Archive | NYC (there) RSS feed for this archive

Wintery Shakespeare

I just came from New York and saw precious little theater, mostly because I was a.) really disorganized (see leaving job), and b.) a bunch of shows were opening the day I left. Nice work. Thanks very much. Congratulations to me.

So, in the spirit of sharing wealth I don’t actually have, here are a couple of noteworthy productions you might want to catch if you’re on Manhattan in the snowy month of March.

First, go see A Winter’s Tale at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Here’s why: it’s one of the late romances (in with The Tempest and Cymbeline), a little rockier than your average Shakespeare fan is used to and therefore infrequently staged, so if you can find a halfway decent production (which it sounds like Mendes has produced here), you should seize the opportunity. Also, it’s winter.

A word of caution: Ethan Hawke is in it (albeit in a small part) and, in my experience (and, it sounds like, Ben Brantley‘s as well), his take on stage acting is to overdo it with bluster and spittle. God deliver us from slacker movie stars taking to the stage.

Theater for a New Audience has put up a production of Othello that sounds great. If you like that sort of thing. By which I mean men being morons over inconceivably angelic women. If you’re in the mood for jealous rage to thaw a snowy evening, this sounds like a great bet.

New York in Winter

So far, it’s been a trip marked by reversals. You know when you know you’re scattered and you can give the people around you a heads up, “Hey – I’m scattered. Don’t count on me to return the ball after the first bounce”? That’s not where I am. Where I am is racket back, watching the ball come over the net, I’ve got it covered and at the last minute realizing we’re playing water polo.

There are two sides to every story though, right? Same day, two stories.

Thursday: Red eye. ‘Nuf said.
Thursday – the other version: I do not die.

Friday: Feel desperately tired and overwhelmed. In an effort to regain equilibrium, walk so many miles around lower Manhattan that I practically maim myself.
Friday – the other version: Find stripey hat for $16 at Muji. Cannot stop wearing it even though it’s very possible I look deranged. Go see Mike Birbiglia (funny) and have excellent sandwich.

Saturday: Regain equilibrium. Have great dinner at Raoul’s in SoHo with friends.
Saturday – the other version: Same.

Sunday: No sleep. Equilibrium lost track of again, possibly under bed. Make plans to be in three locations at the same time with three different people. As am not able to bend laws of time/space continuum (still), spend the day making excuses on my cell phone. R leaves for Baltimore. Attend Oscar party featuring a woman I used to loathe but have not seen in several years. Turns out, I still loathe her. Some things do not change. Good to know. Lose all my Oscar bets. Go to bed at 3AM upset about not having neutralizing ray gun to take down enemies.
Sunday – the other version: Discover the French toast at 202 (squishy, tasty) and their perfect cafe au lait. See my brother, which could be fraught but isn’t. Help R with some of his work, which never happens because he is Señor Executivo and I am the one who usually needs assistance because Excel is stupid, stupid program and R is a genius. Have play time with friend’s perfect baby (after convincing said baby that I was not a kidnapper). The Academy Awards show wins Most Improved.

Monday: Finally get some sleep. Have lunch, write, scrap all plans outside a 20-block radius. Chat with David at 19 Christopher (which is not going out of business like their neighbor, Hus, thank God). Do not buy the Serge Thoraval necklace I desperately want at Destination. Nice British dude at Tea & Sympathy with ’70’s hair makes me an excellent cup of tea to go in the bitter cold. Overcome urge to buy everything at Murray’s Cheese due to personal recession incurred by leaving job. Instead, pick up red velvet cupcake at Amy’s Breads. Have more Pegu drinks with bro. (Is there any liquor in the Pisco Punch at all? Or has the sustained stress of the last month upped my tolerance for liquor somehow? Does your liver also process stress?) Have dinner with excellent friends at Stanton Social. Order everything on the menu + many cocktails. Get 25% off total bill because we rule. (Also because that is, in fact, their rule: after 9PM Mondays, 25% off.)
Monday – the other version: Same.

