Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I saw “Present Laughter”



What I saw: “Present Laughter,” a revival of a Noël Coward play, starring Kevin Kline at the St. James Theater on West  44th Street in Manhattan.



What I did beforehand: dinner at the upscale and modern Chinese restaurant Hakkasan at 311 W 43rd St. Some reviews dismiss it as being part of a chain. Pre-theater dinner options are limited, and this place is very good. Show up early and grab cocktails in the bar.



Something I ate: hot and sour soup with chicken and chocolate passion fruit dessert 


What I wore: a weird combination of a new sweater and tweed skirt, with tights. I should have worn wool tights, but I don’t have black ones. And a black Barbour down coat that is too tight in the arms and shoulders when worn over a sweater. 


Who went with me: the Bacon Provider and a lot of eager Kevin Kline fans.


How I got tickets: online, from Ticketmaster. Alas, they require you to pay quite a bit extra to get physical tickets, so I had to do the print-at-home deal. My preferred plan is to pick up tickets at will-call, so I don’t have to wait for them to come in the mail, store them, and remember to bring them. An 8 1/2 by 11” sheet of paper from my computer's printer with a bar code and some boxes of text describing the event is no substitute for actual tickets. Real tickets are memorabilia. E-tickets are trash.


Why I saw this show: I grew up in the same suburban St. Louis neighborhood as Kevin Kline, and back in the 80s I thought he was hilarious and brilliant.


Where I sat: Mezzanine Row A, seat 109, between my husband and a distracting woman who took up a lot of oxygen if not space.


Things that were sad: the acoustics were meh. I think the play would be better in a slightly smaller venue. 

Things that were funny: the chain-smoking Swedish housekeeper, the aggressive Trump-style injurious handshake of the wacky playwright, the baby-men business partners, slamming doors, ringing phones and doorbells. Kevin Kline is still hilarious and brilliant. What a joy to see great physical comedy live on stage. 

Things that were not funny: the actor who played the secretary seems to have been injured in the first act, and was wearing a bandage on her left wrist in the second act. The coffee that was served onstage over and over was said to taste like curry but in my excellent seats I could see plainly that it was water.   


What it is: another vehicle for an aging-but-vibrant actor; also a funny mid-20th Century farce from a true master of the genre about an aging-but-vibrant actor. 

Who should see it:  backstage comedy devotees, Kate Burton buffs, dressing gown enthusiasts, forties fashion fanciers, fools for redheads, Matt Bittner freaks, Ellen Harvey hounds, latchkey lovers, hat mavens, Noël Coward nuts, suckers for the mellifluous baritone of Peter Francis James, Reg Rogers regulars, Kristine Nielsen groupies; admirers of Tedra Millan (it’s her Broadway debut), Kevin Kline cultists, disciples of Cobie Smulders, and Bhavesh Patel boosters.


What I saw on the way home: jackhammers




Thursday, March 9, 2017

I saw “The Light Years”


What I saw: “The Light Years,” a play by The Debate Society, at Playwright’s Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan, on the south side of the street after the scaffolding ends but before the Hudson River, on that weird off-Broadway strip of theaters I can’t keep from confusing with each other. 

What I did beforehand: the first year we lived in New York, I thought that coming into the city on a MetroNorth train was like riding an futuristic satellite elevator from an orbiting space station to the surface of the planet. The atmosphere was different. And the gravity. The conductors needed shiny silver suits, of course, but I used my imagination  Five years later, I don’t feel like a prisoner here as much as I did then. Still, the way the train dives under the streets just south of Harlem means the commuters have to emerge from under the city’s skin, like parasites hatching. I brought homemade beer, anyway.

Not The Graduate. But almost.

What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, new James skinny jeans, black Brooks Brothers fitted cotton blouse, too long Eileen Fisher cardigan, hoop earrings, gold bead necklace, black parka, favorite rag & bone scarf.

Who went with me: The Graduate and his gf S; she liked my jewelry.

How I got tickets: about a week ago, online. They were the last three seat available.

Why I saw this show: it was billed as a “spectacular tribute to man’s indomitable spirit of invention.”

Where I sat: Row B, Seat 5, next to two unoccupied seats on one side and a woman who laughed too much on the other side. I, also, laughed too much.


