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5 Great Gutbombs: Introducing the Gutbomb Index (GBI)

The ditch dogs at Ditch Plains are a notable gutbomb.

It’s been over a year since FiTR embargoed the use of the term “gutbomb” on our website, except for special cases. This is one of those special cases. This post seeks to define gutbombs, note how and when they occur, and offer a selection of recently encountered examples. Perhaps it will help you avoid G-bombs in the future – or maybe it will just induce you to try new ones. Each example is embellished with FiTR’s 100-point Gutbomb Index (GBI).

First off, what is a gutbomb? The key to the genre is oversatiation: Eat a gutbomb and you’ll find yourself not only full, but feeling way too full, maybe even nauseated — hence the name. Your gut has been bombed, not just satisfied. Gutbombs arise when one of three conditions is fulfilled: large size, greasiness, and an incongruous collection of ingredients. The biggest gutbombs have all three. To qualify as a gutbomb, something must also taste great.

5. Ditch Dogs at Ditch Plains (top of page) — Two hot dogs smothered in what tastes like Kraft mac ‘n cheese would be gutbomb enough (note the doubling of the dogs, when probably one would do just fine). But beyond that, the thing comes on a bed of fries. Fries always raise the GBI by at least 10 points. GBI: 92

4. Mixed Sandwich at Cafe Zaiya — This perfectly illustrates the size factor when it comes to gutbombs. Billed as a mixed sandwich (note the singular), and priced at $6.50, this is really three sandwiches masquerading as one. Note how tightly it fits in its little aluminum container like a fat man jammed into a corset, and how the fillings include fried cutlets and mayo-drenched tuna and egg salads. GBI: 93

3. Lomo Saltado at Chifa — Trust the Chinese-Peruvians to concoct such an amazing gutbomb: The french fries, having already been cooked once, are stir-fried again with onions, tomato, cilantro, and beef not of the leanest, then drenched in a rich brown gravy. Anything that glistens like this is likely to be a gutbomb. GBI: 96

2. Salad Tashkent at Nargis CafĂ© – We’re always in potential gutbomb territory when something called “salad” turns out to be loaded with “meat.” In this case a toss of shredded daikon radish thick with mayo (a quintessential gutbomb ingredient) is further improved with a fatty lamb julienne. A generous haystack of greasy fried onion rings is the coup de grace. GBI: 98

Next: And what could outdo these previous four?

1. Potato Chip Nachos at Swine — Even the FiTR staff was nearly frightened away upon encountering this supreme example. To begin with, the thing is ugly as hell (though it tastes great). And what is the purpose of the cardboardy tortilla chips in conventional nachos? To absorb grease. Potato chips shed it, like water off an amphibian’s back. The white stuff is supposed to be cheese, but really it’s more like molten mayo. This dish might serve as a definition of gutbomb. GBI: 100

Addresses:

Ditch Plains
100 West 82nd Street
212-362-4815

Cafe Zaiya
18 East 41st Street
212-779-0600

Chifa
73-20 Northern Boulevard
Jackson Heights, Queens
718-898-0108

Cafe Nargis
2818 Coney Island Avenue
Homecrest, Brooklyn
718-872-7888

Swine
531 Hudson Street
212-255-7675

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Carol Demas

Broadway’s original Sandy in Grease is still flaunting some of those lines, even going to far as to call this show “Summer Nights.” Although the classic role is now associated with blondes, thanks to Olivia Newton-John, her Sandy wasn’t (but Demas has gone that way since). Charles Repole directs, and Ian Herman is the musical director.

Thu., July 22, 7 p.m.; Sat., July 24, 7 p.m., 2010

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Sizzling Blind Gossip Items for Days!

Men are the worst. In The Kids Are All Right, a lesbian couple finds that their old anonymous sperm donor has stumbled back into their lives, which prompts one of them to tell him, “I need your observations like I need a dick in my ass!” while the other decides she’d love the observations and the appendage.

