Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

Christmas Peeps

I know it's time to head to Pennsylvania for Christmas when the holiday Peeps are all laid out, I've consumed a batch of gingersnap from Michele and I'm yearning for a trip to the tropics.

But who wants to be in a sun-and-surf paradise when there's so much great theater to see in cold and icy New York. I used some downtime last week to catch up on some shows that were just about to close — the messy but wonderfully acted and directed Prayer for My Enemy and Danny Hoch's hilarious Taking Over — and some that were just opening — Gina Gionfriddo's cutting, perceptive and hilarious Becky Shaw and Shrek the Musical, a show that's funnier and more delightful than it has any right to be. (It actually did a better job of putting me in the holiday spirit than the pleasant but staid White Christmas.)

And what a revelation Daniel Breaker is as Donkey. He's charming, funny but able to rein it in when tender moments are called for and always in the moment. How nice to see an actor play two such contrasting roles in successive seasons (he was the younger version of Stew in Passing Strange last year). It's one of the joys of being able to see so much theater year after year, a blessing I am grateful for.

Since the show features a leading man in greenface, I couldn't help thinking about environmental issues. As we took our seats, my pal Annie predicted that this would be a "confetti" show — and sure enough, we left the theater brushing little circles of paper out of our hair. Aside from the practice being annoying, is it environmentally sound in these times? When folks are paying $111 a ticket, I'd hate to deprive them of the thrill of having colored tissue paper dumped on their heads if it makes them feel like they're part of the show, but if others will join forces with me, I'm prepared to do my part to get this practice stopped.

Monday, December 22, 2008

404: Not Found

Ah, what a pain it is to get an error code when you're so diligently searching for an important web page. That's why I think fantasy author Patricia Briggs deserves a shout-out for making me smile rather than scowl today when I encountered this little gem of an error message on her site:

"Alas, the page you requested,'/books/nextbooks.shtml', appears to be missing.

Since I'm sure you didn't take it, we are at an impasse. Why don't you check your spelling, and retry the link. If it still doesn't work, then obviously some gremlin has broken my web site. Please drop me a line, and I'll have my local computer nerd fix it!

Best Wishes,
Patty Briggs"

If only my tech-service queries with Dell could be half as amusing ... or even literate!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa Pause

Bill Coelius and Lusia Strus in The Truth About Santa.

Even when you see scores of plays each year, there are some theatrical experiences that remain embedded in memory. I'll never forget the gut-busting laughter that erupted from me as I watched Urinetown when it was still a little Off-Broadway musical at the American Theatre of Actors back in 2001. I enjoyed it as much as I had The Producers, which I'd seen just a month earlier.

As much as I laughed that evening, I sat bewildered throughout most of The Truth About Santa, a muddled, wannabe satire from one-half of the Urinetown creative team, Greg Kotis. My review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Latter-Day Williams

Mia Kastigbak and Eduardo Machado in Out Cry.

For the second time this fall I had the chance to catch a latter-day Tennessee Williams play. Unfortunately, I found the always ambitious National Asian American Theatre Company's production of the little known Out Cry just a bit messy.

I had a similar reaction to Small Craft Warnings , which I caught, but didn't review, on an evening when the house housed plenty of my former Back Stage colleagues (and aren't there a lot of former Back Stagers walking around these day, with all the recent layoffs).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Prayer and Thanks

Victoria Clark in Prayer for My Enemy.

Hope everyone had a lovely food- and fun-filled Thanksgiving. I'm at my mother's in eastern Pennsylvania, after spending a relaxing day with family and friends.

Overall, I've had quite a bit to be grateful for this month, and I'm including election night (thanks for throwing the party, Adam). As a result, I'll be curious to see how critics and audiences respond to Craig Lucas's Prayer for My Enemy, now in previews at Playwrights Horizons. I read the play just after the election, for an interview with the lovely Victoria Clark for Time Out New York, and beyond being a provocative drama, it's also one firmly rooted in an era of war and fear as it makes a case for hope and peace. That we'll be able to see it at a time when this country is filled with both those things is something else to be thankful for.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Love and the Republican Way

I think any chances of this book becoming a bestseller after Tuesday are nil.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not-So-Masterful Builder

James Naughton in The Master Builder.

Having enjoyed James Naughton's work in the musical Chicago, the play Democracy and his own cabaret show at Feinstein's I was looking forward to seeing what he could do as the tortured Solness in The Master Builder.

He hasn't performed that much in the last couple of years, although he had a small role as Meryl Streep's husband in The Devil Wears Prada and his voice reverberates throughout the Cialis commercials that always seem to be running on TV.

Unfortunately, I thought Ibsen's role fit him like a potato sack. My review.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wonder Woman Wows

I started off this week drinking pink champagne two days in a row, on Monday afternoon at a bridal shower for a co-worker who's tying the knot this weekend, and Tuesday night to celebrate the premiere of Lynda Carter's new cabaret show.

I'm always happy to accompany my friend Brian to Feinstein's when he's in need of a plus one. Not only are the wine and food delish, but now that theatergoing is becoming an increasingly casual affair, it's nice to have occasion to dress up and pretend to act like a sophisticated Upper East Sider.

