Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brief Encounter redux

The production of Brief Encounter I caught at St Ann's Warehouse last December has just transferred to Studio 54, and it remains a delight. This is the rare Broadway show that's money well spent.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall preview on WNYC

Time Out New York's Adam Feldman and I talked about the upcoming season on WNYC. Fun times! You can listen to us go at it here.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Sarah Ruhl's overly faithful adaptation of Orlando has just hit Classic Stage (my review is here). The best thing about seeing a show at CSC is that there's an Everyman Espresso counter in the lobby. Plus they played Timbaland's "Carry Out" -- immortalized by Jenn Harris and Tim Girrbach at Our Hit Parade -- twice in a row when I was there last week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Divine Sister

Second review of the day is the new Charles Busch play, The Divine Sister, which just opened at Soho Playhouse. Vintage Busch, this one. It's hard to wreck a spoof about nuns, and he didn't.


A couple of reviews in today's paper. First off is Laurie Anderson's latest, Delusion, at BAM. It was hard to refrain playing off the title, but I did.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Little Foxes

Maximum star rating for Ivo van Hove's staging of The Little Foxes today! The season is still in its infancy, but I can already tell that this one will make my top ten list.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Roadkill Confidential

Another review, another bad show: Sheila Callaghan's Roadkill Confidential at 3LD. Fortunately the critical tide is about to turn in a big way with the last two productions I've seen. I'll say no more for now!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Today's review of a pretty bad show at the Rattlestick Theatre, underneathmybed. Ayee!

Friday, September 17, 2010

In the Heights redux

A cast change prompted a revisit to (and a re-review of) In the Heights, which I hadn't seen since it opened two and a half years ago. Okay, so Jordin Sparks can't really act -- no surprise here. But the show itself holds up rather well, and I found myself enjoyed Lin-Manuel Miranda's score even more this time around.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Paris Review online

I've become completely addicted to the Paris Review online offerings. My way in was Louisa Thomas' blogging about the US Open (tennis, of course, not golf). Simply some of the finest sports writing I've read in a long while. I hope she keeps it up somehow, somewhere.

Then this morning I discovered that Nelly Kaprièlian has begun keeping a "culture diary" for the same outlet. Her first two entries are rather long, and I really don't know where she finds the time. In addition to being an editor and writer at the French weekly Les Inrockuptibles (I'm a subscriber and actually contributed a handful of record reviews in the late '80s), she often pundits — she's a regular on the radio critics roundtable Le Masque et la plume, for instance, and I keep catching her on various public-radio outlets. Plus her first diary entry reveals an active social life.

I confess to a love-hate relationship with Kaprièlian. On the one hand, she's a tireless defender of American fiction in France, and I will always cherish her memorable tongue-lashing of Jean-Louis Ezine, a fellow Masque literary critic and serial interrupter. (He's so witty and charming, however, that he's my favorite on the show!) On the other hand, Kaprièlian is a remarkably humorless snob (very French, that) and she shares the inexplicable (to me) Gallic enthusiasm for Philip Roth — even his latest novels.

But back to the culture diary, which I can see myself becoming addicted to. The prize so far is Kaprièlian's account of her interview with Michel Houellebecq, whose new novel, La Carte et le territoire, is a critical and commercial hit in France. I've read and loved all his books, and can't wait to get my hands on this one. Susannah Hunnewell's new chat with him is a must, too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bottom of the World

Lucy Thurber's latest, Bottom of the World, opened at the Atlantic Stage 2 last night, and I gave it a positive review. Thurber is one of the local playwrights whose work I always enjoy seeing, warts and all. She's been around long enough to not be "up and coming" anymore, yet she remains slightly under the radar.

Gaga vs Gaga

In her latest out-of-it rant, Camille Paglia -- desperately trying to cling to her bad-girl-of-feminism reputation -- "demolishes" (hardly) Gaga. The article is not online but there's more than you need here. If there's one startling thing in this embarrassing screed, it's that some people think Paglia's opinion is still relevant. Paglia keeps contradicting herself (especially when she uses Madonna as comparison) and seems to be in the con camp just to be contradictory.

