Spring bustin’ out allover in NYC: April 2018 (Part 1)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Spring can be particularly glorious in NYC.  Probably the harshness of NY winters makes this contrast inevitable.  This trip was a milestone for us:  2 whole weeks, our first stay longer than a week.   Our timeframe coincided intentionally with the Tribeca Film Festival, which we enjoyed sampling back in 2015. Now that we have our own little place, we were eager to experience more.

As the months preceding this trip melted into weeks, theater-loving friends’ recommendations prompted me to start filling in our calendar, first with one show, then another, until Steve started to protest.

Back in September 2017, my friend Gail M received a tantalizing offer to invest in the 25th anniversary return to Broadway of Angels in America. Gail even came up with a name for our fledgling partnership: Tarmac Productions. There were so many interested in participating that a lottery was held, which we did not win. My due diligence along the way (reading the play and the reviews and watching the HBO movie version) determined me to see it.

Angels in America is considered a milestone of 20th century theatre. It is an unusually long play, presented in two halves, sometimes on a marathon day with a dinner break, sometimes over consecutive weeks. Being in NY for longer than a week, I decided consecutive Sunday matinees were the way to go to be awake for all 7.5 hours.

Our trip across the country on Saturday was uneventful, with the surprising luxury of being in exit row seats with open middle seats. It was still light when we arrived, brisk and windy. We decided to stretch our legs with a walk east. Steve had been reading about Gracie Mansion, the NYC residence of the mayor, which is due east of us a few blocks. I had never walked along this stretch of the river before.

On our way east, we marveled at the variety of restaurants in the neighborhood we had yet to explore-a Viennese bistro, a tiny sushi restaurant (Inase), a Peruvian restaurant, PioPio. Why did that last name sound so familiar? Oh yeah, our friend Jeff Svitak, architect and developer in San Diego, designed the Hell’s Kitchen branch . The name had been mentally filed away since then. One bite of savory juicy chicken and I knew immediately why there are 8 branches in the NYC area. We noticed they were doing a heathy take-out business.

Back home, there was still time and energy for a movie. Tangerine was made entirely on an Iphone (undoubtedly with the aid of steady-cam technology). We had both been impressed by Sean Baker’s Florida Project.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

We walked southwest through Central Park, which was mobbed with mylar-blanket wrapped runners, family and supporters, as a women’s half marathon concluded. Strangely, just as I was mentioning to Steve that somewhere in Central Park was a fountain with an angel sculpture (Bethesda Fountain, with  Angel of the Waters atop) which appeared as a recurrent motif in the HBO movie of Angels in America, we happened on it (mid-park, near 72cd Street).

I love this wooden spoon screen at Danji, a favorite Korean small plates restaurant near NYC’s theater district.

Steve, Aaron and Sarah at brunch at Danji in NYC.

Sarah and Aaron were waiting for us at Danji on 52cd Street, just down the street from the Neil Simon theater where Angels in America awaited us. We’ve been to Danji enough times that we know the menu of Korean small plates fairly well, so I was happy to find that their brunch menu included offerings new to us. I loved my selection, their version of bimbim-bap with bugolgi beef.

Thus fortified, we were ready for the first 3.5 hours of Angels in America. It is set during the Reagan administration, as the gay community was being decimated by the AIDS epidemic, then a mysterious ailment just being unraveled and just before the first treatments became available. I was surprised how different my reaction was from reading the play and seeing the HBO movie. I didn’t remember laughing much but being in the midst of an audience seemed to heighten the gallows humor. There was still plenty of pathos alternating with the laughter. Andrew Garfield was terrific as Prior Walter, who is being ravaged by AIDS and abandoned by his lover Louis (James McArdle) who “can’t take” seeing Prior’s condition disintegrate. Nathan Lane was formidable as the larger than life, foul-mouthed, take-no-prisoners lawyer, Roy Cohn, a conniving power-broker and deal-maker. He is an unforgettable character, based on a real person, notorious for his role in the McCarthy communist hunt, the sentencing of Julius and Ethel Rosenstein for treason and most relevant to today, as lawyer and mentor to Stump.

The cast of Angels in America enjoying a rapturous reception. From left, the Angel (Amanda Lawrence), Joe (Lee Pace), Harper (Denise Gough), Louis (James McArdle), Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane), Prior (Andrew Garfield), Belize (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Susan Brown (Hannah) and Angel shadows. Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield and Susan Brown all subsequently received Tony award acting nominations.

