And more from our Liz: A star-studded evening featuring Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Sutton Foster, and Matthew Broderick … plus, Shirley MacLaine on “karmic drama” and the oddities of fame
“WHEN THE lights go down and the announcer comes on saying, ‘turn off all cell-phones and enjoy the play,’ I think, ‘Really? Is that really the correct word? I think for most people, it’s ‘endure’ the play.’”
That was the great actor Joe Mantello, at the party thrown by producer Daryl Roth after a special star-studded preview performance of Larry Kramer’s gripping, passionate indictment of governmental indifference and gay groups fighting each other against AIDS in the very first Broadway production of “The Normal Heart.”
Mantello looked properly exhausted after his strenuous efforts onstage at the Golden Theater, and he took congratulations leaning up against the wall of the small lobby where the party happened. He also said, “This is so important — not even so much for the subject matter, which is timeless despite its period, the early 1980’s, but because Larry deserved to see this show on Broadway. And it still resonates, on many levels.”
Among those pressing in on Mantello — and the rest of the brilliant “Normal Heart” cast — were visitors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (“I came with him,” said Lane. Matthew shrugged and said, “So whatever happens it’s all my fault!”) … Judith Light, looking years younger and prettier than the harshly photographed judge on “Law and Order: SVU.”… manager Sandy Gallin, full faced and orange-tinted with a nice-looking blond … Bobby Cannavale, sexy, saturnine and slightly-bearded, was cozy with adorable “Anything Goes” star Sutton Foster, who wore — I swear — not a stitch of makeup. She resembled a 16-year-old … Joan Rivers and Rex Reed (they gossiped over whether or not Mayor Ed Koch, who is roasted in Kramer’s play, had ever seen it) … Great-looking Christine Baranski, who was devastated by the play, and told me about performing “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” down on Christopher Street years ago. “A young man came to see me. He was obviously dying. He looked the way John Benjamin Hickey does at the end of the play. It turned out that he had played young Patrick on Broadway in ‘Mame.’ I thought I would lose it right there in front of him. Thank God I didn’t.”
Baranski also got a big hug from cast member Jim Parsons, who looks much hotter up close than he does onstage. Of course the playwright himself was on hand: Mr. Kramer in his eternal overalls. He appeared blissful and more than a little shy — not a quality one usually associates with him. He was tugged at, petted, squeezed, kissed and generally worshipped. He had a looooooong conversation with Daily Beast/Newsweek columnist Jacob Bernstein. Michael Musto was there of course, always highly amused at the life he leads. And we spotted that eternal lady of the notepad, glamorous Cindy Adams, standing ramrod straight at the doors inside the theater, catching everybody who passed her way. Also spotted: Entertainment Weekly’s handsome Jess Cagle and PR guy Scott Gorenstein sporting his ACT UP button (Scott currently does his very good voodoo for Liza Minnelli.)
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BUT THE most fun was my run-in with the divine Ellen Barkin. She plays tough-talking polio-stricken Dr. Emma, treating patient after patient only to watch them die terribly.
Miss Barkin weighs in at about 100 pounds. She has the flat tummy, slim hips and firm tush of a teenage boy. The bosom gives her away. She was fresh-faced and radiant. I asked her about the difficulties of performing in a wheelchair. “Well, I’m used to it now. But I hurt! I have to twist myself around a lot while I’m sitting. I wanted a rolling chair, but Joel (Joel Grey, the co-director) thought a motorized chair was more ominous. And I said, ‘But what about my arms? It would be such great upper-body exercise!’ Ominous won out.”
Ellen is also experiencing an upswing in her movie career. I’ve missed her crackling energy onscreen. She ‘s very excited about “Another Happy Day,” directed by Sam Levinson, and co-starring Demi Moore, Thomas Hayden Church and Kate Bosworth.
And we also had some laughs over her movie “Switch,” which was a modern update of the old “Goodbye Charlie” where the louse guy wakes up to find himself in the body a hot woman (Miss Barkin.) “You know, I loved Blake Edwards and I would do anything for him. But I wondered; he wanted the character to never quite master walking in heels — because I was really a guy. And I said ‘Well, maybe it’s too much?’ And he’d say, ‘Oh, no, trust me.’ Of course, he was right. That’s still my favorite movie.”
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I’VE ALREADY given “The Normal Heart” a rave. So I won’t go on much further. But watching again, it struck me that the show is in many ways a kind of fundamentalist testimonial. It’s Kramer’s church and he’s testifyin’. And he won’t stop until we listen.
The subject is AIDS. But Kramer’s raging words apply to so much else — to issues confronting us right now. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, “The Normal Heart” will still beat, bleed and be heard. And more than likely —especially in Asia and Africa — people will still be dying of AIDS.
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SHIRLEY MACLAINE is the great Oscar-winning actress/dancer who has had one marriage, many lovers and many many lives. And I’m not just talking about career lives — re-inventions. Although she’s had her share of those. As many of you know, MacLaine is on a magical mystery tour of being a woman of the ages, one who believes she has been other places in other times and will go on in her next life to some other existence.
So, is it not natural that MacLaine would have some Thoughts on next year. The year 2012. The year that the world is supposed to end. If you believe the Mayan calendar is correct. Shirley says, “The 2012 end date represents a cosmic choice we must each make. It really could be the end of our karmic drama, so to speak. I think we’re in for some big changes, but I don’t think it’s the end of anything.”
Hmmmm … well, if Donald Trump becomes president, our “karmic drama” might only have just begun! And stop laughing. More and more people — serious people — believe Trump will run.
Although I wonder how Donald will feel if he gets to The White House and discovers how little power the president actually has in many situations. Of course, Trump might try to alter our idea of an American presidency —maybe a little Emperor stuff around the edges of the Constitution.
Oh, as for Shirley, she has a new book out, titled “I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions.” Among her confessions is that she could never understand why some of her peers, back in the day would “dress up to go to the market.” Not Shirley. “I’m not interested in fame at all” she declares.
Well, perhaps in Shirley’s next life she’ll come back as a poor, unattractive, untalented person who’ll never even have the opportunity to be famous.
That’s pretty dramatic karma, too.