A Restaurant Review: Paname, A Parisian Holiday on the UES.

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A Restaurant Review: Paname, A Parisian Holiday on the UES.

By Ross

Chef Bernard Ros, an executive chef and restaurateur in New York City for decades, launched his latest French bistro, Paname (1068 2nd Ave, NYC) a few years ago on an unlikely block on 2nd Avenue and E57th St. His last restaurant, Meli Melo, closed because of that typical and horrendous New York real estate story of leases ending and rental rates doubling. This gentle sweet man, with an impressive outlook towards experimentation and classic French cooking, spent a great deal of time trying to find a location that would both serve his loyal followers and not force him to raise his prices beyond the very affordable level he loves to give those followers. Paname, although a bit plain in interior design, does come across as a quaint neighborhood place that caters more to taste buds rather than the stylistic eye. And we should thank him most definitely for that approach, because what we are given here is gloriously tasty and fresh, while being quite easy on our pocketbooks.

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Amuse-bouche: Fresh Salted Anchovies.

After our group of writers sat down for dinner, we were greeted with a generous treat of two types of Amuse-bouche: Fresh Salted Anchovies and a Porcini Mushroom Pate with hints of avocado and Italian spices that was just plain heavenly. Both were simple, smooth, and pleasing to the palate. Chef Bernard told us that these tidbits, along with a palate cleansing cream-less Cauliflower Soup served midway through, and a deliciously creamy Violet Ice Cream (not to be missed) and a basket of French Cookies served before desert, were generally given as surprise gifts to thankful diners, especially those who are having the extremely well priced 3 course prix fixe ($43). It’s such a welcoming gift and very telling of the level of care and attention Chef Bernard gives to the entire experience at Paname.

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Porcini Mushroom Pate

We started off, family style, tasting four unique appetizers. The first and best was the Pate Maison aux Cornichons ($13) that was dense but easy on the taste buds, exuding freshness and a wonderful classic French style. The Baby Octopus was tender and delicious with just the right amount of spicy flavor that sat so well mixed in with the Haricots Blanc ($16). As with almost every exquisitely presented dish, the Tuna Tartar with a light Sesame Chili Oil was as delicious as it was pretty, with the Artichokes Pesto ($11) being the only dish that underwhelmed us, being less pesto-y than anticipated.

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Bouillabaisse with Shrimp, Cod, Clams, Mussels, and Seafood in a Saffron Broth.

For the entrees, we selected two of his most special and popular dishes: the Bouillabaisse with Shrimp, Cod, Clams, Mussels, and Seafood in a Saffron Broth with a delectable Garlic Aioli spread on a few slices of baguette ($28) and the French classic, Beef Bourguignon that generally finds its way onto the daily specials list at least 9 months out of the year. And thank goodness for that, as the Bourguignon was rich and divine, and the Bouillabaisse delicate and flavorful with a nice hint of spice.

We also were able to taste the most incredibly moist Crispy Duck, oven roasted in a spectacular and surprising Barley and Mango Coulis. Rather than utilize the more traditional flavor of the Orange, Chef Bernard attempted to exchange the fruit for mango after a glorious trip to India many years ago. He explained that he always prefers inventiveness over being stuck into tradition when the ingredients can speak for themselves and don’t overwhelm.

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Sautéed Cod Fish a la Nicoise Tomato Fondant.

The final entree was a Sautéed Cod Fish a la Nicoise Tomato Fondant that felt like we stepped away from Paris and found ourselves at a beachfront bistro in Southern France, with the olive and old red tomato flavor bringing to mind the glory of Marseilles and the Mediterranean Sea.

Finally, to finish up a wonderful French style meal, that was never too heavy or overwhelming, we chose four deserts, with one being the most classic of all the classics, Crème Brulee (all desserts $9.75), that to no one’s surprise was the most delicious of them all. It was light and flavorful without being too sweet or simple. The Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream were rich in their perspective flavors, perfectly balanced and delightful, while the thin crust Apple Tart was a bit tough and less flavorful making it more of a challenge to embrace.

