Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Great Game

It's a rare opportunity: for a few more days, if you live in New York City, you can catch the Tricycle Theater's moving and informative production of The Great Game: Afghanistan--more than a dozen short plays, along with monologues and commentary, that deal with incursions into that country by foreign empires over the last two centuries.

But it's a tough choice; if you're not willing to devote more than 7 hours plus travel time to seeing the whole thing, which do you opt for: Part I, which deals with the British empire's adventures--19th and early 20th centuries--that give the event its title; Part 2, with the Soviet Union, whose efforts ended up contributing to the union's breakup; and Part 3--you can guess whose turn it is.

Unfortunately, many of the potential audience seem to be electing not to make the choice--not to see any of it--so there are very substantial discounts available: substantial enough that I went to all three in a one-day Marathon.

If you can only go to one, I'd say, go the Part I--odds are it will persuade you to see the rest.

Presented by the Public Theater, The Great Game is at the NYU Skirball Center through Dec. 19.

For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111, or go to

But first look around for those discounts.

Wisdom from The Hunchback

Saturday evening before the election, I'd expected to be contradancing, but after a day spent campaigning in Allentown for Sestak, one ankle wasn't up to it.

So instead I checked out Turner Classic Movies's Halloween weekend lineup of horror films--and discovered the 1939 version of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, directed by William Dieterle, and featuring a brave, heartrending, and unforgettable performance by Charles Laughton in the title role.

Though this version takes significant liberties with the novel's plot, the end in particular, it seems true to its spirit, and has much to say about intolerance.

Among its many memorable lines is this, from one of a band of gypsies being attacked as foreigners:

"You came yesterday, we came today."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Gasland is an award-winning documentary--Special Jury prize at Sundance 1010--that had trouble attracting a distributor, and probably won't be playing at a theater near you anytime soon.

But the environmental horror story it recounts may be already: hydraulic fracturing (fracking)--a radically destructive method of extracting natural gas--is happening all over the country, from California to Wyoming (on the edge of Yellowstone) to Texas to Florida to Tennessee to Virginia to Pennsylvania.

If you're a New York City resident, like me, you, too, have a lot to worry about.

Director Josh Fox began the investigations that led to Gasland after getting an offer to lease his land in Pennsylvania for gas drilling.

First he hears of ominous effects in nearby towns, including water that has turned flammable since drilling began.

Then he sets out across the country--making a real-life, blacker-than-black comedy/horror road movie.

He witnesses many drinking water-lighting shows, learns of people living in homes that could explode, and suffering the effects of toxic air and toxic water, hears about company officials that visit those whose water they've ruined, assuring them the water's safe but refusing to drink it, and delves into the science and politics of Fracking.

Fracking works by injecting millions of gallons of water, along with 80 to 300 tons of chemicals, vertically into a gas well or horizontally into an area that couldn't have been drilled before, to fracture shale, releasing natural gas.

Thanks to the Bush/Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005 (known as the Halliburton Loophole), the natural gas extraction industry is now exempt from the Safe Water Drinking Act. The chemical stews they use are considered "proprietary," and not subject to any kind of regulation.

An EPA official speaking to Fox off the record tells him, "We're not permitted as a government agency to answer your legitimate question."

A bill to overturn the exemption--the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act--has been introduced in both houses of Congress, as S. 1215 and H. 2766, but languishes in committee.

We need to do our best to make sure it passes.

For information about the film, the issue, how close you live to fracking sites, and ways of helping to stop it, check out:

Through 2012, you can catch Gasland on HBO; the DVD will be out in December.

Friday, October 29, 2010


I thought about seeing The New Electric Ballroom at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, but when I realized the author's name was Enda (male) rather than Edna (female) Walsh, decided I could miss it. Big mistake.

Having just seen Walsh's brilliant and magical Penelope, I won't make such a mistake again.

I'd like to see, or at least read, everything this extraordinary playwright has written, and am regretting I didn't spring for a copy of Penelope, which was on sale at the theater.

One of these days, I hope to see Walsh's work on his home turf--the Druid theater in Galway.

In the meantime, I'm grateful to St. Ann's for bringing Walsh's work to New York.

Penelope runs at St. Ann's Warehouse till November 14.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Panic! Euphoria! Blackout . . .

. . . is the latest gem from the inimitable Talking Band, and a challenging show to describe. Its subject: trading and financial dealings and crises through the years, the work of traders, and much more. Style: mind-bending, poetical . . .

You'll earn a practical dividend from your attendance, as well as an aethetic one.

Go! You have through 10/23.

At HERE, 145 Sixth Ave

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Transit

This Friday, I saw an amazing new a cappella musical, still in previews, that felt like a New York classic--one that will be delighting tourists as well as New Yorkers for years to come.

