Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Public's Spotlight Series: You Knew Them When

The 2011 Emerging Writers Group class of The Public Theater's Spotlight Series. Photo from The Public Theater.

HEAD’S UP: Welcome to the debut of “From the Wings.” It is to be an occasional digest of theater goings-on from theater critic Tamara Beck. While “From the Wings” will usually be published on Tuesday, it may from time to time appear on another day of the week as breaking news dictates.


take on a new meaning when Leia has to learn a “new culture” after 17 years in boarded-up captivity.

This is the premise of “Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Written by Nikole Beckwith, it is among The Public Theater’s Spotlight Series of free staged readings of new plays by its Emerging Writers Group.

The series commences tomorrow with “Mine” from “Laura Marks.” The central character in “Mine” is a mother who is not so sure about her newborn daughter. The Spotlight Series wraps on 28 June.

The Public created Emerging Writers Group in 2008 to target up-and-coming playwrights at the earliest stage of their careers. The Spotlight Series gives the writers the opportunity to hear their work, read and staged by theater professionals, in front of an audience.

Javierantonio González. Photo from The Public Theater.

Javierantonio González is also among the 11 who made the cut from a field of 350 contestants with his panoramic, “Zoetrope,” which closes the Spotlight Series. In “Zoetrope,” two cities, two parts, four decades and more figure in the recounting of two different love stories.

Visit http://www.publictheater.org/ to learn more about the Spotlight Series.

A New and Improved Joe's Pub Is on Tap

IT’S been nearly 50 years since the late Joe Papp opened The Public Theater at its grand downtown location off Astor Place.

The main stages in the old Astor Library space have been undergoing a renovation and are scheduled for completion at the end of 2012. Now, Joe’s Pub, The Public’s intimate cabaret venue that opened in October 1998, is due for a facelift, too.

Joe’s Pub will close for three months beginning on 2 July for a redesign spearheaded by its original designer, Serge Becker. The renovation is to enhance both the audience and performer experience. Standing room will be eliminated, creating more seating which patrons will be able to select and reserve online. Seat layout and sightlines will be improved and the bathroom will be refurbished.

Rendering of Joe's Pub interior after renovation. Photo from Joe's Pub.

Further, the entrance to Joe’s Pub moves from Lafayette Street to inside The Public’s lobby. New artists get star treatment with dressing rooms. The plans also call for a greatly expanded Joe’s Pub kitchen.

“The much loved look and feel of Joe's Pub will be kept intact with a few, fresh details and tweaks and with the major change being the layout of the venue,” SB said. “The theme is still an elegant modern cabaret space in a soaring neoclassical room.”

Joe’s Pub will officially reopen on 1 Oct. with a limited kitchen until all renovations are completed in the spring of 2012.

Visit http://www.joespub.com/ to learn more about Joe’s Pub and for a schedule of events before the closing.

The Understudy Takes His/Her Place in the Spotlight

Those unsung heroes of Broadway have at least one night to shine.

Understudies from "Catch Me If You Can," "Sister Act," "Memphis" and other big Broadway musicals will sing the song that got them their big break at The Understudy's Evening Keen Company's 11th Annual Benefit. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Manhattan Penthouse.

Visit http://www.keencompany.org/ to learn more about The Understudy's Evening Keen Company's 11th Annual Benefit.

The Curtain Came Down Way Too Soon

Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit in “High.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

“HIGH,” the drama starring Kathleen Turner, Evan Jonigkeit, and Stephen Kunken, is the latest victim of bad reviews and poor attendance. “High” closed after just eight shows, despite an interesting script and admirable performances – even an astonishing one by newcomer, EJ.

In January, despite the star-shine of its cast – Patti LuPone, Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti and Brian Stokes Mitchell, to name just a few – all of whom gave their high-powered all, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” inexplicably broke down nearly three weeks shy of its intended limited run.

“Women On the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown” had a lot going for it. Director Bartlett Sher paced the production at a brilliant clip. The script was based on the popular cult film by Pedro Almodovar, had a Latin-inflected score by David Yazbek, amazing sets by Michael Yeargan, and pyrotechnics by Gregory Meeh, with visual effect from Sven Ortel ...

It’s not so easy to survive on the Great White Way.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In ‘Arcadia,’ Uncovering and Discovering One’s Past

Billy Crudup, Lia Williams, Raul Esparza and Grace Gummer at the Coverly Estate circa 1993 in "Arcadia." Photos by Carol Rosegg.


TOM Stoppard
is nimbly erudite. In “Arcadia” he sets up two worlds, about a century apart, both located in the same idyllic setting.

The modern-day inhabitants of the Coverly Estate take a fly at understanding their predecessors. Most of their historic guess work misses its mark. Some of their speculations on the past are dead on or close enough to uncover some of the brilliant and astounding activities that occurred there in 1809. (See the video at http://www.arcadiabroadway.com/video#bodycopy)

Lady Croom (Margaret Colin) has a garden that needs cultivating in "Arcadia.

