Friday, January 31, 2014

A Day in D.C.

This will probably be a long post to report about only one day - sorry.  I was excited to be able to go to Washington D.C. for work the other day.  I've been busy planning this work event for quite awhile and finally, the fateful day arrived.  We had decided early on that we'd head down to D.C. the night before the event, just so we wouldn't have to hurry around on the day of.  So Tuesday, three work colleagues and I rode the Amtrak Acela train to D.C.  Another colleague took the Delta Shuttle.  Our original train was canceled, so we took an earlier train - it was packed.  We couldn't sit all together, but were at least nearby.  I sat across from a work chum and the gals next to us were quite the chatty cathies, especially after they went to the club car and bought a half bottle of wine.  Each.  I can't imagine drinking a half bottle of wine during a less-than-three hour train ride, but ok.  As they were drinking, their conversation got louder and louder.  It was funny that my work chum and I put our headphones on at about the same time... :)

don't stay here
After arriving at Union Station, we all piled into a cab to head to our hotel, the Capitol Hill Hotel.  Let me preface things by saying that I had been in nearly-constant contact with this hotel, with regards to name changes and prepaying the rooms.  OK.  So, we got to the hotel, and it looked pretty nice from the outside.  The lobby was kinda funky looking, so I was looking forward to getting to the room and putting my feet up before dinner.  When we went to the front desk to check in, the clerk tells me "Hello, I have some good news for you and some bad news."  Uh, what?!  The bad news was that they had overbooked the hotel and we couldn't stay there.  The good news was they were going to cover our rooms in their sister hotel.  In Georgetown.  I guess I should back up again - the reason I chose the Capitol Hill Hotel was because it was two blocks from where our meeting was going to be, and around the corner from several restaurants we wanted to try.  Georgetown was not a suitable option.  I just couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that we were getting booted from this hotel.  I said, wait, I prepaid the rooms.  He said, no, we didn't charge the card just in case this happened.  Well, if there was a possibility this would happen, why wasn't I informed BEFORE we got there?!  I think the hotel really screwed up with this one.  Luckily, our colleague who took the Delta Shuttle got a room, so it was just the four train peeps who had to move. 

The desk clerk told us the Capitol Skyline Hotel was nearby, so we said book us there.  The clerk said he wasn't authorized to pay for that hotel - we said whatever, you can pay for the cab to get us there.  Which he said they would.  Needless to say, we were all a little crabby by this time.  We saw the bellman found us a cab, so we went out to change hotels.  As we're settling into the cab, the work colleague in the front seat said that the bill was being paid by this first hotel.  The cabbie, who was eating his dinner, said, "No way!  This is a $5 cab ride!  You can't afford a $5 cab ride?  Do you need to get out now?!"  We were rather gobsmacked that the hotel ALSO didn't pay for our cab, but we were also tired, so we said JUST GO.  So he did.  As he kept eating.  What a charmer.

As we drove to the new hotel, we saw we were leaving the cute neighborhood and heading into a not-cute neighborhood.  Our eating cabbie told us there wasn't really anything within walking distance of the hotel, which wasn't very encouraging.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw there was a restaurant, so our hopes went up a bit.  We checked into the Capitol Skyline, which sort of looks like an airport hotel, and I asked about the restaurant.  I was informed it was only open for breakfast, but would we like a list of area restaurants?  Sure.  Top on that list?  The McDonalds across the expressway.  Sigh.  We decided we would get a cab and go somewhere nice, after we all went to our rooms and relaxed for a few minutes in our rooms.

Easier said than done.  The first room I went to?  Smelled like smoke.  A lot.  So I went downstairs to get another room.  The second room they sent me to smelled like rotten onions.  I was beginning to doubt my sanity, so I asked a work chum to corroborate - she agreed.  So I went down to the front desk for a third time.  I told him I'm usually a very pleasant traveller and I hated to get the cleaning staff in trouble, but could I please get another room?  This time he put me in the tiniest of tiny rooms, but I did have a nice view of the Capitol building. 

