One of my stay-at-home guilty pleasures these days are those detective-mystery series currently flooding the PBS prime-time airwaves. Based on popular crime novels featuring quirky murder-solving characters, these television shows typically originate in the United Kingdom and then make their way to America a few years later. There’s Sherlock, of course—a highly contemporized adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories that has become immensely popular on both sides of the pond—and over the summer I became addicted to two others: Grantchester (based on mystery stories, by James Runcie, about a clergyman in 1950s England who sleuths in his spare time) and Midsomer Murders (set in the English county of Midsomer, where upscale Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby solves crimes in adaptations of Caroline Graham novels).
As a middle-aged woman navigating the back nine of life, I’ve grown increasingly used to feeling irrelevant in the face of new technological products, performance events, music, books and movies that I generally find uninteresting and quickly realize are not designed to speak to me anyway. So what a wonderful surprise it was to come upon Mia Madre, the new Italian film by Nanni Moretti about a single, female film director named Margherita (Margherita Buy) maneuvering her way through middle age. While Margherita struggles to make a socially conscious movie about violent labor-management confrontations in a factory, her personal life is fraught with sorrows: her mother lies dying in a hospital, her latest romantic relationship just fizzled and her adolescent daughter is floundering.
Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Playhouse has seen two of its world premiere productions transfer to Broadway within the past four years: Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, starring Tyne Daly, and Misery, a play by William Goldman, based on the Stephen King novel. Will the Playhouse’s current production of the new musical Cake Off be the next to move from bucolic Bucks County to the Great White Way? Probably not.
“Most Americans know roughly as much about the U.S. military as they know about the surface of the moon,” writes Rosa Brooks in her enlightening new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon. I confess: I’m one of those militarily clueless Americans, which is why I committed to reading Brooks’s book. I thought it might fill the gaping holes in my knowledge, as I always found military history too dull and dry to swallow, even in small doses. But the book I approached as a medicinal fix turned out to be a savory treat.
The operative word in the title of Larry Tye’s absorbing new biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, is making. Admirers of the 1960s liberal standard-bearer and younger brother of President John F. Kennedy may be surprised to learn that Robert F. Kennedy began his public service career as counsel to the Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, never liked or trusted Martin Luther King, plotted to have Fidel Castro killed and was terribly intolerant of gays. Tye’s book offers extensive and deeply analytical coverage of the early, conservative work of the famous liberal and fully exposes the less-than-heroic aspects of the man many found ruthless and rude.
On “the day the music died”—as Don McLean tagged February 3, 1959, in his hit song “American Pie”—the 22-year-old rock-and-roller Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash that also took the lives of rock stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Had he lived, Holly would be celebrating his 80th birthday this year, on September 7. Hollywood paid tribute to the bespectacled singer-songwriter with the 1978 biopic The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey. But the similarly titled 1990 Broadway musical, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, is thought to be a truer depiction of the influential music-maker’s brief life.
Most people know far less than they should about Stuart Davis, one of America’s most important modern artists. Yet if you can simply understand how the plucky 20th–century painter managed to have his cake and eat it too, you’ll be well on your way to comprehending his significance. Exactly how he did this and why it made for such noteworthy art is enticingly revealed by Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, a peppy new exhibit currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City through September 25.