Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pre-Tony nomination thoughts

So, the Tony nominations come out Tuesday.   There’s still so much I haven’t seen!  I guess my living at the Signature Theatre has curtailed my Broadway viewing, though I appreciate all the generous Tony nominator/voter friends who have taken me to see some stuff this season.  So, here are my hopes for what we might hear when those nominations are read (not that I think we will hear all of these names, but typing them makes me feel better):


The Assembled Parties, Richard Greenberg
The Other Place, Sharr White
The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin
[I haven’t seen most of the plays being mentioned as contenders, darn it]


Bring It On
A Christmas Story
Hands on a Hardbody
[again, I haven’t seen the supposed real contenders.  But I love the creators of these three musicals, AND I actually saw them…so there]


Alan Cumming, Macbeth
Douglas Hodge, Cyrano
Tracy Letts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Jim Parsons, Harvey
Michael Shannon, Grace


Jessica Hecht, The Assembled Parties
Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
Amy Morton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Fiona Shaw, The Testament of Mary
Holland Taylor, Ann


Mark Blum, The Assembled Parties [I love him.  Sue me.]
Madison Dirks, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Charles Kimbrough, Harvey
David Strathairn, The Heiress
Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy


Ellen Burstyn, Picnic
Carrie Coon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Judith Ivey, The Heiress
Judith Light, The Assembled Parties
Elizabeth Marvel, Picnic

[yeah, no clue.  I have hopes for John Bolton and Johnny Rabe from A Christmas Story, and for the divine Chita in Drood.  Otherwise, I just couldn’t say]


Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas Story
[oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please]


[if Berry Gordy gets nominated here, I may have to reconsider my career path.]

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review - Macbeth (and some other thoughts)

I believe I've already mentioned that Shakespeare's Macbeth is one of my very favorite plays (top five, probably), and that I try to see as many versions of it as possible.  Favorites include a touring Kabuki version I saw in Detroit, and a version done with marionettes.  The less said about Naked Macbeth, the better.  I did a production in college and can still replicate some of the adorable line readings that occurred.  I was sad to have missed Alan Cumming's version that played here last summer and was thrilled when it was announced for a Broadway limited run.  I actually purchased a real ticket for this one.
The house was pretty full, but not completely.  The gals on one side of me were arguing, up and down, who was worse - Patrick Stewart or Alan Cumming.  And this was BEFORE the show started.  Sigh.  The gals on the other side of me were talking (in their outdoor voices) about how bad the reviews had been for this one.  Double sigh.  Am I the ONLY person in NY who observes the five-block rule (not to mention keeping myself from dissing a show before it even begins)?  Apparently so.  The gal on my left leaned towards me before the show started; I pulled away.  She said, sorry, I may have to do this during the show to be able to see better.  I said, oh, ok, thanks for warning me.  Thankfully, she didn't have to lean.  Though she did pull out her binoculars for a better look every time Alan Cumming removed an article of clothing.  As you can imagine, the binoculars stayed out for quite some time during the scenes near/inside the bathtub.
Anyway, after all that, I have to say I really enjoyed the show, though I can see how it might have been confusing for people who aren't as familiar with Macbeth.  I thought Alan Cumming presented the text beautifully and was always crystal-clear in his acting and in his storytelling.  I am a stickler for clearly telling the story.  But, then, I always knew what character he was playing.  If you don't know the play, it may be too much to constantly try to figure out who is talking when.
Set in a psychiatric hospital, this Macbeth is torn from the disturbed mind of one patient, though there are two other actors who appear (and briefly speak) from time to time.  I thought the cutting of the text was done very well, and the pacing of the piece was excellent.  The show begins with Alan Cumming, clearly a patient who is checking into this facility, going through a routine with the two hospital employees.  After all is put in order, as the employees leave the room, Cumming asks "When shall we three meet again?" and our descent into Macbeth's madness begins.
Boiled down, Macbeth is essentially a play about guilt, and Cumming beautifully portrays a man filled with guilt acting out a play riddled with guilt.  There are subtle, and not-so-subtle, indicators that an act of violence caused Cumming to be placed in this hospital, and seeing how his portrayal of all these characters mirror his own (presumed) actions and consequences, is quite ingenious. 
The show was wonderfully directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg.  I'm sure it was quite a delicate dance to put this together and make sure it didn't become one big vanity project bore.  There were some directorial choices I found amazingly inventive and some I found pretty cliched, but, on the whole, the construct of the piece was first-rate.  I thought the video was used perfectly and the music underscored things very well.  The very first light cue caused someone in the audience to scream, so there's that...
I thought Alan Cumming's performance was fantastic - it must be quite an endurance test for him to perform such a high-octane, solo wire act every night (though, I believe I've read he doesn't do matinees to maintain his energy).  Unsurprisingly, his abundant personal charm twinkles through now and then, most especially in his interpretations of Duncan and Banquo, but he also is deadly serious throughout and proves himself to be an expert interpreter of Shakespeare.  I've heard Macbeth dozens of times, and yet I heard some of the lines anew, which caused my ear to wake up and think 'aha!'  I love when that happens - when something so familiar is heard freshly.  Hurrah.
The other two performers were also terrific and used very well.  I could talk about things that especially stuck with me, but I hate to spoil.  I will say I was devastated by a sweater and was genuinely worried at one point for an actor's safety.  I was amazed and intrigued by a sex scene.  But I will also say that if we were truly in a psychiatric hospital, I'm guessing this patient would've been a little more closely monitored.
Like in The Testament of Mary, there were random pieces of theatricality that bordered a bit on "too much," but the end result was completely worth it to me.  I give this production a huge thumbs up, again with the caveat that I just may be the perfect target audience for the piece.  Though the gal with the binoculars seemed quite happy with her theatrical experience as well. I should've asked her afterward if she ever understood what was going on.  :)

