Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Toast to Travel

A Toast to Broadway
Journey ended, experiences over, everything back to the day-to-day, and, comfortable at home, I'm finishing off this blog while planning my next trip.  It was a great Broadway fix and has given me lots of good memories and lots to think about over the coming months.  The trip home reminded me how much I hate to fly! In future, I think I'll skip the long weekend trips and opt for longer, more relaxing stays. I also learned to take only taxis from LaGuardia...forget shared transport.

On this trip I finally managed not to mouth off to TSA Nazis; I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.  A well-dressed black man stopped me to ask directions when I was returning home after walking my dog yesterday.  I recognized an African accent and when I learned he was from Tanzania, I invited him home for a cold drink.  Dwight and I have only good memories of our time in East Africa and I thought Dwight might enjoy meeting him as well.  We enjoyed the visit and memories of Africa.  He commented he was surprised I would invite a stranger into our home, and I responded that I'm glad I haven't participated in the nation's current paranoia. Travel expands your horizons only if you let it.  For me, it's not about museums, or even plays.  It's about changing your usual patterns, adapting to unusual environments, overcoming fears, exploring your own prejudices, meeting new people, and seeing things with new eyes.  New York is a great place to accomplish all of that.  Now on to the Far East.  We're planning a cruise to Vietnam and Thailand in January and I'm already looking forward to blogging all about it.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Set Design for Peter and the Starcatcher

A Trip to Neverland

Human imagination is the ultimate creative instrument and Peter and the Starcatcher is an ultimate vehicle for displaying it.  No high-tech or Photoshop, no flying monkeys or synthesizers, just an incredible display of stagecraft transports theatregoers to imaginary landscapes in this Tony award winning production.    Peter and the Starcatcher originally came to New York in an Off-Broadway production, moved to Broadway long enough to win a Tony, and has now returned to the more intimate venue of the Off-Broadway New World Stages.  It's come home. 

The opening number immediately sucked me into this strange and starlit world from my 5th row center seat.  Twelve talented actors, accompanied only by a piano and drum, introduce us to many of the almost 100 characters they will play in the course of the production.  Emoting incredible energy and personality, every actor entered enthusiastically into the fast-moving production.  Lengths of rope became the boundaries of small rooms, model ships became rolling galleons, kitchen instruments became mermaid breasts, and stardust pervaded everything.

The story revolves around a nameless orphan who longs to fly, who disdains "grown-ups," and who morphs into Peter Pan of Neverland, fighting Captain Hook, avoiding a ticking crocodile, flying about his island and never growing up.  Like the landscape of Oz, Neverland is a shared landscape, shared only in the imagination.  It's impossible to describe this show other than to say it offers the best of theatricality.  The only thing I can compare it to is the Telluride Squids Clown Show last summer, a cacophony of action coalescing into a meaningful whole.  You're not exactly sure what you saw after it's over, but you know you've experienced something, and that is exactly what the theatre is all about...experience!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sunday in the Park without George

Sunday, Mother's Day, the last day of our visit to The Big Apple, dawned sunny and bright  My fellow travelers opted for another day at the museums, but I still hadn't had my fill of theatre and decided to strike out to see what I could find.  The TKTS booth at Times Square was offering discounts on Peter and the Starcatcher and I remembered the good things said about that play at last year's Tony's, but I couldn't face standing in line.  So I googled the location of the theatre.  It was on 50th between 8th and 9th, only a few blocks away, so off I went to the Box Office where I scored one ticket, 5th row center, for the 3:00 p.m. matinee.

With the afternoon settled, I had the rest of the morning free.  I decided to wander downtown and possibly go to the Library or to Macy's for some shopping.  I crossed to Midtown on 42nd street, second only to Times Square in garishness. 
I ended up at Bryant Park and remembered why it's one of my favorite spots in New York.  The lawn was filling up with picnickers, fathers were introducing their children to the Merry-Go-Round, people were enjoying sack lunches midst the sun, shade and flowers, and I decided to treat myself to a Mother's Day Brunch at the Bryant Park Grill.  It was a lovely day.  Sam called to wish me a Happy Mother's Day while I was enjoying my brunch.  After my leisurely meal, I had just enough time to take the Subway back to Broadway and wander over to the Starcatcher venue at New World Stages (review to follow).

