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!

Monday, July 16, 2007

One Man's Rant on All the Wrong Reasons

When you are the son of a Catholic nun and a Franciscan monk, you might experience guilt pangs as a result of being a blasphemous spawn. Luckily, John Fugelsang explores such angst to side-splitting effect in his one-man show All the Wrong Reasons, performed at the Barrow Street Theater in the West Village. A liberal laugh machine who reinvented himself as a serious artiste exploring matters of religion, obligation, Catholic guilt and commitment, Fugelsang forces deeper questioning of God (who he compares to Elvis-loves the man, freaked out by the fan clubs), righteous indignation and what we will sacrifice for love.

In this strangely sweet and politically irreverent performance, Fugelsang recreates his roller-coaster life of appearing on Politically Incorrect to debate neo-Nazi David Duke, his Catholic guilt black-belt master of a mother, his 11-year unmarried courtship with his beloved, and acts of compassionate drug smuggling. It helps that Fugelsang, former host of America's Funniest Home Videos, has that all-American boyish charm that allows even the most outrageous tales to go down the audience's gullet with glee.

Note: Like too many of the great performances I've seen in the last few months in New York City, the show is in limited run. The next (and last) show here will be on July 22 at 8pm. Go see it before he heads back to LA!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Experimental Theater Exposure at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery

Last night, I figured the perfect Friday the 13th outing was to take in some seriously experimental theater at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery. Presented by Company So Go No in association with the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator, the innovative and massively unsettling play Art of Memory was in no way, shape or form your typical New York City theatrical experience.

This examination of creativity, fairytale horror and the written word combines dance, sound and narration to trance-like effect. While three librarians prance around a twisted labyrinth of books (wonderfully realized by set designer Sean Breault), tales inspired by Jorge Luis Borges, the Bronte Sisters and Brothers Grimm illuminate victimization, the desire to create permanence through literature, and the struggle to construct memory that is unoppressive yet authentic.

The overlay of narration by Lisa Ramirez, who also created or adapted much of the text, serves as a grounding force as the audience is led through fairy tales both sinister and forlorn. Her performance is riveting, stylized and wryly humorous and well balances the precise movement work of Heather Harpham, Cassie Terman and Tanya Calamoneri. And just the right dollop of musical order is provided by sound designer Miguel Frasconi.

Bonus: Finally stepping foot in the legendary St. Marks, home of The Poetry Project where Ginsberg, Shepard, Cage, Ashbery and numerous other influential writers have performed groundbreaking readings. Also seeing Lisa Ramirez on stage again. Whatever she is in, especially if she has had a hand in the writing, is a must-see!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Lost and Found

You see them all over New York City, the missing posters. "Call immediately if found" pleas for sentimental or costly items now vanished. Currently, there is a popular one around my block searching for Zippy the parakeet. Cell phones get stolen, Gucci pumps fall off your foot when stepping from a cab, an heirloom ring flies off a dieting model's finger. All may wind up in photos xeroxed on colored sheets of paper and taped to a lamp post. Rewards in the thousands are common.

Tonight I frolicked through a litany of missing things while watching Gone Missing, a comedic musical at the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village. The material was compiled through interviews with an eclectic assortment of New Yorkers, focusing on issues of loss. Most stories are hysterical, silly, offering perfect verse for a cabaret song. Others are more poignant, such as the tale of the loss of a gay man's less-than-loving mother's necklace. The play's style is very Devo-meets-Groundlings, which makes for an interesting visual fix. The actors pull it off to perfection for an enjoyable and weird summer theatrical escape.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Petanque in Bryant Park

Often in New York City you will stumble across something weird and fabulous to do on a beautiful summer day. Such was the case when finding the French game of Petanque being played in Bryant Park. These players were on their lunch break and needed a moment to escape from the demands of the daily grind. There was a tournament in Bryant Park on June 24 (which I missed) that had 32 teams participating, so there obviously is an active community for this sport.

Bonus: From April to October, free lessons are given in the Park every weekday during lunchtime by La Boule New Yorkaise. Looks like a meditative activity, so you might see me tossing the boule around some day soon.