Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review - Inner Voices

I had a friend e-mail me about going to Urban Stages to see Inner Voices, which is a project I'd never heard of before.  Then another friend told me about how much he had enjoyed seeing the 2010 version!  I considered this rather fate-like and therefore decided I must go.  Besides, one of the pieces was written by Polly Pen and I've always wanted to hear her work sung live, AND one of the pieces starred Hunter Foster, who is one of my uber-faves.  If I had a Magic 8 ball, it would say "all signs point to yes."  :) 

After reading the program, I discovered that Paulette Haupt started Inner Voices after seeing Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, thinking that one person expressing their innermost thoughts through music would be a worthwhile endeavor.  After seeing Inner Voices, I have to agree with her.  This is the third time she's put it together and I will be very interested in seeing how it evolves.

Three one-act solo musicals are put together to make up Inner Voices.  First up was Hunter Foster in "Borrowed Dust."  Unfortunately, I found this the weakest of the three pieces.  I just didn't feel the musical came together cohesively - the songs were sort of a mishmash, and the flashbacks inside of flashbacks were a tad confusing.  But Hunter Foster was, of course, terrific as a grieving brother.  He sang beautifully and presented a fully realized study of grief.  I just wish I could've connected more.   A couple of the 'revelations' in the piece didn't seem like revelations at all and struck me as extraneous, though I will say that I heard one woman behind me catch her breath and sob at one point.  So maybe I just wasn't moved by it, which is unlucky for me.  I'm always looking for a good cry.

Though I did have a nice cry during the second piece, "Arlington," with music by Polly Pen.  Full disclosure, I know Polly a little bit.  I helped put together a little tribute to her a few years ago, so I downloaded Bed and Sofa and Goblin Market and was really intrigued by both.  But this is the first piece of hers I've experienced live.  And I really liked it.  To me, this was the most successful in integrating music, subject, character and actor.  It all seemed to flow organically and presented a complete picture of a woman.  The music she was singing sounded as if ONLY she should be singing it, which was amazing.  Alexandra Silber was terrific as a woman left behind after her husband went to war.  She changes subtly throughout the piece and you see how her loneliness is affecting her - her music changes and her vocal quality even changes.  And the way she used her hands was intriguing.  I found the whole thing quite moving, and could easily see a whole evening with just this character and this music, though I should also commend Victor Lodato's book and lyrics.

The third piece was "Farhad," which I found intriguing in its subject matter and characterization, but the music had a sameness that kept me from fully engaging.  Arielle Jacobs plays a young girl whose parents have forced her to dress, and live, as a boy for about twelve years, but now she is being forced to return to living as a girl because of an arranged marriage.  Clearly, this is a provocative topic and I would be interested in seeing a more developed piece about it.  But in this shortened format, I felt like her internal exploration just came to a halt without taking me all the way there.  Partially from the constraint of a half-hour musical and partially because of the similarity of the songs.  Jacobs performs them all convincingly, and I was touched by the thought of this girl, after having known the freedoms of living as a boy, having to return to the constraints of living as a woman.  And the final image, of her stepping out of the familiar and into the unknown, was haunting.  I just felt vaguely dissatisfied when it was finished, as if I didn't get inside as deeply as I wanted to.

All three pieces are simply staged in the very small Urban Stages space, but the tiny black box is well used, with effective lighting and use of minimal set pieces and props.  Each piece had their own pianist, and one augmented with a cello, and one with percussion and strings.  The accompaniment was terrific for each and you could tell the care the music director had put into making sure each team's vision was executed.  I wish I hadn't waited so long to see Inner Voices (it closes this weekend), because I would be interested in seeing it again to catch nuances I missed before, and to maybe connect more to the first and third pieces.  If you have time this weekend, you should head to Urban Stages and point out what I missed...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reviews - Golden Child and The Anarchist

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I had a discounted ticket to see a preview of David Mamet's new play, The Anarchist.  Mamet also directed the play.  I think it opens in a couple of weeks, so I can't imagine it will change much, but since it hasn't opened, I'll just be brief.

First, the theater really should keep the sick ushers away from the audience.  The usher upstairs had a mild case of consumption or whooping cough, so I didn't want to have her touch my ticket or take a program from her.  Call me crazy, but if there are germs in the air, they make their way to me.  So I'm paranoid.  Oh well.  Anyway, I picked up a program from behind the front row and made my way to my seat - the very last seat in the theater, I think.  I was in the back row of the balcony in the corner.  Thankfully, the Golden isn't a very big house.