A good antidote is the new book Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga, by my New York Post colleague Maureen Callahan. There's already several Gaga books on the market, but this one is particularly instructive about what it takes to make a pop star nowadays. Or this pop star, at least. It's not news that Gaga is a workaholic, but I found the book's detailed tracking of how hard, how relentlessly she toiled to get to where she is particularly edifying. Some may argue that it's too early in Gaga's career to warrant a book, let alone several. But the way she's built her act is interesting, and it's certainly not too early to look at that. And just think of what will come out of her fall, whenever that happens.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Me, Myself & I

It's not without trepidation that I shot down Edward Albee's latest, Me, Myself & I (review in today's Post). But it had to be done.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

From the land Down Under, part 4

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was keen on procuring some Australian novels during my trip. This proved harder than expected. Not that the pickings were slim; it's just that with the Aussie dollar higher than ever (or the US dollar lower than ever), the exchange rate made books particularly prohibitive. $26 for a new trade paperback? Yikes! So I checked used bookstores, which meant I had to throw my want list out the window and make the most of the available options.

Luckily, I found a couple of great places and came back with some nifty stuff. The highest I paid was $8; the rest of the haul cost less than $3 per book, with a couple of $1 catches.

In Port Douglas, I picked up Crew, an amusingly trashy 1980s novel about surfboat racing in Sydney; Ride On Stranger (1943) by New South Wales lefty writer Kylie Tennant; and Stiff, the first book in Shane Maloney's Murray Whelan series. I polished off Crew in a single day at the beach, then started on Stiff. The series revolves around a member of the Labor party in Melbourne, making for a really great mix of politics and crime. Maloney's humor and locale-specific details aren't unlike the ones in Carl Hiaasen's earlier (and best) novels.

I was happy to find another used Maloney novel at Melbourne's New International Bookshop on Victoria Street. The hallway leading to the store was lined with $1 bins that were actually packed with goodies like out-of-print Daphne du Maurier. While avidly foraging, I was interrupted by a young man who invited me to "the workshop about the Vietnam War."

Fittingly, the store is next door to the Victorian Trades Hall Council, "the voice of Victorian workers since 1856" (Victoria being the state Melbourne is in). And down the block is the Old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880 and whose tour include an interactive feature where "visitors are 'arrested' and encounter what it is like to be locked up."

In short: the perfect place to buy a Shane Maloney book!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

From the land Down Under, part 3

I didn't spend all my time in Oz drinking coffee and going to footy games: I also went to the theater (more on that on my NY Post blog) and caught some TV. Some random thoughts on the latter experience.

After watching most of the audition week of the local X Factor (already a hit in the UK, US version coming soon), I can only say that I'm now so hooked that I'm going to follow the proceedings online to see if my favorites (see below) make it through. The four judges are singer Natalie Imbruglia, former Australian Idol judge Kyle Sandilands (trying waaaay too hard to emulate Simon Cowell), baby-faced Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian and former Boyzone member Ronan Keating. Most striking was the candidates' sweetness and naivete — several looked almost paralyzed by shyness. This was in stark contrast to the way many American contestants show up with outsize egos and an often-lengthy history of performing.

In addition, there's four categories of candidates: groups, under 25 males, under 25 females and anybody over 25 — OMG, fogies with, like, wrinkles! This opens up the competition to seasoned people with real histories behind them. I was particularly taken, for instance, with 40-year-old Tony from Perth. His audition performance of "Proud Mary" was the epitome of rugged manliness. Also impressive was 20-year-old apprentice hairdresser Sally, with a dignified cover of Xtina's Hurt."

Another big difference: openly gay candidates (yay, Hayley). Cute.

Another TV favorite was a reality show called The Farmer Wants a Wife, which follows six country folk in various Australian states as they look for a suitable mate. Highlight of the one episode I caught was when the date between cattle farmer Charlie and equine dentist Christy was cut short after she was bitten by a redback spider and had to be taken to the emergency room. (Perhaps this is what inspired me to purchase a pair of Redback boots later on.) Note that the title is deceiving since the farmers include Becky, a woman from South Australia looking for a husband. She seemed to hit it off with an explosives technician from the Northern Territory.

