Tag Archives: broadway

A Night of Queens

June 11th brought with it a windfall of invitations to some very New York events. Apparently, it was a night fit for a queen or, more accurately, queens. I had to choose between an event at the NYPL with Queen Noor of Jordan, an evening of theater seeing MARY STUART at the Broadhurst Theater or a gala benefit for amFAR hosted by a different sort of queen, “Lady Bunny.”

Despite the unique appeal of each event, I had to choose just one. I went with MARY STUART,

Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer

Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer

because I can’t pass up a good Elizabethan drama. I arrived in Times Square directly from work and was still emailing from my Blackberry. Since I had enough time to spare, I took advantage of the new lawn chairs in the middle of Broadway and finished up the last of my emails sitting on a lawn chair right in the middle of the square.

By the time MARY STUART started, my exhaustion hit and despite the intriguing story line, it was a struggle for me to stay awake at first. But then I hit a point (and a second wind) where I was swept away in the language, the rhythm, lyrical dialogue and powerhouse acting of Janet McTeer (as Mary Stuart) and Harriet Walter (as Queen Elizabeth). They truly deserve the title of theater royalty.

Earlier this theater season I saw another member of theater royalty when actor Frank Langella starred in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. Though I am a fan of Langella’s work, SEASONS didn’t stir my emotions the way MARY STUART did. SEASONS gave us a portrait of a complicated and multi-layered man, something we’re used to seeing so much in theater that now it’s a bit old and overplayed. MARY on the other hand, was fluid, intriguing and dynamic. Perhaps this is because we don’t see many women on stage represented as complicated and multi-layered, especially during the time period of MARY.

The big second act rain/rebirth scene left me feeling like I’d witnessed one of those moments in live theater that people talk about for decades; it felt like a privilege. It also perfectly illustrates what I love about live theater: it’s a moment shared intimately by the actors and the audience. It only happens once, and, though it’s played out again and again, night after night, it’s always different. The audience gasps when the mists of rain suddenly come down and I wonder if that same reaction happens nightly. I wonder if rhythms in the character’s big monologues change, if the energy is different, how the theater smells (always a combination of upholstery and women’s perfume), if someone dropped a line, changed the order, missed their mark or is so caught up in the scene, they almost forget to breathe. Such elements can rearrange the molecules of a production leaving a mark like DNA, one that can never be duplicated — it’s there and it’s gone in an instant.

But no matter which night you go and which performance you see, the words are intact, the meaning translated; the audience moved. Just like the moment the rain appears on stage (whether you are surprised or not at its appearance), I gasp when I think of the singularity of what I’ve witnessed and how it can never be completely captured in that way and on that stage again. I suppose that also holds true for any of the other events I could have attended that evening, but MARY STUART captured my spirit. And in witnessing that performance, my very molecules were rearranged.
–Downtown

Janet McTeer as Mary Stuart

Janet McTeer as Mary Stuart

Waiting for God-ot or If the Boot Fits…

It was one thing to read Samuel Beckett’s humorous mid-twentieth century play, Waiting for Godot,  as a college student when I questioned the meaning of everything anyway. It’s another thing to see it on Broadway with a college classmate years later. 100 years post-graduation, we are mothers, wives, professionals… um, women approaching middle age. Or some might say, middle-aged. Oy. Fits in perfectly with the plays passage of time theme.

The overarching central idea, of course debatable since it is mostly a series of questions without answers so to each her own, offers fodder on life, death and the existence of god. The Roundabout Theater Company run at Studio 54 through July 12 is first rate with Bill Irwin, Nathan Lane, John Goodman and John Glover. Like (my) life, the play is at once funny, sad, entertaining and fully satisfying.

The characters seek to understand the relationships of one and other (note to Beckett, what role, if any did women play?) as they fit into a possible grander scheme of things. Little was left to surprise but everything was absurd or questions were answered with questions. Is that what life is all about?

No doubt, life can be challenging but it can be fun(ny). Get this: as the long-time friend and I sauntered uptown after Friday night’s performance, we came across an unclaimed pair of boots, obviously abandoned, or perhaps just waiting for the right soul set of soles. It would be hard not to think of them as scripted:

VLADIMIR:

Your boots, what are you doing with your boots?

ESTRAGON:

(turning to look at the boots). I’m leaving them there. (Pause.) Another will come, just as . . . as . . . as me, but with smaller feet, and they’ll make him happy.

Simple pleasures.

