Friday, May 30, 2008

Midwest sojourn

I leave for Chicago, Cleveland and various spots in Ohio tomorrow. Blogging will likely take a breather.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bard in the Park Virtual Line

Hamlet's a long play: three and a half hours with intermission. And this year's Shakespeare in the Park production is worth seeing. So why spend hours waiting in line to get tickets? We took advantage of the virtual line on the Public Theater's website. You log on anytime from midnight to 1 p.m. the day of the performance, and you're entered into a lottery for a pair of tickets. I got it on the second try. Granted, the house wasn't full tonight, so we probably could've gotten tickets just by walking up to the window closer to showtime, but still: I didn't know that ahead of time. And I'd imagine it's not going to be like that for the whole run. Especially if it gets half-decent reviews, which it might. It isn't change-your-life good, but it boasts some strong performances and a cool set.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rendering alert

A helpful commenter directed me to the above rendering of the new mixed-use development in the neighborhood that I've mentioned before: 4469 Broadway and West 192nd Street, with retail and doctor's offices on the first and second floors and condos the rest of the way up. Hugo S. Subotovsky is the architecture firm. Never heard of them, but it seems like they do decent work. And this starts to answer the question of how high the building's going to be. Eight stories on a slightly lower plot than surrounding buildings means it should just poke out a bit above six-story neighbors.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

BB125

In honor of the Brooklyn Bridge's 125th anniversary, there's a captivating light show going on each night until Monday (Memorial Day) from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Of course, this structure has a timeless beauty even without any artificial light, but the lighting scheme adds an exciting element to evening viewing. We had a front-row seat to the lights last night as we watched some old silent films of New York and then Disney's Enchanted in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, wedged dramatically between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The movie is cute, and filled with great New York moments, but I have to say the simple power of the bridge lighting was just as interesting.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Philly skyline

The skyscraper that some say sparked the Curse of Billy Penn (One Liberty Place rose higher than the hat of William Penn on the top of City Hall and no pro sports teams from the city have won a championship since) has itself been dwarfed. The Comcast Center (aka the "Memory Stick"), designed by Robert A.M. Stern's firm, is almost 1,000 feet tall, and ends OLP's two-decade reign as the tallest in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals

I'm usually happy to head uptown on the A train in the afterglow of seeing one good musical in an evening. Inner Voices: Solo Musicals, at the Zipper Factory Theater on West 37th through May 30, offered three. It's a novel arrangement to have three one-act musicals, each sung by one person, but this show certainly pulls it off with finesse. Probably the highlight of the evening was hearing Victoria Clark, who won a Tony for her part in The Light in the Piazza, sing a new work by Michael John LaChuisa (Marie Christine, The Wild Party, See What I Wanna See), but the two pieces that follow were also very strong.

In Tres Ninas, which LaChuisa co-wrote with Ellen Fitzhugh, Clark's character is a divorced mother struggling through various forgotten parts of Southern California. On a tattered couch, in a faded nightgown, she recalls deeply touching scenes from her life's interactions and relationships with different people from across the Mexican border: an anonymous migrant family, her nanny-housekeeper and the woman's eventual husband, and a young, attractive day laborer. The work was probably less than 45 minutes, yet managed to so richly depict the interwoven feelings of charity, fear, curiosity, longing, and gratitude that it brought a tear to my eye.

Alice Unwrapped, by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, tells the story of an awkward high schooler who takes to wearing a protective outfit that includes an army helmet and Kevlar flak jacket as a way of coping after her reservist father goes missing in combat abroad. The portrait was mostly convincing, providing a refreshing take on the consequences of war and the age-old childhood debate over whether to fit in or stand out. Jennifer Damiano (Spring Awakening) handles the material well, although I thought it got a little repetitive. And the ending didn't feel totally right to me.

Tony nominee Barbara Walsh (Company) plays a jaded New York daughter who struggles to understand her mother's hospital-bed revelations in Michele Lowe and Scott Davenport Richards' A Thousand Words Come to Mind. How could a woman who always seemed to have so little to say when her daughter was around provide the inspiration for one of Philip Roth's greatest books? Or John Updike, for that matter? Or Irving? Or Cheever? The work plays with the idea that brief encounters with a mysterious, if laconic, woman may be all the inspiration necessary for great writers. It also reminds us how whole, undiscovered worlds can exist undetected for years in family members' lives, in books, in our imagination of other people's minds.