As for the play, I admit that it did not make itself known to me.  I think there are interesting notions in there - faith, forgiveness, personal responsibility - but I didn't find the play dramatic or cohesive at all.  The dialogue just seemed to go in circles, and the uses of stereotypical Mamet dialogue was almost a parody.  Maybe I would've enjoyed reading this text as a short story, but it didn't seem theatrical to me at all.  One of the performers seemed to be struggling with lines and the other appeared to be trying to assist and move things along.  But both adopted a hushed monotony in their vocal work that didn't make anything seem any more exciting, especially from the very last seat in the house, and the climax made no sense to me.  Then the lights went down and the play was suddenly over - it was quite confusing.  I wonder if another director would've asked for some changes.  I don't know.  But I didn't really enjoy myself and didn't consider the evening to be a success at all.  Maybe people who sat nearer the action got more involved.  Oh, and the play is about 72 minutes long, which doesn't bother me, in theory (I once saw a Caryl Churchill play that was about 65 minutes long and I found it a thrillingly full theatrical experience), and, to be honest, I was ready to get out of there, but I can't imagine paying full price for this play.  But, again, maybe I shouldn't say so much since there's another week of previews before them.  I hope they mine all they can out of it. 

Seat neighbor wise, the couple in front of me appeared to be on a first date.  In the half hour or so before the show started, the guy was apparently intent on giving the girl a lesson in the history of American theater, especially how Mamet fits in.  I would've told him to shut the heck up at some point, but maybe this is why I don't have first dates anymore.  The gal next to me should never be seated in the last row of anything, she had a cane and seemed very out of breath before sitting down.  Then she spent the (admittedly short) evening sitting on top of her seat, then in her seat, then on top of her seat.  I'm guessing if she finds theater seats so uncomfortable, balcony seats are not her friend.  Oh well.  The best part of my evening was having a drink with a couple of friends before the show, though maybe that drink (which I had on an empty pre-theater stomach) wasn't the best idea before this play.  Hmmmmm... 

Thanksgiving was a wonderful day, spent with beautiful gal pals.  We had a yummy dinner and saw Lincoln, which I loved.  But back to theater - I saw the Friday matinee of David Henry Hwang's Golden Child at Signature Theatre, one of my favorite spots.  I saw Golden Child when it was originally on Broadway and remembering enjoying it.  I definitely enjoyed myself again yesterday. 

I love David's plays.  The way he's so specific to his heritage, yet makes the plays so universal, is wonderful, in my opinion.  Struggles to learn about one's self is always interesting to me.  Here we have a play about a Chinese family's changes, but it could just as easily be about anybody who makes a monumental decision that affects their family for generations to come.  Who can't identify with squabbling family members, jostling for attention and power?  They're everywhere.

I have memories of the previous production being very lavish and stately - naturally, this revival, at the much smaller Signature space, is more intimate.  I feel that they've focused more on the humor this time, which makes the family's tragedies play out more gently.  That didn't make the dialogue any less sharp or smart, but maybe made us like everyone sooner. 

All of the actors are fantastic, creating interesting and believable people, but I was most taken with Julyana Soelistyo, who played First Wife.  Interestingly, she played the 'golden child' in the Broadway production in the late 90s, and she was brilliant then and is equally brilliant now.  Smart, funny and so sad, she represents the traditions of the past and she struggles with her daughter's need to be the future.  There may be no more moving scene in NY right now than when Soelistyo succumbs to her husband's command to unbind their daughter's feet.  A whole lifetime and beyond plays across Soelistyo's face - it was beautiful.

I ended up sitting in the middle of a row, surrounded by a single family, who had one other family member sitting in front of them.  They were quite lively and rambunctious, but did keep quiet during the play.  Apparently, they came from Boston and PA.  They were also very friendly, wondering if I was from NY and what do I do for a living?  I asked one gal how they chose to come see this play, and apparently the son is going to Shanghai, so they chose a 'Chinese play.'  Gosh, sometimes the audience can rival the theatricality of the play.

Anyway, they've just extended Golden Child, so I highly recommend everyone see it.  I'm also really excited to see the other David Henry Hwang plays coming up in the Signature season.  I'm guessing I'll be spending a lot more time at my home away from home... :)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm so grateful for many many things and many many people this year, not the least of which is that I'm not having surgery this year over Thanksgiving Week.  Woo hoo!  :)  Here are just a few others (and enjoy some Ghost of Thanksgiving Past photos!):

  • the BEST nephew in the world;
  • the best sister in the world;
  • the best parents in the world;
  • my apartment with working heat and electricity;
  • my wonderful co-workers, who make each work day fun;
  • Bella Vita pizza with kalamata olives;
  • my TDF membership;
  • the iPhone app;
  • the papa margaritas at Arriba Arriba;
  • my unlimited Metrocard;
  • Signature Theatre Company;
  • reconnecting with old friends;
  • ABT;
  • handsome chums who bookmark my blog;
  • peppermint bark;
  • memories of Italy;
  • my Nook;
  • working in Times Square (well, I'm maybe not as thankful on Wednesday afternoons);
  • Jif peanut butter 'to go' packs;
  • my team of caring, proactive doctors;
  • Golden Girls reruns;
  • Tennis Channel;
  • Facebook;
  • my darling Coterie;
  • and, most especially, GNO + 2.  My life is ever better because of you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thoughts on A Civil War Christmas