The grand house and its mangled gardens are the main characters in TS’s challenging comedy. The players stumble about, often getting their feet wet in the poorly drained and unseen outdoors. “Arcadia,” in revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through 19 June, is interesting, intricate and funny.

In 1809 the aristocratic residents, particularly the doyenne Lady Croom (Margaret Colin), hired architect Richard Noakes (Byron Jennings) to redesign the gardens into a representation of the rustic so stylish at the time. The romantic Noakes installed a hermitage on the grounds.

The sighting of the hermit attracts Hannah Jarvis (Lia Williams) to explore the mysteries of Coverly. Hannah, a 20th century historian, finds herself outmaneuvered by Bernard Nightingale (Billy Crudup), a rival who discovers a Lord Byron connection to the family and the estate.

The realities of “Arcadia” rest with its dualities. It is about witty intellectuals and scholars who jump to conclusions. It is also about Septimus Hodge (Tom Riley), the sexy tutor who instructs precocious Thomasina Coverly (Bel Powley) with a detour into the fashions of the picturesque. For her part, Thomasina leaves her ancestor Valentine Coverly (Raul Esparza) – a mathematician and genius in his own right – a legacy of mathematical theories that astound him.

Thomasina Coverly (Bel Powley) is the very bright student of Septimus Hodge (Tom Riley) in Arcadia.

The complexity of “Arcadia” in no way diminishes the enjoyment a visit to the Coverly Estate in Derbyshire offers.

Among the large and expert cast are the fabulous BJ and the gifted, versatile RE. In fact, everyone gives an excellent performance. Yet, with all the brilliant luminaries in this production, it is a young newcomer, BP, who steals the show.

Visit http://www.arcadiabroadway.com/ for more information about “Arcadia.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chew on This: Might You Have the Hoover Syndrome?

Bright, festive dishes like green bean salad are a feast for the eyes and can be for the mouth if eaten at the proper pace. Photo from Whole Foods Market.


Hoover or not to Hoover, that is the question.

Tell me, have you ever had this experience? One minute there is a plate full of delicious food in front of you, the next minute – poof – it’s gone, and you have absolutely no idea where it all went? If this is the case, then you suffer from Hoover Syndrome (HS)

What exactly is HS? It's a condition marked by one mentally checking out right before s/he eats a meal while having no clue what s/he ate or how it tasted after sucking it down in a New York minute – like a vacuum cleaner, probably a Hoover.

We are all guilty of it, including me, from time to time. HS usually occurs while we are sitting in front of the television or computer, reading a book or magazine, talking on the phone or multitasking while at the same time eating a meal or snack. When we fail to turn our full attention to the process of eating, we tend to be less mindful of what and how we are eating. Thus, leading to less-than satisfying meals and excessive snacking because the brain doesn't register what’s being eaten, causing hunger and persistent cravings.

When we suck up our food like a vacuum cleaner, it promotes hunger, cravings and gas. Photo from Compare Vaccum Cleaners.

Did you know that eating begins with the simple act of chewing? The next time you eat a meal alone or with others, observe your eating habits. Are you rushing and taking mega bites before you have even swallowed the previous one? Or are you relaxed, taking one bite at a time then chewing your food until it becomes nothing but liquid in your mouth?

Before you sit down for your next meal at the kitchen table be sure to check out NYC Healthy Chick's Chewy Good Tips:
Chew each mouthful of food at least 30 times before swallowing. Chewing breaks down food and makes it easier on the stomach and small intestine to digest;

2. Saliva assists in the digestion of carbohydrates. Saliva also makes food more alkaline, which creates less gas. Nobody likes having gas. Gas is experienced in the stomach and intestine, but it is caused by spleen imbalances;

3. If under pressure at meal time, take deep breaths, chew, and let the simple act of chewing relax you. When you learn to slow down and enjoy your meal, you get to have a party in your mouth that is bursting with a whole spectrum of tastes and aromas;

4. Create a ritual for good chewing before, during and after your meal. I have done this myself and I always have fun while honoring the food I am eating to nourish my body;

An apple a day can keep the doctor away. Such a healthy food choice also aids in honing chewing skills. Photo from Redmond Molloy.

5. I wash my hands, then create a clean quiet place to eat. If I am at home, I play soft, relaxing music – usually is Chris Botti's “Italia” (2007). I bless my food by saying, "Bless this food and where it goes in my body. Amen." I stretch, breathe, align my spine before taking my first bite and continue doing so throughout the meal. In between bites, I put my utensils down and place my hands on my lap; I partially close my eyes. If alone, I say thanks at the end of my meal. With friends, I sit and talk after the meal. Even better is to go for a walk afterward.

Below are two of NYC Healthy Chick's sure-fire hits to get you practicing your new chewing and eating habits pronto.

Green Bean Salad With Goat Cheese Dressing. Not only is this dish colorful and tangy, the balance of crisp-cooked green beans and sweet raw corn kernels gets those juices firing inside of your mouth that will knock your socks off. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3012)

Imagine you are a Martian scientist when trying out Baked Artichokes Stuffed with Red Quinoa. Explore this hearty dish as though it's your first time seeing it.

