Saturday, February 28, 2015

Another Restaurant Week lunch!

I had another Restaurant Week lunch yesterday - the reason I chose this restaurant was: I figure that any place that has the word 'lobster' in the name is out of my price range.  And since City Lobster and Steakhouse was in my office neighborhood, I thought...why not?

Well, it wasn't one of the best Restaurant Week lunches I've ever had.  The food was fine, nothing special - I guess I've been spoiled by all of my fantastic lunches so far.  And the service at City Lobster wasn't that great, either.  So it was sort of a disappointing experience.

I went with my other boss, so at least that was fun.  We always have a good time and had a lot to catch up on - when we're in the office, there's always so much work to talk about, we rarely get the chance anymore to talk about other real-life stuff.  So it was nice to sit down and have a good chat.

When we arrived, about five minutes before my reservation, the hostess looked at us a little askance and said 'do you mind waiting a moment?'  We said no and went over to stand by the bar.  She came over again a few minutes later and asked if we wanted to check our coats and told us we probably should sit down since it would be at least ten minutes before we would be seated at our table.  I said, really?  With the subtext of 'how long do you think we can be here for lunch?!"  She said there was a table available in the bar, so we went to sit there.

Our server was very pleasant, but we rarely saw her.  We had to ask a couple of times for drinks, refills and our dessert order was wrong.  I don't recall it being so busy there that service should've been so scattered, but maybe it was.  I don't know.  We just didn't feel very well taken care of.  And, as my boss said, they should be extra nice to people during Restaurant Week so they'll come back at other times!  Right?!

For my first course, I got the crispy "Point Judith" calamari, which was served with some pickled and spicy peppers and a lemon saffron aioli.  The calamari itself was nicely seasoned and very crispy, though the pickling liquid from the peppers (which were VERY spicy) was pooled too much at the bottom of the dish, so the bottom calamari were soggy.  That was a little annoying.  But the lemon saffron aioli was delicious, I'd love to have that on many other food stuffs.

My main course was the Maine lobster roll (which, of course, had a supplemental fee.  oh well.) which came with fries and cole slaw.  The fries were very good, very crisp and not soggy at all.  The lobster roll was served on a nice toasted buttery roll and was lightly dressed with mayonnaise.  So I enjoyed the flavor very much.  But there was a lot of cartilege in the lobster, so I was constantly picking pieces out of my mouth.  I did not enjoy that very much.  If I'm paying extra for a lobster roll, I expect it to be cleaned before it gets to my table.  I'm picky that way.

Dessert was a tasty key lime pie, very tart with a nice graham cracker crust and fresh whipped cream.  My boss ordered it too, but for some reaason he was brought pecan pie.  And he had to ask twice for coffee.  So, although the food was not exactly bad, I'm pretty sure I won't be going back to City Lobster.  Which is a shame, because it's a nice spot near my office.  Ah well.  Next week, my last two lunches!  I'm looking forward to my usual higher standards of lunch to be met!  :)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Review - Snow Orchid

Last night, a handsome chum and I went to see the revival of Joe Pintauro's 1982 play Snow Orchid.  My handsome chum invited me and I accepted, without knowing a thing about the play.  I've heard of Joe Pintauro, of course, but I hadn't seen any of his work before.  I printed off some reviews, but I didn't read them until after I saw the show.  So I went in pretty blind.

Wow, Snow Orchid is an ugly play, populated with ugly people, saying and doing ugly things.  It was severely depressing and I began to fantasize about the first act ending with a murder/suicide so all these horrible people would be gone and the second act would be the stagehands cleaning up the stage and removing the weird bubble wrap/clear fabric wrapped flats.

BUT.  And this is a huge 'but' because I hated these people, I didn't feel sorry for them, and I wanted them to shut up, BUT I was always engaged and I was never bored.  I wanted to know how everything would turn out (the fact that I didn't like how it turned out was my problem, I guess).  The play had bold, vigorous and passionate dialogue - mostly loathsome dialogue, to be sure, but it was strong and well-written.  So...there's that.

photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
Snow Orchid is about a Brooklyn family in 1964 (wow, what a good year!).  The father is coming home after spending a year in a mental hospital, suffering from (as we discover later) a manic-depressive disorder.  The mother and two sons who were left behind have fashioned a life for themselves without the father, so they deeply resent his return, not only because he's been gone for so long, but because, before he left, he was physically and emotionally abusive to his family.  He returns a changed man (he thinks) who wants to resume his place at the head of his family.