I think Paula Vogel is a genius.  I love her plays, though the only one I've ever seen staged is How I Learned to Drive (which I saw four times).  Her work's elegance and emotional resonance just speaks to me.  They all read beautifully.  So when I saw that New York Theatre Workshop would be presenting her play A Civil War Christmas, I was thrilled.  When a handsome generous pal invited me to go with him as his guest?  I was even more thrilled!  :)  We went to an early preview, so I'll only give a few thoughts.
Here's one thought - the show is fricking brilliant!!!  I loved every.single.minute of it.  It takes place in December, 1864, and follows several stories as we get closer to Christmas.  We meet real people, like Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and also some fictional characters who interact with them.  Using period-appropriate holiday songs, Vogel delves deeply into the prevailing mood in Washington at the time, and how the spirit of the holidays can bring everyone together.  It's really beautiful - I teared up several times throughout, which I always enjoy.  Hearing the lyrics of beloved holiday songs in these different stories just made them even more timeless.  Seriously.  Hearing the trio of Ulysses Grant, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E Lee sing different verses of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was beyond moving in surprising ways.
The acting was first-rate across the board.  A cast of eleven plays at least 30 characters (including a charismatic horse), each drawn with few strokes, yet still very individual.  They're all wonderful actors and singers, using very little in the way of props or costumes to create real people, whether historically 'real' or not.  Several of them played instruments, too, to accompany the songs.  There was a banjo and a guitar, and I believe Andrew Resnick was the accompanist who played piano (and other instruments).  In the script, and in the music, there was humor and pathos, love and hate, red and green (and blue and grey), beautifully stiched together in an American tapestry.
Tina Landau's direction is amazing, as are the set/costume/light/sound designs.  And the musical arrangements by Daryl Waters are gorgeous.  New York Theatre Workshop is a small space, but it seemed so big and rich and utilized to its fullest.  I hope hope hope I can go back and see the show again.  I also hope it can become a holiday tradition.  I do adore A Christmas Carol, but it is nice to have an American story to enjoy as well.  Full disclosure, not everyone seemed to enjoy the show as much as I did.  A group behind us left at intermission and the group in front of us started talking about how unsuccessful the production was right after the curtain call (have they never heard of the five block rule, for pete's sake?!?!).  So...take that as you will.  But I HIGHLY recommend everyone go see this wonderful production.
Just a brief mention of my post-show snacks - we went to Noho Star and I had a delicious ginger lime margarita, vegetable dumplings, and then I ordered an indian pudding for dessert (the photo isn't good, unfortunately).  It just seemed so...appropriate.  Yum yummy too!  So thumbs up on Noho Star.  I need to go there more often.  :) 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review - Giant