When you create a relaxing process around eating, your food experience is more rewarding and fulfilling. This is the shift I have personally experienced over the past years since becoming a holistic health counselor and it has enhanced the juicy, sassy and healthy lifestyle I have created for myself.

With its combination of texture, color and hearty flavors, artichoke stuffed with red qunioa is a dish that should be savored, not swallowed whole. Photo by Whole Foods Market.

A caveat: One of the last places to practice your new eating and chewing habit is at a fast-food restaurant. Typically, the lighting is bright and music is playing to keep you moving along fast. Further, the food is dead and loaded with salt, sugar and fat to keep your brain craving it until the next meal at the establishment. I cannot stress enough that fast food should almost never be consumed unless it is the only choice on a long, Interstate roadtrip.

If you find yourself contemplating a trip to a major fast food burger chain that won’t be named for a Big triple-decker sandwich – don’t do it. Instead, find a quiet, clean place to enjoy a healthy balanced meal that will rock your world like a Michael Jackson video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4tpuu-Up90) and give yourself a fulfilling eating experience that will last you for hours.

Chew, chew, chew, so you don't end up with a tummy full of gas. Your stomach and small intestines will thank you for it later.

Monday, May 23, 2011

En Pointe!: 'For the Love of Duke' Has That Swing

New York City Ballent dancers Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in “For the Love of Duke.” Photos by Paul Kolnik.


Stroman, that Broadway babe who’s won Tonys for both choreography and directing, uses the full vocabulary of ballet in “For the Love of Duke.”

After its premiere in the winter season, New York City Ballet once again brings her ebullient vision to the stage at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater.

The limited run of “For the Love of Duke,” from Wednesday through Sunday (25 May-29 May), is appropriately placed in a Broadway-themed program with George Balanchine’s classic “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” and Jerome Robbins’ equally timeless “West Side Story Suite.”

A snazzy two-part dance, “For the Love of Duke,” pairs a spirited new “Frankie and Johnny … and Rose” dance story with “Blossom Got Kissed,” created for the 1998 season. SS, Tony-nominated for her direction of short-lived "The Scottsboro Boys" (See review at: http://www.vevlynspen.com/2010/11/scottsboro-boys-puts-on-happy-face.html), explores the juncture between jazz and ballet, making great use of both styles.

New York City Ballet dancers in “West Side Story Suite.”

Although she throws in a lot of jazz/Broadway into the mix with the piece, “For the Love of Duke,” set to the music of Duke Ellington, is definitely all dressed up in ballet slippers with plenty of exciting variations for those thrilled by watching arabesques, jetes and ballerinas on their toes.

Amar Ramasar dances the caddish Johnny with verve, enthusiasm and good humor. As his Rose, Tiler Peck is alternately affectionate and aggrieved.

AR and TP partner with a sweetness that is set off by the toughness Sara Mearns brings to her Frankie. SM twirls in handsomely on her toes, surprising the illicit lovers and herself. AR shows fine comic skills in his pantomime of the two-timer caught.

In New York City Ballet's “Blossom Got Kissed,” a wallflower becomes a rose.

Blossom (Savannah Lowery), a wallflower in a puffy blue tutu, tries to keep up with the cool kids and flappers. They dance her away and step around her, finally carrying her to the on-stage bandstand. There she encounters The Musician (Robert Fairchild), a nerdy leading man. RF is a matinee idol of the Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby” school. He dances The Musician with an awkward charm.

A quibble, though both parts of “For The Love of Duke” are a delight: The transition between the older piece and the new one, while cute, is a bit ragged. It’s not clear exactly why “Frankie and Johnny … and Rose” is a companion piece to the original “Blossom Got Kissed.”

Visit http://www.nycballet.com/ to learn more about “For The Love Of Duke”

A Sparkling, Shiny, Glittering Pop Quiz

New York City Ballet dancers try on "Jewels" again next month.

1) Which Fifth Avenue emporium inspired George Balanchine to create his full-length ballet “Jewels?”
a) Harry Winston
b) Tiffany & Co.
c) Van Cleef & Arpels
d) Cartier

2) Select the three gems represented in “Jewels”:
a) Sapphires
b) Emeralds
c) Rubies
d) Diamonds
e) Onyx
f) Amethyst

New York City Ballet gives six performances of “Jewels” between 2 June and 11 June at the David H. Koch Theater.

Visit http://www.nycballet.com/ to learn more about “Jewels” and for answers to the quiz.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On a Fool's Errand in 'Pirates ... On Stranger Tides'

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the middle of nowhere in search of fool's gold in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

“THE Foundation of Youth. What does it require,” Captain Jack Sparrow inquires.

“A mermaid, Jack,” his seductive former lover/current nemesis, Angelica answers.

Ands so it goes in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment of the Johnny Depp (Sparrow)/Jerry Buckheimer/Disney Pictures franchise. The film opens nationwide today.

