”).

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