In the evening, we decided to indulge Marilyn's request for Thai food, so, in spite of Judith's misgivings, we went to the Broadway Thai restaurant which was across the street from the Gershwin Theatre where we had seen Wicked.  Just like the French restaurant I had eaten in two days earlier, it looked like a hole in the wall, but it was run by Thais and the food was great.  New York is an amazing place!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Broadway Reviews


Who can say what is good and what is wicked?  Wicked addresses this question without answering it.  The answer lies buried somewhere in context, and Wicked presents us with rich context which is at the same time both familiar and strange.  The familiar territory, at least for women, comes in the relationship between two young schoolgirls, popular Glinda and outcast Elphaba.  Glinda discovers the humanity of Elphaba hidden under her hideous green skin and undertakes to give Elphaba a lesson in becoming "popular."  She proceeds to give Elphaba instructions in how to provocatively toss her hair.  Is popularity shallow? The two young women become best friends, a relationship tried and broken when they vie for the affections of a young man.

The strange (and yet, strangely familiar) comes from the placement of the story in the very, merry land of Oz, one of the few landscapes that is shared by all American generations.  It seems the Emerald City, where the predominant color is green (green--a lush and verdant color of growth--and money) , should provide a natural refuge for green-skinned Elphaba.  We even discover that the Wizard of Oz is her natural father; surely, she has reached an environment in which she will thrive; but, it is not to be.

(Spoiler alert.)  So, does good conquer evil or does evil prevail?  Neither.  Essentially, the green-skinned high-school outcast runs off with the good-looking guy, and the popular girl is left behind to fight for right and justice.  That part I didn't exactly get, but all-in-all, it was a very pleasant evening.  The production was stunning; the music was interesting and tied to the story; the acting and singing were high quality; the choreography was entertaining.  The theatre was comfortable (although without enough women's restrooms). What's not to like?  It was Broadway at its best.


Laughter is known as the best medicine, and this play handed out a good dose.  Laughs came from the first line and never stopped.  Author Christopher Durang created an interesting sister-brother-sister combination.  Family relationships never fail to make for interesting drama, as Chekov knew and Durang reminds us. Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and adopted sister Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) were left to care for the old folks while flashy, globe-trotting movie-star sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver) pays the bills with proceeds from her five hit movies in which she starred as a sexy serial killer.  When Masha comes to visit the family homestead bringing with her a young stud lover, old family conflicts take over.  Fueled by an invitation to a costume party and the predictions of voodoo-practicing housekeeper named Cassandra, events proceed, not according to plan but according to destiny.
It was my first time in the Golden Theatre, a beautiful, intimate venue that seats only 850.  Built in 1927, it contained all the columns and gilt and curlicues typical of the Victorian style.  My seat, which I purchased just an hour before the performance, was 7th row center.  This play deserves all the accolades it will be getting at the Tony awards.  The writing was spot-on; the set was impeccable; and the cast was perfect, both as an ensemble and as individuals. 



I really wanted to like this play, but I didn't.  "Nance" is a pejorative term used to refer to an effeminate male performer in Vaudeville.  This play took place in 1937 when Vaudeville was a dying animal and homosexuals were persecuted.  The "Nance" role of Chauncey was played by...drumroll...Nathan Hale, and the story alternated between scenes from his Vaudeville performances and from his life.  The Vaudeville scenes, with their perky female strippers and constant gay innuendoes, won the day.  Chauncey's life became increasingly sordid and bitter. 

