Month: December, 2007

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

Monday, December 31st, 2007 | All Things, Friends

We convened after work at Grand Central Terminal for tonight’s gathering in Tudor City. Are kooky glittered “2008″ glasses required to ring in the new year properly? Indeed they are.

Happy New Year 2008

En route to the party, we made a stop at a surprisingly crowded Goodburger for — what else? — burgers. Make that a turkey burger for me, as I’d already exceeded my beef quota for the week. With the works, minus mayo: pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard. Really good, but for me, Westville’s version still tops my list, and not just for hot dates.

NYE Goodburgers

Then on to MC’s where a group of revelers had gathered to unleash their inner rock stars on this last night of 2007. I’m referring, of course, to Harmonix “Rock Band,” a.k.a. the Best Party Game Ever. Sorry, “Guitar Hero,” but though the thrasher battles can be cool to watch, the ability to include other band members in a collaborative jam session makes for far more fun. “Rock Band,” which was released for PS2, PS3, and Xbox 360 on November 20, 2007 — three weeks after the launch of “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” — allows players to perform in virtual bands by providing up to four would-be rockers with the ability to play the peripheral of their choice (mic, guitar, bass guitar or drums). The “instruments” are used to simulate the performance of actual rock songs by hitting scrolling notes on-screen.

The song selection is what you’d expect: as a group, we put together some rousing renditions of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” David Bowie’s “Suffragette City,” The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” (check out this crazy Rock Band drumming action), The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” The Killers’ “When You Were Young” … and a whole lot of songs I didn’t know. Yes, I have an embarrassingly large gap in my musical repertoire when it comes to classic rock. I pitched in on vocals on Radiohead’s “Creep until on a lark, I took up the wooden sticks and discovered that I may be a drummer at heart. Not a good one, mind you, but a drummer just the same.

Me, banging the skins — a mini drum kit with four color-coded, pressure-sensitive heads and a simulated bass pedal:

Rock Band drums

Play well enough and the “crowd” gets into the act by singing and clapping along, as in an actual concert. Play badly, and the song will be cut short. There are ways to drive up the cumulative score (with bonuses and multipliers for consecutive correct beats/notes/phrases, or by playing in unison), but I was concentrating too hard on just getting through my sections, which was both frustrating and exhilarating at the same time.

Rock Band

And oh yes, before the night was through, there was also a very respectable performance of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” that really could only have been improved by more cowbell.

At ten minutes to midnight, we switched over to the live broadcast of Times Square, where Dick Clark was hosting the countdown for the third time after recovering from his 2004 stroke. Along with an estimated one million spectators in Times Square and over a billion people throughout the world, we watched as the new Waterford Crystal/LED-lit ball dropped to commemorate the final dwindling seconds of 2007.

To new beginnings. Happy new year, everyone!

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Yellow Face at The Public

Sunday, December 30th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

At the Public Theater on Lafayette for a performance of David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face, which recently extended its run until January 13, 2008. The play premiered in 2007 at the Los Angeles Music Center’s Mark Taper Forum as a co-production with East West Players.

Yellow Face

The play, which Hwang has called a “mockumentary,” explores themes of race and art, starts off as a semi-autobiography, with a lead character named David Henry Hwang or DHH (wittily portrayed by Hoon Lee), just as he is reaching a high point in his nascent career, having just won the 1988 Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and John Gassner awards for his Broadway debut, M. Butterfly. With his new stature as the premier Asian-American playwright, Hwang was in a high profile position to lead the Actors’ Equity union protests against the yellow face casting of Caucasian actor Jonathan Pryce in the 1991 Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Hwang was initially praised by Asian groups for his support, but when Broadway producers refused to mount any Broadway run that did not include Pryce, which would result in the loss of many local jobs, the union backed down and Hwang was ultimately abandoned by the theatrical community. (Pryce, of course, went on to win both the Tony and the Drama Desk awards for his dynamic portrayal of a Eurasian pimp.)

From that point, the events turn to farce as fact blends with fiction. A stung Hwang tries to move on with his life and return to writing. Cruel irony builds when the playwright mistakenly casts a white actor named Marcus G. Dahlman (a charismatic Noah Bean) as an Asian-American in his M. Butterfly follow-up Face Value, believing the young man to be Eurasian. When Hwang discovers his error, he must go to great efforts to stretch the definition of what it means to be “Asian” – hence, a young man whose father was a Russian “Siberian” Jew, could perhaps, technically, almost be considered “Asian.” (To further bolster his position among a group of activists, Hwang produces a map showing Siberia just north of China, and a magazine cover of Buryat model Irina Pantaeva.) Dahlman, whose name is now truncated to “Marcus Gee,” goes along with the charade reluctantly at first, but eventually is so touched by how the community supports and embraces him that he comes into his own as a spokesperson for Asian-American actors, with a higher profile even than Hwang himself. Hwang manages to fire Gee – replacing him with the more traditionally Asian actor B.D. Wong — but Face Value famously flops, closing even before its Broadway premiere in 1993, ultimately losing its entire $2 million investment.

When is ethnicity “authentic”? Is identity something that can be adopted? The first half of the play was the comical high point, filled with the playwright’s self-mocking commentary and strewn with theatrical in-jokes; refreshingly, real names are used. (B.D., Jane Krakowski, then-Times theater critic Frank Rich, novelist Gish Jen and mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh are just a few who pass through the stage.)

By the second half, things take a grim and scary turn: the FBI’s investigation against Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee; the “Donorgate” campaign-contribution probe; the Senate investigation of the Chinese government’s transactions with Chinese-American banks, which implicated Hwang’s father Henry Y. Hwang (played with quiet dignity by Francis Jue) founder of the first Asian-American-owned federally chartered bank in the continental United States. (Although the Far East National Bank was a target of those investigations, no formal charges were ever brought against the elder Hwang, but the disillusionment of his American dream is one of the real tragedies of the play.) Things take on an even more sinister bent when a racial stereotyping New York Times reporter referred to as NWOAOC (“Name Withheld on Advice of Counsel”) tries to manipulate DHH (who once sat on the board of the FENB) into deflecting blame by betraying his father, and raising questions about whether there is any inherent paradox in the term “Chinese-American.”

In the end, there are no neat conclusions. A thought-provoking evening of theater, and a “lively, messy and provocative cultural self-portrait of a play.”

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Starbucks, 4:20 AM

Sunday, December 30th, 2007 | All Things

We stopped in at the 24-hour Starbucks in my neighborhood to post-mortem the evening among the other night owls, and stumbled onto a new employee training session in progress. Baristas Dan and Exodus plied us with their practice creations and before you knew it, we were the very buzzed recipients of seven tall drinks: a no-whip peppermint mocha, a cappuccino, a non-fat latte, a soy green tea latte, a double espresso macchiato, a soy chai latte and an Americano.

Starbucks cups

I guess I wasn’t planning to sleep tonight anyway.

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