Things that were sad: [spoilers]

Things that were funny: lightbulbs, songs, monologues, promises, and a bucket.

Things that were not funny: this one time I was brushing my teeth and I went to put the toothpaste back in the medicine cabinet and got shocked by it. This is the primary memory I have of the place we lived in Salt Lake City in the mid-80s.

Something I ate: a bag of peanuts in the lobby

At a food museum near the theater
What it is: an unusual play about the creators of the 12,000-seat theater called The Spectatorium for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. 

Who should see it: electricians, Chicago aficionados, history buffs, aluminum evangelists, love story bugs, theater nerds, devotees of the Depression, bicycle enthusiasts, folding attic stairs fanatics, dirigible fanciers, soliloquy fiends,  junk junkies, lovers of lightbulbs, milk maniacs, World’s Fair nuts, suckers for jingles, impresario connoisseurs, and anyone who’s ever wondered if there’s an inventor living in their attic



What I saw on the way home: the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, with its light-bulb constellations .

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I saw "Sweat"


What I saw: "Sweat," a play, at the theater known as Studio 54, on West 54th Street in Manhattan.


What I did beforehand: PT on my right knee which I found out this week hurts not because of a ligament tear (hooray!), but because of arthritis (boo!). I was happy about this for perhaps 12 hours, until I realized it meant that instead of surgeryI was facing some amount of knee pain for the rest of my life, which I would get to manage henceforward. Then I went and got my hair cut. 


What I wore: plaid wool dress, ripped tights and Fluevog boots. 


Who went with me: B., a friend of my parents, who I've known since I was a kid, and haven't seen since 2004.


How I got tickets: online as soon as the new venue was announced after missing the chance to see this show's sold-out run at The Public Theater. 

Why I saw this show: rave reviews.

Where I sat: Row A, on the end, with no one in front of us. 


Things that were sad: this perfectly paced play is about the destruction of working class lives thanks to the relentless forces of unchecked American capitalism. 

Things that were funny: it is not a funny play, but it is not without humor.


Things that were not funny: the venue shows evidence of having been painted, as if current management accepts that audiences look askance at obvious shabbiness, but it’s like someone’s brother-in-law got them a really good deal on many gallons matte black paint and the paint was applied by people who’d never painted before, and as quickly as possible. Crumbling theater venues can do shabby gloriously, like BAM’s facilities. Studio 54 looks like the party ended in 1980, and they just woke up and swept a little.

Something I ate: confetti eggplant and filleted whole durade, part of a really fine and fun meal sitting at the bar of Taboon, on 52nd and 10th Ave. When you go, make a reservation. Share the entrees and order lots of meze plates. 


What it is: a big (and by this I also mean important), serious play with a strong ensemble cast. If this was not the best play I’ve seen in the last year, it was certainly in the top five. Tackling issues of economic uncertainty and race relations in America with fully fleshed-out characters and meaningful stakes, “Sweat” engages on all the levels the talking heads on TV don’t.

Who should see it: line workers, strugglers, bartenders, union members, strike breakers, white supremacists, people who’ve done time, conservatives, drunks, survivors, managers, liberals, know-it-alls.



What I saw on the way home: the dark Saw Mill River Parkway, built with bridges too low for buses, so only passenger cars could use it and specifically buses could not, stretched out before me in a familiar blur. This road is like everything we’ve ever done in America.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I saw "Sunset Boulevard"

What I saw: “Sunset Boulevard," a musical, on Broadway at the Palace Theater at Broadway and 47th.

What I did beforehand: riding lesson, dog walk, shower; drove to town, walked to train station, waited on the platform outside because the heated waiting area smelled like farts, heard an announcement that the train was running 15 minutes late. Heard a Connected Teen say “Whoa. Like, the next train is at like, Goldens Bridge and like, running 40 minutes late.” 

I texted the Bacon Provider. He encouraged me to like, bail on the train and drive. So I did. It was a relatively quick drive to the city, followed by a slow crawl while I figured out parking. Never trust navigation software about getting places within NYC. They’re all wrong. 

What I wore: yellow Fluevog men-styled oxfords, black mini-cord pants, purple Eileen Fisher sweater, dangly gold earrings. 


Who went with me: my friend S, who also wore purple.

How I got tickets/Why I saw this show: S suggested it, and booked them.

