Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas & Hanukkah in New York City: The Weird, the Wacky, the Wild

All throughout December, crowds of tourists flock to New York City to take in holiday extravaganzas. But for every standard NYC Christmas tradition-the tree at Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and the luminous window displays at high end department stores-there are a number of, shall we say, more quintessentially quirky New York City events that contribute to this city's twisted seasonal appeal. So if you are tired of the same old Christmas stocking shindigs, check out:
World's Largest Snowglobe: Yep, right here in NYC's Bryant Park will be this big, bad bubble. With live models inside (and hopefully some fresh air) the globe is over two stories tall and 20 ft. wide. Wowwee!
Winter Solstice Celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine: Music to celebrate the return of the sun after the longest night of the year. Amen to that!
Nutcracker: Rated R: This ballet is performed a tad bit differently, and shows alot more skin, than anything at Lincoln Center. Check it out if you dare.
Holiday Wonders: No, it isn't Chinese New Year, it is this heavily-promoted-by-costumed-dancers (and if you use the 72nd St. subway you know what I'm talkin' about) show that incorporates ballet and Asian dancing.
Matzo Ball Party: On Christmas Eve, join cool, hip Jewish singles for a night on the town.
SantaCon: Thousands upon thousands of people dress up like Santa and then run around the city delighting tourists and confusing children. You haven't lived until you've seen a dozen Santas on a New York City subway.
Holiday Shopping Fairs: So shopping in NYC is nothing new, but doing it at an outdoor craft fair in the freezing cold is!
Menorah Horah: This campy cabaret at the Slipper Room offers a very festive and frisky way to celebrate Hanukkah.
Sephardic Music Festival: I don't know what it is, it just sounds cool.

Alright, native New Yorkers, I know I've left out other underground NYC holiday festivities, so add your favorites in the comments section. Happy holidays everyone!

Friday, November 23, 2007

NYC Thanksgiving Part III: Macy's Parade 2007!!!

No words can do justice to seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade live and in person, so check out my Flickr photos. The crowds were awesome and the balloons, celebrities and floats exquisite. I watched from the end of my street, right where the parade began. Then it was off to eat Indian food and hang out with my amazing friend Lisa, her smart & handsome husband and charming bro-in-law. Couldn't ask for better conversation, camaraderie and food for my first NYC Thanksgiving. Am I feeling an abundance of gratitude? You betcha!

NYC Thanksgiving Part II: Macy's Balloon Inflation

Not but a block from my apartment, the balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are blown up to their full glory. The crowds are unbelievable, with visitors from all over the world stopping by the night before Thanksgiving to gaze upon the gigantic, wondrous cartoon characters and holiday symbols. It is a remarkable event that I wish everyone could see, so check out my Flickr photos on the festivities. My evening was topped off to perfection with a dinner at Isabella's with 19 of my extraordinary neighbors, as hosted by Joe B., the charming and generous 'mayor of the block' and president of Landmark 76. What a fantastic and magical night it was!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New York City Thanksgiving - Part I

Thanksgiving in New York City is celebratory beyond compare. So to start the holiday off right, today I had the honor of helping my friend Susie and other incredible volunteers assemble completely stocked turkey dinners for families in need. Held at NYC's Chelsea Piers and starting at a challenging 4 o'clock in the morning (yes, they served a boatload of coffee!), the effort was on behalf of of the non-profit FeedingNYC. The charity was founded in 2001 by LivePerson CEO Robert LoCascio, who has seen the meal count rise from 40 dinners to the whopping 1,500 assembled today. Volunteering was a blast, but you can also donate moo-lah if you don't live here - yet! Oh, and shout out to fellow volunteer and blogger of NYC Stories!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Private Screening of Close Up: Photographers at Work

Photography is a most intimate visual form of storytelling, and at its best its narrator remains humbly anonymous while simultaneously captivating the viewer. So it was a rare honor to glimpse the genius behind the image at the private screening Thursday of Close Up: Photographers at Work. This extraordinary new documentary by director Rebecca Dreyfus is stunning in its balance, illuminating both art and craft equally through a series of probing, revelatory interviews with those that have lived their lives behind the lens.

Produced for Ovation TV by Maysles Films, the hour-long special will debut at 8pm on Nov. 18, kicking off a week of photo-focused programming on the acclaimed multi-platform arts and culture channel. Artistic greats Gregory Crewdson, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Albert Maysles, Andrew Moore and Sylvia Plachy reveal how the sometimes arduous process of picture taking can translate our ideals into a form of fervid visual communication both immediate and sublime.

Bonus: Attended by many of the interviewees, including portrait genius Greenfield-Sanders and the soulful talent Plachy, the screening was a celebration of art meets artful TV. Legendary documentarian Maysles and his daughters Rebekah and Sarah, famed gallery owner Steven Kasher, artist/musician and frequent Greenfield-Sanders subject Lou Reed and Ovation TV programming head Kris Slava also contributed to the night's considerable cultural wow-factor. Check out Ovation's photo-focused programming beginning Sunday, including specials on Cindy Sherman and David LaChappelle, as well as series The Genius of Photography. Also note Ovation TV's of-the-moment contest collaboration with Fotolog, the world's largest photoblogging community.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hamlet Gets The Shock Treatment

In The Wooster Group's trippy, tripped up production of Hamlet, currently playing at The Public, Shakespeare's greatest play is deconstructed into bits of visceral video lunacy. The result is compelling, confusing and as haunting as a freshly murdered monarch. Ultimately delivering a boldly visual, headbanging feast of experimental theater, the sheer bravery of this production is an informed achievement that occasionally veers into brilliance. While it may not completely satisfy, this disconcerting and challenging work acts as a thorn in the side of the NYC theater-goers psyche.

Juxtaposed against a backdrop of Richard Burton's 1964 filmed portrayal of the tragic prince, with characters digitally erased and technical glitches enhanced, the agile cast mirrors the screen in an odd start-and-stop choreography that is at once beautiful and as grating as nails on a chalkboard. But then, that is the point. Through the lens of legendary director Elizabeth LeCompte, in this world that Hamlet inhabits - where the revenge-obsessed dead claw the earth and mothers bed their bloodstained brothers-in-law - it is perfectly normal to have the tape of reality rewound, sliced and sped up to warp speed. Unfortunately, it also means that the humanness of Hamlet's pain, like his terror at mistakenly killing his beloved Ophelia's father and her resulting madness, is at times muddied and hidden beneath layers of directorial constraint.

Yet in the hands of this cast, particularly the beyond-brilliant Scott Shepherd as the prince and the double duty Gertrude/Ophelia turn by Kate Valk, the majority of Shakespeare's poetry is delivered with a grace that paradoxically grabs the throat. Ultimately, in the hands of the Wooster masters, this ghost in the machine production illuminates Shakespeare's musings on this mortal coil with a daring that shouldn't be missed. Extended through Dec. 2 at the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette St., just below Astor Place.

Monday, November 5, 2007

'Turn of the Screw' an Unsettling, Creepy Terror

For a night of theater that will so seriously weird you out that you have to sleep with the lights on, the horror tale The Turn of the Screw, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the Henry James classic, is just what the doctor-of-dread ordered. Presented by Wake Up, Marconi! Theater Company and running until Nov. 17 at the Bank Street Theatre, this is one tale of repression and supernatural ambiguity that will give you psychological creepy crawlies for days.