With witty lyrics, tuneful score, and beatbox rhythms, In Transit speaks of the lives New Yorkers lead, especially those who ride the subways or struggle in the arts.

Amid the laughter, applause, and sighs, I heard many a whoop of self-recognition joining mine, as the dynamite cast spun the stories of the actress-temp, the ex-financier down to his last transit fare, the truculent subway clerk, the beat boxer who engages fellow travelers, and others into a glowing, moving, hilarious, and wise vision of urban community.

Singing inside, I floated out into the night after it was over, glad all over to be privileged to live here, and to be reminded of how this city can bring out the best in us--if we'll only let it.

In Transit opens on October 5 and closes on October 30 at Primary Stages, 59 East 59 St.

Catch it now if you can, or wait for its next move or incarnation. This is a show I expect to have the pleasure of seeing again, and of introducing to family and friends.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saving Lone Star

On Monday, I caught the first episode of Lone Star--a show about a con man--found it engrossing and intriguing, and was eager to see how it developed.

Then on Saturday, in the New York Times, I read that the show, up against Event and Dancing with the Stars, had done so poorly in the ratings that it might have been canceled immediately.

Only Fox has given it another chance--maybe only one.

If you're free to watch television this Monday at 9:00 pm, please choose Lone Star.
It may be your last chance.

But if enough others watch to buy Lone Star more time, its creator, Kyle Killen, will thank you:

And I'll thank you.

Reading now. . .

It's taken a mere decade, but Norman Spinrad's He Walked Among Us, first published in France, is finally available in an English hardcover from Tor (for a while Spinrad offered it on his website as a download).

It's vivid and gripping, and keeping me awake way too many nights, and will likely haunt my dreams when I'm done with it.

For reviews and other information (including Spinrad's forthcoming work), see

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can't Wait to Read . . .

The Sultan's Shadow, by Christiane Bird, the story of Sultan Said of Oman and his daughter Princess Salme, who would write the first known autobiography of an Arab woman--and of the nineteenth century East African slave trade.

For more information about the book, see the Salon review:

or the author's website:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Blessing Next to the Wound . . .

. . . a memoir by Hector Aristizabal, co-authored by my friend Diane Lefer, is aptly subtitled "a Story of Art, Activision, and Transformation."

Exiled from his native Colombia, where he survived torture, Aristizabal now lives in this country. Trained as an actor, he works for social justice, often in collaboration with Lefer, who will be discussing their book this Wednesday at the radical bookstore and cafe Bluestockings, 172 Allen St., at 7 pm.

Lefer also writes wonderful plays and short stories. For information about her work, see

And for more information about The Blessing Next to the Wound, go to

Friday, August 27, 2010

What to do with a lot of ginger

In Chinatown last Saturday, I bought a good-sized chunk of ginger--75 cents worth at $1.30 a pound. I knew that I'd use about an inch of it in the soup I was planning to make the next day--but what to do with the rest of it rather than add it to the pieces of ginger hiding in my freezer.

Then I remembered the wonderful African ginger drink that Allan and Paula and their Malian house guest had made the last weekend. I called Allan to get the recipe; here's what he told me more or less:

African ginger drink

Heat 6 cups of water.

Meanwhile peel and grate enough ginger to make a full cup, put it in a large bowl, add a cup of sugar, about 4-6 cloves and 3/4 sticks of cinammon.

When the water boils, pour it over the ginger mixture, and cover.

Let it stand for at least an hour and a half. Then add 4 cups of tap water, zest from an orange (or maybe 2), juice from 2 oranges, and zest and juice from 1 lemon.

Chill (or not) and serve.


Here are my adjustments:

For the orange juice and zest, I substituted zest from 1 lime, and juice from 2. I kept the lemon.

Instead of sugar, I used about 4 Tb. of agave syrup.

I strained most of the mixture, but left some of the ginger pulp in. (Alan's may have been strained, but he didn't mention this stepp.)

Alan told me that this beverage is popular throughout West Africa, and when I looked it up online, I found many versions, including one spiced with pepper instead of cinnamon and cloves, though most seem to call for beginning with 6 cups of water.

It's tasty, tangy, refreshing, and very easy, though grating the ginger takes a bit of time if you don't use a food processor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dragon Fruit and Rambutan

Just cut them open and tasted

Both are delicate and elusive, the dragon fruit slightly more flavorful. Needless to say, you don't eat the peels.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tis the season for dragon fruit and rambutan. . .

. . . and longan and papaya and all sorts of other tropical fruits in Chinatown.

Yesterday, biking back from the Brooklyn Bridge, I stopped there, in quest of mangos, bok choy, and snow peas.

Instead I fell for the dragon fruit (the big one in the photo) and rambutan (the little one)--neither of which I'd tasted.