The result is the kind of trouble that could have made for a glorified sitcom, but this being a seriously made dramedy, with savvy performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as “Pony” and “Chicken” and Mark Ruffalo as the jazzy jizzpot, it becomes a stimulating character study, not to mention Bening’s second cinematic endorsement of family this year. (See J. Hoberman’s review of The Kids Are All Right here.)

(By the way, you might even see an echo of her real-life clan. In Kids, Bening’s daughter screeches, “I’m 18 years old!” as she demands the right to make adult decisions for herself—shades of Bening’s born daughter, Kathlyn, the 18-year-old who’s defiantly living as Steve and report-edly transitioning?)

Anyway, at a Rouge Tomate luncheon for the film last week, director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko told me she never had to jump in during filming and tell Bening and Moore stuff like, “A lesbian would never do that!” “That was the amazing thing,” she said. “They’re just really great actors who went beyond the gender identity thing and became three-dimensional people that happened to be lesbians.” (See also Ella Taylor’s interview with Cholodenko here.)

In life, Cholodenko happens to have a four-year-old son, so I jokingly asked if she knows who the father is. “No!” she replied, sincerely. “It was an anonymous sperm donor. The film came about because I started posing my own personal questions like, ‘What’s this gonna be like in 18 years?’ ” This has to be one of the very rare occurrences where sperm contributed to the making of an arthouse classic.

“The couple in the film is like any other couple,” the ever-game Ruffalo told me at the same event. “They’re like me and my wife. I’ve seen it three times, and, quickly into the movie, the novelty of lesbian marriage with the teenage kids and the sperm donor dad melts away, and the audience is laughing because they’re seeing their own families up there.”

Is Ruffalo all right with becoming the face of seed givers for all time? “I’m gonna be the poster boy for sperm donors,” he said, going along with this gambit. “But I don’t know if I’m an example of the kind of sperm you want.” “I’m a gay male,” I cracked. “I want any sperm.” “We’ll let that fall flat,” he generously said, smiling, as I crawled away.

“All couples must be boy-girl” is a line from the 1978 movie Grease, though John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John went beyond the gender identity thing and became three-dimensional people who happened to be heteros. In the disillusioned 1970s, Grease provided a candy-colored, escapist throwback to the far simpler 1950s, the musical allowing the Watergate/Vietnam generation to check their tortured minds at the door and just smile a lot. So it makes perfect sense that in the even more desperate Teens, we’re going back to Grease‘s ’70s view of the ’50s, a double dose of nostalgia to distract from oil spills and Dow plummets.

And there’s a very now twist being added; in this age of social-networking fame for every human on earth, it’s being shown in a sing-along version, in which you’re the star. Last week, I saw Grease Sing-a-Long, which has the lyrics, along with giddy animation effects, guiding you through the numbers, as well as a chorus of voices added to the soundtrack. (That actually made me want to sing less; it felt like the singing-along was already taken care of. But I soared nonetheless on “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and especially “Greased Lightning.”)

Didi Conn, who played the beauty-school dropout Frenchie, was there to egg the crowd on and explain that it’s a movie about “your first love, your first car, your first heartbreak.” Privately, I asked Conn for her first Grease memories, and she said, “The first things that come to mind are John Travolta’s lips. And looking at the cleft in his chin. Then again, there were Frankie Avalon‘s lips, too. I was a little horny in those days!” Did she even get hot for Eve Arden? “Don’t start a whole thing!” she said, laughing. All couples must be boy-girl.

At Dixon Place’s HOT! Festival of Queer Performance and Culture, ’50s nostalgia came with drag and interracial twists as the Tweed company redid Picnic, the simmering tale of small-town frustration, and made it into the very funny Pic-up! A Summer Romance. In this version, the pretty sister licks whipped cream off the goony sister’s arm, the black drifter mounts people from behind, and he and his old buddy are much chummier than anyone in Grease (onscreen, that is).

Fourteen Blind Items and Some Rhetorical Questions
But enough with overt displays of sperm donation in small towns. Let’s go for the hidden, seamy, big-city stuff, while leaving out the names, to make it extra hideous.

