He who laughs last (but also first)

In which I get swept up in “Hurricane Diane,” worship at the altar of Jessica Rothe, and try to expose the real villains behind PuppyGate.

I keep having the same experience lately — I wrote about it in my last post in regards to Greta — where I am either the only one laughing in a theater, or at least laughing harder than everyone else. I want to be clear that this is not performative laughter: there are few things more annoying than the dude manspreading next to you who is shaking with laughter at Love’s Labour’s Lost because he gets it. (It is totally valid to laugh at Shakespeare, but also relax.) Anyway, while I would not say that I was laughing like that at Hurricane Diane, I would concede that I was laughing more than most. Which is dumb, because it’s a fucking hilarious play. Then again, this is not the first time I have watched a New York Theatre Workshop audience react with discomfort or confusion, usually to something I was loving like Slave Play or Hundred Days.

The best way I could describe Hurricane Diane is that it’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey if one of the season’s Friends of the Housewives was a non-binary Greek god, and the imminent threat of global destruction brought on by climate change was an actual concern. (Does Teresa Giudice believe in climate change? I love Lady Gaga. I think she’s a really interesting artist.) Becca Blackwell stars as Diane (AKA Dionysus), who arrives at a Jersey cul-de-sac to seduce four women into being her bacchae, and to spread her planet-sustaining vision of permaculture gardening. (The play uses female pronouns for Diane, so I’m following suit, but the character seems to exist beyond gender and Blackwell uses plural pronouns.)

Like so many of my favorite plays, Hurricane Diane weaves its way through broad comedy, biting social commentary, gender and sexual exploration, and pure madness. I won’t spoil the climax — featuring music by my beloved Bengsons — but it made me feel such a potent mix of exhilaration and dread that I felt a little shaky after. I struggle with modern theater that attempts to tackle issues as fraught and overwhelming as climate change, but Hurricane Diane is so sharp and witty in its approach that it manages to convey a clear perspective without ever sacrificing the plot, the comedy, and the theatricality. It helps, of course, that every actor in the play is a genius at what they do; I was so impressed by each of them. I will continue to stan New York Theatre Workshop for putting on work that is challenging but accessible, a line that few theater companies are able to walk. Do yourself a favor and buy a ticket to this show.

But back to being in a room of 100 people where 99 don’t think something is funny and I am cackling! Earlier this week I finally saw Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to the preposterously underrated Happy Death Day, and I once again found myself laughing more than anyone else. And again I contend that I was right and they were wrong. I fully understand that this movie is not for everyone: it’s a sci-fi horror comedy disguised as a slasher, and it’s a pretty radical departure from the first (perfect) film. While Happy Death Day namechecked Groundhog Day, the obvious inspiration for its time loop, Happy Death Day 2U gives a nod to its predecessor Back to the Future Part II. It’s not really scary, but then the first one wasn’t either. Actually, I found Happy Death Day 2U to be more traumatizing personally, if only because thinking too hard about time travel and parallel universes makes me very anxious.

Attempting to summarize the plot of Happy Death Day 2U would be a futile exercise — about halfway through I started imagining someone trying to write the Wikipedia summary and broke out in hives — and I don’t want to give too much away. But this is a surprisingly complex, world-building sequel that actually (and very early on!) explains the whole time loop thing. I was worried this would be a mark against it for me: generally speaking, the less I know about wacky time travel hijinks, the better. But it worked for me here, in part because of how relentlessly weird the story gets as it progresses, and in part because it’s all grounded by some genuinely great actors, namely the unbearably charming Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard.

I want to focus on Rothe, since she’s the real reason this film works as well as it does. (Also, I googled Israel Broussard and was reminded of the awful shit he got caught saying on Twitter, so pass on celebrating him further!) Rothe is a tremendous performer — I felt this way after the first movie, but the sequel lets her show her range in a way that really caught me off-guard. By which I mean, I cried several times. Her comic timing is stellar, but the way she portrays Tree’s grief is equally laudable. Of course, I also want to give credit to writer-director Christopher Landon, who takes this gonzo concept to new heights of absurdity, and also allows for a strong emotional core that’s so often lacking from the genre. (Do not drag me like that guy who wrote a take about how Happy Death Day 2U is the first slasher film to deal with grief. I’m just saying the genre by and large neglects to explore grief in a meaningful way.) I can’t wait to see what Landon does next — I’m still holding out hope for Happy D3ath Day — but I hope it’s even weirder and gayer.