You know the drill - a naive, impressionable governess starts experiencing hauntings while caring for her two weirdo charges, the pre-pubescent troublemaker Miles and the silent, sullen Flora. Played with both repression and an urge for the improper by the fresh faced Melissa Pinsly, you are never quite sure if this caretaker has a screw loose or if she is as genuinely and purely loving as she professes.

Providing the play's most ominous moments is Steve Cook, who portrays many of the characters with a enigmatic undercurrent of madness. Is Miles manipulated by demons or just a spinning, ADHD suffering hysteric? Is the housekeeper a clueless, caring dimwit or is she suppressing something sinister? The sparse direction by Don K. Williams makes full use of stylized, shadowed presentation, but with wise restraint leaves much of the terrifying plot twists to be imagined by the audience. As we know from many a horror flick, especially the heavily James-influenced The Others and my childhood favorite The Innocents, the scary scenarios in our pretty little heads are far more horrific than anything presented in plain view. But if twisted classic lit is your thing, make sure you catch a glimpse of the sinister goings on in this 'Turn.'

Sunday, November 4, 2007

New York City Marathon: Paula Radcliffe Wins!

The excitement generated by the ING New York City Marathon, the premier event of the New York Road Runners, is beyond compare. Since I wasn't running the race today I got up early for a 50-minute run in Central Park, and ran across the finish line near Tavern on the Green pretending I was at mile 26.2.

My Australian friend Katherine (another new New Yorker) and I walked some of the course and cheered from prime spots at Central Park South near the zoo (where we caught the elite runners - especially the amazing Paula Radcliffe, this year's winner and the women's world record holder!), near the Queensboro bridge, then up into Harlem to mile 22 where the runners, mega-tired at this point, were cheered by the crowds along with talented musicians. The whole experience was indescribably moving to this New York runner. NYC is considered one of the best running towns in the world, and this exceptionally well organized marathon proves why.

Congratulations to all runners on an amazing accomplishment, and here's to my running the race next year!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Societal Decay Disarms in The Chaos Theories

In physics, chaos theory explains the underlying order and elegance in apparently random data, illuminating that the slightest act can ripple out wildly to global impact. In the recent production of Alexander Dinelaris' charged tragi-comedy The Chaos Theories, this idea is not only relevant in weather patterns and cosmic black holes, but also in the way the human spirit grapples with the desire for deep rooted connection in an age of post-9/11 fear.

In the hands of playwright-in-hyperdrive Dinelaris, who directed with Stewart M. Schulman, this play treats and teases with layer upon lush layer of vivid and relentless dialogue, masterfully handled by a team of eight actors playing 21 diverse characters. Each archetypal New Yorker is caught in their own personal chaos: A driven, trash-talking stockbroker pummels her client to humorous effect. An dotty, heartfelt homeless woman lives in remember-when land. A father berates his daughters beau, a senator's wife verbally castrates a smarmy lobbyist, a charming waiter serves acidic sarcasm on a platter. But if everyone would just put their cellphones and career drives aside for a split second, they'd discover they are all connected in the most human of ways - through loneliness, love, fear and loss.

To sometimes hysterical, often shocking effect, Dinelaris shows that underneath today's techno chatter there is a humanity striving to be released. In a world where the random is revered, the message of The Chaos Theories comes through crystal clear. Playing until Nov. 17 at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, 2162 Broadway (near W. 76th St.)

Bonus: There was an inspiring audience talkback with playwright Alexander Dinelaris after the performance, where he enthusiastically and refreshingly supported fellow writers and artists. Dinelaris' play Still Life is slated for Broadway in early 2008, and he is working on writing the screenplay for Alejandro González Iñárritu's (Babel, 21 Grams) next film.

Double Bonus: The courage of Dinelaris to have a play with a large cast, and the talented actors who fulfilled his vision. Check out Richard Bekins, Max Darwin, Alison Fraser, Todd Gearhart, Ted Koch, Amanda Mantovani, Darcie Siciliano and Maryann Towne in anything they do!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween NYC Style

There is no place better than New York City-the theatrical capital of the universe-to truly rock out Halloween. Just walking down the street, you see tons of ghoulish characters decked out in costumes better than those seen on B'way. Check out some of the best hauntings and gore-geous goings on, and mark your calendar for next year:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Modern Twist Makes for Masterful "Misanthrope"

From the second your eyes gaze upon the Philip Johnson Glass House inspired set, you know you are in for an ultra-modernist take on The Misanthrope at the innovative New York Theatre Workshop. Jan Versweyveld's pristine Plexiglas architecture provides the ideal Autobahn for director Ivo Van Hove's 120MPH interpretation of Molière's classic comic satire on society's feigned civility.

In his gleefully genius, no-risk-unturned production, Van Hove displays with cutthroat wit that today's society hasn't changed much since Moliere's day. In polite circles, proper behavior dictates lying to the face and laughing behind the back. But intellectual truth-teller Alceste (played with sexy, sharp command by Bill Camp) aims to propel humanity forward by pointing out that such hypocrisy leads to a destructive placation. But his chorus of society hounds just don't get it, driving him to unimaginable acts of behavioral shock-and-awe, including showering his body with chocolate sauce, ketchup and jam in the midst of a gossip-infused dinner banquet. As evidenced by the stench that subsequently wafts into the audience, along with the visual affront of an imaginatively placed donut, he certainly knows how to get his point across.

Of course, others on this madcap playground share an opposite view, including Alceste's dearest friend Philinte (a nuanced, nimble turn by handsome Thomas Jay Ryan) who promotes civility and white-lie kindness. Making Alceste's morality even more of a mishmash is his obsession with the self-absorbed young socialite Célimène (played with a beguiling, strong beauty by Jeanine Serralles). This opposites-attract pairing provides roll-on-the-floor passion that is as destructive as it is addictive.

But it is the ingenious use of technology that puts Van Howe's production into the can't-miss category, providing almost as much wit as Molière's sharper-than-ever dialogue (translated here to crystal clarity by Tony Harrison). With exquisite video production by Tal Yarden offering commentary on the misguided antics of the brilliant cast, along with constant Blackberry glances and snapping of cell phone pics, this new society is kept from connection as much by machine as by pretense. A Steve Jobs-created world may look pristine on the surface, but when garbage is strewed about it and food left to rot and fester, it takes a gigantic hose to return us to decorum. The set may be waterproof, but luckily the philosophical and psychological insights of this production don't easily wash away.

Bonus: It is always a treat to see New York City actors who elevate the craft to art. In addition to the Camp/Serralles/Ryan triumvirate, Quincy Tyler Bernstein as Eliante, Jason C. Brown as Clitandre, Amelia Campbell as Arsinoé, Joan MacIntosh as Acaste and Alfredo Narciso as Oronte admirably bring their A game to meet the direction head on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Big Dreams & Bigger Hair in Savage in Limbo

At the start of The Process Group's recent production of John Patrick Shanley's Savage in Limbo, I knew I was in for an 80's nostalgic treat when Denise Savage (played with quirky glee by Rebecca Whitehurst) entered the scene by teasing her hair into a blond birdsnest of permed glory. Playing from Oct. 18-Nov. 4 at the beautiful DUO Theater at 62 East 4th St., the play offers an often hilarious and sadly authentic look at the aimless, drunken dreams of five Bronx barflies.