Finally, homegrown pride is very important in the Australian film and TV industry. Every time an American flick starred a local, the trailer or promo blared "featuring Australia's so-and-so." A commercial for new Oz series Cops L.A.C. boasted "with a great Aussie cast!"

From the land Down Under, part 2

Australian coffee rocks. It's not the thing the country is known for abroad, but it's an essential part of the quality of life there.

One of my favorite things when traveling is spending time in the local cafés. This may have something to do with growing up in France, where cafés play a key role in the social life -- despite the fact that the coffee you get there is actually terrible. The point is that they are a place where you can while away several hours with a drink and a book, or meet friends and reconfigure the world. Also, I'm a teetotaler so bars hold little interest to me.

Café life leaves a lot to be desired in New York: Other than some spots in the Village (now mostly tourist traps), I would argue that it's a relatively recent phenomenon here, having picked up after Starbucks came to town; contrary to politically correct opinion, Starbucks didn't kill independent coffee places here, it created them. (Strangely, a similar phenomenon didn't seem to happen in London.) The problem is that it's really hard to find a good coffee, whether espresso or drip. The lattes and cappuccinos, for instance, tend to be boiled beyond recognition. I used to think that the baristas weren't properly trained to use the machines, but now I think the problem is more that the majority of the baristas don't even grasp what a latte is supposed to taste like. They have no frame of reference.

So far, Stockholm has been the standard for civilized cafés, maybe because of the local tradition known as fika, ie a coffee break accompanied by a pastry. But Australia is right up there, perhaps even better -- you won't find a more perfect latte anywhere else. And it's not just in the specialized establishments: I've had impeccable cups in airports and gas stations! And unlike the NY coffee snobs, they don't try to impress with crap like how much they paid for their hand-tooled machine or whether the beans were picked by virgins on a single hill in Nicaragua.

Even better, we went to cafés every single day for ten days straight, and not once did we see someone on a laptop -- the scourge of NY coffee joints. People read the paper or had actual conversations with each other. Imagine that! You don't realize how antisocial laptops are until they're taken out of the equation and you find yourself in an environment where sociability is encouraged. Real-life one, not virtual one. I realize this sounds crazy but you must suspend your disbelief.

We hit a lot of good spots, but a particularly enjoyable one was Re:hab, in the small town of Port Douglas. A must if you ever find yourself in FNQ (Far North Queensland -- Aussies love acronyms).

Monday, September 06, 2010

From the land Down Under, part 1

Fact: the jetlag returning from Melbourne to New York is killer. Killer. I feel like crap, exhausted with a low-pressure headache lurking in the back of my sinuses.

But a trip to Australia is well worth this hassle. Man, do I love it there!

First, the timing was just right. To begin with, the political action was primo: The country is stuck with a hung parliament and as of writing, still doesn't have a functioning government. Basically departing PM Julia Gillard (Labor) and Tony Abbott (center-right Coalition) have been spending the past 10 days or so wooing four independents — and they've been driving a hard bargain.

Then, the Sheila and I landed in Melbourne as the regular footy season was ending and Grand Final week was starting. This is the equivalent of the playoffs for Australian rules football. I went to my very first game, Collingwood vs. Hawthorn, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). What a civilized experience! We walked there as the stadium is right in the center of town — and is surrounded by a river and parks, not acres of parking lots. Then we bought general-admission seats for a mere A$20 each. Try that at Yankee Stadium! The 'G, as it's known, is a beautiful venue that feels more intimate than its 100,000 capacity would suggest. We picked seats way up so we could have a good bird's eye view of the action.

The game itself was incredible as Aussie rules is fast and fun. These guys run around a gigantic oval-shaped field so they're in tip-top shape. And as in soccer, there's no time-outs: The action keeps going. I have no idea why this sport is played only in Australia. Anyway, the favorite Collingwood Magpies lost to the underdog Hawthorn Hawks in a crazily suspenseful game, so my introduction to live footy was a really good one. (Game highlights here.)

Next: Why the Melbourne café culture rocks.