Elevate Difference


Draupadi – Will My Spirit Live On?

On the heels of International Women’s Day, the Indo-American Arts Council in New York City hosted the North American premiere of a unique and thought-provoking Indian play called Draupadi – Will My Spirit Live On? Produced and conceptualized by Shivani Wazir Pasrich, and co-directed by Pasrich and Tina Johnson, Draupadi weaves a tale from the Hindu epic Mahabharata with an intense contemporary story of a woman battling her experience with sexual abuse. The play sheds light on the plight of many women suffering such abuse, connecting a mythological tale with a modern parallel, and delivers a mostly engaging experience.

Marie and Bruce (4/8/11)

When I was a kid I used to stay out of sight when my parents fought, fearful that their vitriol would extend to me. But I always listened, eager to understand the conflict. So it is with Marie and Bruce, Wallace Shawn’s look at the most dysfunctional of dysfunctional relationships. The play begins even before a word of dialogue is uttered. As the audience enters the theater, Marie (a furious and pained Marisa Tomei) and Bruce (a disaffected and cool Frank Whaley) are lying on a large, ill-made bed in center stage. He’s asleep.

Spy Garbo (3/6/11)

Sheila Schwartz’s Spy Garbo, an innovative multi-media production, takes place in history’s limbo, the eternal resting place of three prominent twentieth century political players. The first is Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, played by Steven Rattazzi with a perfect mix of pomp, arrogance, and affability.

Women’s Health: What We Know Now (1/31/2011)

Blueberry myths and spicy food hot flashes were but two of the multitude of topics covered at an informative lecture on Women’s Health at the 92nd Street Y. Aimed at the middle aged uptowner, Women’s Health: What We Know served as a forum for the educated health consumer to raise their concerns with health professionals not waiting on their next appointment. Both Dr. Susan Love and Dr. Alice Domar were patient and honest, even occasionally funny. Exactly the type of woman you'd hope to find on the other end of the stethoscope.

Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery: The Musical (2/18/11)

Each year CSULB has Sex Positive Week, presented by various feminist and queer student groups. Mariko Passion, activist, artist, and out and proud sex worker, kicked off the week of festivities with her one-woman show, Modern Day Asian Sex Slavery: The Musical. Passion is a champion of what she refers to as the Whore Revolution, a phrase coined by fellow activist Emi Koyama.

Jonathan Safran Foer (01/19/2011)

Jonathan Safran Foer spoke about the issues in his most recent book Eating Animals to a packed house at the London School of Economics. I haven’t read the book yet, or either one of his other two titles Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so I went bracing for a preachy rally full of vegetarian dogma.

Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge

The Huntington Library is a sprawling estate—part research library, museum, and botanical garden, all of which are tucked away in the uber-rich city of San Marino, CA. It's the kind of city that would have rejected ol’ Charles Bukowski—or Hank Chinaski, as he’s known in his many books and poems. So, this blindingly bright, beautiful library seemed an odd location for a retrospective of Bukowski’s work, but the two rooms that housed his life story were magic. I try not to be ashamed to admit that Bukowski is my favorite writer.

A World Apart (2/4/2011)

As Susan Mosakowski’s A World Apart opens, Mother Augustina, an abbess in a Cistercian monastery, is deeply engrossed in reading a religious text. Once interrupted, she explains that she is searching for answers to a host of troubling questions. Doubts about all kinds of things have begun to creep in, she says. Take the issue of heaven and hell. Common assumptions posit one above and the other below us.

Literary Readings: Salman Rushdie (11/22/2010)

Everywhere you go in India, you see bootlegged copies of Salman Rushdie's groundbreaking Midnight's Children being sold by hawkers along the footpaths to tourists who've come to see if the romanticized country is as mythical a place as the then-copywriter delightfully described in his make-me-or-break-me novel. The fantastical worlds created in Rushdie's mind closely resemble our reality, but their magical element—at times more prevalent than others—has the ability to transport the uninitiated from a place of sensory overload to one of simple beauty. And it was with great pleasure that I attended the literary reading with Rushdie, and subsequent jocular verbal sparring with fellow Mumbaite, and Maximum City author, Suketu Mehta at the 92nd Street Y.

Blood From A Stone (1/22/2011)

Tommy Nohilly’s first play, Blood From A Stone, treads the familiar terrain of family dysfunction, zeroing in on the return of oldest son Travis [played with anguished complexity by Ethan Hawke] to the family’s ramshackle Connecticut home. What exactly ails this prodigal child is a mystery. We know that he is jobless, broke, single, and addicted to pain killers, but the demons that hover near him are never fully revealed. At first, the reasons he’s returned home are also unclear. Is he looking for solace? Hoping for a financial handout?

