Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello, cyber-friends!  Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone is safe and warm and ready to enjoy a long weekend.  I know I am ready!  I'm glad to be celebrating this year with some beautiful gal pals, though I admit I am thinking longingly of Thanksgivings-gone-by.  I do miss celebrating with my entire extended family, especially my darling maternal grandparents.  I seem to miss them more every day.  Maybe it's because I'm reaching backwards in time, because the present can be so devastating.  When, when will this national nightmare be over?!?!  Ugh, no, never mind.  I don't want to think about it.  Today's a day for happy thoughts, not thoughts of that horrible man or the people who support him.  

Moving on.  I'm also thinking longingly of my Thanksgivings spent in Italy with dear friends.  I'm ever so grateful to have had those experiences - hopefully, I'll get to have more in the coming years!

As always, I have plenty of things to be thankful for this year, such as:
  • my amazing family - most especially my mom, who always takes such good care of me;
  • though my dad is pretty great, too;
  • and my goofball, laugh-riot sister;
  • and Scooter, my doggie sweetheart;
  • PLUS my incredible nephew, who is just the most wonderful young man in the world;
  • my beautiful GNO gal pals AND our wonderful guy pals/plus-two;
  • and my wonderful extended family, with the coolest aunts, uncles, and cousins around;
  • all of my dear, darling friends who lift me up daily;
  • Icy Hot roll-ons;
  • Molton Brown pink peppercorn bath products;
  • Justin's dark chocolate mini peanut butter cups;
  • tater tots;
  • Bagel Bites;
  • Great British Baking Show;
  • the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree;
  • resilience;
  • bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches from a NY bodgea;
  • new Craig Lucas plays;
  • modern medical science;
  • Laver Cup;
  • my wonderful yellow blanket with butterflies on it that my nephew made for me, because he knows yellow and butterflies are my favorites;
  • apple cider doughnuts;
  • Victor Garber;
  • serving only one day on jury duty;
  • press comps;
  • the new coffee bar in our office building;
  • the chance to work with some of my idols;
  • the NY Times crossword puzzle phone app;
  • being able to see so many plays by women of color;
  • Kentucky mules;
  • Snoopy;
  • yoga pants;
  • Ample Hills ice cream;
  • Randy Rainbow;
  • Pixar short films;
  • avocado toast;
  • the Atlantic Theater's mix-fests of new play readings;
  • my hallway mirror which always makes me look more trim than I really am;
  • Boqueria;
  • Paul Rudnick's Twitter feed;
  • keeping up with my college pals;
  • my smart, talented, lovely goddaughters;
  • the Seamless phone app;
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez;
  • those wickedly funny co-worker/drinking pals;
  • Starbucks snickerdoodle hot chocolate;
  • my new bed placement, linens, and mattress topper;
  • my righteous indignation;
  • The Band's Visit cast album;
  • daydreams;
  • reveling in my dear Fellows' successes;
  • cable on demand, for the times when the DVR didn't record Murphy Brown;
  • oh, and the Murphy Brown reboot

I'm sure there's more, but let's stop there.  I'm feeling much thankfulness now, so that's a good thing.  Enjoy your holiday, everyone, and thanks to YOU for joining me here!

Thanksgiving in Rome, 2007

Thanksgiving in Tuscany, 2016

Monday, November 19, 2018

Flashing back

Hey, I haven't done a flashback post in a while!  I thought since this is a shortened work week, and I'm not seeing as much theater as usual (taking a tiny bit of a break for the holiday), I'd post a flashback to a grand night with a beautiful gal pal - who, coincidentally, is one of my Thanksgiving dinner dates.  Plus, while watching a Law and Order marathon over the weekend, one of the stars of the below-mentioned musical was a favorite featured player.  So, that's enough of a tenuous connection to get me to share this old review from 2010.  At least I think it is...

