Tag: plays

Setagaya at last

Saturday, March 1st, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Eats

At the Public Theater tonight for Unconditional, a new production by Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz’s LAByrinth Theater Company. The play, written by Brett C. Leonard and directed by 1992’s OBIE Award winner Mark Wing-Davey, is a study in racial tensions and urban isolation, played out in the overlapping stories of nine New Yorkers. Any synopsis of the complicated relationships would best be conveyed by diagram; the play’s natural comparison would be to the 2004 film Crash… another entry in the “everyone hates everyone else” genre. In Unconditional, though, the tensions are mostly confined to between blacks and whites, with one fiery Latina thrown into the mix — probably the most entertaining of the miserable bunch.

The staging was in the round, with scenes played out amidst sliding panels and in every nook and corner of the stage, which made for interesting, if occasionally obstructed views. It all began with a jolting bang (a Confederate flag burning and a hanging) and ended on a somewhat more hopeful note (a wedding). In between there were all kinds of brutality, and quite a bit of sex and swearing. The sprawling cast and rapid-fire series of vignettes made it difficult to invest much emotion into any of the characters’ plights; as a result, the violence and loss did not resonate as intended. What should have been horribly shocking, felt contrived, or worse: gratuitous.

Variety called the play “clever, attention-getting and not very nice”; The New York Times assessed that “the whole adds up to less than the sum of its parts.”

Unconditional

After such depressing fare, we went in for the comfort of ramen noodles. Months ago, we were thwarted in our first attempt to visit much-hyped Ramen Setagaya; this time out, the newness had worn off sufficiently for us to be seated with no wait. (Well, also, it was 10:30PM.)

The narrow glass-enclosed restaurant on First Avenue is the first U.S. location of a popular Japanese ramen chain — just part of a larger Ramenaissance afoot in the city. (See also: newly-opened Ippudo.)

Setagaya Ramen

To start, vegetable gyoza. Store bought (beware!), but nicely pan crusted:

Setagaya Gyoza

Setagaya’s signature ramen is the shio, or salt, ramen. I found the noodles pleasingly firm (there is a row of cooking timers on the kitchen wall to ensure this) and the toppings fresh — grilled-to-order pork slices (which I removed), seaweed, marinated bamboo shoots, julienned green onion, and half a soft-boiled egg, which had just the right custardy consistency. The super-authentic broth is “10 percent meat and 90 percent ingredients such as dried anchovies, clams, scallops, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and (the secret weapon) Vietnamese salt, all boiled for five to six hours every morning.” It was light, with a complex, distinct seafood flavor which I rather enjoyed; those like my friend who prefer a heartier broth may be better served at Minca. (For what it’s worth, New York magazine likes Setagaya’s ramen the best.)

Setagaya Ramen

Oh, and on the way home, I met my first ever Academy Award winning director — riding the 2 at midnight with his son and Academy Award winning wife, no less.  Stars… they’re just like us!

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Under Milk Wood

Friday, February 8th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

This winter has seen a couple of productions of the works of Welsh poet Dylan “Do not go gentle into that good night” Thomas. His Child’s Christmas in Wales was produced at the Irish Repertory Theatre in December, and this month, the Intimation Theatre Company staged Thomas’ only play, Under Milk Wood, as its inaugural production.

Originally written as a radio play, Under Milk Wood — subtitled “a play for voices” — was first broadcast (posthumously) in January 1954 by the BBC with a distinguished all-Welsh cast, including Richard Burton. Later, it was put on as a stage play and then adapted into a 1972 film, with Burton reprising his role, supported by Hollywood luminaries Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole. The plot follows an entire day in the life of the inhabitants of the imaginary seaside town of Llareggub, Wales — that’s “Bugger all,” backwards — so classy!

To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

Under Milk Wood

For the first twenty minutes, the entire cast wandered the stage with closed eyes, and we were brought through each character’s dreams– 40+ in all — guided by a pair of omniscient narrators (“voices”). I cast a sidelong glance at SC, and fleetingly wondered if I would ever be allowed to pick another play again.

But once the day began in earnest, and we were able to get into the groove of Thomas’ poetry, things picked up considerably. (Good thing, as there was no intermission.) The action followed the townspeople through their daily business, shifting among sets of characters as they sang, worked, frolicked, gossiped, lusted, reminisced and plotted murder — with some surprisingly bawdy language.

Thomas had worked on this, his final work, for years and in October 1953 he delivered a full draft of Under Milk Wood to the BBC as he left for his fourth and ultimately, final, American tour. He gave his first public reading of the script in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and soon after, sound-recorded a performance at the 92nd Street Y. Within the month, after a famous drinking binge at New York’s White Horse Tavern — the “18 whiskies” of legend — Thomas fell into a coma and died at St. Vincent’s Hospital, just a couple of weeks after his 39th birthday.

In the poet’s wake, we have this play, which stands as a testament to the lyrical dignity in the everyday. Read the beginning of Under Milk Wood here.

In other theater news:  On the strength of last week’s favorable reviews, Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years has been extended at The Acorn through March 22, 2008.

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Love (and the Giants) Conquer All

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Sports

At the SoHo Playhouse this afternoon for Piaf: Love Conquers All, LVR Productions‘ one-woman show on the life of Édith Piaf, which began its Off-Broadway run on December 8. The show had been set to play downtown through late January, but due to popular demand, its run was extended by three weeks through February 10. Check out a commercial for show here.

SoHo Playhouse

Naomi Emmerson stars in the title role (as well as also being responsible for the set and costume design and stage direction) with Carmela Sinco accompanying on the piano. Emmerson grew up one of three daughters of a Quebecois Anglophone family — the only one to speak French fluently. She first performed Piaf: Love Conquers All at The Limelight Supper Club in Toronto in 1993, re-creating the role for the 2005 Toronto Fringe Festival. The show had its American debut at last summer’s FringeNYC festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Musical. Thirteen of Piaf’s songs were interspersed among the biographical anecdotes whose plot points were familiar to me from La Vie En Rose — the Piaf biopic, which earned French actress Marion Cotillard her Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win (not that anyone noticed.)

As a revue of Piaf’s songs, the show worked well; we were admonished at the outset to resist the urge to join in singing the more familiar tunes, a temptation avoided by most in the audience. Most. I was less moved by the show as a story framed around the singer’s loves and heartbreaks. Act I (“Marcel”), set in 1949 with flashbacks, closes with the plane crash death of middleweight championship boxer Marcel Cerdan, the man generally perceived to be the love of Piaf’s life. The second, shorter half fast-forwards to 1961 and features a visibly diminished Piaf – wracked by rheumatism and addiction. Her post-Cerdan lovers for the most part don’t even warrant names — the pair of cyclists, “the artist,” “the actor” — and though this act is titled “Theo,” after Piaf’s second husband Théo Sarapo, a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor two decades her junior, the man seems less a great love than the singer’s last ditch hope for love at last. As in the film, the show closes on Piaf’s defiant declaration: “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.”

It was such a beautiful day that I decided to walk uptown. At Father Demo Square:

Father Demo Square

Sixth Avenue

As dusk approached, the sidewalks began emptying of people as everyone gathered around the communal televisions for Super Bowl XLII. By now, we all know how that turned out, no? And after our underdog Giants quarterback hit receiver Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game, following that incredible, fortune-changing Hail Manning… well, for an otherwise “miserable city,” there was an outpouring of joy in the streets.

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