Again performing in front of a buzzing, near-capacity Arena crowd, Natalie Portman closed out her hand-picked celebration of women filmmakers on Sunday (May 27). Glimmering smile in tow, Portman highlighted Day 3 indoors at Boston Calling with not only a pair of Maya Deren films, but also another beautiful poetry reading — to the visual of Deren’s 1944 film At Land — that could’ve easily passed as some grade-A level ASMR material.
After Portman’s moving performance, the crowd welcomed Nika Danilova, better known by her stage name Zola Jesus, with exuberant applause, as she cruised into a score for another of Deren’s films, 1943’s Meshes of the Afternoon.
It’s no exaggeration that each film choice, paired with the musical innovation displayed by Portman and her friends throughout the weekend, were part of a collective experimental film showcase, and judging from the reception given by the Arena crowds, big and small, the experiment was a success.
But so was the Arena’s comedy component.
Following Portman was Martin Urbano, returning for his second night of MC’ing the comedy portion of the evening.
For the Sunday crowd, the New York-based comedian recycled his material that he used on Saturday night, which could seem lazy boring to those who had already seen it, except for the fact that he did get laughs for jokes that he didn’t get laughs for the prior night, and vice versa. Even so, the crowd remained engaged as Urbano worked the room a little with his “world famous” crowd work, warming up to on-the-rise comedian and writer Max Silvestri.
“Thank you for coming to see comedy while you sweat out your ecstasy hangover,” said Silvestri. He packed his 15-minute set with self-deprecating musings reflecting on growing up as the kid who was that one friend who always worked to impress his friend’s moms, and how he gets intimidated by groups of men hanging out together, and the vast differences between guys’ weekends and girls’ weekends. Silvestri is one of the best up-and-comers in the game right now, and the control he had over the arena crowd showed that he’s more than capable of holding his own for many years to come.
Side note I: If you’re gonna heckle the talent, don’t choose to sit in the front row — it makes you such an easy target.
That’s what one aspiring “edge lord” quickly learned when he decided it would be clever to chastise the Boston College alum, who weaved political and social commentary into a majority of her set. The dude shouted “Where’s the comedy?”, to which Esposito replied with a full roasting of the culprit. Allowing and encouraging the rest of the Arena, who were enjoying the set before it momentarily derailed, to boo the guy mercilessly, Esposito somehow gripped the crowd even more, and held that powerful clench for the remainder of her time on stage.
From that point on, it was even smoother sailing, as the energy immediately increased. While she did dig into Donald Trump a number of times, Esposito wasn’t solely political, as she also reflected on her time at BC, and her college Rugby career, all the while periodically going back to address the heckler and igniting the crowd over and over again.
As Esposito relinquished her time on stage, the crowd buzzed with excitement as Urbano worked up to an introduction of David Cross, who pulled no punches, in true David Cross fashion.
When you open with a line like “The terrorist attack at the 2020 Olympics was tragic, so the 2024 Paralympics are gonna be great,” and the crowd mixes a collective “Woooow” with stifled laughter as to not look like they found it funny but they really kinda do, you might be in for one hell of a set.
Cross, equipped with his signature no-holds-barred approach, brought his long-form storytelling to the arena in top form. He too riffed on Trump a number of times, in addition to reflections of a couples colonic with wife Amber Tamblyn and life as a new father. All of that material seems, on paper, to be mundane and overdone (except for the colonic — that’s pretty original), but when you factor in Cross’ disregard of any politically correct approach, it becomes a whole different ballgame.
“We’re not gonna purposely try and raise a TSA agent,” Cross said as he announced to the crowd that he had become a father, to which he was met with roaring congratulatory applause. “But she might turn out to be half-Ann Coulter, half-that-girl-that-killed-her-friend-because-of-Slenderman.” Fatherhood may have changed the man, but it didn’t change the comic inside Cross, and thank God for that, as his blunt thoughts spewed out of him in rapid succession, and were met with flurries of booming laughs and thunderous applause.
Musing on ugly babies, resenting his daughter for being born into a rich family when he had to grow up poor, and a satisfying hypothetical situation in which Ron Pearlman contests Donald Trump for the Presidency, Cross was unforgiving and unrelenting in his calculated ground attack, and in terms of closing down the arena at Boston Calling, David Cross was the just the man for the job.
Who’s to say what next year’s Boston Calling will bring to the Arena stage? Even if it is unknown right now, if it’s even a fraction as exciting as this weekend’s festivities, it’s almost a guarantee that the attraction has the potential to become an even bigger crown jewel of the festival than it already was.
It proved undoubtedly that Boston Calling is way more than just music. And people ate it up.