Tuesday: 202 breakfast. Writing. Good start. Downhill from there: go to Met, decide against Calder jewelry exhibit as being too blah to justify $20 entrance fee ($20?! I know everyone else got upset about this a long time ago, but the sticker shock has, um, stuck.) Do not buy snowglobe I wanted as, like many celebrities, it is not good looking up close and in person. Go across the Park to UWS. Lose wallet. Recover wallet. Am unable to find the hoodie I want. Go back downtown hoodie-less. Have walked self lame (again). Hurt shoulder injury due to overpurchase of heavy things like books and conditioner (don’t ask). Go to Hable, which is closing their store on Perry St. this Saturday. (So you should go now and get that cool bird lamp I didn’t buy. You’ll know which one I mean: it looks like I made it for you in shop class.) Kristen Johnston is there (and ridiculously too thin). Cannot tell if she is drunk, wildly insecure or just super annoying, but she takes up all the air in the place. Have 100 crossed wires with friend re: evening plans. Have emotional tantrum because am overtired and have had only Levain cookies and no lunch. Get very depressed. Go out anyway. Have wine with friend at Riposo 72. Lose wallet again. Am too tired to care.
Tuesday – the other version: 202. Write. Recover lost wallet (twice). Levain cookies. Find Banksy book at the Strand. Get bag at Hable. Get time with friend, despite Oscar fiasco + tangle of crossed wires + tantrum. Do not die.

Wednesday: Pack. Feel organized and self-satisfied. Leave apartment for leisurely breakfast and to write. Realize will do no such thing as have miscalculated schedule despite checking itinerary four times because that’s how I roll and am bad at math. Panic. Call car service. Car service goes to wrong address. Car service drops me at United. United says flight is with USAir (one mile away, other terminal) despite ticket having been purchased from United and stating United flight number. Miss out on together time with the shuttle lounge, which is a happy place: plugs, comfy chairs, business men who know how to travel (quietly). Have somehow permanently scratched my glasses. Arrive in Boston. Find out that R is attending a conference for the next two days. Have mini breakdown contemplating re-planning next two days.
Wednesday – the other version: Have superior latte (albeit speedy). Score rugelach at Amy’s. Catch flight. Find R. Am definitely not dead.

New York: NoHo Star

nohostar.jpgWhen you go to the Bleeker Theatre – which, by the way, you should, because, if my 2-for-2 experience is any predictor, they put up entertaining shows there – you should hit the NoHo Star on the corner of Bleeker and Lafayette, just across the street. It’s a little too trendy and expensive to be a destinaation dinner spot for me, but the drinks are good, they have boiled eggs on the bar (and who doesn’t love that?), and the baguette sandwiches are reasonably priced ($10-12) and super delicious. I have no other sample set from their menu because I usually only drink there, but those sandwiches should be enough to get you in the door for an early or late light dinner. (It’s mad crowded with what appear to be locals at dinner hour.) The rest of the menu trends towards the $20-$28 range and I just don’t want to eat pricey in a locale that loud and that central. But if you want the best toasted baguette with sliced hard-boiled egg, tomato, greens, capers and aioli, this is your stop. Put a little salt on it before you munch. The bar is good and the house prosecco + raspberry Stoli is a pretty drink for a lightweight evening out.

Houston Street

Overheard: “When I was in rehab, I drank Listerine and, in the spirit of rigorous honesty, I revised my day count.”

That sounds like the statement of a rigorously honest man. Unfortunately, the man’s voice sounds like the voice of a middle-aged jerk who probably doesn’t call his kids on their birthdays.

Another few steps ahead:

She stands four feet away from him, her body already half-turned towards the subway stairs, “Well…thanks for dinner!” He looks disappointed.

No kiss.

I try to type, “I’m at Pegu,” into my phone. My phone suggests, “I’m at Orgies.” No. I’m not. Stop it, phone.


grilledcheese.pngI’m back in New York. This is always a good thing and, in this case, it’s meant to jar me out of any anxiety incurred by leaving my corporate gig. Every silver cloud has a cloudy lining though: being in New York means I missed this year’s Grilled Cheese Invitational. I know. Right? Sucks.

(Not that I was invited. And it is an “invitational”. But maybe they sent my invitation late and it just arrived yesterday and they were holding my seat this afternoon and I wasn’t there. If that’s what happened – and it probably is – that’ll teach them to send their invitations so late.)

Macbeth: It’s No Hamlet

Macbeth, at the Lyceum Theatre, New York. Tickets at

If you haven’t read Macbeth, this is your show. If you haven’t seen Macbeth, this is your show. If you’re a fan of Macbeth, this may also be your show. It’s big, it’s accessible, it’s well-done from casting to staging and it’s original enough that it’ll keep you interested.

It’s set in the first half of the last century in a chilly basement, so no moors and highland mania. The institutional staging is excellently suited to all the blood: dingy white tile and metal furniture on wheels. (The sink downstage stays put, which is just as well given the aforementioned blood.) The tile provides a backdrop for projections of bloody smoke and the forest, among other things. Nice work there. Less so with the extreme sound effects. They are so jacked up that they lose whatever original effect they might have had and register only as, “Goddamn that’s loud.”

