I’ve seen about forty shows so far at this year’s Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. The six shows I have given high ratings to have been at the Traverse and the Pleasance theatres. The best shows I have seen so far:
At the Traverse:
2. Diary of a Madman
3. My Eyes Went Dark
At the Pleasance:
1. Krapp 39
3. Bucket List
The worst shows have been Sweet Child of Mine (walked out about halfway through), Cut, The Last Dream on Earth (a big bore) and Blank (ultimately shallow and banal)
It is Restaurant Week in New York (from July 25-August 19,2016) so it was time to figure out which restaurants were offering nice prix fixe menus ($29 lunch or $42 dinner)–ones that are not normally available outside of restaurant week. I had lunch at The Clocktower shortly after they opened some months back. It is a beautiful restaurant and I was happy to see that they were doing a restaurant week lunch. Their normal lunch prix fixe is $39.
The restaurant week menu offers a choice of three appetizers, three mains and two desserts. I went pescatarian, ordering the fluke crudo to start followed by fish and chips.
I enjoyed my lunch, but I was very surprised by the fluke crudo. Rather than being cold and raw, it was hot. At first I thought the waiter had delivered the wrong dish. I asked and was told it was “lightly poached.” The dish was tasty but not what I expected and even a little well done. It ended up being too similar to my main course–both were cooked fish over something deep green.
The fish over mushy peas and chips (not in the photo) were a delicious reflection of Chef Jason Atherton’s British roots.
My lunch companion ordered the burger:
Dessert was cherry cheesecake and compote with cocoa whip cream and bits of chocolate sponge cake.
I’ve been to a lot of theater lately (both on Broadway and off) and, I have to say, I enjoyed Jacuzzi more than the rest. Jacuzzi is a creation of The Debate Society—a Brooklyn based theater company that consists of two writers/actors (Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) and one director (Oliver Butler).
I had seen their Blood Play at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival a couple of years ago—a play that featured the basement tiki bar of a surburban home, odd retro drink concoctions, friendly neighbors and a touch of malevolence. And I saw Hannah Bos perform in Will Eno’s play The Open House earlier this year.
So when I saw that tickets for their new work Jacuzzi were selling out fast, I grabbed a ticket, and became an Ars Nova at the same time (where I saw the terrific Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 in its original incarnation).
The theater has been turned on its side–Instead of having the show at one end of the rectangular room, the set is a long and narrow living room down the side of the theater. There are just three rows of seats for the audience and the nice tiering guarantees everyone a good view. The living room is part of a vacation home in Colorado mountains. It is ski season and snowy outside, but the living room contains a working jacuzzi and throughout the performance, the four actors are hopping in and out of it.
When the play begins, a couple (played by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) are in the jacuzzi. We think that they are vacationers who have rented the ski chalet. A third person arrives. Handsome and preppie looking, it turns out he is Bo, the son (played by Chris Lowell) of the homeowner. He is supposed to be meeting his father the next day and wasn’t expecting anyone to be in the home. Bo assumes that the couple are renter just as we are starting to get the sense that maybe they are not. Bo has never held a job and lives off the money of his recently divorced parents. He says that his father is paying him to spend time with him at the house–isn’t that sad, he adds. The next day, the father (played by Peter Friedman, who I have seen recently in The Great God Pan, The Open House and Fly by Night) arrives and things start to get interesting.
I don’t want to say too much—because a lot of the fun of watching the play is trying to figure out what is going on.
I love the way the play reveals itself slowly—you never know exactly what the truth is. I enjoyed watching for the silent clues in the facial expressions of Hannah and Paul and their wordless signals to each other. Nothing is exactly what it seems–particularly in the motivations and personalities of the characters. All of the characters are flawed—the son doesn’t treat people very well and perhaps, has a skeleton or two in his closet. The father, together with his ex-wife, wrote bestsellers about their son’s development while he was growing up—embarrassing him and making a psychological lab rat out of him and his friends. The couple must be up to no good, but it seems the woman is also trying to bring the emotionally estranged son and father back together.
The ski chalet which is like a fifth character also contains mysteries–it appears to be pure 70’s–a VCR, a TV that’s not flat screen, lots of knick knacks which take us back in time. Bo says the knick knacks, which look like cheap junk, are valuable collectibles that belong to his mother. Is the play taking place in the 70’s or is the ski chalet just stuck in a time warp?
Some of the mysteries of the play are explained in a voice-over narrative by one of the characters, some are revealed n the movements and glances of the couple and some are never solved (why won’t the town merchants let the father and son shop in their stores?) But all along, we get to enjoy the ambiguities.
