life in and around NYC is insane

Friday, May 31, 2013

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike"

Back in college I was really into comparative literature, and the brooding Russian soul.  I read Tolstoy and Pasternak and Chekhov.  Chekhov -- "Uncle Vanya", "The Seagull", "The Three Sisters", "The Cherry Orchard".   Angst-ridden, depressed, brooding characters.  Rural estates.  Slice of life dialogue.

So last night Drew and I went to see a Broadway comedy, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at the Golden Theater.  The play stars David Hyde Pierce (Vanya), Sigourney Weaver (Masha) , Kristine Nielsen (Sonia) and Billy Magnussen (Spike).  The premise is that Vanya, Sonia and Masha are siblings whose parents  loved Chekhov and named their children after Chekhov characters.  Vanya and Sonia live in the Bucks County, PA house that had been their parents' home, while Masha has moved to New York and become a famous movie actress.  She returns home with her "boy toy" lover, Spike, with the intent to sell the family home.

The characters and much of the plot is drawn from Chekhov's works, but you don't have to have a background in Russian lit to enjoy the play.  I especially liked Cassandra (Shalita Grant), the prophetess/voodoo practitioner.  Sonia's Maggie Smith imitation is dead on.  And Vanya's tirade/monologue in Act II brings the play to a standstill.  Anyone over 50 will be nodding in agreement as Vanya rambles on.

Now, I should mention that we didn't "buy" tickets for the show in the conventional sense.  Drew has a website he likes, goods and services are auctioned off for charity.  He will frequently bid on restaurant meals, Broadway shows and Mets tickets.    One of the reasons he bid on the "Vanya" tickets was the little something extra that came with them.  After the show, the stage manager took us on a brief tour backstage.  She allowed us to walk on the set and look at some of the costumes.  the details are amazing.  There's one spot, a stairway, where photos of our three main characters as children have been mounted on the wall.  The audience never really sees these photos -- actual photos contributed by the actors -- but they add to the atmosphere.  We got to meet Billy Magnussen, too, as he was showing the stage to two of his friends.  After the tour, we stayed by the stage door so that Drew could get photographs of and autographs from all the actors.

Usually when we go to the theater, we also go out to eat.  But last night's curtain was ay 7:00 instead of the usual 8:00, so no time to eat before the show,  and by the time we finished with the show and the tour, we were so tired we just grabbed a quick bite at McDonald's and headed to Penn Station...

...where we were surrounded by folks in Mets and Yankees jerseys.  Seems we had our annual subway series -- games at Citi Field Monday and Tuesday, games at Yankee Stadium Wednesday and Thursday.    The Mets had won both games at Cit Field and the first game at the stadium.  we tried to discern from the expressions on people's faces who won last night's game.  we correctly guessed that the Mets swept.

Overall a very satisfying night.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

more family troubles

Drew's family, not mine.

Drew's 86 year old uncle lives with Drew's sister.  And that has become a real problem.  House is a mess, like an episode of hoarders, she won't call the landlord when things break down because he'll evict them.   Uncle has numerous health issues.  She doesn't take care of him, he's basically fending for himself.  Sister and uncle need each other financially, neither could pay the rent or bills without the other.Drew is fed up but reluctant to do anything because of possible repercussions, his sister not be happy (to say the least) if Drew moves his uncle out of there.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

If a tree falls in the forest

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy.  And was also cursed - no one would believe her.

Please call me Cassandra.

We live in a heavily wooded area.  Our back yard borders on an unofficial 18 acre "nature preserve", undeveloped woodlands.  When the neighborhood was developed in the 1960's, the builder took care to preserve as many trees as possible. 

So when our house was built 45 years ago, there was a hickory tree in the middle of our back yard, a tree taller than the house.

Two years ago I noticed that the roots of this tree were starting to rot away.  Made me very nervous.  I suggested we get someone to take a look at the tree.  No one listened to me.

Last summer our landscaping service discovered that one of the small trees near the driveway was rotting out.  Landscaper had the tree removed so that it wouldn't fall onto the driveway.

No one did a thing about the hickory tree.

Somehow the tree survived Superstorm Sandy and all the bad weather last winter.

But we've had some wet, windy weather these past few days.

Yesterday I was standing in the kitchen, looking out at the back yard.  I heard a loud CRACK!!!!  And then the hickory tree came down. 