Lady Macbeth wears those silky bias-cut dresses that only women with no thighs can rock and her sexy ambition is a convincing reading of the pushy missus. Patrick Stewart is a solid thane and king and does not tug his jacket down once. I appreciate that his Macbeth unravels with sanity. Macbeth is too-often wild-eyed and wild-haired (not an issue with Stewart, needless to say), as if he were not the maker of his own demise. The wilder Macbeths are sexier but Stewart’s makes more sense. The witches are standouts, creepily decked out as nurses, white whimples and grey dresses and all. Their sinister incantations are all the creepier for the saintly uniforms and their handling of the ill and injured and, finally, the dead.

It is big and bloody. It is timely. (Macbeth is a Shakesperean for the Bush age – blood and torture and ambition in the face of clear error.) It is all the things I hope Shakespeare will be. It will draw new fans; it explicates the play. Why, then, was I unmoved? Why did I check my watch every fifteen minutes? Why did I leave with the feeling that I did the right thing but did not enjoy doing it?. After thinking about it for a while, I don’t think it’s the production. I think it’s Macbeth. I’m just not that into him.

As I tried to pin down why, something I’ve noticed in corporations came to mind: the skillsets that make a good worker are not the same set that make a good manager. Good workers get promoted to management because it’s the natural next step up the corporate ladder. They fail because they are unsuited for the role – a role for which they were not hired.

So goes Macbeth. Suited for the battlefield, he brings only battle skills to his promotion, with predictable results. I prefer my heroes paralyzed with misgivings (Hamlet) or evil but clever (Richard III). There’s more drama in their predicaments, more suspense. Macbeth is tragic but not that interesting because the deterioration is so predictable. Given the choice, I’ll go for a story whose ending is less obvious, a story whose progress is less foreordained. This is probably the same reason I’ve never enjoyed the Greek plays much either. Where there is choice, there is agony but where there is no choice, there’s also less interest for me. Macbeth feels to me like a particularly brutal children’s story, a cautionary tale about what will happen when you overreach…or slaughter kings and kids…or listen to witches and your wife…no, wait, that’s not it. Just witches. Which I wasn’t going to do anyway. So I’m in the clear.

Now that I’ve sorted that out, I’m still sticking with my recommendation: if you’re ever going to see Macbeth, see this one. Also, don’t kill your boss. Or children.

Almost An Evening

Almost an Evening by Ethan Coen, directed by Neil Pepe, playing through June 1 at The Theatres at 45 Bleecker, New York, NY. For description and background, click here. For the inevitable Times review, click here.

Go. That’s it. Go. Just go already. There’s no reason not to go, so put on some shoes and get on the subway and go. Even if you’re not a rabid theater-goer, you should go, because this is Coen brother(s) theater, so it’s not what you think it’s gonna be. Stop thinking about it. You could have gotten on your pants already and be out the door.

For one, it’s completely entertaining. Three short plays by Ethan Coen with an all-star-ish cast that includes all kinds of people whose names you won’t recognize but whose faces you will. (Joey Slotnick, Johanna Day, Mark Linn-Baker, and Tim Hopper, who replaced the tasty Jonathan Cake* when the show moved from The Atlantic Theater.)The notable exception here is F. Murray Abraham. His features have gotten even bigger over the years since Salieri, he plays God among other roles and he yells a lot of profanity. What’s not to love?

For two, even if you don’t love live theater, it’s brief – an hour and a half – so it won’t cut into your evening. And it’s not rocket science, so you won’t be depressed afterwards or argue with your date or say things like, “I didn’t get it,” or, “I’m going to have to think about that,” or, “Next time, we’re going to the kung fu festival at the Film Forum.”

On the other hand, if you do froth at the mouth when you talk about the theater, as I do, you will not be left out. It’s clever, it’s interesting and the acting and writing are of a consistently high quality, (even if you there are notable moments when you’re aware that Coen is used to writing for the screen). The plays are a testament to what quick material can be in the hands of capable actors.

For three, it’s at The Theatres at 45 Bleecker (cross street Lafayette), so you’ll already be in a hip neighborhood for drinks afterwards.

For four, R and I are on their web site laughing it up. Click on the Audience Testimonials link on the home page – we’re about halfway through.

*Cake played a a buff and be-toweled Iachimo in the Lincoln Center production of Cymbeline last year. The Coen role also calls for a towel (see photo). That must say something about specialization opportunities in the theater, right? “Well, there’s a towel in the scene…let’s call our man Cake!” I need a go-to niche like that. Please send suggestions if you see them.

