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After Ira Sachs’s “Passages” was hit with a rare NC-17 rating, in no small part for its explicit sex scene between two men, the IFC Center leaned into the controversy, programming a series that promised to “put the sin back in cinema.” “Passages” centers on a man (Franz Rogowski) who leaves his male partner (Ben Whishaw) for a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and spends the rest of the film ricocheting between the two. (Bisexual love triangles are surprisingly in vogue: when I described the plot to a friend, she asked if this was “the Zendaya movie”—Luca Guadagnino’s tragically delayed “Challengers”—to which the answer is “no, but essentially yes.”) Like the classics assembled by IFC—from Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together” to Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain”—“Passages” captures the electric current of desire and follows it to its natural conclusion.
Photograph by Jonathan Prime / Prime Video
My colleagues have mourned the decline of sex on screen; Sachs’s drama made me think more specifically about the state of queer intimacy. Where “Passages” is acerbic—and Rogowski’s Tomas is, refreshingly, a monster—other recent offerings have felt sanded down. In the new season of “Heartstopper,” on Netflix, tension is all but absent from the relationship between golden-retriever-esque Nick and shy, sensitive Charlie; it’s them against the mostly affirming world. The show excels at sweetness and yearning but pointedly abstains from anything that comes afterward: a hickey sparks a multi-episode scandal, and the pair decide that they’re not ready to “do it” (or, apparently, to say the word “sex”). “Heartstopper,” with its teen-age protagonists, has a younger audience to consider—but Matthew Lopez’s R-rated “Red, White & Royal Blue” (on Amazon Prime), a romantic comedy based on a popular novel about a British prince and the son of an American President, is similarly moralistic, laced with lessons about acceptance and coming out. Some viewers may thrill at seeing gay love transposed into familiar tropes. But only “Passages,” with its freedom from the genre constraints of the rom-com or the bildungsroman, is truly, brutally honest about bodies in motion.
Photograph by Celeste Sloman for The New YorkerOff Broadway
Even in the playwright Annie Baker’s quietest pieces, ley lines of power lie buried in the soil; there’s a hum to her plays, a sense of old energies animating earthly matters. In “Infinite Life” (at Atlantic Theatre’s Linda Gross, starting Aug. 18), Baker introduces five ladies of various ages, resting on their chaise longues outside a medical clinic in Northern California, chatting about the absurdity of having a body that desires and suffers and dies. You might suspect Baker of sneaking in a tragedy, but the cast is a supergroup of our funniest stage divas, all mistresses of either the deadpan or the zany: (left to right) Kristine Nielsen, Christina Kirk, Marylouise Burke, Brenda Pressley, and Mia Katigbak. The mischievous Pete Simpson plays the snake in their garden.—Helen Shaw
“Beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.” So sayeth the seer and moral center of Kahlil Gibran’s book “The Prophet” (1923), still a worldwide best-seller nearly a century after his death. Lesser known are Gibran’s drawings and watercolors, now the focus of an alluring exhibition, “A Greater Beauty: The Drawings of Kahlil Gibran.” Where there is mysticism, there is often melodrama—or at least high moodiness—and Gibran’s figures positively luxuriate in feeling, even if their bodies appear quite chaste. Scenes are erotically and spiritually suggestive: embraces give off little heat, but lovers nevertheless soften and melt together. Portraits of intellects, such as the artist Albert Pinkham Ryder and the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, are more precisely rendered in light and shadow—the materials that constitute a mind.—Jennifer Krasinski (The Drawing Center; through Sept. 10.)
In “The Adults,” a family saga on an intimate scale, the director Dustin Guy Defa probes the lasting frustrations and stifled dreams of ex-performers. Michael Cera stars as Eric, a poker player who returns to his upstate-New York home town, becomes involved with its gambling scene, and drops in on his sisters—Rachel (Hannah Gross), who works at a local radio station, and Maggie (Sophia Lillis), a recent college dropout at loose ends. The siblings, who are still grieving for their long-deceased mother, communicate poorly with one another—except by way of antic comedy routines and D.I.Y. song-and-dance numbers with which, growing up, they’d sought fame. As a result, the low-key melodrama often plays like an unspectacular musical, which the three lead actors bring to life with earnest energy and tremulous grace.—Richard Brody (Opens in theatres on Aug. 18.)