Although I loved Wonder Woman as a kid (even dressed as her for Halloween 20-some years ago), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the show, how eclectic Carter's musical taste is and what a dynamic stage presence she has (not to mention how amazing she looks at 57). Also in the house were Alan Cumming and Cheyenne Jackson ("representing the gays," a colleague joked), whom she seemed to enjoy posing for photos with after the show.

She went from bluesy standards like "Put the Blame on Mame" and "Fever" to Paul Simon ("Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"), Patsy Cline ("Crazy"), Bonnie Raitt ("I Can't Make You Love Me") and even performed a tune of her own ("Toto"), which appeared on her 1978 Portrait album (yeah, somebody in the audience had a copy of the original LP on hand). Her whimsical sense of humor about her iconic past -- Wonder Woman, TV movies and TV specials -- was enchanting, and it's one of the reasons I searched YouTube for clips. My favorite, for sheer energy and camp value, is the one above.

Friday, October 17, 2008

From Sorrows to Kindness

Annette O'Toole and Christopher Denham in Kindness.

I can't argue with folks who say that Adam Rapp, an author I've written quite a bit about, essentially writes the same unapologetically autobiographical play time and again, but I would point out that you could accuse Tennessee Williams of doing just that.

If not much seems to happen in terms of onstage action, there's a vast amount of tension percolating just under the skin of his characters that more than compensates. That's certainly the case with his new play Kindness, which I had the opportunity to review.

His plays often linger in my psyche for days after I see them because there's so much packed into them. One way he illustrates the generational and intellectual gap between mother and son is by showing her still listening to '80s music on cassette tapes while he and his young female friend text-message with their cell phones.

As with his first non-young-adult novel, The Year of Endless Sorrows, which I read earlier this year, he seems to be becoming less of an angry-young-man writer. In Kindness he demonstrates more compassion and understanding of the parental characters, and in Sorrows I was quite touched by how effervescently he depicted falling in love:

"It was at this moment -- on a New York City bus traveling west while snow was passing diagonally across the aquarium-like windows, while two seemingly insignificant lives were converging like windswept birds approaching some rapturous shore at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, on the cusp of our great holiday season, in late December of 1991 -- it was at this precise and overly written about, verbally investigated moment that I knew with the certainty of a diamond cutting glass that I would fall face-first in love with Basha."

And in both Sorrows and Kindness, he pokes fun at plays that have starred his brother, Anthony: In the former a play at the Atlantic Theater Company called Trafficking in Broken Hearts becomes Traffic Lights and Broken Bridges, and in the latter Rent becomes a similarly-themed Broadway musical called Survivin'.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Next Best

I recently went back to the beginning of Jasper Fforde's smart, witty and laugh-out-loud funny fantasy series featuring intrepid literary detective Thursday Next, who toils to keep great books safe from those out to destroy them (trust me, it makes sense when you read the books), for an interview with the author.

Aside from its fearless, female protagonist, what I love most about this series (which presently totals five books, The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten and Thursday Next: First Among Sequels) is that it celebrates a world in which books are so central to life that kids trade cards featuring authors and fictional characters instead of sports heroes, and zealots go door to door not to preach religion but to try to persuade folks that Francis Bacon actually wrote Shakespeare's plays.

In fact, one of my favorite passages from the book I recently finished, Eyre Affair, involves crimes against Shakespeare:

"He opened the door a crack to reveal two officers in shirtsleeves who were interviewing a man dressed in tights and an embroidered jacket. ...

'Malin and Sole look after all crimes regarding Shakespeare. ... They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overly free thespian interpretations. The actor in with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night. Persistent offender. He'll be fined and bound over. His Malvolio is truly frightful.' "

I realize that as a theater journalist I probably should be more supportive of innovative and unique interpretations of the Bard, but having sat through some truly awful and uninspired Shakespearean productions, sometimes I can't help wishing that "overly free thespian interpretations" were an arrestable crime.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Taboos Then and Now

A scene from Taboos.

As I tried to describe the twisted family saga that unfolds in scientist Carl Djerassi's Off-Broadway play Taboos in my Time Out review , memories of the wonderful and hilarious '70s serial sitcom Soap — speaking of shows that deal with taboo subjects — kept flashing through my mind, particularly the recaps that aired at the start of each episode to keep viewers up to date on all the evolving antics. Each one ended with the announcer reassurance: "Confused? You won't be after this episode of Soap."

Taboos may be a fairly lumpy play, but it was nice to see a show about a provocative subject matter — the ethics and emotions of reproductive technology — that wasn't overtly political or drenched in irony.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Plays of the Times

A scene from The Invitation.

Politics and the global impact of American wealth aren't just the headlines of the week; they're also the focus of two plays that I caught last week and reviewed: the biting and bloody The Invitation and There or Here , which examines baby-making outsourcing to India.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sweet Smell for Pittu

Peter Bartlett and David Pittu in What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling.