Besides Angel’s importance in the dramatic pantheon, another motivation for seeing this production was to see more work by director Marianne Elliott, the only woman director with 2 Tony awards for 2 of my favorite shows of recent decades: War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We saw both of these powerful shows in London on the same trip in 2014 and were blown away. Her production of Angels did not disappoint.  The first appearance of an angel to Prior is heralded by a single feather floating down from above.  For the rest of our stay, I was to see angels and feathers everywhere.

On the street where we live (a well regarded revival of My Fair Lady was playing while we were in NYC, which we did not have a chance to see, sadly): carved stone angel detail of a neighbor’s brownstone.

We decompressed at home that evening, finishing the leftover PioPio chicken and watching The Danish Girl at home.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Looking ahead to summer, our first apartment-related destination was appliance store  P.C. Richards, to shop for a new air conditioner. After discovering the plates Clarissa had brought over in January were too big to be washed in the dishwasher, we hunted for dishes at Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma.  We eventually agreed on ivory Iittala dishes called Teema.  I had oogled many Iittala products in Helsinki the year before, so was quite pleased with this selection.

Prior to heading nearby to the Park Avenue Armory for Yerma, we had dinner at The East Pole. We had been there once before, with Clarissa and Jason and their friends Jeanne and Trent,  after a show at 59 E 59th. That was a very different experience. The cozy corner booth we formerly occupied at night is brilliantly lit during the day by a skylight overhead and was now occupied by a family with unruly children. The restaurant was initially quiet on our arrival, but was packed and boisterous by our departure. Our meal of lobster and fennel pie for me and reginetti with lamb ragout for Steve, with sides of sliced Brussel sprouts and baby bok choy in chile oil, was delicious. The espresso- inflected chocolate bread pudding coda was insane.

A strange sight on Park Avenue, steam pouring out of a side street.

An underground network of steam pipes supplies almost 2000 buildings in NYC; when it rains or snows, moisture falling onto the pipes through manhole covers is vaporized. When repairs are made to the pipes, chimneys are employed as seen here to redirect the steam, to avoid injuries to passers-by and traffic distractions.

As I picked up our tickets at Will Call, there was an unusually long line of hopefuls waiting to see if there would be any no-shows. The 4-week run was completely sold out. I had read a profile of Billie Piper in the NY Times before the show was reviewed and jumped on securing tickets then. When the laudatory NY Times review appeared, the tickets probably sold out instantly.

This searing drama, based on a Federico García Lorca work from 1934, is a brilliant contemporary version adapted and directed by Simon Stone. The title Yerma derives from Spanish for barren. The verb form means “to lay waste’, which also seems appropriate.  Billie Piper was unforgettable as a woman obsessed with having a child, who is inexorably driven to increasing recklessness and ultimately madness. The production design by Lizzie Clachan was fascinating, with the audience seated on either side of a large rectangular glass box, which stands in for the newly acquired house of hopeful and youthful Her and Her husband, John (Brendan Cowell), as well as their garden, even an outdoor music festival. Most of the time, the glass box contained just an expanse of white carpet, with just a few pieces of furniture to evoke the house, but at one point, after a strategic dimming of the lights, it seemed to magically and instantaneously fill with the tastefully appointed accouterments of the nest of a well-heeled couple. Initially, Her and Her husband seem to have it all. He travels frequently for work, while she writes a blog. As the months of trying to have a child stretch into years, their efforts are chronicled in Her blog. The fishbowl of the set was an effective metaphor for the scrutiny and pressure of expectations on the couple as they interact with their friends, co-workers and family. This is all magnified when Her’s sister (Charlotte Randle) becomes unintentionally pregnant.

The action is presented in a cinematic fashion, with scenes bookended by the house being plunged into darkness. Epigrammatic chapter titles like Descent appear overhead. The music, by Australian composer Stefan Gregory, has a liturgical sound initially, gradually sieging into an insistent and intense droning paralleling Her’s internal dissolution.

Inside the glass terrarium of a set, Billie Piper receives a standing ovation for her heart-stopping performance in Yerma.

