I saw “Present Laughter”



What I saw: “Present Laughter,” a revival of a Noël Coward play, starring Kevin Kline at the St. James Theater on West  44th Street in Manhattan.



What I did beforehand: dinner at the upscale and modern Chinese restaurant Hakkasan at 311 W 43rd St. Some reviews dismiss it as being part of a chain. Pre-theater dinner options are limited, and this place is very good. Show up early and grab cocktails in the bar.


Something I ate: hot and sour soup with chicken and chocolate passion fruit dessert 

What I wore: a weird combination of a new sweater and tweed skirt, with tights. I should have worn wool tights, but I don’t have black ones. And a black Barbour down coat that is too tight in the arms and shoulders when worn over a sweater. 


Who went with me: the Bacon Provider and a lot of eager Kevin Kline fans.


How I got tickets: online, from Ticketmaster. Alas, they require you to pay quite a bit extra to get physical tickets, so I had to do the print-at-home deal. My preferred plan is to pick up tickets at will-call, so I don’t have to wait for them to come in the mail, store them, and remember to bring them. An 8 1/2 by 11” sheet of paper from my computer’s printer with a bar code and some boxes of text describing the event is no substitute for actual tickets. Real tickets are memorabilia. E-tickets are trash.


Why I saw this show: I grew up in the same suburban St. Louis neighborhood as Kevin Kline, and back in the 80s I thought he was hilarious and brilliant.


Where I sat: Mezzanine Row A, seat 109, between my husband and a distracting woman who took up a lot of oxygen if not space.


Things that were sad: the acoustics were meh. I think the play would be better in a slightly smaller venue. 

Things that were funny: the chain-smoking Swedish housekeeper, the aggressive Trump-style injurious handshake of the wacky playwright, the baby-men business partners, slamming doors, ringing phones and doorbells. Kevin Kline is still hilarious and brilliant. What a joy to see great physical comedy live on stage. 

Things that were not funny: the actor who played the secretary seems to have been injured in the first act, and was wearing a bandage on her left wrist in the second act. The coffee that was served onstage over and over was said to taste like curry but in my excellent seats I could see plainly that it was water.   


What it is: another vehicle for an aging-but-vibrant actor; also a funny mid-20th Century farce from a true master of the genre about an aging-but-vibrant actor. 

Who should see it:  backstage comedy devotees, Kate Burton buffs, dressing gown enthusiasts, forties fashion fanciers, fools for redheads, Matt Bittner freaks, Ellen Harvey hounds, latchkey lovers, hat mavens, Noël Coward nuts, suckers for the mellifluous baritone of Peter Francis James, Reg Rogers regulars, Kristine Nielsen groupies; admirers of Tedra Millan (it’s her Broadway debut), Kevin Kline cultists, disciples of Cobie Smulders, and Bhavesh Patel boosters.


What I saw on the way home: jackhammers


I saw "Hold On to Me Darling"

What I saw: “Hold on to me Darling” at the Atlantic Theater on W 20th St., off-broadway (or, off-off-Broadway) in Chelsea, NYC

What I wore: James jeans, black suede Puma sneakers, black Brooks Brothers no-iron cotton blouse, black Zara cardigan with self-tie that I’ve had for ages and is the only item I’ve ever bought from Zara that didn’t fall apart after one wearing; 90s scarf from my mother, who died 12 years and a couple of days ago; tan Barbour jacket.

Two Trinity Kumquat Saisons


What I did beforehand: stared in silence as I saw Joe Tippet and Theo Stockman on their way to their respective theaters; went to the crowded mall that is Chelsea Market for a sandwich, and may or may not have actually seen Ira Glass; waited for the show and had two Trinity Kumquat Saisons at a place called Cooper’s while we took the place of the most famous people in the back bar; noticed that some young people of legal drinking age appear not to be old enough to hold job.

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Who went with me: my good friend W., who should continue to come see a play with me once a month.

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How I got tickets: online, full-price

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Why I saw this show: because it was written by Kenneth Lonergan 

Where I sat: Row G, seat 11


Things that were sad: though billed as a comedy, this play is filled with bittersweet moments about mid-life ennui, about the decline of the American middle class, about grief and mourning, about overcoming the loss of a less-than-perfect parent, and about bad decisions.

Things that were funny: Lonergan’s writing has the kind of humor that isn’t so much about laying down the rhythm track of  peals of audience laughter as it is about teasing out a ballad of muffled guffaws.

Things that were not funny: a guitar is injured in the performance.