At least it fell away from the house. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Istanbul - The Four Lads

Monday, May 20, 2013

graduation weekend

So this weekend Jen headed back to her alma mater to watch some of her friends graduate.  Becca thought about going to graduation at her school, to see what she can expect next year, but ultimately decided to sleep in instead.

And Drew and I headed upstate to the graduation of a friend's daughter. Small college in the Hudson Valley, the graduation ceremony is held outdoors, on the quad, rain or shine.  And it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  Spent the whole morning huddled under an umbrella, but got drenched anyhow.  What we do for friendship....

Lunch was at The Texas Roadhouse in Kingston, NY.  We've eaten at this chain before, there's one in East Meadow, not far from where Drew lives.  It's a bit gimmicky, you can choose your own steak from the butcher counter at the front of the restaurant, the room is decorated with fake cacti, and the waitstaff will occasionally stop what they're doing to participate in a line dance.    The signs in the entryway let you know peanuts are being served; you get a bucket of peanuts on your table, and a second bucket to dispose of the shells.  Food is, for the most part, decent.  We all ordered steaks and no one was disappointed.  The fried pickles are light and crisp and served with ranch dressing, which is a good thing, because the pickles are very salty.  I didn't have dessert, but the apple pie my friend ordered looked amazing.  Service was very very slow.  Waiter forgot to bring one of my side dishes, and had to be asked to refill our drinks.  But not a bad experience overall.

Driving home on the NY State Thruway....sigh....

 Texas Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gatsby Tours?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Gatsby Redux

I had some time to kill today, so I downloaded the 1974 version of "The Great Gatsby".  So now I gave a real basis for comparison.

Interesting how two directors had such very different visions. 

The 1974 movie is a misty, sentimental romance.  It's beautiful to look at, with its Gold Coast mansions and elegant costumes.  The decadence, the conspicuous consumption, the lavishness, that seems to be missing.  The green light on the dock, so symbolic of Gatsby's longing for Daisy, is almost an afterthought.  The music . . .well, the music is contemporary to the story line, all from the 1920's, but it's all popular ballads and instrumentals with lots of weepy violins.  No jazz, not even during the wild party scenes.

The disparity between "old money" and noveau riche is downplayed.  Redford's Gatsby is suave and sophisticated and confident.  You'd never suspect he was a poor boy from the midwest, the Oxford manners and mannerisms seem natural, not an affectation.  He was clearly miscast.

Daisy's position as the mother of a little girl, downplayed in the current film, is emphasized in the 1974 movie.  Her ultimate betrayal of Gatsby is simply not there.  There's just some vague talk of her leaving Tom.

Similarly, the pivotal scenes involving the car accident and Tom's conversation with the bereaved Wilson actually take place off camera.  We are deprived of the emotional impact.

Bottom line?

Leonardo DeCaprio is a better Gatsby, and the 2013 film is a better film.

Family update

What a difference a year makes.  This time last year, Jen was preparing to graduate from college, we were in the midst of making plans to celebrate the occasion when my father suddenly fell ill and wound up in the hospital.  Becca was finishing up her sophomore year and making big plans for her junior year, hoping an internship might come her way, looking for her first off campus housing.

Well, the good news first.

Jen has been working as a teaching assistant at a synagogue nursery school for the entire school year, as well as coaching JV cheer leading at her old high school, and in January  she started her Master's in education.  She's got a summer job lined up, at the same day camp where's she has worked almost every summer since she was 17; she'll be taking a group in the travel program.  She applied for a job as a paraprofessional in one of the elementary schools in our district; the fact that she's a district resident, an alum of the high school and has already cleared a background check because she's coaching in the district are all factors in her favor.

Becca is finishing up her junior year.  She had two prestigious internships this year.  One of those internships invited her back for the summer -- she'll work two days a week at the internship and she'll also go back to her job at the mall and pick up some work as sales help.  She's already talking about her graduation next year.

Now, about my father....the change since last May has been disheartening.   I won't bore you with a list of the ailments and issues he's dealing with.  But the steady deterioration, the rapid decline from a vibrant older man to someone who is weak, debilitated, dependent ...Sigh...I know where this is going and am not happy ...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dinner and a movie

As native Long Islanders, we are both keenly aware of the Long Island Gold Coast and its rich history. "The Great Gatsby", F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, is set in the Gold Coast circa 1922. Gatsby lived in the fictional "West Egg", which is modeled after Great Neck. Daisy lived in "East Egg", across the bay, i.e., Manhasset.