Where I sat: Mezzanine Row E, somewhere in the middle of the row, between S. and a French-speaking woman with a Québécois accent who was writing things down in a notebook during the production, took out her phone and caught a photograph during the first act and failed to suppress her flash. 


Things that were sad: we were scolded, as a group, for having and using phones by an irate usher during intermission. The woman next to me, who was the one who took the flash photo, sat calmly eating from her bag of ROLD GOLD® Tiny Twists Pretzels and made no indication that she heard the usher at all.

Things that were funny: the original movie version of Sunset Boulevard is a Hollywood classic , directed by Billy Wilder. The dark and slightly campy film-noir inspired many zingers and spoofs over the years, and any time a classic line is uttered in this production the audience burst into cheering. 

Things that were not funny: when we left, there were a number of pretzels on the ground next to my seat, broken and ground into crumbs.


Something I ate: meatballs at the Marshal.

What it is: a big, glossy Broadway vehicle for the aging movie star, with soaring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a large, full orchestra, and most of the good lines fans of the original film are looking for. Maybe Glenn Close isn't quite the singer to deliver the songs as perfectly as they could be sung; certainly it mattered not at all, and maybe was better for her imperfect pitch. 

Who should see it: Glenn Close groupies, film-noir aficionados, Broadway buffs,  admirers of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Billy Wilder boosters, pretzel-loving Quebeckers. 



What I saw on the way home: mounted NYPD, but after that, just the road.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I saw “The Penitent”



What I saw: “The Penitent,” a new play by David Mamet, at the Atlantic Theater Company in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, on West 20th Street. 


What I did beforehand: baked bread, drove to the city, found on-street parking which was free and not illegal and it made the afternoon feel like winning a prize when you didn't even buy a raffle ticket, got cappuccinos at Grumpy's. 

What I wore: Doc Martens, black micro-cord jean leggings from James Jeans, black shirt with white dots, shirt and sweater I found on my closet floor, parka.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider

How I got tickets: via phone, in December. I forgot to put it on the calendar in my phone and  booked something else the night before and thought maybe we'd make a theater-weekend of it, but then other stuff came up and we just drove back and forth. Sorry, planet. Next time I will take the train.

Why I saw this show: David Mamet.


Where I sat: row E, seat 9, behind the only empty seat in the theater and surrounded by old white people. I assumed the empty seat was saved for the director, or 44, or Jesus, and in the moments between scenes where they dimmed the lights onstage and re-arranged the table and two chairs and the women next to me whispered intrusively, I thought about what it would be like to have the director, or 44, or Jesus sitting directly in front of me and I decided I wouldn't be able to concentrate.


Things that were sad: the forces of evil in this play (homophobia, mental illness, media manipulation, capitalism, the legal system) exert their will upon the characters but cannot be confronted or thwarted. 

Things that were not funny/funny: lawyers can be funny as all hell.


Something I ate: bread and cheese in the car on the way there.

What it is: another subtly brilliant Mamet play, which might feel like a masterpiece to those who've been sued, and might feel dry as toast to anyone else, with four actors and one brief intermission. 

Who should see it: lawyers, libelers, therapists, ethicists, people who like crime dramas, language mavens, fans of Mamet, people who have been libeled.  


What I saw on the way home: we made excellent time, and were buoyed by the language of America's master playwright, but an especially big white SUV wandered menacingly linto our lane on the Saw Mill Parkway up around Elmsford, and I had to honk. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

I saw “All the Fine Boys”



What I saw: The New Group’s production of “All the Fine Boys,” a new play written and directed by Erica Schmidt at the Pershing Square Theater, on West 42nd between 9th and 10th in Manhattan.


What I did beforehand: woke at first light realizing that I’d fallen asleep and left the bread dough in its bulk rise on the counter overnight so it was ruined, made new bread dough for party the next day, called favorite NYC restaurant seeking a reservation and failed to obtain one, glumly walked dogs, resignedly changed, absently drove to city, inadvertently made excellent time, parked in garage, walked to favorite restaurant, noticed they weren’t even open yet, got a table anyway on the promise that we’d be gone by 6 pm, ate a terrific meal, left an extravagant but not unwarranted tip, walked to theater, drank a tea and a beer because sometimes you need both.