Speaking of The Testament of Mary, I returned for a second visit to see Fiona Shaw and be amazed by her.  Which I was.  In fact, I may have liked the play even better the second time.  This time, I did the pre-show walk-through of the set and found it a very exciting complement to the play as a whole.   To see Mary as the world generally sees her, serene and in a 'box,' and then to have the play unfold and she confounds our expectations is ingenious.  And although I knew the ending, Shaw's performance still made my heart race.  My hands were even shaking afterwards - that's how moving Fiona Shaw was.  I sat much closer and could see everything play across that beautifully expressive face.  I'm ever so glad I saw the show again.  I will say, however, that the Wednesday matinee crowd only gave her one curtain call, whereas the audience last Saturday cheered for three or four.  Maybe more people had to get back to the office, just like we did.  But Fiona Shaw is worth every hoot, holler and huzzah out there.  I'm hoping the Tony nominators think so, too. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review - The Assembled Parties

Last night, I finally made it to the Samuel Freidman Theatre to see Richard Greenberg's new play, The Assembled Parties.  I'm a big fan of Greenberg's Three Days of Rain, and the cast of this production is to die for.  I was very happy to get there last night.  I was very sad to see that the theater wasn't terribly full, though.  The play got excellent reviews, so I wonder why it's not really selling.  Maybe last night was an anomaly.  Or maybe things will pick up after the inevitable Tony nominations...
I should say, however, that I didn't feel as rapturously about the play as many of the critics did.  I appreciated it, I enjoyed it, I was even moved by a couple of speeches at the end, but I didn't LOVE it.  Too bad for me, I guess, but I just felt like there were so many unanswered questions.  Should there really be so much left for me to figure out?  Should so many things we believed from the first act really fly out the window in the second?  I don't know.  But these are the types of things that kept me from all-out loving this play.
It will be hard to talk about the play without using spoilers, so read at your own risk, I guess.  I'll do my best, though.  Set at two Christmas Day dinners, twenty years apart, The Assembled Parties deals with a dysfunctional, privileged, uber-intellectual Jewish American family, who inevitably discover that life doesn't always turn out the way you want it to.  In this family, naturally, there are many secrets and lies.  Some of the secrets and lies are interesting and make sense; some of the secrets and lies seem like they're just put in the play to gild the lily.  The dialogue is witty, though sometimes (perhaps) deliberately off-puttingly pretentious.  I may be a bit of a reverse snob, but I consider myself to have a relatively large vocabulary - when a script has a family toss in dozens of words that I have no clue what they mean, I sometimes find it hard to dig back in to the story.  Again, that could just be me. 
Jessica Hecht and Judith Light are the matriarchs of the family and they are both terrific.  These ladies have been written with many dimensions.  I frequently have a problem with Jessica Hecht and her vocal mannerisms, but they fit in with this character wonderfully well, so I was totally on board with what she was doing.  She has a lovely monologue in the second act about her late mother, where the affectations are dropped and it's just character and emotion.  I liked that.  And Judith Light was just on fire as the more down-to-earth sister-in-law.  The way their interactions in the first act reflected on what was happening in the second act was quite moving.  Oh, and Lauren Blumenfeld, as Judith Light's daughter, didn't have much to do but she made the most of her stage time.

The male characters were written a little more sketchily, but they were finely acted nonetheless.  I always enjoy Mark Blum, who played Judith Light's husband (yes, I have a bit of a crush).  It was hard at first to deal with the fact that his character was less-than-sympathetic, but he's always so detailed and real, he cuts right to the marrow.  And then to find out he was sort of a hero all along was quite touching.  Although there wasn't much payoff for him that it turns out that way.  Jonathan Walker, who I've previously seen and enjoyed in several Charles Busch plays, was also good, but had a harder time filling in the spaces in his character.  Jake Silberman, who played a different son in each act, was a little more successful in the second act than the first.  Again, I think it was more a fault of the script than the actor.  And Jeremy Shamos was excellent as the perpetual outsider/third-wheel, who could actually save them all.
The physical production was outstanding.  The apartment, beautifully designed by Santo Loquasto, was another character in the piece.  And the way the design was differently utilized in both acts was terrific.  Jane Greenwood's costumes were excellently on-point.  Her 'vintage' costumes for Jessica Hecht, whose mother was a designer of women's couture, were gorgeous and just the right set-up for some interesting ideas about what you take from your mother.  Peter Kaczorowski's lights were subtle and elegant, and Obadiah Eaves' music was never intrusive, but always evocative.  Director Lynne Meadow put together a fantastic team and guided her actors very well.
It's hard not to talk about this play without putting in plot points that could ruin your enjoyment if you know them in advance.  So I suppose I should stop.  I guess the play could be telling us to appreciate life as you're living it, even the unexpectedness, but a lot of the time, there didn't really seem to be any throughline going on.  It just seemed like two slices-of-life with no real plotting.  Well, no, there was a lot of PLOT, but not a lot of action.  If that even makes sense.  But wondering what was going to happen to these women generally kept me engaged.  I just feel frustrated now, thinking back on the evening, about all of the threads that seem to still dangle.  And I'm not sure I should still have so many questions.  But perhaps that's the way Richard Greenberg wanted it - no answers, all questions...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review - The Testament of Mary

Although I may be seeing this show again later this week with a Tony pal, when a handsome chum told me he had an extra free ticket to The Testament of Mary on Saturday afternoon, I jumped at the chance.  One, I love seeing shows with handsome chums.  Two, I love Fiona Shaw.  Three, why not see shows more than once, I always say.  Well, unless we're talking about Motown.  Then...not so much.