There is a LOT going on in this play, with mental illness - not only the manic depression but also the mother's agoraphobia - abuse, closeted homosexuality, incest and other various ugly things.  I closed my eyes and/or looked away several times to try to not see the terrible ways this family treated each other.  I had understanding, at times, for their pain and suffering - I have mental illness in my family and my grandfather committed suicide after years of undiagnosed manic depression, but I couldn't get past the lack of forgiveness.  Anywhere.  I realize there are crimes that are too big to forgive, but since we only really hear about them, it beame hard to reconcile them.  In my mind, at least.  And I believe I've mentioned before that theatrical bad parents make me really sad.  These are terrifically bad parents.

photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
I didn't think the show was particularly well-staged and I was confused by the set for quite a while.  It took me a long time to figure out the configuration of the house and even after I figured it out, it was still confusing as to when characters were eavesdropping and when they weren't.  I think the Lion Theatre may just have been too small a space for this piece.  I didn't feel claustrophic, just confused.  Having said all that, the show was quite well-acted and since I was so bothered by everyone's behavior, I can assume it was fairly well-written, too.  I wouldn't have believed it so much without some quality in the writing.  I just can't imagine what I'm supposed to gather/learn/understand from this play.  I didn't see any hope or redemption anywhere and I'm not sure I was supposed to, so then...what?!.  Ah well.  I guess I can appreciate the fact that I don't think I know anyone as awful as these people and I hope I never do. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Friends in High Places

It's that time of year again - time for the big work event that I produce and angst over for days, weeks and months beforehand.  I'm ever so glad it's over, but at least it went well.  I think all of our recipients enjoyed themselves and everyone gave such beautiful speeches, it was magical.  We had it at a new venue this year which worked out wonderfully well.  I heard from a few people that this one was their favorite evening of recent memory, so that was gratifying.  And I got a couple of good holiday-card-worthy photos, which I'll put down at the bottom.  I was especially grateful, after listening to everyone's touching remarks, to work in a community with so much respect and generosity, not only for all the people, but for everyone's projects as well.  It was a true night of celebration and I'm happy to have been a part of it.  I'm also happy it's over for another year.  I'm so tired, I can hardly see straight.  I hope what follows isn't too unintelligible...

The following night, I was privileged to be invited to the final dress of Doug Wright's new play Posterity, playing at the Atlantic Theater Company.  Normally, I don't like to make plans for the night after the big work event, but I made an exception here.  I love Doug Wright and I love his writing; I Am My Own Wife was a stunning experience for me.  Since I saw basically a dress rehearsal, I'm not going to say anything, really.  I'll just express my gratitude for being allowed to be there, and I'll also say that everyone should GO.  Here is the desciption of the play from the Atlantic's website:  Norway’s most celebrated sculptor is hired to create the last official bust of its most famous writer, but Henrik Ibsen proves to be an irascible, contentious sitter, as the two men wage war over both his legacy and his likeness. With his inimitable wit and insight, Doug Wright explores the nature of artistic success and the fear of being forgotten.  I think if you've read enough of my blog, you know that Posterity is completely in my wheelhouse.  A play about art, artists, success/failure and Ibsen?  I'm IN.  :)  I'm sure there's work still to be done before the show opens, but I can't state strongly enough I think you should go.  I'm going back, for sure.

I also got a kind invitation to see New York Theatre Ballet last week - a handsome friend used to dance with the company and he generously invited me to be his guest at a performance of their "Legend and Visionaries" program.  The first act had three short pieces, two of which were new, one by Merce Cunningham, and the second act was their Alice in Wonderland Follies, which the company has been performing since 2001.  This was my first time seeing New York Theatre Ballet and I enjoyed watching them very much.  It was crazy to be in such a small theater space and see so much 'big' dancing.  The company is filled with terrific dancers and they were all used extremely well throughout.