We called a cab and decided to go to Sonoma wine bar, near our first hotel.  Our new cabbie was dubious at first - considering the State of the Union address was coming up, he was afraid all the roads to the restaurant would be closed.  We all just had to laugh.  What travel craziness.  Luckily, the roads weren't closed and we were at Sonoma in just a few minutes.  Sonoma is a lovely space, all wood and metal, very modern and spare.  The menu had small plates, entrees, antipasti and very affordable wines.  As always, I couldn't decide what I wanted, so I got three small plates, and a glass of montepulciano.  The wine was delicious as was the food.  I got the prosciutto plate (clearly this was not going to be a vegetarian trip), and it was gorgeously presented with delicious breads, whole grain mustard, pickled onions and cornichon.  Delicious.  I also got the burrata, which was served with more delicious bread and a green olive relish.  It was so light and fresh, creamy and acidic.  Just gorgeous.  I also got the meatballs, which were served in a tomato sauce, with mushrooms and gorgonzola polenta.  Oh yeah.  Also tremendously delicious.  I was quite happy and in a bit of a food coma afterwards.  Considering we didn't have lunch, though, I felt entitled.  Thumbs way up for Sonoma.  I'd love to go back.

As I tried to sleep in my teeny tiny room, I quickly discovered that having a view of the Capitol came with some drawbacks - there was a lot of traffic noise outside my room.  I didn't get a lot of sleep, darn it.  Boy, there were a lot of sirens that night.  Oh well.  The next morning, we went down to our hotel's restaurant (wow, it was open!) and had the breakfast buffet.  It wasn't much of a buffet, truth be told.  I had some bacon and some toast and lots of coffee.  The eggs and potatoes looked rather plastic, but that bacon was pretty good.  

One work chum and I had decided that we couldn't be having a meeting in the Library of Congress without actually looking around the Library of Congress.  So we got there a couple of hours before our tech rehearsal to look around.  The Jefferson Building is an amazingly beautiful building!  I had no idea!  Plus, one of the Gutenberg Bibles is on display there, as is one of George Gershwin's piano.  There are amazing sculptures and mosaics, and the light flooding in those ceiling-to-floor windows was glorious.  It was just stunning in there and I wish we'd had the time to take the official tour.  But we had a good time just the same.  I also wish we had had more time to peruse the gift shop, which had some incredible things in it.  But work waits for no one.

The tech rehearsal went great, the reception before the event went great, the event went great, except none of the tech worked.  Which was frustrating, since it had worked in the rehearsal, but the panel was game and improvised well.  I thought the panel discussion was very compelling and I look forward to seeing the video they put together.  I teared up a couple of times, just at the thought of being in the nation's capitol and having people hear the struggles of the writer.  I could hear 'wow' and gasps from the audience, so clearly a little education happened, which is always a good thing.   After all the travel agita, everything else was a great experience.  I would love to go back to the Library of Congress and see all the gorgeous stuff I missed.

The trip back was, thankfully, uneventful.  The cab got us to the train station with ease, the train was on time, we got seats together and the wi-fi worked so I could peruse the office iPad.  All in all, it was a nice day and a half, even with the pain in the butt hotel nonsense.  I felt like I was away for a week instead of just over a day, but that's ok.  I need to make more trips to D.C. - the city is so European in some ways and there's always something new to do and see...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review - The Night Alive

I've seen two Conor McPherson plays - Shining City and The Seafarer - and I admit that I haven't previously connected with his work.  But as one of my gorgeous gal pals is faux-married to Ciaran Hinds, alongside a rave from the Times (and nearly every other outlet in town), I was excited to buy a pretty-scarce ticket to The Night Alive.  My gorgeous gal pal and I braved the snowstorm and trudged to Atlantic Theater Company last night, and after the play was over, the lights came up, we looked at each other and said, "And...what was that about?"  CLEARLY I just don't 'get' Conor McPherson.

