Thursday, June 30, 2011

Three Very Different Portraits of Family

Jamey Hood as Dot, Emily Walton as Helen, Peter Friedman as Austin Wiggin and Sarah Sokolovic as Betty in “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

VARIOUS
familial entanglements – a father’s passion, a daughter’s preoccupation and a couple’s marital peccadilloes – figure in a trio of plays shuttering (3 July) over the Independence Day weekend.

“The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World,” tells two kinds of stories to some extent: a tale of delusional obsessives and a tale of those who conquer the odds stacked against them. The darkly sad musical, at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, is based on a true story.

In “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World,” Peter Friedman helms a marvelously attuned cast as the tightly wound Austin Wiggin. Austin, a disappointed man who is sure that success is his due, decides to fulfill his dead mother’s prophecy that his girls will save him.

Austin puts all the little he has into turning his daughters Dot (Jamey Hood), Betty (Sarah Sokolovic) and Helen (Emily Walton) into unwilling and unlikely rock stars. Though the girls lack talent and ambition, they go along with their dad’s harebrained schemes out of loyalty and fear. (See video at http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/mainstage.asp).

Mercifully, the on-stage Shaggs and the score for the musical are far more melodious than the playback from their “recording” session. The real-life Shaggs had a raw, hypnotic sound that was the same monotone in every song on their album. But they unwittingly expressed an existential angst that appealed to an indie following. The play’s title is also that of the Wiggin girls’ one album, which Rolling Stone Magazine anointed as "Comeback Album of the Year" in 1980, about 12 years after it was recorded.

Annie Golden, Sarah Sokolovic, Cory Michael Smith, Jamey Hood, Emily Walton and Kevin Cahoon in “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

The story, score, lyrics and text from Joy Gregory, Gunnar Madsen, and John Langs, whine appropriately with a smalltown New Hampshire drone.

There is a relentless sense in “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World” that tragedy is just around the corner. The drama here, though, is that nothing big ever happens to the Wiggin clan.

A title like “Sex Lives of Our Parents” can portend plenty of drama or not. Alas, it is not the former.

At the center of the play are Virginia’s (Virginia Kull) nightmares about her mother Charlotte’s (Lisa Emery) sexual history. The hallucinations began when Virginia, betrothed to Jeff (Ben Rappaport), sleeps in her childhood room. Is this just a case of cold feet or is Virginia so psychically in tune with her mother that she is able to relive the latter’s wild past?

Charlotte and her husband Christopher (Daniel Jenkins) seem happy, except for occasional bickering, but Virginia imagines them not. She vividly envisions her mother’s checkered past. In Virginia’s dreams – vignettes staged as if they were actually her memories – LE convincingly, even brilliantly portrays Charlotte at 4, as a young teen and as a music student.

Daniel Jenkins, Lisa Emery, Ben Rappaport and Virginia Kull in “Sex Lives of Our Parents.” Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Michael Mitnick’s new play, produced by Second Stage Theatre Uptown at The McGinn/Cazale Theatre, is a love story with a few detours and quirky but appealing characters smoothly portrayed by a strong ensemble. Yet so much more could have been made of this improbable but likable tale.

Unfortunately, “Sex Lives of Our Parents” ends too soon and with a little unconvincing whimper.

In Michael Weller’s “Side Effects,” a couple’s 14-year marriage ends with a bang: by infidelities and political ambitions.

There are many reasons behind the dissolution of any marriage. In "Side Effectss, the husband Hugh Metz (Cotter Smith), once a lively guy, has become a stuffed shirt. The wife Melinda “Lindy” Metz (Joely Richardson) suffers bipolar disorder.

“Side Effects,” an MCC Theater production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is the last of a trilogy on “Loving, Longing, Leaving.” It is billed as the other side of the conversation that ended in “Fifty Words” (also produced by MCC) and completely stands on its own. (See video at http://www.mcctheater.org/shows/10-11_season/sideeffects/multimedia.html)

Cotter Smith and Joely Richardson in "Side Effects." Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sometimes the argument for ending a union is similar to those for keeping it together. Hugh and Lindy once shared an exciting and adventurous life. Even while their marriage is assaulted by her unpredictability and his sense of responsibility, they still manage to have fun.

JR has many opportunities to cut loose in “Side Effects” and does so with utter subtlety. There are scenes – like the one in which Lindy, giddy with expectation and Hugh, overwrought from managing their lives – that provide clues as to why their marriage is doomed.

In the end, though, “Side Effects” suggests but does not fully reveal the mysteries of what makes a relationship work or fall apart.

Visit http://http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/ to learn more about “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World;” http://www.2st.com/ to learn more about “Sex Lives of Our Parents,” and http://http://www.mcctheater.org/ to learn more about “Side Effects.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'The Play About My Dad' Operates on Two Planes

Tracey Gilbert as Sallye Killebrew, Anna Greenfield as Boo Killebrew and Jay Potter as Larry Killebrew in "The Play About My Dad. Photos by Chantel C. Lucier.

BY TAMARA BECK

SIX
years after it hit New Orleans and the surrounding area, Hurricane Katrina has become emblematic of government mismanagement and citizen tenacity.

“The Play About My Dad,” at 59E59 Theaters as part of “Americas Off Broadway” through 2 July, is also symbolic of stalled and uprooted relationships, and not surprisingly, heartache.

When Boo Killebrew’s (Anna Greenfield) play begins, Larry Killebrew (Jay Potter) introduces himself as the playwright’s father, a doctor who is preparing for a day at the office. He will be telling his stories about Katrina and he is a good storyteller. Larry is also the subject and narrator of "The Play About My Father, setting up storylines and playing them out. Boo acts as a kind of stage manager, running lights and fidgeting about with the crates that serve as scenery for the play.