They're so lovely, I'm still waiting to taste them.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Charles Ludlam lives. . .

. . . and so do Coney Island, Little Italy, and the Greenwich Village Halloween parade of 30 years ago, in two of Ludlam's brilliant and bizarre films, Museum of Wax, a short, and The Sorrows of Dolores, his only feature.

Both are silent, filmed in black and white, visually dazzling, rich and strange.

Untouched since Ludlam's death from complications of AIDS in 1987, the films were restored last year. Enhanced by scores from composer Peter Golub, who'd written music for many of Ludlam's plays, they debuted at the IFC Center's Queer/Art/Film festival this February.

Ludlam's lover and colleague, actor Everett Quinton, characterized the films as unfinished when introducing them at Anthology Film Archives last night, but I wouldn't want to change a thing about Museum of Wax--to my mind, a masterpiece.

Dolores, on the other hand, could stand some tightening--and I'd love to see the unused footage that Quinton talked about, saying that some of it was really beautiful and he wondered why Ludlam didn't use it.

Maybe because he was racing death to finish it.

Quinton said he'd thought about doing his own version of the The Sorrows of Dolores and--without destroying the original--I hope he does. Or at least screens his selection of outtakes one of these days.

You have two more chances to see Museum of Wax and The Sorrows of Dolores this weekend: 7 pm tonight and tomorrow at

Anthology Film Archives
32 2nd Ave. at 2nd St.

Now I'm wondering whether or where, besides Irma Vep and Galas, which are listed in the New York Public Library catalog, tapes or films of Ludlam's plays exist. . . .

Friday, August 20, 2010

June Roses

. . . isn't like any other movie I've seen.

The first part is a narrative film set in the 1950s, shot, in a style beautifully evocative of that era, more than 20 years ago.

Director Christine Noschese, best known for her documentary Metropolitan Avenue, based the story on the daughter she was then and her mother, a frustrated artist and musician. Released in 1991 at 43 minutes, that version of June Roses was screened at New Directors the following year, and was the basis of a script that was intended to be a feature.

That feature never happened. But years later, Noschese revisited her characters and their story, flashing forward to the 1960s--now shooting in video for a rougher, tougher look--and using the same principal actors. Only recently has she put the earlier and later parts of the film together, and she's still tweaking it.

I had the pleasure of seeing this new version of June Roses over the summer at a screening sponsored by New York Women in Film and Television.

Moving, funny, and deep, it's a true original--on the verge of finding its audience.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Farm Stand at School

When I first discovered PS 11's Wednesday morning farm stand last year, it was nominally open 8 till noon, and I could drop by at 11 and still find terrific fruits and vegetables at great prices.

But word has spread, and now most stuff is gone by 10--some things sell out earlier.

Half the fun of shopping at the stand is being served by 3rd graders, watching them absorbing lessons in customer service along with arithmetic. The kids also learn about their wares--from the certified organic Stoneledge farm in the Catskills--how they're grown and how to cook them.

The stand operates from early June through late September, and this year, the kids have been there every week I've gone, even during vacation.

What I got this week: a bunch of scrumptious summer spinach ($1.50), 3 peaches($1), a cucumber (50 cents), and 2 peppers on their way to red ($1). I still had a patty pan squash from last week, when I bought other summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and a bunch of young leeks.

You'll find the stand in front of the school, at 320 W. 21st St. I understand the chefs show up by 8:00.

For further information about the stand, the farm, and recipes, check out:


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Farm Dinner in NYC

Who'd have guessed that the longest continuously farmed site in New York State is in New York City?

Dating to 1697, its 47 acres now make up the Queens County Farm Museum, which I only found out about one Friday when I bought some scrumptious veggies at their stand at the Union Square greenmarket.

I'm eager to visit the farm itself, but unfortunately won't make their Summer Feast in the Field--that's happening tomorrow, August 11, at 7:00 pm.

Those lucky folks who do will first tour the farm and then dine on farm produce, mostly gathered that day. The chef is Tamara Reynolds, who hosts the Sunday Night Dinner in Astoria and co-wrote Forking Fantastic! Put the Party back in Dinner Party.

Here's her menu:

Kale and Cucumber Salad
Eggplant, Summer Squash, and Lentils with Pomegranate Molasses
Queens Farm Free-Range Chicken bathed in Adobo, wrapped in banana leaves and slow-roasted "Robert Rodriguez Style"
served with
Salt-boiled Potatoes
Collards in Spicy Potlikker with Smoked Pork
Panzanella, made with Heirloom Tomatoes
Turkish Beans, slow-cooked in Olive Oil and Garlic
Stone Fruit in Queens Farm Honey and Rum with Basil Whipped Cream

The dinner is BYOB and costs $75. As of today, tickets are still available.

Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Parkway
Floral Park, New York 11004-1129
(718) 347-3276

Friday, July 30, 2010

Civil War Voices

The show began with a few bars of "Shenandoah," so beautifully rendered on piano and violin that I choked up a bit. But the Confederates had the next song, "Bonnie Blue Flag."

It was a Confederate diary that gave birth to the show--that of Alabama plantation owner Joseph Henry Harris, whose great-great nephew James R. Harris is a musical theater aficionado. After getting a first-hand view of the war from his uncle's diary, Harris was moved to seek out other Civil War stories and create the show that became Civil War Voices.

For me, Harris's greatest discovery was the story of Elizabeth Keckley, a slave who earned her freedom by becoming a skilled seamstress, worked for Mrs. Jefferson Davis, and then became Mrs. Abraham Lincoln's seamstress and confidante. Keckley eventually wrote a revealing memoir of her life in the White House--a book for which the world was unfortunately not yet ready in 1868. ("You can't make this stuff up," was the narrator's totally unnecessary comment.)

Other sources include the loving letters of Texas couple Theophilus (who fought for the Confedereracy) and Harriet Perry and the memoirs of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a teacher and intellectual from Maine, who became a Union general and was a hero of Gettysburg. Chamberlain's story will be familiar to many who remember Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, but an event I didn't remember provides one of the most powerfully moving episodes of the show--and drew my unexpected tears.

The crowd-pleasing score for Civil War Voices includes traditional folk songs and spirituals, Civil War songs, and popular songs of the period (one tune later became an Elvis Presley hit).

Beautifully performed and sung as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival, Civil War Voices can be seen today, Friday, at 5:45, and Sunday, August 1, 5:00, at the June Havoc Theatre, 312 W. 36 St.

For tickets ($18):

Nb: the show is likely to sell out.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Great Late Resnais

A romantic comedy by Alain Resnais, inspired by Dennis Potter, with characters breaking into song --playing free on a summer Friday in Washington Square Park. A must-see, I thought, and a mere 12 years after its American release, I finally saw The Same Old Song (On Connait La Chanson).

It's a deep and delightful film, and after two hours of enchantment, I wondered how I could have missed this gem when it first came out--let alone taken so many years to see it.

Resolving not to make such a mistake again, a week later I caught Resnais' latest, Wild Grass--another rich and strange work by a master.

If you live in New York City, you can, too. And if you don't, look for it--and The Same Old Song-- on Netflix.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Perfect for a 100 degree day. . .

They offered only slivers of shade at that hour, but Jim and I hugged the walls on the west side of 9th Avenue as we made our way to Chelsea Market. Bathed with sweat by the time we got there, we were ready for something super cold . . . and we found it: shaved ice from people's pops. the ice shaved from a huge block, and flavored with fruit syrups.

We chose a combination of the two special flavors of the day--rhubarb and sour cherry. The cherry dominated, but both were tasty. At $2.50 a cup, I sense a habit forming . . .

Saturday, June 26, 2010

TheTempest at Two

I've always thought of the seasonal pleasures of outdoor Shakespeare as something best reserved for evening, when the sun's down and the air might be at least marginally cooler than in the afternoon.

So I was bemused to learn that the Boomerang Theatre Company's production of The Tempest is performed in the heat of the day--matinees only.

But it had been way too long since I'd seen The Tempest, outdoors or in, so today I hied myself up to Central Park West in time for what would have been a 2 o'clock curtain, if there were a curtain.

Unlike some other companies that do summer Shakespeare, the Boomerang doesn't make their audience move--a good thing on a muggy summer afternoon. And though the ground where I pitched my blanket was mostly dust, tall trees provided ample shade.

Soon, the play cast its spell, and I forgot all about the heat. Something about the green canopy, the stage of rocks and dirt, and actors almost close enough to touch made me feel as if I were on Prospero's island, where it is often, if not always day.

Weather permitting you have five chances to catch this charming production: Sunday, June 27, and July 10, 11, 17, and 18.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When Neo-Futurists Perform

As the weekend approaches, I'm wondering what the New York Neo-Futurists will be up to tonight and tomorrow--which of the playlets Jim, Christine, Mitch, and I saw on April 2nd will still be on their menu of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, in which they attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes.

I enjoyed every one of the 27 or so they managed, but here, in reverse numerical order, are the titles of those I remember vividly weeks later (etc. denotes an abbreviated title that is part of the performance):

25. Politics 101. American Values. a sampling

21. These Two Gay Men Are Gonna Pick a Hottie in the Audience. etc.

20. Book Report: The Ramayana by Valmiki

18. Meryl Streep Will Drink Your Blood Now

17. June 5, 2002 (apology to an umbrella skeleton)

14. "Kill my grandmother,please!"


