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How Do I Love Patti LuPone’s Basement? Let Me Count the Ways…

9 April 2020 by Tina Wargo
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Welcome to Today I’m Obsessed With…, a weekly deep-dive into a cultural phenomenon, particularly compelling figure, or uniquely fascinating moment that was as imprisoned in my broken mind over the past seven days as we all were inside our homes. I’m Tina, the TodayTix Social Media Manager. Obsess with me, won’t you?

In fifty years, I imagine myself sitting on the porch of a beautiful and certainly haunted Victorian home, covered in an unnecessarily flamboyant quilt, flanked by my grandchildren, who are endlessly curious about their wacky, quirky, yet somehow wise family matriarch. 

“Nana?” they’ll say as I sip my martini, which I’m only drinking to cosplay and subsequently to keep alive the memory of “Carol” (2015). “Tell us about the Great Global Pandemic of 2020. Where were you?”

I’ll look up, the glamorous vacancy of my sprawling compound suddenly creeping into my cloudy ray eyes. “Where was I?” I’ll repeat, like a dramatic old ghoul. “Why, I was on Twitter dot com. We were all on Twitter dot com. There we’d wait, universally distraught but always hopeful, for Patti LuPone to release another video tour of her basement. That’s what got us through. That’s why your ol’ grandma is still here today.” 

In the present, which feels more incomprehensible and unrealistic than that horrifying fantasy I’ve crafted for no one, I have to agree with 77-year-old me: the only thing making each new day worth living is the promise of a Patti LuPone’s Basement Tour tomorrow. 

At time of publication, there have been four official basement tours: one, which was an impromptu response to Twitter’s interest in the background of her livestream Rosie O’Donnell interview. A second, which was clearly filmed in a glorious fit of excitement, despite having lost the first take to the abyss of the Internet. A third, which begins on a solemn note but shifts into business as usual soon enough. And a fourth– the most produced of them all — in which she dons a Norma Desmond lewk and sashays through the now-familiar bottom floor of the home I’ve come to feel more comfortable in than my own. Reader, stop the train, stop EVERYTHING, and go watch them all. 

Congrats. You’re back, and you’re different now. 

It’s not that they’re particularly poignant, or even that they’re so chock-full of insider content that we’re beholden to the screen. It’s the opposite, actually. It’s that in a time full of livestreams and celebrity videos and benefit performances and Zoom meetings, these short, sporadic videos of two-time Grammy and Tony Award® winner Patti LuPone going absolutely wild in her own basement have transcended entertainment. They’ve redefined art. Who can say if they’ve changed the entire cultural landscape for the better, but because she’s tweeted, it *has* been changed for good.

So how do I love this basement, these tours, and, inextricably, the iconic woman behind it all? Let me count the ways. 

  • The lockers. What’s in them? Why are there so many? What secrets could they be holding?
  • Does that phone mounted to the wall still work? Who is Patti calling? Can it be…me?
  • The fanfiction I’ve written for myself that delves deep, deep, deep into the direction she gave her videographer is Pulitzer-worthy.
  • The tonal shift between the creation and distribution of Video 1: “A Basement Is Born” and Video 2: “2Pone, 2Furious”? is iconiqué.
  • That singular, worn-out War Paint Playbill at 0:29 in Video 1 sent a shiver up my spine
  • This quote, in reference to the fact that Video 2 has had to be reshot: “I got a really great one, but I can’t send it! I showed you a whole bunch of sh*t!” WHAT’S IN THE LOST VIDEO????? 
  • I am of the correct opinion that this kind of dancing is what may save us all at this time and beyond.
  • When she shows us her “Second Stage All Star 1987 Second Stage second prize ‘Most Time Spent in the Gutter'” trophy, and then coyly wonders, “Who won first?” The possibilities of what she could mean. The power of her mere suggestion. Is this a metaphor? Is it just a throwaway line? Anything is possible in Patti LuPone’s basement.
  • The choice to bring a gigantic Gumby doll wearing what appears to be a vintage umpire’s chest protecting vest out to play, and then pretending she’d just run into it by happenstance? Bring on Tony #3.
  • The direction in Video 4….exquisite. Masterclass. The slow pan in to the jukebox? Sorry, Timothée Chalamet at the end of “Call Me By Your Name,” but this is more poignant and haunting an ending than any we’ve seen this millennium! Nice try, the last shot of “The-Shining,” but this twist has redefined cinema!!!!

As we remain indoors and without the comfort and distraction of formal theater, we can only pray that we’ll continue to get these deliciously bite-sized, under-two-minute glimpses of theatricality in the coming weeks, months, decades. In this hopeless time, all I can do is enable Twitter notifications for @PattiLuPone and wait for that telltale ping to drag me out of my weekly existential spiral and root me in the only thing that feels real anymore: The Basement.

The sole reality that feels promised anymore is a future wherein the pinball table and the jukebox are decade-defining figures, the iconography that history books will rely on to pique future students’ interest, to cue their historical understanding of a world before them, and maybe even spark in them a pang of nostalgia for a time they’ll only ever know in documentaries and three-hour-long plays. 

So when my grandchildren see my eyes go blank or notice that I’ve worn a caftan, a glittered turban, and indoor sunglasses four days in a row or hear, down the hall, the near-silent humming of song #309, they’ll know. They’ll remember. They’ll feel the perpetual, generational reverberations of the cultural quake that began at 8:55 PM EST on March 22, 2020. And they’ll wonder, too, in spite of themselves: what was in those lockers?