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 “The Penitent”



What I saw: “The Penitent,” a new play by David Mamet, at the Atlantic Theater Company in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, on West 20th Street. 


What I did beforehand: baked bread, drove to the city, found on-street parking which was free and not illegal and it made the afternoon feel like winning a prize when you didn’t even buy a raffle ticket, got cappuccinos at Grumpy’s. 

What I wore: Doc Martens, black micro-cord jean leggings from James Jeans, black shirt with white dots, shirt and sweater I found on my closet floor, parka.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider

How I got tickets: via phone, in December. I forgot to put it on the calendar in my phone and  booked something else the night before and thought maybe we’d make a theater-weekend of it, but then other stuff came up and we just drove back and forth. Sorry, planet. Next time I will take the train.

Why I saw this show: David Mamet.


Where I sat: row E, seat 9, behind the only empty seat in the theater and surrounded by old white people. I assumed the empty seat was saved for the director, or 44, or Jesus, and in the moments between scenes where they dimmed the lights onstage and re-arranged the table and two chairs and the women next to me whispered intrusively, I thought about what it would be like to have the director, or 44, or Jesus sitting directly in front of me and I decided I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.


Things that were sad: the forces of evil in this play (homophobia, mental illness, media manipulation, capitalism, the legal system) exert their will upon the characters but cannot be confronted or thwarted. 

Things that were not funny/funny: lawyers can be funny as all hell.


Something I ate: bread and cheese in the car on the way there.

What it is: another subtly brilliant Mamet play, which might feel like a masterpiece to those who’ve been sued, and might feel dry as toast to anyone else, with four actors and one brief intermission. 

Who should see it: lawyers, libelers, therapists, ethicists, people who like crime dramas, language mavens, fans of Mamet, people who have been libeled.  

What I saw on the way home: we made excellent time, and were buoyed by the language of America’s master playwright, but an especially big white SUV wandered menacingly linto our lane on the Saw Mill Parkway up around Elmsford, and I had to honk. 

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 saw “Vietgone”


What I saw: “Vietgone,” a play with some songs, dancing and rap at the Manhattan Theater Club City Center Stage 1 on W 55th between 6th and 7th Avenues.

I forgot to get a picture of the cookies. 

What I did beforehand: went to a German Xmas party at the apartment of  French friends where we admired the view, drank glühwein, and exchanged stories about near-accidents involving our children. 


What I wore: Fluevog boots, brown tights, Lilith pinstripe dress that is difficult to zip, my mother’s gold bracelets, my own gold bracelets, my grandmother’s watch, mascara. 

Who went with me: my friend S.


How I got tickets: online, very recently, since this plan was hatched only once I realized that the Bacon Provider would be on yet another international trip where he would lose two weekends–one getting there and the other getting back.

Why I saw this show: I read a review that said this show was an excellent companion piece to Viet Than Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Sympathizer,” which I read on the recommendation of a woman who I sat down next to in a theater earlier this year because she was reading it on her phone and could barely put it down.

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Where I sat: A 108, or thereabouts. A woman next to us orchestrated a three-way trade so she could sit next to her husband, who had a seat in the same row. Everyone was more than happy to re-arrange themselves.



Things that were sad: the show closed 12/4/16.

Things that were funny: a character named “the playwright” starting the show by scolding the white audience for accepting racist portrayals of asians. Jokes about life in a refugee camp. A fight scene with slow-mo punches and ninjas. A dance number about wanting to have sex. More cussing than #ragecook burning dinner. 

Things that were not funny: the two delicious lead actors had more chemistry than all the other couples that were supposed to be in love in all the plays I’ve seen this year put together.

Something I ate: German Xmas cookies.

What it is: a very funny, profane, slightly uneven, but lively and likable show with rap, singing, and some dance, running over two hours with a 15 minute intermission. This show features actors using contemporary slang to depict events in various locations in the U.S.and Saigon in the 1970s.

Who should see it: people who can tolerate not always being perfectly clear about when scenes take place.  Audiences that are prepared to revisit what the Vietnam War means as a metaphor.

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What I saw on the way home: a buck with huge antlers on the shoulder of the Saw Mill Parkway, trotting in the direction of traffic.