“The Play About My Dad” tells its story as a play within a play – using “magical realism,” Boo says, “and (we’ll) make the whole thing sort of like a tapestry” – so it unfolds on many levels and in various timeframes.

Annie Henk, Juan Francisco Villa, David Rosenblatt, TJ Witham, Jordan Mahome and Geany Masai in "The Play About My Dad."

The “side stories” that unfold in “The Play About My Dad include that of the Thomas family, Jay (Juan Francisco Villa), Rena (Annie Henk) and their 5-year-old son, Michael (David Rosenblatt). (DR is an adult actor whose portrayal of a scared little boy is simply spot on). The Thomases have chosen not to evacuate to Georgia, instead waiting out the storm with a “hurricane party.”

Before going to the hospital Larry gets food for friends and colleagues and stops by to see Essie Watson (Geany Masai) to try to convince her to wait out Katrina at the hospital with him. Miss Essie, Larry’s nanny for many years, alone and old, refuses to budge. Larry boards up her windows and goes to work.

Despite its unusual structure, there is a naturalism to “The Play About My Dad” that gives it its wit, wisdom and heart.

Visit http://www.59e59.org/ to learn more about “The Play About My Dad.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mark Rylance Is the Biggest Attraction in 'Jerusalem'

Johnny “Rooster” Byron is a proud non-conformist in "Jerusalem." Photo by Simon Annand.

BY TAMARA BECK

JOHNNY
“Rooster” Byron (Mark Rylance) is not a revolutionary; he is the revolution!

Johnny, the dubious hero of “Jerusalem,” a play about one man’s resistance to conformity, dispenses drugs and drink to minors out of a ramshackle trailer in the woods near a middle-class English town.

In “Jerusalem,” currently at the Music Box Theatre in an extended run through 21 Aug., Jez Butterworth has written an idyll of squalor. The “Jerusalem” of the title refers to a hymn, beloved in England, inspiring optimism and hope, and venerating the uniqueness of the country.

Johnny, in his renegade ways, aspires to that same spirit, in a kind of “Live Free or Die” fashion. The town’s youngsters are drawn as much to his dissident and subversive nature as they are to the “epic” parties he throws. (See video at http://www.jerusalembroadway.com/media/video/)

Johnny has no desire to be respectable. His war with authority is in part a class war. His neighbors and the local constabulary are more interested in removing Johnny’s eyesore of a home so that a housing development can be built near the Wiltshire forest than in stopping his illegal trade.

Mackenzie Crook as Ginger in "Jerusalem." Photo by Joan Marcus.

In “Jerusalem,” MR, who lends his exuberance to every role, has material worthy of his colossal talent. By the way, MR was rewarded for his performance with the 2011 Best Actor Tony. Johnny, who moves in a non-stop whirl of action and inventive talk, weaving his own myth, gets all of MR’s unstinting dynamism.

Although MR’s portrait overwhelms, the large cast includes many a worthy performance, including a very fine turn by Max Baker as Wesley, a local innkeeper forced to choose propriety over his friendship with Johnny. Geraldine Hughes as Johnny’s ex-wife, Dawn, also stands out as a troubled soul undermined by her addictions.

There are myriad reasons besides the extraordinary performances to see JB’s odd and exciting new drama. Be warned, however – “Jerusalem” is a challenge and many may find it offensive. It is also brilliant.

Visit http://www.jerusalembroadway.com/ to learn more about “Jerusalem.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Rather Striking Example of a 'Bad Teacher'

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) and Amy (Lucy Punch) have a showdown in the principal's office in "Bad Teacher." Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

HELL hath no fury like a gold-digger shorn of her pick:

1. She’ll make a mockery of teaching i.e., drinking alcohol in class; sleeping in class, smoking dope on school grounds;
2. Dress provocatively to attract dirty men … er … cars to a 7th-grade car wash;
3. Skim a portion of the car wash profits;
4. Seduce, then blackmail a state education official;
5. Steal a standardized test;
6. Give a disturbing, new meaning to corporal punishment;
7. Show indifference toward and contempt for anyone who has no money and no use for her, and on and on and on.

In general, middle-school teacher Elizabeth Halsey really just doesn’t give an F. Yet, she is the protagonist in “Bad Teacher,” the comedy starring the delightfully way-over-the-top Cameron Diaz as the title character. It opens nationwide today.

“Bad Teacher,” directed by Jake Kasdan (“Freaks and Geeks”), is a perfect movie for the season. It is summertime and the living is easy. Light, funny, low-browesque fare with only one bit of toilet humor is the order of the day. This is a film that will attract a wide demographic; certain males – adolescents to near-death – will particularly enjoy it for no other reason than to feast their eyes on the delectable confection that is Senorita Diaz.


Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) uses her considerable assets to drum up business for a car wash in "Bad Teacher."

Her Elizabeth looks like no middle-school teacher anyone has seen outside of a Hollywood film. Besides denim shorts that make Daisy Duke look matronly, her wardrobe includes form-fitting dresses and sweaters, pencil skirts, skinny jeans and omnipresent five-inch Christian Louboutins. Complementing these ensems are long, wavy blond hair, eyes that are the deepest ocean blue, a perfect tan and cherry-red pouty lips.

Elizabeth is a vision, and interestingly enough she looks classy rather than trashy (excepting the car wash get-up). Expensive, not cheap, as if she stepped off the cover of Vogue or ELLE – just the sort of woman many males covet. Lacking an A-list movie career or a seven-figure income, they can do the next best thing: plop down $10 or $12 and ogle her from the comfort of their seat in a darkened movie theater.