A string of deliciously crafted monologues served on a Brandy Alexander stained platter, Shanley's play is a frozen-in-time fest of belly-button gazing. Ultimately an actor showcase, the cast ably rises to the script's significant demands, bringing humor and humanity to their working class characters. Denise Savage is a 32 year old, bored-to-tears virgin, and Whitehurst's idiosyncratic presentation makes this remarkable fact believable. The luscious Linda Rotunda, played with ballsy aplomb by Jenny Grace, laments the life of a va va voom woman on the verge. And the not-so-cute couple of drunken, failed nun April White (Brooke Delaney) and smitten, uber-enabler bartender Murk (Henry Zebrowski) gives us booze-fueled moments of compassion. The action heats up with the arrival of Linda's beau Tony Aronica (Robert Bray), a leather clad hottie-pants on a misguided search for life's meaning.

Despair over dreams lost and deferred is always dangerous theatrical territory, but Bryan Close's direction wisely lifts humor to the fore. Despite the (perhaps too young and pretty) cast's occasional lapses from realism into trying-too-hard delivery, Savage in Limbo offers an enjoyable, I-remember-when night of theater. Tickets are available at SmartTix.

Bonus: Getting to experience The DUO Theater and its beautiful interior, and chatting with associate artistic director and NYC Downtown Short Film Festival director Luke Valerio. The DUO Theater, under the artistic direction of Michelangelo Alasa, is dedicated to developing and producing works by Latino playwrights as well as employing Latino directors, actors and designers.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

House & Garden Design Happening Shows Savvy Form & Function

House & Garden launched Design Happening 2007 this past week, turning a potentially stuffy celebration of tables and chairs into an all-out, hipper-than-now assault on preconceived design notions. Uniquely entertaining programming loaded with art celebs galore revealed that design influences everything from the movies we love to the furniture that cradles our behinds. Two design chats in particular showed that substantial beauty, tasteful whimsy, expert craftsmanship and an eye for storytelling are elements vital to shaking up today's dangerously cookie-cutter design sensibility.

Cristina Grajales Illuminates Brazilian Modernist Design
At my new fave furniture gallery Espasso (superbly run by the artistically daring, impossibly charming Carlos Junqueira), brilliant advisor Cristina Grajales presented the cultural influences inherent in Brazilian design. Passionate about the important architects and designers of the region, Grajales has a deep and resonating connection to the beauty of Brazil's constructed classics. Learning about structural integrity combined with natural form and materials, a standard in the country's design philosophy, from a master like Grajales made for an evening of aesthetic illumination. Visit the remarkable Cristina Grajales Gallery at 10 Greene St. (near Canal).

Kristi Zea Turns the Lens on the Design of Cinema
What do the design elements of the Oscar-winning Goodfellas and Silence of the Lambs have in common with the look of thrillers like The Brave One and Changing Lanes? They benefit from the production design genius of Kristi Zea, whose keen eye for authentic environments has fulfilled the artistic vision of cinematic luminaries like Scorsese and Demme. At the famed Tribeca Cinemas, home of the Tribeca Film Festival, Zea took us through precise film moments where every element of production design coalesced perfectly to create screen magic. After showing the famed Goodfellas scene where Henry and Karen enter the Copacabana, Zoe commented, "Marty sure knows how to make movies." What a privilege to hear first-hand from the designer that collaborates on such art.

Bonus: Running into dynamic interior design talent Amy Lau at the Espasso event in all her redheaded glory, along with learning from Grajalas of so many notable female designers from Brazil. And at the cinema, hearing of Zea's next project Confessions of a Shopaholic and learning of how such creatures display their collections. Sounds like she could do research at my apartment.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Veritable Furniture Fest in Tribeca

If you are looking to furnish that spacious New York City warehouse loft, then treat yourself to design where the ancient meets the now at the exquisite Tribeca furniture store Espasso at 38 N. Moore St. Featuring sturdy, well crafted Brazilian furniture made from salvaged hardwoods, Espasso sells contemporary furniture that never feels harsh or uninviting. Rather, the work is representative of some of South America's greatest craftsmen, showcasing design with a non-fussy flair that speaks to the current eco-centric trend dominating a post-Inconvenient Truth aesthetic.

With environmental responsibility, the store insists that any wood must be traced and marked to ensure it is not from an endangered area of the country's rainforests. Much of the wood is salvaged or recycled, which allows for a unique mix of modern and weathered among the striking desks, tables, chairs and couches on display. Ask for salesgal Daisy Huang, who is incredibly knowledgeable about the artisans and origins of the work.

Bonus: Oct. 15-21 marks the first ever New York City Design Week, with programs featuring NYC's top figures in design and culture. But if you are looking for top end interior ideas beyond this week, know that Tribeca is home to some of the greatest furniture art in Manhattan. Stores of note include the heavily French-influenced Moulin Bleu, the industrially-tinged Interieurs, module-missioned Art et Maison, and classic standbys Baker Tribeca and Design within Reach.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus Speaks of Small Miracles, Momentous Results

On the first anniversary of receiving his award, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Muhammad Yunus spoke passionately on what he has tirelessly championed this past year - starting small to allow dramatically momentous ideas to blossom. Known as the grandfather of the microcredit and a revolutionary in the structure of rural economic and social development, Dr. Yunus is founder of Grameen Bank and was at New York City's Harmonie Club on Oct. 11 to speak about Sing for Hope and the launch of Grameen America.

On the eve of this year's Nobel Peace Prize announcements, I jokingly asked Dr. Yunus if he knew who might win (nice to wake up to news that it is Al Gore and the U.N. Panel on Climate Change!!!) But the night's message was primarily about maximizing one's talents to improve current social and economic climates in crisis. In particular, the extraordinary vocal musicians involved with Sing for Hope, a charity that empowers artists to utilize their unique talents for humanitarian causes, inspired those in attendance. The delightfully dazzling vocals of the group's founding director Camille Zamora and co-director Monica Yunus (and proud daughter of Dr. Yunus) proved that those blessed with great talent often have even greater hearts. And as evidenced by one audience member who pledged to match the night's donations up to $100,000, being entertained by both opera and Broadway singers at the height of their careers would inspire anyone to give give give!

Bonus: Talking political action with Sing for Hope Board member Beverly Cooper Neufeld, a jewel of a NYC woman making a difference. A real powerhouse, she kindly introduced me to everyone from Broadway producers to philanthropists extraordinaire. And to be entertained by singers of such quality in such an intimate space was just perfection. Thank you New York City and especially to my friend Tony Kalm, for helping to make this possible!

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two new glorious exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art make you fall in love with the art of photography:
Depth of Field: Modern Photography at the Metropolitan surprisingly showcases recent artists in a museum known for antiquities. The exhibit includes grand scale works by Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Adam Fuss, Andreas Gursky and others. With approximately 2,000 square feet of exhibition space, these important art pieces are displayed in the new Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall of Modern Photography. The gallery allows photography to play a more prominent role among the classics that the museum is known for, and continues the commitment to media displayed in the recent landmark exhibition Closed Circuit: Video and New Media at the Metropolitan.