And so: Which fashion publicist texted that gay club regular: “What about our sexy lunch date Friday? Will you be the dessert at my apartment after lunch? Hahaha”? When the sex relationship didn’t work out, which same flack texted the guy epithets involving words like “kike” and “ugly, pencil dick”? Isn’t this even worse than you’d expect from a fashion publicist?

Which departed gay party promoter poignantly enough owed tons of gay rent money when he died? Which composer doesn’t bathe or change clothes much and generally smells like month-old fish? (People who’ve put him up for weekends have noted that—but they’re still honored to have him, mind you.) Which ex-supermodel once threw a pair of scissors at her hairdresser because she didn’t like her ‘do? (She wisely handed him some settlement cash on the spot to avoid any judicial vengeance.)

Which old-time star has emerged as a big lesbian in her twilight years, and no one’s all that surprised? Which monthly magazine that owes a major contributor $30,000 just nobly sent him a check for $500, acting like that pretty much settles it? Which superstar’s son is now a blowsy-looking crystal addict, sadly enough?

Which composernot the one who smells—nixed an all-skating finale to his latest revival? (For the revival before that, he vetoed a big geisha number, even after all the hugely expensive costumes were made. I’m not saying he was wrong, though.) Which Tony winner has a lot of cynics speculating that she was coked out of her mind judging from her behavior all season, though there’s no hard evidence of that? Which smart person who worked on the last Tony telecast is running around blabbing about how horrible Lea Michele was in her performance?

Which hot mess was going to have reality show cameras following one of her recent creative endeavors, but she must have realized they were setting her up to fail, so she didn’t sign? Which stars are more smacked out on heroin than Janis Joplin ever was, and the studio is getting a little worried? Which playwright/screenwriter spends most of his time bitching out the Hollywood system and how it done him wrong? Might he have a point? Can newspapers please stop writing articles about the sudden return of the club kid aesthetic? (It’s been going on for four whole years, thank you!) Why are men such pigs? Please tell me, oh Pony and Chicken.

musto@villagevoice.com

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Remembrance of Whatevuh

Grease, in its present form, is the theatrical equivalent of an asteroid: a chunk of old rock that, when it was young and hot, broke loose from the reality to which it had been anchored and now, cooled down, drifts aimlessly through space, accumulating royalties the way an asteroid accumulates specks of cosmic dust. It may have once had some meaning or function on its home planet, but it is so small a chunk, and has been drifting for so many aeons, that you would need a magnifying spectroscope to locate its contents. It exists, it drifts, it’s there; that’s all. Unless it happens to collide with you, there’s no particular reason to bother about it.

The worst part, I’m afraid, is that it’s all my fault. You see, back when I was a small child, the Voice encouraged me to write about theater outside New York. And so, one balmy night in Chicago, I went to see a non-Equity off-Loop show I’d heard was fun, at a theater called Kingston Mines. I enjoyed myself and said so in print. Somebody apparently thought this was a good omen, and the next thing I knew, Grease had become the longest-running musical on Broadway, and had spawned a gigantically successful movie version. The shock made me fall into an inexplicable torpor, from which I only awoke when Kerry Butler started mimicking Olivia Newton-John’s accent in Xanadu.

That, at any rate, is the short version of the story. The missing details have to do with what
Grease was and how it has evolved into something quite different. It began as a parody, of ’50s rock and the teen movies that often encased it, to amuse the generation for which they were an adolescent rite of passage, welded to the greasers-vs.-nice-kids conflict that dogged middle-class high schools in the late Eisenhower era. By the early ’70s, those high-schoolers had settled into their young urban professionalism; those who’d grown up in suburbia were moving back into the cities their parents’ generation had fled, and they could look back on the foolishness of their high-school years with a rueful snicker.

Grease is, or was, that rueful snicker. The original New York production, in which director Tom Moore and choreographer Patricia Birch whipped the amicable japes of writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey into a giddy souffle, never lost sight of the regret under the foolery: It was cast with performers whose adolescent years dated from the era spoofed by the songs, a fact underscored by the presence— at least when the production began Off-Broadway—of their actual high-school yearbook photographs, strung out across the proscenium arch. For theatergoers in that age range, it was like using Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in place of Proust’s madeleine—a notion that’s a big, silly, good-humored American joke. As Grease itself is.