I've been writing reviews for friends for years, even before I started my blog.  Here are a few lines from my review of Shining City:  "I thought the story was interesting.  I thought the actors were great.  I thought the set was nice.  But it didn't add up to a whole lot for me.... It's odd to say I liked so much of a play, yet didn't really like the play.... Shining City just sort of happens.  And then it's over....and I was left with 'um, huh?'"  And this is what I wrote about The Seafarer:  "...and I still wish someone would tell me what Shining City was about....The Seafarer has wonderful acting, excellent scenework, terrific monologues, good storytelling, and yet--what?"

It's obvious that I just don't have a connection with McPherson or his plays.  I'll say that the rest of the audience seemed to be rapt and hanging on every word, and quite a few people leapt to their feet at the end.  I'm rather sorry I didn't connect like that.  I WAS relatively engaged throughout, I found the actors' work to be wonderfully specific and I did feel escalating tension when I was (I think) supposed to.  I can read all of the rave reviews and think, ok, yeah, I guess I understand what they're saying, but, I just don't know.  I'm not reached.  Maybe I'm overintellectualizing.  Maybe I'm trying too hard.  Maybe I'm expecting too much.  Sigh.  Is.A.Puzzlement.

Photo credit: Helen Warner
Ciaran Hinds is terrific as Tommy, as rather a sad sack who is stuck in life, yet you can sense the goodness and desire for something better inside him.  I didn't see the personal connection between him and Caoilfhionn Dunne as Aimee, the girl he rescues one night.  I think her character is written to be so enigmatic and inscrutable to almost become uninteresting.  No, not uninteresting.  But I just didn't really care about her.  The actress is fine, it's the character that was so unknowable that I didn't want to know her.  Does that make sense?  Does that make me a bad person (or a bad audience member)?  The world may never know.  Michael McElhatton is doing excellent work as Doc, the perhaps mentally disabled partner-in-maybe-but-maybe-not-crime.  His role could easily become a caricature, but he finds the humor and dignity in the role.  He has some gorgeous monologues that come out of left field, and could perhaps be the playwright pounding the play's meaning into my head (and I just wasn't getting it).  And he has excellent chemistry with Hinds - their impromptu dance in the middle of the play was a gem.  Jim Norton is his usual fantastic self as Uncle Maurice - his drunken scene after his wife's memorial service was wonderful and his palpable guilt over her death was moving.  Brian Gleeson brought the menace and evil into the world of the play and I'm still not quite sure why.  I was happy his character met the fate that he met, so I'm guessing the actor did his job well.

Photo credit: Helen Warner
Maybe all McPherson is saying that life is unknowable and that evil lurks everywhere.  OK.  I know that.  But why am I sitting in this theater, seeing this particular story at this particular time?  There is a chance I now have a mental block that will never be overcome.  Believe me when I say I wish I could be transported by his stories, because in retrospect I feel like I could've been.  But in the moment I wasn't.  I'm willing to concede it's just me...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts on Dinner With Friends, and an actual dinner with friends!

I don't think it's any secret that I'm a huge fan of Donald Margulies and his plays.  I've been reading and watching them for years and it was so exciting to know that there would be two of his plays performed this season.  I talked about how thrilling and moving I found The Model Apartment, and boy do I wish it could've had a longer life so I could've seen it again.  Last Friday, I went to the first preview of the revival of Dinner With Friends, at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre.

I saw Dinner With Friends in its first incarnation, and to be honest, I don't remember a lot of it because our seats were terrible - we were in the second row, far left, by the wall, and I just felt so removed from everything that was going on.  But I read the play afterwards and found it an interesting take on marriage and relationships.  When I first saw the play, I was in my early 30s and still maybe thought marriage was in the cards for me - that made the characters a little more unknowable.  But Donald always writes such character-specific dialogue with relatable plots that deal with more than the obvious.  I really found that to be the case seeing the show the other night.

As a woman approaching my 50s, with marriage probably in my rearview mirror, now I see Dinner With Friends as a piece about the roles people play throughout their lives, both the roles they assign themselves and the roles assigned to them.  And I found the ups and downs of these relationships quite poignant when realizations were made and lost about the characters' public and private selves.