Captain Jack and his is old frenemy, Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), (sometimes) team up on the high seas and dry land of locales, including London, against Angelica (Penelope Cruz), Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and, of course, the British navy in the search for the elusive “spout” that will make those who drink from it young, beautiful, virile and vital – FOREVER. See trailers and photos at: http://www.jbfilms.com/#/film/pirates-4/media

Angelica (Penelope Cruz), Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane) have a meeting of the minds in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

Like television’s “Law & Order” franchise, “Pirates” may become famous as well for frequently changing casts. PC and IM are newbies, as well as two of the most prominent supporting players. Last time out “At World’s End set a course with Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards onboard. Of course by now it is widely known that JD based Captain Jack’s various and sundry ticks on the old rocker. He played Jack’s father, Captain Teague, and is again part of the crew in “On Stranger Tides.”

On this voyage into the treacherous and unknown, Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), his daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) remained ashore. Gone, too, is the director of the three previous "Pirates," Gore Verbinski. In the director's chair for the bleaker "On Stranger Tides" is Rob Marshall.

Disney has plans for at least two more of the films based on its theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean. It will be interesting to learn who will sign up for the subsequent voyages. Will JD have grown weary of the swashbuckling Jack and turn down obscene amounts of money to slink and slur as no other can? Will he be considered a little long in the tooth in the coming years, only to be replaced by a younger body a la the James Bond character in filmdom’s most enduring franchise? When the time comes, without doubt, tongues will be awagging with a treasure trove of speculation, conjecture, outright lies and gross exaggeration.

"Queen Anne’s Revenge" is Blackbeard's (Ian McShane) favorite mode of transportation in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

As with most film franchises – and "Pirates" is no exception – it is pointless to review them. They are so familiar; the characters are like family. One looks forward to seeing them every other year or so, regardless of their behavior. Should the reunion not be a happy one … oh, well … one thanks his lucky stars that it is short-lived.

If nothing else, as the JB Web site asserts, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” will have “fun, adventure and humor.” Frankly, fans expect no more or no less. They will turn up to see JD&Co. do their thing and will be mesmerized and “amazed” by the special effects and all of that sound coming from the surround system. An added bonus is that for the first time a “Pirates” film will be shown in Disney’s Digital 3D, which is capable of delivering images and depth-perception that are nothing short of eye-popping …

Captains Barbossa and Sparrow are ... er ... tied down at the moment in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

The most lucrative film in the “Pirates” fanchise was the last, “At World’s End.” So far, the 2007 vehicle has grossed more than $2.5 billion with a “B” worldwide.

It rather goes without saying then, does it not, that “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” too, will rake in booty aplenty at several thousand domestic theaters this weekend and beyond on various other platforms here and abroad?

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

RICO, Pt. 2: Beyond the Port to Portuguese Varietals

The terraced vineyards of Alto Douro in Portugal. Photo by Bruno Rodrigues.


Great Wall of China. The Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dashur. Chartres Cathedral. Timbuktu. The Acropolis. Alto Douro. All of these places are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Alto Douro?
Sounds like a band that used to headline for Duran Duran.

Not quite. Alto Douro is a Portuguese wine region and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1046), with good reason, too. Producing more than 200 indigenous varietals for more than 2000 years, Portugal is one of the wine world’s treasures. Douro, part of Porto, Portugal, produces ports of distinction, hence the name.

Carmim Aragonês 2008. Photo by Carmim.

Spurred by sharply declining port sales 15 years ago, Portuguese vintners began to craft wines from indigenous grapes traditionally used to make port. Other regional winegrowers, such as those in Dao, Alentejo and Barraida, began to tweak their vines with an eye toward producing exportable wines.

The result is an ongoing experiment, but some of the findings are promising. Here are a few indigenous wine varietals to look for:

Touriga Nacional
Ah, Touriga Nacional. Ya gotta love it! Click on the link to see the write up in the previous edition: “RICO, Pt 1: Outing the Accidental Wine Mafia” (http://www.vevlynspen.com/2011/05/rico-pt-1-outing-accidental-wine-mafia.html).

Directions for all of my Portuguese friends: please skip two sentences. Everyone else: Aragonês is Portugal’s answer to Spain’s Tempranillo. If you happen to say this in front of Portuguese people, watch out for a right hook. A hearty red wine, Aragonês’ good tannins temper nicely in oak, leaving a spicy aftertaste.

A map showing the winegrowing regions of Portugal. Photo courtesy of Cellar Tours.

A few years back, Vinho Verde was all the rage: a light Portuguese white wine that promised to give Pinot Grigio the old heave-ho. Alvarinho is a type of Vinho Verde, but don’t mistake it for an innocuous forgettable give-me-anything-cold-to-drink type wine. Alvarinho has character for days. Pop open a bottle and a glorious fragrance rises up, enticing your tastebuds (strong nose, specifically floral and citrus). Its taste matches the full nose point by point.

Mark my words: Portuguese wines will be the next big thing. Remember when people first balked at the idea of Australian wines? Well not any more. The same will come to pass with Portuguese wines. Great price points, easy drinkability and the expanding American wine palate create a perfect trifecta for the Portuguese wine market boom.