Baby Universe (A Puppet Odyssey)

Baby Universe, a one-hour, adult-themed puppet show, begins with a DJ from Apocalypse Radio announcing to the audience that he is ”broadcasting live from the darkest corner of the bunkers.” His tone conveys urgency as he reports that the program will include an interview with one of the last people alive. The situation, we’re told, is grim: “These are the last days. Nothing can keep death from us. The plants are scorched, the animals blistered…The seas? What seas…?


Tom Stoppard’s 1988 espionage thriller, Hapgood, addresses the insanity of the Cold War by zooming in on a band of British spies. Alongside the CIA, the group engages in crosses and double-crosses, the end result being little more than a game of chicken. Led by Mrs. Elizabeth Hapgood, AKA Betty, AKA Mother--played by actor Elise Stone with a perfect mix of sass and sadness—the reconnaissance team’s efforts are a showcase for three distinct plot lines: The juggling of employment and child rearing responsibilities for single mothers; the temptation of forbidden love; and the competitive race for scientific knowledge between the “free world” and the Communist bloc. While the first two themes are presented with straightforward punch, the latter is muddled, perhaps emblematic of the Cold War itself. As Hapgood says near the denouement of the play, “It’s them or us. We’re keeping each other in business. We should send each other Christmas cards.”

Hibiki (Resonance from Far Way) (10/20/2010)

The dancing performed by the Japanese butoh company Sankai Juku in Hibiki (Resonance from Far Away) at the Harris Theater in Chicago, Illinois, manages to invoke simultaneously everything and nothing. In choosing the word ‘everything,’ I am attempting to describe the fact that the six dancers and their choreographer execute actions that remind the viewer, possibly, of children, stones, priests, frogs, soldiers, streams, women, the wind, and a flower.

A Man’s A Man

If playwright Bertolt Brecht were alive today, he’d likely blanch at the contemporary tendency to seek common ground with those whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to one’s own. His dozens of plays speak truth to power in daring, direct language and, while farce and sarcasm are employed, his repeated denunciations of colonialism, war, and militarism are boldly presented. A Man’s a Man (sometimes called Man Equals Man) was first staged in Dusseldorf and Darmstadt, Germany in 1926. Eighty-four years later, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s beautifully-presented staged reading of the play is so relevant that the audience quickly forgets the age of the work.

Literary Readings: Jonathan Franzen and Lorrie Moore (11/13/2010)

In the deeply downtrodden, recession smashed state that the publishing industry is in, and in a culture in which few people seem to have the attention span to read an entire novel (much less one nearly 600 pages long), it seemed unlikely that America would ever crown yet another Great American Novelist. However, Jonathan Franzen has been given such a title by many media outlets, some of which showed a photo of President Obama carrying Franzen's latest work, Freedom. Franzen’s readings across the country have lead to lines around the block, giving life to a dying industry. But all of the fawning and attention directed at Franzen has lead some writers, like Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, to wonder if writing by men is automatically taken more seriously than writing by women, who are often written off as "chick lit" or left to play second fiddle.

Pune Highway (11/11/2010)

During my childhood, visits to India were largely spent travelling. A lot of this involved time on the infamous GT Road, a dry scaly snake taking us wherever we wanted to go. Aside from the beauty of fields either side, there was always the fear of danger lurking nearby. Visiting these roads was always interesting—but you knew they had the potential to harbour deadly forces. Whenever something happened, people would react wildly. The road was both a blessing and a curse, progressive in its promise, but with a lot to hide. Whenever an incident on happened we looked on in wonder, not really knowing protocol. Minor scuffles in traffic would result in typical rambunctious arguments which proved entertaining for some—but larger incidents were a different matter. A cyclist thrown off his bike, for example, would result in a series of complexities not only for the culprit but also for spectators. Typically, they’d refrain from contacting the authorities, afraid of opening a can of worms.

Riot Grrrl: Traces of a Movement (11/06/2010)

Printed Matter’s annual New York Art Book Fair is one of my favorite events of the year. Featuring many vendors that utilize do-it-yourself modes of production and aesthetics, it is an event that appeals to my artistic practices, and often my political ones as well. A conference accompanies the book fair itself, and among this year’s sessions was the panel "Riot Grrrl: Traces of a Movement."

Literary Readings: Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick (11/8/2010)

During a recent reading of their works at the 92nd Street Y, Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick proved as charming and witty in person as their words are on the page. Stepping up to the podium to read from their latest works, the authors were self-effacing, deferential, and clever. The event, which featured brief introductions to the authors, readings of excerpts from their latest works, and a short Q&A segment, proved an insightful examination of the writing process.

Soul Leaves Her Body (10/08/2010)

In today’s digital age, people often communicate with each other via computer and cell phone screens rather than face to face. In recent years, Here Arts Center has taken the difficult leap of transporting this contemporary feeling of being disconnected (and yet overconnected) via the coldness of technology to the theater stage through their resident artist productions.