More in keeping with the Metropolitan's traditional offerings, the exhibit Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 showcases calotypes. These are rare photographs made from paper negatives from the earliest days of the medium. Because the calotype was especially well suited for travel and the hot and dusty climate of India, there are many prints of exotic, majestic locales. While this sprawling display of art may not have the same punch as the large scale moderns displayed across the hall, they do offer a rare opportunity to deeply study a unique moment in photography's history.

Scoop: If you love the museum, you can become a member for a mere $95. But if you want to pay per time, know that the $20 donation price is but a suggestion. Support the arts and give as much as possible, but for poor, starving artists a couple of bucks will do. Beware the fantastic gift shop which will tempt tempt tempt you with wonderful jewelry, books, cards and art offerings galore.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Boy in the Bathroom: Not Your Average Musical

Set entirely in the unexpected musical environment of a suburban bano, The Boy in the Bathroom is the antidote to Disney-obsessed Broadway. With a talented three-person cast and book and lyrics by Michael Lluberes both profound and disturbing, this is innovative, risk-taking musical theater unlike most you will see in New York City.

The severely obsessive-compulsive David (played with quirky appeal by the endearing Michael Zahler) works on his thesis while living in the bathroom of his mother's home. Totally paralyzed with fear of the outside world, he happily reads philosophy and eats the food slid under the door (flattened to one half of an inch) by his enabling mother Pam. But his tightly controlled world is rocked when mama breaks her hip, and the pretty young thing Julie (delightfully presented by fresh talent Ana Nogueira) enters the house as her caretaker.

Of course love ensues, and the twist of two polar-opposite 20-somethings desperately wanting to escape their surroundings yet imprisoned by psychosis and financial fear makes for great emotional tension. But it is the story of the severely overweight Pam (a masterful performance by Mary Stout) that pulls you in. Her powerhouse solo I'm Full but I Want More presents a gripping, heart wrenching, can't-take-your-eyes-off-her wail about addiction (in this case, to food) that makes you sympathize with this monster Ma. This peak inside an emotionally ravaged woman explains why she is torn between wanting to hold on to her little boy by all means necessary, and knowing that to love is to let go.

The musical score itself is rather repetitive and could offer more variation, but perhaps composer Joe Maloney is trying to echo the OCD of the protagonist. Still, The Boy in the Bathroom keeps hope alive that musical theater just might advance rather than be doomed to the bland, play-it-safe film adaptations now dominating the Great White Way. The play is part of the New York Musical Theater Festival, which showcases more than 30 musicals during a 3 week period in mid-town Manhattan. Runs until September 29 at the 45th Street Theater.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trying to Get to the Moon

In Jordan Schachter's new play Trying to Get to the Moon, an undiscovered, philosophically driven artist goes missing for a full year, prompting his heartbroken inner circle to host a fundraiser showcasing his poetry, plays and film. Certainly not by consensus and each with personal agendas, those involved with the MIA genius meet in an off off Broadway theater to ponder the reasons behind his disappearance (suicide? Ashram? an Into the Wild-like wrong way turn?) This leads to a battle of wills over the morality of presenting a shy, tortured talent's personal musings to an audience made up primarily of strangers.

At its best, Trying to Get to the Moon is an examination of creativity's importance and whether it is the art-or a person's soul-that more deeply affects those left behind. Existential questions raised in the absent artist's work are echoed by his friends, who take turns contemplating the nature of love and man's search for meaning as opposed to his quest for happiness, with the validity of artistic expression at the top of the heap. Luckily, the talented ensemble cast, well directed to mingle with the audience as well as command the stage, engagingly portray a tight knit clan whose bickering stems from a sense of deep loss and regret.

The only cast member not fully realized, of course, is the enigmatic missing artist himself, despite being intensely analyzed, glorified and mourned. When his verse play is presented by this cast of friends and lovers, illumination of the real inner workings of a tortured artist's mind is the goal. Instead, it steers us a tad too far afield from the entertaining and meaningful issues raised earlier. Despite this detour, Trying to Get to the Moon provides a night of innovative theater that examines weighty issues with both humor and insight. Playing through September 29 at the Interborough Repertory Theater.

Bonus: A free screening of Schachter's film The Legacy of Walter Frumm was shown prior to the play, a real treat. A dying man seeks revenge on all who have wronged him, but his elaborate pranks fail to maim and instead bring about joyous, enlightening revelations for his intended victims.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What People are Saying About Newbie NYC

Just a sampling of what readers, artists and media are saying about Newbie NYC!

“To help matters, [her] show has caught some positive buzz in the blogosphere after Levine invited a writer for Newbie NYC to the show. ‘The fact that she saw my show and loved it is like a dream come true,’ said Levine.” -AM New York

I wish I'd discovered this blog in advance. It actually gives a really comprehensive run down of the Fringe Festival, and actually, everything high culture. – Three New York Women

We loved your review! And what a genius idea for a blog. Newbie NYC should be required reading material for any new student, visitor, etc. to the Big Apple. - DARR Publicity

Mary--what a spectacular and delicious review! …it's a thing of beauty! – Jessica Hedrick, Jeanne d'Ork Productions

Mary, I'm/we're speechless. That is the most gorgeous review anyone could have written for this show! - Evie Task, Producer

Thanks Mary, that's awesome! And thanks for thinking of us! – Upright Citizens Brigade

Thank You - Gwendolyn Skaggs, founder of Alcove Gallery

I like your blog too. I always look for blogs about New York, because even though I was born and raised here, there is so much to do and discover. - Noah Forman, NYC Taxi Photo

Newbie NYC is Quoted on:
AM New York
92nd Street Y Web site
Princess Moxie
Rabbit Hole Ensemble
Official Website of Spalding Gray
Official Website of Danny Ashkenasi

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Renting a New York City Apartment: Finding that Elusive NYC Living Space

It is uber-challenging finding an apartment in New York City. Especially if you don't have a six figure job or a millionaire mama or a last name like Hilton (oh, wait...) Seriously, though, the rents are astronomical and the dearth of available (and decent) apartments is very discouraging. Note my former post on financial requirements for renting an NYC apartment. Whew!

In the months leading up to my move, I was on the computer until 2:00 am in the morning scouring the New York City Craig's List for apartment listings in my price range. With rents twice what I was paying in DC, I was coming up pretty empty handed. But finding that great apartment is possible, if you have the determination, resources and of course, the funds. About 30-45 days before your intended move, and after you determine how much you want to spend, how much space you really need, and where you want to live, use these techniques to find your new NYC home:

Online Rental Listings: When asked about NYC apartments and how to find one, everyone recommends Craigs List. This online site is a beloved resource for apartment seekers in the city, and provides the newbie with great introductory information on neighborhoods, prices and availability. However, there are some bait-and-switch posts (oh, that apartment went quick but I have another you might be interested in for just five hundred $ more!) and if you don't live in the city, there is no way you'll be able to jump on posted apartments quickly enough. Still, this is invaluable, free, primarily legit info and a great first resource. The listings are conveniently divided into fee, no-fee, and by owner rentals.