What I wore: 90s-era black Doc Martens, favorite jeans (actually clean this time), almost enormous 80s black silk blouse, loose-knit black linen sweater, larger than necessary gold hoop earrings, ponytail, mascara

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider, who only likes plays with happy endings

How I got tickets: in December, online.

Why I saw this show: I subscribed to the season.


Where I sat: Row A, Seat 3,  between a guy who wanted my attention to tell me things about famous people in the audience, and my husband, who is indifferent to the seeing of and commenting on famous people.


Things that were sad/ not funny: in a play where one character crossed the rapids of the river of adolescence by choosing a good stone to step onto and landed safely on the other bank, but another character chose a stone that looked just as good but was tragically wrong, there was not the happy ending the Bacon Provider prefers.

Things that were funny: a soundtrack of 80s hits, a stack of 80s horror movies, snacking on Pringles and Twizzlers.


Something I ate: deviled eggs at The Marshal.


What it is: another good play with Joe Tippett in it, this intermission-free, 100-minute production moves quickly, tackles some very scary coming-of-age subject matter, and features three other fine performers. 

Who should see it: people unafraid of strong, sexual subject matter with 14-year-old protagonists. 


What I saw on the way home: a bit of rain as a cold front had moved in while we were at the theater.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I saw “Man of Good Hope”


What I saw: “Man of Good Hope” at the BAM Opera House in Brooklyn, NY

"I think this is an opera house.
See how it says 'opera?'"
What I did beforehand: drove to Brooklyn, being re-routed twice, and arriving to discover that the parking garage described on the website did not exist (and there was a coupon you had to print out to use it). Also, there was a Rangers game at the Barclay Center, so the streets of downtown Brooklyn were full of sober, pre-game hockey fans.

What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, favorite jeans, Tanner indigo belt, feelings sweater, earrings that kept trying to fall out.


Who went with me: my dear friend W., who was born in Zambia.

How I got tickets: online, when I realized I would not, as promised, be able to take her to the recent revival of “Master Harold and the Boys” because those tickets were $30 and they sold like hotcakes.

Why I saw this show: I am a sucker for a story about refugees.

Where I sat: Mezzanine Row A, seat 18


Things that were sad: stories about refugees are always filled with death and fear and loss and terrible set-backs.


Things that were funny/not funny: the part about the little boy living on the streets of Nairobi who went from one house to the next and every night had a dinner with a different family, and the song about how America is safe, how there are no guns here, how everyone drives big trucks and everyone is rich.

Something I ate: hummus and pita chips, standing in the lobby, while trying to balance a beer in my other hand. 


What it is: a profoundly moving, engrossing, and lively production, featuring African music and dance and a refugee story that is both utterly like and unlike any others. 


Who should see it: people who, like me, believe that all shows should have live music; people who, like me, believe that if you are going to have live music you must place the musicians where the audience can see them; people who, like me, who are working very hard right now to remember what good things America is supposed to represent to people in the rest of the world; people who, like me, know and love several immigrants.


What I saw at home, two days later: W. texted me that she was still thinking about it. 
I am, too.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I saw "Tell Hector I Miss Him"


What I saw: "Tell Hector I Miss Him" a play at the Atlantic Theater Company in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan



What I did beforehand: riding lesson where my instructor reminded me about the red failure signals I saw on the equine simulator, dropped the Bacon Provider's shirts at the cleaners, bought bagels, went home, showered, got dressed, walked my dogs until they pooped and then took them straight home again, changed shoes, told 19 I was leaving. Realized I hadn't checked the train schedule. Took off my shoes again. Set an alarm so I wouldn't be late. Sat down and posted a blog post


Drove to train station listening to the random song Apple Music picked for me, which was Simon & Garfunkle's "The Only Living Boy in New York," which I tried to sing along to but kind of sucked at. Got a call from one of the organizers of the auction we attended on Sunday about the week in a Miami condo I bid on and won. Rode the train. 


Got out at Grand Central. Took the shuttle to Times Square where I planned to take the 1. In the middle of the crowded station there were two, slim bespectacled guys with guitars and stylish, short-brimmed straw hats setting up. They had an amp. Their expressions were attentive, like they were waiting for something. Then they began to play. I paused; subway musicians are one of the things I actually like about NYC. A white guy in a knitted balaclava said something to me. I couldn't hear him. I leaned in.