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Apple Tart, Crème Brûlée.

Speaking with Chef Bernard after our stupendous and filling meal (that was accompanied by a lovely French Rosé to begin, a delicious Malbec for the main course, and a perfect glass of Sancerre with dessert -wine at bar during happy hour $7 beer $5; wine at the table $12), he told us of his 50 year journey that brought him to this quaint little UES bistro.  His hopes of creating an eating establishment that focuses more on the dish over the interior design. He has an inspiring view about breaking the rules of French cuisine without disqualifying the classics.  Instead he hopes to break the rules just enough to give those dishes a modern face-lift rather than a complete overhaul.

He’s a man of exquisite taste when it comes to food and dining, creating a comfortable and friendly atmosphere where one can relax and feel at home. He leans away from showy or pretense which is such a pleasure to engage with. His handshake is so warm and inviting, that I look forward to the next time he wills my taste buds back over to Paris for some more fine wine and excellent dining.

For reservations and information, click here.

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DC’s Mean Girls: Hey Kellyanne, You Aren’t the Meanest Girl In Town!

DC’s Mean Girls: Hey Kellyanne, You Aren’t the Meanest Girl In Town!

By Ross

This is a full-on feast for the “Mean Girls” film fan club. Even with the meanest girl in town, a certain Kellyanne Conway (“Don’t be fooled because she may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing slut faced ho-bag, but in reality, she’s so much more than that.“), walking in to DC’s National Theater right beside me, her awfulness can’t ruin the fun that is to be had. Because this screen to stage musical is a whole lotta fun. I am going to hold off giving a full review of this Broadway-bound new musical but I will tell you that we thought this show was totally“Grool”.

The film, Mean Girls with  Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried.

Mean Girls, the musical based on that iconic 2004 film is getting it almost all fantastically fetch (“Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!“) during its pre-Broadway run. Tina Fey (“30 Rock“) who magnificently wrote the classic teenage comedy of this generation, based partially on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 non-fiction self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes, has once again written a smart and extremely funny look at teenage life. Her musical stage show book will please even the most diehard of “Mean Girls” diehards. Partnered with her husband, Jeff Richmond (Broadway’s Fully Committed) who wrote the music, and Nell Benjamin (Legally Blond) who penned the lyrics, this musical creation does the almost impossible exceedingly well. They have found a way of balancing the telling of Cady’s cultural readjustment tale, a story that we all know and love (if you don’t, schedule a Netflix and chill night, pronto), throwing in all the epic quotable lines at the appropriate, and sometimes surprising moments throughout, while also keeping the plot just unique and far enough away from the original so it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy.

Those detours, as choreographed and directed by the hit-making director, Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin), are wildly fun and silly, keeping the storyline fresh and sassy. We remain fully on our toes, happily engaged, with her young fan base cheerfully squealing with delight after each well known line right up until the end. It’s not perfect a perfect show mind you, as it still needs some tightening up. It lacks the one or two songs that climb into your brain (“Get in loser, we’re going shopping.“) and don’t want to leave long after you leave the theatre, but with the funny and fulfilling balance of old and new, we still walk out happy and appeased.

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Erika Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park and Kate Rockwell

All the cast of characters are here, presented one after the other by our non-official high school greeting committee (“You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, Cool Asians, Varsity jocks Unfriendly black hotties, Girls who eat their feelings, Girls who don’t eat anything, Desperate wannabes, Burnouts, Sexually active band geeks“). Janice Sarkisian, played iconically by the incredible Barrett Wilbert Weed (Heathers: The Musical) and the adorable and funny Grey Henson (The Book of Mormon) as Damien Hubbard, the guy who’s “too gay to function” (“That’s only ok when I say it!“) are our guides through the dangers that lurk in the school’s hallways, classrooms, and the animal watering hole that most call, ‘the cafeteria’. Functioning just about as perfect as one could hope, the two (“greatest people you will ever meet“) start out as our morality voices and ushers from the future.