The first piece, Double Andante, was a new work, choreographed by Pam Tanowitz.  It's an ever-moving jigsaw puzzle of intricate footwork, turns and angular arm movements.  I thought it was a very interesting piece, danced to a Beethoven sonata.  The movement was all very quick, but never frantic, and it showed the dancers off very well.  It was a nice beginning to the evening.

The second piece was the Merce Cunningham, Cross Currents.  I've seen clips of Cunningham's work on tv before, but I've never seen one of his pieces danced live.  I thought this was a very intriguing piece, with three dancers, two women and one man, apparently created for himself and two other dancers in 1964.  I thought it was interesting how they all used some of the same choreographic language in different ways - there were moments of arabesque with legs pointed in different directions,  there were travels along a diagonal that happened with different timings.  The shapes created in the choreography were very detailed, even with only three dancers.  I will say that the music, "Rhythm Studies for Player Piano" was a little too loud and jangly for my tastes and though it went with the dance style, my ear wanted to tune out.  But that's probably just me.

photo credit: Andrea Mohin
The third piece was also new - There, and Back Again, choreographed by Nicolo Fonte.  This piece was very surreal and dramatic, with one of the four dancers onstage wearing a mask at different times throughout, and watching the different duets, trios and quartets move their way around the stage with each other and apart from each other.  I was very pulled into the story they were telling and I would definitely enjoy seeing this piece again.

After the intermission, we were treated to the Alice in Wonderland Follies, which is just a delightully joyous interpretation of the Alice stories.  It's done as a type of vaudeville, performed in a music hall in the early 20th centuray.  The music is all popular music from the era.  The first time we saw Alice was very cleverly done, using a tiny doll house and a tea cup.  There's a lot of comedy and pastiche, mixed in with lovely ballet choreography.  The piece was terrifically danced by the large company and it seemed they were all having as much fun as we were.  The costumes were also fantastic - I especially loved The Teacups and the Duchess, Cook and the Baby (who was an adorable youngster from NYTB's school).  I had a smile on my face throughout and I'm only sorry I saw the show at the next-to-last performance - I would've loved to have gone back with my goddaughters.  But I'll keep my eye on their schedule and try to see New York Theatre Ballet again.

I'm quite the fortunate girl to have so many friends who can offer me tickets to such unique offerings around town, and also to work in an office where I can meet and mingle with so many fantastic people.  They always make me feel grateful and inspired - especially inspired to 'pay it forward' whenever I can...

photo credit: Douglas Gorenstein

photo credit: Douglas Gorenstein

photo credit: Douglas Gorenstein

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter Restaurant Week is Here - Hurrah!

When I got the e-mail that Restaurant Week is again upon us, I was so happy!  I keep looking at the list of participating restaurants, trying to figure out which places I want to try.  I normally pick restaurants that I've long wanted to try but can't really afford, so the first choice was Mario Batali's Spanish restaurant Casa Mono.  My boss also wanted to get into the act - his way to choose was to look at the restaurants in the vicinity of our office.  Fine with me.  So, last week, I had my first two Restaurant Week lunches (I have a couple more coming up; thank heavens Restaurant Week is actually three weeks long!).

Thursday, my boss and I went to Triomphe, a very nice French restaurant in the Iriquois Hotel.  Even though it's in my office neighborhood, I've never been there before.  It's a lovely spot, very elegant and quiet, and rather Impressionistic in look (the faux Monet artwork helped with that feeling, my boss coined the term 'fauxnet,' ha ha).  For my three-course lunch, I chose the lobster bisque (which costs a supplemental fee over the normal $25 Restaurant Week lunch cost, but hey, if lobster bisque is on a menu, I will order it), the beef stroganoff "parmentier" and the honey panna cotta.

The lobster bisque was delicious, though not very attractively presented.  It was seasoned nicely with plenty of rich lobster meat throughout.  It was a very nice starter.  My boss ordered the french onion soup and he said it was very good, too.