These boots were made for working

These boots were made for working

And with that, I owe great thanks to the husband of the longtime friend who surprised us with the tickets. He earned high points in the good deed department: selfless, thoughtful, generous. Thank you, H and T. We’ve come a long way…

An Open Letter to Broadway

Dear Broadway,

Thank you for consistently showing me, that no matter what age I am, my image will always be reflected back at me. 

-Downtown

Thirteen: The Musical

Thirteen: The Musical

reasons to be pretty

Reasons to be Pretty

Nine to Five: The Musical

Nine to Five: The Musical

God of Carnage

God of Carnage

Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens

33 Variations

33 Variations

Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit

Voicemail For Dummies

vm1

Here’s a quick lesson in why one should always check voicemail. My post-B’way show backstage invite was cancelled when it was thought VIP political guests were coming to the show this evening. VIP political guests didn’t errr … show. My friend called me right before the curtain to tell me she put my name on a list for a backstage visit after. I never checked my vm. Just received an email from her asking where I was. One word to describe myself comes to mind: Dumbass.
–Downtown

tour_stage_door

33 Variations

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend. ”
– Ludwig van Beethoven

True artists are their art. There is no separation between the human being and their creation; humans are merely a vessel for their creation.

These are some of the hypotheses offered in Moisés Kaufman’s new play, 33 Variations, which is currently in previews tn-500_fondawm0129211488at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. The idea of combining the story of how a series of songs came to be through the eyes of both Beethoven, himself, and the musicologist studying his sketches nearly two hundred years later, is what initially drew me to this play. When it was announced Jane Fonda, after a 46 year absence from the stage, had signed on to play musicologist, Dr. Katherine Brandt, I bought my ticket knowing that the words “sold out” would likely follow soon after.

As expected, I was the youngest person in the theater, by a good 30+ years — and that’s being generous. Nearly everyone at the Sunday matinee I attended came to see Jane. They thought they had an idea of the Jane they were going to see: Barefoot In the Park Jane, Klute Jane, Julia Jane, Coming Home Jane, The China Syndrome Jane, and, maybe even Hanoi Jane. If you grew up in my generation, however, your point of reference is more likely to be this Jane:jane-fonda2
which is probably why the audience tipped in favor of the grey-headed set.

But now the older crowd has one-upped their younger, theater-going counterparts, because 33 Variations is a beautiful, exquisite, modern work of theater. It is everything a play should be and more. Frankly, I’m almost surprised it made it up to Broadway and didn’t find a home downtown. It has the feel of experimental theater with a spare, but detailed and ingenious set, which combines pen, ink, paper, piano, sound, words, and musical visuals, via a screen on stage.

Moisés Kaufman has created an original piece of theater that marries language and music in an arresting fashion. To hear each line played on a piano by Diane Walsh, while Ludwigkellermannandfonda van Beethoven (played tremendously by Zach Grenier) “thinks” each note through out loud allows you to feel as if you are right there with him. In the words of Dr. Katherine Brandt, “I feel like I am looking over his shoulder as he composes.”

There were beautiful moments of straight monologue underscored, softly, by the piano, that nearly had me in tears. Like when Dr. Brandt says Beethoven’s variations stopped time: “They found moments to live in and expand. Right before he takes her hand to dance, when he misses a step, or asks, ‘will she like me? ‘” And, the goal of the present-day story in 33 Variations is to stop time as well. Katherine needs time to finish her paper, to learn more about her daughter, and to leave the world with one last thesis proved.

Oddly enough, for a woman so well-learned, Dr. Brandt seems content not having any sort of self-exploration beyond her investigation into the past of others. The story might be at fault here, but this is where Jane Fonda shines the brightest. In Dr. Katherine Brandt, Fonda has created a character, a vessel, that does not allow second-guessing. She comes up with a hypothesis and proves it, no further questions asked. The confidence, cockiness and self-absorption run high, but instead of writing the character off as a bitch, Fonda plays her as a deeply flawed, but fiercely intelligent woman. Perhaps the kind of woman we all are, deep down. She may show a few cracks, but does not break. She is, quite possibly, the ultimate expression of the public woman.

The supporting cast carve their own characters so meticulously, it feels as if each of them take turns becoming our lead actor, from Susan Kellerman (Katherine’s German counterpart, in more ways than one) to Samantha Mathis (who portrays Katherine’s daughter) and the dynamic Don Amendolia (as the music publisher, Diabelli who composes the thema on which Beethoven’s variations are based), Erik Steele (as “Friend of Beethoven”), Colin Hanks as “Nurse Mike,” (who manages to make the most of a part thatfullcompany331 could use a little more), and of course, Zach Grenier as Ludwig van Beethoven, they are all vital notes in each of the variations. It is a testament to both Kaufman as a writer-director, and the cast themselves, who appear to have the utmost respect for each other and allow each character, each variation, its moment to shine.