The first scene is a married couple describing their trip to Italy in great detail to another friend - of course, this made me giggle, because I certainly became a little overzealous describing my trip to people over the years!  But suddenly the friend starts crying and explains that her husband has left her.  Immediately the wife jumps to her friend's defense, while her husband tries to see both sides.  You can see that the married couple, Gabe and Karen, are just as shaken by this news as the friend, Beth, is in sharing it.

The play is seven scenes, most of which are between two of the four characters, though we do have one scene with all four characters as a flashback, which really informs, yet also blurs, what comes later.  As each character tries to navigate their lives post-revelation, it's interesting how Donald sets them all up for success and failure, and maybe the people who are the blindest are the ones who seem most together.

I have certainly found myself, on occaasion, chafing against expectations of who I'm supposed to be and how I'm supposed to behave, so I completed related to all of the characters' highs and lows.  I found myself really feeling vulnerable at the end of the evening - on the subway platform, going home, I felt like everyone was watching me because my walls were down.  I love when theater affects me that completely.

First preview-wise, there seemed to be some weird sounds happening, either in the design, or in the house.  I kept thinking I was hearing music backstage, then beeping.  But I don't know if the noises were coming from backstage or not.  Some of the scene changes were quite noisy, though, but I'm sure that will all be fixed during the preview process.  I think the relationships will tighten up as well and feel more lived in.  It did seem at times that the actors were just trying to remember all their lines as opposed to embodying a character.  Again, I'm sure that will all be taken care of by the opening.  The show is smartly directed and flows nicely from scene to scene.  I look forward to another visit later in the run.

Seat neighbor-wise, I think the couple next to me got a little too into the troubled marriage spirit.  They started arguing as soon as the lights came up for intermission.  The husband was quite disrespectful in tone - I heard snippets of his comments, including "fine, you walk home if you can't answer me" and "that's so typical of you."  He just seemed really unpleasant.  Maybe they shouldn't see a show with arguing married couples again.  Oh, and the house was FREEZING.  I had to wear a scarf throughout.  I hope they fix that.

Last night, I went to a birthday party of a dear friend and my fellow Queens adventurer - what a good time!  Cowgirl is always fun, they make a great margarita, and it was a nice varied group of people.  I chatted with some old friends, made some new ones, wore a silly moustache, ate a delicious quesadilla and got a little tipsy.  Fun fun fun.  It was just nice to sit, laugh, drink and not have to play a role.  Being myself is the best fun of all.  :)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Unfinished Experiment (actually, a food report)

As I wind down my 40s and gaze into my 50s, I think a lot about things I should or shouldn't be doing.  I should be working out.  I shouldn't be spending so much money.  I should be saving for London (actually, I should be saving for retirement, but, hello, I can't go completely nuts).

After work on Monday, a handsome work pal and I went out for drinks and dinner.  I already knew I had plans with my gal pals for Tuesday night, so I thought, "Hm.  Now's my chance to see if I can go drinking EVERY NIGHT THIS WEEK."  That'll close out my 40s, gosh darn it.

The best laid plans, and all that.  I had a grand time Monday, had a grand time Tuesday, and was preparing to have a grand time Wednesday, but was stopped by a little bit of a dainty tummy.  Was my body telling me not to drink anymore this week?  Or was this just a coincidence?  The world may never know.  I guess I'll just have to see if there's another week this year that lends itself to constant partying... ;)