Photograph by David Cabrera
In the two-thousands, the Virginia Beach duo Clipse—composed of the brothers Pusha T and Malice—purveyed a charismatic brand of narcotic rap, emboldened by singular production from the off-kilter beat-makers the Neptunes. The pair’s first two major-label albums, the fringe classics “Lord Willin’ ” and “Hell Hath No Fury,” established a well-balanced dynamic—Malice pensive and deliberate, Pusha bombastic and reactionary. In the twenty-tens, the brothers took up solo careers; Malice converted to Christianity (becoming No Malice), as Pusha T became a hatchet man for Kanye West. In celebration of hip-hop’s fiftieth anniversary, Clipse reunites to headline Genius IQ/BBQ. Entry is free with an R.S.V.P.—Sheldon Pearce (Knockdown Center; Aug. 19.)
Off Off Broadway
Just ninety people a night can squeeze into this loft production of “Uncle Vanya,” which seems familiar almost before you see it: the artisanal approach and the exclusive audiences will make many theatregoers think of Andre Gregory’s invitation-only “Vanya” workshop, which was eventually turned into the Louis Malle film “Vanya on 42nd Street,” from 1994. The director Jack Serio is inventive, but several actors need more time—Gregory took three years—to thrive in such proximity. Still, Will Brill plays the self-destructive doctor Astrov with fine-grained, rabbitlike wariness, and Marin Ireland’s Sonya is unmissable. Serio does his best work when voices are low, and he, Ireland, and Brill collaborate on a breath-stealing candlelit scene, which nearly undoes the plot itself to let its two star-crossed hearts fall in love.—Helen Shaw (Reviewed in our issue of 7/31/23.) (For tickets, visit vanyanyc.com; through Sept. 3.)
Photograph by Chuck Hodes / FX
Two young, visionary chefs’ endeavor to transform a Chicago Italian-beef-sandwich shop into a Michelin-star destination, all while fostering a humane and creative environment, continues in the piquant second season of “The Bear.” With the titular eatery undergoing a gut renovation, the new episodes look outward, sending characters to Copenhagen, to culinary school, and on a mouth-watering food tour of the Windy City. But the soul of this crowd-pleasing follow-up is the Bear’s crew, who are each encouraged to find their calling in the restaurant ecosystem, even as the pressure to rush the launch of the revamp renders the kitchen sign “every second counts” not just an ethos but a nerve-fraying necessity.—Inkoo Kang (Streaming on Hulu.)
Since 2015, the Beach Sessions Dance Series has included up-and-comers, avant-gardists, beach-rake trucks, and a sandy version of the Hustle. This time around, in a choice that’s both obvious and inspired, the main event is a restaging of Merce Cunningham’s serene 1991 work “Beach Birds.” It’s a nature study of elegantly avian positions—hops, fluttering limbs, and sudden flockings—perfect for the setting, even if a fluid, uneven surface poses some challenges. Afterward, Sarah Michelson offers a choreographic response.—Brian Seibert (Rockaway Beach at 108th St.; Aug. 26.)
The staff writer Carrie Battan shares her current obsessions.
1. A way to reshuffle your brain: Until recently, I naïvely believed that endurance cycling was a physically taxing but relatively safe and relaxed sport. Then I watched “Tour de France: Unchained,” Netflix’s new docuseries about the biggest race of the year. It depicts the agony and brutality of the three-week event in an especially visceral way, and explores the kind of masochistic endurance that these riders tap into in order to succeed. Now, instead of coveting money or success, I mostly wish I had a greater ability to tolerate pain.
2. A new sports documentary that feels like a horror film: Ever since the wild success of “Free Solo,” the Oscar-winning documentary about mountain climbing without ropes, there’s been a glut of highly enjoyable extreme-sports documentaries. But free-soloing is a walk in the park compared with free diving, an utterly senseless pursuit that involves following a cable down into the blackest depths of the ocean, without oxygen. “The Deepest Breath,” also on Netflix, tells the story of one diver, an Italian woman named Alessia Zecchini, and her ill-fated pursuit to plumb the depths of the sea. Not for the faint of heart.
Illustration by AJ Dungo
3. A different kind of European vacation: While the world of scripted film and television is at a standstill, I hope that HBO renews “100 Foot Wave,” a docuseries about big-wave surfing. The show chronicles the big-wave-surfing legend Garrett McNamara as he builds a scene in the unlikely town of Nazaré, Portugal. Spoiler: it’s not the massive waves that make this unexpectedly profound series feel so epic.
P.S. Good stuff on the Internet:
- Stephen Curry joins Paramore onstage
- A reading list about Filipino laborers
- Ira Madison III ranks the new cast of “The Real Housewives of New York City”
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of seats at the venue for “Uncle Vanya.”