6. Congressional Symphony (Health Care Debate in Three Movements)

4. onion and absence

1. Bad Paddy

The one I was most hoping they'd get to but didn't:

19. Neo Geographic

In theory, the audience picks what's performed by calling out numbers, but I'm guessing the Neo-Futurists also consult their own druthers.

Every weekend they replace 3 or so playlets, so every few months they're performing a completely new show.

The New York Neo-Futurists perform Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind every Friday and Saturday at 10:30 pm at the Kraine Theater, 85 East 4 St. If you buy a ticket online, it costs $16; if you wait till you get there, you'll pay $10 plus the number you get rolling 1 die. Discounts are sometimes available online for TDF members.

For a history of the company (spun-off from the Chicago original), their aesthetics, class offerings, and samples of their work, go to:

Monday, April 26, 2010

The last slice

To the salon I attended on Sunday, one of the other guests brought a savory wonder: a kind of Spanish torta--a potato-and-onion pie--which he'd enriched with pesto and chanterelles. (Artichokes, too? I'm wondering now.)

The dish was rich, so the slices he'd cut were appropriately small, making enough to go around. After everyone had had a shot at them, I went back for seconds.

On the way out an hour later, I noticed, amazingly, one last piece in the pan. Tempting though it was, I resisted, thinking it should go to our host, Jerome, or to its creator, or to a remaining guest, if there was one, who'd had only one slice.

Or did it languish and get tossed. . . ?

I sure hope not!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hamlet in motion

I had a similar experience some years ago seeing Hamlet--I forget where, but likely an outdoor production: Late in the play, somewhere in Act IV , I realized I'd somehow missed the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. What happened: did the director cut it, the actor forget it, or had I somehow spaced out?

This time, I knew I'd paid full attention to every gripping moment of New York Classical Theatre's production of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark at the World Financial Center (given the echoes, I did miss some words here and there).

But I'd arrived a few minutes late--Horatio et al. were talking about the apparition they'd just seen--and reading the program on the way home, I realized in those minutes I'd missed the famous soliloquy.

The synopsis in the program begins:

"Inside Elsinmore castle, Hamlet, consumed by grief over his father's untimely death and, followed by his mother's marriage to his uncle Claudius two months later, wrestles with taking his own life. He chooses to live."

So director Stephen Burdman must have moved the soliloquy to the front of the play--before the familiar version actually begins.

Looking though the play at home, I found the soliloquy in Act III, Scene I, delivered as Hamlet makes his way to Ophelia, whom he will shortly tell, "I loved you not," and urge "Get thee to a nunnery."

That evening, despite the powerful performances of both Justin Blanchard as Hamlet and Ginny Myers Lee as Ophelia, I'd found something emotionally lacking and oddly implausible about that wrenching scene. Now I understood what had been missing (for me at least)--those agonized words of Hamlet to himself directly prepare for the terrible, life-shattering ones he will speak to Ophelia.

New York Classical Theatre specializes in outdoor ambulatory productions (this was their first indoors), in which audiences move with the actors every couples of scenes. I saw one in Central Park a few years ago--either a comedy or Henry IV, Pt. II--and whatever it was, it felt to me almost over before it had begun: Shakespeare Lite.

That this Hamlet, at little more than half its usual length, is not Shakespeare Lite is due to the fine performances.

I admired Justin Blanchard's Hamlet so much that I'm thinking about returning tonight to catch the soliloquy I missed--and to see again his extraordinary transformation from the Prince of Denmark to the imagined ghost of his father.

On second thought, I'll wait for a chance to see this talented actor deliver the soliloquy in the usual place--in another, fuller production (an opportunity devoutly to be wished).

You have one more chance to catch Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, at the World Financial Center: tonight at 7.

Don't be late.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My favorite bonnet. . .

. . . at the Easter Parade was one Jim didn't manage to snap: with fuzzy yellow balls covering the crown and a wide brim of tapered ivory petals (cotton canvas?), drooping a bit,

it was a giant daisy.

Make mine a sunflower. . .

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kickstarter Update

Congratulations to the City Reliquary, which just met their Kickstarter funding goals, thanks to backers like you and me.

Can't wait to get my street sweeping bristle!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Events, Part II

ShowBiz Expo East

Exhausted though I was from concentrating on 144 performances by the end of TRU's Saturday auditions, I'd have returned to watch more on Sunday had I not already paid to attend ShowBiz Expo on Sunday.

It had been a few years since I'd taken in the Expo--a trade show held on East and West coasts, featuring all kinds of equipment and services for those working in film and theater.