Timely once every economic cycle

You know, kind of like how a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Never starving for words, at least

Ostensibly, the premise that sets in motion God's Ear - currently playing at the Vineyard Theater near Union Square - is the death of a young son and the fraying if not unraveling of his parents' marriage that follows. But the play isn't really about those things as much as it is a vehicle for playwright Jenny Schwartz to explore how we use everyday language, especially in the form of idioms and cliches, to obfuscate emotions or avert attention from our true desires. There are songs in the piece, but the whole play itself is comparable to a work of music, a fugue or a cantata, perhaps. Still, there's enough of a story along the way to prevent all the wordplay from becoming too self-indulgent. The drama is aided by playful use of the set, which resembles a blue chessboard with removable squares that give way for the characters to enter and exit a scene. The husband of the couple spends most of the action away on business trips, speaking as if by phone with his wife, who nurses a mild depression at home with their curious daughter. On the road, the husband interacts with a transvestite air stewardess, another man in a bar who's escaping his wife and a world-weary barfly of a woman with whom he becomes involved. There are also appearances by the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe; the traditional worlds of fantasy and reality eventually become flip-flopped, as they become the ones reciting grown-up reflections of the couple's children and family life. Those speeches stand out in contrast after so many scenes when the husband and wife cling to tired expressions as their toys, their security blankets.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Amphibious confusion vehicle at CSC

In reinventing classic theater, how much do you offer the audience member who is seeing the play for the first time and how much do you give to the one who has seen it dozens of times and is mostly sitting in the audience to see what new spin they're taking on it this time? Old Comedy After Aristophanes' Frogs, currently at Classic Stage Company in the East Village, certainly felt like the balance was a bit too skewed to the latter theatergoer, the one we can assume would be more adept at figuring out raw source material from adaptation, and perhaps reveling in the melange. I had never seen the Frogs, and never actually studied it, either, though I know a few lines from Sondheim's adaptation ("Gods of the theater, smile on us"). I was hoping I didn't have to do any homework to appreciate the piece. Turns out that might've helped a lot, as I sit here reading various synopses. Barely 10 minutes into David Greenspan's version, I started to shut down after the appearance of tired, preachy anti-Bush jabber (Our country/city's going to hell and we're going to Hades! Ack!) amid a rather muddled opening and a stream of poorly delivered nonjokes and/or jokes about the lack of jokes in this supposed comedy. I later discover that this is actually part of the original: underlying notes of seriousness added to an otherwise comedic form. Bottom line: I found most of it tedious, but probably would have been on a more even keel if I'd known the story ahead of time. And the stream of consciousness present-day references, both obvious and more obscure, seemed so jammed into the script that I found it confusing. A lot of the audience seemed equally turned off by the enterprise, although I can imagine the play might appeal to someone who a) knows The Frogs and some of the other Greek classics fairly well, b) can't get enough of art bemoaning the state of our leadership today, and c) was ready to laugh at an outpouring of absurdity and frenetic allusions. (For whatever reason, while I'm not opposed to that in general, I was not as readily open to it last night.) If there are enough people that fit that description, then the play may do well.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Memorable parts of Forgetting Sarah Marshall

-Russell Brand as the louche yet charmingly cool British rocker Aldous Snow. ("I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.")
-The puppet musical Dracula ("Kind of dark, gothic Neil Diamond") and various other musical-theater references and undertones. (See also Jason Segel and NPH doing Les Miz.)
-Jack McBrayer playing basically the same character as he does on "30 Rock," except as a bewildered newlywed.
-The movie opens with a song by Cake and closes with a cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U" in Hawaiian by Daniel Ho.

Mach schnell, get on da bus!