I've been a big fan of Michael John LaChiusa's for years now.  So I'm always predisposed to enjoy a new musical of his.  I had purchased a ticket for one of the previews of Giant, but it got cancelled in the aftermath of Sandy Storm.  When I called to rebook, the box office gent said the show was pretty near sold out for the rest of the run, but he had an aisle seat for last night's performance.  I didn't even know it was the new opening night!  So that's how I got to attend the newly scheduled opening night of this new musical... ;)
Ever since Giant was produced at the Signature Theatre in Virginia a few years ago, I've been dying to see it.  I thought Michael John's musical repertoire would be the perfect fit for the enormous novel of Edna Ferber's.  I'm so glad the Public Theater stepped up to produce the show after it had another run in Dallas last year - the Public seems a great place to develop the piece further.  Oh, and I guess I should mention, I've never read the book or watched the movie.  Hmmmmmm.
Giant is, there's no other way to describe it, huge.  It's a sprawling musical with big themes and bigger heart.  Even though the piece is set in a 27-year span from 1925 - 1952, it's amazing how timeless yet contemporary it feels.  There were multiple times when my brain stopped and thought 'whoa' when someone said or sang something that could be more true today than when the book was written.  I love when that happens.
Brian d'Arcy James (one of my uber-favorites) plays rancher Jordan 'Bick' Benedict; as always, he gives an honest, compelling performance of real size and meaning, all while singing gloriously.  He seriously had me at hello and I could totally see Kate Baldwin's Leslie falling for him instantly.  The libretto in their first scene is beautifully constructed and the song "Your Texas" set up their relationship elegantly.  I also thought PJ Griffith was terrific as Jett, Bick's rival, not only for Leslie, but also for the land.  The way Michael John wrote their music so individually, yet all of the same score, is wonderful.
Michele Pawk was quirky and scrappy as Bick's sister, Luz, and she had a lovely rapport with d'Arcy James, especially in their duet at the top of the second act.  I always love me some Bobby Steggart and he did not disappoint as Bick and Leslie's son, Jordy. I was surprised, though, to later realize he only sang one song at the very end. I guess if I think about his character arc, he wasn't really 'able' to sing before that, but it's still surprising to me that such a wonderful actor/singer didn't have more to sing. His acting, however, was stellar, especially in his confrontation with his father. And his chemistry with Natalie Cortez as his love interest was palpable.
I think, though, the two actors (and characters) who made the biggest impression on me were John Dossett as Uncle Bawley and Katie Thompson as Vashti, the gal Bick's sister wanted Bick to marry.  John Dossett just strides on stage and takes the musical as his own.  His no-nonsense warmth and common sense are terrific, plus his melancholy as he sings about his past is so touching.  I missed him when he wasn't on stage, but I completely understand using him sparingly.  Katie Thompson was also a stage-owner as Vashti, with a vocal sound unlike anyone else's.  Her first song was just stunning and she amazingly made us see the whole life of a woman in just a few lines.  Gorgeous stuff.
Michael John's score has so much range and variety to it, yet is so recognizable (but not derivative).  You can hear influences from jazz, latin music, pop, classical (maybe some Copland?) and other sounds that are completely familiar in this milieu.  I really loved the ebbs and flows of the music and how it worked so seamlessly with the libretto.
I did have some quibbles.  Much mention is made of the fact that Bick and Leslie can only connect in bed.  Well, I didn't see much of a physical connection between them, and I'm not sure if that can be attributed only to the actors, but maybe also the direction hamstrung them, along with the book.  There are stretches of the show where they're not onstage together, they're just talking about each other and how they react to each other when they're together.  I thought it might be nicer to actually see them together. 
The scrims and projections of the sky and clouds were lovely, but they did seem to come and go at random.  I couldn't understand why we needed to see the orchestra at some times and not at others.  If there was a pattern to it, I didn't understand it.  And some of the set pieces were a little large, at least from where I was sitting on house left.
I'm not sure how I feel about the staging.  Michael Greif did keep the production moving and the energy never lagged, but it did seem like everyone just mostly wandered back and forth.  When there was a little dancing in the second act, all of a sudden I sat up and thought, hey, we could maybe use a little more of this.  But I don't know.  It can't be easy to get a three-hour musical spanning 27 years moving quickly, but I think I'd be willing to stay a few minutes longer for a little more movement and a little more connection to the lead characters.
I also thought the orchestrations weren't 'big' enough.  I mean, it was great to hear this glorious score played by a sharp 17-piece orchestra, but the Newman Theater is rather small and there's no getting around that.  I felt like the scope and expanse of the music needed to be even bigger, with more instruments and more space for the music to fill.  I wanted it to surround me and it didn't quite.  But, I guess, if the show transfers uptown, I'll get my wish for more musicans and more space.  And, hopefully, a cast recording.  Because I'm already dying to hear this score again.  I'm thinking I may need to go back at least one more time.

Probably because it was opening night, the audience was especially generous with their applause, both during the show and during the curtain call.  That was a lot of fun.  Afterwards, they had a great opening night party spread out in the lobby as we were exiting the theater.  The food looked amazing, but it was mainly meat, so I admit to leaving without trying anything.  There were just too many people for me to enjoy myself, but that was my problem.  Crowds bother me.  Oh well.  At least I could hum some of the score to myself as I sauntered to the subway, dreaming of when I could spend time with this Giant again...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food fun and some random photos

A work colleague from Chicago was in town for some meetings and I was lucky enough to take her to dinner while she was here.  She and I have bonded over our love of Food Network and Top Chef and all that jazz, so when I mentioned we could try out Iron Chef Bobby Flay's restaurant Mesa Grill, she perked right up!  So downtown we went. 
If you want to get a table right away, without making a reservation, get there around 5pm like we did.  They weren't yet crazy busy, so we enjoyed an attentive wait staff and quiet conversation.  Of course, it WAS a Monday night, but still.  The joint was jumping by the time we left...

I started with the spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pepitas and canela crema.  Jeepers, this was off.the.charts delicious!  The soup was rich and warm, with a bit of heat in the background, and the crunch of the pepitas was great.  I seriously could've eaten five or six bowls of that soup.  Now that I'm writing about it, I may need to go back soon.  My FF (fellow foodie) got the goat cheese 'queso fundido'.  She let me take a taste (but I didn't get a photo) and it was amazing, too!  It's so rich and cheesy, and the homemade blue corn tortilla chips they give you for dipping are salty and delicious.  Yum yummy. 