10/20/2010:  Hi guys!  A beautiful gal pal and I had a faboo time at A Little Night Music last night.  Well, she and I always have a faboo time.  But we also enjoyed the show, with quite a few caveats… ;)

My beautiful gal pal had seen the original cast of this revival, but I hadn’t.  This was my first trip to the show.  In fact, I can’t really remember having seen the show before, but I thought I had seen it at New York City Opera.  In any event, the show is lovely with a delightful score.  I wish the director, Trevor Nunn, had done a better job of showing the loveliness.  Yes, there is a ruefulness and a sadness underneath, but there’s also love and joy.  Two things that are sadly missing in his direction of this production.    

The direction is rather leaden, moving at a sometimes deadly pace.  Characters sort of waft on and waft off stage with no real intent.  It just sort of seemed like everyone was moving in slow motion.  And I put that directly at the director’s feet.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
BUT I loved Loved LOVED Bernadette Peters.  Not only is she physically exquisite, but she is really charming and delightful; yet, in the “Send in the Clowns” scene, she is heartbreakingly vulnerable.  Truly, that scene alone was worth the price of admission.  Truly.   Not exaggerating.  So many wonderful layers happening.  I really can’t say enough about how fantastic that scene was.  She was a little much at a couple of other times, but overall, I loved her.

Elaine Stritch.  Sigh.  Of course, she was terrific.  She’s Elaine Stritch.  She's sort of incapable of not being brilliant.  And I'm always so grateful to see her on a stage.  But she completely lost herself during “Liaisons.”  And never really found her way back.  She just sort of sat there, in the wheelchair, and you could hear someone in the pit cuing her, but it took her a while to get the thread of the song back.  She did finally finish the song, but it was so off-kilter, it was not very understandable.  And then I spent the rest of the evening worrying she wouldn’t make it through, which is totally on me and not her, I guess.  Most of the rest of her dialogue was stilted and wobbly, albeit with flashes of brilliance.  I guess she just had a bad night, which is disappointing, because what we DID get when she was ‘on,’ was great.  A salty, quirky, funny Madame Armfeldt actually works pretty well.  And she did look lovely.  And she was so delighted during the curtain call.  But it was sort of an unpleasant experience to watch her.  It was sad, really—even if she was going for a type of dementia for the character, we could tell it was the actress struggling instead of the character.  I hope it was just an off night and she rights the ship soon.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
The supporting characters were mainly fine, nothing special, though I did enjoy Erin Davie as Charlotte, and I liked Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra well enough (more when she was singing than acting, but ok).  The Frederik reminded me physically of Doug Sills, which was distracting to me, because Doug Sills is a Carl-Magnus, not a Frederik.  In my opinion, of course.  And, in fact, I would’ve much preferred Doug as Carl-Magnus.  God bless this boy, but, I’m sorry, he sounded great but he just really didn’t have any charisma.  Which Carl-Magnus should have in spades.  Otherwise, he’s just a buffoon.  Which Carl-Magnus is, don’t get me wrong, but without charm, it’s not fun.  Oh, and I was shocked to see Ron Bohmer playing Frid, the servant.  I would’ve much preferred him as Frederik.  I just loved Ron so much in the recent Ragtime revival, I was surprised to see him in such a small role here.  But he was very good, of course.

So, to sum up, I think Trevor Nunn has not done a good job with this production, but I do think it’s worth seeing for the “Send in the Clowns” of Bernadette Peters.  She is sublime.  And we all must see Elaine Stritch every chance we get.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Preview Thoughts on The Chinese Lady

I am a huge fan of Lloyd Suh - his play Charles Francis Chan Jr's Exotic Murder Mystery was one of my favorites a few years ago (you can remind yourself of my thoughts HERE) and I recently saw a reading of a new play of his that I'm dying to see produced. So, he's one of my favorites and of course I had to buy a ticket to another new play, The Chinese Lady, produced in the Beckett Theater at Theatre Row.  So as not to bury the lede: GO! There are only six or seven more performances and you must see this play. Whew.  OK. Got that off my chest...

