Theater: Nature Theater of Oklahoma, founded by Pavol Liska and Kelly Cooper, is definitely one of the most compelling downtown theater ensembles these days. I saw their first two productions (a very condensed Three Sisters at CSC and the four-hour No Dice, produced by Soho Rep), and I find their mission statement extremely beguiling. “NTOK has been devoted to making the work we don’t know how to make, putting ourselves in impossible situations, and working from out of our own ignorance and unease. We strive to create an unsettling live situation that demands total presence from everyone in the room. We use the readymade material around us, found space, overheard speech, and observed gesture, and through extreme formal manipulation, and superhuman effort, we affect in our work a shift in the perception of everyday reality that extends beyond the site of performance and into the world in which we live.”
I knew I didn’t have the stamina for all ten hours of their most recent four-part show, Life and Times, produced at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in conjunction with Soho Rep, but I thought I could deal with at least the four hours of Episode 1. Alas, I only made it through half. I saw what they were doing – got the Gertrude Steinian continuous present, locating the world in mundane speech (the text is based on a lengthy interview with a woman telling the story of her extremely ordinary life in great excruciating detail); got the Brechtian staging; got the Jan Fabre-like concept of putting performers through a boot-camp-like physical ordeal. But setting the banal text to music – every ah, um, you know – was deadly.
Restaurant: Decamping at intermission provided the occasion to check out Aroma Wine Bar around the corner on East Fourth Street, where I had a delicious bowl of unusual pasta (strascinati with wild mushroom sofritto and spicy lamb sausage) and a glass or two of a rugged Pugliese red wine new to me.
Music: While I was in the neighborhood, I exercised my nostalgia for record stores and stopped into Other Music, still going strong after all these years, and found myself buying the latest album by Toro y Moi (aka Chaz Bundick), Anything in Return. Fun, sonically rich pop tracks with the kind of lovely vocal harmonies that always get labeled Brian Wilson-esque. The lyrics don’t stand up to close scrutiny but I can attest the album supplies an excellent soundtrack for getting stoned and having sex.
Film: The Rubin Museum presented a special screening of Sherwood Hu’s film adaptation of Hamlet, Prince of the Himalayas. I took a special interest because the Rubin’s whip-smart curator Tim McHenry booked the Wooster Group’s Elizabeth LeCompte to have a conversation with the director after the screening. I had the thrill of sitting between Hu and LeCompte (below), who was there with her own Hamlet, Scott Shepherd. The movie was fantastic, provocative and revelatory – Hu drew out interpretations of the story no one else ever has. Most notably: the reason Gertrude married Claudius so quickly after her husband’s death is that they’d been lovers before Gertrude’s marriage, and Claudius killed him because he was abusive to Gertrude. And Ophelia dies in the river (here a lake) giving birth to Hamlet’s son, who turns out to the title character. Set in ancient Tibet and shot on location mostly outdoors, the film is ravishingly beautiful and very well-performed. In the interview afterwards, though, the director came off badly. LeCompte kept asking him excellent questions, and he kept giving generic, bland blah-blah-blah answers; she was very persistent and kept asking him again, to no avail. And of course in her modest but unerring way, she noted that the child might have received a very different reception had it been a girl.
Restaurant: I had a lovely dinner with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, whom I’ve known since I did a cover story for Soho News about her in 1980. I was happy to turn her on to one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood, Radiance Tea House on West 55th Street, with its yummy dumplings, rice bowls, and spectacular menu of Chinese teas.
Theater: I’d never seen or heard any version of Fiorello! so was delighted to accept a friend’s invitation to the Encores revival at City Center. Unfortunately, we arrived a little before 8 and the show had started at 7:30, so we missed a few scenes. For all its reputation as Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, I found Jerome Weidman and George Abbott’s book pretty thin and the Bock and Harnick score only medium. Danny Rutigliano made a strong impression as the Little Flower hisself, Kate Baldwin did a lovely rendition of the sweetest ballad (“When Did I Fall in Love?”), and Erin Dilly and Jenn Gambatese stood out among the rest of the ensemble.