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 “The Light Years”

What I saw: “The Light Years,” a play by The Debate Society, at Playwright’s Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan, on the south side of the street after the scaffolding ends but before the Hudson River, on that weird off-Broadway strip of theaters I can’t keep from confusing with each other. 

What I did beforehand: the first year we lived in New York, I thought that coming into the city on a MetroNorth train was like riding an futuristic satellite elevator from an orbiting space station to the surface of the planet. The atmosphere was different. And the gravity. The conductors needed shiny silver suits, of course, but I used my imagination  Five years later, I don’t feel like a prisoner here as much as I did then. Still, the way the train dives under the streets just south of Harlem means the commuters have to emerge from under the city’s skin, like parasites hatching. I brought homemade beer, anyway.

Not The Graduate. But almost.


What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, new James skinny jeans, black Brooks Brothers fitted cotton blouse, too long Eileen Fisher cardigan, hoop earrings, gold bead necklace, black parka, favorite rag & bone scarf.

Who went with me: The Graduate and his gf S; she liked my jewelry.

How I got tickets: about a week ago, online. They were the last three seat available.

Why I saw this show: it was billed as a “spectacular tribute to man’s indomitable spirit of invention.”

Where I sat: Row B, Seat 5, next to two unoccupied seats on one side and a woman who laughed too much on the other side. I, also, laughed too much.


Things that were sad: [spoilers]

Things that were funny: lightbulbs, songs, monologues, promises, and a bucket.

Things that were not funny: this one time I was brushing my teeth and I went to put the toothpaste back in the medicine cabinet and got shocked by it. This is the primary memory I have of the place we lived in Salt Lake City in the mid-80s.

Something I ate: a bag of peanuts in the lobby

At a food museum near the theater
What it is: an unusual play about the creators of the 12,000-seat theater called The Spectatorium for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. 

Who should see it: electricians, Chicago aficionados, history buffs, aluminum evangelists, love story bugs, theater nerds, devotees of the Depression, bicycle enthusiasts, folding attic stairs fanatics, dirigible fanciers, soliloquy fiends,  junk junkies, lovers of lightbulbs, milk maniacs, World’s Fair nuts, suckers for jingles, impresario connoisseurs, and anyone who’s ever wondered if there’s an inventor living in their attic



What I saw on the way home: the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, with its light-bulb constellations .

I saw "Sweat"

What I saw: “Sweat,” a play, at the theater known as Studio 54, on West 54th Street in Manhattan.


What I did beforehand: PT on my right knee which I found out this week hurts not because of a ligament tear (hooray!), but because of arthritis (boo!). I was happy about this for perhaps 12 hours, until I realized it meant that instead of surgeryI was facing some amount of knee pain for the rest of my life, which I would get to manage henceforward. Then I went and got my hair cut. 

What I wore: plaid wool dress, ripped tights and Fluevog boots. 


Who went with me: B., a friend of my parents, who I’ve known since I was a kid, and haven’t seen since 2004.


How I got tickets: online as soon as the new venue was announced after missing the chance to see this show’s sold-out run at The Public Theater. 

Why I saw this show: rave reviews.

Where I sat: Row A, on the end, with no one in front of us. 

Things that were sad: this perfectly paced play is about the destruction of working class lives thanks to the relentless forces of unchecked American capitalism. 

Things that were funny: it is not a funny play, but it is not without humor.


Things that were not funny: the venue shows evidence of having been painted, as if current management accepts that audiences look askance at obvious shabbiness, but it’s like someone’s brother-in-law got them a really good deal on many gallons matte black paint and the paint was applied by people who’d never painted before, and as quickly as possible. Crumbling theater venues can do shabby gloriously, like BAM’s facilities. Studio 54 looks like the party ended in 1980, and they just woke up and swept a little.

Something I ate: confetti eggplant and filleted whole durade, part of a really fine and fun meal sitting at the bar of Taboon, on 52nd and 10th Ave. When you go, make a reservation. Share the entrees and order lots of meze plates. 

What it is: a big (and by this I also mean important), serious play with a strong ensemble cast. If this was not the best play I’ve seen in the last year, it was certainly in the top five. Tackling issues of economic uncertainty and race relations in America with fully fleshed-out characters and meaningful stakes, “Sweat” engages on all the levels the talking heads on TV don’t.

Who should see it: line workers, strugglers, bartenders, union members, strike breakers, white supremacists, people who’ve done time, conservatives, drunks, survivors, managers, liberals, know-it-alls.


What I saw on the way home: the dark Saw Mill River Parkway, built with bridges too low for buses, so only passenger cars could use it and specifically buses could not, stretched out before me in a familiar blur. This road is like everything we’ve ever done in America.