Billie Piper won the Best Actress Olivier award in 2017 for this role in London at the Young Vic. Strangely, references to Yerma cropped up randomly several more times during our stay.  Clarissa had brought over a handful of books for our empty shelves in January, towards the end of our visit.  I was surprised to realize a few days after seeing Yerma that there on our bookshelf was 3 Tragedies by Lorca, including Yerma.  Later, an actress character in a Tribeca film we saw a few days later (You Shall Not Sleep) admires another actress’ work in what-else-but Yerma.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our first Fresh Direct delivery came in the morning. We spent the afternoon at the Cooper Hewitt Museum down the street. This was our first visit to this design focused museum, a branch of the Smithsonian, which is housed in Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion. The industrialist also lends his name to our neighborhood, which is a historic district. The Senses: Design Beyond Vision show upstairs included a furry wall which emitted music as it was stroked. Another exhibit used Malin + Goetz scented candles and packaging, which was strangely coincidental, since we had just stopped into their Madison Avenue store for the first time just before. After seeing some of my images of an alternative, water-less fountain, with air-blown feathers propelled into the air, Steve put our new membership to use over the following week, returning several times to shoot the feathers in motion.

Steve’s rendering of feathers in dance-like motion in an air-driven water-less fountain equivalent in the Cooper Hewitt show The Senses: Design Beyond Vision.

On the main floor, other works focused on “seeing” music, included a Dot piano, exhibits relevant to our evening’s destination. I also enjoyed the Jewelry of Ideas show, and seeing pieces from San Diegan Arline Fisch (only the week before I resisted the siren call of a well-priced pearl necklace offered at a benefit auction for Oceanside Museum of Art) and Southern Californian Claire Falkenstein (a favorite necklace by this sculptor and jewelry maker was a 20th wedding anniversary gift from Steve).

Lenny and Arleene came over at 5 pm to see the apartment for the first time. They were among several part-time New Yorker/part-time San Diegan/already been through the co-op application process friends who wrote us letters of recommendation to surmount the co-op board hurdle.

We headed south together on the 6 train to Spring Street for dinner at Piccola cucina Estiatorio. After sharing grilled sardines, fennel and orange salad, and zucchini and calamari fritti, we were all almost full by the time our pasta entrees arrived.

Dinner was a springboard for the main course of the evening, Basil Twist’s 20th anniversary New York reprise of Symphonie Fantastique at HERE theater, celebrating their 25th anniversary season. The earlier version was accompanied by recorded music, while this featured a live performance by virtuoso pianist Christopher O’Riley. We later learned from Basil that it was the pianist’s birthday.

Christopher O’Riley playing Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, as a dazzling array of abstract images appears in time to the music.

Shifting shapes, kaleidoscopes, phantoms, angels, zipping pinnipeds, all kinds of free-ranging associations came to mind over the 1-hour performance of the Liszt transcription for solo piano of Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Attending a concert, especially of piano, with a concert pianist with perfect pitch always adds an interesting dimension. Per Arleene, the 5- movement piece is a bitch to play.

Symphonie Fantastique is a unique aquatic light show. A variety of abstract effects are created in a water tank by hidden performers, using fabric, feathers, mirrors and other props.

The audience was invited afterwards to climb at their own risk to see the tank itself, as well as the array of props used to create the mesmerizing effects.

Some of the many tools employed in staging Symphonie Fantastique.

Congratulating Basil afterwards, seeing my little camera slung around my neck, he asked if I had taken many good shots. Demurring, I said I would have loved to have shot during the performance, but refrained out of concern for disturbing other people (usually, it is expressly forbidden). He invited me to come shoot the following day’s rehearsal, an unusual opportunity to photograph performers with permission.

Leaving the theater, water could be seen streaming into the street, presumably the contents of the tank, now being drained only to be refilled for the following day’s performance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Only the air conditioner installation was scheduled for this day. The only obstacle prior to the shoot at the Symphonie Fantastique rehearsal was lack of a tripod. Strangely, earlier in the week, we had been lamenting not bringing a tripod with us and were considering buying a tripod to leave in New York. Rehearsal was scheduled from noon-5 pm, but thankfully, B & H opens at 9 am. I actually set an alarm clock this day.

At B & H, my salesman persuaded me to expand my tripod wardrobe to a taller and sturdier, eclipse and astrophotography worthy, 4-pound Surui carbon fiber tripod.

Not wanting to arrive at rehearsal laden with a giant B & H bag and then have to unpack the tripod from its box and wrappings, I rearranged my effects on a bench conveniently located after check-out at B & H before heading to the subway to Spring Street, tote bag, photo backpack and one giant waist-high B & H bag and all.