What it is: a well-crafted and satisfying funny play, in two acts, with a fifteen minute intermission.

Who should see it: fans of hearing brilliant dialog and reasonably accurate Missouri and Tennessee accents.

What I saw on the way home: the uptown E was waiting for us, doors open.

I saw "Avenue Q"

I had this idea that if I gave myself a more structured assignment for writing in 2016 it would be easier. I am a bubbling fountain of ideas that are theoretically valid and probably actually ridiculous. Maybe like it’s a chocolate milk fountain.
My goal is to see a show in New York every week, and post on Thursdays. Or, almost every week, because you never know. Do I need to explain why a chocolate milk fountain is a bad idea? Stickiness and spoilage are probably the two primary reasons. These might come in handy as reasons why almost any of my ideas is bad. Or should I say, “are bad?”

What I saw: Avenue Q
What I wore: dirty jeans and Danner boots
What I did beforehand: ate ramen
Who went with me: the Graduate
How I got tickets: online, the day before, full price
Why I saw this show: because people ask me if I’ve seen it
Where did I sit: the front row, on the end. It was a bit too close because the puppets never made eye-contact with us.
Things that were sad: (see end)
Things that were funny: (see end)
Things that were not funny: the character whose main comedic attribute was her Asian accent, or her two master’s degrees, or her name; the gentle joy of puppets talking about racism amongst friends, as if white supremacy was a Whoopsy!-side-effect rather than the product of hundreds of years of coordinated oppressive effort.
But, hey, whatev. You can have drinks during the show.
The theater (New World Stages) is in a “Cineplex beaten into a theaterplex;” it has two bars, plenty of women’s bathrooms (I shouldn’t have to comment about this, but I will), and the ambiance of a Futureland amusement park gift shop lobby.
What it is: a funny, snarky musical, conceived about 12 years ago, masterfully executed by a lively cast of talented singing actors, some of whom can do puppets, and a couple of whom can do one puppet and voice another puppet also onstage at the same time. Lots of singing pop songs about the indignities of young adulthood, with puppets. Avenue Q is set on an imaginary street in a make-believe Brooklyn-ish place and has simulated sex acts between puppets and puppet nudity, and some cussing, but not, like, a whole fucking lot of it.

Who should see it: grown-up people who like funny musicals, and people who don’t know what schadenfreude is.
While we laughed a lot, I left feeling like the show is a little dated, though certainly not in subject matter. None of the young people portrayed carried a smartphone all the time, and I felt like the show was missing a song about Snapchat or Tinder.
One of the women next to us has seen it three times. At intermission, her guest pinched the cocktail waiter on the butt, and then told him she needed to pinch the other side so it wouldn’t be jealous. He had a man-bun and a smartphone in his hand, with one of those white square dongles for paying by credit-card swipe, and as he slid past another row of potential customers, uttered the best line of the night, to people behind me, who were not ordering drinks: “It’s ok. I see you’re carefully avoiding eye-contact.”

"Parenting Your Preschooler"

Sending our kids to a cooperative preschool meant we went to monthly parent meetings and sometimes we had a parent educator. I remember that we had one named Fran and another one who was Not Fran. I don’t remember if this story is about Fran or Not Fran. Fran had short hair and a dry, academic way about her. Children seemed like unwanted and unexpected carbonation in her drink as they bubbled about the classroom, her fingers twitching in reaction. As irritated as Fran seemed by the presence of children, she seemed even more undone by parents, especially those with a lot of questions. Not Fran had a mop of curly hair and warm eyes and a sultry overnight radio DJ voice. Not Fran liked to say understanding things about parents and children having clashing personalities. Both were prone to silences and somewhat grave. They attended every other parent meeting and we received parent education from them. I was a coop preschool parent for many years, something like seven or ten, and I remember well only one parent education lecture.
January-ish, 1991
Taken in the subway in New York City
Me, with my oldest child
Even though this story is about my youngest, it would 
take me weeks to find a photo of me with me youngest, 
if I have one at all. Back then, when we were still using 
film, and it was our third kid, the photo-taking didn’t 
happen very often.