Many other online sites offer excellent apartment listings and information, and you can find them in the Find a Rental Apartment in NYC list to the left of this blog. Looking online is a ton of fun, and many listings have photos so you can get a sense of what a real NYC apartment looks like (and just how little space $2000 a month will get you!)

New York City Brokers: Uniquely New York City, many people turn to a broker to find an apartment. That is, they pay a fee of up to 15% of the annual rent (translation: thousands of bucks) to have a third party find their housing. Sounds crazy, but in my case it was totally worth it. Here's why: 1) I had no knowledge of NYC and what neighborhoods were good, bad, scary, 2) I wasn't living in the city, and couldn't run to an open house at a moment's notice, and 3) I'd burnt out on Craigs List. The Manhattan rental market is difficult to navigate, so if you can afford the help, take it. Personally, my experience with Manhattan Apartments was invaluable and I enjoyed working their their talented, professional brokers. They helped me navigate the challenging financial demands of landlords and got into neighborhoods I thought were out of reach. I didn't negotiate on the fee because I was so overjoyed with my new apartment, but depending on the market you may be able to get brokers to come down a few percentage points and save yourself hundreds of dollars.

No-Fee Apartments: If you just can't stomach paying so much upfront for an apartment then you can try the no fee route. Prepare for a lot of work and be on guard against disreputable services that will bait-and-switch ya. Here is a pretty good guide to no-fee services. Be sure to investigate company's Better Business Bureau profile before handing over any moo-lah.

Stalking an NYC Apartment Building: You may have determined exactly where you want to live by falling for a specific rental building. How to get in? Keep checking with the rental office, if they have one. If not, keep talking to the doorman. The doormen in NYC are extremely professional and helpful, and know all the goings on in their buildings. So stop by every few days (without being annoying) and in a professional, courteous manner ask if they know of upcoming vacancies. If they help you out, be sure to tip them generously. And doormen talk to each other, so they also might know of openings in nearby buildings.

Word of Mouth: Many of my newly transplanted friends have found apartments by talking about moving to NYC and having contacts hook them up with sublets or roommates. New York City is a very transient place, as people are constantly moving to LA or overseas. Often, they don't want to give up their rent-stabilized NYC apartments and will search for a recommended tenant. If they own their place, they definitely want to rent to a reliable apartment dweller.Talk to everyone you know about moving to NYC. Everyone. Friends of friends, alumni contacts, old lovers (well, maybe don't go that far.) Let everyone know that you are looking for a place to live. At the very least, you'll get tips on where to look, or they might recommend a reputable broker.

Beware Beware Beware: Unfortunately, there are lots of disreputable NYC real estate listings. In a market this hot, the bad guys can get away with a lot. So as they say, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of listings that seem unbelievable and never ever ever give anyone money without signing a legitimate contract. The best way not to be scammed is to have all the info you can about renting and your rights. Great sources include the NYC Rent Guidelines Board and

Keep Hope Alive: Finally, don't give up hope. The search for an NYC apartment will be one of the most grueling, challenging things you will ever do. But nearly 9 million people live in NYC, and there is always room for one more. If I can find an apartment that I adore, so can you. Be flexible, open minded, willing and determined and the right apartment will open up for you. And what is a little grunt work and frustration when it means getting to live in the greatest city in the world?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New York City Art Galleries in Chelsea

New York City has some of the best museums in the world. But if you really want to experience some cutting edge, as well as historically significant, art, check out the hundreds of galleries in the Chelsea section of the city.

Currently, there is a Lisette Model exhibit that left me speechless at the famed photography powerhouse Aperture Gallery at 547 W. 27th. Model influenced a wide array of contemporary artists, including my adolescent favorite Diane Arbus and fashion phenom Bruce Weber, whose influential works are displayed as well. But it is really all about Lisette, and while I would have enjoyed seeing even more of her iconic black and white images of New York City, I felt honored to view worldclass prints housed by the group responsible for disseminating innovative photography to the masses.

Bonus: The Chelsea art scene gives you everything from the quirky to the sublime. In a tiny hallway on the 6th floor of 547 W. 27th, there is the Alcove (possibly the smallest gallery in NYC). The stirring sculpture The Eternity of White by Doug Young is there until 10/27/07. Very An Inconvenient Truth meets Bible belt, this work is worth checking out. On the kooky side, Galerie Adler on the second floor offers crazed acidic comic book characters missing essential body parts. Where else but in New York City can you go from artistic spiritual crisis to sideshow freakhouse in the blink of an elevator ride?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Riding the Staten Island Ferry

One of those absolutely must-do, unbelievably FREE New York things is to ride the Staten Island Ferry across the Upper New York Bay. You get a breathtaking view of the beloved Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and on the return trip the skyline of lower Manhattan offers awe inspiring scenery. The ferry is a workhorse, providing thousands of New Yorkers reliable transportation to and from the city every day. And it adds up - 20 million riders annually take this 5 mile journey between St. George on Staten Island and Whitehall street in lower NYC.

My trip was perfectly timed. Hopping on an early evening summer ferry to Staten Island, the sun was still out and I could take in the entire view. The sun had set just upon my return, so the Statue of Liberty was magnificently illuminated, as was the skyline. It is a thrill to finally be on one of the most famous water voyages ever.

Bonus: Getting to see tons of native New Yorkers as well as tourists enjoying the view. Typical concession type snacks are sold if you absolutely must have a hot dog, but the South Street Seaport is a short-ish walk from Whitehall, where you have your pick of good seafood joints. The ferry runs everyday, 24 hours a day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tasti D-Lite: Resistance is Futile

Summer has come to an end, and with it I am hoping for release from the merciless frozen addiction that is Tasti D-Lite. For those non-New Yorkers, Tasti D is a beloved low-calorie, low-fat (and often sub-low taste) frozen soft serve concoction that is kosher with no artificial sweeteners. Billed as a guilt free way to indulge the primal urge for icy dairy treats, Tasti D offerings are perhaps not as healthy as they appear, but sure do hit the spot on a sweaty New York day. But at three bucks plus tip for a small cup (more if you demand chocolate sprinkles like I do) I just can't justify the blissful (but financially sinful) pleasure of it. Stores are almost as plentiful as Starbucks, making the frozen stuff hard to resist. Some say the occasional indulgence is like slathering margarine on your arteries, but I still say it is a superior snack to, say, a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Judge for yourself.

Warning: The relatively new-to-New York frozen yogurt store Pinkberry (aka crackberry), an LA import and favorite of celebs, is moving in around the corner from me on Columbus Ave. Am I doomed to bounce from frozen treat to frozen treat, or what?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Deserved: Naked in a Fishbow Among FringeNYC Encore Series!!!

Twelve New York International Fringe Festival 2007 plays will be part of the FringeNYC Encore Series, and thankfully the phe-freakin-nomenal Naked in a Fishbowl improv will be one of them. Billed as 'unscripted theater, uninhibited comedy,' four super-close gal pals and their neurotic NYC lives provide the perfect ingredients for a different comedic stew at each performance. Improv relies heavily on the talents of its actors, and in the capable hands of Katharine Heller, Brenna Palughi, Lynne Rosenberg and Lauren Seikaly the audience was given an impulsive thrill ride beyond compare. Four gorgeous, talented, ballsy women with the comedic chops to make you laugh until you snort? Now that is entertainment worth an encore.