Nothing, however, could be weirder and gayer than whatever the fuck is unfolding on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The saga of Lucy Lucy Apple Juice is somehow even harder to follow than I thought it would be when it started playing out in the tabloids several months ago. This week we got to see the receipts in the form of dueling, contradictory text messages that somehow seemed to prove that Lisa Vanderpump had set up Teddi… and that Teddi had set up Lisa. Someone is clearly going above and beyond to lie, and before I get into my theory, I want to state that I basically trust no one here, and everyone but Denise Richards is at fault. (Should I have “Everyone But Denise Richards Is At Fault” shirts made? Will sleep on it.) Dorit should never be allowed to have a dog, and she should have told Lisa what was happening before she returned her second puppy. Lisa should stop acting innocent. Rinna should stop pretending she has noble intentions. And Teddi should stop insisting she never lies about anything ever, because only liars say shit like that.

But I believe the real masterminds here — the true villains behind PuppyGate — are John Sessa and John Blizzard. I want to stress that this is only a theory; I don’t have any real proof to back it up. But as the “next season on Vanderpump Dogs” text betrayed, these men are making a pilot for a spin-off. Rinna called it out on her Instagram yesterday, but I don’t think she had to: anyone who watched that ridiculous scene in the RHOBH premiere could tell how badly John Sessa wants to be on television. Those texts between John Blizzard and Teddi could easily have been manufactured, and he may also have lied to Teddi about LVP’s involvement — anything is possible when you’re thirsty to be the next Toms Sandoval and Schwartz. That having been said, I would not be surprised if Lisa and Teddi were more involved in this scheme than they’re pretending to be. Teddi already found her way onto Vanderpump Rules — maybe she’s angling for a spot on Vanderpump Dogs! Is this theory too galaxy brain? I regret nothing.

But Vanderpump Dogs (if it ever becomes a thing, which, please no) will never be Vanderpump Rules. You can’t recreate the magic of Bravo’s all-time greatest Housewives spin-off: you will never again find a cast like that. I don’t mean to sound cynical about the future of reality television, but — I mean I am. It’s just such a rare thing to find a collection of actual friends who are hot, great on camera, good at lying, and all sleeping together behind each other’s backs. I know there are some who feel the show has lost its luster, but I’m still digging this season, which continues to reflect some of the most fascinating character arcs on television. Also Scheana is there.

Did you think I was going to make it through this newsletter without mentioning the return of The Real Housewives of New York City? To be honest, I kind of wanted to. It’s not that I’m not thrilled that it’s back — and I did like much of the premiere — but frankly I found the whole thing too depressing to have fun with yet. I thought that Dennis’ death would delay the season, giving Bethenny some time to heal away from the cameras. Instead, the season premiered earlier than expected, and Bethenny — she’s just really raw in a way I find uncomfortable to watch. I mean, that’s reality, right? But I don’t know. Again I think about what NeNe is going through on Atlanta, and the shadow it casts over the show. Still, I am hopeful for Bethenny, and I am hopeful for this season. I can’t forget that the premiere also gave us Sonja duct taping monogrammed towels to her bedroom windows so she could get fucked in peace, and Ramona displaying her flirty shriek-giggle while proclaiming that she’s “not a desperate housewife.” That’s the name of the show, kind of!

Finally, some housekeeping: Next week I will start to publish posts for paid subscribers only. As I said in my welcome post, asking for money directly from readers is a new thing for me. I went back and forth on this a lot. Ultimately, I want to keep writing about the things I’m passionate about — and what my audience responds to the most. Freelancing is a real challenge, and I’m still figuring it out, but I’m hoping ventures like this one will allow me to continue doing it, and give those who are interested in supporting my work the chance to do so while getting a product that hopefully doesn’t suck. These posts are long and take a while to write because I want to give people their money’s worth, especially if they’re only interested in one or two of my three topics (seriously, you’re encouraged to skip around here!). It’s $5/month or $50/year, and if that feels fair and affordable to you, please consider a paid subscription. And, you know, tell your friends.