That being said, finding Portuguese wines right now can be a bit difficult, but not impossible. Check out the collection at 67 Wine (http://www.67wine.com/category_Portugalwine), a glorious independent wine boutique in New York City that’s not afraid to try new things.

Carmim Terras d'el Rei. Photo courtesy of Carmim.

Also, look for these wines in the coming months:

Aragonês 2008

Its scent (nose) surprises – rather leathery. The first few sips smacks of flowers, very much like those little English purple pastels in hoity-toidy pharmacy-cosmetic places (read: violets. Really. Steal Aunt Minnie’s blooming purple, pick off a leaf or two, chew, and there you have it. Then call the Poison Control hotline, just to be safe.) From its time in oak, Carmim Aragonês’ floral beginnings fade to reveal a hint of herbs (middle finish: thyme). A luscious drink, soon to be released in the United States.

The grapes that spawn Vinho Verde. Photo courtesy of sxu.hu.

Castelo do Sulco
Riserva 2009

Take Touriga Nacional, throw in a dash of Aragonês, and add a touch of Syrah, and presto! A magical wine appears. Imagine the heft of Touriga Nacional, the spiciness of a Syrah and the round full softness of an Aragonês, and what else can be said but perfect elegant balance. Smooth as silk, the wine unfolds. Spices (nutmeg and clove) temper Aragonês’ fruitiness and resembles, of all things, roasted butternut squash.

Terras d’el Rei 2010

An unusual wine; imagine a combination of the earthiness of mushroom with a nicely complimenting fruit. I did say it was unusual. But think of the possibilities: Spinach salad with Rockford cheese; roasted pork with apples; a well-made pot roast and potatoes. This wine could do it all. And it can compliment seafood without overpowering subtle flavors. As for the varietals (Síria 80 percent; Rabo de Ovelha, 20 percent)? Well, I’ve never encountered them before. Your guess is as good as mine. Time to book a trip to Portugal …

Timbuktu's Djingareiber mosque has the ring of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whereas Portugal's Alto Douro wine region does not. Photo courtesy of KaTeznik.

Douro /Vinho Blanco 2010

Known for its port, the Kopke label has created a little gem of a summer white. A blend of indigenous wines, this refreshing drink masquerades as a Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of pear.

What makes it different? Instead of the Sauvignon Blanc’s tell-tale green pepper, imagine a lingering delicious aftertaste (long finish) packed full of fruit. Not too sweet, Kopke pairs perfectly with cheeses and fruit.

Next: Wine Turkey

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chapter and Verse in 'The Book of Mormon'

Mrs. Brown (Rema Webb) wishes Elders Price (Andrew Rannells) and Cunningham (Josh Gad) Godspeed in "The Book of Mormon." Photo by Joan Marcus.


Park” fans have good reason to rejoice! Co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez, who co-wrote “Avenue Q,” have turned unorthodox material into an intelligent and animated musical.

In “The Book Of Mormon,” two newly minted missionaries, Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) and Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) are sent to a small Ugandan village to convert the inhabitants to the Mormon faith.

“The Book Of Mormon,” enjoying an open run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre and 14 Tony nominations, is colorful, inventive, offbeat and abundantly charming. It is a serious and irreverent romp.

When they arrive in the African village, the Elders Price and Cunningham are greeted by a group of people singing a rousing condemnation of the Almighty whom they blame for their many hardships, from rampant AIDS to female circumcision.

Elder Cunningham, to whom proselytizing does not come naturally, is a pudgy and sloppy figure among his well-groomed and clean-cut colleagues. He comically reshapes the scriptures and redefines them so that they have meaning for and give strength to the villagers. His connection to the Ugandans is natural and instinctual, and his preaching is completely unconnected to what the Mormons believe from the third book of the bible, “The Book Of Mormon” of the title.

Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) has a moment with the tome in "The Book of Mormon.

His understanding, like his sermonizing, is from his heart. Elder Cunningham falls in love with Nabulungi (Nikki M. James), whose name he also comically reshapes and mangles at every encounter and who returns his affections.

Ever imaginative, Elder Cunningham uses lessons he learns from sci-fi in his preaching and to inspire the people of the village. One myth is as good as another. “It’s a metaphor,” one of the villagers tells a disappointed Nabulungi who hopes that they are all literally going to a promised land in Utah.

Displeased by the young man’s successful conversion rate is the local warlord, General Butt Naked (Brian Tyree Henry); astonished are his fellow missionaries.

Standing out in this outstanding cast is JG whose innocent élan is completely winning. He immerses himself joyously in the ethos of “The Book Of Mormon.” Lovable as the sincere Nabulungi is NMJ.

Another highlight of “The Book Of Mormon” is a tap dance performed by a chorus of the already resident evangelists, led by Elder McKinley (Rory O’Malley).

“The Book Of Mormon” is a gentle-natured satire taking potshots at religious zealotry in general and The Latter Day Saints along the way.

Visit http://www.bookofmormonbroadway.com/ to learn more about “The Book Of Mormon.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Turning the Camera Lens on Mental Illness

Poster from "So You're Going Crazy." Image from Facebook.

