Review: Candace Bushnell Speaks as Herself In Is There Still Sex in the City?…Or Does She?
The iconic Sex and the City creator looks back on her life and career in an autobiographical solo show at the Daryl Roth Theatre.
For nearly 25 years, heterosexual women have looked to Candace Bushnell to answer their burning questions about all things sex, shoes, and New York society. Her cosmo-drinking acolytes have prayed at her glittering altar since Carrie Bradshaw first got splashed by her own bus in the opening credits of Sex and the City — Darren Star's HBO phenomenon that spawned six seasons, two movies, and a series reboot that is imminently upon us. Many joined the church of Bushnell even earlier as OG readers of her New York Observer column-turned-book on which the series was based. But regardless of when you joined the congregation, if you're a member, you're devout, and you can't help but see life in shades of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha.
This should bring into focus the clientele pilgrimaging to the Daryl Roth Theatre to see Bushnell's one-woman show, Is There Still Sex in the City? Inspired by her 2019 book of the same name, the title promises an up-to-date inventory of single life over 50. The unrelated television reboot, And Just Like That, portends something similar. And only time and will tell whether Sex and the City's loyal consumers (or at least their tastes) have aged with the property, or if they would rather live perpetually in the land of 20-to-30-somethings who gallivant around a fantastical version of Manhattan, whimsically hopeful that either Mr. Right or Mr. Big will come along.
Fans have yet to speak their piece about the TV show, but Bushnell's stage play — with sparkling direction by Lorin Latarro (choreographer of Waitress and Mrs. Doubtfire) — betrays a fear that her followers want the latter. Set designer Anna Louizos builds a Sex and the City wonderland, centered around a hot pink couch, a bar cart stocked with Belvedere, and shelves filled with Bushnell's personal shoe collection. She roams around the space in a series of fabulous outfits (costume designer Lisa Zinni dresses Bushnell to the nines), speaking to the fictionalized versions of her friends over the phone (every call from Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte is answered with the perky, "Good news only!"), and hosting sporadic rounds of "Real or Not Real?" — a crowd participation game where we get to guess which plot points from the original HBO series happened to the real Candace and which were creative liberties.
Amid this whirlwind reflection on her career-defining project, Bushnell forgets to address the question she poses in the title of her show. Instead, she spends most of her 90-minute performance recounting her dalliances at Studio 54, the origins of her adventurous alter ego Carrie Bradshaw, and her repeated success atop the New York Times bestseller list after Sex and the City takes the world by storm. Tales from Bushnell's life post-divorce (and post-menopause) amount to little more than an epilogue, peppered with a few modest insights that ring the appropriate feminist bells without getting into too many gory details. She briefly touches on her mother's death, shifting swiftly back into a lesson about her nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic and how it eventually backfires on her. Her divorce comes shortly after, and she shares an anecdote about how, had she not saved enough money to pay off the mortgage on her apartment, being a Single. Woman. Over 50. would have lost her her home.
A story like that is genuinely enraging, and it's exactly the kind of thing we all loved watching Carrie share with the girls over lunch, ragefully write about in her column, and soothe with the succor of a fresh pair of empowering Manolos. The problem is— at long last, we're finally in a room with Candace, not Carrie. And yet, the real-life Candace seems to be lost in her own game of "Real or Not Real?" Yes, Bushnell is telling her own story, but with Sex and the City's fairy tale veneer that lives just outside reality. Even the book that shares her stage show's moniker is categorized as an "autobiographical novel" — a logic-defying genre that portends this unsettled straddling of fact and fiction.
The stage narrative's pseudo-happy ending comes when Bushnell moves away from NYC to the quaint village of Sag Harbor, is followed there by all her girlfriends, and her crazy dating adventures begin again. It sounds almost tailor made for a Hollywood sequel, and once again, leaves us wondering: "Real or Not Real?" This time, however, it isn't just voyeuristic curiosity. In the vulnerable world of autobiographical theater, truth has dramatic stakes— and the absence of it certainly nags at us as we go back out into the very-real streets of New York City.