The Next Chapter

7 minute read
Richard Lacayo, Cathy Booth Thomas, Lev Grossman, Rebecca Myers and Terry Stoller



Charles Ardai was born too late. He’s a dotcom success story–founder and CEO of Juno–but his first love was pulp fiction: those seamy, seedy, hard-boiled paperbacks from the 1940s and ’50s, the kind with a hot broad and a cold, stiff drink on the cover. Ardai, 36, missed the great age of pulp, so after Juno merged with a competitor in 2001 and he had time and money to burn, he founded his own press, Hard Case Crime. Now he makes ’em like they used to.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. Ardai needed writers who could hammer out tales in the style of that less lyrical era, crude but effective books that dispensed with stylistic foofaraw and hooked the reader from the get-go with pure plot. (Sample first line, from David Dodge’s The Last Match: “The guy who was waiting for me in my room merely wanted to blow my head off, that’s all.”) “Pulp fiction was written at high velocity by people who had a bill collector waiting at the door,” Ardai says. So far, he has signed up some A-list talent, including Madison Smartt Bell and Stephen King. He has also done some sleuthing of his own and rediscovered long-lost novels by past masters like Dodge (who also wrote To Catch a Thief), Donald Westlake and Ed McBain. To complete the picture, Ardai recruited the legendary Robert McGinniss, who painted more than 1,000 book covers back in pulp’s heyday.

It’s a labor of love for Ardai, who pores over each page of every book in excruciating detail, down to the spacing between letters. “I’ve had e-mail from people saying they found our books prominently displayed in truck stops,” he says excitedly. “Nothing makes me happier. I love bookstores–but being in a truck stop? It’s part of the tradition.”



In the mid-1990s Nicolas Kent, 61, artistic director of London’s Tricycle Theatre, began to take government investigations–in his words, “dry” and “not inherently dramatic” inquiries–and stage them as plays. Typically, his collaborator, Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, starts with thousands of pages of testimony and edits them down to a 21/2-hour show, which Kent then directs. The words delivered onstage are words that were spoken by real people, in real life.

Kent calls these works tribunal plays, and in them he has probed German and Bosnian-Serb war crimes, the sale of arms to Iraq, the suicide of British weapons expert David Kelly and the massacre of Irish civil rights marchers by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday. The plays are riveting in their attention to detail and at times heartbreaking, as when a visibly haunted former soldier in Srebrenica recounts his forced participation in the slaughter of Muslims. “We’ve become the BBC of the theater,” Kent says. “We’ve become a trusted voice.”

In 2004 Kent commissioned journalist Victoria Brittain and novelist Gillian Slovo to create a verbatim play about British detainees at Guantánamo Bay based on interviews with released detainees, families of detainees and their lawyers. Guantánamo: ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’ opened to wide acclaim, transferred to the West End and was also produced in New York City. Last spring a reading was staged for members of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill. “What Nick is about is, ‘What can we be doing next?'” says Tricycle general manager Mary Lauder. “‘What should we be tackling? What can we change?'”

Storm Stories


After Hurricane Katrina, folklorist Carl Lindahl wondered how he could help survivors from New Orleans. He found his answer while sorting through old clothes at a Houston site for evacuees. As he searched for pants to fit a bone-thin man standing 6-ft. 5, the man told his story: he’d been trapped with a group of elderly without food or water. Every day for four days he swam out a second-story window to a nearby store, dragging supplies back through the polluted waters. Lindahl was transfixed by the man’s quiet heroism. And that’s when it clicked. He would get survivors to interview other survivors, to keep their experiences alive for future generations.

Lindahl says the idea came from listening to Library of Congress recordings of survivors of the Dust Bowl, Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks. “Really, the best of them were not collected by professionals like myself but by people talking to people who had shared the experience,” he says. “Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston” is the first large-scale project in which survivors have taken the lead in documenting their lives before, during and after a major disaster. So far, more than 30 survivors have collected over 250 stories in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and even Garifuna, a Creole language. “My mission is to put the tools in their hands,” Lindahl says, “so they can get their stories–on their own terms.”

Choreographing Community


Choreographer Noémi Lafrance is about to take a big plunge. Her latest work, Agora II, is set in a cavernous empty pool in Brooklyn, N.Y., where more than 70 dancers, ages 8 to 60, will dance, sing, run, frolic, argue, embrace, cycle and hula-hoop. Spectators are expected to take part–they’ll get cues during the performance via text messages to their cell phones. Although the show opens in a few days, Lafrance hasn’t quite perfected her method of simultaneously transmitting messages to hundreds, possibly thousands, of audience members. But leaping over obstacles is her signature move.

Lafrance, 32, produces “site-specific” dances that explore our relationship with public spaces–and that require months of bureaucratic arm twisting. Sens Production, the nonprofit group she helped found in 2000, raises funds and secures the sites. “We’ve had to fight a lot of fights,” she says.

Since moving from Montreal to attend New York City’s Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in 1994, Lafrance has choreographed breathtaking shows in imaginative settings. Descent, which debuted in 2001, followed 12 dancers down 12 stories of a stairwell. Her 2004 Noir was set in a parking garage. Last summer, after initiating the restoration of Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool, a 50,000-sq.-ft. monstrosity that had stood abandoned for 22 years, she staged Agora to rave reviews.

Like its predecessor, Agora II centers on people struggling to connect with one another. The show’s title originally referred to agoraphobia–anxiety in public places–but Lafrance says it’s now closer to the ancient Greek meaning of a public square. As she says, “It’s about meeting physically, not just mentally.”

Get the Picture?


STAND IN FRONT OF CERTAIN GREAT PAINTINGS, AND YOU CAN’T HELP wondering about the backstory. Who are those men striding out of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch? How did those French guys in jackets end up on a picnic blanket with a naked woman? That kind of question inspired 89 Seconds at Alcázar, the video-art/costume drama that abruptly made Eve Sussman an art-world celebrity when it stole the show at the 2004 Whitney Biennial. For 12 murmurous minutes, we spy on members of the Spanish royal household just before and after they assume their poses in the glorious Velázquez canvas Las Meninas. By showing us ordinary mortals as they prepare–without realizing it–to take their places in eternity, Sussman not only made good on the claim that every picture tells a story, but she also offered a poignant reflection on time itself.

For The Rape of the Sabine Women, her new feature-length production, Sussman’s point of departure is a 1799 canvas by Jacques-Louis David. It shows us the moment when the Sabine women attempt to intervene in a battle between their Roman abductors and the Sabine men. But this time Sussman, who works with a creative collective called the Rufus Corporation, uses the painting as the very loosest framework for meditations on loneliness, longing and the failure of Modernist utopian schemes. Men in dark suits wander enigmatically among Greek statuary in Berlin. Women in dresses from the 1960s arrive by subway. There’s no dialogue, though there is a cocktail party at a sleek International Style house and a climactic free-for-all in a Greek amphitheater. And the story this time? “This is implied narrative,” says Sussman. But the implications are very intriguing.

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