Comedy suits CD as well as that black, cap-sleeved linen dress with a flounced bodice in which Elizabeth is turned out in one scene. She earned her comedy chops in “There’s Something About Mary” and solidified them in “What Happens in Vegas” and the mini-franchise, “Charlie’s Angels.” How refreshing, a goodlooking actress who is not reluctant to laugh at herself and flirt with the limits; she’s a 21st-century Lucille Ball.

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) becomes no-nonsense when she learns that teaching can actually serve her interests in "Bad Teacher."

Speaking of ball, CD always seems to be having one in her comedies, her infectious energy bringing along the audience, too. To her credit, as well, CD is the type of showstopper that most women are not threatened by largely because she is unaware of and/or unaffected by her looks. She has a girl-next-door quality, too; one wants to be her friend. Other women could have a beer with her; they wouldn’t feel insecure about leaving CD alone with their boyfriend for two minutes.

In “Bad Teacher,” Elizabeth rates herself an 8 to 81/2. Ordinary mortals might give her 91/2 or even a 10. But in Elizabeth’s world – where the longer the legs, the slimmer the hips, the longer and possibly blonder the hair, the bigger the breasts – there is always some 22-year-old piece with a D-cup ready to take your 35-year-old B-cup place.

Elizabeth thought she’d struck gold until the mine owner’s mother cast her out. Alas, she has to start anew, and has decided that D-cups are the answer to all of her questions. But how to afford them? Beg, borrow, embezzle and steal, of course! This quest drives much of the comedy in “Bad Teacher.”

CD, who excels with at best average material in “Bad Teacher,” is surrounded by a winning supporting cast, including Lucy Punch who almost steals the film as her arch-rival for the affections of a fellow teacher; Phyllis Smith (“The Office”) is a colleague who idolizes Elizabeth, while Jason Segel is the gym teacher who dogs her for a date and calls her on her copious crap.

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz), Russell (Jason Segel) and Scott (Justin Timberlake) have a moment during recess in "Bad Teacher."

Former real-life beau, Justin Timberlake, is the colleague/heir on whom Elizabeth has set her sights. The two have a romantic scene that is both a little discomfiting and tongue-in-cheek.

It is unlikely that “Bad Teacher” will be nominated for any Oscars (a best actress nod for CD? Not impossible). By the same token, it is doubtful that it will dominate at the Razzies. It is indeed perfect for the times.

After 92 minutes of "Bad Teacher," moviegoers should leave their seats feeling just a little better than when they arrived – not at all a bad thing.

“Bad Teacher” is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, and some drug use.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

ShoeDazzle: Wear Your Patriotism Proudly

The Kimi sandal, Anisa wedge and Adara pump from ShoeDazzle. Photos from ShoeDazzle.

HAVEN’T you heard, patriotism is fashionable. There is a far more forward way to show it than flag-waving, and ShoeDazzle has discovered it.

Just in time for Independence Day, the self-proclaimed largest online fashion brand and styling service is offering a special promotion: it will donate part of the sales of the Adara pump, the Anisa wedge and Kimi sandal to the National Military Family Association (NMFA).

Don’t dither, because this promotion isn’t as lasting as patriotism. Until 30 June, buyers of the three styles will be able to show off new shoes and their patriotism. NMFA, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of officers and enlisted families in all seven uniformed services, gets $5 from the sale of each. ShoeDazzle’s patriotism doesn’t end there, however. It will also hand over to NMFA $5 from every bit of stock it moves on 4 July.

God bless America, land that we love!

Learn more about ShoeDazzle and the promotion at http://http://www.shoedazzle.com/ and NMFA at http://www.militaryfamily.org/.

Try Tiaras & Trinkets With 'Set in Style' Facebook App
IT’S
a litle crooked. Can’t see it? Zoom in on it. A little more. More. More. See. Tilt it to the right, a touch more. Perfect. Now, zoom out. Save. It’s a print. Post it or send it.

Egyptian bracelet of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, platinum. Photo by David Behl.

Either way, the tiara worn by Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco fits perfectly. Of course, the tiara is not literally available for one and all to try on. It is however, virtually available for doing so.

It is one of the trinkets on view in “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Hurry, the exhibit shutters on 4 July. In this exploration of Van Cleef & Arpels’ place in 20th century jewelry design history, more than 350 objets d’art, jewels, fashion accessories and sundry exquisite things – many created for American consumption – are offered for consideration.

The tiara worn by Princess Grace is bedazzled with gold, platinum, diamonds. Photo by Patrick Gries/Van Cleef & Arpels.

Heretofore, visitors could only gawk at the pieces from the vantage point outside the enclosed display cases. That has changed a bit with the rollout of Cooper-Hewitt’s “Get Set in Style” Facebook Application. Through the app – a first for a Smithsonian Institution – users can try on more than 25 objects besides the tiara (zooming in/out of photos of objects to get the fit right for sharing) from “Set in Style.”

Lamartine bracelet owned by Elizabeth Taylor. Photo courtesy of John Bigelow Taylor.

These include Elizabeth Taylor’slamartine bracelet (yellow gold, platinum, diamonds, coral, an Egyptian bracelet of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, platinum and a jarretière bracelet of diamonds, rubies and platinum that was owned by Marlene Dietrich.

To learn more about “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” and “Get Set in Style” Facebook Application, visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org/exhibitions/set-in-style and http://www.facebook.com/cooperhewitt, respectively.

