Archive for February, 2018

Culture Vulture: New Georges Theater

February 25, 2018


I’ve been making an effort to reserve my increasingly limited theatergoing time for plays and artists that are new to me, bypassing revivals and work by people whose work I know thoroughly. I’ve long admired the idea of New Georges, Susan Bernfield’s theater company devoted to producing work by women, even though I’ve seen little or none of their work, and I’d yet to check out shows at the spiffy new Flea Theater space in Tribeca. So the description of the current double bill of Sound House and This Is the Color Described by the Time called out to me big-time.

We started with the Sunday matinee of Sound House, Debbie Salvetz’s production of Stephanie Fleischmann’s play about British electronic composer and sound designer Daphne Oram. I’d never heard of Oram, and I loved the nerdy non-glam period style of the actress who plays her, Victoria Finney. But the piece as a whole chopped up Oram’s story into incoherent bits shuffled together with an invented and much less interesting narrative about a character named Constance Sneed (Susanna Stahlman) and her stormy relationship with an elderly downstairs neighbor. The three actors (James Himelsbach plays a colleague of Oram’s named Horace Ohm) spend a lot of time arranging and rearranging antique sound equipment around the stage to no great import. I left unsatisfied.

Happily, its companion piece later that evening was a different story. Conceived and directed by Lily Whitsitt and originally developed by a performance lab called Door 10, This Is the Color Described by the Time went much deeper into sound exploration, with the help of Elevator Repair Service’s longtime sound designer Ben Williams. The performance begins with audience members donning individual headsets, which allows us to dive sonically inside the mind of Gertrude Stein (Christina Rouner), holed up with Alice B. Toklas (Stephanie Roth Haberle) in their countryside home in Bilignin during the Second World War. Many layers of atmospheric sound drift through our ears as we watch Stein at her desk writing (the text includes chunks of her play “Mexico”), Toklas cooking, the two of them eating and nuzzling and being domestic, receiving letters from Stein’s friend and protégé Thornton Wilder (played by Williams) and their French protector, gay aesthete Bernard Faÿ (Ean Sheehy).

Capitalizing on recent scholarship (the program includes a substantial bibliography, including Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice and Barbara Will’s Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma), the piece expands beyond familiar portraits of Stein and Toklas to explore the moral complications and vulnerability of two Jewish American lesbians surviving Nazi occupation of France with the help of Faÿ, an official with the Vichy regime who espoused anti-Semitic views and was jailed after the war for his collaboration. Short on verbal narrative and long on theatrical imagery, this beautifully designed (sets by Amy Rubin, lighting by Reza Behjat) and performed show creates an atmosphere of tension and emotional complexity. Watch how a handful of tomatoes stand in for the fowl Toklas cooks for dinner and how a giant misshapen stuffed pillow comes to represent the cancer that killed Stein shortly after the war ended.

Between the two shows, we walked over to the Leslie-Lohmann Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on Wooster Street and checked out the two shows on display there. “Haptic Tactics” is one of those dense, intellectually rigorous shows with much to admire – I like that almost nothing looked like a conventional painting, photo, or sculpture – but not so much by way of beauty.

Around the corner is a show by Leonard Fink consisting largely of nude self-portraits, many of them shot among the ruins of the West Side piers. I love a guy who’s willing to give his work titles like “Self-Portrait Giving a Blow-Job.”

With both shows, I marveled at the museum’s scrupulous attention to the eccentric materials and pervy preoccupations of LGBTQ artists.

We stopped in for refreshments at the coffee shop Baked on Church Street – I had tea and some little round balls that are the vegan equivalent of doughnut holes – but they closed at 5:00, which left us with a couple of hours to kill. We would have eaten an early supper at the Aussie bistro Two Hands but they also closed at 5, so we ended up happily biding our time at the New Orleans-themed restaurant 1803, where Andy had the pulled pork sandwich and I the Cajun niçoise, both delicious. We got a 15% discount because they have a deal with the Flea Theater, where I was also touched to see Liz Swados’s well-worn leather jacket displayed with suitably fetishistic devotion.

Photo diary: honeymoon in Hawaii, part 4 (Poipu)

February 23, 2018

After toodling around the north shore, hiking up at the top of Waimea Canyon, and doing the helicopter tour, we were content to spend the rest of the week holed up at our VRBO (vacation rental by owner) in Poipu on the sunny, dry south shore of Kauai. Our cozy one-bedroom apartment opened right out to this spectacular view at sunrise of a gorgeous bay, just a few steps away from our lanai/breakfast table.