We both enjoyed the beef stroganoff entree.  It was a rather deconstructed take on the classic dish.  Anything that is served with a dome of mashed potatoes is fine with me.  The potatoes were rich and creamy, the beef was juicy and the gravy was fantastic.  We practically licked our plates to make sure we got all of that gravy.  Thumbs up on the stroganoff.

The honey panna cotta was also delicious.  It was sweet, but not overly so, very creamy and the pomegranate seeds served alongside were a nice, crunchy and tart taste that uplifted the whole dessert.  Very nice.  I definitely enjoyed my meal at Triomphe and would love to go back.

Friday's lunch at Casa Mono was incredible, though it started off with a bit of an annoyance.  When I arrived for my reservation, the hostess asked where my guest was.  I said I wasn't sure if he was coming - the gal told me that I wouldn't be seated as only one diner.  I'm thinking my confirmation e-mail when I made the reservation should've made that clear.  It's not my fault my friend got sick and couldn't join me.  The hostess seated me at the bar instead and I was a tad grumpy about it.  Especially since the gent sitting to my right was left-handed and practically ate with his left arm at a 90 degree angle, which meant he kept bumping into my personal space.  Grrrrr.  But when you sit at the bar you can watch the chef prepare the food, so that made me happy and I was ultimately glad I sat there (though I do still think the reservation confirmation e-mail should point out you may not be seated at a table as a solo diner).  And the left-handed annoying guy left soon after I started eating my appetizer, so that was good, too.

For my appetizer, I got the jamon croquetas with a 'pan con tomate' aioli and tomato raisins.  This was so delicious!  Three croquetas were creamy, salty, hot and yummy, and that rich aioli was really amazing and a terrific accompaniment to the croquetas.  The tomato raisins were also so good, juicy and acidic, perfect to cut the richness of the aioli and the fried salty goodness of the croquetas.

My main course was fried skate wing, served on top of a type of puttanesca sauce with tomatoes, capers and anchovies, along side some sauteed tuscan kale.  I believe that kale may have been splashed with a little sherry vinegar, which makes everything more delicious.  This was another delicious dish, with a very light and delicate fish on top of a bold sauce that had everything - briny, salty, tangy, slightly acidic.  SO good.

For dessert, I actually ordered the sorbet, but for some reason they brought me the churros and chocolate sauce.  I was not disappointed.  Who doesn't love fried dough?  Fried dough tossed with cinnamon and sugar?  Served with a rich chocolate sauce spiced with a bit of chile?  YUM.  Massive yum.

So even though the lunch started off a little disgruntledly (new word?), it ended up being terrific.  I chatted with my bar seat neighbors, the chef and the servers - everyone was really nice.  Maybe the hostess felt sorry for me and told everyone to be nice to me.  I'll take it, though the food was amazing enough to forgive most anything.  I'll definitely be going back.  Maybe even again during Restaurant Week, since the other dishes on the menu looked fantastic.  There was a chicken leg confit/egg dish that looked so interesting, I just might have to try it.

Way to go so far, Restaurant Week!  Looking forward to more good food on the way soon!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review - The Lion

Last year, a number of friends saw the new one-person musical The Lion at Manhattan Theatre Club and they suggested I see it.  As sometimes happens, there just wasn't enough time in my theater-going life and I missed it.  I was happy to see that the show is being revived downtown at the small Lynn Redgrave Theater, so when tickets popped up on TDF, I finally made my way there.

I'm actually a fan of one-person autobiographical shows, I generally enjoy the very personal reveal of lives that can lead to insights about my own life, or at least seem universal while still being specific.  I really enjoyed The Lion too and am ever so glad I saw it.  Starring a charismatic and extremely charming Benjamin Scheuer, the 70-minute musical is a sweet, bare bones production that tells the story of a young man who inherits his love of music from a difficult father - how Ben reconciles the conflicts with his father, learns to respect the flaws in himself and the people he loves, and deals with other crises in his life is told mainly through song.  The songs have a folk-tinge and are truly stories set to music.  I found most of the song lyrics to be fantastic, with many surprises contained within.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Scheuer is a compelling storyteller; he's just so innately likeable and sincere that you're drawn in immediately.  He has a sweet smile and ingratiating style of communicating that I found very appealing.  The stage is very bare, with guitars set up around everywhere.  As the stories spin, a different guitar is used to tell different stories at different times of Scheuer's life.  Each guitar had a sound that helped fill out the expression of the music - as a non-musician, I found that very interesting.  As a person who has also used love of the arts to get through tough times, I related  to many of the feelings he expressed of pulling back into the art instead of reaching out to the people.

