Month: June, 2007

Shanghai Cafe

Thursday, June 7th, 2007 | All Things, Eats

Happy Brooklyn-Queens (and Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island) Day!

Somebody really liked this place, so we made a return visit for the xiao long bao. This time, at my request, we ordered a fresh bamboo steamer full of the pork with crabmeat and crab roe soup dumplings. We were seated at the same pink-flooded table as last time, so no photos: by now, though, you know what these “little basket buns” look like anyway.

Shanghai Cafe

These really are delicious. It occurs to me that although I generally prefer a thinner dumpling skin, Shanghai Cafe’s heartier version may be better suited for take-out, minimizing the leaking and breakage that I imagine would otherwise claim a couple of dumpling casualties.

dumpling makers

Calvin Trillin, in a New Yorker  piece that was later included in his book Feeding a Yen, wrote that Jewish connoisseurs sometimes refer to these pork and crab soup dumplings as “double-trayf specials” (trayf, or tref, is the Yiddish term for “not kosher.”) Cloven-hooved animals AND shellfish… hard to get much more off-limits than that.

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Free Love in Central Park

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

The Summer 2007 production of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater began previews tonight. The first show had been scheduled originally for June 5, but was postponed until tonight by the recent rains, which threatened the al fresco performance and cut short the actors’ rehearsal time. (The remainder of the five-week run will continue as scheduled.)

You know the drill: free tickets are distributed on a first-come-first served basis in two locations (at the Delacorte Theater and at the Public) beginning at 1:00PM the day of the show. The line, of course, forms earlier – usually much, much earlier – and continues to grow throughout the production run. Last year, snagging second row seats to see Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline star in Mother Courage was a 12-hour test of endurance (for SYB.) This year, with a somewhat less high-profile cast, the line for opening night tickets formed hours before dawn. Once again SYB stepped up to the task, taking the day off from work to arrive at Astor Place at 6:00AM, for which we were rewarded prime seats in the center of the seventh row.

For those without such intrepid and generous friends, there’s the Summer Supporter route (where a $150 donation will reserve one seat to either of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park productions) or… Craigslist.

After a stop at Zabar’s for some intermission reinforcements (read: Carr’s table water crackers and spreads), I headed toward the Park for a night of Romeo and Juliet.

The pink, Pentagram-designed “Free Love” posters were up all over the park – a nodding reference to this, the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

R+J in the Park

R+J in the Park

R+J in the Park

This production of Romeo and Juliet marks only the second time that the star-cross’d lovers have taken the Delacorte stage; the first was in 1968 with Martin Sheen(!) and Susan McArthur in the leading roles. This time around Lauren Ambrose and Oscar Isaac head up the cast, which includes Emmy winner Camryn Manheim (Ellenor Frutt in ABC’s “The Practice“) as the bawdy Nurse and SITP regular Austin Pendleton as Friar Laurence.

Ambrose, who beat out Sienna Miller for the role, is of course best known for her role as angst-ridden teenager Claire in HBO’s “Six Feet Under; Isaac counts among his stage, screen and television credits, the role of Porteus in the Public’s 2005 production of Two Gentlemen of Verona – a role he snagged just weeks out of Juilliard.

This being opening night, there were some rough edges – a few flubbed lines, intermittent audio difficulties – but nothing show-stopping. The audience seemed to enjoy Ambrose and Isaac’s portrayal of teenagers in the wild throes of infatuation — others, I hear, were less impressed: distracted by Ambrose’s incessant, emphatic head-shaking.

Christopher Evan Welch in the showy role of Romeo’s sidekick Mercutio, elicited many laughs from those who didn’t mind his scenery-chewing antics – me, among them. (Who doesn’t prefer Mercutio, after all?)