In my time-honored tradition of ordering two appetizers so I can try more food, I then had the shrimp and roasted garlic corn tamale, with fresh corn and cilantro sauce.  My goodness, this was ALSO incredibly yummy!  It also had so many textures and layers of flavor.  Normally, I'm not really a heavy cilantro girl, but this sauce was less pungent than raw cilantro tastes to me, and it offset the flavors in the tamale.  There was quite a bit of roasted garlic in the tamale itself, but it wasn't overpowering at all.  The deep garlicky sweetness matched the sweetness of the masa beautifully, then the crunch of the fresh corn took it to a whole other place.  The shrimp had a delicious charred flavor and just paired beautifully with everything else.  Again, could've eaten it all day.  And the appetizer size was just right for me.  Thumbs WAY up.
My FF loved her tuna dish, but again, I didn't get a photo of it.  Have I told you about my aversion to tuna?  Hmmmm.  Anyway, I didn't taste it, of course, but it was a beautifully composed plate so I should've gotten a photo.  Next time.  We were both so full after our food that we couldn't even think of ordering dessert, which is too bad, because Mesa Grill's dessert menu looks amazing.  So, next time, I'll have to stick with one appetizer and a dessert.  And a margarita.  Wow.  I got the house margarita and when the server brought it, I thought, gee, that's tiny.  (I guess I'm spoiled by the ginormous margaritas at Arriba Arriba.)  But, yowza, that tiny margarita packed a punch!  I was pretty tipsy!  But definitely happy.  We loved our evening at Mesa Grill and it was nice to really get to know my new FF. 

We had a bunch of meetings on Tuesday, but we took a lunch break and went to Bond 45.  I'd never been there before, but I've heard good things about it.  The restaurant is large and airy, with lots of tables.  As you walk to your table, off to the left is the antipasto bar.  I SO should've gotten a photo of it!  So many beautiful dishes!

The bread they brought to our table was delicious, as was the olive oil they poured for our dunking pleasure.  To start, my FF and I shared a platter of freshly made burrata cheese and prosciutto (well, I didn't have the prosciutto, even though I wanted to - I tried to stay vegetarian-ish.  I know.  I had seafood.)  Whee, that was some tasty burrata!  So soft and delicious!  There were five of us at the table, so we also got some fried artichokes for the table, which were also really tasty.  Salty and crunchy.  Yum. 

I probably should've gone with the three-course price fixe, but I was obsessed by that antipasto bar.  So I ordered the two vegetables/one seafood option - I got the caponata, the whole wheat couscous and the grilled calamari.  The caponata was amazing - I just love that deep rich flavor of eggplant and tomato paste.  There were also golden raisins in this one and they were great.  The couscous was good, though a tad dry and sandy, with lots of vegetables in it.  I was really disappointed in the grilled calamari though.  It was really tough and flavorless.  I kept thinking about episodes of Chopped that feature calamari and they talk about how calamari goes from great to bad in a matter of seconds.  I'm guessing that's what happened here.  I probably won't be ordering that again.  Maybe a pasta.  But everyone else in my party loved their entrees, so I guess I just got the less good luck of the draw.

A couple of folks at the table did get the price fixe, so for dessert, I got to share in a tiramisu.  It was delicious, very squishy and chocolately and creamy.  It's hard to mess up tiramisu.  My cappuccino was also tasty, though pretty small.  On the whole, though, Bond 45 is yummy.  I will admit that I thought the menu a bit pricey, but I would go back for a work lunch anytime.  :) 
After talking about all that food, now I'm wondering what to have for dinner.  Until next time, enjoy some random photos from my jaunts about town...


Monday, November 12, 2012

Thoughts on Golden Boy

Thanks to Storm Sandy, a lot of my theatergoing had to be shuffled around.  And suddenly I was seeing earlier previews than originally scheduled.  That's what happened with Golden Boy - I actually ended up seeing the first preview.  Since I don't believe in reviewing such an early preview, I'll just offer a few thoughts.

First, I didn't realize it was the 75th anniversary of the play.  That's very cool.  I also didn't realize that the play originally opened at the Belasco Theater.  That is also very cool.  I tried to read some of the posters outside while I was standing in line to get in, but I didn't finish.  I guess I'll have to walk by the theater during the day to check them out.  The last time I was at the Belasco was for End of the Rainbow and I was in the orchestra, so I didn't really get to see the renovations up close.  Friday night, I was in the mezzanine, so it was nice to see how meticulously everything up there had been spruced up.  I imagined the theater looked that beautifully new 75 years ago...

