On any visit to the Big Apple, we try to fit in something special (a show, an exhibition, a garden, and so on). Yesterday, we saw Mark Twain's new play "Is He Dead?" at that wonderful theater, The Lyceum. Yes, you read that correctly: The Lyceum. Oh... :-) This is a new play by the man who famously observed that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. I should explain...
The producer, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, found the play while searching through Mr. Twain's papers at the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley. Written in 1898, while Mr. Twain was in Vienna, he was recovering from the death of his daughter, and just starting to emerge from a bankruptcy, the play represents him not quite at his irreverent best. You would never be able to tell, however. :-)
A thoroughly enjoyable romp through the often-farcical world of art, Mark Twain pokes fun at much more; like all of Mr Twain's work, he picks on a subject to tell us of the world, and of ourselves. More on that, later. When originally staged, the play wasn't successful. Maybe picking on one of France's greatest painters didn't exactly help! The new version (it's been cut from 3 acts to 2) will surely be successful!
Considering the number of reviews that mention that crossdressing is involved in the play, I feel that I'm giving nothing away when I mention that crossdressing has a significant role in the play - indeed, it's the way Mr Twain gets his point across! A group of starving artists decide that one of them will "die", in order to drive up the value of his paintings - the problem of not being able to enjoy that new wealth being solved by the introduction of the artists' sister... (If you're transgender, crossdresser, etc, and are in the area: you might want to go see this play!) :-) Everyone else: GO SEE THIS PLAY!
Norbert Leo Butz (Wikipedia) is perfectly cast as Jean-Francois Millet. Millet, I should note, was a real guy! Mr Twain, apparently, freely admitted that his characterization had not ounce of truth in it. Anyway, Mr Butz plays both Millet and his "sister", Daisy Tillou, with enthusiasm. (That's the crossdressing bit.) In Act 2, Mr Butz demonstrates just how capable he is! If you're one of those hyper-sensitive transgender people, who take to perceived slights with enthusiasm, please don't go see the play. Mr Butz clearly enjoys the role; his caricature is not only very funny, but I'm quite sure Mr Twain would wholeheartedly approve!
The cast is wonderful; of note were the performances of Jenn Gambatese, Jeremy Bobb, and Byron Jennings (he plays the bad guy, Bastien André, with such delicious relish!) (I couldn't find a bio link for him).
A thoroughly enjoyable play, and one worth seeing. Don't take the kids: there's some adult themes, and we both thought some (many?) of the jokes would just fly over their heads. (An acquaintance of the Mrs' asked for that info.) The very odd NY Times review notwithstanding, I can recommend this play to anyone in the mood for a very funny farce.
After that, we went to see the model trains at Grand Central. They're well hidden - they're in the Transit Museum shop, which can take some finding if you rely on the directions from the various information booths. Worth taking a look at, the overall display is a bit "lifeless" - it looks like it's their first year of putting a display on. The cityscape - complete with King Kong, climbing a very impressive Empire State Building - makes the trip worthwhile.
We changed our itinery a little for this year: the windows at Saks and Lord & Taylor have been disappointing over the last couple of years, so we didn't "do" them. We did Macy's (not too bad, but a bit repetitive of last year's efforts), Bloomingdales, and Bergdorf-Goodman's.
Bloomingdales efforts were very charming! They had worked with a children's group, and the kids had put together the displays. It was really nice, and very imaginative. Bergdorf Goodman's display was, quite simply, incredible! One of their best yet, it was a visual feast. After that, I really will have to post the photos to Flickr! (Something I'll do later today, or tomorrow.) I'll see if I can put some of them into this posting, with some commentary.
While viewing B-G's, we saw an Important Person dashing past, complete with Secret Service entourage. "Dashing" might not be correct adverb: they were trying to get through some of the busiest streets in the city; 'impatiently crawling' would be a better term. Unfortunately for the entourage, sirens and yelling over the car loudspeakers doesn't have much affect on New York City drivers; if anything, it irritates them. And demonstrate that by subtle moves such as moving out of the way, but leaving the end of the truck hanging out in the other lane a little too far for the Parade to get by... Or simply by yelling back. The Important Person's Parade did manage a pace not much faster than walking pace; it was all quite enjoyable, actually. Pretty blue and red lights, sirens whooping, and nothing much happening at all! I was quite appalled when we got on the bus, and as it was going across Central Park South, I saw the same Parade - and they had the east-bound lane pretty much blocked from just after Columbus Circle. The arrogance of blocking a major NYC artery is quite staggering; besides, taking such revenge only to really irritate NYC drivers. And will only further persuade NYC drivers that they should ignore these meaningless displays of force.
We did visit the Borders bookstore at 57th and Park; it's one our favorites, even if its layout is a bit convoluted. Borders emailed us one of their special offers, so we took advantage of it. 3 CD's for $10 each; what could be worse? I finally snared a bluegrass tribute to Led Zeppelin that seems to be quite recommended by "those that might know these things". I also got a couple of Jacques Loussier Trio recordings - two I've actually been searching for! (Yes, I do try to avoid Amazon! I prefer to visit the stores, and help fund some jobs.)
Oh - we did see the new Apple Store! It's at the General Motors building, a wonderfully tall building, now with this huge glass structure in its plaza. Very I. M. Pei, it reminded me of that triangular structure he did at The Louvre. (Am I the only one in the world who likes that?) There's a good panorama at "Panorama's.dk" (Careful: that one takes a long time to load!) I think the architect was Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
Dinner was supposed to be at The Chip Shop, in Brooklyn, but we decided, instead, to stop by the Elephant and Castle on Greenwich St, in the Village. As it happened - we got a parking space just in front, and when we finished dinner, we had the good luck to be at the only problem-free exit to NYC! (The Holland Tunnel.)
All in all, a wonderful day out. Go see "Is he dead?". :-)