12 culture essentials for May

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May is here, the sun is shining, we’ve got flowers in bloom all over the place, and this morning I was awoken by birds chirping outside my window, which is a welcome rarity on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. We’re also in the 80s this week, and I for one am pretty excited to trade up my socks for sandals and get my bike back in working order. Although the hope is that I’ll be spending about 1000% more time outdoors over the next several months (I see you, Governors Island), it doesn’t follow that culture consumption has to falter. I’ve just finished my first book of 2018 (ugh, don’t ask) and I’m hoping it will reopen the floodgates for me, a person who until recently used to read fairly obsessively. Anyone who has brought a blanket to the park on a sunny day in spring and settled in with a great read knows that it’s one of the best ways to achieve total relaxation. I’m also planning to recommit with renewed vigor to getting the most out of the arts and entertainment opportunities available around here. It’s easy with all the outdoor concerts, outdoor art installations, and outdoor movie screenings that will soon be upon us, but we are in New York City and therefore never lacking in cultural options; it just sometimes takes work to carve out the time. Save yourself an extra step by checking out our curated list of picks for May below, and enjoy all the creative, thought-provoking, and entertaining experiences that are here for the taking. 

1. ‘Kid Gorgeous,’ May 1

I’ve been pretty obsessed with John Mulaney for years, ever since I first saw his rant about Girl Scout cookies on Weekend Update back when he was a writer on SNL, and I’ve followed his career through all the Law & Order-related stand up bits and Oh Hello! On Broadway and his killer opening monologue when he returned to host in Studio 8H a few weeks back (if you missed it, watch it now). Obviously, I’m eagerly anticipating Mulaney’s newest stand up special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, which begins streaming on Netflix on May 1. He never fails to make me laugh, so I have a feeling there will be a few repeat screenings of this thing in my house before the month is out.

2. ‘Tully,’ May 4

The new Charlize Theron comedy Tully, which comes out May 4, has been getting a lot of advance press, and it’s written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman so it’s easy to see why. The movie, about a mother of three who develops a friendship with the nanny she is gifted by her brother, is being hailed as an honest, funny, and sometimes dark portrayal of motherhood, and it sounds like a Spring must-see. And, oh man, despite being otherwise decidedly in the anti-superhero movie camp, I have to say that I really enjoyed Deadpool, so I’m sure I’ll make a point to see Ryan Reynolds return to the role in the sequel, which opens on May 17.

3. ‘The Mars Room,’ May 1

Top on my list of books that it’s weird I’ve never read because I’m sure I would love them is The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner’s 2013 National Book Award-nominated novel that it seemed everybody on the subway was reading that year. Maybe I’ll finally get caught up now that Kushner is dropping another title on May 1, or maybe I’ll just jump right into The Mars Room, which follows a young woman who has been forced to leave her son in order to serve two life sentences in a women’s correctional facility. On May 9, Kushner will discuss her latest work with Jonathan Franzen at Greenlight Bookstore at 7:30pm. In other widely beloved writer news, Greenlight will also host Chuck Palahniuk at a book signing for his latest, Adjustment Day, on May 10, and Michael Chabon when he appears on May 23 at St. Joseph’s College to present Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces.

4. ‘A Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ at BAM, May 8

When it comes to seeing theater, it doesn’t get better for me than a well-written, non-musical, dysfunctional family drama, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing A Long Day’s Journey Into Night at BAM starting on May 8. This production of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, autobiographical portrait of addiction and dirty laundry stars the inimitable Jeremy Irons alongside Lesley Manville, and tickets start at just $35, which is a pretty good deal for an experience the London press referred to as “an unmissable masterpiece.”

5. ‘Agora’ on The Highline

After dark on a weeknight and threatening rain? You’ve got perfect conditions to steal over to The Highline to check out “Agora,” a new group exhibition of public artworks, without being crushed by hordes of tourists. Nine artists have been given very public (and heavily trafficked) space to address important socio-political topics of the day, like women’s rights, mass incarceration, the environment, and immigration. Although the work will be on display until next March, it’s OK if you want to see it yourself before it dominates your Insta feed. The cool part about going at night (aside from the relative calm) is that several of the pieces light up.