With all the revivals and adaptations, it’s rare to walk out of a theater feeling as if you’ve witnessed something unique and learned a few things along the way, but 33 Variations allowed me to feel a glimmer of promise for the future of theater. Hopefully, this play will inspire the work of other playwrights and perhaps in their work, we’ll catch a similar turn of phrase, a note, emotion, or maybe even discover the next Beethoven.
–Downtown

All My Sons

imagesWhen it comes to celebrity, people tend to get excited and push and shove and even pay (pinkie swear) for prime viewing spots/shots.. So when the 14-year old, my husband and I exited the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre after a Saturday matinee last month, rather than hit the sidewalk and proceed on our merry way, we found ourselves corraled into a rectangular formation of metal barriers, in place to ogle over the actors as they, too, exited.

The Arthur Miller play closes it’s Broadway run on January 11. Cast members include John Lithgow (Joe Keller), Diane Wiest, (Kate Keller), Patrick Wilson (Chris Keller) and Katie Holmes (Ann Deaver).

We three enjoyed the performance, it’s poignant truths and a reference to the inherent value of General Motors stock. Although the preliminary instruction from the stage tells the audience it is “set in our era,” the play was written in 1947 at a time when a GM share would have been worth tk compared to today’s value of 4.13 +0.19 (4.82%) Jan 7, 4:00PM EST

Suffice it to say, when in Rome post-theatre, I snapped away and this is what I got… Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise outside stage doors after a Saturday afternoon performance of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons"

Bright Lights, Small City

There are days when New York feels less like a city and more like a small town. Granted, we both live in neighborhoods, on streets and in buildings, so that small town quality is already quite evident if you tend to stay in a ten block radius of your apartment. I also tend to stay away from areas that are inhabited by people I don’t particularly like. For instance, I avoid going over to 19th and Broadway. If I have to hit up ABC Carpet or Fishs Eddy, I do it during a week day, when I have less of a chance of running into the person I hate who lives on 18th and Broadway. Hopefully, she’s at her day job. I saw her once, while making the mistake of walking down Broadway to return home, but luckily, the “Walk” sign flashed and I crossed the street, managing to avoid her.

I try to avoid the Columbus Circle Whole Foods, as I once ran into a guy I went on a date with, whose nickname was “Wolfman.” And though he was a decent-seeming guy, I spent a large part of the date trying to avoid staring at his excessive amount of arm hair, which made it look like his watch was drowning. Ironically, I saw him in the produce section, where we was checking out the fuzzy-skinned peaches. To add insult to injury, I wasn’t wearing any make-up. I still can’t decide what was worse, seeing a guy you never called back or seeing him on a Sunday afternoon makeup-less, a little hungover and sniffing the flat parsley (just to make sure it wasn’t in fact, cilantro). I had forgotten he lived in that neighborhood, so it remained on my “places to avoid” list for six months.

But it still throws me for a loop when I see people walking in my neighborhood who shouldn’t be there. Today, I was walking down Greenwich Street, headed to Tea & Sympathy to meet an old high school friend I hadn’t seen in nine years. A half-block away from my destination, I ran into my old screenwriting partner from college, who now lives in Los Angeles. I hadn’t seen her in five years. She just happened to be in town for a bridal shower this weekend. While waiting outside the restaurant, a woman walked by me pushing her baby stroller. It was my old college RA, who just moved from Portland, ME to the UWS and was bringing her new son, Owen, for a stroll downtown. Then, I had the requisite celebrity encounter when Kiefer Sutherland showed up for teatime and a fan asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a picture of him with Mr. Sutherland. Click.

After tea, I had to head over to Kate’s Paperie to replenish my stationery. I was too late, the store had just closed. Another woman joined in my dismay as she walked up to the door. When we turned to each other to remark on our “luck,” we realized simultaneously that we knew each other, having worked together five years ago, before she moved back to London. Turns she’s in town for a temporary job with the Tribeca Film Festival. After a brief catch up session, we parted ways.

Walking back home, I was now on the lookout for other people I knew, expecting them to appear around every corner. I sometimes mind the small town atmosphere that comes with living in New York, but at least today I was prepared, I was wearing make-up.

