Friday, October 11, 2013


During the first few minutes of Iyom I had my doubts: wasn't this girl, tossing glitter into the air as she claimed to work her magic, just a little too much? But I was soon won over, not only by the performance of Monique A. Robinson, who plays Zaki at both 12 and 30, but by the entire cast, by the well-crafted language, and by a story that gains in power as it unfolds. Playwright Lou-Lou Igbokwe vividly renders a world that was new to me--that of Nigerian immigrants. Conflicts between their old and new cultures contribute to a universal family drama--one that had me in tears by the end. Iyom is a play of grace, beauty, bitterness, joy--and, yes, magic. It's a play I won't soon forget.

This weekend is your last chance to see this extraordinary play in its current production at the Workshop Theater. I hope there'll be another before long.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Marchellus Shale: The Talking Band's latest

Of all the theater companies whose work I've seen in New York over the years, none has meant more to me than The Talking Band. I try to catch all their shows, but given the short runs--typically three weeks or less, once or twice a year--I sometimes miss one. Among my favorites: Delicious Rivers, Flip Side, The Walk Across America for Mother Earth, Hot Lunch Apostles. Not everything they do is equally brilliant, but their work is unfailingly intelligent and even their weakest shows leave you with much to think about and moments to remember.

Their latest, Marcellus Shale, written and directed by Paul Zimet with music and sound design by Ellen Maddow, is, to my mind, one of their most powerful, and it deals with an issue some members of the company face, living as they do in areas threatened by fracking. It's set in a community in which many folks have leased their lands to gas companies and have been living with the consequences. Through the windows of their houses, we see those lands, thanks to some extraordinary video design by Anna Kiraly, and the ghostly figures that walk across them--as the characters struggle to find a way out--haunt my imagination.

You have to have till Sunday, June 9, to see this amazing show at La Mama.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I'm a Stranger Here Myself

Great news: Cabaret artist Mark Nadler's wonderful show about the music, history, and legacy of the Weimar Republic, I'm a stranger here myself, has been extended through June 9 at the York Theatre.

Nadler's a passionate singer and pianist who gives his all and then some--and, boy, does he have amazing stories to tell. Franca Vercelloni on accordion and Jessica Tyler Wright on violin provide haunting accompaniment, and the show features some of the strongest use of projections I've seen.

Despite excellent reviews, the show hasn't been selling out, so there are discount tickets available, but that could well change with the word of many mouths besides mine.

Powerful, moving, and occasionally hilarious, I'm a Stranger Here Myself is a show I won't soon forget (if ever)--and neither will you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Greens

I'd never heard of minutina till I saw it at the
Two Guys from Woodbridge's stand at the Union Square greenmarket on a recent Saturday. With long, feathery leaves emerging from fat rootballs, it was irresistible. I bought a bunch and took it home.

Meanwhile, at another stand, I'd bought, also for the first time, a bunch of chickweed. After being told it was usually used in salads, I'd asked about whether it could be a substitute a kale or spinach in a stew. "Certainly," replied the boss of the stand.

Now, with a giant bunch of minutina in my bag, I figured I might as well use both greens when I made caldo verde that night.

But first I tasted both greens--found them mild and wild, with just a bit of tang, crunchy, and grassy.

Above: minutina, which weighed more than a pound, including the rootball. Below: chickweed, which weighed a bit less.

After the beans, chorizo, and onions had cooked a while, I added about a third of the chickweed (below), and stirred it in.

Next, I broke off about a third of the minutina leaves and tore them into thirds, then added them to the soup. (below).

Once I'd stirred in the minutina (above), it looked as if the soup might like more greens, so I added first more chickweed (below):

And then more minutina, which looked to me like Spanish moss, when I lifted a ladle to fill my bowl.

As it turns out, this wasn't my first taste of minutina. A couple of years ago, I'd bought a smaller bunch from a different vendor at the green market, who didn't know its name but said it tasted like spinach. I sauteed it in olive oil and garlic and folded it into an omelet (see my earlier post: Mystery Green).

Bidder 70

"Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul," said Tim DeChristopher, quoting Edward Abbey.

On December 19, 2008, in Salt Lake City, Utah, at a federal auction of oil and gas leases during the lame duck days of the Bush administration, DeChristopher, an economics student, turned his sentiment into action. Rather than joining the protest outside the auction--of parcels of public lands near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and other sensitive areas--he entered the auction, and began bidding. By the time the auction was halted, he'd won parcels with bids amounting to $1.7 million--and bid up the prices of the rest.

The Obama administration eventually invalidated the auction, but nonetheless chose to prosecute DeChristopher.

Bidder 70, produced and directed by Beth and George Gage, tells DeChristopher's story, from his extraordinary action to his trial and its aftermath, and his influence on others, including the organization he co-founded, Peaceful Uprising--"committed to defending a livable future through empowering nonviolent action".

It's one of the most powerful, riveting, and potentially life-changing documentaries I've seen, and a labor of love on the part of the filmmakers.

You have till Thursday, May 23, to see Bidder 70 at the Quad in New York City.

After that, go to:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Next on my list. . . .

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). Jim just finished it, and I've got it--can't wait.

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

Friday, April 19, 2013

Script First

Jack Webb may have been one of the world's most wooden actors, but as director of Pete Kelly's Blues, he had some pretty cool moves. One memorable shot early on is from inside a pizza oven, beginning as a pie is pulled out, flames coyly dancing at the left of the Cinemascope frame--as if from the point-of-view of the alchemy that turns dough into bread (or weaklings into toughs). No wonder Martin Scorsese thought highly enough of the film to add it to his collection.

But my favorite moment in this atmospheric film has nothing to do with camera moves or plot twists or acting moments. It's part of the credits. They begin with Warner Bros. (of course) and Webb--but as actor, not director. No announcement of "a Jack Webb film" or anything else of that ilk. Instead, right after "Jack Webb as Pete Kelly," come words to warm a writer's heart: "in a screenplay by Richard L. Breen." Not "in a film by Jack Webb" or "in a Mark VII Production."

It's a rare acknowledgment that the script comes first, that without it there would be no film: no producing, directing gripping, gaffing, editing, and photographing; no roles for Janet Leigh, Peggy Lee, Lee Marvin, and their fellows.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, but I'd sure like to see somebody try. Maybe one of these days, an innovative director will relinquish the usual vainglorious opening credit, and put the script first again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing

Today I had a half hour or so between two nearby appointments, so I headed to the Museum of Modern Art, showed my card, escalated to the second floor, and turned into the first show I noticed: Wait, Later This Will be Nothing, Editions by the late, great Dieter Roth. It was a revelation. I'd seen paintings of Roth's in galleries and museums over the years, but wasn't familiar with his prints, books, and multiples. Here they were in abundance: Intricate, hypnotic, black-and-white prints--in the vanguard of op art. Books made from discarded newspapers. "Literary sausages" in which ground-up books Roth loved or loathed were used as a meat substitute combined with traditional ingredients and sheathed in traditional casing. Prints including foodstuffs like cheese or chocolate that the artist intended to decay with time but had been well covered with glass. A series of gorgeous, haunting works, large and small, based on a postcard of Piccadilly Circus.

My time ran out halfway through the show, but I'll be back.