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.