The first time I remember seeing David Pittu in a show he played a waiter in a quirky little musical by Craig Lucas and Craig Carnelia called 3 Postcards produced by the old Circle Rep. That was more than a decade ago, when I was still a junior editor at Back Stage. A couple of years ago he again played a waiter in Celebration, part of a Pinter double bill at the Atlantic.

Perhaps it's because I saw the show on a frigid January afternoon that his character's loneliness and despair, which is strikingly revealed in the play's final moments, was so haunting. Or it just could be that Pittu's a terrifically versatile actor whose been flying under the radar, despite two consecutive Tony nomination, playing a varied array of supporting characters but not really breaking out into leading roles.

Well, he's the star, co-writer and co-director of What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling, which I had the chance to talk to him about for this Time Out New York feature. It just started previews yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to see it yet, but with Pittu and Peter Bartlett, who were both hilarious in the too short-lived Never Gonna Dance a few seasons ago, headlining, I expect gut-busting laughter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Super Memories

Christopher Reeve as Superman.

Trying to make the most of the last weeks of summer, some friends and I took in the final outdoor movie of the season in Bryant Park Monday night -- the original Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, which I had only the vaguest childhood memories of. Among the things I didn't remember, or never realized in the first place:

1) Christopher Reeve, who's an absolute stunner, was billed below the title -- after Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman.

2) Lois Lane has one of those grand Manhattan apartament -- in a high-rise building with a terrace -- that only newspaper reporters in movies can afford. (Are we sure she wasn't taking payola from Lex Luthor?)

3) The screenplay, co-written by Mario Puzo, is filled with an array of delightfully sexy and suggestive banter, especially in the scene where Lois and Superman first meet, and Reeve and Margot Kidder really make the most of it. Among other tantalizers, Lois tests Superman's X-ray vision by asking if he can discern the color of her underwear.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Shorts of Summer

David Beck and Mary Joy in "On a Bench."

Summertime in New York City brings humidity, interesting subway odors and a plethora of short-play and one-act festivals Here's my review of Summer Shorts 2: Series A.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pimp Daddy

Don Reed in East 14th.

Because I'm so down with the street, Time Out assigned me to review Don Reed's one-person show about growing up with his very own pimp daddy, East 14th.

Monday, July 21, 2008

At Least the Music's Good ...

Did you know that the IRS does not forward your economic stimulus check? If the address on it is old, it goes back to them. I learned that the hard way last week, when I realized I still hadn't received my $600 check. And get this -- when I tried to transfer to an operator to give them my new address, I couldn't even get on hold! It took a few more calls before I even got to that stage, and when I finally did, it took me an hour before I was at last transferred to a live person.

Fortunately, during the wait, I managed to get some editing and proofreading done thanks in no small part to the IRS's hold music: Mozart, Tchaikovsky and other classical composers rather than bland Muzak. At least there's one thing that the federal government is doing right.

Monday, July 7, 2008

From Whence They Came

The statues of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Our main reason for going to the Brooklyn Museum was to catch the much-ballyhooed Murakami exhibit before it ends next this weekend, but as we were leaving we stumbled upon Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (how's that for an imposingly named wing!).

I wasn't familiar with the piece when reviews of Manhattan Theatre Club's recent revival of Top Girls referenced it, and now that I am I'm even more impressed with Caryl Churchill's ability to take inspiration from a rather dry and didactic installation and find such wit, humor and heart.

One omission from Chicago's dinner party of 39 notable women in history that seems particularly egregious to me is Eleanor Roosevelt, especially because I spent Saturday in Hyde Park, N.Y., traipsing around the wonderful FDR Presidential Library and Museum (pictured), including a side trip to the home Eleanor called her own.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

Natalie Mosco in A Brush With Georgia O'Keeffe.

A Brush With Georgia O'Keeffe was certainly educational, even if it didn't get under the canvas of its subject as successfully as Sunday in the Park With George or Edward Albee's Occupant did. My Time Out review.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

That's Dickey, you $*^)!

My boss asked me to forward her contact information for the novelist Eric Jerome Dickey, and we couldn't understand why my e-mails, which had his name in the subject line, weren't going through.

Then she remembered that she'd programmed her e-mail to send all messages involving the word "dick" to spam because we'd been getting copious amounts of penis-enlargement spam with very graphic photos. Sure enough, problem solved!

Could this mean that Iona Nipple's friends are wondering why they don't hear from her more often?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kid Glover

Julie Hagerty, Christopher Evan Welch and John Glover in The Marriage of Bette and Boo.

Although he's hardly a kid anymore, John Glover still talked about acting with a young man's passion when I interviewed him for Time Out New York. Some actors bristle when reminded that they once appeared on soap operas, but he spoke enthusiastically about his stint as an evildoer who kidnapped beloved matriarch Mary Stuart on Search for Tomorrow, where my mother and I first noticed his talent.

Now that his character's been bumped offSmallville, I hope he'll be spending more time on the New York stage in shows like The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Incidentally, when I pulled out my copy of the script to reread in preparation for the interview, out popped a program from an NYU production of the play from more than 15 years ago. In the cast as Matt, the narrator and son of the title characters — Rainn Wilson.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eloping in Newport

Postcard from the altar.