Bonus: In addition to Naked in a Fishbowl, the extended plays at the FringeNYC Encores series include the amazing A Beautiful Child. Other plays are As Far As We Know, Double Vision, Hillary Angonistes, Lights Rise on Grace, Mary Brigit Poppleton Is Writing a Memoir, Bombs in Your Mouth, Jamaica Farewell, Paper Son, Piaf: Love Conquers All, and Fringe Festival Audience Favorite Riding the Bull.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

One Women Shows Rock New York Fringe Festival

Sodomy & Pedicures: A post-feminist, femme fatale wannabe finds she is just a little bit dirty in this hysterical solo manifesto. Through the skilled writing, super sharp wit and charming brazenness of the talented Jessica Hedrick, we are shown that the spawn of an Irish Catholic women's studies professor and an American communist will grow up to rebel through acts of submission. Conflicted by her wants of politically incorrect bedroom behavior and the good, old fashioned need to be loved, Hedrick provides perfect fodder for a performance that is over-the-top, laugh your ass off funny, and just a little (okay, a lot) naughty. Try as you might to resist your primal theatrical urge, you can't help but be riveted by Hedrick's heartfelt journey from confused innocent to confident babe ready for intimacy and a fabulous mani-pedi. Pure, outrageous, quintessentially far-out Fringe fare, let's hope this exploration of womanhood has life beyond the Festival.

Jaspora (Imitation Haitian): And now for something completely different. Knockout performer Nancy Moricette sparks a firestorm of energy, anger and conflict in this one woman show on cultural identity and racial prejudice. Super-fueled by a rage from within, Moricette's explosive and emotionally powerful performance exposes painful details of growing up the spirited child of religious Haitian immigrants. Switching deftly from youngster to adolescent to out-of-place college student, Moricette paints a perfect picture of a brilliant woman in tormented conflict with her surroundings. White boys, television fantasy and college degrees all play carrot to motivate Moricette's trek, which ultimately leads back to family and acceptance of self. Jaspora is Fringe theater with depth and a message of importance.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More Fringe: A Beautiful Child and Angst: The New Teen Musical

More entertainment from the New York International Fringe Festival:

A Beautiful Child: Of all the Fringe offerings I've seen so far, this short and sweet tale of Truman Capote and Marilyn Monroe conversing throughout New York City is the one most likely to have life beyond the festival. Polished, well written, directed smartly to showcase its talented actors, A Beautiful Child delightfully delivers snark and heartbreak in the voice of the still-relevant Capote. The dialogue crackles and sparks between the two icons, each played with delicious originality and non-caricature by Joel Van Liew and Maura Lisabeth Malloy. My only complaint is that this too-quick glimpse into fame and folly lasted but a brief 50 minutes. More, please?

Angst: The New Teen Musical: Well, New York Magazine agrees with me. Angst: The New Teen Musical is, like, totally awesome. It features a MySpace obsessed narrator's observations of his classmates, each a classic, conflicted teen with [insert sex, drugs, identity, isolation here] issues. We all know that Disney cookie cutter high schoolers don't exist, and this cast kicks that to the curb without being too, you know, overdramatic and sulky. Featuring a rousing rock-and-roll score by an unbelievably talented Eric Mayson and gifted performances by him and the rest of the teenaged cast, the show is a spot-on microcosm of current high school life. Spring Awakening, beware!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

U.S. Premier of "Dirt" at NY Fringe Festival

Another admirable solo show at the New York International Fringe Festival, Dirt is the timely story of an Iraqi immigrant and his struggles as a stranger in the strange land of NYC. Desirous of assimilation yet hyperaware of his physical and cultural differences, the tragic, conflicted character of Sad leads us through a beautifully scripted one-man rant on racism and how it destroys from the inside out.

Through the extremely capable, charming performance of Christopher Domig, we are taken deep into the scraping-by world of rose vendor 'short-for-Saddam' Sad, exposing his self-hatred for his name, dark complexion and suspiciously large pores. He adores the English language and the pale white hands of those in the western world. So desperate is he for acceptance that he refuses letters from his mother and berates himself for soiling public toilets with his foreign waste. His inward repulsion is made all the more horrific as he elevates white American culture to impossible, illogical heights, purchasing the best English-Iraqi dictionary possible with his meager savings and pledging to turn over his Iraqi roommate should the Secret Service arrive. Betrayal is a minor sacrifice should it lead to even a crumb of acceptance.

Dirt was the most performed solo show in 1990's Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and you can see why. The script by Robert Schneider (well translated by Paul Dvorak) is tight, timeless and gripping. The show plays at The Players Theatre Loft Space at 115 MacDougal St., 8/18 @ 8:45pm, 8/19 @ 5pm, 8/21 @ 4:30pm and 8/22 @ 8pm. $15.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Favorite Fringe So Far: Miracle on Monroe Street

One of the greatest things about mining hundreds of New York Fringe Festival offerings is chancing upon an unexpected theatrical gem. Such was the case yesterday with The Miracle on Monroe Street. Not that I didn't expect the play to be delightful - I'd met creator, writer and puppeteer Jennifer Levine and her joyous energy let me know I was in for fun. But I had no idea that I would be so moved by the magical tale of her Grandmother's experiences growing up on the Lower East Side - and told through handcrafted puppets.

But moved I was, as well as tickled to full-on laughter, as were adults and children alike at the near-jam-packed Studio @ Cherry Lane Theater. We were taken back to the early 1900's to the childhood of Grandma Pearl and her mischievous younger sister. When the youngster steals a local baker's treat and escapes to a tenement rooftop, it is left to Pearl to steer her fate after she tumbles from on high - to become a Miracle Child.

In Europe, puppetry is a revered and respected craft, considered high art. Levine elevates it to such in The Miracle on Monroe Street, presenting her beloved creations with an ever-so-subtle breath of life. The story itself is beautifully universal, timeless and important, and explores New York City's immigrant experience as well as the bonds of family, beauty of forgiveness and role of religion in times of tragedy.

When the play ended, I was left desperately desiring further adventures of the delightful Pearl. Levine has said she envisions the piece as part of a trilogy, and we can only hope that she continues with this remarkable artistic vision. Shows continue on Sat 18 @8:30, Tue 21 @7:30, Sat 25 @8:30 at the Studio at Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce St. Get tix in advance!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More New York Fringe Festival Fun

Continuing my all-out-assault on the tremendous theater offerings in the New York International Fringe Festival, I'm aiming to take in a play a day. And my volunteering gigs get me near creative people and finally have me giving back to my beloved New York City home. Here are some insights into two more Fringe offerings:

Marvelous Shrine: Focusing on a family in crisis, with a 'gay rock-n-roll boy goes to war' plot twist, this play pits three strong pay-attention-to-me characters against each others desires, pride and notions of success. Playwright Leslie Bramm utilizes hot-button topics like homophobia, gays in the military and DUI's to illuminate the most classic of conflicts - grasps at independence between parents and child as each desperately aims to keep the bonds of unconditional love unbroken.