Spring-Summer Trunk Show and Sales

Nigerian designer Wayne Illuyomade is among the growing ranks in the rag trade who are marrying African prints with nonAfrican shapes to create some supersharp snappy outfits with his House Rossil label. (See http://www.bit.ly/pjdNqg). On Saturday in New York, House Rossil is having a trunk show for those in the market for a discount, starting at around 20 percent. Visit site at http://www.houserossil.com/ ...

At Diavolina’s in Los Angeles the spring/summer sale is on! Through the end of July, shoppers can have the likes of Alexander Wang, Helmut Lang, Chloe, 3.1 Phillip Lim and more for 30 percent to 50 percent off the full price (not the sale price). This sale is good instore and online. Visit site at www.shopdiavolina.com

Matched by Diavolina is Madison Los Angeles with 30 percent to 50 percent off spring/summer full-priced merchandise. Instore and onlilne shoppers can add to their wardrobes Alexander, Helmut, Chloe and others, including Stella!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(McCartney). Visit site at http://www.madisonlosangeles.com/.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Identifying Friends and Enemies in Food World

The most successful diets are ones that are tailor-made for each individual. Photo from Dreamstime.

By JANET COOK, NYC Healthy Chick

IT
was after attending a health counseling school that I was able to stop fighting with my food and lifestyle.

Once I made the connection between my depression, weight gain and out-of-balance lifestyle it was apparent that I needed change.

There are hundreds of dietary theories. Each way of eating is right and can be scientifically proved to make sense. We are bio-individuals, which means one person's food is another person's poison. It is important that we understand that we are depressed and gaining weight because our food and lifestyle are out of balance. Prioritizing to prevent these outcomes isn't as complicated as it may seem. Not only will it reverse weight gain, it will change moods, relationships and the future for the better.

Of course, making the decision to change was the first action step for me, as it is for everyone. Sometimes, the hardest part for most is to create a realistic gameplan, then to consistently implement healthy new habits.

As we all know, life and bad habits undermine the best intentions. Believe it or not, NYC Healthy Chick still has some challenges with living in balance. Every day I have to look at what is causing the imbalances that adversely affect my mood, energy, relationships and daily life.

A red, white and blue salad might be just what the body needs for breakfast. Photo from Whole Foods Market.

Last week, I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with a friend whom I was visiting in Virginia. In the past I would have declined the invitation graciously, but my inner health coach said, "Yeah, I'd love to go." The hour I spent listening to the group-shares was truly inspiring. Hearing about their daily struggles with sobriety while achieving balance in their lives gave me a greater awareness and insight into human behavior. Interestingly enough, there were several cups of Starbucks Coffee and packs of cigarettes within reach of many. This is a common practice in recovery programs, I learned, to replace one unhealthy habit with another kind of addiction.

After attending that meeting, I began evaluating my current and past use of alcohol. I humbly asked my friend, who is both an AA sponsor and health coach, whether she thought I had a problem with alcohol. We both agreed alcohol wasn't an issue, rather I may have an addictive personality that is triggered by emotional and physical imbalances. In turn, these cause me to overeat. Whew! This was a relief or was it really? Some days I feel like the women in the commercial having an internal dialogue while standing in front of the fridge. Ever have this internal fight with food? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3wzkKs0TOTs).

A few weeks ago I introduced my health coaching principle, Joy Begins at H.O.M.E. (http://www.bit.ly/ka8Cpl). Practice this principle daily and you will become mindful of what's missing in your life and what is causing imbalances. When these areas are unbalanced they don't sustain our energy; chances are food and beverages are used improperly to spike sagging energy levels. The result is an adverse effect on the mood, relationships and destiny. Not sure of the culprits? Use the 12-Step Program as a guide; in the steps replace the word alcohol with food or anything suspected of causing an imbalance. The 12-Step Program may be a path to stopping or unlearning compulsive or addictive behaviors. (http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-step_program).

Trying to find the proper balance is the key to healthy living. Photo from Glycointl.

Tony Robbins is a favorite life-mastery guru. In the video below he recounts what happened when he hired a golf pro to help him improve his game. On the first day Tony hit the ball all over the place, displaying a lot of power if not accuracy. The next day the instructor showed Tony how to make some slight, yet critical changes in the way he hit the ball. These minor shifts quickly improved Tony's game. Within minutes he sent the ball sailing out onto the green. Just as Tony’s golf game improved with minor adjustments, so can one’s relationship with food – from waking time until bedtime. Imagine the impact this can have on all areas of life. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bH89Eka_MCM&feature=BFp&list=WLDFD8715D1AF981B9&index=2)

One such adjustment is NYC Healthy Chick's Breakfast Experiment. Eat a different breakfast every day for a week. (See a week of my favorites below). Jot down what you eat and how you feel, both right after eating and again two hours later. Sit quietly in reflection after you eat. Note how your energy level, moods and physical being are affected by the food. You may discover from this exercise that you are unusually sensitive to certain foods. A food sensitivity or allergy may be the body’s way of telling you to eating foods more appropriate for your general well-being.

Quinoa Egg Bake is not only a different way to enjoy eggs, it is hearty. Photo from Whole Foods Market.

I've discovered that my body responds best to a breakfast protein shake, eggs, fresh vegetables and oatmeal. My favorites such as pancakes, French toast, bagels, box cereals, muffins and fruit cause my mood to elevate, then come crashing down shortly afterward. Now, I stay away from them. Keep in mind that every body is different. Our bodies are high-tech computers that are good at telling us what is wrong if we really take the time to listen.