JOEY Pants (aka Joe Pantoliano) tried sex, drugs, success, rock ‘n’ roll – the whole nine yards – to ease his pain and discomfort. Nothing helped, he explains in “You Kidding Me Too.’’

In the documentary directed by “The Sopranos” alum, he turns his camera on those who suffer from and thrive in spite of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder from which he suffers. (See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHckgHIeAkk&feature=related)

Joe Pantoliano. Publicity still.

“You Kidding Me Too,” which grew out of JP’s nonprofit of the same name (http://www.nkm2.org/), is one of three documentaries that puts the spotlight on mental illness. All are to be screened at tomorrow’s 7th Annual New York City Mental Health Film Festival, sponsored by Community Access and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

Opening the mental health film festival is “Family Matters: Surviving the Bipolar Journey." Director Mary M. Frymire follows four families as they try to keep it together while dealing with the dizzying highs and crushing lows of the roller-coaster that is bipolar disorder, once upon a time known as manic depression. (See video: http://www.marsentertainment.ca/familymatters/)

A sobering statistic: While one in five Americans suffers from a mental illness, four out of five are affected by it. That underscores the importance of this issue and explains the growing numbers of film festivals around the world devoted to mental health topics, including the recent Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles and the upcoming Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in Toronto.

A poster from Image from “Family Matters: Surviving the Bipolar Journey." Photo courtesy of The Bipolar Family.

Closing the festival is Hilary Dean’s “So You're Going Crazy.” The film student who herself has a mental illness, uses interviews, animation and other devices to attempt to provide some insights into the workings of the abnormal mind. “So You’re Going Crazy,” an official selection at Rendezvous with Madness, also offers encouragement to others who are challenged by mental illness and those who love and support them.(See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN242uCgA5w)

Visit http://www.communityaccess.org/ and http://http://www.nyaprs.org/ to learn more about the 7th Annual New York City Mental Health Film Festival.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oh Happy Day: 'Singing the Sugar Blues'/P. 2

Satisfy the next sugar craving with sweet vegetables such as parsnips, carrots & rutabaga. Photo from Whole Foods Market.


no doubt about it – you have a sugar addiction and it has triggered the sugar blues.

The checklist in yesterday’s article confirmed it; it’s official. (www.vevlynspen.com/2011/05/name-that-tune-singing-sugar-blues.html) The next step is rehab, NYC Healthy Chick style.

Starting today, you can break free from your sugar addition and create a healthier and vibrant new you with NYC Healthy Chick's “10 STEPS to Sugar Addiction Management”:

1. Reduce or eliminate caffeine. It causes dehydration, blood-sugar swings and frequent sugar cravings.

2. Drink water. Before trying something sweet, have water instead and see what happens. Sweet cravings can be a sign of dehydration.

3. Eat sweet vegetables and fruits. These are the earth's best sweet, healthy, delicious treats. Consider this – the more you eat, the less you crave sugar. A word of caution: limit intake of fruit to one to two pieces a day because some are high in sugar, even though it is a natural form.

4. Consume gentle sweets. Gentle sweeteners are maple syrup, brown rice syrup, dried fruit, stevia, barley, malt and agave nectar. Avoid anything chemicalized and avoid artificial sweeteners. Yes, this includes those cute little blue, pink and yellow packets.

Managing sugar addiction is like climbing a ladder. Each step gets you closer to freedom from addiction and closer to optimal health. Photo from Badger Ladders.

5. Indulge in physical activity. Start simple with something like yoga or walking for 10 minutes a day while gradually increasing the time. This will balance blood sugar levels, boost energy, reduce tension and, eliminate the need for sugar!

6. Get more sleep, rest and relaxation. Fatigue and stress causes the body to crave energy in the form of sugar. Sleep deprivation going to bed late and waking too early cause these cravings for months and years on end.

7. Evaluate the amount of animal proteins you consume. Eating too much or too little can lead to cravings for sweets. The most effective way to learn how much is right for you is to experiment.

8. Eliminate fat-free or low-fat foods from your diet. These foods contain high quantities of sugar to compensate for lack of flavor and fat. This will send you on the roller-coaster ride of sugar highs and lows.

9. Experiment with spices. Coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom will naturally sweeten your foods and reduce cravings.

10. Slow down and find sweetness in non-food ways! Believe it or not, your body does not biologically need sugar, but it does long for hugs, time with friends, outside time, workouts, massages, etc. When your life is sweet enough itself, no additives are needed.

A healthy way to indulge your sweet tooth is to use naturally sweetened pure maple syrup on foods such as yams. Photo from All Recipes.

Henceforth and evermore when you are hit with a sweet craving, keep the NYC Healthy Chick 10-step program in mind. Also, try the following NYC Healthy Chick favorites. They will hit the spot and satisfy even the sweetest tooth. And they are easy to prepare.

Sweet root veggies are a great way to soothe the body's internal organs, energize the mind and are energetically grounding. Dig in deep with a roasted root vegetable trio of parsnips, carrots & rutabaga (www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1403).