I'd always wondered why people go to flea markets and antique stores to purchase other people's old postcards and photographs. Then, during a Memorial Day weekend in the country with friends, we took a trip to Millerton, N.Y., where I stumbled upon this gem at an antique market.

It says, "Hello Girls, I eloped Sat. nite and am on my honeymoon. Having a swell time. Are you surprised? So am I. Harold"

For only $1, how could I not pick it up? This is the sort of thing that could spark a writer's imagination and inspire a book or play. Exactly who were Ella and Grace Anthony, and what was Harold's relationship to them? The Newport address makes me wonder if they come from old money? This is something I will probably spend way too much time pondering?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Making Ice

When I overheard this conversation at a Dunkin' Donuts on Second Avenue yesterday, I thought my grandmother, who I loved and lost 15 years ago, had risen from the dead:

Older woman: How much is an iced coffee?

Counter guy: $2.39.

Older woman: Oh, I don't have that much. How much is a regular coffee?

Counter guy: $1.61.

Older woman: I'll have that. Can you put a few ice cubes in it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Killer Tomatoes & a Killer Reunion

I nearly broke out laughing in the deli yesterday when I saw this headline, before I realized how serious the situation could turn out to be.

I've actually never seen that legendarily awful '70s horror flick. (Somehow the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys never got around to riffing that one.) But I eagerly anticipate the planned remake.

And speaking from Mystery Science Theater, I was sorry to see that the web site for MST3K spin-off The Film Crew is down, which I guess means no more DVDs from them. On the plus side, the original MST3K gang has a second DVD under its Cinematic Titanic moniker coming out this month.

And, perhaps most delicious, there's an MST3K reunion scheduled for San Diego Comic-Con in July.

Is it really as historic as I think it is? Isn't this the first time Joel and Mike have appeared together post-MST3K?

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Muse of Hate

I love the plot summary for The Cordelia Dream, a commissioned play from Irish scribe Marina Carr that's receiving it's world premiere in London this winter with the RSC :

"A musician and his rival, a younger woman, are having a long-awaited conversation. As they spit their mutual malice with precision they question the hatred that has fuelled their desire to outdo each other in pursuit of art. With echoes of King Lear, The Cordelia Dream promises to unpick the belief that a muse must be made of love."

It's true in politics as well as art, I think. And that's why I hope that Obama will pick Hillary as his running mate.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ben Who?

Laura Linney and Ben Daniels in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

One of the most delicious things about the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is the performance of British actor Ben Daniels, who's making his maiden Broadway voyage in the role of Valmont, the seducer who gets seduced, a role originated in London and on Broadway by Alan Rickman.

When I interviewed him after an early rehearsal , he displayed a genial sense of humor about his anonymity. And when he got up to open the door of our interview room after thinking he'd heard a knock and no one was there, he quipped, "The ghost of Alan Rickman."

Friday, May 23, 2008

"We've Missed You Diane"

It's always nice to know that you're missed. Yesterday I received an e-mail with the above as a suject line, but it came not from an old school chum or former co-worker, it was from Fandango.com. Apparently the last movie tickets I bought from them were for The Stepford Wives, and they miss my business. I'm not sure if I'm more disturbed that Fandango is keeping such close tabs on my ticket-buying or that I actually pre-purchased tickets to that horrible Nicole Kidman/Matthew Broderick remake.

Speaking of remakes, I'm watching a 1955 musical version of My Sister Eileen on TCM, but it's not Wonderful Town, and the songs definitely aren't by Bernstein, Comden and Green. It stars Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett and someone named "Robert" Fosse before he shortened his name. Thankfully, according to the TCM website , they decided not to use the alternate title -- "The Gay Girls."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Song of Norway

The Norwegian Independence Day Parade from my window.

It's not exactly the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, but last Sunday I discovered that my (relatively) new apartment has a bird's eye view of the Norwegian Independence Day Parade. Which meant lots of bagpipe music pervaded through my walls in the early afternoon.

Here are some much better photos for those who care.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Season of Wooing

Swag at my mailbox.

One of the fun things about this time of year is all the packages from theater press offices that clutter up my mailbox. (The two above, from Young Frankenstein and Gypsy, arrived the same day.) The occasion, of course, is voting for the Drama Desk Awards, which I will do in two days.

Of course none of these trinkets are going to sway the way I vote. In fact, without getting into specifics, I can say that most of the shows I'll be voting for have sent me absolutely zero in the way of CDs, souvenir programs, scripts, etc. It's it funny how like dating this is? The guys who know they're hot are fully aware that they can win your affection through wit and sex appeal alone, while the ones who aren't quite so sure of themselves have to try a little harder.

But what can I say? At heart I'm a girl who loves to get gifts, whether it's a Xanadu book, the script to Gypsy with Arthur Laurents' handwritten changes, a Young Frankenstein souvenir program or video footage from A Catered Affair and Next to Normal, and it's been awhile since I've had this many suitors eager for my attention.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Jetting Off to Broadway

The Boeing-Boeing display at Flight 001.