6. ‘Dear White People,’ Season 2, May 4

I blazed through the first season of Dear White People, the sharp, often very funny Netflix show about the struggles of a diverse group of students at a not-so-postracial liberal arts college, when it first came out last year. The cast is appealing, the writing is smart, and the show tackles its potentially awkward subject matter with a lot of heart, and it was hard to stop myself from binge-watching it all in one shot, which means I remember less of it than I’d like. The long-anticipated second season will be released on May 4, so I’m going to limit myself to two episodes a day.

7. A Prelude to The Shed, May 1-13

We’re still a year out from the opening of The Shed, the multi-disciplinary arts center currently being constructed on the far West Side near Hell’s Kitchen, but the people behind it are drumming up enthusiasm with free pre-opening programming, A Prelude to The Shed, which will run for two weeks starting on May 1 at 10th Ave and 31st Street. The schedule includes dance performances, concerts, panel discussions, and more from rapper Azealia Banks, R&B singer Abra, choreographer William Forsythe, dance battler Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray, and much more. The full schedule can be viewed here, and there are walk up tickets still available onsite for every time slot of every day.

8. Vulture Fest, May 19-20

Love all things pop culture? There is definitely something for you (and probably several things) on the slate at this year’s Vulture Fest, New York Magazine’s weekend-long series of panels and talks by culture luminaries taking place on May 19-20. A panel on feminism with Roxane Gay and Amber Tamblyn? Sign me up. Or how about an interview with Tracy Morgan, the people behind Crimetown, or Ava Duvernay? A private tour of the Met Breuer with Jerry Saltz? Or a boozy brunch with Gillian Jacobs, Phoebe Robinson, and Vanessa Bayer? All these options and more are available at a range of price points here, but be sure to buy your tickets before they sell out.

9-12. Three Critically-Acclaimed Indie Rock Acts to Catch this Month

If these upcoming gigs in May by these widely-praised indie music artists are any indication, the summer music season in the city is getting off to a promising start. Eleanor Friedberger, the former singer of the Fiery Furnaces, has carved a pretty impressive solo career in the last 10 years; her new record, Rebound, might be the best work she’s made so far to date. In contrast to the avant-garde and experimental sounds of Friedberger’s erstwhile band, Rebound is quite accessible as it marries electronic textures and conventional rock to create something quite poppy and engaging. Standout tracks from the new record are “The Letter” and “Make Me a Song.” (She plays Bowery Ballroom May 1.) Somewhat similar in that approach is The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, the latest and outstanding album by Wye Oak, the duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack. When I saw them play at Boston’s Middle East club in 2009, around the time of their second album The Knot, I was struck by their stark yet powerful guitar-drum rock dominated sound. Fast forward to almost 10 years later and this new album of theirs employs electronic textures across songs that are both anthemic and intimate; key numbers are the title song, “It’s Not Natural,” “Over and Over,” and “Join.” (Wye Oak plays Brooklyn Steel May 15.) And lastly, Japanese Breakfast, the moniker of musician Michelle Zauner, had a breakout 2017 with her critically-acclaimed, dreamy album Soft Sounds From Another Planet, inspired themes of science fiction and space. That record was the follow-up to her debut Psychopomp, which was recorded around the time of her mother’s death. She once told me in an interview last year: “With these two albums, I really stuck myself in the middle of what I was feeling and waded through it and figured out how I felt and put it into words.” You can’t go wrong either way if you see one or all three of these acts this month—what’s guaranteed is a very resonant and emotional experience. (Japanese Breakfast plays Warsaw May 31.)—David Chiu

Photo credits from top to bottom rows: Eleanor Friedberger (Chris Eckert); Wye Oak (Shervin Lainez); Japanese Breakfast (Ebru Yildiz)

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