Or was, at least. Nothing kills jokes like mass manufacture—if Walter Benjamin had had any sense, he’d have bemoaned the fate of the good laugh in the age of mechanical reproduction—and once Grease had been souped up into movie-blockbuster status, it was already well on its downward trajectory, destined to become the diluted thing it is now. The watery, wannabe-hit songs added for the movie, by more “professional” but emptier hands, now soften the brash edges of the show’s cheerfully parodic score, while some of the original numbers have been junked, moved about, or had their lyrics tinkered with to preserve family values that were nowhere near the original’s way of thinking. The original book made a tenuous, loose-limbed, silly sort of sense; the current one doesn’t even try to make any, retaining scenes while cutting the songs that were their only reason for existing, and other such tricks.

Despite the amount of conscious parody left in the material, the show Kathleen Marshall has directed and choreographed supplies neither comic nor serious nostalgia; it all seems to occur in a placeless, timeless, MTV-retro era, possibly on some other planet. Laura Osnes, the Sandy, displays a lot of personality; Lindsay Mendez, the Jan, has a decent way with a song. But none of the gang except Jose Restrepo, the Sonny, conveys even the remotest sense of character (the monotone heavy-handedness of Jenny Powers’s Rizzo is particularly painful), leaving peripheral figures like Susan Blommaert’s crisp Miss Lynch and Jamison Scott’s geeky Eugene to steal your attention in roles that are meant as one-note caricatures. Auld lang syne kept me smiling, but I felt the pang of the original Grease‘s absence more strongly than any pleasure I could derive from this version. I miss the show that used to have the honor, such as it was, of being the only Broadway musical in history to feature a song that begins, “I saw a dead skunk on the highway.” Grease, as a “property” (loathsome word in this context), has become what it once viewed mockingly; I won’t go so far as to call it roadkill, but I can’t say there’s much life in it. That its leads were cast via TV is no big deal; all the thinking involved seems to have been recast that way ages ago.

Like Grease, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is another of those works so frequently revived that everybody knows it by heart (though probably not the same “everybody” who knows Grease). I wasn’t around for the original, but I lived through the two productions that defined the play for our time, Peter Brook’s and Alvin Epstein’s. To my delight, keeping them in my head has never dulled the Dream for me: Other productions may not have measured up to the best, but they’ve all found access to some part of the work’s eternal freshness; in the several dozen I’ve reviewed, I can’t remember one that spoiled it completely. Shakespeare anchored the piece in truths that apparently make it impossible to ruin.

Not that you’d say Daniel Sullivan’s Central Park revival was anywhere near ruination, though his ideas about it, like his casting, seem scattershot and uneven. I guess I understand Ann Hould-Ward’s vaguely Edwardian costumes, but why is Hermia’s father (George Morfogen) an Orthodox archbishop? The fairies being night creatures, Sullivan’s fancy makes them London-at-night creatures: Jon Michael Hill’s opera-caped Puck is the glummest sprite who ever made mischief, and Laila Robins’s gowned, corseted Titania confronts Keith David’s frock-coated Oberon with the frosty hauteur of a dowager duchess. Robins doesn’t really begin to show her rich expressiveness as an actress until she uncorsets, literally as well as metaphorically; the same is true of Martha Plimpton, who begins as the starchiest Helena ever, only warming to the role as she sheds her outer garments. Austin Lysy’s Lysander is very good, Elliot Villar’s Demetrius well-spoken. Sullivan’s best ideas include having children, all excellent, play the lesser fairies, and playing the “mechanicals” as ordinary guys rather than riotous cutups, proving that Shakespeare’s lines, said believably, trigger all the laughs you need. If this isn’t a Dream to blow its predecessors out of memory, it’s one that will do pleasantly for now—a good step up from some recent Park productions.