I love Clifford Odets' plays.  I just find his gritty realism so stirring and honest.  No, there's generally no happily ever after, but these are real people struggling through life's issues with honesty and passion.  I like that.  I've actually never seen the play, Golden Boy, only the movie with William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck.  But the story holds up so well.  I found these struggles very powerful and moving. 

All of the actors are quite good already, so I can only imagine how great they'll be once the show opens.  The dialects are good and the characterizations are very deep.  You could feel sympathy for, yet frustration with, every character on stage.  Some of them may have had stereotypical behavior, but none were stereotypes, if that makes sense.  I was quite moved, especially during the penultimate scene, by the family dynamic and the choices everyone made.  There's a whole bunch of good work going on up on that stage.

I think the performance ran a little long, it was a smidge over three hours, which I'm sure can be tightened up.  Yes, the play does have two intermissions, but it seemed as if each intermission went on a little long, and the set changes also seemed slow.  I'm not sure if we need such a complicated set, but once everything works the way its supposed to, it will be impressive. 
The show is well-directed, as most Bartlett Sher productions are, but I was confused by some of the blocking in the first scene.  I wonder if the movement was hamstrung by the set pieces, but it was hard to tell.  I guess I just have to go back and see how it all works once they get all the kinks out.  But, even though it seemed a bit long, that was just because my brain noticed the set issues and not because I was bored for an instant.  I was completely engaged and totally enthralled with what the actors were doing with this vibrant dialogue.  I was wonderfully entertained and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Unlike the doofus sitting next to me, who was bored out of his mind, yet wouldn't leave.  He read his program, he looked at his phone (to his small credit, he had turned the light on his phone screen down very low, but I could still tell what he was doing).  I believe he stayed just so he could rudely do a slow sarcastic clap once the play was over.  I nearly said something to him but held my tongue.  Grrrrr.  But I will shake off his doofusness and say you should all go see Golden Boy.  Just maybe wait a few more days until they get that set thing straightened out...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thoughts on Coney and A Christmas Story

The older I get, the harder it is for me to separate my personal feelings from my critical thinking.  If I love someone, I probably will love their work.  I can, I think, see problems if they're there, but the positive feelings I have often outweigh the negative feelings.  In a world that can be negative and mean, I'll embrace my overly-positive opinions and move on.  Plus, I don't think there's anything wrong with context and admission of bias...  :)
Wednesday night, I went to see dear David Johnston's new play Coney at the New Ohio Theater on Christopher Street.  I had purchased my ticket quite a while ago and was happy the show had resumed performances after being dark during Storm Sandy.  Of course, the night I went was the night of the snowstorm, so it was a bit of a slog to get down there, but it was worth it.  The house wasn't all that full, though, so I'm guessing a few people decided it might not be worth it.  Well, they're the ones who lost out.  I was happy to have warmed up with a nice glass of sangiovese before crossing the street to the theater, I will admit.  I was also happy to run into more friends at the theater.  It gave me a nice warm feeling to be there, even though the weather outside was frightful.

For me, Coney is a lovely meditation on regret and acceptance and love.  It's also terrifically funny.  As always, David's characters are totally real people who say completely delightful things.  His dialogue is always witty and true without being set-ups for jokes.  The characters have a lived-in quality, so you completely buy the relationships between them.  I'm pretty sure each character had at least one line that made me stop, sigh and think 'yeah.'  That's such a gift--not a lot of writers nowadays trust their characters enough and instead throw punchlines around.  David has written these wonderful characters, and the wonderful cast finds so many shades in each of them.  I felt such affection for the young kids on their first date AND for the older gents who showed us a lifetime of friendship in just a few scenes AND for the carney folk just trying to make a living AND for the drunk gal whose life intersects with many of the other characters.  I will admit to feeling less affection for the father and daughter and the random gal who briefly comes between them - I'm not sure why, though.
I think Coney is being given a terrific production by Blue Coyote Theater Group.  The design utilizes the theater space very well and even uses the quirks of the physical space to its advantage.  The lovely final images of fireworks will stay with me for quite a while.  I give Coney a big thumbs up and encourage you to see it.  But, as previously mentioned, I am totally predisposed to enjoy a David Johnston piece.  :)
Last night, I caught the second preview of the new Broadway musical, A Christmas Story.  Based on that beloved movie, this musical has a score written by two boys I just adore, so, again, it's hard for me to be objective.  Plus, this was only the second preview, and I'm sure there will be changes made during the preview period.  But, on the whole, I had a great time. 
The movie is a lot of fun and so is the musical.  They wisely kept most of the iconic moments, finding cute ways to musicalize them.  I think the libretto retains the dry warmth of the movie's screenplay, with a little contemporary awareness that fits in well.  The songs are tuneful and have great affection for the characters.  I'll admit to having a particular fondness for the songs in the daydream/fantasy production numbers - I found the music and lyrics a little more sparkling in these numbers.  But the other songs are also terrifically crafted with smart lyrics that don't call attention to themselves.  That's a compliment, if you weren't sure.
The kids in this cast are terrific - adorable, but not so cutesy cute that you want to throw up.  They all just seem like real kids and they're all really talented.  The boy playing Ralphie is carrying a Broadway musical on his little shoulders and he does a great job.  Plus, there's a nice feeling of connection between the boy and the adult who plays the narrator/Jean Shepherd/lots of other random characters.  That simpatico was really sweet.  All of the actors did a good job in carrying the essence of the characters we're all familiar with, but yet making choices that were unique to themselves.  There were no slavish recreations of character choices, but you felt the flavor of the original story and the movie.    
The staging and the choregraphy were nice, most especially the tap numbers.  I so adore a tap number and adding tap dancing kids?  Genius.  The orchestrations were terrific and it was lovely to hear a tuneful, vibrant overture.  There were quite a few kids in the house and they all seemed engaged throughout, which is a great sign.  There were several technical glitches that I'm sure will be smoothed out by the time the show opens.  The physical production seems a little cluttered to me, but there are a lot of scenes to get in and out of.  Scene changes came to a halt a couple of times in the second act, and there were strange pauses here and there.  I know they lost a few days in the theater due to Storm Sandy, so these are probably just growing pains. 