"It's fake," he said, shouting over the Spanish-inflected music. "I saw them setting up. They're not really playing. The amp is connected to an iPod under that magazine, on top."

I did not want to yell. I simply touched his arm in an effort to express my understanding and left him. As I descended the stairs to the platform I could still hear him, shouting at the musicians.

This is what's happening now: angry white guys are showing up and shouting that what's happening is fake.

What I wore: new black James cords, Chinese-made Australian boots, gray Ibex wool top, black North Face parka, scarf a friend brought me from Scotland, dangly silver earrings, high ponytail 

Who went with me: my niece, A., who came in to the city from Connecticut. 

How I got tickets: many months ago, I booked tickets to this show but changes of plans made it necessary to trade them. As a subscriber to this theater, I have the ability to change what are usually non-refundable tickets. 

Why I saw this show: subscribed to the season. 


Where I sat: Row F, seat 107. Afterwards, my niece told me that this woman in the row in front of us plays the mother of one of the actors on "Orange is the New Black." Which is confusing because she's not actually her mom, but if she were she'd totally come to the play, and be all proud, because that's what moms do. This would be a time she could say, "I'm not her mom, but I play her on TV."

Things that were sad: this play is about some terribly lonely people.

Things that were funny: eager adulterers, an eager teen, an eager young lesbian, eager drug abuse. 

Things that were not funny: I don't understand enough Spanish to understand more than the most fundamental cuss words. 

Something I ate: a burger and fries at the Tipsy Parson, on 9th Avenue a few blocks other of the theater.

With a delicious Other Half All-Citra IPA

What it is: a fine play on a small stage with a big cast of talented actors.

Who should see it: fans of “Orange is the New Black,” people who know all the Puerto Rican cuss words, people who want to know all the Puerto Rican cuss words.

What I saw on the way home: I got to my train before the doors opened, but once the doors opened I got on board and walked past the seats facing the right way and for whatever reason sat down facing the wrong way. But I didn’t even find this out until the train started moving and most of the seats had someone sitting there so I had to choose between sitting down with someone who'd be getting up before me or might try to talk to me about fake news or something, or staying put in my own row. 


The other error I made was sitting too close to the bathroom. Really, you just don’t even want to sit in the car with the bathroom. I should have moved. 

But I didn't move. I didn't move because I would have had to choose between the other tired people, and most of them were men, and you know that one guy? He is out there. That one guy who thinks that because you've sat down next to him, you've chosen him. He's won you over. It's like you've accepted a drink from him at the bar, and now he's going to talk to you. You're going to get a piece of his mind. Or, worse. No. I did not want to sit accidentally with that one guy. I didn't move. It was too late at night to move. Without a better alternative, the seat by the bathroom was better than joining that one guy with the wrong ideas.

There was a parade of men using the bathroom, which was worth keeping an eye on in a furtive way. No eye-contact.  Then some guy went in and was in there for a long time. Things quieted down. I forgot about the bathroom. I got absorbed in the pleasures offered by my iPhone  But then there was the loud retching. Prolonged retching. Repeated retching. People went and got a conductor who was like, oh, yeah, there’s a guy in there barfing. Like that was the most normal thing that happens. A shaved-head guy in a suede jacket near me couldn’t take it anymore and moved to another car. Then suddenly the bathroom door opened and the barfing guy came out, sat down, and passed out. I could see his name and picture on his work ID, still clipped to his belt loop. Things got quiet again. 

As we neared White Plains the barfer's phone alarm went off. A tall guy in a serious suit and overcoat stepped up to wake him. The barfer lurched to the door and disappeared into the winter night of White Plains. 

As the train pulled away from the station, a trickle of water rolled down the aisle. Soon the trickle became a long puddle. A new guy, with dark, loose curls framing his giant, babyish face came to use the bathroom. He opened the door and loudly announced his joyous complaint to no one and everyone, “Someone’s deliberately clogged the sink!!”


I lifted my feet from the floor of the train car, but I still did not move. I can’t say why.
As we neared my stop, I tip-toed in my manure-proof, Chinese-made Australian paddock boots to the other end of the car. A tired man in an ironic working man's knit cap and leather dress shoes stood at the edge of the puddle. I encouraged him to step back. Without acknowledging me, he was able to exit in two great long strides. I had to wade through it. 

It was real.