Bonus: Getting to meet director Pamela Butler was a thrill, as this dramatic one act is well produced and staged.

Vampingo, a Comedy with Bite: Bless the Fringe for providing a plethora of solo shows for hungry audiences. Ariana Johns' Vampingo offers a unique perspective on where a broken heart will lead us. Fantasy-filled and mystical, this play (co-written with director Jolene Adams) remains childlike as it explores mature themes like suicide, wicca-esque blood potions and bad bad men. Throw in a bat named Nosferatu, a sexy eel, blood-thirsty flamingo, and a few chatty lizards and you've got something uniquely Fringe.

Bonus: Meeting ACR Evangeline Johns (and mom of actor/playwright Ariana Johns) in the lobby, as well as cool New Yorker Selma. Great seeing how family and friends support fellow artists!

Monday, August 13, 2007

First Fringe Festival Foray

Over the past few days, I've been volunteering for the New York International Fringe Festival, where I'm doing everything from hanging posters to handing out will call tix at the box offices of various venues. What a total blast! All the volunteers are fellow culture buffs, and I'm also meeting a few actors and directors (and being a star-struck theater geek). Volunteers are desperately needed, so if you have some time to kill and a passion for innovative theater, be sure to visit FringeCENTRAL at 80 Carmine St. (at Varick) and get active!

So far, I've been fortunate enough to see two Fringe plays:
In the Shadow of My Son: Rough, gripping, sometimes humorous play about postpartum depression. Yep, that is right. But the work is important and informative, and the gentle direction allows your heart to break for the women whose identities are dwarfed by newborns and misunderstood by our 'cult of the child' society. Knockout performances by writer/director Nadine Bernard and spitfire Alexandra Gilman.

Lost in Hollywoodland, or The Slugwoman from Uranus: Gotta get to at least one musical extravaganza at the Fringe, and this play gives you a singing Satan. Won't take much effort to steal a soul or two among the stardom obsessed in Hollywood, and this jaunty theatrical trip gets your toes tapping as ill-fated artistes pursue the carrot of fame straight to Hell. Watch for a Bette-Davis-diva turn by mega talent Tamara Zook. Delicious!

Bonus: If you volunteer for the Fringe Festival, you'll get a voucher to see a show-FOR FREE! Sweet!

Friday, August 10, 2007

New York International Fringe Festival Gets Freaky

For those New Yorkers not jaunting off to upper crustie beach locales this month, the New York International Fringe Festival is THE current cultural place-to-be-seen. Held August 10-26 at theaters around town, this is the largest multi-arts festival in North America and features 200 shows at more than 20 venues. Shows range from an unabashedly wacky musical about Charles Bukowski, a political farce featuring a fictional, futuristic Hillary C., to a glut of angst-fueled commentaries created by genius solo humorists.

Some Fringe offerings wind up on B'way charging 10 times the festival's $15 ticket price. So use the FringeNYC Slice-o-Matic to find plays that speak to your on-stage groove, or pick 'em like a race horse (randomly, but based on a gut feeling.) Or volunteer and get an overall perspective on the multitudinous performance options. Hey, its a high class problem to have too many low-cost choices, so see as many plays as you can and support innovative theater!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Lost Your Grandmama's Cookbook? Then Go Here!

In New York City, a walk down any side street holds promise of the ultra quirky. You never know what bizarre, super-specialized store might be lurking. Today I wandered by a shop advertising out-of-print, antiquarian, and unusual cook books. Nothing but cook books. Cook books galore. Joanne Hendricks, Cookbooks... and books about food and wine, etc. is a gem of a destination, offering one of those 'only in New York' finds where the store itself is like performance art - visually stimulating, unique-unto-itself and strangely soul enriching.

Nestled among the cuisine how-to's lovingly displayed around this early 1800's shop were exquisite kitchen antiques, tea services and art glass. These appealed most to this anti-cook (you'll find my microwave resting atop my stove in my small NYC kitchen, which I consider a brilliant spacial compromise) as did the comic, tongue-in-cheek writings about culinary exploration. Really, it is a miracle I even ventured into a cookbook shop, but the antique feel of the place seduced me. If you are a foodie, check the store out at 488 Greenwich Street.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Nosferatu the Play Creeps You Out (but in a good way)

The unnerving story of Nosferatu, that famous vampire of death, makes for an uncomfortably enjoyable play in Nosferatu: The Morning of My Death at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Freakishly frightening, this production by the Rabbit Hole Ensemble follows the ill-fated Mina and her doomed compatriots as they experience nightmarish hauntings from beyond the grave.

Utilizing minimal lights, staging and costumes to effectively conjure intense desperation, horror and despair, the production wisely showcases the solid acting chops of its cast. The entire lot of them deserve kudos for effectively evoking the weirdness of the undead, but Jenna Kalinowski warrants special note for her commanding performance as the play's central narrator (and doomed blood-lust magnet of the Count). The eerie direction by Edward Elefterion and innovatively constructed script by Stanton Wood are stellar, and Danny Ashkenasi is particularly fun to watch as a fly devouring asylum inmate.

Bonus: Getting to eat Pakistani food after the show with fellow fabulous New Yorkers including cast member Danny, and hearing the inside scoop on this production. Check out Nosferatu: The Full Cycle around Halloween. Creepy!!!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fabulous Film Forum

If you love obscure art films, historic cinema, independent flicks and just plain can't-see-it-in-a megaplex movies, then the Film Forum is your kinda place. The Film Forum in New York City's premier independent movie house and a sort-of spiritual destination for the city's film aficionados. Film Forum also showcases directors and experts in its talks and Q&A's, offering audiences a unique way to gain a deeper appreciation for the films it lovingly showcases. Some of these talks are even available via podcasting!

I've seen Into Great Silence and Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis at the Film Forum, and loved the theater itself as well as being surrounded by other obsessed cinema stalkers. A non-profit institution, you can donate or become a member to support the important work of the institution.

Bonus: Thanks to a tip from culture vulture Jeff, I found out that August is NYC Noir month at Film Forum, featuring crime-ridden, haunting and shuddersome flicks set in our beloved New York City (the crime-ridden, haunting and shuddersome NYC of pre-Giuliani days). You can see two films back to back in a double feature and really make it an event.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Patti LuPone Amazes in Gypsy!

Yep, the reviews are thru the roof, as they should be. Patti LuPone, that master of New York City Broadway theater, absolutely nails it as Rose in City Center's production of Gypsy. Considered by many the classic American musical, Gypsy is the birthplace of beloved show tunes and follows the rags-to-burlesque-riches making of Gypsy Rose Lee.

I could go on and on about the tingle-inducing voice of LuPone and her amazingly human and heartbreaking characterization of a born-in-the-wrong-time, stage-mother-from-hell. At a time when the scandalous antics of youngsters Lindsey Lohan and Miss Britney have us outraged at parental apathy and fame fanaticism, this tale of the mother-made stripper Gypsy Rose Lee is timely and just a little scary. Even with Laura Benanti's empowered gal, Dita von Tease approach to the character, we still mourn the innocent little girl Louise that was.