The view and the proximity to the water make it sound like a sweet secluded cottage, maybe…but no. More like:

A condo building full of well-off white people from North America. At least we were on the first floor, second from the end. Elsewhere on the island you could see — and hear — roosters everywhere. Not so much here, though we were visited every afternoon by these friendly critters.

The bay offered spectacular snorkeling. Tons of beautiful, colorful fish — Moorish idols, pufferfish, triggerfish, needlefish — and gigantic sea turtles the size of a coffee table.

All we really wanted to do was lie around and read books.

I finished:
The Secret Chief Revealed — Myron Stolaroff
Black Deutschland — Darryl Pinckney
Nietzsche for Beginners (ridiculous and incoherent)
The Marrying Kind — Ken O’Neill
The Spell — Alan Hollinghurst
The Child — Sarah Schulman
Swords in the Hands of Children — Jonathan Lerner

Of course you have to eat, so we checked out the local farmer’s market and stocked up on some fruits new and unusual to us: rambutan (the red spiky-looking balls), chico (the purple ones — they sort of look like kiwi and taste a bit like cinnamon), and dragon’s eyes or langan (inside the thin shell, a slimy pitted fruit that tastes like a cross between a grape and a pear). Plus fresh pineapple and those small, dense, tasty apple bananas.

Right next door to our apartment complex stood the Beach House Restaurant, where people gravitated from miles around to view the sunset.

It’s not unusual to get a brief sprinkle sometime during the day in Hawaii, but you don’t always get a rainbow, let alone a double rainbow.


Photo diary: honeymoon in Hawaii, part 3 (Hanapepe)

February 22, 2018

Our favorite place on Kauai turned out to be the historic old town of Hanapepe, which among other things is where the animated Disney film Lilo and Stitch took place, something we learned from a sign painted on the side of a delightfully funky derelict old stucco movie palace called the Aloha Theater.

We had lunch at Bobbie’s, which serves very local cuisine — which in Hawaii means really fatty pork and spicy Korean deep-fried chicken over white rice with sugar-loaded soda pop in island-fruity flavors (guava, pineapple, lilikoi/passionfruit). Kinda gross, to tell you the truth.

We couldn’t resist stopping in at Talk Story Bookstore, which bills itself as the Westernmost bookstore in the United States. The friendly couple who run the store shelve fiction in separate sections for male authors and female authors, and they told us they’re such book-nerds that when they traveled to Iceland and discovered a cache of ’50s pulpy paperbacks they left clothes behind to make room in their luggage for the books.

Clearly the town tries hard to stay in the game with a string of art galleries, but the number of boarded up or abandoned buildings gives it the feel of a ghost town, which I found perfectly charming. I also learned that there is such a thing as a movement for Hawaiian independence.

From Dave Seminara’s “36 Hours in Kauai” feature in the New York Times’ Travel section last November, we’d caught wind of “Jacqueline on Kauai,” aka The Aloha Shirt Lady, who will whip up a custom-made Hawaiian shirt for you overnight. Jacqueline Vienna is a character, a tough-cookie hippie grandma with great taste. We met her Wednesday afternoon and went back Friday morning to pick up our shirts, which we’re thrilled with.

Photo diary: honeymoon in Hawaii, part 2 (Waimea Canyon)

February 22, 2018

They call Kauai “the Garden Isle” for its natural beauty, which shows up in the lush greenery along the north shore, the striking cliffs along the Na Pali Coast (along which there is no roadway), and the colorful ridges that make up Waimea Canyon, Hawaii’s miniature version of the Grand Canyon.

We dutifully drove to the top of Koke’e State Park to have a look at both the coastal views and the canyon.

We encountered a local family scattering Grandma’s ashes in the form of five big balloons they tossed over the side of the cliff, which struck me as ecologically insensitive for Hawaiian natives, but whatever.

And inevitably we booked a one-hour helicopter tour, which is the only way you’re going to get a glimpse of the Na Pali Coast in all its splendor.

Our honey-voiced pilot, Marty, also flew us into the otherwise inaccessible crater of the long-dormant volcano.

Quote of the day: POWER

February 22, 2018


I learned that I’m powerful because I don’t have to say much to be heard.

–Mary J. Blige

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