The individual songs were terrific and I can certainly see kids using these songs as audition pieces for years to come.  I especially love the song he wrote for his first serious girlfriend, "Laugh."  The song started one way, went somewhere else (with seriously funny lyrics) and ended up in someplace else.  I thought it was very smart without being overly calculating in the writing.  I also appreciated his use of reprise and how the songs meant something totally different when performed the second time.

Scheuer also has a great rapport with the audience, though I also found it interesting that when one audience member decided to leave before the end of the show, Scheuer kept going, but watched the person the entire way out the door - he was acknowledging, yet not acknowledging, that person's rejection of the story.  I guess that's one way to deal with walkouts when you're revealing so much intimate material about yourself.

It takes a lot of balls to tell such a personal story, and not be shameless or manipulative or smarmy about it, so I take my hat off to Benjamin Scheuer.  He's put together a very moving evening of theater out of the sadness (and joy) of his life - he is definitely a talent I'll be keeping my eye on moving forward.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review - The Events

After seeing a new play called The American Pilot about eight or nine years ago (yikes, is it that long already?!), I put the playwright, David Greig, on my list of 'writers to keep an eye on.'  I found that play very provocative, yet very even-handed and not sensational at all, which I found effective in a play about war.  When New York Theatre Workshop announced they would be doing a play of his this season, I asked my Generous Handsome Friend (who just happens to be a subscriber to NYTW) to please allow me to accompany him to the play.  Luckily for me, GHF took me to the show last night.

The Events is being presented at NYTW, but is a production of the Actors Touring Company.  It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won several awards, and has been touring Europe for awhile.  Inspired by a mass shooting in Norway, the play tells the story of a fictional shooting of a community choir, and focuses on the aftermath and how it continues to affect a survivor, Claire.  Claire is a vicar and was the director of the community choir, so she suffers from survivor's guilt and (possibly) post-traumatic stress syndrome.  We see her struggle to understand why the shooting happened, why she survived, and was the shooter crazy or just evil?  Many questions are brought up throughout the evening.

One of the unique features of The Events is that it features an onstage choir and every performance features a different choir from around the city.  They sing hymns and other songs, and say a few lines here and there, representing the community, along with representing (I think) both the choir members who died in the shooting and the new choir that comes from the ashes.  They also serve as a sort of Greek chorus, with some in-unison dialogue and physical action.

A lot happens in The Events, yet, it seemed very static to me.  I was prepared to be overwhelmed with emotion - I even reconsidered seeing the show, thinking it might be just too much for me.  But the qualities that I so enjoyed in Greig's previous play, the even-handedness and the non-sensational qualities, rather hampered the storytelling here, at least for me.  I don't believe it needed to be manipulative or exploitative, but it needed to have some deep emotion to really have an impact.  I was intrigued, I thought a lot of the dialogue was fascinating and could've led to something interesting, but it usually didn't.

photo credit: Richard Termine
The performance was stylized here and there, and more abstract than realistic much of the time, though the actors' playing styles were pretty subdued.  Along with the actress playing Claire, there was one other actor playing all of the other characters, including a psychiatrist, a reporter, the shooter's father, a political leader, and most intriguingly, the shooter.  I found his affect as the shooter most intriguing, the other characters just sort of blended together and I was frequently confused by who was portraying at any given time.  Occasionally, the playwright would throw in a hint, which was helpful, but varying the playing style would also have helped.  Of course, I understand it may have been a directorial choice to have all of the characters in this victim's world seem to be exactly the same, but ultimately, it was also a factor in the distancing from the emotion.