Anyway, for some food chit chat:  Monday night, my work pal and I went to Meson Sevilla on Restaurant Row.  I went there a few years ago for my birthday dinner and enjoyed it.  I haven't had tapas since I went to Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago last summer - tapas is always excellent food to pair with drinking.  Somehow, they just go together.  So my pal and I got a small pitcher of sangria.  Not just sangria, mind you.  Raspberry limoncello sangria!  Oh, wow to the nth degree - it was delicious!!!!  And very potent.  I was quite tipsy when I got home, but as I was drinking the sangria, it just tasted like icy fruity deliciousness.  I highly recommend that sangria.  We also ordered some pan con tomate (which also had serrano ham on it, yum), a spanish tortilla and some chicken croquetas.  Everything was really delicious; they all had good textures, nice depth of flavor and they went well with the sangria (the evening was really ALL about the sangria).  But we did still feel a little hungry (and the sangria pitcher wasn't empty yet), so we ordered a plate of albondigas (little meatballs in a tomato sauce).  Yum yummy.  The meatballs were very light and flavorful, and the tomato sauce had a sweetness that also paired nicely with the sangria.  We were finally full and had no need for dessert. 

After drinking a half a small pitcher of sangria, I needed to walk a bit before getting on the subway, so my work pal and I walked across town.  We were about halfway to our respective subways when I thought, "Gee, I should put my earmuffs on."  That's when I realized I left my earmuffs at the restaurant.  Darn it.  But I was a little too tired and too tipsy to walk back.  So I spent two days without my earmuffs, which was weird.  I guess I never realized how important my earmuffs are.  I do now.

Tuesday night, I met my beautiful gal pals in Chelsea to eat at Le Singe Vert.  We meet there quite a bit - it's near their work and/or apartments and it's just a cool place to be.  The bar is fun, their wine list is excellent, the food is delicious and the waiters are French.  Need I say more?

I couldn't decide what wine I wanted to get, so I asked our adorable French waiter about the grenache.  He said it was pretty good.  Then I asked about the malbec.  He said the grenache was better.  So I guess the malbec isn't pretty good?  The whole exchange made me giggle.  But the grenache was delicious and I will totally get it again.  In fact, I would've had two glasses had I not consumed half a pitcher of sangria the night before and had I not decided to try my 'drink every night this week' experiment.  Had I know about the dainty tummy episode, I might've gotten that second glass of wine!  Oh well. 

I asked our adorable French waiter about that night's specials and when he mentioned lobster ravioli, I knew what I wanted for dinner.  I LOVE lobster and pasta.  It's one of my favorites.  And this dish was so good, though not very attractive to photograph.  The sauce looked like a heavy alfredo, but it was really light and creamy.  It paired beautifully with the lobster, which was in chunks in the ravioli, giving a little texture to the dish.  This could already be a contender for my end-of-year food awards.  I had to stop myself from wolfing it down and felt very magnanimous when I offered some to my gal pals.  Please remind me of this when I complain about being heavy...  I even got some profiteroles for dessert, though I didn't eat them all.  But I love the profiteroles at Le Singe Vert, especially the bittersweet chocolate sauce topping.  They're just so good.

It was another delightful evening with my beautiful gal pals - we always have so much to talk and laugh about, I love being with them.  Plus, adorable French waiters always flirt with them, so it's nice for me to join in the fun.

Maybe it's just as well I didn't carry out my experiment this week.  I've got a couple of trips for work coming up and I'll need to try new food and drink in each locale.  I don't want to get out of control so early in the year.  I should pace myself.  After all, I'm in my 40s for another two months or so...  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Thoughts on Loot and my first musings of 2014

Happy 2014, all!  I spent a lovely two weeks over the holidays with the family - we did next to nothing for two weeks, which was great.  I spent some quality time with my spectacular nephew who gave me the most wonderful Christmas present; I confess to choking up when I opened it.  I again made him laugh heartily with how badly I play Mario Kart.  And my cousin's wedding was beautiful - I even ran into an old high school chum at the reception!  I'll put a few holiday photos at the bottom of the post.  I hope everyone out in blogland had a wonderful holiday, too.

I was very fortunate to travel back to New York before the bad weather hit again (I guess I flew between the two storms).  My flight was pretty smooth, though I was annoyed that although I upgraded to a business class ticket home, there was still a screaming child in the row in front of me.  No, not screaming.  Shrieking.  As if she were being burned with cigarette butts.  And she shrieked practically the entire trip, only stopping to briefly catch her breath and whimper when she herself was tired of shrieking.  Sigh.  Whatever.  In my mind, I know it's not the kid's fault.  I just turned up the music over my headphones and prepared to get back to my apartment.  Good thing the flight was only 57 minutes long...