Telling Cady Heron (“Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.“), played perfectly by Erika Henningsen (Broadway revival of Les Miserables) all she needs to know in the first of many high-energy high-kinetic song and dance number, “Where Do You Belong?”. In this fun song, the pair of high school outsiders introduce her (and us) to all these iconic characters in a very cinematically similar fashion, but with a definitely creative Broadway style that fits the genre perfectly.

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the film’s Janis: Lizzy Caplan; the musical’s Janis: Barrett Wilbert.

It’s the perfect setup for a tale that will take us from Cady’s departure from Africa (“If you’re from Africa, why are you white?”) (“Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white!”) to the most famous high school bully take-down ever (“beware of the Plastics”). The Queen bee of the Plastics, Regina George, most awesomely played by Taylor Louderman (Bring It On: The Musical) is everything that you want her to be (“Regina George is not sweet! She’s a scum-sucking road whaore, she ruined my life!“) and more.

Her two disciples, Gretchen Wieners, played by the wonderful Ashley Park (Broadway’s recent revival of Sunday in the Park with George), and Karen Smith, played by the hilarious Kate Rockwell (Rock of Ages) round out the (“Cold, Shiny, Hard, PLASTIC“) trio solidly. Rockwell gets to steal the show for a brief moment with the epically funny, “I Can Be“, emphasizing Karen’s simpleton mannerisms wisely, and Park gets to shine in the wonderfully smart and surprisingly deep number “What’s Wrong with Me?” (for the full article, click here)

the film’s Aaron: Jonathan Bennett, the musical’s Aaron: Kyle Selig.

via DC’s Mean Girls: Hey Kellyanne, You Aren’t the Meanest Girl In Town!

The Weasel and The Porcupine. 


The Weasel and the Porcupine. 
By Steven Ross LCSW

There once was a weasel who met a beautiful sweet faced porcupine. He fell in love with that sweet faced porcupine and the porcupine fell in love with the weasel. The weasel could tell he was a bit sad and a bit hurt by the world but he thought he could bring happiness and love and care to the porcupine. And who knows what the porcupine saw in the happy weasel, only the porcupine knew that answer. 

So they were happy. And joyful. And the weasel saw the sadness leave the porcupine and that made the weasel want to remain even more. 

The weasel learned how to hold the porcupine in a way that made them both happy. Sometimes the world would startle the porcupine. And sometimes the world would startle the weasel, and one or the other would squirm, and cause the quills of the porcupine to poke and hurt the weasel, or the claws of the weasel to scratch at the porcupine but they would settle back down and go back asleep. 

It’s a shame the story doesn’t end there. 


At one point, who knows why, the weasel sure didn’t know why, but a sadness seem to seep over the porcupine again. No matter how hard the weasel tried to make the porcupine happy, the porcupine just looked away and stared at other other things. The quills started poking and hurting more often, mostly accidental, but sometimes on purpose.  

So sadly, the weasel started to stay away. The weasel never thought about not coming back every day to the porcupine cause that felt like home, but it wasn’t as safe as it once was. It wasn’t as fun as it once was. The weasel felt alone and instead of turning to the porcupine for comfort, which maybe he should have, he found comfort in the silliness of his friends. 


Every so often he’d look over to see if the porcupine was feeling happier or smiling, but the porcupine seemed angry or distracted, so the weasel would turn around again and try to entertain himself. He missed the joy and the silliness but felt that the world was being so hard on the porcupine, that to ask for happiness was not very reasonable. 
The porcupine was sad and felt very alone as well, and his sadness shifted to a darker place cause he saw the weasel not feeling the happy comfort and the safety that it once felt with the porcupine. The weasel’s claws scratched him more often. Mostly by accident. Sometimes on purpose. 

The porcupine kept to his own life, staying away. And not really inviting the weasel in. Every once and a while the porcupine would stab the weasel just a bit too hard. And a bit too on purpose. And the weasel would scratch back a bit to hard. And a bit too on purpose. 