Now and then I'd gone to a panel at the Expo, but mostly I'd just cruised the exhibits, which are free. In my film school days, I remember being dazzled by major equipment on display, grabbing copies of Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and all manner of other trade publications, and talking with reps of film offices from Montana to Oklahoma to Connecticut.

Last time I showed up at ShowBiz Expo, after not having been in a while, I wasn't willing to wait an hour in the huge, slow line of those who hadn't paid for priority admission.

This year, I decided to spend the $10 required to avoid the line, and also paid for a panel, a directory of attendees, and the after-party.

I was shocked by the difference since my last visit. The exhibition space had shrunk--and where were Hollywood Reporter, Kodak, and DuArt?

There were, however, many, many more vendors of services for actors than I remembered: headshots, workshops, etc. Ironically, I thought, given the opportunity TRU offered that very weekend, actors could pay for individual auditions.

The one panel I had paid to attend didn't match the description of what I had signed up for, and was, in effective, a promotional event for the two panelists' business, which should have been free.

I saw my fill of the exhibits in an hour or so and returned home.

The after-party, from 6:30 to 9:30 in a downtown lounge, had, for my taste, music that was too loud, light that was too low, and way too little food to accompany the open bar.

Luckily, I'd eaten a bit at the TRU auditors' reception, where I'd started the evening, and where, in retrospect, I should have lingered longer.

And I'd known that, arriving at the Expo party at 7:30, I risked missing the food.

"What food?" said a guy who'd been there since the beginning, when I asked how the food had been. "They just brought out a couple of few platters like that one."

"That one" was a plate-sized tray of tiny egg rolls. Maybe 20 minutes later, I encountered another of miniature, highly salted cakes of something meant to be crab.

I spoke with a beginning actress who had auditioned with her sister. "It wasn't what I expected," she said. "There was one guy, who I guess was a producer. My sister and I did our thing, and he didn't say a word." I wondered how much she'd paid for the privilege.

The last person I spoke with at the party--an exhibitor--gave me his opinion of the organizers' attitude: "We need to extract as much money as we can from these folks, and we have one day to do it."

Sounds about right, I thought.

I won't be back.

A Tale of Two Events, Part I

TRU open auditions

Last Saturday, I had my first open audition experience--watching 144 actors present two minutes of either one or two monologues--one of the fringe benefits of TRU membership.

TRU--Theatre Resources Unlimited--is a remarkable organization whose mission is "to promote a spirit of cooperation and support within the general theatre community by providing information and a variety of entertainment-related services and resources that strengthen the capacity of producing organizations, individual producers, self-producing artists and other theater professionals."

Before most of TRU's monthly panels, attendees have a chance to tell the crowd what they're looking for. At a panel earlier this month, I allowed that I was looking for actors for a staged reading in June.

"Are you coming to our auditions?" TRU founder Bob Obst asked me. I said I'd love to, but could only come on Saturday. Bob told me that was fine, which, if I'd read emails about the auditions more carefully, I'd have realized.

TRU's auditions are a two-day event--Saturday for general auditions and Sunday for musicals. They're free for auditors, who typically include at least 40 theater companies, along with agents, casting directors, and TRU members like me who are looking for actors. Actors pay a fee of $45-$60.

We saw actors in groups of roughly 12--6 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon. Aside from the occasional actor who ignored the "time" signal and took significantly more seconds, the day went like clockwork.

We were not only fed, but well fed: bagels and cream cheese, Amy's muffins, juice, coffee, and clementines for breakfast; a choice of 3 kinds of sandwiches, salad, coleslaw, and pasta for lunch.

"This is a great event," I told Bob at lunch. "I hope it's useful," he said.

It was indeed.

TRU membership costs $60 for individuals; $90 for groups.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Miss This Malfi!

It's a rainy Monday afternoon, I just got back from a weekend in Richmond, and there's much else I could/should be doing tonight rather than seeing The Duchess of Malfi for the second time in less than a week.

Actually, it won't be the same Duchess of Malfi as the Red Bull Theater's brilliant and powerful production that's luring me back. It's a one-night-only staged reading of the adaptation by Bertolt Brecht and W.H. Auden that was produced on Broadway in 1946. Those were the days!

According to the Red Bull's announcement of tonight's reading, the Brecht/Auden version "intensifies the original's dark undercurrents."

It's hard to imagine how tonight's Duchess could be darker or more intense than the riveting show I just saw--but I can't wait to find out.

Jacobean drama isn't for the squeamish, and the second act of this one has an exceedingly high body count. But if you can tolerate the gore, this is a rare opportunity to see an extraordinary production of an unforgettable play.

Catch this Duchess of Malfi now, or you might have to wait another 50 years for a New York theater company to take it on.

It's playing at Theater at St. Clement's, 423 W. 46 St., Tuesday-Sunday, through March 28.