Oh-so-trendy Smith Street in Brooklyn isn't where I'd expect to find a stores cross-promoting a Broadway show. So imagine my surprise when I came upon this interesting bit of marketing for Boeing-Boeing, complete with T-shirts and mugs, in the window of pricey travel store Flight 001.

Targeting a Broadway show about a philandering airline pilot with three girlfriends to people who do a lot of traveling? Perhaps my soon-to-be-former congressional representative Vito Fossella will be interested.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Eyes Sore

Martin Sola and Terumi Matthews in All Eyes and Ears.

One of the more interesting aspects about Rogelio Martinez's All Eyes and Ears, set in 1961 Cuba, is the way the Castro government seemingly empowered women as equals while at the same time dumping the lion's share of the family workload on them. I wished I'd enjoyed this INTAR production more.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Castle of Redemption

Angel Ramos, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan and Casimiro Torres in The Castle.

Although I had a mixed reaction to The Castle, it's still one of the best things I've seen at New World Stages in some time. The creators of the tedious My First Time, which shares a theater with The Castle could learn a thing or two about effective documentary theater from director David Rothenberg.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Charles Isherwood Has Ruined Theater for Everyone"

Mike Daisey in How Theater Failed America.

No, I don't really believe that, but it's one of my favorite lines from Mike Daisey's latest cutting monologue, How Theater Failed America, a show that's chock full of memorable quips. I doubt Daisey actually believes it either; that line comes at the beginning of the show as he imagines what audience members are expecting him to say (i.e., "I hope he talks about Disney" "Maybe he'll mention the New York Times").

Two nights later I saw Isherwood at The New Century and wondered if he knew that he was a part of Daisey's show. Earning such ire from the New York theater community as the second-string Times critic is no easy feat, but someone has to be the whipping boy, so I hope he enjoys the notoriety. My review of Daisey's latest.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Politics and Plays, New and Old

So glad to see that my home state of Pennsylvania gave Hillary Clinton such a resounding victory in the primary yesterday. It was odd to see all the Clinton/Obama supporters out in force when I was in Pittsburgh over the weekend. Even if the primary process feels like one of those time loops that the Enterprise would often get caught up in various Star Trek episodes, I'm glad to see that Hillary's tenacity — perhaps stubbornness is a better word — is paying off. They're not only qualities I admire, they're qualities I embody far too often.

Although I didn't check out Rabbit Hole at the Pittsburgh Public Theater or Dakin Matthews as King Lear during my trip, I have been spending many an evening at theaters in New York. I was surprised at how dated much of Paul Rudnick's The New Century felt. "Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach," which nearly caused me to bust a gut laughing when I first saw it at the EST Marathon about 10 years ago, hasn't aged well in our post-Will & Grace world. I wish Rudnick had written a whole new piece for the fabulous Peter Bartlett instead of attempting to freshen up the old one with a John McCain. The only one of the four segments that I thought was genuinely funny and moving was the one featuring Jayne Houdyshell as a midwestern mother who'd turned to crafting after the death of her son from AIDS.

Manhattan Theater Club's small Stage II was packed for Tuesday night's performance of The Four of Us, a really smart, only occasionally self-indulgent play about how the friendship between two young writers falls apart in the wake of success and jealousy. Sure, ince the play's supposed to be based on author Itamar Moses' friendship with Jonathan Safran Foer, I was a little more interested than I might ordinarily be, but I was impressed and moved at how well and how subtly Moses depicted the power struggles and shifts that occur in friendships over time and the pain that occurs when one person needs more than the other is able to give.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Can We Talk?

David Mogentale in The Conversation.

More than a decade ago a boyfriend first introduced me to the work of 29th Street Rep, a company that had the perspicacity to produce Tracy Letts' first play in New York long before he became a Pultizer Prize-winning sensation. I'm happy to see the company back after a two-year layoff with some longtime members and new faces as they celebrate their 20th anniversary. Here's my review of The Conversation.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Enchanted Afternoon

Paulo Szot and Kelli O'Hara in South Pacific.

It's been more than a week since I caught Lincoln Center's South Pacific revival, but the wonderful songs from that nearly pitch-perfect production are still resounding in my head. When I started crying during the overture, as the stage rolled back to reveal the 30(!)-piece orchestra, I knew it was going to be an emotional afternoon.

I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to go a musical and be so thoroughly moved and enchanted by the music. Usually if there are a couple of songs worth remembering I consider it an evening well spent. To hear a score in which nearly every number is emotionally vigorous is almost too much to hope for these days.

Another reason I was so moved is that it's my mother's favorite musical, and I'd never before seen a full production of it, just bits and pieces on TV from various movies and broadcasts. My mother and I don't have as much in common as I would like, so I appreciate these little patches of common ground when I find them.

The first time I remember hearing one of the songs was a Sunday morning in the late '70s or early '80s. It was "Happy Talk," and it was because my mother was watching the film on TV. I, of course, could only think about my needs and wanted her to turn it off so that we could go to the mall or a movie or something. This was pre-VCR, so it's not as if she could just pop in a tape and watch the rest.

