On a chilly New York evening in November, two best girlfriends grabbed their $60 coats and tapped their $800 iPhones to pay for a $2.75 ride downtown to the Daryl Roth Theatre to see the latest from Candace Bushnell, a New Yorker as classic as Lady Liberty, a Rockette, and Carrie Bradshaw herself. As they rode the subway, they couldn’t help but wonder: how long will we crave glamorized stories from wealthy, fabulous women whose lives we’ll never have? Turns out, at least 90 minutes more.
The latest from Bushnell — the New York Times-bestselling author and creator of the now-iconic Sex and the City universe — is the aptly named Is There Still Sex In The City? and consists of an hour-and-a-half-long recap of her career, mixed with anecdotes about how her most famous characters came to exist. (Spoiler: It mostly all really happened to her.)
For tried-and-true fans of the show, the stories are illuminating at best and packed to the brim with mildly cringe-worthy but to-be-expected ‘90s nightmares at their worst. They’re fun to hear. They’re straight from the source. They’re why most of the audience, who arrived in pods of three or four in their best faux-fur jackets and stilettos, giddy from curtain up and unashamedly toting their Cosmopolitans in plastic cups, made the trek to the theatre in the first place. They are, frankly, why it’s hard for this Cosmo-ordering, female friendship-obsessed reviewer to quantify the star value of the show.
On one hand, it’s not extraordinarily well-written nor is it offering any earth-shattering contributions to the theatrical landscape. It’s 90 minutes of casual reminiscing with a gal pal. Granted, one who is an expert at storytelling and even better at story re-framing, but nonetheless, there’s not a ton of theatrical there there.
On the other hand, isn’t her particular brand of over-the-top, nearly unbelievable life experience told through the proxies of her often heart-pangingly relatable core four characters what brought us all to Bushnell’s brownstone door in the first place? Remove the stand-ins and you’ve got a show. Well, another show. The same show, sort of. But also a very different one.
This time around, Bushnell gets honest about her experience as an aging woman in a business (and a city) that values submissiveness over substance and youth over wisdom. She tells some of the same tales, sure, but she tells them through a new lens — the one she now has as a 63-year-old woman with no husband, no children, and no Pulitzer Prize, her childhood dream and white whale.
It’s hard to believe the same woman who made cigarettes cool and Post-Its the collective enemy once dreamed such dreams, but it’s even harder to believe that we’re still putting women into the same boxes that force them to choose which kind of girls they want to be. A writer or a wife. A sexual being or a somebody. A party girl or a Pulitzer Prize winner.
That’s where Is There Still Sex In The City? really shines. Once Bushnell gives the audience members what they thought they came for (she really did have a Mr. Big!), she gets real about her newfound wisdom: Women never get to stop trying to be “and.” Even on her 63rd birthday, which we celebrated as a group at curtain with a cake and a wrapped box of designer heels, she still seemed to be navigating the nuances of what it is to be someone who grew up as Carrie Bradshaw but grew into someone else entirely.
On the heels of a new chapter of the Sex and the City story, which will revisit the women as 50somethings navigating 2021 New York, it’s fascinating to get a close-up, holistic portrait of the mother of the show and to check in with her where she is now, which is, seemingly, happier than ever.
While Is There Still Sex In The City? may not be a universal crowd-pleaser, especially for folks who’ve never had to deal with an ever-changing and constantly-scrutinized identity, the show is both an interesting and necessary siren song for the older generation of women who grew up with Bushnell and Bradshaw. It’s also a good reminder for younger women (like this reviewer, who has just rewatched SATC for the 100th time and who used Carrie and the girls as a blueprint for what friendship and racy feminism could look like) about what life can look like if you allow yourself to age into happiness in new forms. Not just men. Not just sex. Not even just friendship.
It’s an honest and intimate look at selfhood, something even Carrie Bradshaw herself wasn’t always the most adept at navigating. As she takes us through her own journey, Bushnell reminds us that we can have lots of happy endings, and that actually, maybe things don’t really end, they just keep renewing.
And just like that…Bushnell gives us a glimpse at the real person behind all the women we look to as a form of fantasy and provides a wholly entertaining, ultimately joyous reminder that Carrie Bradshaws exist in every generation. She also, intentionally or not, skillfully revisits the utmost thesis of the show: While everything changes, the very act of telling your own story remains as necessary and as powerful as ever.
And so I got to thinking: After all these years, it turns out that Carrie Bradshaw does grow up, and she’s got better stories to tell now that she’s old enough to fully understand them, and she’s lucky enough to be telling them. And that’s really the only thing that makes her different from the everywoman. That, and a closet full of Manolos. But it was never about the shoes, really. It was about the story.
Photo credit: Candace Bushnell in Is There Still Sex In the City? (Photo by Joan Marcus)