New York Dispatch: Theater Reviews, Part 2, and the Warhol Exhibit

My New York month is coming to an end—just one more week and I’ll be heading home. Mixed feelings, because I always love going home. And there is certainly lots of arts and culture to consume and review in Chicago. But there’s a certain something about New York. No other city can match it. So I hope to do this again in a year or two. Here’s what I’ve been doing since I last posted here.

Among the plays I’ve seen recently are three that I’ve reviewed for Third Coast Review.

Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano in True West. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Theater Highlights, Part 2

Sam Shepard’s True West, starring Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano as the battling brothers, was a pleasure to see again with another set of players. I’ve seen this play many times–first in 1982, when Steppenwolf staged it with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise playing the lead roles. This New York production at the American Airlines Theatre was excellent—and I took a different theme from it this time. The American dream, perhaps exemplified by one brother’s hard work at developing and writing a screenplay, is turned on its head. His drifter brother manages to bullshit his way into a film contract by making up a story as he talks with a film producer. And, of course, it all ends in a battle of…toasters and toast.

Juno and the Paycock at Irish Repertory Theatre is the second in its Sean O’Casey season. This is the best known of the three plays and Irish Rep stages a terrific production, led by the theater’s co-founder, Ciarán O’Reilly, as the ne’er do well Captain Jack Boyle. The play is beautifully cast, mostly with Irish Rep regulars, and succeeds in threading the tragedy of the Irish Civil War beneath the humor and occasional sadness of a Dublin family.

King Lear (Cort Theatre on Broadway) starring Glenda Jackson as Lear was a highlight of my New York month. I saw the play in preview, since it won’t open until April 4. Therefore I can’t review it now, but will write a review later. I can say now that it is a four-star production; not only is Jackson a solid and satisfying Lear, but the cast is diverse and the staging and direction (by Sam Gold) are brilliant.

Stacey Sargeant and John Larroquette in Nantucket Sleigh Ride. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Nantucket Sleigh Ride, John Guare’s newest play, is a world premiere being staged by Lincoln Center Theaters in the Mitzi Newhouse Theater. My review was just posted today. The play is a farce, with lots of laugh lines, but it is a strange mix of reality and surrealism, laced with more pop culture references than I could keep track of. It’s an updated version of an earlier play, as I mention in my review, but I think it’s still not ready for prime time.

A unique theater resource in New York is the Theatre on Film and Tape archive (TOFT) at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (adjacent to the Lincoln Center theater building). TOFT records many of the plays and musicals produced on Broadway and off-Broadway. The archive is available to theater professionals, students or researchers with work- or study-related projects. You request viewing of a play by locating it on the TOFT website and calling to sign up for a viewing appointment. When you arrive, the films are cued up on a computer in the archive’s screening room. I’ve watched several plays there on two different occasions, including the 1988 and 2009 productions of Waiting for Godot. I’m hoping to get there once more this week.

Warhol exhibit installation view, looking toward Mao portrait. Photo by Nancy Bishop.

Art at the Whitney and the Museum of Arts and Design

One of the important art exhibits on view in New York right now is Andy Warhol–from A to B and Back Again at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I saw a preview of the exhibit last fall, just before it opened, and I was happy to be here in time to see the exhibit before it closes March 31. It’s a huge exhibit, a retrospective of Warhol’s life in art, film and pop culture generally, beginning with his childhood in Pittsburgh. The exhibit will transfer to the Art Institute of Chicago this fall, with an October opening planned. Here’s my review of the Whitney exhibit.

The Museum of Arts and Design is a small museum located at 2 Columbus Circle, near 58th and Broadway. I particularly liked the exhibit titled The Future of Craft, Part One, on the third floor. The exhibit features many beautiful works in fabric art, both decorative and (sort of) wearable. On the second floor, there’s an exhibit of contemporary jewelry, titled Non-Stick Nostalgia. It’s all exquisitely displayed in unusual cases.