All I know is, I had tears in my eyes several times - once, because two sweet, uber-talented kids I know are getting this wonderful Broadway debut, and I was so proud and happy for them - but also when the warmth and nostalgia for the movie, the story, for Christmas all came rushing over me.  I'm sure the lady next to me thought I was insane, but shoot me.  I'm an easy cry.  I will definitely go back and see the show again, not only to support my friends, but to get that feeling of nostalgic happiness again.  Plus, hello, they're selling the leg lamps at the concession stand.  I can think of at least one friend who needs one...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts for Election Eve

I've run across the following quotations and found them particularly apt this night-before-the-election.  Would that I were genius enough to come up with inspirational words like these...

**Money won't create success, the freedom to make it will.
-Nelson Mandela
**No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.
-Susan B. Anthony
**I'm a supporter of gay rights.  And not a closet supporter either.  From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community.  There are so many qualities that make up a human being... by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant. 
-Paul Newman
**For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
-Nelson Mandela

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Sandy Adventure

Last year, my mom was with me when Hurricane Irene hit.  When my ceiling started leaking, I was terrified that my roof would collapse.  It was nice to have my mom here to talk me down.

This year, when experts started predicting that Hurricane Sandy would be worse than Irene, I took them seriously.  I ordered lots of food through Fresh Direct, put some batteries in my old-time Mickey Mouse radio, and waited.  I didn't get any candles, though.  The candles in the photo are battery-operated.  Still afraid of fire...

Luckily, my adventure with Sandy was mild.  I was again terrified that the winds would break my windows - in fact, one of my new windows, replaced after last year's fire, did turn out to be loose, so I had to get up after each particularly intense gust of wind to put the window back in place.  It certainly wasn't fun, and I was afraid the window would blow out, but fortunately, I never lost power, internet or cable.  I stayed completely in touch throughout the whole experience, except for e-mails since my office server crashed.  I missed having my mom with me, though... 

Watching the storm updates was unsettling, so I turned to Jane Austen DVDs to relax a bit.  Facebook was a godsend - people were updating what was happening and I felt like I was connected to all my loved ones, even if they were far away.  

I finally fell asleep when the winds died down Monday night/early Tuesday morning.  Our office was closed again, but the office servers came back up, so I got a little work done, then went out to see what my neighborhood looked like.  It was pretty much business as usual in Astoria - most businesses were open and there didn't seem to be a lot of damage, at least where I was.  I did see some uprooted plants and one downed line, but that is minor.  So, clearly, I am more than thankful that Sandy didn't slam us as horribly as it could have. 

Wednesday, a co-worker and I decided to get into the office.  I would've worked at home for another day, but I had a big event for work upcoming and lots of decisions would have to be made whether or not to postpone.  I needed information that couldn't be accessed at home, so co-worker and I braved the commute.  I called the car service at 8:50am.  They told me it would be ten minutes.  At 9:30, I called back since the car hadn't arrived.  They said it would be five more minutes.  The car arrived at 9:40.  When we told him we wanted to go to midtown, he was less than pleased.  He said it would take at least two hours.  I think he was hoping to dissuade us, but we had to get in.  One boss was already there! 