I'll go into a little more detail now, though not too much, since I did see the performance right before opening night.  The Chinese Lady is a tale about the first Chinese woman to arrive in America - the self-named Afong Moy.  She arrived in 1834 as a fourteen-year-old and she was essentially displayed, like a museum exhibit, for Americans to pay to gawk at.  This part is true.  She was considered exotic and unusual, so her father sold her to two American businessmen and they brought her to America to be exhibited.  The play takes the basic bones of the true story and builds on it a tale of beauty, agony, cultural appropriation, exploitation, and Western imperialism.  All in a fast and often-funny-yet-still-moving 90 minutes.  

photo credit: Carol Rosegg
When you enter the theater, you see an enormous shipping crate onstage.  The play begins with a Chinese man opening the crate and setting up the exhibition room inside with a bunch of objects that are used to evoke China.  A character even says "I'm sitting in a Chinese room that looks nothing like China."  The lights go down and come back up on an attractive young Chinese girl who addresses the audience directly. She is Afong Moy and she is there for our entertainment.  Her sweet affect and excitement about being in America (she is fourteen at the top of the play) is very infectious.  She is joined by her translator, Atung, who explains the artifice to us: Afong Moy cannot speak English when she arrives in America, so what she is telling us is from her mind.  Atung reminds us that translation isn't all that it appears to be and sometimes the words will not match the intent.  It is a fascinating premise and one that is explored again and again.

Each time we see Afong Moy, she recreates her 'show' for us, with the demonstration of eating with chopsticks, or the tea ritual, or walking on her bound feet, but each time it's a little different, showing us that history often repeats itself and some things never change, but yet as our perceptions change, so do our expectations.  Over the years (and we see Afong Moy over a sixty-plus-year span), we see how disillusioned Afong Moy has become and through her disillusionment, we also see the evolution of the Chinese experience in America; we learn about the horrible ways America has treated the Chinese; and we see a chilling parallel to the crisis of immigrants living in America today. The play is truly brilliant in how it tells one story, which is telling another story, and how what we are looking at is not what we're actually seeing.

photo credit: Carol Rosegg
I don't want to say too much, because watching this beautiful piece unfold was a pleasure that I don't want to take from you.  The show is brilliantly acted by Shannon Tyo as Afong Moy and Daniel K. Isaac as Atung (he has a monologue about all of his thwarted desires that is simply breathtaking) and they have a wonderful rapport and chemistry throughout. They both change and grow and harden over the years depicted, and they deliver the funny dialogue with a light touch and the more serious stuff even more delicately.  They are truly wonderful.  The show is also beautifully directed and designed - this theater is tiny and they truly make it expand and find so many dimensions, it's really amazing.

I highly recommend your going to see The Chinese Lady - you'll see/hear a story you haven't heard before; you'll experience fabulous performances; and you'll think, hard, about what it means to be an American.  This is a very special play and it (and its author, Lloyd Suh) deserves your attention.  But please don't wait because the run won't last much longer...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review - School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play (and a little extra at the end)

I have been kicking myself for missing the original production of Jocelyn Bioh's play School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play last year.  I heard wonderful things about it and I always try to see as many new plays as possible.  Though, since I don't have a time-turner or a trust fund, I can't make it to everything.  I'm so glad that the play is receiving a return engagement!  As soon as tickets went on sale for this run, I rushed in with my credit card.  I didn't want to make the same mistake twice.

Bioh's play won several awards last year, including an award from my company, so I actually got to read the play last spring and loved it.  But I've been eager to see it fully realized on stage - and may I say I was not disappointed in the least!  Sometimes, when you have high expectations and have waited a long time to see something, the final result can't live up to your dreams.  Well, School Girls absolutely was everything I had hoped for.

The show takes place in a girls school in 1986 Ghana.  It concerns a group of girls who are looking forward to the upcoming Miss Ghana pageant and who will be the school's representative at this year's pageant.  The play is so fast and so funny, with charmingly realistic characters and fabulous dialogue.  Paulina (played by the incredible Maameyaa Boafo) is the clear leader of the group; she bullies and ridicules, and think she knows everything (she has relatives in America, and her description of White Castle is fall-down funny), but she is such a force, and so charming, no one can help but follow her.  She knows she is the obvious choice to represent her school at the Miss Ghana pageant and she knows it is her way out.  But when a new student arrives and challenges her status quo, the play shifts.  The way Boafo grows and expands her performance throughout is really fantastic.  You think you know Paulina, but we find out we really don't.  It can't be easy to be an ingenue and a villain at the same time, but Boafo walks that tightrope beautifully.