I didn't know very much about The Testament of Mary before I saw it.  I knew it was a solo show, and that it dealt with the mother of Jesus, but that's about it.  When passing out the Playbills, the ushers also passed out a flyer from the author of the novel the play is based on.  I didn't read the flyer until this morning (though I did look at the photos before the show - I love photos of Michelangelo's Pieta).  We had excellent seats in the front row of the mezzanine and from our vantage point, we could see the pre-show activity on the stage, where audience members could walk around and look at the set pieces and a large glass box, where Fiona Shaw, as Mary, was sitting.  It was kind of amazing how waxy and unreal she looked while she was sitting in that exhibit case.  When the glass case was lifted, and Fiona Shaw got ready for the start of the production, it was a bit of a shock to see her turn into flesh and blood.  She truly is amazing.  [I snuck the photo at right from the front of the mezzanine.  Since they were allowing audience members to take photos while they were milling about onstage, I figured it was ok to snap this one.] 

Directed by Fiona Shaw's frequent collaborator, Deborah Warner, The Testament of Mary is relentlessly theatrical.  I mean this as a huge positive and a bit of a negative.  Personally, I could listen to Fiona Shaw sit and talk for 90 minutes about whatever the heck she wanted to talk about, but to make this a unique theatrical experience, Warner and Shaw have really pulled out all the stops.  There were times when I wished the theatrical busyness would stop; I was most personally affected during moments of stillness and quietness, but, still, all of the effects were intruiging and striking and added up to something unlike anything I'd seen before.  Afterwards, I guess you could think, 'well, they didn't need to do this or that,' but during the performance, I was completely entranced by what was going on.  I found myself gripping my handbag so tightly, the circulation stopped moving in my hands.  That's how engaged I found myself.

I'm not particularly religious, though I guess I do believe in God and Jesus and the Bible, which has some cracking good stories in it.  But I also find issues of faith and faithlessness intriguing.  To hear from a woman who is so deified speak as a human, instead of as a religious icon, was so interesting to me.  We hear from Mary speaking as a mother - a mother who struggles with what her son did and how (and why) her son died.  I just found it so moving - I was holding my breath at certain points and in tears at other points.  The retelling of the story of Lazarus was compelling - honestly, I had never considered what happened AFTER Lazarus was raised from the dead before.  And the retelling of the Crucifixion was heartbreaking.  I guess, after a season of uber-realistic work, I was just completely taken by this seemingly simple (but oh-so-complex) story being delivered in such a heightened manner.  The music was wonderful, the lighting and set piece effects were terrific, and some of the directorial choices were shocking, in a good way.  The last moments took my breath away.  Maybe, now and then, the constant movement was a little much (the ladder was a particular conundrum to me), but I could make it work for myself dramatically.  Here is a woman in constant motion, who, if she sits still for too long, gets lost in thoughts she'd rather not get lost in.  So, she's always on the move.  If that constant movement segued into fussiness a time or two, oh well. 

Fiona Shaw was riveting, magical, injecting just the right amount of humor into a deeply serious piece.  Thumbs way up for her, both during the show, and again while greeting her fans so happily afterwards.  She seemed quite moved by and appreciative of the rapturous curtain call we all gave her (and if she was acting, again, thumbs up).  I'm hoping audiences will find their way to The Testament of Mary.  Even though there are a lot of tricks happening, the end result is so striking, it's definitely worth the visit.  I hope I get to go back and see it from a different vantage point - I may even try the pre-show walkthrough!  Why not?!  Pieces like this are definitely worthy of more than one look...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review - Motown

The theater season is coming to a rapid conclusion.  My friend the Tony nominator (who is seeing something like ten shows in seven days) invited me to join him at yesterday's matinee of Motown.  Since my boss was also going, I figured sure, why not?  I like Motown music.  How bad can it be?
Wow.  Well, it wasn't good.  I always feel badly about saying such things, because I know how much hard work goes into putting on a musical,'s the truth.  Or, my truth, at least.  We did stay for the second act - out of respect for the Tony nominator seats and also because I wanted to see the Jackson Five.  Silly reason, I know, but my brain has no rhyme or reason. 

It's the libretto that's a complete and utter failure.  Berry Gordy wrote the book and it's pretty much a love letter to himself.  There is no cliche left unsaid - nearly every piece of dialogue makes you cringe and/or roll your eyes.  Which is too bad, because the cast is talented and committed, the physical production is good and the choreography is pretty exciting.  It's just whenever they stop singing those glorious Motown songs (and sadly, many of the songs are truncated - they've shoehorned over 50 songs into this show!), the dialogue is so awful, you just want it to stop.
It was just so odd.  There was no shape to the book - of course, it's told in flashback and it's a 'then I did this' and 'then I did that' sort of thing, but it has no arc.  No emotional highs or lows.  And characters come and go with no specificity.  Sometimes, it was hard to tell who was who, because it was time to move on to something else.  I think the story tried to tell too much - you couldn't get the whole history of Motown into one musical AND include so many songs.  It's just not possible.  They should've chosen either to dramatize the story of Motown (and have somebody else write the book, clearly) or just do a concert version of all the wonderful songs.  This is just an awkward, unsuccessful merging of the two.  Oh, and it was completely tasteless to include a throwaway reference to Marvin Gaye's father.  Especially when Berry Gordy completely eliminated nearly all mention of his wives or children (though he did include a laughable scene about his impotence).  OH, and the audience participation section?  Yuck.  OK.  Moving on. 