I saw "Dear Evan Hansen"

What I saw: “Dear Evan Hansen,” a new Broadway musical, at the Music Box Theater on West 45th near like, I dunno, 8th Ave.


What I did beforehand: saw this guy worshipping the clothes in a store, and then met up with my friend Bill from the Internet, and we had drinks. It was hard to feel like we weren’t toasting the life of our dead friend, America. RIP, America. We knew you when.


What I wore: two black shirts with jeans, hiking boots, big parka, the earrings before I broke one.


Who went with me: white people.

How I got tickets: just a couple of days before, online, for about $400.


Why I saw this show: I wonder if the world is divided into the bullies and the bullied, with some overlap. 


Where I sat: Row H seat 106, between this guy whose plane from LAX was three hours late making him miss the opening song so he had to sneak in courtesy of an usher with a flashlight and slide past me with his butt in my face after the show had started and, oh, him, and a group of three empty seats on the other side of me that were sold when I checked online. 

Things that were sad: I cried all the mascara off my eyes in the first act.


Things that were funny: people checking their phones at intermission, during a play (partly) about the power of social media.


Things that were not funny: I took off my glasses at intermission (to look at my phone) and they fell off my head and I didn’t notice until the lights dimmed for the second act, so I had to sit there, not able to see perfectly, waiting for the end so I could turn on my flashlight and crawl around. I started looking as soon as people started clapping, but couldn’t find them, and as poeple left the theater a few of the people around me noticed I was looking and pitched in. The person to find them was a house manager. I thanked him, but it felt like it wasn’t enough. 

Something I ate: homemade chips at Joe Allen.

What it is: a fine, energetic musical about a lonely, anxious teen. With moments of great truth about trying not to suck as a parent and featuring a cast that seems to embody their roles, every one of them. Highly recommended. 

Who should see it: liars, teens, parents, people who cannot imagine that social media has a positive impact on the world. People who can’t imagine what a middle class white kid in America might be anxious about. Fans of American musical theater. 


What I saw on the way home: too many ads, which is to say, nothing. 

I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria

Elevator Selfie Ceiling 
Where I stayed: the venerated art-deco icon Waldorf Astoria. On Park Avenue at 48th Street in Manhattan. 

What I did beforehand: baked and didn’t burn the bread, riding lesson,  shower, dog walk, drove to town, dragged a wheelie bag along the freshly salted sidewalks, made the train with seconds to spare. 


What I wore: James jeans, black shirt, gray cardigan, Danner hiking boots, big parka, antique earrings that I broke when I took them off.



Who went with me: the Bacon Provider (see photo, top)

How I got there: walked up the Northwest Passage from Grand Central, taking two elevators up, one down, and a huge flight of stairs.



Why I stayed here: the Bacon Provider had an action-packed schedule in the city this week, with meetings starting at 7:45 a.m. and lasting until after dinner. 

Where I slept: here.



Things that were sad: the carpets are tired and stained. The lobby is poorly lit. Once, this was my father’s favorite high-end hotel in New York. I stayed here with him on the college visiting trip he took me on in 1980. We ate dinner in the hotel and there was a woman in a gown playing the harp. It had never occurred to me that anyone other than cartoon angels and Harpo Marx actually played the instrument before. Also, people looked at my dad and I kind of funny, not like we were a dad and his college-bound kid, but like he was a creepy 40 year old, and I his jail-bait girlfriend. 



Things that were funny: paying $25 for a champagne cocktail, and even ordering a second one. 


Things that were not funny: the serious guy carrying his fancy poodle to breakfast in a suitcase; the lack of outlets; finding a charge for a $36 shoe-shine on our bill at checkout. The Bacon Provider is extraordinarily particular about caring for his shoes, takes great pride in doing it himself, had no such shoe shine (which I knew without asking him), and when I disputed the charge the receptionist did not believe me, said that a charge like that could only appear on the bill with a manager’s approval, and did not remove it, despite telling me that she would.


Something I ate: continental breakfast



What it is: a fine, old, fancy hotel that will close in a few weeks for remodeling; most rooms are expected to become condos. The hotel was purchased for almost $2B by a Chinese insurance company

Who should see it: anyone who wants to reminisce about what seemed like classy, old-money luxury in the 1980s. Hurry.

The painting has a hole in it

What I saw on the way home: the bright winter sunlight made me carsick on the train. Or maybe I was just hungover. When’s the next election?


I saw “The Beauty Queen of Leenane"

What I saw: “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” at BAM on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, a venue that appears to be a crumbling relic but it turns out that’s ok because it’s a decorative choice.

