Month: January, 2007

Prayers for Peace

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007 | All Things

At Marble Collegiate Church for a “State of Our Union” dialogue hosted by Generation Engage and Demos. The evening was a special event, consisting of a 75-minute discussion with New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winnning columnist William Safire and former Kennedy speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, followed by a live screening of the president’s annual State of the Union address. I was heartened to see the church’s wooden pews filled to capacity by a number of young adults, mixed in with the usual assortment of old-line activists and policy wonks.

Interesting choice of venue. Since last March 19, the third anniversary of the start of war in Iraq, the congregation has hung thousands of gold, blue and green streamers on the iron fence around the perimeter of the mid-19th century church at Fifth Avenue and 29th Street, as a physical representation of prayers and a plea for peace.

The installation is titled Prayers for Peace. The gold ribbons display the names, ranks and ages of members of the armed forces who have lost their lives in Iraq, and represent prayers for their families. The blue are prayers for Iraqi dead and wounded with their names and ages (some just a few months old), and the green ribbons represent prayers for peace in the Middle East. During each Sunday service, the names of new servicepeople who have died are read aloud, and their ribbons are added to to the gates with the others. The number of gold ribbons, around 2300 when the project first began last year, now total over 3000.

Prayers for Peace

Prayers for Peace

On Sunday, March 18, 2007, the Church will hold a memorial to coincide with the war’s fourth anniversary. That afternoon, the names of the dead will scroll across the same big screen Bush appeared on that night.

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A Beautiful View

Monday, January 22nd, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Eats

Attended the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, a showcase for cutting-edge theater.  Now in its third year, the ten-day festival stages experimental works from across the country and around the world in the Public’s own spaces, and at their partner theaters downtown and in DUMBO.

I stopped in at the box office during lunchtime to pick up tickets for a couple of the offerings this week.  Despite a fair amount of coverage in the usual media outlets, seats were still available for that night’s show, and sure enough, when I returned later that night to the main floor Newman Theater, I had my pick of general admission seats.  I settled in, second row center, to enjoy A Beautiful View.

Public Theater Bar 

The thing about experimental theater is that it carries with it the potential for both the sublime and the unwatchable.  Tonight’s piece was written and directed by Daniel MacIvor, a Canadian actor, playwright, film director, and theater director (of the Toronto company Da Da Kamera) — a provenance which seemed to bode well for the quality of the production.  But really, there was no way to be assured of it in advance.

The darkened stage stood barren of all accoutrements except for a tent and a couple of folding chairs.  A boombox emitted loud cricket sounds as two unidentified, unremarkably dressed, 40-ish women entered the stage separately and just… sat there.  For what felt like an eternity, they sat facing each other, immobile, staring, not staring.  At last, one spoke.  Their clipped exchange was heavy with pauses and carried the tense undertones of estranged lovers.  Which we couldn’t entirely be sure they were.  My heart sank just a little as I braced myself for a lo-o-o-ong night.

A Beautiful View Stage 

But then, their story began to unspool in a series of flashbacks, interspersed with quick asides to the audience. Each brief episode advanced the complicated relationship between these two women, from their initial, fib-filled, random meeting at a sporting goods store in their 20’s, to their subsequent less random meetings over the next couple of decades, which — like so much of human interaction — were littered with romantic entanglements, miscommunications and missed opportunities. The play’s structure easily moved the protagonists back and forth through important moments in their on-and-off friendship, muddled by a sexual tension that each, in her own ways, was ill-equipped to understand. One of the most compelling aspects of A Beautiful View  was the way it played with relationship labels and the women’s fixed notions of identity, exploring the inadequacy of easy categorizations; at one point, each of the ostensibly heterosexual women (brilliantly captured by actors Caroline Gillis and Tracy Wright) observed to herself of the other, “Oh…she’s a lesbian.”

Filled with sly humor, quick-witted dialogue and occasional moments of heartbreak, A Beautiful View  was a wonderful bit of theater that dared to take on the weighty issues of love and relationships, and the emotional dynamics between two people forced to face their greatest fears and insecurities.

Afterwards, a post-show dinner of steamed pierogis at Veselka for their touted “Ukrainian soul food in the heart of the East Village.”  The sign posted outside advised diners that the 24-hour restaurant would be closing that night at 11PM for its monthly cleaning.

Maybe it’s because I have sanitation standards on the brain, but I interpreted the announcement to mean that just then, the restaurant was dirtier than it would be for the next few weeks.  Does that make me a glass-half-empty kind of person?



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The God of Hell

Sunday, January 21st, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Eats, Friends

Back at Congee Village for a some pre-play dining. PD and I were waiting in the bar area when SC & JG raced in from their busy day of home hunting. With our entire party accounted for, the hostess seated us in the mezzanine dining room: all exposed brick and bamboo.

Our dinner was tasty and, as usual, an amazingly good value: our meal of Scallion Pancakes, Sauteed Snow Peas Leaf with Garlic, Seafood with Fish Maw Soup (accompanied by a dish of red rice vinegar — one of my favorites!) and Sliced Beef with Black Bean Sauce Chow Fun Noodles, set us back less than $15 apiece.

Congee Village

We braced for the cold walk east to a pocket of the Lower East Side I rarely explore: just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, south of Houston. SC observed that we could be in another city entirely, with the lack of recognizable landmarks; earlier, I had to map the address of the Big Little Theatre on Ridge Street to know where exactly we were headed. “Google maps is the best!” But there it was: nestled among the brick tenements, marked by a vintage sign alluding to the space’s former incarnation as “Arthur’s Dress Shop” (with a missing “R” replaced by a crude plywood cutout.)

The quiet street has not (yet) been overrun by the trendy bars and clubs that have made the Lower Eastpacking District and particularly, nearby Clinton Street, a dining destination in recent years with new restaurants cropping up every few months.

JS, whom I met for the first time this night, was directing tonight’s production of The God of Hell  as part of the Michael Chekhov Theatre Company’s Sam Shepard Festival. The company is presenting every one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s (45+!) works in this 20-month festival, which runs through December 2007.

The farcical political comedy was written by Shepard as a response to the post-September 11 political climate. Clearly intended as a criticism of the Bush-Cheney administration, the play debuted in previews barely a week before the 2004 presidential elections — probably too late to have deep impact on the voters’ minds. It was first produced at The Actors Studio Drama School by a cast that included Tim Roth and Randy Quaid. The work has since played in London, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles (where it was directed by Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander.)

The three-scene story revolves around a rural Wisconsin dairy farmer and his wife, and how their peaceful middle-American life is tranformed into an Orwellian nightmare by a mysterious, ultra-patriotic government employee who descends on their farmhouse unannounced and in pursuit of the couple’s visiting guest. Along the way, there are sly, euphemistic references to military secrets and torture (i.e., “aggressive interrogation”) and covert medical experimentation; the title itself is a coded reference to plutonium.

JS made some savvy modifications to the play for this NYC production (running through February 11), which PD had keyed me into before dinner. Notably, he opted to cast the farming couple as dark-skinned South Asians with distinct non-native accents. Without making any other adjustments to the plot or script, the shift underscored the current culture of suspicion that surrounds non-whites in this country, rendering the already aggressive scenes far more tense and disturbing.

God of Hell Stage

Big Little Theatre

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