Life twirls on

In which I celebrate Kenya Moore twirling back into our lives, get bored by cannibal mutants, and fall in love with a new musical.

There are few situations in life that can’t be improved by the arrival of a very pregnant Kenya Moore. Kenya waltzed into Cynthia’s party on the Real Housewives of Atlanta finale and I squealed like I was Lucille Bluth and she was Gene Parmesan. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and I honestly underestimated how crucial Kenya was to this show’s success. There are other issues this season — NeNe is having an ongoing breakdown, Shamari peaked when she vomited on Eva, Tanya is a simulation — but I have to believe things would have been better with Kenya around. I’m also confused as to what NeNe’s issue with Kenya is, because getting this worked up over an Instagram poll seems… misguided, to say the least. Then again, NeNe has never been the most logical or consistent with her grudges, and the subtext of her beef with any of the other Housewives is low-key always that she doesn’t want anyone coming for her peach.

When I saw that NeNe was feuding with Cynthia, I was very much prepared to be on Cynthia’s side. I have loved Cynthia forever, despite the fact that she’s objectively the least dynamic member of the cast. (Kandi is my actual favorite, and she often doesn’t contribute much in the way of drama either, but she’s Kandi fucking Burruss, so it’s fine.) I had assumed NeNe turning on Cynthia had something to do with fallout from the closet fiasco, so imagine my surprise that it was over Kenya — or, more accurately, over Cynthia setting NeNe up for a run-in with Kenya. I did think NeNe was overreacting when she accused Cynthia of betraying her for not giving her a heads-up that Kenya was invited to the party, but uh, Cynthia fully planned this shit and didn’t even do a good job of covering it up. When someone tells you they’re on mic, you don’t start talking about your secret plan — you shut the fuck up.

I’m very curious to see how Cynthia tries to spin this at the reunion, or if she’ll just own it. I’ve always admired the way RHOA is willing to break the fourth wall more than the other Housewives series — including Vanderpump Rules, which is begging for it. We know that these women have alliances, that they set each other up, that they make sure certain things end up on camera. Hello, that’s part of being on a reality show! And I get why Bravo wants to shield us from that — it disrupts the reality of it all — but NeNe’s reaction to Kenya (and to Cynthia fucking her over) feels just as genuine, even if we know there was some string-pulling going on behind-the-scenes. I’m fascinated by the way the producers and editors threw Cynthia under the bus here, though: I mean, they fully exposed Cynthia’s lies, not to mention Kandi covering for her. No wonder NeNe unfollowed everyone. As much as I love the other women involved: Team NeNe.

I’m a little less certain about my loyalty when it comes to the ongoing conflict between Luann and Dorinda on The Real Housewives of New York. I mean, I’m very much not on Dorinda’s side — her behavior has become increasingly unhinged — but I’m not loving whatever is going on with Luann either. If I were forced to pick a side, however, Team Luann. The fact that Dorinda is still denying that she heckled Lu at her 54 Below show is… deranged? We have seen the footage! It was broadcast and viewed by millions! There are GIFs! And her deflection that Luann needs therapy because she won’t let this go is silly: the Countess has made it clear that she wants an apology before she moves forward, which is totally reasonable. (She does also need therapy. We all need therapy! So much.) That fight between Dorinda and bisexual icon Barbara K is further proof that Dorinda is dealing with shit that goes deeper than her estrangement from Luann. But also, Lu was an asshole about Dorinda’s pink hair. I could go back and forth forever. How’s this: Team Barbara K.

While we’re on the subject of flesh-eating New Yorkers, this past weekend I made time to finally watch C.H.U.D., a cult horror film that has been on my radar for as long as I can remember, but which I’d never actually sat down and watched. And then it just kept coming up, most notably as one of the VHS tapes on display at the beginning of Us. I wondered if there was some deeper meaning I would unlock by watching what I assumed was one of Jordan Peele’s inspirations. (I realize I’ve already written plenty about Us, but mamma mia, here I go again.) There’s the obvious connection, of course: C.H.U.D. is about, well, C.H.U.D.s — Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. They live right under our feet, much like Peele’s Tethers.