Seeing a musical with actors playing so many famous singers is tricky - you have the iconic real-life performances in your brain, you can't help it.  And to see talented actors try to take on the iconic performances can be off-putting.  I started to feel as if they shouldn't have tried to dramatize Diana Ross.  The real Diana Ross has such an unquantifiable 'it' quality, that it almost seems unfair to criticize the actress playing her for not having it.  Not many people do!  And who knew that Smokey Robinson was a dimwitted lacky for Berry Gordy?  Did Smokey Robinson sign off on that?  It's almost like he's playing Lennie in Of Mice and Men to Berry Gordy's George.  The actor had some charm, but oh, that dialogue.  Then there's the poor actor playing Berry Gordy, he's just hamstrung by the horrific dialogue.  His songs are mainly new ones (also written by Berry Gordy) and they're really lackluster.  I just felt so sorry for him.  I know he's a wonderful performer, I've seen him in other shows.  This show did NOT show him off to any advantage at all.
The boy playing Michael Jackson, however, he has IT.  Not the same kind of otherworldly magic that the young Michael Jackson had, but still.  We're going to hear more from this kid, I know it.  When he came out in that fringed purple vest and purple hat, and grooved to "ABC," "I Want You Back" and "I'll Be There," there was a buzz in the audience about seeing a new star. 

Of course, there was a buzz in the audience through most of the show.  They ate it up.  Seriously ATE IT UP.  They were singing along and clapping and whooping and hollering.  So, apparently there's an audience for this show.  It just wasn't me.  Though, I will admit, when the concert sections happened, and we got the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Contours, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Miracles, all singing their signature hits, I was almost sold.  If only they had just kept singing...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review - The Last Five Years

I came late to The Last Five Years.  Although I had been a huge fan of Jason Robert Brown's Parade (I saw it several times at Lincoln Center), and I had also been blown away by Norbert Leo Butz in the truly bad Thou Shalt Not, I just don't remember hearing about the original Off-Broadway production of The Last Five Years.  And I didn't get the highly acclaimed CD until a couple of years ago.  I've enjoyed listening to the CD as a pleasant diversion, but it hasn't really made its way onto my regular playlist.  But when I saw that Second Stage was doing a revival of The Last Five Years, I knew I wanted to go.
The Last Five Years tells the story of a marriage - its 'twist' is that we see the wife's (Cathy) story played out backwards in time from the end of the marriage, and the husband's (Jamie) story is played forward from where they met.  I think this is the positive and the negative of the show.  In seeing the end of the story played out juxtaposed with the beginning, you can get real twinges of regret and recrimination, alongside joy and excitement.  But by the cast always being separate, performing 'he said/she said' musical solos, you lose any hint of chemistry or personal connections.  Being someone who adores a personal connection, I found the lack of it made the show hard to embrace as a whole. 

But, I did enjoy myself.  The score is really terrific, with many themes and motifs played throughout, and all of the songs are really grand character showpieces.  The melodies are lovely and the lyrics are smart and pointed. I enjoyed seeing clues being played out as the piece moved forward (or backward, as the case may be).  The performers, Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor, are both first-rate and the physical production is gorgeous.  I also adored the orchestra and the orchestrations - I can't imagine getting a better sound, musically, than I heard last night.  Finally, I think Jason Robert Brown, as the director, has directed smoothly and empathetically.  He also seems to have found a middle ground where you can identify with both characters.
At least, I empathized with both characters, though a lot of the reviews say the show skews heavily towards Jamie's point of view.  I guess I can see that, but, interestingly, I didn't feel that way.  I blamed, and felt sorry for, both characters relatively equally.  Though it seemed as if some of the character traits that Cathy sang about came through in Jamie's actions, but not all of the character traits Jamie mentioned were ever really seen.  Does that even make sense?  lol   But I thought both actors created completely real and sympathetic (yet not) characters.  And they knocked their songs out of the park.

I'll admit, though, that my mind wandered a bit throughout, because it can be tiring to hear musical monologue after musical monologue, no matter how well they're written and performed, but there were also occasions when my heartrate quickened and I could feel anticipation for what was coming.  I also got quite teary during "Nobody Needs to Know," which I completely didn't expect.  So thumbs up from me, even if I may have appreciated the production more than truly loved it, but that could be my personal prejudice of wanting to see more of a connection between the two characters.  Of course, then it would be a different show...
On the audience/seat neighbor front, I may have had the worst seat next-door neighbor ever.  Well, she didn't smell like sauerkraut, but still...The show started at 7 - the seat next to me was empty.  After the second number, the seat got filled by a person so annoying, I almost yelled at her at one point.  First, it took her almost one complete song to actually get into her seat (I pitied the gal behind her).  Then, it took her almost one more complete song to take off her coat.  Then she put her bag on the floor.  Then she picked it up.  Then she leaned it on my lap so she could dig around for her water bottle.  Then it took her almost a whole song to open her water bottle and drink from it.  She dropped her coat, she picked up her coat.  She kicked me.  She leaned forward, she leaned back, she leaned from side to side.  And I don't think she was moving out of boredom or out of rapture about the show.  She just had no sense of anyone else in her universe.  Truly, she didn't sit still for one solitary second and she drove me bananas.  I could tell when I was particularly engaged by the show, because I finally didn't notice her shenanigans.  I don't know if she was incapable of sitting still, but that doesn't negate the annoyingness of it.  Ugh, it was so frustrating.
Several other audience members had no concept of the 'five block rule,' and they started trashing the show immediately after.  I hate that.  Wait until you're outside, for pete's sake!!!  And as I was making my way out of the theater, I heard the gal behind me get on her cell phone to ask the person on the other end, 'so part of the show was backwards?  you wanted me to figure that out by myself?'  That takes breaking the 'five block rule' to a whole other level - calling someone, while you're still in the theater, to ask what the show was about.  Wow.  Though I did call a friend in the middle of the first Scream movie to find out who the killer was, because I couldn't stand to watch it one more minute.  But I did that in my own home, not in the theater.  Geez, people.
Deep breath.  OK, let's end on a happier note.  I can't wait to see what Jason Robert Brown brings us next!  I'm suspicious about The Bridges of Madison County, but the movie surprised me and I'm fully prepared (and ready) to be surprised again.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mysteries of popularity

Good golly, I've been blogging for two years!  I tell you, time just goes too quickly.  OK, if you're wondering why I always seem preoccupied with time, I think it's because of my mother.  She's a real 'glass is half empty' kind of person.  Instead of saying, 'oh, I'm so glad Christmas is here', she says, 'Christmas is almost over for another year!'  Or, 'I can't wait until spring/summer/you get here/whatever' is always paired with 'I can't believe it's gone already!'  I'm constantly reminding her to enjoy the present, but it's a losing battle.  I try, really hard, to live in the now, I guess as a reaction to my mom, but sometimes, the ticking clock rears its ugly head.