At HERE, a theater devoted to the puppetry arts and the site of the first presentation of Symphonie Fantastique 20 years before, the pianist was playing and the cast was prepping, rolling up sheets which had been spread out overnight to dry.

Lake shows Kate her technique for bending these rolls to her will during rehearsal of Symphonie Fantastique.

In the light of day, the array of devices, tools, and materials put into play for this performance was more astoundingly apparent. Off to the left side of the stage, concealed the night before by a curtain, was the Puppet Hospital, where a hardware store’s worth of more tools, sewing machines, clips, bits and pieces awaited components of the set needing repair.

Where tattered props go for repair, behind the scenes at Symphonie Fantastique

Towards 1 o’clock, the preparation was complete enough for the cast to suit up in their wetsuits. We first met Basil when he was out in La Jolla at the Without Walls festival for his La Jolla Shores based piece Seafoam Sleepwalk, in which an Aphrodite figure arises out of the sea. These same wetsuits had been the cast’s costumes for Seafoam Sleepwalk.

The impetus for this rehearsal were impending cast shuffles, as well as working out some tricky transitions. The stage for this production is cramped and damp, with the performers introducing a variety of effects above, in and behind a 1000-gallon water-filled tank. Performers are dragging, swirling and manipulating screens, objects, feathers and other materials in time to the music, dodging each other and trying not to collide or be tangled.

Readying the next prop to be employed, behind the scenes at Symphonie Fantastique

Sheets and other prosaic articles are artfully emplyed to achieve magical effects in Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique.

Some performers are literally suspended in harnesses above the tank on either side, with others standing on platforms behind, while still more people hand objects on or off stage.

Performers in wetsuits create the effects in Symphonie Fantastique by plunging and swirling objects and fabrics into a large water tank, in time to the music.

Altogether amazingly intricate choreography, communication and practice are required to pull this off. I was struck how supportive the cast was of each other, as one member communicated to their successor their best practices for a particular maneuver, while encouraging them to figure out what worked best for them. Basil was suited up this day in one of the color-coded roles, but usually directs instead of performs. I was struck at the agility required of the performers.

A delicate balancing act, suspended over the tank at the center of Symphonie Fantastique’s magical effects.

As the rehearsal wound down, Steve texted me to meet him at the Tufenkian rug store on Lexington at 56st Street.  We both had zeroed in online on the same clearance Barbara Barry design, Moondrops.  We made arrangements to have a smaller sample shipped to NY to see it in the apartment before committing.

From there, we headed downtown to the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College, intending to attend the opening of a show we’d previously seen at MOPA of the work of Flor Garduño: Trilogy.  We were surprised to find the gallery locked and dark, although a sign for the show was outside.  I dug up the email and my heart sank.  I had read it wrong and entered it into the calendar a day early. We headed home, disappointed we wouldn’t have a chance to say hello to Flor, who we first met on a MOPA trip to her home and studio outside Mexico City.

To compensate, we had a creditable first dinner cooked in-house: sous vide salmon with artichoke and cherry tomato tapenade and sous vide asparagus. We’re still tiptoeing into the cooking vs. take-out and eating out NY kitchen dilemma (our only oven in NY is a toaster oven).  

The evening was devoted to the first 2 episodes of Fortitude, which my sister had described as an addictive, Twins Peaks-like drama with spectacular glacier and icy landscape scenery (filmed in Iceland, set in an Arctic outpost modeled after Longyearbyen, Svalbard, from which we departed on our boat-based exploration of Svalbard last September).

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another settling into the apartment task was accomplished today, with the Art Delivery Service bringing artwork picked up in San Diego weeks before.  We had selected 4 pieces, including Mark Dion’s Scala Naturae to anchor a large wall in the living room.  Steve is a whiz at art installation and within an hour after the driver’s departure, the pieces were installed in their new homes.