With that in mind, try my seven-day breakfast plan and make adjustments after the seven days where needed.
Day 1: Eggs any style – Quinoa Egg Bake
http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2309
Day 2: Scrambled Tofu
http://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/scrambled-tofu/detail.aspx
Day 3: Oatmeal or any grain product
Day 4: Boxed breakfast cereal with milk
Day 5: Muffin and coffee
Day 6: Fresh fruit – Red, White and Blue Fruit Salad
http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2984
Day 7: Fresh vegetables

What about scrambled tofu for breakfast? Tofu is a good substitute for those with egg allergies. Photo from All Recipes.

Imagine life – living in balance every day, feeling happier, healthier and more joyous. What if one conversation could change your life for the better? Struggling with imbalances that are both emotional and physical? Perhaps it's time to speak with a health coach like me. Let's have a chat about how you can start making changes.

Remember, in the words of Virgil, "The greatest wealth is health."

Contact NYC Healthy Chick at janet@nychealthychick.com or 347-306-8864 to set up a free consultation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Action ... Lights: 'Spider-Man: Turns Off the Dark'

Arch rivals Green Goblin (Patrick Page) and Spider-Man (Reeve Carney) locked in combat in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Photos by Jacob Cohl.

BY TAMARA BECK

AFTER
six months of tryouts and rewrites, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” turned on the lights a week ago today at a much anticipated and delayed opening night that brought out big Broadway and big Hollywood names.

Rewrites have clarified the story and in some cases oversimplified the plot. The pleasingly tangled web of mythology that places Arachne (T.V. Carpio) in a jealous wrangle with Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano) for Peter Parker’s (Reeve Carney) affections is no more. Gone, too, is the cutely named but annoying Geek Chorus – the four nerdy teens who ushered in the scenes. The story of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” now has to stand and fall on its own.

It’s a lot safer in the Foxwoods Theatre since “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” was revamped by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (co-book writer) along with Glen Berger, (an original co-book writer), and director Philip Wm. McKinley who was brought in as a consultant. Though Julie Taymor was forced out, she is still listed as director and co-book writer. Chase Brock came aboard to enhance Daniel Ezralow’s already breathtaking choreography.
(See a video at http://www.spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com/about#num=content-1074&id=album-9)

Reeve Carney as the man himself in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

Several dance sequences left over from the original are the ethereal aerial weaving scene, “Behold and Wonder,” which features Arachne&Co. swinging on a loom, as well as the lively “Bullying By the Numbers.”

Also remaining are aerial adventures, including the very satisfying fight scene between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man, and wonderful scenery from JT’s original exciting but muddled vision of the play. “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has been tamed and toned down.

In the musical, Peter Parker acquires his spider powers slowly after he is bitten by a genetically altered spider in Norman Osborn’s (Patrick Page) lab. “Bouncing Off The Walls,” not only describes Peter’s transition to spider super powers, but is also an ode to teen hormones. Norman becomes arch-villain The Green Goblin immediately with a few mis-turns of the dial and a short spin in a gene blender of a machine.

Spider-Man (Reeve Carney) has a tender moment with Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano) in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

PP’s Green Goblin is a compelling rival for RC’s indecisive and slightly bland Spider-Man. In fact, PP enlivens the production with his utterly delightful, outsized and cartoonish wickedness.

Mythologizing is what superhero comic book fantasies do. “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” however, is timid in its myth-making, with a circus-tent feel that will please the kids and fans of the Spider-Man comics, if no one else.

To be clear, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” which is big news because of the creative team changes and the exorbitant cost of the drawn-out production, is definitely fun. It just isn’t big news as a Broadway musical.

Visit http://www.spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com/ to learn more about “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Juneteenth: Thank God Almighty … Free at Last

A show of unity with the U.S. flag and the Juneteenth flag.

THE world has the great state of Texas to thank for any number of events, commendable and dubious.

In the former category is Juneteenth aka Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, which was spawned by something in the latter category.

These days commemorate 19 June 1865 when Union soldiers gained control of and imposed order and secured the freedom of the slaves in the Lonestar State. Heretofore, Confederate soldiers were holding down the joint, interfering with the freedom of the slaves nominally covered under the Emancipation Proclamation, amongst other offenses.

Old Abe had signed his executive order way back on 1 Jan. 1863, but Texas was … how to put it … recalcitrant. Freed slaves in other states could not really celebrate until their Texas brethren were emancipated, too. Of course the complete abolition of slavery was not official until the dawn of the Thirteenth Amendment. It took effect in December 1865.

All these years later, many states in the USA count Juneteenth as a holiday. And lest anyone is confused or disinterested, it is a day that all Americans should celebrate, for if one of us is in bondage we are all in bondage, no?

One could go on and on about why Juneteenth deserves a celebration, but Dr. Charles Taylor, down to a letter, makes the case rather poignantly. (http://www.bit.ly/l0wFYi)

An image from the "Emancipation Day Celebration Photo Exhibit" at the George Washington Carver Branch Library in Austin, Texas. Photo from Austin History Center.

J – Juneteenth represents the joy of freedom – the chance for a new beginning.
U – Unless we expose the truth about the African-American slave experience, Americans won't be truly free.
N – Never must we forget our ancestors' endurance of one of the worst slave experiences in human history.
E – Every American has benefitted from the wealth blacks created through more than 200 years of free labor and Juneteenth allows us to acknowledge that debt.
T – To encourage every former slave-holding state to follow Texas' (and Oklahoma's) example and make Juneteenth a state holiday.
E – Everyday in America, blacks are reminded of the legacy of slavery. Juneteenth counters that by reminding us of the promise of deliverance.
E – Even on the journey to discover who we are, Juneteenth allows us to reflect on where we've been, where we're at and where we're going as a people.
N – Never give up hope is the legacy our enslaved ancestors left. It was this legacy that produced black heroism in the Civil War and helped launch the modern civil rights era. It is this legacy we celebrate.
T – To proclaim for all the world to hear, that human rights must never again become subservient to property rights.
H – History books have only told a small part of the story; Juneteenth gives us a chance to set the record straight.