Needless to say, I regret not sitting down to watch the rest of the movie with her. Does an apology count if it's nearly 30 years too late. Just in case: I'm sorry, Mom!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Emotional Forgeries

Austin Pendleton, Thom Christopher and Justin Grace in Another Vermeer.

Last week was a bad one for plays about frustrated painters. Another Vermeer, about a notorious forger, felt as inauthentic as Dutch painter Han van Meegeren's fake Vermeers (though it was good to see former One Life to Live villain Thom Christopher again). My Time Out review.

I liked Marcy in the Galaxy a little more. The opening number was quite hopeful and charming. Then the music stopped, the characters started talking and I knew we were in trouble. I think the point was for Marcy to come across as amusingly neurotic, but, even when played by an actress as lovely as Donna Lynne Champlin, she was such an unappealing mess that it was hard to sympathize. Yet she was far from the most insufferable character on stage. That honor rests with the two bitter old women eating in the same diner who spew venom at each other and everyone around them. (Leonard Jacobs' Back Stage review nicely sums up the situation.)

Why three of the six characters in that show are only peripherally connected to the titular character, I cannot fathom. The other two, Marcy's mother and sister, exist either in flashbacks or in a space where they can't interact with her. Where are the friends and colleagues who actually mean something to her? At the very least, couldn't they have popped by the diner to say hello?

Not to pick on the Transport Group, a company that I greatly admire for its herculean quest to stage new Off-Broadway musicals, but I had a similar problem with the group's fall production, Crossing Brooklyn, which also involved a female protagonist in emotional turmoil, this time after 9/11. Like Marcy, she spent most of the show wallowing and reflecting instead of moving forward. Which led me to wonder: Besides her husband, where are the other people in her life? Even if her family's not in New York, surely she has friends, neighbors and colleagues who mean something to her that she could interact with, instead of merely fringe characters like the women in the park and the men at the cafe.

The day after I caught Marcy, I saw South Pacific at Lincoln Center (more on this later, when I have time to gush), and since then I've been wondering when and why musical got so small? I know, I know -- economics. But when I say small, I'm not simply talking about fewer cast members and little scenery. I mean small in scope. It seems as if that old saw about writing what you know steers a lot of aspiring musical theater writers in the wrong direction. There is so much at stake in South Pacific. Beyond the outcome of World War II, the personal stakes are so high for Nellie and Emile and Joe and Liat that they imbue the songs with great passion.

Although there's nothing like a big-scale Broadway musical with a 30-piece orchestra, what musical theater needs is big stories and big emotions, and those don't require big budgets.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Into the Words

Geez, not only is Stephen Sondheim a musical genius, he can also create cryptic crossword puzzles that I can't even begin to comprehend, as this week's 40th anniversary installment of New York magazine reminds us.

Give the complex wordplay of his lyrics, it shouldn't surprise me, but I was amused to find that the puzzles had been issued in book form by HarperCollins.

I recall that that documentary about crossword devotees from a couple of years ago, Wordplay, mentioned that musicians were often very good at crossword puzzles, but I don't remember the reason why. Anyone?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How Soon They Forget

Anthony Mackie in McReele.

How interesting that reports about The Long Run, a spec script by playwright Stephen Belber that Will Smith is producing, fail to mention that it's hardly a fresh idea for Belber.

The story, about a charismatic death row inmate and the journalist who helps free him from prison only to realize he may have made a mistake, may have a better title this time around, but it's the same premise as his play McReele, which the Roundabout staged three years ago. One of my early Time Out feature stories was an interview with Anthony Mackie, who played the titular role, but, alas, it no longer exists on the website for easy reference.

Mackie is currently appearing in Fences as part of the August Wilson reading cycle at Kennedy Center, and I would love to see him play Cory in the already annoucned Broadway revival.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fright Night

Mandy Siegfried om The Scariest

The howling, haunting wind that's been blowing outside my windows for the last 12-plus hours has me thinking that my apartment would be a great site-specific location to stage The Scariest, the Exchange's collection of short, spooky plays. Here's my review.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Peeping

A hat tip to Adam for this NC17-rated tribute to my favorite marshmellow Easter delight.

And that's all I'll say on the topic … until next year. Happy Easter! Hope everyone's Sunday is filled with delicious ham, colored eggs and/or chocolate bunny delights.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Peep at Easter

Peepanardo DaVinci paints the Mona Lisa.

Easter may be just a week and a half away, but the Peeps at my neighborhood Duane Reade will probably hang around until Memorial Day, discounted to the point that they'd be better off just giving them away. (Although even then they'd probably have few takers.)

I've always had a love/hate relationship with the little marshmellow critters, which are spawned in Bethlehem, Pa., not far from my hometown, so it's nice to see that their maker, the appropriately named Just Born, has a sense of humor about them and, along with several newspapers around the country, is sponsoring a Peeps Diorama Contest.