But some how each would see the sweetness in the others face from time to time and try to cuddle back into their embrace but, sadly, it wasn’t as comfortable as it once was. But it was still comfortable. Enough.  
The porcupine’s sadness slowly deepened. Maybe because the world was too hard, or the weasel seemed too far away and seemed to be having too much fun, or something. But the gap just kept growing. Til it was too big. And the porcupine stabbed. And the weasel clawed. And it was broken. 
This is when maybe the story should have ended. But it didn’t. 

The weasel still saw the sweetness in the porcupine. And maybe the sweetest mixed with sadness was also appealing too. Maybe he could help if he just kept loving. And being patient. He would keep smiling when the porcupine would stomp by. And he would cuddle up to the porcupine again and again. He would try to ignore the little pricks and the stabs. But he also needed frivolity in his life. and he would find it outside with friends and the things he loved. 

It seemed the porcupine was also doing the same thing as well. So maybe this was ok. 

But sadly this kept having the same result. More pricks. More stabs. More claws. More fun away from each other. 

Til it broke again. And again. 
And each time it maybe should have been the end of the story. But each time it wasn’t. 
Finally the weasel was too afraid of the stabs and stayed away too much. He still loved and was drawn to that sweet face with such power but the weasel was just too scared of the quills to hold the porcupine tight like he used to. And the porcupine felt too abandoned and sad for the porcupines love to over power that feeling of distance. Their cuddle was no longer comfortable any more. And so it was done. With deep sadness. Great love. And some fear and abandonment all scrambled up together. 

Pericles – Born in a Tempest: Masterfully Surviving a Potential Storm.

1_Jacques Roy in Pericles Born in a Tempest_photo by Al Foote III
Jacques Roy. Photo by Al Foote III.

Pericles – Born in a Tempest: Masterfully Surviving a Potential Storm.

By Ross

Written at least in part by William Shakespeare and included in most modern editions of his collected works despite questions over its authorship, Hunger & Thirst Theatre in collaboration with The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project (GSP) have taken this engaging story and anchored it into a small cottage; a shelter, basically in a storm. The setting of Pericles – Born in a Tempest in a calm surrounded by storm is an ingenious contraption, enhancing the play in all of its themes surrounding the emotional attachments in family, especially between daughter and son. Thanks to the inventive direction by Jordan Reeves (Founding Member and Artistic Director of GSP), who layers the Shakespearean play, Pericles, Prince of Tyre on to a woman mourning the death of her wheelchair bound father (Jacques Roy). The play sets sail on the evening after the funeral and it is just that kind of family dynamic that is required for this play to float amongst the rocky ideas of loss and attachment. Sheltering themselves in the dead father’s cottage on a stormy dark night, surrounded by his boxed possessions (creatively used as props throughout this telling), the young woman and mother (Patricia Lynn), accompanied by her husband (Jordan Kaplan), their infant child, and two friends (Kathryn Metzger, Tom Schwans) find the notebook text to Pericles – Born in a Tempest. In the light of a storm candle, the husband and friends attempt to sooth the grief of the daughter and their crying baby by reading the story aloud to one another, while the storm rages outside.

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Kathryn Metzger, Jacques Roy. Photo by Al Foote III.

Shakespeare, they believe, didn’t actually write the first two acts of this epic story, but only the last three. Even with this acknowledgement, most believe that Pericles, Prince of Tyre works surprisingly well on stage despite its complexities and inconsistencies throughout. There is a beauty in its depiction of love between partners and parents. Adding to that is the idea that many contest that the play rescues itself with those remaining three acts. Saving itself, like a lifeboat in a raging storm surviving the dullness of the first few acts with the heartfelt loses and reunions later on. Taking that history to heart, director Reeves mostly skips past the somewhat tedious set-up of Pericles’s tale and jumps forward straight into the stormy sea that casts him on the shores of the famine-besieged Tarsus. Roy, the solid actor who wonderfully played the dying father, smartly also plays the mythical center of this tale, Pericles, with a powerful electric charm. Pushing the myth forward, the complicated and island-hopping tale confidently rides the waves forward. With a grand and wonderfully environment to set sail within from set designer, Lynne Porter, lighting designer, Melissa Mizell, sound designer, Randall Benichak, and the most ingenious projections designed by Matt Reeves, the story takes off far beyond the simple reading of the text. The creative team, the cast, and the director all work hard balancing the mythical fantasy and the reality of these four mourners with a perfectly timed ease. (for the full review, click here)

4_Tom Schwans and Kathryn Metzger in Pericles Born in a Tempest_photo by Al Foote IIII
Tom Schwans, Kathryn Metzger. Photo by Al Foote III.