Visit the links below to learn about Juneteenth celebrations around the country:
http://www.riversidejuneteenth.org/
http://www.juneteenthofbuffalo.com/
http://www.roundrocktexas.gov/
http://www.juneteenthcentraltexas.com/
www.cityofaustin.org/library
http://www.juneteenthsanmarcos.com/
http://www.georgetown.org/
http://www.liftevryvoice.com/2010/12/june-19th-juneteenth/
http://www.centraldistrictnews.com/2011/06/08/2011-juneteenth-celebration-this-weekend-at-pratt-park

A Muddle of a ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo’

Robin Williams as a big cat and Brad Fleischer and Glenn Davis as marines tasked with guarding him in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” Photos by Carol Rosegg.

BY TAMARA BECK

“BENGAL Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”
is a lot of nonsense, much of it seriously entertaining. The play purports to be about war and the evils it brings.

Unfortunately Rajiv Joseph’s Broadway debut, running at the Richard Rogers Theatre through 3 July, unveils metaphysics as sloppy as its plotlines. The play centers on the wanderings of a dead Tiger (Robin Williams, also in his Broadway debut) through the streets of Baghdad circa 2003.

When Tom (Glenn Davis), one of the marines guarding the zoo, loses his arm to the bite of the Tiger, fellow marine Kev (Brad Fleischer) kills the Tiger. Kev is then haunted by the Tiger who is searching for meaning. “I’m dead,” he asserts, “why am I still here?”

Robin Williams is uncertain about his state of being in "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.”

As in his recent off-Broadway foray, “Gruesome Playground Injuries” (see review at http://www.bit.ly/m4XQqX), RJ seems to want to be outrageous with an emphasis on the extreme and unlikely.

The Tiger, who claims all tigers are atheists, is suddenly wondering about sin and redemption. As “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” unfolds, it is apparent that everyone is lost and beyond redemption.

Perhaps with the exception of RW, whose angry comic timing is low key and superbly barbed, the actors don’t seem to know whether the play is worthy of their efforts. (Hint: not.) They work hard at selling this material as if it were making a salient, coherent point. (See video at http://http//www.bit.ly/mNbzKB)

While modestly entertaining, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” like the dying topiaries in Musa’s garden, is as senseless as war itself.

Visit http://www.bengaltigeronbroadway.com/ to learn more about “Bengal Tiger At the Baghdad Zoo.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From Land of Contrasts, Turkish Delight in a Bottle

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. Photo by Stephen Eastop.

BY TAMARA FISH

IS Turkish delight delightful, anyone?
Some think so. Personally, I find the confection smells better than it tastes. I like my roses before my eyes and not on my tongue, thank you very much. But then again, I find that beer smells better than it tastes, too. Who am I to say?

What about Turkish wine?
Now there’s something that’s delightful. Tongue-twisting consonant-congo-line names notwithstanding, Turkish wines show strong potential.

As part of the much promised wRICO commission to break the accidental French wine mafia (http://www.bit.ly/m3ooH0), we at Grape: Wine Talk are proud to introduce our readers to liquid Turkish delight: exquisite wine varietals of Turkey.

TURKEY: A LAND OF COMPLEXITY
A predominantly Muslim country producing wine? Welcome to Turkey, the land of complexity, if not outright contradictions. Turkey: the secular Moslem state. Turkey: the land of East meeting West. Turkey: the land of volcanic soil, dry climate, cool nights. Turkey: one of the top 10 grape producers in the world.

Turkey can’t help producing wines. With more than 1000 indigenous grapes, wine will flow from them there vats. Not to produce wines would simply be silly. From ancient times to the Ottoman Empire’s elegant decadence to today’s modern era, wine has always been a part of its history. Christian and Jewish communities in Turkey often made and served wine, and in the spirit of cosmopolitan Byzantine and Ottoman style, diversity was welcomed and embraced. That openness to difference extends to this day. Ataturk, the founder of the modern secular Muslim state, founded Turkey’s first commercial winery in the 1920s.

Three reds from Klavaklidere, one of Turkey's main wine producers. Photo from WikiCommons.

All that is beginning to change.

The International Turkish Wine Scene
During the past 20 years, Turkish wines have slowly begun to creep onto the international scene. Just last May, a series of Turkish wines wowed critics (http://www.bit.ly/rffjWl) at the London International Wine Fair, reminding one and all of Turkey’s long and distinctive wine traditions. Turkish producers have also gotten rather savvy, seeking entree into European markets by selling primarily to restaurants, especially those which Michelin stars. Create a buzz in the dining world, and the people will buy it for their tables and parties at home.

Now Turkish wines are finding their way into wine boutiques as an exotic find.

Well-Worth Wrestling With the Name: Turkish Varietals
While Turkey has begun to cultivate the more familiar varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, a few of its own indigenous wines are the ones we’ll focus on today: Sultana, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere and Öküzgözü.

White wine:
Sultana
Take a Californian Chardonnay produced without much sweetness at all and add a crispness that most Chards hope to have. That’s Sultana. Surprising, actually, since its kissing-cousin, the Thompson seedless grape, is the basis for many California white raisins. With little sugar added in its production, Sultana creates stateliness without pretension. Perfect for fish and cheeses on a hot summer day.