Back in New York

Experiencing the usual re-entry anxiety. I met myself on the plane and she was lovely, so that was touching. (More on that later.) While I collect my thoughts and get some sleep, have a look at Sigur Ros’ video “Glósóli” if you haven’t before.

Paul Ford put it better than I could: “What you’re seeing in that video is your grandparents going to heaven when they’re kids.”

Peter and Jerry

Edward Albee is the man. He was my gateway drug into modern theater. When I read The Zoo Story in high school, it almost convinced me to go to Rice because that’s where Albee was teaching at the time. Rice. In Texas. Texas, people. Where the weather is hot and where our President picked up that phony accent. And we all know how I feel about hot weather and our President.

Anyway, a few years ago, Albee wrote a lead-in play for The Zoo Story called Homelife. It covers the hour or so Peter spends with his wife at home before he goes to the park and meets Jerry. Homelife and The Zoo Story are up as a double bill at Second Stage in New York and, if you can, you should go. They close this weekend, so you’ll have to get on the stick quickly.

Oh – and avoid a matinee if at all possible. I didn’t manage that and was subject to a long line of horrifying, substantial matrons waiting for the bathroom and saying things like, “Well, that was strange,” “What happened?” and, “We can talk about it in the cab.” I know these women are the life’s blood of the theater – they like an afternoon out and the play’s the thing – but Lord save me. Also, these women take forever to pee, with their wraps to unwrap and girdles and jackets and pantyhose. So help me God, when I am 70, I will be trim and quick and wear excellent, bold jewelry, swish pants and well-cut sweaters.

The Zoo Story is just as good as it’s always been and the acting is top-notch. Dallas Roberts* carries the day with a pitch-perfect, insistent Jerry. He threatens and sulks and dodges around the minimal set looking scruffy and sad and frightening all at once. It’s a performance to remember. Bill Pullman as Peter is appropriately conventional and nervous and uses his long stretches of silence to good effect.

I can understand why Albee wrote Homelife. The subjects of The Zoo Story – alienation, artifice, failures of communication – attract expansion, as does the nearly silent character of Peter. Despite very good performances by both Pullman and Johanna Day, the execution felt too explicative, which seems to be a feature of the aging male, onstage and off. The pauses in the conversations between the married couple felt more like failing momentum than breakdowns laden with meaning. However, I was glad to have seen the piece and it is still a far stretch better than a lot of what’s out there.

(A day later, I talked to a young actor who had seen the show and thought the reverse – that The Zoo Story was the weaker link and Homelife a triumph. He was by far the most pretentious person I have met in the last few months however, so I’m sticking with my opinion. Perhaps it’s a guy thing, this preoccupation with bringing the point home. I’ll have to think about that one…)

*Google would have us know that Dallas Roberts is also the name of an Academy of Hair Design and Aesthetics in Provo, Utah. In case you look up Dallas, let me remind you that I am referring not to the hair design but to the actor. Despite being preoccupied with Aesthetics, the Academy does not feature in this production.

Williamsburg: Dressler

Dressler in Williamsburg got a star in the new Michelin guide to New York! Go Dressler! We ate there in August on the recommendation of our excellent Brooklyn friends and it was worth every penny.

The place is decorated in what I’d describe as high-end cozy Gothic. A lot of ironwork, ultra-cool chandeliers that look like hand-carved metal. Some places with cutting edge decor balance it out by serving cocktails that taste like they were mixed with the metal polish and food that was looks and tastes like it was designed and cooked by the architect. Not so at Dressler.

The waitress talked me into La Bicyclette, a drink made with St. Germain Elderflower (?!), lemon and cava that was not the fruity, girly confection it sounded like. The heirloom tomato appetizer was perfect (local produce! organic! and so on…) and the wild bass entree was both subtle and flavorful, the accompanying vegetables and sauces a perfect complement to the fish and not at all overwhelming. (In my experience, there’s a lot you can do wrong with white fish and they did none of them.)

Even though we had a box of Magnolia cupcakes under the table, we ordered dessert. How could we not? The place was fantastic. The oven-roasted peaches with brown butter cake and black pepper ice milk did not disappoint. Oh my Lord how they did not disappoint. They did not disappoint the way Paris and Christmas don’t. I swear the brown butter cake was the best cake I have ever had. And the peculiar black pepper ice milk – about which I had another word with the waitress (I’m not sure she loved me…) – was ideally light and cool with the warm cake and peaches.

And then we had cupcakes on the sidewalk. Hooray!