Just imagine the deer

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I saw "Plenty"


What I saw: “Plenty,” a play at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street in New York City

Who went with me: my friend B., who I met on Twitter, and I am happy that he’s moved back to NYC. 


What I did beforehand: took the dogs on a potty-walk, fed the cat, drank green tea, went to pilates, ate some cottage cheese, said goodbye to the Bacon Provider, walked the hour-long trail with the dogs in the woods, continued vacation negotiations with the BP via text (because he travels for work, he only wants to spend vacations at home), showered, tried to dry my hair, gave up, got dressed, thought about how I’ve worn denim skirts with black tights and a black shirt since starting my first job teaching math at the University of Utah in the mid-eighties. 

I bought a round-trip ticket at the vending machine and went to stand on the platform. It was cold enough that it was just me and a few crows. The rest of the passengers waited inside.

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When the train came I had to do that quick grapevine dance step, sideways down the platform, looking for seats that face forward, and ended up in a window seat in a set of three rather than my preferred window seat in the sets of two. I had a momentary panic that I had forgotten to take my ticket out of the machine. But I found my ticket in time to get it punched. A young woman sat down next to me and spent a half an hour curling her eyelashes and putting on makeup.


What I wore:
black tights that I bought in Barcelona that are as ill-fitting as they are long-lasting, black Fluevog boots with stacked heels, James jeans dark wash denim skirt, black Tanner belt,  black no-iron cotton fitted Brooks Brothers blouse, rag & bone gray scarf, silver bracelets, vintage earrings, black North Face hooded parka, American-made black drawstring leather bag. 
How I got tickets: online, a while ago, and, for the record I put this evening on my husband’s work calendar but his demanding job made it so he had to leave a day earlier than originally planned. Do I sound bitter? Read on. Something happened that never would have happened with my discreet husband at my side.

Why I saw this show: I like the Public Theater

Where I sat: front row, on the end, between my friend B. and a very old man who fell asleep in the first act and was startled awake by gunfire onstage. 



Things that were sad: I get sad on the train. It passes through Chappaqua. 

Things that were funny: no one writes a play without funny lines, and my friend B. laughed even louder and more frequently than I. 

Things that were not funny: B.’s laughter fleetingly cracked up the male lead, played by the excellent Corey Stoll.

Other things that were funny: at curtain call, the beautiful and talented Rachel Weisz, star of this mad-woman’s-descent-drama, gestured at B. and me in our seats and thanked us, with a laugh and a gesture, “Love you guys.”

In the lobby, we were able to thank a number of cast members for their excellent performances. Everyone displayed grace and good humor. 

Something I ate: banana cake with coffee ice cream and walnut crumble.

What it is:  a revival of an exciting play from the early eighties, featuring intrigue, smoking, gunfire, madness, and nudity, lasting two and a half hours with one 15 minute intermission. 

Who should see it: any adult except anyone who thinks that all women are crazy. 

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What I saw on the way home: some of the stores in Katatonia are getting a jump on Christmas decorations.


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I saw "What Did You Expect?"

I saw “What Did You Expect?” off-Broadway at the Public Theater on Lafayette in NYC.

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What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, gray mid-rise straight-legged jeans, black Lilith tank, black ATM cotton blouse, black Helmut Lang loose-knit sweater, gray and lime green Marimekko scarf, eye-makeup, ponytail, a look of bewilderment.

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What I did beforehand: took a MetroNorth train to Grand Central, went to the dentist for that bad news, looked at my favorite Baby Jesus at the Morgan Library, ate, walked, counted the unsmiling people on Park Avenue (57 out of 60), talked to a guy with a dog named Barry (who did not give me high-five), arrived early at the theater, discovered I’d bought two tickets, called The Graduate to try to convince him to join me. 

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Who went with me: 160 white strangers.

How I got tickets: online, with a member’s discount.

Why I saw this show: it’s the second part of the Gabriels play cycle: election year in the life of one family, by Richard Nelson. Part one was “Hungry,” and my favorite play so far this year.