A special feature of the museum is the restaurant Robert on the ninth (and top) floor of the building. The restaurant has great views looking north toward Central Park and the upper west side. The food and service are excellent. We had a delightful brunch there on a Sunday.

New York Dispatch: Live From New York City, My First Reviews

This is coming to you live from New York, where I’m hanging out for the month of March. I decided I wanted to live like a New Yorker and take in as much arts and culture as I could in a relaxed way. I’m staying in a tiny but comfy apartment in midtown, near the theater district. It’s a neighborhood I know and public transportation is really convenient here. I’ll report on some of my arts adventures rom time to time.

Meg Hennessy as Minnie Powell and James Russell as Donal Davoren in The Shadow of a Gunman. Photo © Carol Rosegg.

The Shadow of a Gunman at Irish Rep

My first theater review was posted today on Third Coast Review, where I regularly write about theater and art. At Irish Repertory Theatre, a theater company I have admired over the years, I reviewed the first in their O’Casey Cycle, celebrating the work of Sean O’Casey. He was a nationalist and a socialist and an Irish freedom fighter–and one of Ireland’s finest playwrights. My first review is of The Shadow of a Gunman, set in 1920 Dublin, where the war for independence rages outside a tenement building. There’s a bit of comedy throughout, but as the play proceeds, reality sets in. And the opposing forces, the vicious Black and Tans, invade the neighborhood–and then the house. A valise left in the room in act one becomes a Chekhovian gun in act two. The acting and direction are excellent, as is always the case with Irish Rep.

I’ll be seeing the second O’Casey play, the more familiar Juno and the Paycock, next week. Watch for my review.

I have plays scheduled throughout the month but I have plenty of room for other activities. When nothing else demands my attention, I’ll go to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which offers a regular schedule of new films, both international and American, retrospectives, filmmaker talks and discussions. There are two FSLC buildings on opposite sides of 65th Street near Columbus Avenue. Their screening model is similar to that of the Gene Siskel Film Center, but on a larger scale.

Cold War, a love story over the decades

The first film I saw at the Film Society was Cold War, which screened recently in Chicago. It’s the latest film from Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, whose film Ida won the 2015 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Cold War is a love story told across two decades in post-WW2 Poland and in several European cities. The film is told mostly from the viewpoint of Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), an instructor and band leader, whose lover is Zula (Joanna Kulig), an engaging and ambitious singer and performer. (I felt the film overplayed Wiktor’s viewpoint and underplayed Zula’s.)  They are both members of a national musical touring company that presents Polish peasant-style works. While the company is in East Berlin for a concert, the two lovers plot to leave for the west. But only Wiktor actually escapes and thus the journey of longing begins. The film is notable for its gorgeous cinematography, shot in high contrast black and white with some glorious imagery, lighting and scenes. The story is elliptical, as Pawlikowski skims over the 20-year period in 88 minutes. Steve Prokopy reviewed Cold War recently.

In an interview screened before the film, Pawlikowski said, “The definition of art is what you leave out.” And he left out a lot, but nothing was missing. The ending is particularly beautiful—finished off with an interlude from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, “Aria.”

The Band’s Visit

I also saw this lovely play with music this week on Broadway. It’s been reviewed everywhere, so I won’t review it here. It’s called a musical but it doesn’t have egregious singing and dancing–that is, the dialogue is spoken, not sung, and dancing is done when it fits the plot. The music is performed by the musicians from the Egyptian band that visits the Israeli village and by a small pit orchestra. The play is directed by David Cromer, a Chicago theater luminary who has been highly successful in New York, both as director and actor. The Band’s Visit goes on tour this year and will be in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace in September. If you’d like to know more about the story, get a DVD of the excellent 2007 Israeli film of the same name.

And more ….

Today I’m seeing the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney (Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again). My next article will cover that comprehensive exhibit. “Mr. Paradox, who never left, is back,” as Holland Cotter said in his New York Times review.

