During six glorious seasons — and two blockbuster movies — fashion obsessed fans watched our idol, Carrie Bradshaw, chase down, pine over and finally marry the avoidant Mr. Big.
We cried for our girl. We clapped for our girl. We wanted to be our girl. She’d made it. She’d won. She’d scored the perfect life. If only all of us could be so darned lucky.
Newsflash: That New York fantasy doesn’t quite cut it anymore, says SATC creator Candace Bushnell. Bushnell, the real woman who inspired Bradshaw’s fictional life. Bushnell wrote and will star in, Is There Still Sex in the City?, a one-woman play set to open Tuesday at the Bucks County Playhouse. And its messaging borders on startling because it’s so very contrary to the Carrie Bradshaw we thought we knew.
“This is about being your own Mr. Big as opposed to being with Mr. Big,” Bushnell told me recently in between sips of ice water. Midday cosmos make Bushnell, now 62, tired. The author and former New York Observer columnist is breezy in a brilliant yellow Stella McCartney blouse. Yet it’s clear, however, she’s thought deeply about her newfound men-are-overrated stance. “[This play] is about finding who you are [and] finding your voice so you can keep going.”
In other words: Just because the marry-for-money lifestyle glitters like the sequins on a coveted Manolo Blahnik doesn’t mean you should want it.
Is There Still Sex and the City? is based on Bushnell’s 2019 book by the same name. But the play isn’t centered on the years after her 2012 divorce from New York City Ballet dancer Charles Askegard. Instead, it examines the totality of Bushnell’s life in three acts: her childhood, the “Carrie Bradshaw” years and the restorative time she lived in Sag Harbor after her marriage ended. That’s when Bushnell met MNB, or my new boyfriend who she now refers to as, “my old boyfriend.” (She’s since moved back to New York’s Upper East Side.)
When Bushnell started writing Is There Still Sex in the City? three years ago, she wanted it to be a musical. But she lacked playwriting experience so theater executives suggested she turn it into a solo production, and wanted Bushnell to play herself. Robyn Goodman, the Tony Award-winning Broadway producer of Avenue Q and In The Heights, and Bucks County Playhouse CEO Alexander Fraser signed on as joint producers for the show earlier this year. It will be workshopped in front of a live audience in Bucks County through July 18, and once all the kinks are worked out Fraser and Goodman will look to get it on Broadway.
I chatted with Bushnell about her inspiration, lessons learned and what she thinks of the SATC reboot. These answers have been edited for length and clarity.
This set is beautiful. Tell me about.
Most of the things on this set came from my New York apartment like this pink couch. Here are some Manolos and Jimmy Choos. This [she holds up an emerald green spaghetti strap fringe dress] is from Michael Kors’ first runway collection. And this dress [color block sheath] is an Oscar de la Renta he made for me for an event. It doesn’t fit anymore. And this tutu I wore to the [HBO] Sex and the City premiere. It’s by Luca Luca.
Oh look, there is a hula hoop!
Oh yes, I have a hula hoop in the show. I mean it’s great. I just started doing it again, you know. I can only do it on my waist. I got this idea to make it part of the show because everyone can hula hoop.
Why did you decide to make the play Is There Still Sex and the City? so different from the book?
The book is about a specific passage of time about moving out of your 30s and 40s, the so-called reproductive years. In your 50s, things get shaken up. It’s about dealing with these feelings... Also a book doesn’t have to have a message, it has more of a perspective. I read books to get into people’s heads. I write books to share my perspective and I have a very specific perspective.
What is your perspective?
I think it’s truthful. You know there is a truthfulness about human behavior in my work. It’s also a little absurdist. I write to show that absurdity. You know we all have these belief systems and they aren’t necessarily accurate. I’ve always wanted women to change their belief systems a bit. This has always been an underlying goal for me.
We tell women they are going to get married, have kids and someone is going to take care of them. That’s an old message. Women who really fell into that trap are the ones that kind of do the worse when they get to be in their 50s. That to me is a romantic fantasy. It can be very dangerous. My message for women is don’t believe in the romantic fantasy.
What is the ultimate message of the play?
The message is about girlfriends. You know, we live in a patriarchal society. And you know what I want to say to women? Make the money and run, girls! Take care of yourselves. Take care of your friendships. Be your own Mr. Big.
What’s it like to be the woman who, through Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha, created the modern day archetype of what girl-friending looks like?
It makes me really happy. I’m proud to be a part of that. It’s so important that women support other women. They have changed so much since I was in my 20s. Young women are definitely more empowered, more educated. They ask for what they want. I couldn’t do that when I was in my 20s. We were really locked into male and female sex roles and we were expected to stay in them.
Thoughts on HBO’s SATC reboot, And Just Like That?
I’m very excited about it, but I’m not involved in at all. I have no inside information. I want to see what [showrunner] Michael Patrick King is going to do with it.