 I loved the book. I have a vague recollection of the 1974 movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which didn't quite work for me. Drew didn't care for the book or the 1974 movie, but was willing to give the new movie a shot. Drew didn't like it, but I enjoyed it.

 This version stays very close to the novel. We saw it in 3D. The 3D effect doesn't add anything to the movie. The sets and costumes capture the opulence, the decadence and materialism of the times. The director threw as much money at this movie as Jay Gatsby threw at his parties.

I did not like the soundtrack. I like hip hop, but didn't care for it in this movie. The 1920's were called "The Jazz Age". I know that hip hop is to modern times what jazz was in the 20's, the same freewheeling style, but you don't Charleston or foxtrot to hip hop. I kept listening for jazz. But the soundtrack wasn't overly intrusive and didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the movie.

 I liked the way the story is framed, with Nick telling his tale to his psychiatrist. Gives us an opportunity to hear Fitzgerald's narration. And I really liked the way DiCaprio brought Gatsby to life. You could tell that the Oxford man was all affectation and artifice, you could see the gritty bootlegger beneath the surface. He made you believe that he realky believed Daisy would be with him . . . Definitely worth seeing.

Afterwards we wound up at Applebees. As chains go, this is one of the better ones, with choices that range from burgers to pasta to steaks to entrees geared to people watching their weight. Drew had the twin whiskey steaks and I had the riblets. Both were well prepared. Large portions, we both brought home leftovers. I seldom order dessert, but caved into temptation and ordered a strawberry cheesecake shooter -- a small but satisfying portion of cheesecake with strawberries and whipped cream. We will be back.

 Applebee's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Brunch with Jen and Drew at Ciao Baby.  Becca has finals and couldn't come home. Drew and I love Ciao Baby in Massapequa, and figured we'd try the Commack location, since it's closer to where Jen and I live.  It's got the same "rat pack" vibe, but on a much smaller scale. They had a buffet brunch for Mother's Day.  Food was excellent -- both breakfast and lunch dishes were served.  French toast was excellent, the pasta dishes were amazing. I liked the sausage and peppers.  The dessert choices were limited, the pound cake was good but the cookies were like cardboard.  Service was mediocre, I suspect it's because they usually don't do Sunday Brunch. I'd probably go back, on a day when the regular menu was served, if I happened to be in the neighborhood.  But for me, Ciao Baby means the Massapequa location. Ciao Baby on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

bubba meister time

When Dora finally got here, she was determined to be an American.   She lived in Haarlem initially.  It was the 1920's, so she bought modern clothes and cut her hair into a bob.  She and her sister Shirley signed up for classes to learn English, but Shirley would get sick on the trolley and they'd have to get they dropped out of the class and essentially taught themselves to speak, read and write English.  she wanted to be a performer in what was then the thriving Yiddish theater, but her father would not allow it.

So she got a factory job.  Or several, actually.  This was post-Triangle Shirtwaist fire, so conditions inside the factories of NYC were not as dire as they'd been earlier in the century, but still, it was hard work.

I know that at one point she worked for Sunshine Biscuits in Long Island City.

but the job she spoke about the most was in a lampshade factory. She convinced them she knew how to operate the sewing machines, when in actuality she had never used those machines.  She did quite well there,   stayed for several years, and ultimately quit the job when they asked to to work a machine that was so loud and noisy it gave her a headache.

She liked to tell the story about the factory owner's daughter.  The owner was a German Jew, and he was very concerned because his daughter was unable to find a husband.  Apparently the young lady was pretty, but didn't dress as modern young women of the 1920's were dressing.  He asked Dora, a fashionable young lady, to take his daughter out and "modernize" her.  So Dora took her shopping, bought her some new clothes, and then took her to a barber to have her hair cut in a bob.  Apparenlty this was just what the young lady needed, because shortly thereafter she men a man, married and had a baby.

Don't you wish all your problems could be solved with a makeover?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Rivers belong where they can ramble....eagles belong where they can fly...

So our evening began at the NYC location of Ben's Kosher Deli.  That is, after I fought my way up from Penn Station, a salmon swimming up stream against the tides of commuters headed for the station.

As I've said  before (see my review of Ben's Carle Place, Long Island location) I think I am genetically programmed to love Ben's. The NYC location, on West 38tth, in the heart of the old garment district, has an "old New York" feel and a menu my grandmother would recognize.  Most Jewish delis these days use kosher meat but are not otherwise "kosher", so you can get a little sour cream with your potato latkes, and you might even see a strip of (horrors!) bacon peering out of your overstuffed sandwich. .  This place, however,  is strictly kosher, under rabbinic supervision, so there's no mixing of meat and dairy, and they don't use the fake, tofu-dairy products you might see elsewhere.