Perfect Harmony

At the start of Perfect Harmony, a narrator tells the audience that the Acafellas, an all-male acapella singing group, have won the last eighteen high school singing competitions. What’s more, we’re told that they were the inspiration for “that show.” Like Glee, Perfect Harmony celebrates dorkiness, this time in an elite private high school. Five male songsters—two of them grandsons of the Acafellas’ founders—are itching for their nineteenth win. The obstacle?

Launch of StopWatch (10/18/2010)

Recent studies show that in England and Wales Black people are stopped and searched seven times more than Caucasians; and Asians at twice the Caucasian rate. Jesse Jackson has formed a new coalition of NGO’s and academic societies to combat racial profiling and power abuse in UK policing. The organization, StopWatch, was launched at King’s College in London with an address from Reverend Jesse Jackson followed by a panel discussion.

Estrogenius Festival (10/08/2010)

Considering how many women pursue a career in theater, it seems perplexing that so few women-centered plays or female directors make it to the stage. This was the problem Fiona Jones set to resolve when she created the Estrogenius Festival as a showcase of women in theater... a decade ago. With much of the theater industry still dominated by male voices and visions, this festival provides women a chance to step out from the sidelines and into the spotlight.

An Evening of Madame Bovary with Lydia Davis (10/4/2010)

Following a glowing introduction by translator and essayist Richard Sieburth, the acclaimed author Lydia Davis read several passages from her recent translation of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel, as well as selections of her own work, at the 92nd Street Y’s An Evening of Madame Bovary. The poetic flow of the writing lends incredibly well to a live reading and the audience was spellbound. As a fan of the novel, I could have listened to Davis read from Madame Bovary for hours, and the event left me eager to purchase her translation so I could compare it to the one I had at home.

The Air is on Fire, David Lynch (9/24/2010)

A couple of years ago, David Lynch spoke at my graduate school. At one of the top communication colleges in the country, he refused to take media questions and would only talk about transcendental meditation. Flanked by men in suits who sat in high-backed chairs behind him on the stage, Lynch urged us each to dive into the reflecting pool of our soul. One woman stood at a mic in the auditorium aisle and said, “I meditate, and I understand your films.”

Critical Intersections: Reproductive and Economic Justice Conference (9/22/2010)

On an unseasonably hot and humid day in September, I took the train from Brooklyn to 116th Street to attend the Critical Intersections: Reproductive and Economic Justice conference, which was held at Barnard College's new Diana Center. Having suffered a massive allergy attack due to the weird weather, I shuffled quickly across the Barnard campus and entered just as the conference's feature film and lunch break were finishing up.

New York Craft Beer Week: Freaktoberfest (9/24/2010)

I do not know many women who like beer, I am certainty not one of them. Knowing this about myself, I took the task of reviewing Freaktoberfest as a challenge. In the anthropological spirit that imbues every writer, to a certain extent, I decided I would engage in some participant observation. As a sort of Sherpa, I brought Sam, an acquaintance from the circle of drinking friends everyone develops with age.

Cho Dependent Tour (9/23/2010)

Margaret Cho's hour-long set at The Grove began with a story about her recent experiences as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars that parlayed into a story about using a vocal coach from American Idol while touring in support of her newly released album Cho Dependent. Apparently her vocal coach made her drink shots of olive oil when she developed a sore throat, and as a result, Cho suffered from uncontrollable flatulence and diarrhea. This was a reoccurring theme of the night (I actually wasn’t aware Cho had such a penchant for poop jokes), and while I spent half of Cho’s act loving her intensely and laughing out loud, the other half I found myself wondering if she’d lost her edge.

Detroit (9/18/2010)

Half of the U.S. population lives in suburbs, places where there are no theres there. In the suburb outlying the eponymous city in Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, all the streets in the Bright Homes subdivision are named after light. If Bill Vaughn’s observation is correct—“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them”—then this particular development is consistent in its dearth of light, literal and figurative.

FYF Fest/Big Freedia (9/6/2010)

In 2008 I attended what was then known as Fuck Yeah Fest and despite confusing and complicated scheduling, it was obvious that the festival’s mastermind, a very young Sean Carlson, was on to something special. Fast-forward two years and the fest has a new name (FYF Fest), a more centralized location (Los Angeles State Historic Park), and a killer lineup (The Mountain Goats, The Rapture, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, among thirty-four others).

In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (8/29/2010)

“Please turn off anything that beeps, buzzes, or vibrates.” And with that comic admonishment to the audience, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer Sarah Ruhl’s play about the advent of vibrators began. The setting is Dr. Givings home, where his living room is located next to, and within earshot of, the “surgical theater.” Here, Dr. Givings (played by Eric Hissom) treats hysteria, a “medical ailment” dating back to about 300 BC, when Hippocrates thought women’s madness stemmed from their womb.