I liked a lot of the ideas behind the piece and I did find much of the dialogue interesting - for example, Clair has a monologue about the moment she felt her soul leave her body (because she was sure she would die) and it was fascinating - but the execution of the ideas didn't quite gel for me.  Also, the choir was a little bit of a disappointment.  Other performances have had choirs who have been performing together for a long time, but we saw a choir sort of cobbled together from a bunch of people who wanted to participate in the show.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just made less of a cohesive statement of the power of the group, since they weren't really a group, just a collection of individuals.  They didn't relate to each other spatially as much as a long-term choir would, so that quality also lessened the impact, I think.  I do want to say, though, that although I didn't enjoy the piece as much as I wanted, I am grateful for my GHF for taking me and we did have a fun drink and snack after the play. 

I also want to say that as I've been typing this, I've been enjoying a prosciutto/fig jam/goat cheese sandwich that is so good, I'm regretting not photographing it because I can imagine it being one of my favorite dishes of the year.  I guess that means I'll just have to get another one soon and take a photo... :)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review - A Delicate Balance

I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I admire Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance.  It's one of my very favorite plays - like most college students, I'd read Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in school, but not much else.  When I got to grad school, A Delicate Balance was on our season.  I watched all eighteen performances.  I was completely mesmerized by the language, the power and the utter hopelessness portrayed on the stage.  The arias, the profound truth.  I just adored it.  Then, after I moved to New York, the great Lincoln Center revival of the play took place.  I saw it at least five times.  That production is one of the best I've ever seen, from top to bottom, just superb theater.  Rosemary Harris, George Grizzard and Elaine Stritch are my gold standard.

When this revival was announced, I admit I was a bit apprehensive - I'm not really a huge Glenn Close fan.  I find her a bit...something.  Studied, maybe.  I feel like I can always see the performance instead of the character.  I realize I'm in the minority, but ah well.  I'm often in the minority.  But I was prepared to be proved wrong because the play she's starring in is just that brilliant, plus, on paper, she's just sort of 'right'.  I've been waiting for months to see the show, and due to much sturm and drang, I finally made it there last night, two weeks before it closes.  And I was...disappointed.

I felt like I was watching a historical re-enactment of a play instead of a play.  Everyone was talking, but no one was living.  At least I didn't see it.  I didn't feel the hopelessness or the rage.  I heard people talking about their pain and terror and rage, but I didn't believe it.  It was lovely, like a painting, and everyone was so...careful.  Beautifully spoken, but sterile.  Inert, even.  Now, I completely understand that this is a valid interpretation of this play and of this type of WASPy family.  But there HAS to be something underneath.  What's the point otherwise?!  Albee is all about the underneath!  I didn't see the underneath.  And I was heartbroken.

photo credit: Sara Krulwich
At times, I felt as if they were trying to hypnotize me, or put a spell on me, using that gorgeous dialogue in a soporific way; as if when they pronounced the words oh so carefully, the meaning would just appear.  Well, no, it didn't.  At least not to me.  I also became obsessed with the costumes, which to me, were just hideous.  I was fuming in my mind about these costumes, which made me realize I was displacing my anger about the play.  Oh, that wacky displacement. 

I did feel that the actors playing Harry and Edna, the neighbors who appear and move in because of their 'terror,' were quite good.  I saw the surreal qualities that I love in this play as they sit alongside the naturalistic settings.  Edna, in particular, was quite frightening at times, which I thought was great.  But on the whole, for me, this production missed the mark.  And I had such high hopes.

I was ready to adore this production, just as much as the last one I saw, because just because you love one thing, doesn't mean you can't love another.  I loved both of the last revivals of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf I've seen.  I've really enjoyed the last couple of revivals of Gypsy, too.  I wanted to love this one and I'm so sad that I didn't. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thoughts on The World of Extreme Happiness

Even though I'm pretty much running on fumes at the moment (and I'm seeing another show tonight - yikes!), I took a friend of a friend up on their free ticket offer to see a new play at Manhattan Theater Club, The World of Extreme Happiness, by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig.  I read an early play of Frances' a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so I was happy to check this one out.