Used to be called the Triboro Bridge
What I did beforehand: drove down from Bedhead Hills, ate at a Korean brasserie, because this was Brooklyn. Probably had too much rice wine, or dry riesling, or maybe it was whatever they brought us after dinner because they thought it was the Graduate’s birthday, even though the only reason he got a present from me was this wooden mallet had been backordered at Xmas.

Not my cocktail, tho

What I wore: gold hoop earrings from the 80s, black Doc Marten shoes from the 90s, James jeans, black tissue weight Proenza Schoule dotted tee, my mother’s bracelet, black summer-weight Eileen Fisher cardigan because climate change is real, a Marimekko scarf because Finland has a representative democracy with principles of parliamentarism, and the scowl of crushing despair that we fucking don’t. 

Just in case you think I kid

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider

How I got tickets: online, in mid-December, when people were still able to pretend that maybe everything was gonna be ok somehow.

Why I saw this show: this ad. Their expressions. 

Where I sat: Row G, Seat 2, next to a couple that was arguing.


Things that were sad: the play, like all plays (according to my cousin) was about loneliness. Also, just how crazy we are just under the surface.
I’d rather get a picture
of someone getting a picture

Things that were funny: quite a bit of funny business, including quips and gestures. Really, it was a master class in actors making exquisite choices for their physical expression. Surprises, weirdness, simultaneously natural and unnatural.  

Theater may not be as decrepit as it appears
Things that were not funny: in this play, Chekhov’s gun is portrayed by a fire poker. 

Something I ate: I think it was halibut. Or maybe flounder. One of those. It was white. Did I mention they brought these little shots at the end of dinner, because they thought it was the Graduate’s birthday? Also, carmel-popcorn on ice cream, which I have to now learn to make.
When you’re this Brooklyn,
it’s always your birthday

What it is: a disturbing, much-celebrated play, from the mid-90s. Set in the gritty sort-of-now-ish Ireland where everyone is poor and almost unintelligible to an American audience, and where everyone is fecking nuts. 

Who should see it: theater lovers seeking the sort of two hour and fifteen minute escape that will not restore their faith in humanity in any way

Not fighting

What I saw on the way home: one couple that wasn’t fighting, and one that was.

Fighting

I went to the Women’s March on New York City


What I did: the Women’s March on New York City on Saturday, January 21, 2017 


What I did beforehand: got a restless night’s sleep, waking early. Decided that if I wasn’t going to march today, I was never going to march for anything. Walked and fed the dogs. Charged a camera battery. Ate breakfast. Wondered what kind of bra you wear to a protest march. Made a pussy hat, improvising without a pattern from the polar fleece I had on hand, with cat ears that turned out too pointy and looked like devil’s horns.  Decided the hat was pretty much perfect that way. Told my husband I was going and rushed off to catch a train.

We sat together on the train. 
What I wore: favorite jeans, Sweaty Betty striped exercise top, homemade orange hat, black parka, Smartwool hiking socks, Asolo hiking boots that I had re-soled last year and I wear to walk my dogs every day (with very old custom orthotics, because this old lady has bad feet). 


Who went with me: my friend Bill from the Internet met me under the clock at Grand Central. There were a billion, jillion people in Grand Central when my train got in. 



How I got tickets: I didn’t need tickets to this protest march, just good walking shoes, a day off, and the ability and will to stand up for what I believe in. 


Why I saw this show: because our latest presidential election resulted in a wholly unqualified, unsuitable, woman-hating, race-baiting, vindictive, impulsive, lying monster assuming power, and I and a whole lot of other people are ready to do something about it. 


Where I sat: on the train. At a march you have to rise and walk.


Things that were sad: this is only the beginning. We are going to have a lot more work to do, if he doesn’t kill us all first.


Things that were funny: lots of signs.


Things that were not funny: the feeling, as we stood on 2nd Avenue waiting for the march to start, that there was a river of human beings stretching up the street as far as I could see in either direction, and that with the people in front of me and behind me and next to me on both sides there was no way for me to remove myself from the situation speedily if I wanted to. When I moved to New York in 2011, I might not have been able to keep my shit together in such a crowd.


Something I ate: a stale untoasted bagel from Grand Central Market, because if I would have asked for it toasted I would have missed my train home.


What it is: old women, weirdos, young women, union reps, young men, hipsters, young women, little kids, babies, middle-aged white people, posers, young people of color, people in professional attire, people covered in social justice slogans, old men, they all showed up in NYC united against our hateful new president and what he represents. The mood was defiant, but not quite angry. 



Who should see it: anybody who thinks that this isn’t normal.


What I saw on the way home: the train home was almost as full as the one there, where it had been standing room only. It’s going to be such a long four years.