Jacuzzi has been extended to November 8th.
More about The Debate Society:
Pan fried chicken, okra, mac and cheese, collard greens, smothered chicken. These are some of the things you can get at Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem. We headed up there for lunch because we heard Charles’ chicken is legendary.
The place is mostly a take-out spot, but they have three or four tables where you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet. At lunchtime it is $13.00 a person. You can pick anything you want from the hot food tables, including the famous fried chicken. Not a typical help yourself buffet. Here, you point, they serve.
I started with some fried chicken, smothered chicken and BBQ chicken. I specified how many pieces of each I wanted (one) and which type (drumstick). Plus macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and an okra and corn stew. Everything was delicious. The fried chicken was crunchy and not greasy. The BBQ is much better than it looks. It is in a thin sauce that is thick with flavor. The sweet potatoes weren’t overly sweet–just how I like them. I had seconds of everything on the plate–I liked them so much, I didn’t try the other items.
While we were eating, I could watch a soap opera on TV or chef and owner Charles Gabriel cooking up some more chicken in a big skillet at the stove behind the food counter.
You also had your choice of smothered turkey leg or stewed pig’s foot. I passed up the rice, corn, collard greens, and beans, but I tasted the greens and beans on Lee’s plate–yummy.
The New York Times agreed that the chicken and the experience are superb.
The New Yorker magazine profiled Charles this week here
The Lee Brothers call Charles Gabriel a legend
Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken is on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 151st and 152 Streets–just a couple of blocks from the 155th Street stop on the B and D subway lines. It is one subway stop (or about a 15 minute walk) from Yankee Stadium.
Sex with Strangers is an enjoyable old-fashioned love story in the social media age. Two people meet in a secluded inn in the woods. No one else is staying at the inn, including the owner. There is no cellular signal and the wi-fi is not working—the repairman has been delayed by a storm. One of them is almost 40-year old Olivia: teacher, and author of a failed, out of print novel. She is at the inn to work on a new novel she is writing with no intention of publishing. Olivia is played by Anna Gunn, best known for her leading role on Breaking Bad. She looks and sounds different here—she is much thinner now and she seems younger and less matronly.
Enter 28-year old Ethan, played by Billy Magnussen, who was terrific in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. He tells Olivia that he is a writer on a deadline. His first book, Sex with Strangers, spent 5 years on the New York Times bestseller list and is about to be turned into a film. The book began as a dare and a blog. His friends told him that girls no longer want to pick up guys in bars—they prefer the internet, because they can find out a lot more about people. Ethan, a cocky, charismatic guy (who, by now, everyone has decided is a jerk) decided to prove his friends wrong by having a one-night stand at least weekly with someone he picks up in a bar. He then wrote about it on his blog. He became so popular that “I Slept with Ethan” websites started popping up where the women told their sides of the stories.
Of course, in the play “Sex with Strangers, “ we know that Olivia and Ethan are going to have sex and they do, very soon after meeting. But the play headed in a completely different direction to what I was expecting. I thought Ethan would turn out to be something very different from what he said—kind of like a face-to-face catfish. Since they had no internet access, none of his information was verifiable. In fact the first act ended with Olivia finally getting wi-fi access, googling Ethan, and then exclaiming something like “Oh Shit”. But, I learned in Act II, I was wrong.
Act II. We jump ahead in time. Ethan and Olivia are still seeing each other. Everything he told her was true. Olivia is trying to reconcile the Ethan she knows with his public persona. In the meantime, he has used his publishing connections to help Olivia get her novel published, but now he would like to start an online publishing venture and he would like her to help him with the rights to her book.
It turns out the play is an old-fashioned love story, exploring questions like how well do we know our partners? How do relationships change as partners grow and mature? How much of relationships are love and how much opportunism? How much is timing? How does the success of a partner change a relationship? How much does age matter? Where does lust end and love start?
Sex With Strangers
By Laura Eason; directed by David Schwimmer; sets by Andromache Chalfant; costumes by ESosa; lighting by Japhy Weideman; sound by Fitz Patton; production stage manager, Scott Taylor Rollison; associate artistic director, Christopher Burney; production manager, Jeff Wild; general manager, Seth Shepsle. Presented by Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, artistic director; Casey Reitz, executive director. At Second Stage Theater, 305 West 43rd Street, Clinton; 212-246-4422, 2st.com. Through Aug. 31. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
WITH: Anna Gunn (Olivia) and Billy Magnussen (Ethan).