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M. Butterfly: The Western Man Says “Yes?”

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M. Butterfly: The Western Man Says “Yes?”

By Ross

In some ways, I think I’m very lucky. At least in this one particular way that I have never seen M. Butterfly on stage before this evening (nor have I seen the 1993 film starring Jeremy Irons). Not that I wouldn’t have most likely loved the Tony Award winning Best Play of 1988 that starring John Lithgow and BD Wong at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, which ran for 777 performances. Rumor has it that this Broadway play hypnotized its audience with a mixture of eastern eroticism, intrigue, and moody mysteriousness. People talk about the production with a faint forgetful adoration, not really being able to remember what the play looked like, but definitely they all can recall how it made them feel. “Nothing blinds a man to reality, like perfect love”, so they say in the movie’s promotional trailer. As that quote reflects the truth in this tale, it seems to be true in our memories as well.

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These virgin eyes and ears put me in a slight advantage the other night at the Cort Theatre. Julie Taymor’s onslaught is straight on powerful and direct, energetically engaging, and dramatically concise. It doesn’t seem to want to mask this tale in a romantic or mysterious mist, but to shine a more harsh, although I might say, realistic light on the story. Also apparent, is the desire to add some frenetic drive to the compelling story of treason and espionage that took place between China and France in the 1980’s. It is loosely based on the real world relationship between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Shi Pei Pu, a Peking opera singer who was a Chinese spy obtaining classified secrets during their 20-year-long sexual affair. It also appears that with some additional text added by playwright David Henry Hwang (Yellow Face, Chinglish), that a bolder and less gauzy attitude is being presented in this production, one with more graphic descriptions of the sexual acts between the two, and a more pronounced view inside the Chinese espionage circle Song was involved in. (for the full review, click here)

MB16]_Clive Owen in M. BUTTERFLY. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes: To Dance or To Love, The Choice is in the Shoes.

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THE RED SHOES. Sam Archer (seated) and company. Photo Credit: Johan Persson.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes: To Dance or To Love, The Choice is in the Shoes.

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By Ross

To many, including the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and my goddess of song, Kate Bush (who created an album called “The Red Shoes“, inspired by this film), the Oscar winning 1948 British film, “The Red Shoes”, written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is the quintessential ballet film. The sumptuous movie famously explores the obsessive love of ballet tragically crashing up against the desire of romantic love and companionship. Powell and Pressburger magnificently push the limits of filming in Technicolor’s three-strip process, especially noteworthy during the signature dance sequence using a bold, fluorescent-lit color palette. It’s not surprising that Sir  Matthew Bourne, the famed wild child of the British ballet world, using his three decade old dance company, New Adventures, was also caught in the film’s magical vision and decided to take on the compelling task of adapting the film into a full length ballet. As the movie was more of a backstage melodrama with very little dance sequences, Bourne’s greatest challenge (well, one of many) was to turn this love triangle and career struggle into a sumptuous two-act ballet, with barely a word spoken between the dramatic characters. And somehow, against all odds, he miraculously succeeds giving us an elegant backstage drama, centered on the incompatibility of having a romantic love life and a celebrated dance career all at the same time. Much like the Hans Christian Andersen’s tale that this ballet is loosely based on, one has to suffer and give up one in order to have success in the other.

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THE RED SHOES. Company. Photo Credit: Johan Persson.

