“I don’t know what a Carrie is”: Candace Bushnell does it on stage

I have to tell you that after a long day of rehearsing in five-inch heels and a photoshoot in which she posed on top, straddled and semi-recumbent on a corner bench, Candace Bushnell, the woman who made the cosmopolitan the most famous pre-2000 New York drink, slipped into a chair in the gallery at the Carlyle Hotel, and ordered an unglamorous pot of Earl Gray tea. With lemon slices to soothe his throat.

Bushnell, 62, made her debut in the mid-’90s as a sex and relationship columnist for The New York Observer, centering her columns on a character named Carrie Bradshaw, a chic replacement for Bushnell herself. She put these pieces together in a thorny 1996 book, “Sex and the City,” an autofiction before it got cool. HBO created a serial adaptation two years later. It operated for six seasons. Two films followed, along with licensed perfumes, bus tours, and candy.

Bushnell’s life diverged from Carrie’s. She turned her talents to fiction. Her marriage to ballet dancer Charles Askegard, whom she nicknamed Mr. Bigger, ended in divorce. After fleeing Manhattan for the Hamptons and desperate to date, she wrote another novel, “Is there still sex in the city?”

I couldn’t help but wonder: Did Bushnell adapt this novel into a one-woman show? She has. In “Is There Still Sex in the City? Which premieres at the Daryl Roth Theater on Saturday, Bushnell makes his stage debut, retracing his life – like a fever chart drawn with a tasteful pink lipstick – from his childhood in Connecticut to his birthday party. pinnacle girl to marriage, divorce and beyond. Is it fiction, autofiction, memories?

“I’m not trying to play a character,” she told me. “But I have a feeling that maybe I am a Hanime character. Like a bit naturally.

Bushnell arrived at the Carlyle, a few blocks from her Upper East Side apartment, wearing a reasonable gray sweater dress and an absolutely insane new pair of shoes – red satin Manolo Blahniks with buckles in rhinestones – which she entered with impossible ease. (A line I heard during the rehearsal for the show earlier today: “Do I have an obsession with shoes like Carrie Bradshaw? No. Carrie Bradshaw has an obsession with shoes because of me.”) In person, she’s got it big – staring at the porcelain eyes and poise of a Meissen figurine and a conversation as polite as Carlyle’s silverware.

As a child in Glastonbury, Connecticut, Bushnell acted sporadically, although she spent most of her free time jotting down short stories and riding horses. When she moved to New York City at 19 – “wild and full of philosophies,” she said – she flirted with the theater (that’s her dashing verb), studying at HB Studio.

“I didn’t think I was really that good at it, which I probably shouldn’t say,” she said.

Besides, she never liked it like she liked to write. “I really felt like I had to be a writer or else I’m going to die,” she said. So she wrote, ceding the movie rights to every new book. But a few years ago, when distributing the rights to “Is there still sex in the city?”, She decided to keep the film rights for herself.

She didn’t know what to do with them. But then she met a talent manager, Marc Johnston, at the Carlyle, which Bushnell seems to see as a bonus lounge. He had helped create a touring show for his client, songwriter and accidental reality TV star David Foster. He thought he could do the same for her.

So she wrote again, this time in the form of a monologue, reusing stories from her books, her life, her lecture tours. This first draft was about 200 pages long. To shape the script, Johnston and fellow producer Robyn Goodman introduced Bushnell to director and choreographer Lorin Latarro.

In June, the show was tested at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Penn. Set in a near-replica of Bushnell’s apartment, which includes her real sofa, real rug, and real poodles, it plays out like a talkative girl’s night.

And although Bushnell is an experienced hostess, those early performances were baffling. “It was like, Oh, my gosh, this is really playing,” Bushnell said. Gradually the script got shorter and Bushnell relaxed and improved.

“She’s truly miraculous,” Goodman told me in a phone interview. “She was determined to understand acting and she did.”

Understanding meant hiring an acting coach and a vocal coach, and engaging in Pilates three times a week to build her core strength for the show. That is, Bushnell takes the rehearsal and performance work seriously – hence Earl Gray’s Afternoon – comparing it to the dressage drills she performed as a girl, repeating the same little movements over and over again until she succeeds.

“I have this part of my personality where I’m going to put in hours and hours and hours on something just to try and make it better,” she said.

I joked that it made her not entirely look like a Carrie. “I don’t even know what a Carrie is,” she said.

HBO is busy reviving Carrie with a new series, “And Just Like That …”, which follows most of the original “Sex and the City” characters into their fifties, but Bushnell is not involved. In several places, his show emphasizes the differences between Bushnell and Carrie, but those differences are about men and fashion, not ideology or temperament. Carrie is fickle; Bushnell has his feet, if not heels, firmly on the ground. While Carrie’s story eventually turned into a romance, Bushnell maintains an extreme ambivalence about romantic relationships.

Her feminism, which lurks in the margins of her books, emerges convincingly and unabashedly in the conversation. She speaks persuasively of the distorting effects of patriarchal power and the need, as she puts it, for equality “of mind, body and earning potential” – a nice surprise from a woman once known for dancing. on table at Da Silvano.

The sweetheart of Page Six, Bushnell has seldom received much credit for her politics, her obvious intelligence, her psychological acuteness. (Let’s just say when I read his most recent book I found a few pages that described my aborted marriage so completely that I must have texted them to half a dozen friends and then lay down for a while.) And it still is. slightly on purpose.

She remembers as a child angry at gender inequalities her father sat her down and told her that even though she had ideas that people would need to hear, no one would listen to them if she shouted at them. . “So I learned very early on to coat everything with a candy-colored sugar-coated message. Because that’s how we move society, ”she said.

Latarro, in a pre-rehearsal conversation, agreed. “She writes feminism in a way that makes it acceptable to a lot of women who have internalized misogyny and a lot of men who think everyone looks great in their sexy dresses.”

The stage show, rich in snippets of pop and humorous songs, is also candy-colored – a chocolate martini with a sweet edge. Bushnell herself is recognizable, at least at the rehearsal hour I’ve seen, but polite and glorious: a person turned back into a fun, fabulous character. I asked her why she hadn’t tried something sharper, more bitter. Earlier versions had darker elements, she said. But these have been cut.

“The message I’m delivering is probably pretty risky as it is. I sit there and I say, ‘I’m not married, I have no children. And I am grateful.

Not that she wants to mess around with her audience with too many messages, which is probably why the producers created a post-show nightclub, the Candi Bar, in Daryl Roth’s basement.

“Cosmos all night long!” Johnston got excited in a phone interview.

Bushnell, as she drank her tea, expressed it more conveniently. “People just want to feel good,” she said. “And I want to give them a good time.”

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