This one evening, I had had a long day. My youngest child was only a couple of months old and had had a whole set of shots that day. He was still nursing so he came along to the parent meeting. That evening, he was uncomfortable from the shots, and very fussy. We did our regular meeting business about upcoming field trips, snack schedule, and changes in classroom procedure, and I had to step away from the group to attend to my cranky infant. Finally, I got him quiet in my arms and I tiptoed back to the group.
The parent educator, Fran or Not Fran sat forward on the sofa, her knees tightly together, her materials in a messy stack on the coffee table in front of her. Parents sat all around her, in the living room chairs, on the sofa arm, in dining room chairs they’d pulled in.
Fran or Not Fran was speaking in a quiet monotone on a subject that had everyone’s attention. All eyes were on her. She was methodically explaining that the technique she proposed relieves stress for both kids and parents, makes for more fluid communication, and models emotional resilience. Because I hadn’t heard what the subject was, I was having trouble following her. She droned on for a while.
  
When the parents started asking questions, I tried piecing together what she was talking about. I took my attention from Fran or Not Fran to the other parents. They were concerned, serious, reflecting on the topic. There was not even a half-smile to indicate the topic of discussion: they were talking about using humor in parenting. 
I did what I always do in awkward situations: tried to be funny. Just to get things rolling, I asked, “I’m sorry. What are we talking about?”
Fran or Not Fran turned to me, saying gently, “Using humor in parenting.”
“Oh,” I said. “Does it come in a refillable pump spray?”

No one laughed. The other parents looked confused. Fran or Not Fran looked mildly annoyed.

"Funny"

My husband is said to be the funniest man in his whole family, but all of his siblings are doctors in rather unfunny specialties, so how funny is that? Also, he really gets annoyed when I explain something he did by saying, “He’s the funniest man in his whole family.”
The perfect selfie: 
taken while sitting on the toilet on an airplane
Whether I am funny is a question I find hard to answer. I said I was funny on the first day of my writing class at the New School about a year ago, and my writing teacher asked me to clarify. “Oh, you’re funny?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, trying to be funny.
It wasn’t funny.
There are several ways to measure funny, like if you get a laugh, or even if you get a snort or a smirk or a smile. On Twitter you might get favorite stars or retweets. On Facebook you get “likes.” Sometimes west coast audiences clap for good jokes, instead of laughing.
When I used to teach night classes at the University of Utah, sometimes I had as many as 110 students. Ok, they didn’t all show up all the time, but I used to like to say that if you’re a math teacher and you can get a laugh in a room full of bored undergrads, you feel like you’re Johnny Carson.
Should I say Ellen DeGeneres now? Louis C.K.? Tina Fey? Back then, it felt like Johnny Carson. It was the 80s, you know.
Anyway, I was at a fancy party with the Bacon Provider, and while he was fetching drinks and tiny plates of hors d’oeuvres I found myself talking to a suit-wearing finance guy from a large media company. I have no memory of what I was talking about. Sometimes I just talk. I can do it without thinking. I can talk about dogs or cats or horses or children, about St. Louis or pure mathematics or Seattle, about figure skating parents or ultimate Frisbee, or Twitter or non-profit and governmental accounting, about skiing in the 1970s. I have stories from my childhood about crows, imaginary friends, and not eating mixtures of foods. I tell stories about being a math teacher. It could have been any of these, or something else.
As the Bacon Provider walked away for more drinks, the suit-wearing finance guy from a large media company said, “I know your husband, and he’s a nice guy and all, but you, you’re really funny.”
I probably smiled and nodded, with my eyebrows all the way up.
“No,” he continued, “really funny.”
Now. At the time I took it as an awkward moment at a party. But sometimes on Twitter I get mistaken for a guy. Not because I get called “Bro,” or “Dude,” because my kids and former students did that. Because I get wished a Happy Father’s Day. I keep my avi the same: a cartoon monster drawn a long time ago by my youngest child. I tweet about stuff I’m interested in. Some people can’t tell my gender from that. I’m A-OK if people don’t know my gender.
Really, I find it amusing, as I do almost everything. I think if you can’t find life funny you’re fucked.
There is another kind of funny, like funny meaning odd. I have the strangest feeling that I’ve written this essay before. That’s a funny feeling. Funny meaning odd.
My writing teacher pointed at me a few months ago and indicated that she wanted me to read next. “You,” she said, forgetting my name. “You, with the funny hair.”
Why do I get to be congratulated for being funny? Is it because I’m known to be unemployed? Is it because I’m a middle-aged-mom-type?  Is it because women aren’t thought to be funny?
Last Tuesday, I tried to tell the story of being told I’m funny at a fancy party by a suit-wearing finance guy from a large media company, and while the details seemed amusing to the person I told it to, he clearly didn’t get it.  Why would he? He’s a smart guy, good at his job, a dad, and a serious person. He’s a suit-wearing finance guy himself.
Maybe it’s because my stories never have a point.