Turkey, highlighted in red, is not known for its wines. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

Red wines:
Kalecik Karası
One of the loveliest wines on the planet, Kalecik Karası drinks like a dream. Imagine a light red wine with a hint of vanilla. Not too much. Just an unexpected flavor at the end of a sip (smooth finish).

Boğazkere
Its inky-purple hue hints at the complexity to come. Sit down, shut up, and take notice, Boğazkere declares. Boğazkere combines the best of a dry wine (typically not sweet) with hearty fruit (not typically found in a dry wine). Imagine biting into a very flavorful fig, but remove the sugar. The essence of fig remains. Now add heft. Make this wine substantial (oaky). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself contemplating the origins of the universe. This is a deep wine. So deep, in fact, that Boğazkere is often blended with sweeter fruiter wines to lighten up the taste. A favorite table wine in Turkey, Buzbag – yes, that really is the name – is produced from such a blend. But why tinker with a good think? Be bold. Drink Boğazkere straight, no chaser. Just fasten your seatbelt beforehand.

Öküzgözü
Think of the word as being the name of a heavy metal band, and you’ll probably do just fine with the pronunciation: OHH-kuz-GO-zoo. Think of this grape as a tango between a Merlot and a Zinfandel. Jammy and juicy all the way, with more than a touch of sweetness. Now think of traditional Mediterranean fare of grilled vegetables, rich tomato sauces, eggplant, eggplant, eggplant, and roasted meat. Is it any wonder that Okuzgozu is one of the most popular grapes in Turkey? If summer means grilling, Okuzgozu is a wine that will pair well with any dish.

Kavaklidere wines pair nicely with stuffed grapes leaves (dolma). Photo from My Recipes.

Worried that the names will escape you? Makes sense. Let’s substitute some easier ones instead. Chances are if you come across Turkish wine in a fine wine boutique outside of Asia Minor, Kavaklidere or Doluca will be the producer.

Turks and Frogs
To taste these delicious drinks does require a bit of creativity. For those in the New York metropolitan area, Turks and Frogs (http://www.bit.ly/mX5M4u), a wonderful little Turkish-French fusion restaurant in NYC’s West Village, often offers Turkish Wine Seminars, not to be missed. Kaya Kurtisoglu, a very knowlegable, very helpful sommelier, guided me through Turkish varietals very gingerly. We tasted several Kavaklidere wines paired with excellent stuffed grapes leaves (dolma), babaganoush, and other Turkish delicacies:

Angora
Sultana de Denizli 2008
$12

One whiff and one would think this white wine to be a Chardonnay (nose), but the first sip shows something much far less sweet. Tart, crisp, but not overpowering (not fruit-forward), the wine barely lingers and then disappears (clean finish). A great bottle to pop open with friends for a casual summer dinner.

Ancyra
Kalecik Karası 2009
$18 (Kahn’s Fine Wines & Spirits,
http://www.bit.ly/iTGqK4)
Now this was a first: a red wine that smelled so good I almost didn’t want to drink it (strong nose)! Imagine vanilla and cinnamon wafting up from the glass. Kalecik Karası is somewhat fruity, but the hint of spices keeps it from becoming cloying. Waiting after sipping releases a slight light molasses aftertaste (finish). An unusual wine that could even make grilled vegetables exciting.

Angora wines have a Chardonnay nose, but the similarities end there. Photo courtesy of Foods of Turkey.

Yakut
Öküzgözü d’Elazig 2009
$15 (on sale, $12 International Wine Shop,
http://www.bit.ly/pxdVXp)
Labelled Öküzgözü, the red wine is actually a blend of Öküzgözü, Boğazkere and Carignan. Imagine a well-made aethetically pleasing quilt, the colors of which work together to create a seamless whole. That’s what’s happened here. Öküzgözü offers its sweet jammy black cherry (very fruit forward), Boğazkere anchors the flavor with spices and heartiness (nutmeg, fig, and oak), and Carignan weaves it all together. Imagine a Beaujoulais on steroids; an unusual wine worth exploring. Perfect for Mediterranean fare and not-so-sweet barbecue.

Locating Liquid Turkish Delight
The local wine store might not carry Turkish wines, but Whole Foods has been known to do so. In fact, a Whole Foods just outside Cleveland, OH even stocked Kavaklidere a few years ago. Imagine that. From the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame to exotic Turkish wines. Who knew?

Another option is to go online. (Oh, how in the world did we ever live in the days before e-commerce!). Simply click on the links near the descriptions to have the wine shipped to your door).

Next up: Special Independence Day Edition: Rosé for the Red, White and Blue.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Both Broadway and Tony Awards Should Take a Bow

Joshua Henry as Haywood Patterson and the company of "The Scottsboro Boys." The controversial musical had a short Broadway run but will soon be going on tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

BY TAMARA BECK

THE American Theatre Wing’s 65th Annual Tony Awards
was a sparkling and spectacular infomercial for Broadway, not that the Great White Way needs much publicity these days. Ticket sales for the 2010-11 season were more than $1 billion, and the theatre-going public chose from 42 new productions.

More important, however, than box office grosses, the quality of the product this past season was superb. So much so, that in some awards categories, the losers were at least as exciting as the winners. Of course, one should be prepared for some disappointments – it’s an awards show, after all. The ceremonies, however, were anything but disappointing.

