‘Modern Love Live’ brings reflections on mortality, platonic love, and emergency room visits

Hannah Pearl Utt performed a live reading of a Modern Love essay on Friday at the Provincetown International Film Festival.
Hannah Pearl Utt performed a live reading of a Modern Love essay on Friday at the Provincetown International Film Festival.Mae Gammino/Provincetown International Film Festival/Provincetown International Film Festival

PROVINCETOWN — When actor-director Hannah Pearl Utt first read Katherine Friedman Holland’s 2006 essay “Live Without Me. I’ll Understand,” she started to cry.

Holland recounts a near-death experience on a plane to Mexico with her husband of six months, and the trauma that lingered for weeks after Holland survived.

So Utt kept tissues at hand when she got up onstage in the Provincetown Town Hall on Friday evening to read the essay out loud in front of nearly 100 guests as part of “Modern Love Live,” a joint production of WBUR and The New York Times.

It was a reflective pause in a sunny weekend of celebrity mingling, open bars, and film screenings at the 21st annual Provincetown International Film Festival, which opened June 12 and closed Sunday.


Host Meghna Chakrabarti moderated the hourlong event, which featured Utt, actor-turned-director Matt Kane, and John Cameron Mitchell performing live readings of reader-submitted essays from the Times’s popular column Modern Love. Audience members sitting on wooden seats laughed, and some dabbed away tears.

Friday marked the second time “Modern Love Live” partnered with the Provincetown festival to bring the live podcast to the Cape. Last year, actor Chloë Grace Moretz performed.

Kane read Brian Gittis’s 2014 essay “At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity,” the comical, poignant tale of a first date that ends in an overnight emergency room visit.

Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Shortbus”) read Ephi Stempler’s 2016 essay “Platonic, Until Death Do Us Part,” about a gay man and his live-in, straight best female friend — a PLP, or “platonic life partner.”

Sound designer Matt Reed mixed the actors’ voices with sounds that evoked the narratives, like the tinkle of a wine glass on a first date, or the mechanical creaks of a plane in a deep dive to the ground.


Two Provincetown natives, guitarist Peter Ciluzzi and singer and tenor recorder player Roxanne Layton , provided live music between readings to set the mood, including a soulful cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”

At a garden party the next day, Utt said that her essay selection spoke to her. “The proximity of death is something [the essay] captures really well,” Utt said. “And I felt like it was kind of a beautiful metaphor for depression — living in that in between place, where you’re like, ‘I’m not dead, but I’m not alive.’ ”

Utt also attended the festival this year with her directorial debut film, “Before You Know It,” starring herself, Jen Tullock, and Judith Light . The film closed the festival on Sunday night.

Kane’s first feature film “Auggie” (2018) made its New England premiere at the festival. The movie tells the fictional story of a lonely retiree who discovers companionship in Auggie, a virtual-reality character similar to Siri.

Mitchell was awarded the 2019 Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the festival on Saturday.


Nora McGreevy can be reached at nora.mcgreevy@globe.com.