Anyway, blah blah blah, therapy session over.  I thought it would be fun to look at my stats and see which posts have been viewed the most over the past two years.  Who would guess over 7,000 people have chanced onto my blog!  Mind-blowing!  Below are the top 10 posts; I probably wouldn't have guessed any of them.  I was SURE that Barry Manilow would've snuck in here! :)

  • ABT - Sleeping Beauty, 7/7/11, 182 views
  • Post-Italy-trip-report-thoughts, 5/12/12, 107 views
  • ABT - Le Corsaire, 7/3/12, 88 views
  • Review - Heartless, 8/15/12, 88 views
  • ABT at City Center, 10/19/12, 72 views
  • Weekend with John Kander, 6/4/12, 70 views
  • ABT - Onegin, 6/5/12, 69 views
  • ABT - Firebird, Apollo, 6/12/12, 66 views
  • ABT - Romeo and Juliet, 6/18/12, 58 views
  • Happy Tennis Week - the best of the rest, 8/29/12, 57 views
Let's see, what's the takeaway?  Clearly, I need to see more ballet and I need to take more trips.   Perhaps I should start following ABT around the world and just blog about that...

I have been toying with the idea of retracing the steps of the Two Fat Ladies.  Remember their show?  I loved it!  They always went to such quaint towns and villages and met lovely people.  On wikipedia, there's a list of all their episodes and where they went.  I think it would be fun to blog about hitting all those towns - thoughts?  It could be my big 5-0 trip goal.

Here's to more blogging!  And perhaps a winning lottery ticket.  Money to see things would make blogging much easier.  ;)

watching time fly by :)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Humana Fest 2013 - part three

Sunday morning started off great - an old college chum picked me up and we went to brunch at Toast on Market.  I had read about the place before, so I was happy to try it.  And I'm always happy to spend time with an old friend!  Our server was a charmer, with a big smile on his face.  I decided I wanted to order three things off the a la carte menu, since everything sounded so good, I wanted to try as much as possible.  He thought that was funny.  And then he brought me my food on two plates.  Which was goofy, but it made me laugh.  When I clapped at how good my plates looked, he laughed again.  He said he likes making people clap.  I should've said honey, stick with me.  But I didn't. 
OK, seriously, that food was DELICIOUS!  I got the lemon souffle pancake, which was light and rich and lemony and sweet, all at the same time.  IN A PANCAKE.  Yum.  I also got one egg (always a favorite) and their potato casserole, which was also yum yummy.  Thumbs way up for Toast on Market!  I definitely have to take the work guys there with me next time!  Oh, and our adorable server also came and told me happy birthday when he saw me opening the wonderful gift my wonderful friend gave me.  I love a cute server with good manners. 
After brunch, one of my work pals and I went to the Louisville Slugger museum and then just wandered around town, enjoying the beautiful weather.  Then it was time for our last production, Gnit, by Will Eno.  I've heard about Will Eno for years but I've never seen one of his plays.  I have, however, been in a production of Peer Gynt, which Gnit is loosely based on.  So I'll admit to having some pre-conceived notions before the show began.
I enjoyed a lot of Gnit - it had some terrific dialogue and the physical production was amazing.  The actors were all terrific (well, I thought one was perhaps misdirected).  I enjoyed how it stayed true to Ibsen's plot, but yet made its own statement.  I also greatly enjoyed Eno's conceit of having a very few actors play a great many characters (including one actor who played the WHOLE TOWN - genius).  But I think, as a whole, the methodology of putting this production together made the whole become less than the sum of its parts.  Or something.
Eno has some very offbeat language and has written rather esoteric and arch passages.  The play is directed in a very arch, presentational way.  And Peter Gnit is acted as a smug and arch jerk.  That's a lot of offputtingness (thank you, I just made that word up).  If one of the pieces of the puzzle, such as the actor, had played against the irony, I think the production would've been more successful for me.  And an actor who inspired compassion and affection would make the pathos and sadness of the emptiness of Gnit's life even more tragic.  At least, that's how I saw it.  Most of the audience members were happy with the production just as it was.  So...there you have it.
Again, I wasn't blown away by any of the productions at Humana, but I was happy with the breadth and scope of the writers chosen and the topics they chose to write about, so I have hope that the new regime is headed in the right direction.  But I always enjoy my time at Actors Theatre of Louisville - the whole festival runs like a beautiful Swiss clock.  The staff, the volunteers, the locals all make the experience so joyous.  Thumbs WAY up.

