Pricked: Extreme Embroidery

Special exhibition at the Museum of Arts & Design, extended through April 27.

To celebrate finally completing an afghan on which I’d worked off and on (mostly off) for nearly six years, I decided to check out the embroidery exhibit at the Museum of Arts & Design. It was an absurd impetus—like visiting an exhibit on fine oil paintings because you finished painting the walls of your house with rollers—but I’ve been meaning to visit that museum for months (it’s less than a block away from my office), and I figured a silly rationale was as good as any.

Anyway, I’m glad I went because the exhibit surprised me. It was much more diverse than I had anticipated, in virtually every way possible: male artists as well as female, hailing from around the world, approaching the art form from a wide variety of perspectives, using a wide variety of materials. Despite the seemingly narrow focus of the exhibit, there was nothing monolithic about it.

Passion and Resurrection Motets of the Renaissance

Pomerium at the Cloisters on Saturday, March 22.

When I began studying the organ, I fell in love with the fugue. In a fugue, one voice introduces a short melody, the subject, and then the other voices take it up in turn, weaving together, stretching and compressing and inverting and transposing the subject, each voice equal to the others, until they finally cadence together in a glorious climax. The underlying harmonic structure of the fugue is often quite simple, but the rich polyphonic texture is markedly different from the typical melody with harmonic accompaniment of pop songs and hymns and even much classical music. To me, the big Baroque fugues were a revelation.

I still get a charge out of the incomparable polyphony of the Baroque and Renaissance periods, which is why I was eager to hear Pomerium, a choral ensemble devoted to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century repertory. The concert was a seasonal one, featuring motets written for Passiontide and Easter, and as I expected, the intricate polyphony was exquisite. But the concert reminded me, too, that as magical as polyphony can be, the moment in which it ends, the moment when the voices converge into unison, is often just as special.

I Am Legend


In many, if not most, of the best short stories, the conclusion is inexorable. The tale advances elegantly, carefully, constantly toward its destination—no detours or loose threads. The theme unfolds, the climax arrives, and the final sentence reverberates because it rings true to every word that came before it. The story can end no other way.

In its first two-thirds, I Am Legend feels like one of those short stories—beautiful and relentless—and if the movie only ended at the darkly resonant sequence that caps those two-thirds, it would be a brilliant, brutal cinematic short story. But it doesn’t end there, of course. It spins off into something safer and less interesting. It’s not bad, exactly, but the jarring shift in tone and theme (not to mention quality) make the ending a disappointment. The rest of the movie is compelling enough to make it worthwhile, but the thought of what might have been is hard to shake.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

In theaters.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a screwball comedy playing out beneath a looming shadow. No matter how effervescently perky Amy Adams is, no matter how adorable Lee Pace is, no matter how charming the rest of the cast is, the darkness is always there, waiting to swallow them all.

It’s an odd way to conduct a comedy, particularly one of this genre, and it doesn’t always work. The tonal shifts are often awkward, leaving madcap passages slight and solemn passages overearnest, but in a few scenes, Miss Pettigrew manages to span the chasm between giddy and sober. For a moment or two, the movie, set in London on the brink of World War II, feels eerily contemporary and poignant and special.


Season one on DVD.

Years ago, I read a review of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. that effusively praised the film for its exploration of the “programming” in our genes that makes us human. The writer argued that the A.I. robot-boy’s love for his mother is just as genuine as any child’s filial love because “love” is just a way of behaving, a way that could be wired into circuitry and flesh alike. I didn’t buy her argument, and I didn’t like the movie, largely because I wasn’t willing to leap past “But he’s a robot!” I didn’t see robot-boy’s behavior as love (certainly not when it was embodied by the creepy Haley Joel Osment), so even though I was intrigued by the notion of breaking down what “love” really is, I didn’t believe A.I. had done so.

But where A.I. failed, the serial killer drama Dexter, of all things, has succeeded brilliantly. That long-forgotten review of A.I. came racing back to me when I started watching the first season of the Showtime series via Netflix. Robot-boy is a poor medium for pondering what it means to be human, but the sociopathic protagonist of Dexter is perfect, and no one could be more surprised and intrigued by that than I.


Chichester Festival Theatre at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through March 22.

I know some people don’t enjoy or approve of anachronistic productions of Shakespeare’s plays, and it’s true they can be gimmicky. But I can’t imagine that Shakespeare himself would have minded those directorial choices; after all, he included numerous clear anachronisms in his plays—note the chiming clocks, billiard games, and pistols of antiquity, for example—but more to the point, he unapologetically imposed the manners and behaviors of Elizabethan England onto a variety of other times and places. A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t really set in ancient Greece. The Winter’s Tale isn’t really set in Bohemia. And Macbeth isn’t really set in eleventh-century Scotland. So why cling to those settings? New settings can reinvigorate the plays, forcing us to reexamine them with new eyes.

This Chichester production of Macbeth is a good example of anachronism used well. Director Rupert Goold uses a relatively contemporary setting packed with Stalinist imagery, and that helps emphasize the idea that Macbeth isn’t just treacherous in rising to power but also in exercising that power. I admit I’d never really thought about that before, so wrapped up was I in all the intrigues and stratagems, but Goold makes it impossible to look at the story from such an amoral perspective. Macbeth is a tyrant, in every sense, and the creatively anachronistic production helps make that clear.