Instead of reaching for those unhealthy french fries, try roasted yams. You'll swear you are having a sinful dessert instead of a sweet healthy treat. (http://www.allrecipes.com/Recipe/Roasted-Yams/Detail.aspx)

For more ideas for removing sugar from your diet, check out “Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut Sugar Out of Any Diet” by Ann Louise Gittleman.

In closing, remember that you and your life are sweet enough to overcome any craving. Especially remember this the next time your face is pressed against a vending machine at 4 p.m. and you are salivating over those sugary, chemicalized, processed treats.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Name that Tune. 'Singing the Sugar Blues'?

An awareness of the life-threatening effects of sugar can prolong your life and prevent premature aging. Photo from Dreamstime.


the Sugar Blues" isn't a popular tune on the radio, but it may be a popular song playing in your head – literally.

Did you know that the average woman consumes 3.5 pounds of sugar a week and doesn't even know it – that's 182 pounds a year! Honey (to use a word), that's a lot of sweetness for one person. It may come as not surprise, then, that most people suffer from sugar addiction.

What exactly constitutes a sugar addiction? According to Wikipedia, it's a perceived difficulty controlling the intake of sweet foods or beverages. There is mounting evidence suggesting that under certain conditions, consumption of sweets or straight sugar may indeed trigger addiction-like behavior. In essence, a measurable physiological state activates an opioid receptor in the brain. Sugar acts as an analgesic drug whose effects are possibly stymied by a morphine blocker which serves as a gateway drug to other drugs.

NYC Healthy Chick knows all too well the effects of sugar. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always gravitated toward sweets, especially when I’ve been stressed out. My love affair with sugar started as a toddler. According to my mom, I'd have a complete meltdown if I didn't have something sweet at bedtime. During adolescence, I progressed to sugary breakfast cereals, candy, vanilla ice cream with Hershey's Syrup, Pepsi and my mom's baked goodies.

If you are consuming too much sugar, that ringing in your head may be the melody to "Singing the Sugar Blues." Photo from Dreamstime.

During my teens, 20s and 30s, I rotated toward baked goods, breads, pasta and alcohol for my sugar fix. I would have my regular meal, then suddenly I'd have a craving for something sweet. Can you totally relate to what I'm saying? Chances are many of you do.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that sugar consumption not exceed 10 percent of calories each day. The USDA guidelines are approximately the same, with 40g on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Stop and think for a moment. What are the sources of your daily sugar intake? Not sure exactly? What do you say to soda, energy drinks, juices, caffeinated beverages, candy, desserts, snacks, fruit, vegetables, low-fat snacks, breakfast foods, shakes and smoothies? Check out http://www.sugarstacks.com/
to find out how many sugar cubes/grams go into your favorite go-to beverages and foods.

One favorite is the Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino 16 oz. (Grande) drink, with whipped cream. The numbers – 47 grams of sugar and 380 calories; 188 of the calories come from sugar. Holy guacamole! This is a lot of sugar, not to mention calories, in this afternoon delight.

Bottomline folks is that sugar is sugar whether it’s in a granulated or natural form. One interesting fact is that the brain needs 5 grams of glucose or sugar per hour to function, however, the effects of having too much sugar in our diets outweighs this benefit. Over consumption of sugar can lead to the following:

blocking optimal absorption of minerals
blood sugar surges
digestive problems
extra belly fat
gum disease
high blood pressure (hypertension)
high cholesterol
hormone imbalances
loss of key essential vitamins and minerals
over growth of Candida albicans
tooth decay

As delectable as it looks, the Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino is not the answer to the afternoon sugar crash. Photo from Super Snacks.

OK, have I officially scared you to death with this laundry list of health problems? I hope so, if only a little. Reducing your daily intake of sugar will dramatically affect your health and mood for the better.

How can you determine if you suffer from the sugar blues? Symptoms may include: highs and lows in mental and physical states, mental variances that range from euphoria and depression, physical affects like high energy or exhaustion, aggression, hyperactivity and anti-social behavior, irritability, moodiness, anxiety, tremors, headaches and cravings.

Good news. Now, you can break free from your sugar addiction and create a healthier and vibrant You.

Tomorrow: An anecdote for both sugar addiction and the sugar blues.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Old Glories in 'That Championship Season'

Brian Cox, Jason Patric, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth and Kiefer Sutherland are coach and winning team in "That Championship Season." Photos by Joan Marcus.


1973, Jason Miller won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony for “That Championship Season.”

Nearly 40 years later, the revival starring his son, Jason Patric, and a team of all-stars is still winning, intense and relevant. JP is joined by Chris Noth, Brian Cox, Jim Gaffigan and Kiefer Sutherland.

No one in this cast stands out, because everyone is outstanding! Under the direction of Gregory Mosher, and playing through 29 May, “That Championship Season” lights up the stage at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre with the promise and disappointments that are at its heart.

In “That Championship Season,” four players from a trophy-winning high school basketball squad meet at their Coach’s (BC) house for a 20th-year reunion. As a team, they were completely in sync, catching passes and making crucial plays. In the course of the alcohol-fueled evening, however, their dissension and disloyalty to each other becomes evident. (See videos at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giIGEmqbvXE&feature=relmfu and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0WyzzgLaSc)

In "That Championship Season," the night wears on, the drinks flow, tongues loosen, and the painful truth comes out.