Side note:  my apartment was robbed in 1996 - I was at a conference for my previous job (in Jackson, MS, ugh.  That awful week in Jackson could be a blog post someday) and when I got back, my apartment door was open.  I was terrified.  I ran to get a neighbor, we called the police, all of my (not very) expensive stuff was gone.  Though some good did come from it - I've had renters insurance since that robbery and my renters insurance saved my bacon after the Great Fire of 2011.  ANYWAY, all this backstory is to say that I am frequently terrified, as I ride in a cab back from the airport, that my apartment will again have been broken into and my stuff will again be gone.  Especially this year, after being gone for two whole weeks.  Happily, all was well.  Everything was just as I left it and the huge weight was lifted.  However, oddly enough, for the first time since I moved into that apartment in 1995, as I wheeled my wonderful new suitcase inside, I thought to myself "Do I really want to be here?"  Not about New York, but about that apartment.  I wonder if it's time to consider moving.  Though I don't know how I could, just paying rent is a hassle some months.  Coming up with security deposits, first and last month rent, and moving expenses are probably beyond my means, but I thought it was interesting that the thought crossed my mind for the first time.  Maybe I'm just bored and should redecorate...

And after that thought crossed my mind, other 'what if' thoughts began to rumble!  What if I finally join a dating service, because coming back to an empty apartment is beginning to seem old, too?  What if I stopped spending all my money on theater tickets and started saving some, or, better yet, actually book a vacation for the upcoming Big 5-0!  I discovered I have enough frequent flyer miles for a ticket to London, now all I have to do is come up with hotel/food/miscellaneous money for London!  I do already have a few shows booked for the coming months, mostly subscription tickets to Signature, plus a couple of other shows I'm seeing with friends.  Will they be enough to satisfy?  I really need to figure this whole budget thing out.  I would love to go to London...

Of course, because I'm me, I did look at TDF immediately when I got back into the office on Monday.  Even though I should stop buying theater tickets, I felt like I needed to see something immediately to get back into the New York State of Mind.  I noticed that the first preview of Joe Orton's Loot was up for a nicely discounted price.  I saw that one of my uber-favorite actors, Rocco Sisto, was in the cast and so I dove right in.  Seeing a show that takes place in London is a good thing, right??  And so I went down to the Lucille Lortel Theater last night to check it out.

Again, it was a first preview, so I'll only offer a few thoughts.  I had a terrific seat in the second row center.  Happily, the show started right on time - how often does that happen?!  Not often enough, as far as I'm concerned.  As expected, Rocco Sisto was a bundle of fun.  I'm a big fan of his and he can, frankly, do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.  I thought he had a great handle on the Orton surreal universe.  Some of his line readings were screamingly funny.  There were a few line tangles (actually, most of the cast had a fumble or two), but there's a heck of a lot of dialogue, so I forgave it.  Once they really get cooking, I think the show will be very fast and funny.  Clearly, they're still finding their footing.  But they seemed to be in pretty good shape for a first preview.

I did a production of a Joe Orton play in grad school, so I'm predisposed, I guess, to enjoy his biting humor.  I had quite a few belly laughs throughout the evening.  Others in the audience (say, everyone else in my row) did not.  There were a few walkouts during intermission, but that's their loss.  I had a good time and am pretty sure it will be a terrific production once they have a few more performances under their belt.  It only runs for five weeks, so if you're into some subversive British humor, featuring corpses and the divine Rocco Sisto, you should check out Loot

I'm going to continue mulling seeing/not seeing theater this year; saving/not saving for a London trip; moving/not moving out of my apartment.  Maybe I'm just feeling a midlife crisis coming on.  Maybe the Big 5-0 is starting to play with my mind.  Who knows?  Maybe I should just start buying lottery tickets...




photo credit: my uncle Ray.  yes, I'm dancing to "YMCA"