After our last show, we had the dinner I was most looking forward to.  I again didn't get a reservation at 610 Magnolia, with Chef Edward Lee, but we did get a reservation to his new casual/small plates restaurant, MilkWood, that just happens to be in the basement of Actors Theatre!  What a coincidence!  We had heard great things all weekend from people who ate there, so my work pals and I were really looking forward to it.  The renovation of the space is really terrific - there used to be a cafe downstairs that was dark and not very attractive.  Now, it's all wood and exposed brick and light.  Very conducive to a good meal!
I opted to go for the pre-theatre menu, even though we weren't seeing another show that night.  I ordered the charred romaine salad appetizer - it had grapefruit, warm ricotta and some pepitas (I think).  It was delicious!  Lots of textures and flavors that went really well together.  My main course was the fish of the day, striped bass, with a celery root puree, apples and radicchio.  This dish was also delicious, though I have to say the proportion of radicchio to fish seemed off.  Too much bitterness.  And there was very little celery root puree, which was disappointing, because it was so good!  Next time I go, though, I think I'll get what one of my work pals ordered, the smothered miso chicken.  I had a taste - it was amazing!  For dessert, I got the vanilla pot de creme, covered with a rich chocolate ganache and berries, with a small tuile that had sea salt on it.  Wow!!!!  So rich, so delicious.  And the perfect small size.  I generally can't eat a three course meal, but this one was just right.  My work pals also enjoyed their meal, thankfully, so hooray!  AND we got to say hello to Chef Lee on our way out, which was a nice bonus.  After dinner, a work pal and I went to have one last mint julep before heading home.  My mint julep was so large and so strong, I couldn't finish it.  But it was a nice way to end the trip. I thought.  We got back to the hotel around 9:30.  By midnight, I was pretty sick.  I don't know if I got food poisoning, or if it was a virus, but let's just say I was a semi-permanent resident in my bathroom for many hours.  We were supposed to check out of the hotel at 6am Monday morning.  At 5am, I texted my work mates and said there was no way I could get onto a plane in my condition.  They scurried and helped me out by booking my hotel room for me for another night.  I called Delta and paid extra to get on a flight for the next day.  And I spent the rest of Monday in and out of the Marriott Downtown Louisville hotel bathroom.  I'm sure housekeeping got a fright when I had to call them and get them to send up more toilet paper.  After awhile, things calmed down and I laid on the bed and watched movies on HBO.  I guess it was good to see some movies I hadn't seen before (Crazy, Stupid, Love = really good; We Bought A Zoo = would've been a Lifetime or Hallmark Channel movie starring Ricky Schroeder had Matt Damon not signed on; When Harry Met Sally and It's Complicated were movie-comfort-goodness), and I dozed most of the day, but I definitely would've preferred to end my trip on a happy note, with happy food memories.  I hate to pin food poisoning on such a nice restaurant, so I'm trying to stretch my imagination and think I got a sudden stomach flu, or maybe it was just because I ate so much all weekend, or maybe it was karmic repayment for being so mean about avoiding that former co-worker,'s difficult.
My college chum kindly drove me to the airport on Tuesday morning.  When I was getting ready, I couldn't figure out why my face was so red.  When looking more closely, I noticed that I had dozens of broken capillaries and broken blood vessels around my eyes and nose!  That's gross!  Yet another reason to not be a bulemic.  But I put on a lot of makeup and got out of there.  The trip home was uneventful, no one mentioned anything about being nose heavy, and I spent another day laying around and dozing while watching tv.  There are worse things, I guess.  Things are better now, but I think I won't be ordering any striped bass again any time soon...


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Humana Fest 2013 - part two

Saturday morning, we had a 10am show offsite, so we just grabbed a coffee at the hotel Starbucks before heading over to Lincoln Elementary School (where the show was playing).  We got there a little early, so we wandered around the neighborhood for a bit.  What a cute little area!  There were funky shops and interesting restaurants, and then we discovered this chalkboard sign:  Before I die...  and people answered the question.  It was really interesting to read people's answers!  Of course, we had to write something down, too.  You can probably find mine, if you try.  But I just thought it was an interesting thing to randomly discover in the middle of town.
So the first show was Sleep Rock Thy Brain, the play commissioned for Humana's acting apprentice company.  Historically, the acting apprentice shows are hit-or-miss, as far as I'm concerned; they're generally written around a specific topic.  According to the press materials that Actors Theatre of Louisville gave out, this one started out by thinking about "the boundaries of dramatic storytelling through aerial choreography."  This is probably why the show was presented at Lincoln Elementary School, which has a large space where aerial rigging could be constructed. 
Sleep Rock Thy Brain is comprised of three short plays - Comfort Inn by Rinne Groff, Dreamerwake by Anne Washburn, and nightnight by Lucas Hnath.  Of the three pieces, my favorite was the third, by Lucas Hnath.  His play dealt with astronauts on the International Space Station, so it was very clever to see the three astronauts suspended throughout, while Mission Control peeps sat beneath them.  I thought the idea of sleep deprivation in space was a very interesting one, and I thought the dialogue was crisp and clear.  I just thought all the pieces fell together very well in this play.  The first two, while interesting and intermittently engaging, were less successful.  And I'm not sure they showed the acting apprentice company to their best advantage, though all of the kids seemed good sports with all the athletic workouts they got through the flying choreography.
After the three playlets, we stopped at Sol Aztecas for a little lunch.  We were there a little before opening, but we stood outside with another group waiting for them to open.  There was a little guy, maybe three years old, who put himself in charge of opening the restaurant door.  He was adorable.  I got the enchilada lunch special and it was perfectly tasty.  Not too spicy, which I appreciated, but I didn't finish all those refried beans.  I did have more shows to watch, you know...
After lunch, I wandered over to the local CVS to pick up a few things, then went to the hotel room for a little liedown.  Humana can be exhausting, so it's best to rest whenever possible.  Though I did feel guilty about not partaking more of the sunshiny weather.  Oh well.  Our next play was Cry Old Kingdom, by Jeff Augustin.  This piece is set in Haiti in 1964, amidst the rumblings of revolution.  We meet Edwin, a painter who has pretended to be dead for many years to avoid political issues; Henri, a young man who wishes to leave Haiti; and Judith, Edwin's wife, who is itching for revolution and who finds it hard to be married to a 'dead' man.  The interactions of the three characters are interesting and I was very intrigued by this world I haven't seen dramatized before, but I do think the play seems like an early draft.  Many themes and ideas are thrown out, but not all are followed through.  The scenes seem to repeat themselves until we get to a conclusion that completely took me by surprise, and not in a good way - I would think this choice should've been hinted at somewhere earlier in the play, but I don't think it was explored deeply enough.  I would be very interested in seeing how this play develops, however, I thought the language was very beautiful and there was lovely imagery and character development, it's just the plotting seemed too casual for my tastes.  The physical production was gorgeous and the final image was stunning.  So I'm definitely going to try to keep Jeff Augustin on my theatrical radar.