Being a theater-junkie at the ballet, much like a few days prior when I saw the opera, Dolores Claiborne by the New York City Opera, I found myself at a slight disadvantage. Asked by the lady sitting next to me if I reviewed dance and ballet, I had to acknowledge that I rarely even went to see dance, preferring spoken or sung dialogue to a physical expression of storytelling. She didn’t seem to be impressed with my answer, wondering how I could adequately write about this particular ballet, knowing so little. My answer is as with all things I review, be it movies, dance, opera, performance, and even theater: I always try to write from my emotional experience and gut reaction. For me, this is a valid position, and also extremely relevant to all those other non-dance aficionados who watch and sit in the same position as I do when we try stretch our minds and go to places outside our comfort zone. So here at the New York City Center, I found myself in the position of experiencing something new. For one, I found myself perpetually craving dialogue or some musical lyrics to enhance the emotional connection (I was not going to get nary a word spoken), and unable to really create a critical discussion of the technical aspects of the dancer and the dance. I am able to register how it effects my soul, what it is like to fully embrace the storytelling process, to find myself reveling in the strong love physicalized, and in the immensely satisfying theatrics on display. (for the full review, click here)

THE RED SHOES
THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw (center). Photo Credit: Johan Persson.

Source: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes: To Dance or To Love, The Choice is in the Shoes.

A Bloody Good Slice of Squeamish For A One Woman Show.

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Alison Fraser. All Photos by Maria Baranova.

A Bloody Good Slice of Squeamish For A One Woman Show.

By Ross
What is it that makes you Squeamish? Is it the bloody red hand-print on the poster for this new play written and directed by Aaron Mark? It certainly is arresting, eye-catching, and provocative, but doesn’t exactly make me Squeamish. The gory image does hit you when first arriving at the Beckett Theatre at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row. And on the weekend before Halloween, it resonates in a fun and thrilling kind of way, like the thrill of a Haunted House ride at an amusement park. But what makes me Squeamish is not the sight of blood, but the idea of skin being cut, sliced, or punctuated. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a little bit of a phobia about sharp knives and needles for as long as I can remember. My mother even bought me the best kitchen present ever, when she found a whole knife set with individual hard plastic covers that totally enclosed and snapped on over the cutting edge. These I could have in my kitchen drawer. The others, the ones that just lay around unsheathed were totally unacceptable.
The idea of blood doesn’t cause one moment of panic. So I wasn’t worried, because this show, as the poster suggests, is a bloody “psychological horror” play about what happens when an Upper West Side psychoanalyst jumps off her medications into the South Plains of hometown Texas and finds herself pharmalogically defenseless at the funeral of her nephew. If you had asked me what Squeamish was about before seeing it, I would have been tongue tied (as I like to be before a night at the theater). Other then the bloody handprint, I really had no clue. And upon entering the theatre and seeing the staging laid out before me, I still was in the dark. Designed by Sarah Johnston (scenic & lighting), the set is simple and funereal, with a big comfortable looking arm chair dead center stage, and a side table and a lamp to the right. Behind this elevated setup is a large framework of what can only be assumed to be a gothic style window. Everything is dark and quiet looking, lit very elegantly and singularly with precision and attention to atmospheric detail. We are given the same pre show requests; turn off your cell phones, no re-entry, and no texting etc, but with an additional caveat, that the show is very dark and very quiet, so any light or sound will be much more disturbing to others than normal. And they are so right (although it certainly didn’t stop someone up front from checking his or her cell phone in the middle of the one-act show). It is quiet, very dark, and pretty disturbing. And yes, it succeeds in making me Squeamish. (for the full review, click here)
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Source: A Bloody Good Slice of Squeamish For A One Woman Show.

Dolores Claiborne: An Accident Can Be A Theatre Junkie’s Best Friend.

Dolores Claiborne
New York City Opera production of Dolores Claiborne, composed by Tobias Picker. Lisa Chaves (seated center), Jessica Tyler Wright (standing right). Photo by Lisa Chaves.

Dolores Claiborne: An Accident Can Be A Theatre Junkie’s Best Friend.