Tony host Neil Patrick Harris was an impassioned and convincing pitchman. A high point of his act was the duet with Hugh Jackman, host of Tonys past. It was full of uproariously funny vaudevillian patter. Though the show was a hard sell of Broadway, it was blessed with a lot more showing than telling. Segments from all the nominated musicals demonstrated the magic of the stage in the best possible light.

Mark Rylance won a much deserved Tony for his role in "Jerusalem." Photo by Simon Annand.

Among the winners was “War Horse,” which trotted off with five Tonys, including one for Best Play. It was not the favorite of this reviewer, however. That honor goes to Stephen Adly Guirgis’ elegiac “The Motherf**’ker With The Hat.” (See review at http://www.bit.ly/jYPDhJ).

Every line in the text of the play whispers that it is a classic new American drama. It also would have been nice if Elizabeth Rodriguez and Yul Vazquez had left with Tonys for Best Performance By An Actress In A Featured Role In A Play and Best Performance By An Actor In A Featured Role In A Play, respectively.

No disappointment where Mark Rylance is concerned. It is thrilling that he took home a Tony – his second – for Best Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role In A Play for his work in Jez Butterworth’s astoundingly-written downmarket drama, “Jerusalem.” He portrays Johnny “Rooster” Byron with all his verve and sinew and was nothing short of brilliant. MR always gives his prodigious all, even in the egregious “La Bete” in which he starred earlier this season. (See review at http://www.bit.ly/kDf6xE).

Bobby Cannavale and Elizabeth Rodriguez in “The Motherf**ker With The Hat.” All three were overlooked when the Tonys were handed out. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Meanwhile, who thought “The Book of Mormon” would win big? Duh, everyone. (See review at http://www.bit.ly/jeTY9w). Out of 14 nominations, it got nine Tony wins, including Best Musical. Incidentally, bravo to Nikki M. James who captivatingly savored her win for Best Featured Actress In A Musical and refused to leave the stage until she finished her thank-yous.

Note to everyone, the little-seen and excellent “The Scottsboro Boys” received 12 nods despite its abbreviated run, and yes, no wins. (See review at http://www.bit.ly/lNqW29). On a happy note, Don Cheadle, who introduced the performance segment from musical, had welcome news for its champions: “The Scottsboro Boys” will soon be on tour!

The biggest winner of the night? Without a doubt, Broadway.

‘City Love Song’: Around Town and Now Around the World

Jack Finnegan has taken his "City Love Song" abroad. Photo by Nina Segal.

Jack Finnegan, an amiable young man, left his job and apartment to become a rover.

He chronicles his wanderings around the United States by rail in “City Love Song,” recently at the Americas Off Broadway Festival at the 59E59 Theaters (http://www.59e59.org). Like his ramblings, the sometimes poetic descriptions of the U.S. cities he visited, drift.

The New York show ended last month, but JF has taken his show on the international. After stops in stops in Rio de Janeiro and Casablanca, he opens in Berlin tomorrow through 21 June. Other stops include:

Istanbul, Turkey: 21-28 June
Cape Town, South Africa: 28 June – 5 July
New Delhi, India: 7 July – 11 July
Shanghai, China: 11 July – 18 July


Visit www.citylovesong.com to learn more about Jack Finnegan and follow his “City Love Song” project.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tracy Reese Celebrates Five Years in Style, of Course

June Ambrose (left) and Tika Sumpter (right) helped Tracy Reese (center) celebrate the fifth anniversary of her flagship store (right photo). Photos by Getty Images.

AT Tracy Reese, five looks rather fetching – that is her New York City flagship store, which is 4+1 and going strong in a weak economy. The designer is rather fetching, too, particularly in a white, halter-top maxi dress.

Last night, TR celebrated the milestone at her Meatpacking District location with cupcakes, libations, well-wishers and famous/semi-famous friends, including Veronica Webb, Tika Sumpter (“Gossip Girl”), Tinsley Mortimer.

Shoppers at the Tracy Reese store party peruse the stock.

Other party favors: a 25 percent discount on summer stock, and a portion of
proceeds from the night’s sales set aside for New York City Aids Fund (http://www.nycommunitytrust.org/).

Happy Birthday, Tracy Reese (boutique), and many more!

GUESS Launches Two Fragrances and One John Legend

John Legend performs for a captive audience at the Standard Hotel. Photo from Getty Images.

THE young crowd of beautiful people rubbing shoulders last night in the erstwhile Boom Boom Room on the 18th floor of the Standard Hotel were there to toast the launch of two fragrances from GUESS: Seductive I’m Yours for women and Seductive Homme for men. Patience, they won't be available until September. That was reason enough for a party. Of course, the near 360-degree spectacular views, including parts of Manhattan and Jersey are always a reason to celebrate in this room at the Standard. Taking the icing and the cake, though, was the surprise six-song set by John Legend ... More shortly.

Behold ... A Fashion Icon, According to Anna and (CFDA)

Lady Gaga is the 2011 recipient of the Fashion Icon Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Photo from CFDA.

ONE has to give it to her, Lady Gaga knows how to set sartorial tongues awagging. Meet Queen Elizabeth of England got up in a red latex Elizabethan-era gown; show your swagger in a frock of faux meat, though the fiction still persists that it was real.

Wear any number of way/far over-the-top get-ups in a world where everyone has a camera, Web site and an opinion and you will get noticed by a lot of people, including those who run the fashion world. That would be Anna Wintour and the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designer of America) – in that order

At Monday night’s CFDA awards, the Lady herself was awarded the Fashion Icon Award. Yes, she was. Seems rather premature doesn’t it? … More shortly
 
Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at vevlynspen.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at vevlyn@yahoo.com.