Oh, guess what?  It was time for more food.  Geez, it seems like we ate the entire time we were in Louisville.  We went back to Doc Crow's, and I had more sweet tea and fried green tomatoes.  This time, we also added a little key lime pie to the mix.  Yum.
After dinner, we went back to the theater to see Guru, Guru, Guru, or why I don't want to go to yoga class with you, by Mallery Avidon.  This was a very interesting, and confusing, piece.  It was around 90 minutes, and had three sections.  The first section was a lecture, rather Spalding Gray-like (she even invoked Spalding's name at one point), given by a gal talking about why she can't go to yoga anymore - she grew up in an ashram, but grew disillusioned by the lack of spiritual guidance and the growth of corporate greed.  The 'lecture' is rather rambly, without much of a point (though there is some interesting dialogue in there), and then the lecturer walks off stage.  The audience is sitting there, wondering if the play is over.  Finally, a lovely lady in a sari comes onstage, and a 'satsang' is begun.  The audience now is in a yoga class, and members of the audience are invited onstage to be part of the class.  It takes quite a while for all of the people who wish to participate to take off their shoes, put the shoes in the cubby, get a name tag, find a pillow to sit on, and sit in the prescribed lines.  The lull didn't really help the forward motion of the piece.  After everyone is settled in, we were led through a chant and some meditation, then we saw a shadow puppet reenactment of the Hindu god Ganesh.  Um, ok, the costumes were pretty and the shadow puppet thing was cute for the first few minutes, but it went on way too long and then...we hear a whistle.  A film crew person then asks all the audience members to return to their seats (they'll get their shoes back later) while they set up the next shot.  And the next thing we know, Julia Roberts (played by Khrystyne Haje) comes on stage, because the preceding scene was actually a scene from Eat, Pray, Love.  So the final third of the piece is Julia Roberts dispensing advice to the gal we saw in the first section, because she's now an extra in the film.  This was completely unexpected, and since Julia Roberts isn't my favorite actress, I found myself resisting this final third. I guess it was interesting that a movie star would be able to spiritually help the gal much more than the yoga can.  Or something.  But ultimately, it seemed to say what so many current plays say, oh, I have everything, yet, I'm so dissatisfied.  Although at least Julia Roberts calls her on it.  This play was perplexing and definitely went on too long, but I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it.  There's something to be said for that.
Saturday was a long day, right?  Well, it wasn't over yet.  At the end of the night, we saw the winners of the American Theatre Critics Association's new play awards, which was exciting, then we saw three ten-minute plays.  I thought all three of the ten-minute plays had excellent ideas, and good starting off points, and then went off the rails and were unsuccessful.  Which is depressing.  After the plays, there was a reception in the lobby of the theater and I suddenly became a crazy person, trying to avoid seeing a former co-worker with whom I had a rather acrimonious parting.  It was nuts.  But I did eventually get to meet Top Chef: Texas contestant Chef Edward Lee.  His restaurant was catering the reception.  And I was so excited because I was going to eat in that restaurant tomorrow night!
You know what, this post is way too long already.  I'll post some fun photos below and finish in a third post.  Because Sunday/Monday need their own post... ;)