By Ross
This is a bit of a stretch I must say. What I mean, is that today, I’ll be giving myself a good and thrilling stretch of my theatrical viewing muscles on a rainy Sunday afternoon courtesy of the New York City Opera. I rarely venture to the opera, to be honest, not because I don’t like it particularly, but because I’m not sure it sits in my ears as well as how musical theater can infect my soul. But I was curious, you see; an opera, based on the Stephen King novel, with a beloved movie version of the tale starring the powerful Kathy Bates sitting in our collective memories, definitely tweaked my interest. So what would it be like to see the opera, Dolores Claiborne, with a libretto by J.D. McClatchy and composed by Tobias Picker, both of whom are well regarded within the opera community?  I have been craving as of late for an emotionally moving musical experience, and I haven’t seen anything like that in months. The last one, might have been when I revisited the glorious Come From Away over Labor Day weekend with my visiting UK friend, Jason, and I cried as I knew I would. I also know, looking forward, that I’ll be getting my fix next weekend when I see the incredible The Band’s Visit make it’s Broadway debut, and I can’t wait. Having seen this beautifully moving piece of musical theater when it was at the Atlantic Theater last season (winning the 2017 Obie Award for Musical Theatre, three Drama Desk Awards, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, two Lucille Lortel Awards, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for Best Musical), I will be so ready to be swept away by seductive voice of Katrina Lenk and the smell of Jasmine floating in the air. But at this moment in time, the craving is strong and I am in need. The musical theater season on Broadway and beyond has yet to really start gathering musical steam, but I do see it approaching. Until than, I am going to venture out of my comfort zone, and try some alternatives.  This coming week, I’ll be seeing some ballet (The Red Shoes at New York City Center) and today, I am seeing the World Premiere of the chamber adaptation of the opera (arranged by Mr. Picker, City Opera‘s Composer in Residence), Dolores Claiborne in the very intimate theater A at 59E59 Theaters.
Dolores Claiborne
Thomas Hall, Lisa Chaves. Photo by Lisa Chaves.
For those of us (the very few) that don’t know the tale of Dolores Claiborne, the Stephen King novel that focused on the strained relationship between a mother and her daughter on a remote island in Maine both in 1962 and three decades later. Dolores, the stern and hard-working mother has been accused of murdering the wealthy elderly woman, Vera Donovan, whom she has looked after for over forty years.  She was found standing over the dead woman’s body, and because of the town’s suspicion of Dolores and the questionable death of her abusive drunk of a husband years earlier, the police are determined this time to place blame on Dolores. Thirty years prior, Dolores with the encouragement from Vera, and the help of an eclipse, carried out an act of maternal protection, mostly for the sake of her young daughter, Selena, who has never been able to forgive her for. The angry and traumatized Selena, now a big city reporter (in the opera, she becomes a lawyer), returns to the remote island in Maine, a place she has tried to escape from, to defend her mother against the charges regarding Vera, and help get her released. But this relationship is so strained and damaged that even this act of compassion and bonding might not be able to repair the deep-seated wounds from the past. (for the full review, click here)
Dolores Claiborne
Jessica Tyler Wright, Lisa Chaves. Photo by Lisa Chaves.

Source: Dolores Claiborne: An Accident Can Be A Theatre Junkie’s Best Friend.

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Knives in Hens: The Cool Hard Stone and The Quest for More.

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Shane Taylor and Robyn Kerr in KNIVES IN HENS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Knives in Hens: The Cool Hard Stone and The Quest for More.