George Sikowski (JG) needs Phil Romano’s (CN) support in his re-election campaign for mayor of their small Pennsylvania town. Phil, who was born to riches and has amassed more by strip-mining his hometown, has yet to kick in the $30,000 George anticipates.

James Daley (KS) is a junior high school principal and George’s campaign manager – his future is in politics. Here is a man of many discomforts: he is uncomfortable with his dentures; his lack of sleep; his unfulfilled ambitions, etc. As KS plays him, James is an aggrieved man undeserving of any better.

All these years later, Coach continues to orchestrate the lives of the “championship” team, as he did on the court. For instance, he advises George about his campaign and his family. He ignores the fact, though, that these Jesuit-educated boys have grown up to be less than successful men; to do so would diminish him, for Coach has had far more influence on them than the brotherhood of priests.

Coach (Brian Cox, right) snaps a photo of his boys with the prized trophy in "That Championship Season."

Only James’ brother, Tom Daley (JP), a drunk who lives elsewhere and has “fallen down in 10 states,” sees the winning season and the winners clearly. Outsider Tom chides them for their hypocrisy, bigotries and ill-will. “The Jesuits will really be mad at you,” he warns as the evening winds down.

In “That Championship Season,” the victory is well-deserved. It is a rare pleasure to see an ensemble this good on stage.

Visit http://www.thatchampionshipseason.com/ to learn more about “That Championship Season.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Poetic Is 'The Motherf**ker With The Hat'

Jackie (Bobby Cannavale) and Ralph D. (Chris Rock) are sponsee and sponsor in “The Motherf**ker With The Hat.” Photos by Joan Marcus.


a recent interview in New York Magazine, Stephen Adly Guirgis asserted that it was the right title for his play, and since no one asked him to change it…

It’s been tough on advertisers and reviewers alike. For the sake of propriety, how many asterisks should be used? For the record, the marquee and the Playbill go with just two.

“The Motherf**ker With The Hat” has a profanity-laden script so maybe the title is fair warning of its contents. The title, however, does not do justice to the grace and poetry in its language nor the soulful heart of “The Motherf**ker With The Hat,” recently nominated for six Tonys.

Jackie (Bobby Cannavale) can't stay with Veronica (Elizabeth Rodriguez) as long as he has suspicions about a certain brim in “The Motherf**ker With The Hat.”

Originally meant for an off-Broadway run, the LAByrinth Theater Company production currently at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre through 26 June, gained traction once Chris Rock was onboard and earned playwright, SAG, his well-deserved Broadway debut. His work has also won a Tony nomination in the best play category.

In “The Motherf**ker With The Hat,” Jackie (Bobby Cannavale), recently released from prison, comes home with a job and a bouquet of flowers for his girlfriend, Veronica (Elizabeth Rodriguez). While she is in the shower, he gets into bed, then notices a man’s hat on the table near the door.

Jackie’s sobriety is severely challenged at every turn – by his own impulsiveness, by his girlfriend’s abuse of cocaine, and by his jealousy.

Angered by the mysterious hat, Jackie moves in with his twelve-stepping sponsor, Ralph D. (the aforementioned CR), and his foul-mouthed wife, Victoria (Annabella Sciorra). It is also Ralph D. who accompanies Jackie to visit Jackie’s Cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez). Cousin Julio is going to stash the gun that Jackie used on the hat.

Victoria (Annabella Sciorra) has a very colorful vocabulary in “The Motherf**ker With The Hat.”

BC, nominated for a Tony in the best lead actor category, is an amazingly controlled performer. His Jackie sings with conflicting emotions and the many contradictions in his life. ER, nominated for a Tony in a featured role, makes a resplendent Broadway debut, showing range and complexity in her portrayal of the edgy Veronica.

Sadly, AS doesn’t have a bigger part in “The Motherf**ker With The Hat,” for she is always a pleasure to watch. Nominated for a Tony in the male featured role, YV is a nuanced character actor. He is lovely and tender as Cousin Julio whose loyalties are never in question. CR is at home and completely at ease in his stage debut.

The Tony-nominated sets by Todd Rosenthal seamlessly unfold to reveal three very distinct apartments. Cousin Julio’s apartment is as eccentric as he is, filled with flowers and light. Veronica’s is a bit seedy, while Ralph and Victoria live in a spacious and well-appointed home.

Jackie (Bobby Cannavale, left) trusts both Cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez, center) and Ralph D. (Chris Rock) in “The Motherf**ker With The Hat.”

Anna D. Shapiro, nominated for best director, has brought “The Motherf**ker With The Hat” down to an explosively crisp hour and a half.

Much of this beautiful, intelligent play is very funny. All of “The Motherf**ker With The Hat” is insightful and surprising.

Visit http://www.themfwiththehat.com/ to learn more about “The Motherf**ker With The Hat.”
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