So here is the thing I wasn’t prepared for for: that movie is boring as fuck. It’s truly just an oddly paced, aggressively dull waste of time. When I watch a B-movie about mutants living in New York City subway tunnels, I expect that I’ll at least have a good time. I expect hot C.H.U.D. action. What I don’t expect is a whole lot of talking and very little cannibalism. You barely even see the titular mutants until the end, and even then, they don’t get nearly enough screen time. This isn’t Jaws, OK? I’m watching your dumb monster movie for the dumb monsters, not for John Heard. (That having been said, John Heard? Very handsome.) Watching C.H.U.D. gave me a new appreciation for the late, great Larry Cohen (R.I.P.), who knew how to make ludicrous creature features as entertaining as they should be. If I’m being too hard on C.H.U.D. I’m sorry, but I was truly disappointed. I mean, I honestly never imagined I wouldn’t love a movie called C.H.U.D.!

But is there any connection between this film and Us? Well, yes, actually. Because while C.H.U.D. is, again, impressively hard to sit through, it does at least flirt with the kind of social commentary that Peele makes more explicit in Us. See, C.H.U.D. doesn’t actually stand for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller” — it stands for “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal.” That’s right, these monsters were created by the improper disposal of nuclear waste, which is not quite the origin story of the Tethers, but in both cases, the real enemy is the government. And the victims are homeless people — they’re the ones disappearing, which is why it’s hard to get anyone to care. So you know, there are certainly vague gestures at big ideas here, about class and government malfeasance. But they’re not developed enough to make the movie worth watching. If you don’t want to take my word for it, C.H.U.D. is streaming on Shudder.

And now I get to actually recommend something! Last week I saw Eh Dah? Questions for My Father at Next Door at NYTW, and I fell in love. It’s been a minute since a new piece of theater resonated with me like that, but this is such a special show. Aya Aziz wrote the book as well as the score, and she stars as — herself, really, a young woman trying to make sense of her family history. The show is such a sharp, provocative journey of self-discovery and an exploration of the stories we tell about ourselves and others. It’s funny, compelling, and deeply moving — and it’s also the kind of rich, nuanced representation of Arab and Muslim identity that we should be seeing everywhere. It is so important to me that people see this show, both because it’s a wonderful musical and because it’s essential that we experience a wide spectrum of Arab and Arab-American stories onstage. And supporting musicals like Eh Dah? sends a message to producers that there is an audience for these stories, which is a great way to ensure we see more shows like it.

I thought back to what George Abud wrote in his Playbill bio for The Band’s Visit: “I hope young Arabic kids, like I was, see this show, or hear it, or read about it, and know that there is starting to be a place for their expression, their stories and their faces. The Arab voice, rich in history and beautiful music, is vital in American theatre.” I found it so touching that I ended up writing an article about what a major step forward the show was for Middle Eastern representation on Broadway. But with The Band’s Visit closing, I worry about what show will fill its place. Whenever Broadway is heralded for its diversity, it’s because we’re having one (relatively) diverse season. The season after that is almost always disappointingly dominated by straight white cis theater — a lot of which I enjoy, but also, we can do so much better! We’re already seeing a slew of Dear Evan Hansen copycat shows. Why isn’t The Band’s Visit, which was a massive hit, getting the same treatment? In the meantime, please go see Eh Dah? You only have a couple weeks, so get your tickets now. And let’s hope this show has more life beyond its current run.

Since we’re on the subject of making theater more inclusive, yes, I would like to see a production of Nine starring Stephanie J. Block as Guido. (Paging Marianne Elliott.) SJB made her pitch last night at Miscast, my favorite theatrical event of the year next to the Jimmy Awards, and I lost my mind, because oh my god can you imagine? Her “Guido’s Song” was maybe the highlight of the night for me, but I’m biased in that she is my absolute favorite and everything she does ends up being the highlight of any night. I love Miscast because I love getting to hear amazing women singing great fucking songs that were written for men. (Eva Noblezada did “Go the Distance” from Hercules, and I need a full production immediately.) And yes, men also do songs written for women, but that will never be as interesting. I’m not sure if Company will bring about a new trend of gender-bent productions, but let it be known that I am prepared to personally finance Nine. Or at least put it on my vision board.

Housekeeping: I’m making today’s newsletter public, in part because I want more people to hear about Eh Dah? Questions for My Father, and in part because I’m going to try to do more public posts for those of you who have been kind enough to subscribe but aren’t able to commit to a paid subscription. (Also, I’m on vacation later this week and won’t be sending another newsletter out.) As I’ve said, this is all new terrain for me, and I’m still figuring it out, but I’m so grateful to anyone who gives a shit about what I have to say — whether paid or not. Please continue to spread the word: I put a lot of time into this newsletter, and to put it bluntly, I’m hoping it helps me pay for my health insurance at some point. I know many people consider it tacky to talk about money, but I think it’s important to be upfront about the realities of freelance writing, which has been some combination of terrible and thrilling for me. Thanks for joining me on the ride.