–Downtown

Revisiting Roots: Downtown Goes Out-of-Town

Uptown, you get around! Man I feel so lazy when I read a post like that, having spent the morning sleeping, the early-late afternoon doing work and then an Italian supper with 15 family friends in New Jersey. The weekends I spend out of Manhattan make me itchy, like I need to get back, as if there’s something I’m missing or forgetting to do. It takes me at least a full day to unwind and shove those thoughts into the far recesses of my brain. hookmtn.jpeg

Though I spent most of the weekend working, I did take a break on Saturday to do some shopping and then, when the rain stopped, over to Nyack Beach/Hook Mountain for a walk on the cliffs overlooking the Hudson. I love walking there — it makes me feel like I’m in a Hudson River School painting. I went about a half a mile on the trail before the high winds whipped right through me, making my eyes tear to the point where I couldn’t see well enough to move on. I wisely turned around and shivered my way back to the car.

From there, I headed South on Broadway towards Runcible Spoon to warm myself with a nice cup of coffee. Because of the weather, the bakery wasn’t populated with the usual crowd of colorful spandex-clad cyclers stopping to refuel with a scone or one of “the ‘spoon’s” famous morning buns. dcp_2338.jpg

On the way to Runcible, I past some fun local landmarks. The first being the old Victorian house we called, “The Sisters’ House.” Straight out of a scary movie, this creepy old rundown, but gorgeous home with gingerbread detail was owned by The Johnson family since the turn of the century. Alvin Johnson, the founder of The New School, lived in it with his wife and seven children until his death. After that, two of his daughters Astrid and Felicia lived in it together. Astrid was a batik artist and once made a beautiful scarf from my mother (which now hangs in my sister’s closet, when it isn’t holding back her hair.) Felicia became an economist and professor at the New School. She was also a master gardener (the results of which you could only see if you happened to brush aside the wild growth in the front and backyard — my mother called this the ‘secret garden.’) When she was in her 70’s, Felicia became the first mayor of Upper Nyack, NY. winning by one vote with her door-to-door campaign. Both sisters died a few years ago and now someone is gutting the house and has wacked the weeds away. In the spring, I’m certain Felicia’s beautiful garden will awaken and finally be seen from the sidewalk.

A few houses away from the Sisters’ is “Pretty Penny,” the former home of the First Lady of Theater, Helen Hayes. My mother knew Helen towards the end ofpretty-penny.jpeg her life and I have vague memories of playing in the backyard of Pretty Penny and sitting by the pool. The house was incredibly rundown, as Helen was nearly 90 and not in a state to undergo a home renovation. But, it was still beautiful. Books lined the walls, an Oscar or an Tony could be found sitting here or there. Musty and a little frightening to a 10-year-old, but fascinating at the same time.

Ingrid Bergman sought refuge at Pretty Penny after her affair with Roberto Rossellini came to light; Kate Hepburn played tennis on the court while Helen’s husband, Charles, drank on the porch with Spencer Tracy.

When she was 90, Helen wrote her autobiography, a copy of which sits in my parent’s living room bookcase, the shaky inscription written out to my mother. I remember Helen’s funeral a few months later and the hundreds of people who attended, pouring out of the small Nyack church. A year or so later, Rosie O’Donnell purchased the house, gutted it and returned it to its original splendor. Then, she built a seven foot high wall around it, planted 12 foot tall trees and moved out a few years later to a “compound” off the south end of Broadway, about a mile down the street. Now, all that can be seen of Pretty Penny from the street is the hawk’s nest and the main chimney.

hopperhousefinal.jpgRight before Main Street sits the Edward Hopper House. Birthplace and childhood home of, you guessed it, E. Hopper. Now, it’s a cute little gallery exhibiting local artists and local collector’s art. Rumor has it four-year-old Edward would sit on the front porch with his watercolors, painting the neighbors as they walked by.

Further down Broadway past main street is Carson McCullers’ house. As requested in her will, the house is being used as an artist’s residence. McCullers lived here from the mid-1940’s till her death mccullers.jpegin the late ’60s. It’s a pretty place, set back from the street and flanked by a baptist church and a medical professional building — both somehow fitting for her.

After South Broadway, I head towards River Road and through the town of Upper Grandview, passing “the Storybook house,” a home built in the 1920’s by a couple fascinated with the medieval period (as illustrated by the stone cottage’s design and interior decor.) The husband and wife were authors and so inspired by their home, they created a series of books for children all taking place in the stone house. There’s even a waterfall starting right at the home’s foundation and running down the front of the rocky hillside and into a ravine below.

A few doors down and I pass the home of yet another author, Toni Morrison, whose windows were custom-blown in a pink/orange shade to mimic the dawn and dusk light that comes off of the Hudson. So, no matter what time of day, the inside of her house has a warm, rosy glow.

I continue on down the road and enter into the village of Piermont, warmed from both my coffee and the trip down memory lane, ghosts in tow.

-Downtown