Where I sat: Row B seat 103, between an empty seat and a couple who knew the women behind me actors who’ve been friends since they met in a play where they were the only women in the cast, back in 1979. One of them misremembered the name of the man as “Donald,” and had to tell him twice that it was all on account of politics. 

Things that were sad: I think I expected to like this play as much as the first of the cycle. But I didn’t. It had all the same elements: the same set, the same actors, the same playwright.  It had similar moments of great poignancy. But it didn’t sock me in the jaw with its verisimilitude, as the first had. It would be almost impossible to have done. So it will have to come in second place, behind the first. And, of course, I can hardly wait for the third and last play in the cycle, to open in November. 

Things that were funny: I objected to the way one character cut onions.

Things that were not funny: there is a man running for President of the United States of America with the full backing of one of our two main political parties that is overtly and proudly xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, tax-avoiding, bankruptcy-exploiting, fat-bashing, inarticulate, unprepared, unqualified, ungrammatical, and mean-spirited. And we have to take him seriously. 

What it is: a play, lasting one hour and forty-five minutes, without intermission. It features actors cooking and kitchen-table story-telling with some well-timed cussing, covering themes of economic inequality and the quiet desperation and loneliness of modern life. It includes a master class on script-writing, props and costuming, and features a cast of actors so subtle and real and honest in their performances that they tower above almost every other cast currently performing in New York. 

Who should see it: anyone who missed “Hungry.” Anyone who should have seen “Hungry.” Aspiring playwrights. Residents of Rhinebeck, New York. 

What I saw on the way home: it was very late. I stepped off the train with a chatty woman wearing a colorful scarf who wanted to go together to our cars. We had parked in different lots, and each of us had to walk alone. 

I saw "Marie and Rosetta"


What I saw: Marie and Rosetta” at the Linda Gross Theater of the Atlantic Theater Company, off-Broadway in Chelsea at 336 West 20th Street in New York City.

What I wore: striped Façonnable linen  blouse that I bought on sale at Nordstrom in Seattle at least ten years ago, white rag & bone jeans that now have a six inch long, faint brown stain on the right thigh, that new white belt I had made for horse showing, the new glasses that make me look so much like my mother people make fun of me for it, gray Puma sneakers, old tan Coach purse, mascara.

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What I did beforehand: tapas, subway ride downtown E to 23rd Street, cappuccino at Grumpy’s.


Who went with me: a grumpy Bacon Provider.
How I got tickets: I subscribed to the Atlantic Theater Company’s new season of shows online.

Why I saw this show: I saw their productions of “Hold On to Me Darling” and “The Purple lights of Joppa Illinois” and both were excellent.



Where I sat: row E seat 8 

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Things that were sad: some of you may not have ever heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and you should have. 

Things that were funny: a lot of things made me laugh.

Things that were not funny: sometimes I felt like I was the only person laughing.

What it is: an excellent musical, featuring the songs and life story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, performed without intermission, lasting 90 minutes. 

Who should see it: lovers of gospel music, fans of the blues, students of American popular song, supporters of Black Lives Matter, people who liked “Hamilton,” children of mothers, feminists, squirrels, women.

What I saw on the way home: we tried to catch an uptown C or E train at 23rd Street, but they weren’t running. A pair of signs, one handwritten and the other printed held the confusing news that we should cross the street and take a downtown train to 14th Street and then catch an uptown A, which was running express to 42nd. We instead hailed a dented cab on 8th Avenue. Our manically cheerful driver kept us sitting in stunned and fearful silence as we bucketed up the 22 blocks, snaking westward on West 29th at alarming speed. 

To get back to Bedford Hills, we fetched the car from the garage at the apartment we moved out of this week, an event marking the end of another sad, weird chapter in our bad New York adventure. But anyway we have the garage spot for maybe three more days at the point so we used it. Up the Saw Mill Parkway, we listened to some of Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War memoir, “If I Die in a Combat Zone,” which is peppy and irreverent and darkly funny, and when we got home and into bed we had no choice but to go online and read about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Both the Bacon Provider and I stayed up way, way past our bedtime, until two or two-thirty, looking at YouTube videos of her, singing and playing guitar in her high heels and church lady dresses. My, oh, my.

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