Tickets available at 212/352-3101, or

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Renaissance Street Singers

For 37 years, the Renaissance Street Singers, led by their founder, John Hetland, have been entertaining New Yorkers with polphonic sacred music from the 15th and 16th centuries. They perform on Sundays and can often be heard at the Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue and 16th Street.

Today's the second of the two concerts they perform every spring in Hetland's loft; reservations are by invitation and the concert's full, but you can enjoy the music online through a live webcast that can be replayed on demand.

It's available at

where you'll find a performance schedule.

The Streetsingers are open to new members who can "read music, carry a part confidently, blend well (with little or no vibrato)."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson

The first Saturday in February, I was having coffee at La Bergamote with my friend Catherine, when two attractive older women sat next to us, one blonde, the other African-American. They dropped a couple of things on the floor, which we picked up, and the four of us chatted a bit. We assumed they were neighborhood regulars.

"No, we just got in from Columbus, Ohio," said the blonde woman, and indicating her friend, "She has a show at the ACE gallery."

As they returned to their conversation, the moment to introduce ourselves passed, but on the way home after grocery shopping, I stopped by the ACE gallery, figuring I might see the artist and her friend there.

Unfortunately my timing was off. It was a little before one and I was alone in the gallery except for staff who were setting up for the opening of a show called 2 Black Women. The artists were Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, whom I'd sat next to at La Bergamote, and Faith Ringgold.

I was already a fan of Ringgold's work and realized I'd seen Robinson's before as well--most recently in Richmond. She makes strong and vivid art in a variety of media--painting, sculpture, fabric--ranging from the whimsical to the wrenching.

Her subjects include themes and stories from Black history, her hometown (Columbus), homages to distinguished African-Americans (Ringgold among them), places she's lived, and portraits of folks she's met in her travels. I was hypnotized by the Bedouin woman from a series she calls People of the Book.

Though I was sorry to miss the opening, there's something to be said for solitude when immersing yourself in an artist's work--and the time I spent alone with Robinson's and Ringgold's has brightened my winter.

I'll go back again before it closes.

2 Black Women runs at the ACE Gallery, 529 W 20, through March 20. On March 6, from noon till two, a documentary about Ringgold, will be shown, introduced by the artist, and followed by a conversation with scholar and author Michele Wallace (Ringgold's daughter) .

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Thanks to an email list I'm on, today I finally got around to checking out Kickstarter--the site for connecting worthy projects of all sorts with potential supporters.

I've just begun to browse the site, and right away found one to support: the City Reliquary, a community museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that preserves and displays all sorts of New York City artifacts--from geological core samples to paint chips from the L train.

If you're among the next 19 backers to pledge $5 or more, they'll send you an Authentic DSNY Street Sweeper Bristle. $50 gets you a membership.

To find this and other projects you might want to back, go to

You can visit the City Reliquary Saturday or Sunday from noon till 6 or Thursday 7-10 pm. See:

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The set consists of little more than rectangular cages that will be lockers one moment, coffins in another, with intermittent projections on three walls.

The play begins with the troubled voice of a man on tape asking for assurance that the interview will be off the record, full of doubt about whether he should be saying what he's about to say.  

But ReEntry isn't an anti-war play or an anti-war-in-Iraq play. It's about what those who fight in our wars go through, both in combat and when they return home--and why they serve.  
Culled from more than a year's worth of interviews by co-writers Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez (Sanchez also directed), the play tells the stories of Marines and their families, in their own words, voiced by a terrific ensemble of actors.   

Powerful, moving, and thought-provoking, this is one I won't forget anytime soon.

You have two weeks to catch it at Urban Stages, 259 W. 30

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time for a new Oscar?

For my money ($1 in an Oscar pool), The Hurt Locker, with its powerful script, brilliant directing, fine acting and cinematography, well deserves to be named Best Picture.

But what to do about Avatar. . . . 

The Hurt Locker gets my vote for the components of which Best Pictures are usually comprised, but Avatar feels to me like another kind of Best Picture--the kind that enlarges our sense of what films can do.  

There should be a special category of Oscar for such pictures:  an award for Special Achievement in Film-making,  Boundary Breaking, something like that.

It would honor extraordinary and innovative artistic achievement in a film as a whole--in contrast to typical Special Achievement awards, a new special effect or technological breakthrough wouldn't suffice--and it wouldn't be given every year.  Foreign films and docs would be eligible, and the winner could also be chosen as Best Picture. 

I'd have given such an Oscar to Citizen Kane. 

How about you?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowflake Shadows

It started with the lightest of touches: tiny crystals, pinpricks of light, danced before us like part of our personal 3D movie, as we left the late show of Avatar.

The big snow that saw out January in Richmond didn't have winds forceful enough to earn the name of blizzard, nor were we exactly snowbound, but by morning there was sure a lot of it.