Friday, April 12, 2013

Humana Fest 2013 - part one

Last week, a couple of colleagues and I went to Kentucky for the Humana Festival of New American Plays.  I always enjoy heading to Louisville - the food is good, the people are generally nice and the theater is buzzing.  If I don't always love the plays themselves, oh well.  I think this year, I'll divide the posts into days.  We left on Thursday...
Wow, the Delta terminal at LaGuardia is fancy schmancy!  Every booth has its own iPad!  You can order food and someone will bring it to you!  Though I got my own snack, which was a lemon blueberry danish from Balthazar.  Pricey, but oh so good.  It was amusing to see so many NY theater types on the same plane heading down to Louisville.  I thought it was a pretty safe bet that the plane wouldn't crash, or else a lot of organizations would be in trouble.  Though I did get nervous when a guy in front of me tried to change seats and the flight attendant made him move back.  Because she had already done the weight allowance, and since the plan was 'nose heavy,' he needed to stay put.  Uh, ok.  So, my fear of crashing was minimal, but my fear of flying in a 45 degree angle, nose down, increased.   
The flight to Louisville was quiet, thankfully, and we did not land on our nose.  Our first event, however, was at the University of Kentucky, so we hopped into a rental car and drove about an hour to Lexington.  By the time we got to our hotel (lobby photo at left), we were STARVING, so, since our rooms weren't ready for check-in, we went across the street to deSha's, a nice pub-type place.  I had my first of many glasses of sweet tea, and the first of several plates of fried green tomatoes (yum), alongside a bbq chicken sandwich.  I was a bad vegetarian on the trip.  Please don't report me.  The restaurant was casual and fun, with a gorgeous bar that the server told us was from the 1800s.  Nice. 
Because I'm me, I did a ton of research about Lexington, knowing we would be there a few hours before our work event.  We didn't get to go on vacations much when I was growing up, so now, whenever I go to a new city, I like to go exploring.  What I really wanted to see was the Mary Todd Lincoln House, one of the late first lady's girlhood homes.  I got to see the outside of the house, but unfortunately, I got there too late to take a tour.  The gal wouldn't let me wander around the house myself (darn her), but she did let me take a peekaloo at the sitting room by the front door.  No photos, though.  Darn her again.  It was lovely, though, and I really wish I had gotten there in time for the tour.  Oh well.  Next time.  To console myself, I stopped and got some ice cream.  Brown sugar ice cream with chocolate-covered pretzels inside.  Jeepers, it was tasty.  :)
There were actually quite a few homes I could've toured, had I gotten started earlier.  The architecture around the area was really nice - some of the houses were from the 1800s, which was cool.  There was also a very nice park.  I'll include more photos at the bottom.  I'll also include some photos I got at U of K, which was a picturesque campus.  The event we had there went quite well, and we had a tasty post-event dinner at Table Three-Ten.  I got an appetizer portion of lobster mac & cheese, which was amazing, though really rich.  Thank heavens I didn't get the dinner portion!  Oh, and sometime, if you're interested, I'll do the readers theater version of the very odd woman who was very oddly hitting on me throughout dinner...
FRIDAY:  After a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we got back into our trusty rental car and headed to Louisville.  We had planned to make a stop at a mall on our way there, because all of us forgot to pack at least one thing we'd probably need over the weekend.  Our GPS got all wonky though, and didn't lead us to a mall.  Then it turned off.  So I guess the GPS was mad at us.  Good thing Louisville is easy to find. 
We got to Louisville in time to have some lunch at Doc Crow's, the barbecue restaurant we all loved last year.  Of course, we had some fried green tomatoes, to start our meal.  I decided not to get anything else, since we were headed right to the theater after lunch and I generally don't eat before performances.  Besides, we'd be having dinner at another of our favorite restaurants later on, so I figured I needed to save some room.  But our boss loved Doc Crow's so much, he made another reservation for us to have dinner there on Saturday.  Worked for me!  More fried green tomatoes!!

Our first official Humana event was a panel discussion on directing new plays.  The panel included most of the directors represented at Humana this year and it was pretty lively and interesting.  The moderator did a good job of keeping things moving, the general atmosphere was light, yet serious, and on the whole, it was pretty respectful about the writer.  There were a couple of comments that could've caused a quibble, but oh well.  And there was one panelist with very annoying vocal mannerisms, but oh well again.  All in all, it was an interesting hour and a good way to start our afternoon.  After the panel, our first production was The Delling Shore by Sam Marks.  The play dealt with two father/daughter combos, one coming to visit the other.  What happens over the very brief visit comprises the 90-minute play.  I have to admit I wasn't really on board with this one.  I thought the playwright buried his intent (or what I think was his intent) a little too deep, and it came too little too late.  My radar is always turned up when a play is about writers, and this time was no exception.  It seems to be really difficult to write about writers without making them so pretentious.  And when the characters started playing a literary game that caused them to stop the action and write down their 'ideas,' it was hard for me to get back onboard again each time.  I wasn't really convinced by the acting, either, so I have to say this first piece wasn't my cup of tea.
After the play, we went to another of our favorite restaurants, Proof on Main, for dinner.  It's just such a fun space, inside a hotel, which is inside a museum.  There's always something to look at, and the staff is high-spirited.  I generally have a smile when I'm there.  I had read in Food & Wine magazine that Proof on Main's charred octopus appetizer was one of their favorite dishes in the country last year, so I decided to order that.  Oh, wow, was it DELICIOUS!  The octopus was so tender, and it was served in a garlicky bagna cauda, with lime and toast.  That was some serious garlicky deliciousness.  I also got a side order of crispy fingerling potatoes, which were SO not vegetarian, since they were cooked in bone marrow.  Oops.  But, my goodness, they were yummy!  There were served with frisee and a really tasty vinaigrette that paired nicely with the rich marrow-cooked potatoes.  I give a huge thumbs up to that meal.  We were too full for dessert, but our adorable server brought over a complimentary dish of cotton candy.  Perfect.  Light and sweet and just a couple of bites.  Once again, a terrific dinner at Proof on Main.
Our last show of the evening was Appropriate, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  I've been hearing a lot about Jacobs-Jenkins recently - he's won quite a few emerging playwright awards, so I was looking forward to seeing the play.  Appropriate deals with a family come together to dispose of their dead father's estate.  There's a put-upon sister, a brother and his wife, and the prodigal brother who's been missing for the past ten years.  While they're all arguing and cleaning up for an estate sale, they find a disturbing set of photos - an album of lynchings.  How everyone responds to these photos, and what they may mean about their father, and themselves, is what drives the piece.  I found much of this play engaging, though I thought the first act was more successful than the second.  The second act, at least at the beginning, just was more of the same with the squabbling siblings.  It seemed to me as if the idea of these adults growing up with a racist could've been mined a little more deeply.  The characters are sharply drawn, but more detail into the 'why' instead of the 'what' could push this play into headier territory.  In my opinion, of course.  There was some good dialogue and some juicy ideas - I could've just seen them sharpened.  The acting was quite good in this one, though I did find one of the actors got lost in their physical life and sort of lost control a bit, which I found off-putting.  But maybe that was the intent.  The ending surprised me, which was cool.  Well, the ending of the spoken text.  There was actually a three or four minute coda that completely stumped me.  I had no idea what was going on and really no idea about what it meant or what the playwright wanted me to feel because of it.   I believe Appropriate is going to have a future life at other theaters in the near future, so I'll be interested in hearing about its progress.  I do think there's something there.
So ended our first two days of a Kentucky adventure.  Two more days, plus an unfun finish, to be described in the next post.  Enjoy the photos!