The World of Extreme Happiness is in early previews, so I'll only offer a few thoughts.  It has been done at several theaters previously, but I'm sure they're doing work on the piece here before it opens.  I definitely found this a strong work, with more theatrical highs than lows, and it is a story that I've never seen before.  It took me by surprise, it depressed me and it made me think.  Those are always good things.

The very beginning of the play made me burst into tears at the all-too-real depiction of China's one-child policy and their disdain for female babies.  Many of the problems of modern-day China were referenced in the play, and I did think that maybe there were one too many ideas/plot threads happening.  I was most taken with the story of our protagonist, Sunny, and her desire to lead a more fulfilling life.  But I do understand why some of the side stories had to get their turn, since they did converge at the end, sort of, but...still.  Maybe a little trimming here and there?  I don't know.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy
The acting is mostly first-rate, especially Jennifer Lim (who I adored in Chinglish) as Sunny, and Francis Jue (who I adore in anything he does) as several characters, including Mr. Destiny, a self-help guru who tries to help Sunny fulfill her destiny.  Even though the scene was played as quite comic, I found it profoundly moving at the same time.  A lot of the play was very moving to me, due to the subjugation of women in China and the lack of empathy throughout. There was one performer who I didn't think was quite up the level of the others, but perhaps she just needs more performances to get into a groove.  I also did get a little frustrated at all the doubling of roles - once or twice I thought it would be nice to see a different actor play a particular role, though I suppose the way the play is doubled could be intentional, I just didn't get the point behind it.

Much of the language was quite salty, and, as I've apparently turned into my great-grandmother, I did wince once or twice, but I got over it.  Cowhig has a lovely way with naturalistic dialogue, and also with some flights of fancy to punctuate the surreal conditions that exist in the divide between the 'peasants' and the 'city people' of China.  There's a terrific handout in the Playbill that I found very compelling reading on the subway ride home (no pot smokers this time, thank heavens).  For some reason, I've always found stories about China and Chinese history totally fascinating.  I have no idea why.  So I was engaged throughout The World of Extreme Happiness as well, even with my quibbles, and I recommend people see it.  I look forward to seeing another of Cowhig's plays - I think she has a lot to say about a world and a people I don't know, and a unique way of saying it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An Evening Filled With Second-Hand Smoke

Last night, I was fortunate enough to receive a free ticket to a new play.  It's early in the preview process and I didn't enjoy the play all that much, but I thought I'd do a small report of my evening, if not the play itself.  :)

I was happy to stop at one of my favorite cookie shops before the play to get some treats; I was happy to run into some handsome gentleman friends outside the theater, so we had a nice lively conversation before the show started.  Of course, the house management kept shushing us and our lively conversation (which wasn't all that noisy, thank you very much) because there was a performance going on in the theater's studio space.  Um, hello, if you don't want people talking the lobby, open the other theater space earlier to get the audience out of the lobby.  Seems clear to me.  I felt like I was in high school.  To keep the high school theme going, I was texting during the pre-show (but my phone was OFF during the performance; I follow the rules).  Sometimes, I wonder how I got through life without my cell phone.  Moving on to the play...

First off, the lead guy looked exactly like my first college boyfriend, so that was weird.  I mean, it was CREEPY how much he looked like him.  So that was giving me flashbacks.  Also, yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my surgery, so seeing a play about body image probably wouldn't have gone over big in any way, shape or form.  So to speak.  I did find some of the dialogue sharp, and I did find some of the ideas about accepting yourself as you are, and letting go of the past, and wanting to be looked at instead of always being the one who is looking interesting.  As a woman who has wanted to be beautiful for reasons outside myself, there were themes that resonated, but I mainly found the play arch and filled with pretentious twaddle, which I don't enjoy.  As I was telling an office chum earlier today, this play isn't on my worst-play-ever-seen list, but I didn't enjoy myself too terribly much.