But ultimately, this isn't about current day morality or celebrity or silly antics for the paparazzi. Through LuPone's performance, we get the heartbreak of a wanna-be artist stifled by society, motherhood and a mistrust of the conventional. Her climactic musical rant of regret against an unfair life delivers such a punch it had the uber-enthusiastic crowd on its feet. This production best go to Broadway, because to lose LuPone's performance into theatrical ether would be tragic.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wild Mexican Theater at Lincoln Center Festival

Taking advantage of the international theater offered in the Lincoln Center Festival 2007 was an obvious outing, given my recent obsession with that preeminent cultural institution. Luckily, I had the opportunity to experience the crazed, irreverent and hysterically spontaneous De Monstruos y Prodigios: La Historia de los Castrati presented by the Mexican theatrical company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes.

This work, written by Jorge Kuri, focuses on the history of the castrati, or those angelically voiced young male singers who were, in the barbaric practice of the 18th century, castrated to preserve their soprano octaves. In an environment of fantasy, myth and opera, the play layers the humorous and the sublime with a dash of absurdity to create a fantastically entertaining non-linear experience. With extreme physical comedy and musical interludes provided by a macho centaur, bickering Siamese twins, a diva sopranist virtuoso, a jesterish eunuch slave, a befuddled harpsichordist, a canon wielding Napoleon and a real live horse that prances around the sand pit stage, you know this is farce beyond compare. And when bread starts flying through the air, well, let's just say that typical has long left the building.

Bonus: Meeting talented director Claudio Valdes Kuri after the final performance and learning that much of the play developed through improvisation. Also getting introduced to fellow audience member Tony Mendez of The Tony Mendez Show and Late Show with David Letterman - what a joyous and lovely guy! And having the opportunity to go backstage, meet some of the actors and crew (and getting a kiss on the cheek from Mr. Centaur himself Miguel Angel Lopez!), and seeing up-close the beautiful white horse Mexerico!

Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center

The night air is warm here in New York City, inviting everyone outside to embrace summer. Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swing is the ultimate outdoor dance party for those ready to disco, rumba, samba, swing or salsa. Some of the best dancers in the city show up on the Lincoln Center plaza dressed to the nines and ready to spin some serious moves. The people watching is some kinda fun, and the music allows free access to top international talent.

Bonus: While tickets to get on the dance floor may cost $15, many New Yorkers hang about the perimeter, providing free dance shows for other bystanders. And these folks are GOOD. Also, you can see and hear the bands from this vantage point, so if you are short on moolah this is a great way to get a free night of top notch entertainment.

2007 Dates: June 19-July 21
Time: 6:30 pm dance lesson, 7:30 pm music
Location: Lincoln Center, Columbus Avenue at 63rd St.
General Info

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Socializing in New York City

In a place this ginormous, it takes a lot to get to know people. I've heard from many that it is especially difficult to make friends in New York City. But I relocated with a goal of significantly expanding my social universe, and have a wider circle of friends here in 4 months time than I'd developed over 15 years of living in DC. No joke. Here are but a few ways of meeting people, making friends, and building a social network:

Show Up for Everything
Simple concept, difficult to put into action. But if you take the attitude of accepting every social outing offered, even if it conflicts with tonight's Flight of the Conchords episode, you will meet new and interesting people. Guaranteed. The minute you say no is the moment you cut yourself off from potential friends.

Social Networking Groups
There are a number of groups dedicated solely to getting like-minded folks together, including:
The Lunch Club: This popular group was formed to help NYC dwellers make friends and forge community. A number of events are thrown throughout the week and you sign up to go to the one that strikes your fancy. Chocolate sampling, horse racing, art gallery hops and trivia nights provide the venue, you provide the personality.
Meet Ups: Meet up groups bring people interested in a specific issue together for discussion and camaraderie. The topics can get very specific (Sample, Synth and Sequencer Meetup, anyone?) but you are sure to be surrounded by people who are passionate and outgoing.
If you know of another group like these PLEASE share it in this blog's comments section!

Professional Groups
A way most people develop a community is through work or professional groups. Take MediaBistro, which started out as a way to hold events to bring journalists together and wound up being an incredible online resource for media professionals (the company just sold for a cool $23 mil!) No matter your profession, there are bound to be associations or clubs that speak your language. Do a Google search, find the one that fits, and join.

LinkedIn also provides a great career resource. While primarily an online professional networking resource, it does allow you to seek out former colleagues and contacts that are located in New York City.

Sports Activity Groups
One of the first things I joined in NYC was New York Road Runners, a longstanding running club here that hosts the NYC Marathon. There are a number of other sports groups to get involved with as well. Join a softball team, soccer club, volleyball team, bridge circle or something else that gets you up off the couch and out and about.

Community Groups
When I arrived in town, there was a flier in my lobby from Landmark 76 about an important civic meeting. I went and was immediately connected to neighbors and others interested in historic preservation. A few months later, there was a beautification day on the block, and I got out, got dirty and planted flowers. If you join in such activities, you will get to know those that live in your area. If they share your taste in location, who knows what else you have in common

Know Thy Neighbors
It is a myth that most New Yorkers are, you know, rude bastards. Quite the opposite, as those in NYC will actually speak to you when you share an elevator or go for the same grocery cart at Fairway. Get to know NYC's equivalent of next door neighbors-those that live in your building. You never know when you might need to borrow a cup of sugar or get rescued from a mugger. While not your typical New York City activity, hold a mix and mingle in your apartment and invite fellow residents or, if it is a high rise, just those on your floor. Or ask a long-time building resident if you can take them out for coffee and learn all the neighborhood gossip.

Religious Organizations
As a way of making 'nice' NYC friends, my Dad suggested that I join a local church. While not my cup of tea, this way of building community is important to many. Being open to things like my friend Julia's Buddhist Meditation in New York class or a religious service here or there has exposed me to New Yorkers interested in being good people. So if you are inclined, get involved with the religious group of your choice, a local house of worship or a religious study group.

Friends and Contacts
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend like Ann to host a Welcome to NYC Brunch for you. So be sure to get in touch with every person you know that lives in New York City and catch up over lunch or dinner, even if you haven't seen them for 15 years. Fact is, they are established, know inside info about the city, and will act as a great resource. And don't be shy-they will usually want to hear from you. I've reached out to old high school buddies, former colleagues from 3 jobs ago and friends of friends of friends. I've also had the magical experience of randomly running into people on the subway that I haven't seen in ages. Be sure to get numbers and follow up!

Other Bits of Advice
If you are single, you automatically think of dating when you think of socializing. If you are ready to give it a go, by all means date in NYC. Sometimes I think I've stepped into an episode of Sex and the City! But be sure that you don't let your dating life take you away from building lasting friendships. Not that I'm not a fool for love, but you know....

Book outings far in advance. Calendars fill up quick in New York City. Whether due to work or life or social obligations or who knows what, people just don't have time like they do in other cities. There still might be an occasional opportunity for a last minute outing, but this is not a 'hey, I stopped by 'cause I was in the neighborhood' kind of town.

Also, don't take things personally. NYC is filled with busy, busy people. Social dates get cancelled or postponed frequently. Just shrug it off, get together at another time and attribute it to the pace of the city.

Finally, just be sure to reach out to others, be friendly, respectful and kind, and most importantly - get out and do things! NYC is not the land of hermits!