Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Confidence Man

"You're an addict," teased my first Docent when I told him I'd just seen The Confidence Man for the third time. I confessed to being tempted to go again, since even three times wasn't enough to see every scene in the show and maybe not even to see part of every story line.

Inspired by Herman Melville's last novel, and including some language and characters from the original, this Confidence Man is set mainly in our time, interweaving stories of art cons, publishing cons, financial cons, religious cons, internet cons, and maybe a few I haven't seen yet.

They unfold throughout a retired lighthouse tender, the Lilac--which is the real star of the show--and you're more likely to follow any one story if you let one of the six Docents be your tour guide.

If instead you elect to just wander at will on the Lilac, you may have an experience more like the deeply unsatisfying one that Wilborn Hampton described in his New York Times review.

Perhaps playwright Paul Cohen should have called his work something other than The Confidence Man--"Confidence," say--so as not to disappoint those like Hampton who expected an adaptation of Melville's work, instead of something new that attempts to address 21st century cons.

The advantage to you of the negative review is that, if you choose to go, it will improve your odds of getting in off the waiting list.

To get on it, show up a half-hour before showtime: 7 and 9:30 today through Saturday.

The Lilac is docked at the north end of Pier 40. The Confidence Man is free, but donations are welcome, and beer is available for $5.

For further information see and

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Great NYC Weekend

Who'd want to fly from California to New York City for a short Labor Day Weekend? My sister Joanne did, and thanks to her and her ex-sister-in-law and friend Alyse, I'm still basking in the afterglow of the weekend's delights.

Here's what we did:


Joanne and Alyse arrived late, or rather early Saturday at one in the morning, and we stayed up a long time drinking wine and eating Afghan bread and tasty tarmosalata from International Grocery on 9th Ave.

We didn't begin our sight-seeing day till after 11 a.m. when we took the subway to

The Cloisters

I may not have been back to the Cloisters since the first time I saw them--with Joanne and our sister Kristine, when they visited me while still in high school.

"I'd never seen anything like them," Joanne remembers, and she'd been eager to see them ever since. But somehow we'd never managed till now.

Joanne and Alyse are both ardent gardeners and wanted to take the Cloisters' garden tour (free with admission)--something it wouldn't have occurred to me to do on my own. The tour turned out to be one of the best I've ever taken.

Not only did we see, smell, and touch many plants, but we learned about the history, philosophy, and symbolism of medieval gardens, garden archaeology, medieval pharmacology, and the medieval dyeing industry. Inside we examined the plant life rendered on several tapestries and learned about the plant dyes that colored them.

Our tour guide recommended that we come back the first week in June for special programs presented when the gardens are at their peak.


Looking for outdoor theater that might still be going on, I'd found a listing in Time Out of a troupe that was new to me--Curious Frog Theatre--doing performances of Romeo and Juliet and Aristophanes' Plutus in various parks through September 20.

Luck for us, Plutus was being done in Inwood Hill Park, not far north of The Cloisters, that very afternoon.

Our tour guide happened to be heading home to Inwood as were leaving, so we enjoyed her company along the way. At 204th St. and Broadway, she pointed out the Dyckman House, the oldest house in the city, which I've never visited. ( Maybe I'll go with Joanne the next time she's in town.)

Plutus, in which the god of wealth, who'd been blinded and thus can't tell whether he's giving money to good or bad people, gets his sight back, turned out to be a lot of fun, with timely additions related to our current economic plight.

You can see it this Saturday at 4 pm Queensbridge Park.

Good Shepherd Church

Walking along Isham on the way to dinner, we came upon the Good Shepherd Church, where an iron cross from Ground Zero has been installed in a memorial garden honoring those who died there.

Bistro Marrakech

Figuring we might as well eat in Inwood while we were there, I'd picked a promising sounding Moroccan place. We arrived at 5:45, 15 minutes before it opened, but they steered us to the inviting garden of the place next door, where we lingered until my friend Roz joined us. I'd be happy to end up there again
one of these days.

We had a fine dinner at Bistro Marrakech--terrific humus, succulent squid, and fragrant fish tagine. All wines served there are $24 a bottle; we were happy with the red our server recommended.

4959 Broadway | Btwn 207th & Isham St , 212-576-2828

The Confidence Man

Well stuffed, we hastened to the second round of our double header of free theater: a play inspired by Herman Melville's Confidence Man, performed on a historic steamship, the Lilac, docked on Pier 40.

I'll have more to say soon about this unique and charming show. For now, catch it if you can--you have till September 26. Information at

River Walk

Unfortunately, my friend Christine arrived too late to get on the boat, but she watched some of the action from the shore, then joined us for our walk home along the Hudson--a fine ending to a great day.

Our only regret was that none of us had remembered to bring along her camera.


After a leisurely morning, we headed up to the Hirschfeld T
heater to try our luck at the Hair lottery. We didn't win, but enjoyed witnessing the excitement of those who did.

In the Heights

After a half hour or so in the TKTS line, with 20 minutes till curtain, we got tickets to In the Heights--a great New York show and the perfect show to see after our uptown explorations the day before.

For a late lunch, we had a few tapas at Sangria 46, then he
aded downtown to meet my friend Catherine at the Ganesvoort Hotel.

The High Line

Catherine, who's a professional tour guide, had offered to give us a tour of the High Line. Living near it, I'd of course seen it a couple of times, but it was great to have the benefit of Catherine's knowledge of its history, current development, controversies over its future, and scandalous doings at the Standard
Hotel overhead.

With their knowledge of gardening, Joanne and Alyse were especially appreciative of the High Line plantings.

Dil-e Punjabi

By now it was close to nine. For dinner, we picked up food from one of my favorite Indian take-out places, the all-vegetarian Dil-e Punjab, 170 Ninth Ave. at 20th St.

We'd thought about going out to a comedy or improv clu
b, but decided we'd had as much stimulation for the day as we could handle. So instead I introduced Joanne and Alyse to Mad Men, and we called it a night.


Bagels and Nova

from Murrays for breakfast.

MOMA: Ensor and Waste Not

After dropping Alyse at Penn Station, Joanne and I headed to MOMA, where we saw the show of James Ensor's work. I'd seen a bit of his work over the years, but the show is revelatory, and we had the good fortune to see it without craning through a crowd. (It closes September 21.)

Somebody should make a poster of Ensor's bawdy and sardonic rendering of beach life.

This was the last day for Waste Not, which I'd seen before and wanted to show Joanne. Deep and moving, it's all the stuff saved by the artist's mother
, and arranged by the two of them on the museum floor.

We stayed as long as we could, wandering around the exhibit, reading the commentary on the walls, and taking pictures with the cameras we had at last remembered to bring.

Waste Not seen from above