Mainly because there was at least one character smoking on stage during the ENTIRE PLAY.  It was performed in a small space, I was in the third row, and the stench of those herbal cigarettes drove me completely insane for over two hours.  Oh, and there was dry ice/fog, too.  If I were asthmatic, I'm sure I would've had an attack.  But my eyes hurt and my lungs felt scratchy throughout.  I ran outside for some fresh air during intermission (and had a chat with a handsome chum who chose not to return for the second act - he's pretty lucky I don't name names here, ha ha), then went back to see the second act.  When I get free tickets through work, I feel compelled to see the whole show.  And there was a sort-of twist in the second act I wasn't expecting, so there's that.  But that smoke...blech.  It was like being at a bar in the 80s.  The smoke definitely didn't help with my enjoyment/non-enjoyment of the piece.

I think I understand what the playwright and director were going for, but I just didn't like it.  And I guess that's my problem, not theirs.  I wish the show well.  My seat neighbors were seriously discussing things after the show (and I had to climb over them), so there's that.  But just to keep the 'let's fill Magical MissTari's lungs with smoke' theme going, the subways were all wonky on the way home.  My train took forever, which gave one of my fellow passengers the opportunity to light up a joint.  He smoked that stinky, cheap pot all the way to my borough.  And the train got stuck between stops for about a half hour, just to make it even more pleasant.  I'm coughing now just thinking about it.  So, all in all, it was a pretty smelly evening, between the herbal cigarettes in the play and the cheap pot in the subway on the way home.   But, to look on the bright side of things, at least there were cookies!  :)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review - City Of

Last Friday, I went to see a new Off-Broadway play written by an old friend of mine, so you can take my praise with a grain of salt.  I'll never forget the first play of his that I saw - it was about a melting ice cube.  Really!  I was so taken with his imagination and whimsy and I still am.

City Of is a rumination on Paris, dreams and love.  It was inspired, according to playwright Anton Dudley's note in the program, by Rousseau's painting "The Dream," a surreal work where you're not quite sure what's real and what's a dream.  This is a theme that permeates Anton's play.  City Of  is a fantasy, where four random people journey to Paris to fulfill a dream.  While they're searching for personal connection and dream fulfillment, we also see their dreams and how they maneuver through them.  Along with the four people, we also see the charming dreams and longings of a gargoyle and pigeon.  There are absinthe-fueled dreams, love-struck dreams, death-filled dreams, with many surreal and fantastical touches.  I found much of the play simply gorgeous, with beautiful imagery and language.  It's also terrifically designed - the play is presented in the small Peter Jay Sharp Theater space in the Playwrights Horizons building (but not presented by PH) and the director and designer have found some ingenious uses of space, props and lighting to make you feel as if you're in the Paris Opera, the catacombs, several museums and the top of Notre Dame.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Terrifically acted by a small ensemble, I was especially happy to see Suzanne Bertish again on stage - she was quite mournful and lovely as a woman who wants to reconcile the death of her father before her own impending death.  But all of the acting was good and they all had chemistry with each other.  You could feel that what happened to one mattered to the others.  And you could feel how Paris changed them all.  Seeing the play naturally causes you to think of transforming experiences while traveling and how you're looking for places outside yourself to solve some internal problems - I had many moments of deja vu, thinking back to my unsuccessful trip to Paris, and the play just reinforced my desire to get back there.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Although I was quite enchanted with most of the play, I did also feel that it tried to do too much, and maybe there was one too many wrinkle to be untangled, but there was so much that was unexpected and surreally beautiful that I really enjoyed myself throughout.  I liked how the play could be interpreted in many ways and I liked the way it opened my mind throughout.  I will also acknowledge that several audience neighbors did not share my experience and couldn't keep their dissatisfaction to themselves.  I think this kind of piece is always going to be divisive, so your mileage may vary, but a play so different that reaches for a totally different feel should be applauded and supported.  At least in my opinion.  Check out City Of, I don't think you're regret it.  Je ne regrette rien.  Or something.  Excuse me while I go find my Edith Piaf CD...

Oh, and before I forget again, my handsome friend and I went to Pigalle after seeing You Can't Take it With You and I got a delicious glass of cote du rhone and had an amazing salad with duck confit and goat cheese.  I highly recommend them both, maybe after seeing a play that takes place in Paris!  Synergy!  :)