For it's bizarre blend of the highbrow and the lowbrow, my favorite is the one pictured above, Peeponardo DaVinci painting Mona Peepsa from the Chicago Tribune.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Not Making Music

While standing in a very long post office line this rain-soaked past Saturday (had a Flintstones children's record to ship to Boise and TV Guide to send to Massachusetts; see this post for further explanation), I dug a five-month old Vanity Fair article by Tom Stoppard out of my bag and finally read it. Not surprisingly, it's about the Syd Barrett, the reclusive former member of Pink Floyd who figures in Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll.

But what caught my attention was this early paragraph, where Stoppard admits there's at least one thing he doesn't have a talent for:

"I have no understanding of music, none at al. Much as I love the noise it makes, I can stare for hours at a guitar band and never work out which guitar is making which bit of noise. Also, my brain seesm incapable of forming a template even for sounds I've heard a hundred times."

I read a similar confession from another literary Brit favorite of mine, Stephen Fry, both of which made me feel a lot less insecure about my own musical shortcomings. I think that's where my desire to write the book of a musical comes from — the need to do something involving music from a place where I can't do much damage.

Coincidentally, my pal Amy brought this article to my attention just this morning. Time to dust off that old violin. I think I still remember how to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hold the Butterworth

Jonathan Cake and Emily Mortimer in Parlour Song.

Is this a sign that I'm becoming a discerning theatergoer or a cranky old broad? Although I enjoyed reading the New York Times review of Jez Butterworth's Parlour Song, I don't think Ben Brantley and I saw the same show, whereas Bloomberg News' notorious John Simon summed up my thoughts exactly. (It's the snippet below his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof review.)

What I did take away from the evening is that the only thing yummier than Jonathan Cake prancing around the stage shirtless is Jonathan Cake playing Scrabble shirtless.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's So Hard to Say Goodbye ...

Although my eBay store has been open for about a year and a half now, I don't consider myself much of an entrepreneur. Basically I'm using it as a way to get rid of 20-year-old TV Guides and New York Magazines that my mother no longer wanted to provide storage for in her home. (Some people!)

As a journalist, I just couldn't bring myself to actually toss out boxes of old magazines. It seemed like a slap in the face to all the writers, editors and designers who worked so hard on them. So giving them to someone who would keep them and cherish them like I did seemed a better option and made it easier to let go of them. (And yes, I am making a few bucks in the process; got a problem with that?)

But letting go of some things is still hard, like this well-thumbed issue of TV Star Parade from July 1979 featuring the Love Boat cast. If you like the cover lines, listen to what's inside: articles on Sophia Loren, Tony Danza, Pam Dawber, Bill Bixby, Hollywood's Newest Triangle ("Jack Nicholson Steals Diane Keaton Away From Warren Beatty"), Diana Canova, and Larry Manetti.

Alas, it took a couple of days from the time I listed it until it sold. It will find a new and hopefully loving home in Arkansas soon, and that brings a smile to my face. My next project: finding a box to ship this 1,500-page Sears catalog from 1982.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Ovation for Divas

Ovation's reality series hits high notes.

Has anyone else caught Bathroom Divas, a charming little Canadian reality show for opera fans that Ovation TV is showing this week? I turned on the first episode by accident Sunday night, which consisted of American Idol-style auditions, minus the brutal commentary of a Simon Cowell-esque judge, and was instantly smitten.

It wasn't so much the voices of those auditioning that won me over — although a lot of those people could really sing — it was the passion that they had for opera. Many were seemingly ordinary folks — doctors, nurses, even a construction worker — but they had such enthusiasm for an art form often considered stodgy and high brow in our pop-culture-hungry society that it was infectious.

Since it's the second season for this show, I may be a little late arriving on the scene, but I'm eager to see which one of the remaining three contestants will get the chance to perform with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. My favorite is Paul, the construction worker–tenor with two children who's never seen a live opera.

And I really think the producers of Grease: You're the One That I Want could learn a thing from this show if they're planning any future installments. Bathroom Divas incorporates the "boot camp" structure into the entire show. We see excerpts of their singing (and dancing and stage combat) lessons during the course of each show. (It helps that there are only six finalists.) When it comes time for them to do their final performances before the judges, we don't even see them in their entirety. So the emphasis is on the process as much as the end result.

That helps relieve some of the monotony that made me grow weary of Grease long before Max and Laura were declared the winners. Of course Grease had to show the performances in their entirety because viewers were voting, and Bathroom Divas is more like Project Runway in that a panel of experts picks the winner. But that's another improvement that the producers of Grease might want to consider.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Isosceles: Pig in the City

Isosceles the Pig

The only porkers I expect to meet at Penn Station are drunken hockey fans, so imagine my surprise when I saw an actual swine in the New Jersey Transit waiting room on Sunday. I wish I'd been able to get better photo of Isosceles, but he wouldn't stand still. He was too busy pushing his little soccer ball around with his snout and basking in all the attention he was getting from adults and kids alike. (His little tail was wagging a mile a minute.)