Check out the new Benz! My ride this evening across 86. OK, so this model is actually 11 years old. That's nothing in means-of-public-transit years. And hey, it took the Smart car about the same time to get here as well, so maybe it's a European thing. The MTA's testing the Mercedes Citaro bus on the streets of Manhattan and the Bronx through mid-May. I enjoyed the ride. It's sleek and quiet and the (many) doors open and close with finesse. My fellow passengers and I couldn't help talking about it. Most of the interior lettering is in German ("WAGEN HALT" where we'd normally find the stop request sign), except for the red STOP buttons on the poles, strangely. Here's hoping the bus passes with flying colors, and we see more of them pop up around town.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

File under: Oops

Item: New Broadway Musical Glory Days Closes After Opening Night. [Playbill] It's utterly preposterous that this show got this far, this quickly, thus probably very appropriate that it's biting the dust so soon. Of the producers, the Times' Brantley said in his review today, "they have done this little, hopeful show no favors by dragging it into a spotlight that invites close and unforgiving inspection.'' Also, that it's the "youngest-feeling show about being young ever to land on Broadway" and "the musical equivalent of a story for an introductory college fiction class." Though, I guess there is a bit of schadenfreude in seeing it go so soon. And no, I didn't see it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

White peacock struts like he owns the Close

First time I can remember actually stopping to look for the peacocks outside the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Eliasson's movie set

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to walk into a black and white movie - not just star in one, but to actually step into a monochromatic world - then you have to check out Olafur Eliasson's Room for one colour, on view at the MoMA as part of its exhibit of the artist's work, "Take Your Time." (The exhibition also stretches to its sister institution, P.S.1 in Queens, but I've only seen the Midtown half so far.) Eliasson is having something of a moment in the sun this year in New York, as he has also been commissioned to design this year's version of The Gates: New York City Waterfalls, debuting mid-July in the East River and running through mid-October. His work often focuses on how we perceive things, the social aspect of art viewing, and the recontextualization of nature (as in Moss wall and the upcoming Waterfalls). Several of his pieces at MoMA seemed to create in the gallery space the kind of effects we associate with special effects of photography and film. In Your strange certainty still kept, droplets of water appear frozen in mid-air by the flash of strobe lights, alluding to flip books and Muybridge's experiments with sequential photos. In 1m (cubed) light, a suspended cube glows in the mist, reminiscent of a science fiction flick. In 360 (degree) room for all colours, viewers stand against a cyclorama of changing hues that wash across the screen like the opening or closing of a movie. It often feels like you're walking around a movie set that has been stripped of plot and setting. Mood and spectacle remain. The variable factor is the human. Are we to be characters or observers? When you enter one of the rooms whose elements have been sculpted, if you will, by Eliasson, you become a little bit of both.
Olafur Eliasson set [Flickr]

UPDATE: Daryl's got a shot of one of the waterfalls (sans water, of course), and he says we'll only have to wait until late June.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Gattaca: Ahead of its time

I was fascinated to learn about the bill passed in Congress that seeks to prevent discrimination based upon our DNA. As the NYT article notes, there have been "virtually" no documented cases of genetic discrimination, but it's not that people haven't been worried about the possibilities. I immediately thought of one of my favorite movies, Gattaca, which I find now is more than a decade old. This movie, set in the not-so-distant future and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law and Ernest Borgnine, envisions a slick and stylish future (it was nominated for an Oscar in art direction) where people are genetically engineered to their parents' desire. Those born the natural way (called "degenerates") come into the world at an immediate disadvantage. I'm not sure why I love this movie so much - the look (some scenes were filmed around Frank Lloyd Wright's breathtaking Marin County Civic Center), the memorably haunting music (by the composer Michael Nyman, who I noticed did some work for Man on Wire), the acting and costumes, perhaps - but something about the story, the idea of a man who refuses to let his raw material (read: genetic makeup) get in the way of his dreams appeals to me on some level. It's a bit cerebral, but I recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Save a penny or two

In the spirit of public service announcements, now would be a good time to stockpile some Forever stamps (the ones with the Liberty Bell on them), since you can still buy them at 41 cents up until May 12, when the USPS is raising their prices again. Granted, you will be loaning the postal service money now for services you may not actually use for months or years to come. But it still feels good to get something for cheaper than it'll be in a month, right?

Two interesting tidbits from the site: "The average increase by class of mail is at or below the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. ... We will have 5 billion Forever Stamps in stock to meet increased demand before the price change."