From upstairs windows, we watched a stuck car shimmying in the middle of the block, wheels sunk halfway into the snow, while a few yards further on, some young folks pushed a truck across its path.

It was well past noon when Jim and I finally bestirred ourselves and, fortified with French toast and fried potatoes, ventured outside, he to shovel the sidewalks and I to play.

The snow was dry, so instead of a snowman, I heaped and pressed it into a castle, which ended up looking a bit like a lopsided wedding cake ensconced in a wagon wheel. I used a stick to poke it full of windows, and stuck some twigs in it to stand for ramparts or flags.

Late in the afternoon, we tromped around the neighborhood. Amazingly, the wine store was open so we of course supported our local merchant by buying a bottle.

Down the block, even more amazingly, a placard outside Taste Buds declared it to be opening at 5. It was already 6 and the place was empty.

"We could save the soup for tomorrow," I said, "and support our local restaurant." Jim thought that would be a fine idea as long as I we went there right away, after turning off the soup, without showering or changing.

That we did, and as we walked back to Taste Buds through light but steady snow, on the road ahead we saw something neither of us remembered ever having seen before: 

Gray spots, shadows of large snowflakes, dipped and twirled, then disappeared in an instant, as the flakes landed on their bed of snow.  It felt like watching candles going out, but these were anti-candles. 

Magical, mysterious, hypnotic--they held our eyes till we stepped inside, and I missed them when they were gone.   

I wish we could have filmed them--surely someone has (Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow?). Later I searched YouTube for Snowflake Shadows, but found only constructed snowflakes--mobiles and stationery and stuff.  

I'm still looking.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Waste Not

Joanne and I managed to catch "Waste Not" at MOMA on Labor Day weekend just before it closed, and months later I'm still thinking about the show, remembering the hypnotic power of all the stuff--possessions gathered over a lifetime--laid out on the gallery floor, the experience of walking through it, and how people reacted to it.

"It's to show where something goes," a guy behind us told the woman he was with, who'd asked about a mark on the floor. "Not that this is a show that's likely to travel. Might be when it closes, they should just haul everything to the dump."

Actually, the show, by Chinese artist Song Dong in collaboration with his mother, Zhao Xiang Yuan, had already traveled--it was first installed at Beijing Tokyo Art Projects in 2005.

Wherever the show's future--and I hope there will be one--it's well documented on MOMA's website:

There, along with photos and an interview with Song Dong, you'll find the book prepared for the show's first installation in both Chinese and English.

Keep clicking "Next" and you'll be able to read all the text that accompanied the exhibition at MOMA (including Zhao Xiang Yuan writing about laundry soap).

Maybe like me, you'll find yourself thinking about the meaning of the stuff in your own life, and what you value, what you crave, and what you fear.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Magic Circles

Last Saturday, for 45 minutes, I race-walked the ramp of the Guggenheim, reveling in the magic and beauty of one dazzling Kandinsky after another.

An hour would have been better, two hours would have been better still, a night in the Guggenheim would have been great, a week in the museum might have been ideal.

But 45 minutes were all we had, and we made the most of them--30 minutes up the ramp, with a quick detour to take in the prints, and 15 minutes down, as lights were being turned off on the levels above us.

To earn those 45 minutes, my friend Jeff and I had spent an hour shivering in the slow-moving line that circled the Guggenheim, wondering whether we would actually get in. It was pay-what-you-will evening--a paltry two hours (5:45-7:45 pm)--and we'd naively assumed that the cold would be enough of a deterrent to fellow art-lovers that we'd get in quickly.

I'd have happily paid the usual admission for this show, steep though it is, but given work commitments, this was my last chance--which I'd have missed entirely if not for Jeff's email earlier in the day.

Once inside, there was yet another line to stand in, though a faster-moving one. A sign said the last tickets would be sold at 7:15 and we made our token payments at 7:12, wondering if someone would bother to tell those still waiting in line outside that they hadn't a chance of getting in.

Usually when I've sped through a museum like this, it's been for work that I have a more casual interest in, not for radiant, powerful paintings like Kandinsky's.

This felt like speed-watching, a few seconds at most for works I'd have entered if I could, or sat down in front of and taken in without thought of time.

Or gorging on the richest of meals, engaging in a 45-minute caviar-eating competition.

On the way down, we looked at more labels to find out where besides the Guggenheim we might be able to see some of these again--Moscow, Munich, Paris.

But for now, brief though our visit was, my winter, my year, my life, have been illuminated by images and colors that still burn in my brain.

If you're in or near New York City and haven't seen this extraordinary exhibit, go if you can. Your last chance will be Wednesday, January 13. If you're a grown-up, you'll pay $18.

It's worth it.