Traffic WAS awful - it took us at least 45 minutes just to get to the Queensboro Bridge (which normally takes about ten minutes from my house).  We were talking to our bosses on our cell phones and the driver was laughing at us, even though he still was ticked we were making him drive into town.  It took another 45 minutes to get close enough to the office where we could get out and walk the rest of the way.  To our driver's credit, he did not jack up the price, so we gave him twice the fare and wished him a good day.

Unbelievably, we had people calling our office, wondering why we hadn't been answering the phone for the past few days.  I can't imagine they didn't know our offices are in NYC.  Hmmm.  After many calls and lots of angsting, we did cancel the upcoming event, so lots of e-mails had to go out.  It turned out to be a pretty busy day, surprisingly.

My co-worker and I missed out on getting a ride back to Astoria from our boss (my fault, sorry), so we decided to walk up to 57th Street to catch the crosstown bus, and then take the Q101, which goes over the Queensboro Bridge and travels across Steinway Street, which is close to both my and my co-worker's place.  Of course, we forgot the whole 'dangling crane on 57th Street' thing, so we couldn't take the crosstown bus until east of Fifth Avenue.  By the time we got there, we thought we'd just walk the rest of the way.  I haven't walked that far in awhile, but I was fine during the walking.  When we got to Second Avenue, to catch the bus at 60th Street, I thought I saw the line for the bus was stretching a couple of blocks, but it was really only one block.  Since the bus originates at this point, a lot of people could get on at one time, so we didn't wait very long at all, thankfully.  And, we got close enough to the front of the line to get seats!  Bonus!  We got over the bridge pretty quickly, but got stuck in traffic on the other side.  It wasn't as bad as it could've been though.  Plus, it was heartwarming to get off the bus on Steinway Street and see all the little kids trick-or-treating at businesses.  I was pretty wiped out by the time I got home, though.  At least we had been at work marginally longer than we had been commuting!  :)

Thursday and Friday's commutes were much easier.  The R train, which I usually take, still wasn't running, but the N train was.  I walked the thirteen blocks to catch the N train, prepared to see a zillion people on the platform, but it was surprisingly quiet.  I even got a seat!  Which doesn't always happen on a non-post-hurricane-commute, so hooray.  I wasn't exactly thrilled to see an MTA employee perhaps caulking the tracks opposite me, but ok.  Though Friday's commute home was unfun: our office cleaning lady had told me that the F train was running local and I could take it instead of the R train.  OK, that sounded good to me.  So after stopping at KMart to pick up some stuff to donate to the rescue efforts, I decided to try the F train.  What an unfun experience.  Like any normal commuter going to Queens, I walked over to the Queens side of the station, like the other hundred people who were standing there.  There were MTA employees, walking around, but not making any announcements.  Finally, I noticed an F train on the downtown track and walked over to an MTA employee. One hurried past me and exclaimed "We should've kept the trains closed!  I can't believe these people don't know where to go!"  I asked another guy, "Do we need to be over there to catch a train to Queens?"  He just pointed over there, without looking at me and without saying anything.  I smiled and said, "You know, we wouldn't have to bother you if you put someone upstairs and told us not to come down here."  Sigh.  So, about a dozen people joined me, running up the stairs, to try to catch the train on the other side.  We caught it, all right.  It was packed.  PACKED.  I probably should've gotten off and waited for the next train, but I was so tired by this time, I couldn't think.  I started sweating profusely - it was just pouring off me.  I guess I looked pathetic and pitiful, because a very nice young woman gave me her seat.  I guiltily admit I took it.  Thankfully, there are still some kind people in the world.  I was again exhausted by the time I staggered back into my apartment.

Yesterday, I went to the Powhatan Democratic  Club near my apartment to drop off some donations for families in the Rockaways.  It was great to see so many people there, contributing so many diverse items.  The room was so full, I stayed for about an hour to help sort the donations.  It made me feel a little better, helping the tiniest bit since I have been so fortunate.

Last night, my handsome dear one invited me to a concert of the Phoenix Quartet, celebrating their tenth anniversary.  I was happy to go, to hear some music and spend time with a handsome gent.  The concert was quite nice, but I'll admit to preferring their quieter pieces, utilizing their wonderful harmonies, rather than the solo and duet pieces.  But it was grand to hear quality lyrics put forth so clearly, and to see people who obviously love the songs they perform.  So, thumbs up.  Thumbs down for the F train ride on the way home (clearly, I didn't learn my lesson and deserved the sweaty pain I got), but I'm choosing to accentuate the positive.  Keeping positive energy is especially important now.  And to anyone reading this who wants to help, the Red Cross is always looking for donations...

Enjoy some other photos from my week with (and without) Sandy.