A tale of three cities: Mostly Manhattan

New York was fascinating as always, despite being beastly hot. My favorite thing about New York is always tramping uptown and downtown, east side and west side. Unfortunately, since temps were in the high 90s, my tramping was focused on finding cool buildings for respite or walk-thrus. In my next tale, I visited friends in Connecticut and I finished up with a family wedding in Brooklyn in the neighborhood known as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).


First we’ll take Manhattan, as Leonard Cohen sang (or sort of sang). The highlight was my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its special exhibit on Punk:  Chaos to Couture, which runs until August 14. I also saw two very good plays – one at Irish Repertory in Chelsea, my regular favorite New York theater, and the other a Richard Greenberg drama on Broadway.

PUNK_landing4Punk: Chaos to Couture was the Met’s 2013 Costume Institute exhibition and it celebrates both the look that punk musicians adopted in the 1970s in the UK and the US and the impact it had on couture (meaning clothes-not-going-to-be-worn-by-the-average-woman). Original punk clothing was shown, especially that worn by some performers and some designed by Vivienne Westwood for her London punk boutique. Couture by name designers of that period and later decades is also shown. The exhibit was visually and aurally appropriate with period music and videos.

The DIY (do-it-yourself) nature of the punk scene was celebrated in the organization of the exhibit. The section DIY Hardware displayed the use of safety pins and metal ball chains in both punk and couture looks. DIY Bricolage used trash materials in costuming. Here we had the use of bottle tops, plate shards, plastic shopping bags and Tyvek envelopes to create wearable garments. Best of all, black trash bags were shredded or chopped to make glamorous gowns. Really.  They were couture and I would wear one of them.

Most of the couture seemed fakey to me, especially that from the last two decades. The use of safety pins or other metal and shredded and torn fabric doesn’t make sense outside of its musical context.

gibraltarcoverGibraltar. At Irish Rep, the two-character play Gibraltar, “an adaptation after James Joyce’s Ulysses,” was being presented in its tiny basement studio. I felt like I was at home in a Chicago storefront venue. The play was written and performed by Patrick Fitzgerald, along with Cara Seymour as Molly Bloom, and directed by Terry Kinney, one of the Steppenwolf founders. It’s beautifully done, retaining Joyce’s language, and leading us through many of Leopold Bloom’s errands and encounters on Bloomsday. (I was a month or so late for Bloomsday.) It ends with Molly’s monologue, usually called the Eight Beatitudes. Beautiful lighting and sound design make this scene magical.

The Assembled Parties by Richard Greenberg is a family affair set in a large old Central Park West apartment in two acts on two Christmas Days, 1980 and 2000. Judith Light and Jessica Hecht give fine performances as sisters-in-law in a family in decline. The dialogue is charming, funny and vivid and we glory in their lives in act one and grieve for them in act two. It’s a terrific play. (Greenberg also wrote Take Me Out, The Violet Hour and Three Days of Rain.) The revolving set displays five rooms of the apartment, designed as only Santo LoQuasto can furnish a room.


Stamford was a short visit, punctuated by shopping (I learned that Stew Leonard’s is a destination, not a supermarket), eating, visiting, exploring Stamford and Greenwich, and going to a movie. We saw The Way Way Back with Steve Carell and Toni Collette. Carell is Collette’s obnoxious boyfriend, a character you love to hate. The movie is funny and sweet, one of those coming-of-age stories about the Collette character’s 14-year-old son. Sam Rockwell (remember him in Seven Psychopaths?), a very talented actor, manages to give it an edge and keep it from lapsing over into sentimentality.  His performance is the treat of the movie.


bridge-EmpireStBldgShort story. Family wedding at a lovely old temple with a lively reception in DUMBO. The bride and groom were darling and it was nice to see friends and relatives. Just before we reached the reception, we passed an intersection that offered a fabulous view of the bridges (Brooklyn and Manhattan) and we walked back to take lots of photos. I took this one with the Empire State Building playing a cameo in the distance.