As always, your meal begins with cole slaw and a bucket of pickles -- sour and half-sour.  Drew ordered the deli double -- two sandwiches, on twin junior rolls.  He likes it with a side of Russian dressing.  You can pick any two deli meats for your sandwiches, but he always chooses tongue.  Not my thing, frankly, but he likes it.  I had my staple, pastrami on rye.  They use Gold's mustard here -- Gold's is renowned for its horseradish.  the sandwixhes are overstuffed, of course.  We didn't order any side dishes last night, though I love their kasha varnishkes and Drew likes their knishes.   I don't think I've ever tried one of their desserts. The guy at the next table -- dining alone -- ordered two appetizers and a hot entree.  that's a bit of overkill, but really, if you don't walk out of there as overstuffed as one of their sandwiches, you're doing something wrong.

Then it was time to walk to the theater.  This time of year, Times Square is especially hopping -- it's tourist season and it's warm and pleasant outside, and it's tourist season.  And did I mention that it's tourist season?   Good time for people watching.  I saw a woman in pink cowboy boots -- the boots were adorned with an image of a skull and crossbones.  I saw a man in a double-breasted aqua jacket, with a paisley ascot around his neck.  Didn't see the Naked Cowboy, but saw a guy  in a Speedo carrying a boom box.  The usual street musicians and gospel preachers and guys trying to sell you tickets for a comedy club.  The street vendors selling knock off purses and cheap t-shirts. And that school group in their green t-shirts. And the tourists posing for pictures with the NYC cops and their horses.  Did I mention it's tourist season?

Our destination was The Music Box Theater, the house that Irving Berlin built.  Really.  Berlin and his business partners built the theater to showcase Berlin's music in the 1920's.  It is currently the home of the reviival of Pippin.

Spoiler Alert!! 
Spoiler Alert!! 
Spoiler Alert!! 

I am going to discuss things about this show that may be spoilers, so stop reading now if you don't want to know.

I never saw the original prodution of Pippin, the one back in the 70's starring Ben Vereen.  You'd see the TV  commercials for the show, of course.  And  "Corner Of The Sky" became a staple for every junior high and high school chorus -- yes, I sang that song in chorus.

The production we saw last night was fantastic.  The set is done to emulate the inside of a circus tent.  It's a play-within-a-play, a group of players have set up a tent  to present to us the story of Pippin, son of King Charlemagne.  The fourth wall is broken, the players speak directly to the audience.  The Stephen Schwartz score is very 70's pop music, but still sounds good.    The original choreography was done by Bob Fossee, and his style is present in this production -- jazz hands, snakey arms, hip rolls, lots of attitude.  But in addition, there are circus performers doing acrobatics and magic tricks.

Patina Miller is now the Lead Player, she's in the role that Ben Vereen created.  She's marvelous.  And it was good to see Terrence Mann, who I first saw in Cats, as Charles. Matthew James Thomas is a sufficiently "lost" Pippin, searching for his extraordinary life.  But the cast member who steals the show is Andrea Martin, as Pippin's grandmother Berthe.  She gets the audience to sing along with her by following the bouncing ball.  Then she climbs up onto the trapeze and performs incredible stunts.  She got a standing ovation.  Well deserved, too.

I really liked the way the pigs and chickens on Catherine' farm were portrayed by circus performers.  Very funny bit.

The ending....well, the ending of this show is....different.  Drew said it was "ambivalent".  I said it knew exactly what it wanted to be, but was anticlimatic and a let down.  Throughout the show the Lead Player keeps building up the "finale", the moment the audience is waiting for.  It never comes.  Instead, the stage is stripped bare, the orchestra stops playing, the players leave, and Pippin and Catherine are left alone to sing a soft, a capella love song....

And then (and this is different from the original production) Theo starts singing an a capella version of "Corner of the Sky", and the Players briefly return and hoist him onto a trapeze...

I will make one mention of our seats.  We were in the orchestra, on the aisle, in the second row.  We could practically reach out and touch the actors.  However, there's so much happening on the stage at any given moment, that the best seats to take in all in are really the 5th or 6th row. 

Ben's Kosher Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Songbird Salutes the 70's -- Pippin

Watch "Corner of the Sky - Pippin - William Katt" on YouTube

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