The play began in an Automat noted as a pick-up spot for New York gays.  Chauncey picked up a young homeless man and the scene switched to Chauncey's Hell's Kitchen apartment where, of course, the couple moved from sexual relationship to love.  The remainder of the play was spent lamenting the closing of the Vaudeville era and Chauncey feeling increasingly sorry for himself.  Eventually, Chauncey sent the young man away and returned to the Automat for another pick-up, only to be arrested by the vice police for kissing his young man goodbye.

For me, the relationship between the two men never became real enough, and their break-up didn't move me to tears.  Maybe bitterness is just not attractive enough to evoke pity or empathy, and bitterness was all Chauncey could muster from his situation.   I only mustered relief that I could rise from my overly hard chair and call it the end of a long day.   

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lost in NYC

Hip Hop in the Times Square Station
New York-- the best place to lose yourself without getting lost.  There are so many cabs, subway stations, bus stops, and friendly people willing to give you directions, you're never in danger of getting REALLY lost, but you can get lost enough to relax your mind...sometimes that's almost as good as being in "nature."  Marilyn was not feeling well this morning and Lou wanted to see the museums, so I opted to strike out on my own for a NYC adventure.  I started by getting on a subway and ended up on a train going the wrong direction, so I got off, ran up to the bridge, ran down on the other side and rushed into a train going the other direction, only to find out it was an express going to Brooklyn Prospect Park and didn't stop anywhere I was going, so I got out at the Times Square Station.  That was the highlight of my day!  Buskers galore, every kind of humanity, grimy artwork on the tiled walls, what more could you want?  For me, at least, it beat a stuffy old museum stuck in the past. 

My stated goal had been the World Trade Center; I reached my goal and circled it on foot (looking for a Subway station) before the afternoon was over, but the lines to see the memorial were too much to even think of coping with.  I was happy with the NY crowds and the walk.  Lunch was at Zutto's (Italian?) Japanese American Pub.  Ain't it great?  A polyglot!  Love it!  Check it out....

Hudson Street Market

Sushi Chef at Zutto's Japanese American Pub

New York Color

South End View of Our Lady of Liberty


A Looooong Day

Stonehenge in NYC?

Long awaited trip to New York City.  How's that for starting the blog with a phrase instead of a sentence.  It makes me feel like a journalist.  So here I sit in the Radio City Apartments in New York City looking back on yesterday and wondering how we did it all. We (Marilyn Sandstrom, Judith Reynolds, Lou Falkenstein and I) met at 4:00 a.m. and Dwight drove us to the airport to find that we were the only travelers in the building.  We had to wait half an hour for the airline employee to show up and check our bags.  I guess we should know by now that Durango is a small town airport and there's no reason to show up for a 6:00 a.m. flight at 4:30 a.m.  At least we had no delays getting through the security line, except for Lou's new knee which set off the alarm and gave the sleepy-eyed TSA agents some excitement.  Pity she wasn't carrying.   A change of planes in Denver and many naps later we arrived at La Guardia airport and caught our shuttle to our hotel. 

This little hotel is neither as bad as I had expected, nor as good as I had hoped.  It's clean enough, but small.  There are a lot of Europeans in the lobby; they are used to managing in small spaces.  But we're a compatible group and, although we were too tired to get completely settled in last night, by this morning we have all claimed our necessary space, and it is adequate if not elegant.  We were to meet a friend of Judith's here at the hotel and miraculously she arrived just as we were checking in. After solving a bedding problem more easily than expected, we headed out to explore our surroundings.

Bella Napoli, 49th Street, NYC
Judith, Lou, me, Pet, Marilyn
The hotel is well-located between Times Square and Rockefeller Center.  We can get down and dirty or up and elegant in an instant depending on which way we turn when we walk out the hotel door.  We turned right last night, strolled around Rockefeller Center and, returning to the hotel, found the perfect NY Italian neighborhood restaurant for dinner.  We felt we were on a roll.  After dinner, Judith and Peg and I continued to the York Theatre to watch a performance by our "old" houseguest Mark Nadler.  That was a great start to a New York kind of weekend.  We straggled home afterwards and I, for one, was happy to fall into bed exhausted.