photo credit: Craig Schwartz
Really, all of the acting is absolutely superb.  The play may be under 90 minutes, but I feel as if I know all of these girls intimately and I enjoyed spending time, and learning so much, in their presence.  A huge shout-out to the entire ensemble:  Latoya Edwards, Paige Gilbert, Joanna A. Jones, Abena Mensah-Bonsu, Mirirai Sithole, Myra Lucretia Taylor, and Zenzi Williams (and the abovementioned Maameyaa Boafo).  Bioh has beautifully written these characters with great specificity, yet with great universality.  And she is teaching us something as well, about self-hatred, internalized racism, female bonding, and so much more.

I'm ready for a return trip to School Girls - I found so much to admire and enjoy, and just had the best time; I'd love to experience it again.  I really look forward to what Jocelyn Bioh brings us next.  You know, I've also seen Bioh perform (she was amazing in Suzan-Lori Parks' In the Blood and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Everybody, among other things) and, like her acting, her writing is so rich in characterization and dialogue, she's just one of those people who can do it all!

To close, I've also seen two other shows recently that I'd like to recommend:  The Thanksgiving Play, by Larissa FastHorse, now at Playwrights Horizons; and Fireflies, by Donja R. Love, at the Atlantic Theatre Company.  I saw both of them during a flurry of work and I just couldn't wrap my brain around coherent reviews of them.  Sorry about that.  But I highly recommend your seeing them both - they're funny, touching, surprising, and told me stories that I haven't seen before.  You probably haven't seen these stories either.  Both productions are very well-produced and well-acted, and both writers are people you should know and follow.  Please.  Go.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review - The New One

I was again very fortunate to receive unexpected comps - this time, to Mike Birbiglia's show on Broadway, The New One.  I will be honest and say I didn't know much about Mike Birbiglia before I saw his show - I had tangentially heard of his work and knew him to be quite popular, but I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the Cort Theater last week.  I walked out a pretty big fan.  I'm sorry to say this will be a pretty short review, though - a lot of the lines are so funny, I'd hate to give them away in advance.  And I've been asked to not give away details about a specific moment, so...

But honestly, I haven't laughed so hard at a piece in a long time.  I found The New One to be really well-constructed and performed, with a lot of terrific spins on familiar tropes.  I mean, he really had me from the very first minute of the show, talking about his couch.  I do love a good couch.  Familiar, comfortable, with some wry twists and humorous slants, the show started off in a low-key place, but ended up somewhere very unexpected.

Actually, a lot of the show was unexpected to me.  Not only because I didn't know Birbiglia's work, but also because the way his mind works was so off-kilter to me.  He's really a wonderful storyteller, and there's a rather surprising arc to the entire evening.  He went in directions I didn't expect, but they were never false or contrived.  And I have to tell you, I nearly convulsed with laughter during (spoiler alert) the section of the piece describing prostate exams.  Sorry, gents, but after all of my humiliating medical tests, to hear humiliating medical tests for men described with all the outrage and pain a man can muster, I deserved to laugh.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
Do I think we need to have more one-man-stand-up-comedy shows on Broadway?  Probably not. Was I maybe at  first a little resistant because I thought, 'ugh, do we really need another cis white man-stunted-adolescent-yutz being self-deprecating and self-aware of his cis white man schtick?'  Yeah, maybe, a little resistant at first.  But I freely admit that I laughed loudly and often during the show and I appreciated the construction and his willingness to declare himself a pretty big jerk throughout.  Not only owning the jerkdom, but regretting it, too.  I'm not describing it quite right, but I did sense the balance and the truth and the regret and the self-condemnation.  All while laughing my head off.  Would I want to spend premium prices for a one-man-stand-up-comedy show?  Hmmmm.  I don't know.  But if you can find a discount and need a good laugh, The New One is a great place to be.  I'm glad I went.