I was able to find out from his owners is that he lives in Connecticut, that pigs are very clean animals, and I don't think he'll Easter dinner any time soon. What was really nice was that nobody complained that they were allergic, that the pig wasn't in a carrier or that it was abuse to have one on a leash. Kids coming from some Sesame Street show at the Garden and Rangers fans heading home from the game were equally enchanted and amused.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

Brooklyn's St. Clair

In the five or so years that I've gotten to know Brooklyn's Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill/Bococa neighborhood, I've watched trendy clothing stores and even trendier restaurants pop up, and as long as they weren't displacing a business I'd come to count on, I was okay with that.

But when one of the diviest of the dive diners closed its doors late last year, the St. Clair at Atlantic and Smith, I decided neighborhoold gentrification had gone too far. Even the swankiest of 'hoods need a few places where one can keep it real. So imagine my delight when I realized that the St. Clair wasn't gone for good, it was merely underging renovation — even if its hardier red and blue logo has been replaced by a more delicate orange and brown.

I look forward to their grand reopening, and only hope the prices on the menu haven't multiplied. In the meantime, I recomend The Soul Spot, just a couple of doors down, for a hot and hearty meal. (I ate there last night before catching Patrick Stewart in Macbeth at BAM.) Sure, they have baked chicken, but why be good when you can have the fried?

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the first person to notice or care.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Destination: Onward and Upward

Last night the weather in New York was frightful, but it was plenty warm inside Chelsea Studios, where my pal Adam Mathias presented a reading of his Jerry Bock award-winning — and as we learned last night, Richard Rodgers award-wnning — musical, co-written with Brad Alexander, See Rock City and Other Destinations.

Past winners of the Rodgers award include Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose musical In the Heights is about to hit Broadway, and Scott Frankel and Michael Korie of Grey Gardens fame, and I have no doubt Adam and Brad's fortunes will be just as bright. Adam has a big heart, and it really came through in his characters. (As someone who proofread their application form, I'd like to think that I played at least a small role in them getting the award, although I highly doubt the award committee cared much about commas or whether two consecutive sentences started with the same word.)

An informed source tells me that representatives from a major regional theater were there and are considering it for production. Here's hoping. It's just swell when nice and talented friends find success.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter Woes and Wonders

Nathan Lane and Dylan Baker in November.

Lest anyone think I'm spending the winter in a yacht docked just off the coast of the French Riveria, I assure that's not the reason for my delinquency in posting lately. Chalk it up to a minor illness last week (I didn't know it was possible to sleep for more than 12 hours straight!) and an addiction to online Scrabble courtesy of this dreadful time-waster of a site.

But I have been writing and reviewing. Here are three recent Cititour.com reviews: The Homecoming, which left me with no doubt that Eve Best is one of the finest stage actresses of her generation;

The 39 Steps, which had some charm but not a lot of laughs;

and Is He Dead?, which had a great cast but not a lot of laughs.

It's not that I don't like comedy. The belly got quite a workout at November on Saturday. It seems the President is a role Nathan Lane was born to play. I nearly spit out the beverage I was drinking when I first heard about the Lane/David Mamet pairing, but their sensibilities meshed quite nicely. And the show couldn't have been more perfectly timed. With war, politics and elections on everyone's mind these days, the only thing you can do is laugh. One of my favorite touches: a stack of legal tomes sitting on the floor with a hardcover edition of Stephen King's Cujo stuck in between. The characters never mention it, which somehow makes it all the funnier.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cockatoo With the Moves

I don't usually like birds. I pet-sat for one a few years ago, and after about a day was sorry that I didn't have a cat I could feed it to.

But after tapping my toes this Saturday to Balkan music at the Golden Festival, how can I not appreciate a critter with such a great sense of rhythm, even if he does have a bit of a pitch problem.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Kathleen's Crimes

Sarah Paulson, Jennifer Dundas and Lily Rabe in Crimes of the Heart.

When the inimitable John Istel offers you an assignment, it's hard to say no. And when that assignment is to interview the venerable Kathleen Turner, you don't even consider it. Although I was sure she'd eat me for lunch, we had a nice chat about her New York directorial debut, an Off-Broadway revival of Crimes of the Heart that I caught last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

All's Welles

Orson Welles

I'm going to a wedding in May at this glorious, restored movie palace, which is walking distance from my first post-college apartment. (Trust me, the neighborhood had changed since then!) But I may have to make a trip back to Jersey City before then to check out some of the wonderful movies on the schedule, like the upcoming Orson Welles mini-fest.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Review Roundup

David Morse and Ciaran Hinds in The Seafarer.

Lately, I've been catching up on movies and visiting museums — including one that I haven't been to in years that has this van Gogh in its collection.

But as the second half of the 2007-08 theater season kicks off, here's a roundup of some reviews I did for Cititour.com:

the shallow but entertaining Fuerzabruta;

Conor McPherson's wonderfully acted and moving The Seafarer;

and the lackluster Cyrano de Bergerac.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Many Monkish Returns

Tony Shalhoub as Monk.

Not only has my friend Brian's New Year's Day party become an annual tradition, so too has watching USA Network's Monk marathon. Yes, I'm obsessed with the OCD detective, and I think this quote of his best sums up the way I feel about beginning a new year:

"I don't have a problem with change. I just don't like to be there when it happens."

Why let peace and hope steer the course of your life when fear is such a stronger force?