Yesterday I had a fabulous meal at M. Wells. A couple days earlier the M. Wells folks sent out an email saying that they were having a Labor Day party. There would be a DJ, food for a fixed price of $30 and a cash bar. As is usually the case with M. Wells’ special events, there were no details about the food. The email only stated they would “celebrate the best of our summer specials and take a peak at our upcoming fall menu”. You have to be prepared to jump in without any details. You have to ignore the press who usually get it wrong (Time Out said the menu would include fish quenelle and lobster, veal kidney with sea beans and salt-crusted squab–none of which were served). With M. Wells, you have to put yourself in their hands, go in blind and trust in Hugue. Whatever it is, it is bound to be surprising, generous and wonderful. Yesterday was a case in point.
We got our wristbands and a couple of drinks from the bar, sat down at a table and over the next couple of hours, the following dishes were brought out to the two of us:
The seafood platter had 6 oysters and 4 little jars which contained geoduck, mussels, clams, and roe. What a way to start! (Later we saw that king crab legs were being added to the platter)
A baked potato was served with the seafood platter. The roe with creamy horseradish sauce from one of the jars was a perfect topping.
We shared a juicy hamburger and fries.
The pan con tomate was loaded with flavor.
The guinea hen roulade was stuffed with something sausagey (foie gras was mentioned) and topped with a mushroom sauce. The best part with the exterior–it was wrapped in a thin french toast.
One of the regular items on the M. Wells Steakhouse menu is a “stack of pork chops.” We got a beautiful stack of two delicious chops.
The cauliflower was roasted, topped with puffed rice and served with a sauce with a little heat and Indian flavors.
Fried chicken with a yummy gravy for dipping.
Much more a croquette, than gnocchi, this was oozing foie gras. OMG!
A special meal at M. Wells has to include wild hare.
We were stuffed by this point, but managed to eat all of our dessert-maple pie, something like a chess pie and a chocolate icebox type cake.
Oh, and the music was terrific–it started out with New Orleans music and built up to dance music. A lovely way to spend Labor Day. Thanks M Wells!
The theme of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival is “unboring,” and “get unbored” but not all the shows live up to this.
Two of the shows I saw featured a young woman telling a true story of her life with the accompaniment of a male partner and music.
In Near Gone, Katherina Deva tells of a near death experience of her 4-year old sister.
She tells the story in her native Bulgarian language and Alister Lownie, her partner in Two Destination Language, translates. It is a story of sorrow and pain, intermingled with criticism of medical and city services in Sofia. The story is told sparingly, though some of the words are uttered repeatedly. Punctuating the words, loud recorded music plays (mostly Balkan wedding music of Goran Bregovic) and Katherina moves and dances in a frenzy. She clutches bunches of carnations (400 flowers in total during the performance) which break and fly wildly in the air.
Though it is clear that Katherina’s dance is one of pain, the show draws a thin line between celebration and mourning. Bregovic’s band is called the Wedding and Funeral Orchestra and the music, the flowers and even the dancing could easily be part of either. I found the story, music and dancing too repetitive and was bored. The deep pain and suffering exhibited by Katherina was hard to reconcile with the ultimate positive outcome (which I had guessed from the name of the show).
Leaving Home Party
In Leaving Home Party, Catherine Ireton tells of leaving her Irish hometown to move to Glasgow a couple years after college. She is afraid she will end up spending her life without seeing the world. She admires an aunt who travelled extensively during her life, but died right near her birthplace, but when Catherine leaves home, she feels like an outsider and overwhelmed by the differences (I admit, I had trouble understanding her culture shock—of all the places one could move, Scotland doesn’t seem so different from Ireland).
The show is a musical, with Ireton singing original songs with words that relate to the narrative. She is accompanied by Ignacio Agrimbau on keyboards, guitars and a number of less familiar instruments like a Thai khaen, a Cuban tres and a cajon. (His instrumentals are the best part of the show).
Ireton describes how she is not in control of her life. She turns down a two year cellphone contract but spends more than two years with pay as you go. She works dead end jobs and follows projects brought to her by friends and boyfriends. She says she allows her life to be guided and determined by others.
Eventually she heads back to Ireland and then has an epiphany. What that is is not clear. Does she stay in Ireland? Does she go back to Scotland? Somehow the show is over and the audience is satisfied but I have failed to see a transformation or an explanation for why she feels differently about her life. Has she taken control of her life? Has she decided she is comfortable in Scotland? Also she has failed to mention that perhaps her life is more focused than she lets on. Apparently the reason she originally went to Glasgow was to work with Belle and Sebastian. She doesn’t mention this or any of the successes she had along the way.
My ratings of these shows and the 35 others I saw can be found here.