By Ross

Considered by many across Europe to be a modern Scottish classic, this atmospheric fable from 1996 that first premiered at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh is a brutal fable of awakening consciousness. It’s a complex study of the battle between animalistic carnality and acquired knowledge that is both powerful and insistently poetic. Written by David Harrower (Blackbird), Knives in Hens is making its NYC premiere courtesy of The Shop at 59E59 Theaters. In the small intimate space of Theater C, this stark play is placed up close and within arms reach, re-imagined most effectively from the Scottish landscape to the quasi-mythical old American frontier. With a uniquely multicultural cast, this tense and brave production retains much of it’s critique of the pastoral myth, along side a impassioned study in the equivocal nature of language. It feels perfectly at home in the dusty farmland of old Americana, so much so that the musicality of the language is hard to imagine elsewhere. Surprisingly though, with so much intensity and engagement from the talented cast, Knives in Hens remains head bound, and doesn’t translate down into our heart and our emotional core. For a play that speaks to the struggle from passivity and religiosity towards enlightenment, in the end, it may have taken that battle too seriously as the learned soul comes out of this the winner.
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Robyn Kerr and Shane Taylor in KNIVES IN HENS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
 

As directed by Paul Takacs (Dark Vanilla Jungle at HERE), the piece begins with a violent but highly charged erotic dance. This man, who is known to the town folk as Pony William, the ploughman (Shane Taylor), is newly married to a young and naive girl who is simple called ‘Young Woman’ (Robyn Kerr). To name something in this rural community is to give it power and size, and she has little to none. She is there, belonging to William almost in the same way that the ploughman owns and loves his horses. Set against a large and impressively constructed wooden wall rising above a plain brown wooden floor, designed beautifully by Steven C. Kemp (Tick, Tick,…BOOM!), the two create a thrilling stylistic dance wrapped in each other’s bodies. The dynamic is animalistic, passionate,and tied up in raw intensity. The bodies move with an edge towards aggression and domination set to a powerful and eloquent score by sound designer and composer Toby Jaguar Algya (Baghdaddy). Although the dance lasts a tad too long and the lighting could have been less straightforward and more graceful, the story that these two tell is definitive. The close proximity of the actors create an atmosphere that practically smells of the earth, soil, and their sweat. One can almost feel the warmth in the wood and the earth, while imagining the coldness of the fall air. With generally superb lighting by Dante Olivia Smith (HERE Arts’ Professor Brenner) and costumes by Sydney Gallas (Yale Rep’s Peerless), the visuals are ripe and perfectly set for the telling of this multi-dimensional fable, set precariously in a pre-industrial, God-fearing town where enlightenment is viewed with cold suspicion and burning hate. (for the full review, click here)

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Devin E. Haqq, Shane Taylor and Robyn Kerr in KNIVES IN HENS. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
 

Source: Knives in Hens: The Cool Hard Stone and The Quest for More.

People Places & Things: One Messy But Awesome Seagull.

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Denise Gough (center). Photo by Teddy Wolff.

People Places & Things: One Messy But Awesome Seagull.

By Ross

“I am a seagull,” she cries, but no, that’s not quite right. Denise Gough, the Olivier award winning actress, on the other hand, is getting it all perfectly right in the phenomenal People, Places & Things. It’s a whirlwind performance that is currently taking complete control of center stage at St. Ann’s Warehouse in this National Theatre transfer. It is Gough’s character, the actress going by the name of Emma, that can’t quite get the lines out as written as she takes the stage as Nina in the first few minutes of Duncan MacMillan’s (1984) thrilling and jolting new play. Once the fourth wall comes crashing down, all the Ninas and Emmas come out to play with a brutal and aggressive force. During the wild ride that is Act One, this modern day story of addiction and denial rises itself far above the average 28-day story of rehab and redemption. In many ways, the story feels typical. The standard idea of a rehab story revolving around an addict coming to terms with the addiction that most definitely resides inside her. But in no way is this production, directed by Jeremy Herrin (RSC’s Wolf Hall) standard in the slightest. It flies high, above any expectations that could exist, and then excells beyond even that.

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Denise Gough. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Even when we don’t consciously realize it, every word and moment has intense meaning in Emma’s life and great importance in the overall arc of this fascinating tale.  During that desperate last ditch phone call made in the rehab’s admitting room, we first think that conversation is just a comic scenario draped in dark humor and blunt intensity without much future weight. But we couldn’t be further from the truth. All things come back, like a nasty flashback determined to haunt the user over and over again. (for the full review, click here)

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Denise Gough (center). Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Source: People Places & Things: One Messy But Awesome Seagull.