For our pre-theater early dinner, I introduced Steve to Ippudo, a favorite of mine and our brother-in-law, Aaron, whose fire house is close by.  Of course, he loved it.  To be sure he had a wide sampling, we shared the Goma-Q cucumber salad, pork buns, Shiromaru ramen topped with pickled mustard leaf (takana), and shiso scallops. The evening’s entertainment was Three Tall Women, directed by Joe Mantello, an Edward Albee work we had never seen and a recommendation from our friend Cliff.  This late work of Albee’s featured an all-star cast, including the legendary Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf (whose Tony Award-winning turn as Nora in A Doll’s House: Part 2 I saw last year) and Alison Pill.  In the first half, Metcalf is a seasoned caretaker to an elderly, imperious, rich dowager called “A” played by Jackson, while Pill is a lawyer dispatched from A’s attorney’s office to sort out bills which are being ignored.  In the second half, Pill is a younger and Metcalf a middle-aged version of A, who tartly comments on events in her past, which are yet to come for her compatriots. Three actresses playing 3 different ages of the same woman seems to be a recurrent trend in recent Broadway productions, as seen a few years back in Fun Home and in this season In La Jolla Playhouse’s Summer, the Donna Summer musical whose opening we were attending the following week.  Albee apparently based the character of A on his adoptive mother, from whom he was estranged.  In the play, there is a silent male figure playing the estranged, gay son, who hovers in the background as a brooding presence.

The ladies of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women receiving well deserved accolades. From left, Alison Pill, Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf, here dressed as the same woman at three different ages.  All of the action takes place in the bedroom of the imperious dowager played throughout by Glenda Jackson.  The entire mirrored back wall of the set rotated in toward the end, allowing us to see down onto the bed of ailing and elderly protagonist.

On the way home, we plotted how to recreate Ippudo’s Goma-Q salad.  Guided by a recipe we found online on a blog called Pantry No. 7, we found almost every item we needed (sugar, sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce, roasted sesame seeds) at our favorite local 24-hour bodega, Annie’s. There was one ingredient that had us stymied: Korean chile flakes or gochugaru.  We pulled the recipe up on a phone and showed it to the Asian gentleman manning the register that night.  He frowned momentarily, then straightened up in recognition, said “Watch the front!” and ran down the stairs, emerging with a styrofoam coffee cup with a few tablespoons of  red chile flakes.  “Try this”, he said and so we did.  In that moment, Annie’s became our neighborhood go-to spot.  Telling this story the following week to Leslie, our realtor and friend, as well as a neighbor in Carnegie Hill, she related a similar tale of going there when she and her husband were moving into their current place.  She went in asking for 2 cups of red wine, expecting to take it in styrofoam cups, all of her dishes and glassware still being packed.  “You can’t take it like that” protested the proprietor,  handing her 2 plates and glasses to use in the meantime. We were finding more reasons to like this neighborhood everyday.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Not having an oven larger than a toaster oven, we were making our way slowly with meal preparation in NYC.  To date, we had been subsisting on avocado toast breakfasts.  But this morning, Steve produced an Instagram-worthy breakfast of sous vide scrambled eggs on English muffin, with asparagus.  Sous vide scrambled eggs are a world apart from normal scrambled eggs, with a unique texture which is utterly delicious.  It takes longer, 30 minutes in the water bath, with hand massaging of the bag of eggs every 10 minutes.  But, worth it, even to this non-egg lover.  Greg had told us they were Ah MAZING!!!! and he did not eggs-aggerate.  Since we were having guests in the evening, part of the morning was spent running the accumulated boxes from various deliveries down to the basement recycling. I have become quite proficient slicing boxes up with an Exacto-knife.  This gave me a chance to meet another neighbor, Francesca, a transplant from Rome. Returning from his new favorite wine store, Mr. Wright’s, Steve broke a bottle of wine on the white marble floor of the lobby while shifting bags from one hand to the other; he arrived at our doorstep dripping. Thankfully, it was white wine, not red!  He did have a decorating victory,  finally finding a satisfactorily matching touchup paint. Ted and Yazi came over, sans kids.  We met them in Antarctica, early in their epic, 3-month, 7-continent honeymoon.  We brought in San Mateo pizzas, accompanied by the recreated Goma-Q salad, which did closely approximate Ippudo’s.

That’s enough for one post.  It was an action-packed first week, between four performances, one museum, one rehearsal, multiple deliveries, shopping for dishes and a rug, touching up paint, and breaking the cooking a “real meal” barrier in the kitchen.  We were ready for our second week, now armed with a single pan and more than 2 dishes!

-Marie

A link to week 2 in NYC is here:

Spring is sprung in NYC: April 2018 (Part 2)

To read more about shooting backstage at Symphonie Fantastique, here’s an article I wrote for Photo Focus:

https://photofocus.com/2018/04/30/symphonie-fantastique-behind-the-scenes-at-a-most-unusual-performance/

To vicariously experience Basil Twist’s Seafoam Sleepwalking at La Jolla Shores, here’s a link:

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