Most striking was this year’s set: a round, shallow pool of water, over which criss-crossed planked foot bridges and doorways, and a large, segmented arching stairway. The resulting tableau made a bold, if curious, impact, this being Verona, not Venice, after all. Director Michael Greif (the director behind Rent and this year’s Tony-nominated Grey Gardens) employed the open space fully: sending his actors over, through and into the water for their scenes. The air tonight was unseasonably chilly: by nightfall, I was shivering in my winter scarf; Ambrose in her wet, flimsy, white nightgown must have been suffering mightily for her art. The set changes involved some complicated-looking rotating, moving parts, which were as impressive as they were noisy (think: water + metal hinges), and made for their own series of logistical challenges: soggy torches and slippery surfaces. I was nervous watching Isaac scale the heights of that balcony ladder in his slick-soled shoes.

No doubt the summer law firm associates in tonight’s audience had worker’s compensation and liability claims on their mind as well. Mercutio’s line, “O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees” (from his famous “Queen Mab” speech) sent quite a chuckle through the crowd.

Romeo and Juliet, which runs through July 8, will officially open June 24, 2007.

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Ian McEwan at the Y

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007 | All Things, Books, Events

Tickets to see Ian McEwan at the 92nd Street Y were sold out well before the Tuesday night event. I’d secured my own spot months ago, and thought this appearance by “the supreme novelist of his generation” (as dubbed by The Sunday Times of London) a thrilling finale to my season of Unterberg Poetry Center Reading Series events.

McEwan was in town to promote his 13th and most recent novel, On Chesil Beach, which was published in his native U.K. in April, but which arrived in the United States just that day to generally favorable reviews.

Colum McCann, Esquire magazine’s “Writer of the Year” in 2003 and himself the author of two short story collections and three novels, introduced McEwan in adulatory terms, as a master of finely observed detail, richly fulfilling Vladimir Nabokov’s vision for literature as expressed in A Guide to Berlin (1925):

….to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in the far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become exquisite and festive in its own right: the times when a man who might put on the most ordinary jacket of today will be dressed up for an elegant masquerade.

McEwan seemed to shy, ever slightly, under the praise as he took the podium, and after a few droll remarks, proceeded to read three lengthy excerpts from his novella about two educated, British virgins on their highly fraught wedding night in 1962.

What is it about posh British accents? (Note to self: McEwan himself reads the On Chesil Beach audiobook, which unfolds over just 200 pages, as he noted, “almost in real time.”)

The audience sat riveted as McEwan’s lilting tones underscored the lyrical beauty of his language in setting the scene and laying bare the characters’ inner worlds. To be able to write like this! After almost 45 minutes, we — like at least one of the book’s protagonists — were left wanting more.

The post-reading Q&A with McCann covered the usual topics — McEwan’s childhood, his inspirations as a writer, his writing process – all of which the author tackled with considerable self-effacing charm. As at past events, there were submissions from the audience on white index cards. Although I had not intended to purchase yet another book, the temptation proved too great: I slipped out about halfway through the questions to pick up just one more from the tables outside the Kaufmann Concert Hall, joining the throng of devotees already lining up for the signing.

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan

McEwan will not be touring the United States to promote On Chesil Beach; during the interview, he dryly observed that he had not toured to promote Atonement, which went on to become his best selling work, leading him to the conclusion that his personal appearances may actually have a depressive effect on book sales. Tonight’s reading at the Y would be his only major U.S. appearance.

Instead, in a unique marketing move, McEwan has teamed with famed Portland independent bookseller Powell’s Books, to launch their “Out of the Book” film series. The “On Chesil Beach” documentary collages film of McEwan shot over four days in England and the United States, commentary and footage of the book’s locale, and discussions with lit editors, critics and fellow writers. The 30-minute film will be screened at independent bookstores in 54 cities and towns across the country.

Press for this book/film tour has been quite positive; I was disappointed to miss the June 15 New York City event — so much to do, so little time! — which included a literary panel discussion and an after party at Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction. The DVD is available for purchase through Powell’s, though, and I was thrilled for this rare opportunity to meet McEwan in person, and did not at all regret adding another volume to my ever-growing pile of books at home.

Ian McEwan dedication

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