Monday, March 31, 2014

Musically Mathilda

Since seeing Book of Mormon with Piper and Katie B, I've been trying to win the lottery for Mathilda instead. I had tried it once with Kristina and once with Katie M on successive weekends, but to no avail. Last Wednesday since I was working from home, I thought I'd try it again.

As I usually do, I texted people whom I think might be available to join me if I should win. Eventually Liz accepted, but I wasn't able to win. However, they were offering $42 seats as consolation prizes, so I snatched up two of them about three rows back from the stage on the far right. The seats were within arm's length of each other on different rows, but once the lady seated next to Liz realized we were together, she kindly offered to switch seats with me so we could sit together.

The play was wonderful and I loved the music. It was a near-perfect combination of a simple musical theme with a complex staging and a well-layered story that appeals to all ages. Puck introduced me to Tim Minchin a long time ago, so I had a feel for his style already. It has some really catchy hooks that I haven't heard in a new musical since Once. It was difficult to make out some of the lyrics live because of the child voices and heavy accents, but I got the CD and I've been enjoying it even more being able to make out the words. The thing that it does that very few musicals can do is it weaves a spell over the audience and fully immerses them into this make-believe world where you immediately get the characters and understand the world they live in. It was immensely satisfying in almost every way, and I can't wait to see it again.

Best of all, one of Liz's friends - also named Michelle - met us at the stage door and gave us a backstage tour of the show. She works as a part-time child wrangler for the show. So it was a very memorable Broadway visit!

Saturday was Liz's 29th birthday party, although her actual birthday isn't until this Wednesday. She was having a brunch party at Jacob's Pickles on the UWS, but I wasn't able to go to that because I was out late on Friday playing poker with my co-workers and didn't get home until after 2 am. At least I didn't lose any money (I won $2.50) but I certainly wasn't going to be able to get up early the next day.

So I volunteered to go down to the biergarten at The Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District to try and hold a table for the group post-brunch. I made a little table sign with Liz's name on it, but when I got there just after 2 pm, it was so crowded that I despaired of finding a free table. After circling for a few minutes, I swooped down on a half a table and set up my sign. About 15 minutes later Liz, Josh, Lytle, Andrea and her mother arrived, and I met Elisabeth, a ballet dancer and another of Liz's friends. I couldn't believe how crowded it was, considering how awful the weather was outside. But we all had a good time, although the noise was a bit oppressive after a while.

Sunday night I hosted a different kind of event at TSMC - I made a pot roast with carrots, onions, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts in my slow cooker during the day and put out the call if anyone wanted to come by and have dinner with me. Piper, Liz and Josh came by - Liz brought bread and Piper brought some desserts (homemade fudge and lemon cake eggs). So we all sat and had a cozy Sunday night dinner together and talked about movies, dating and theater and laughed a lot. Something about the night made me think of the old folk tale I read growing up called "Stone Soup." It was a very nice intentional family moment for me, and something I'd consider making a regular thing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Songs and stories

So a while back I posted that I was exploring a storyline involving the British duo Tears for Fears and their vocal and writing collaborators, Oleta Adams and Nicky Holland, so I thought I'd share it here before I move on to other musical interests.

So it started with listening to "Woman in Chains" from Tears for Fears' album, "The Seeds of Love," the follow-up to their smash album, "Songs from the Big Chair" that included hits like "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." The follow-up album was famous for its meticulous production - it reportedly cost more than 1 million pounds to record, a princely sum in the 1980s. You can certainly hear the many layers of instrumentation on this song over the distinctive bass line. Lead singer Roland Orzabal said in an interview that he wrote this song after reading some feminist works and coming to the realization that we all have both masculine and feminine sides, and how the patriarchy caused many men to keep the feminine side hidden.

My favorite part of this song is the guitar chord right before the start of the "So free her" final chorus. I love how that chord has this sort of Horn of Jericho feel to it.

Oleta Adams was singing in a hotel lounge in Kansas City when Tears for Fears found themselves in the audience and were so impressed with her singing that they invited her to come to England to sing on their new album. "Badman's Song" features not only Adams' but also some amazing drumming by Manu Katche (famous for his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting). This long-form song really showcases the complex and intricate song structure of this ambitious album, and a credit to the work of co-writer Nicky Holland.

After her discovery, Oleta Adams released a solo album, "Circle of One" that featured the single "Get Here." This song became popular during the 1991 Gulf War as families of deployed troops in the region embraced the tune as a theme song, similar in the way "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" was for a generation before.

When I noticed that Nicky Holland was the co-writer of the two Tears for Fears songs, I went in search of her music and was lucky enough to find her first self-titled solo album at the used music store near my apartment. My favorite song is "Tongue Tied and Twisted" because, well, we all get tongue-tied at times.

The first and probably only time most people have ever heard Nicky Holland was from her cover of the Dusty Springfield classic, "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" that she did on the soundtrack of the Julia Roberts/Cameron Diaz movie, "My Best Friend's Wedding."

I've been listening to a lot of oldies lately, and especially from Lady Ella and her collaboration with Louis Armstrong. Their duets are described in the liner notes as Ella's voice soaring like a bird high above, while Louis' delivery is earthy and grounded, like a tortoise. One of my favorite cuts from their first of two collaborative album of standards is "The Nearness of You," which was later covered by Norah Jones on her multi-Grammy-winning debut album, "Come Away With Me."

Finally, I love this live version of 'Wichita Skyline" by Shawn Colvin at Lilith Fair. Katie and I were talking once about driving across Texas and this evocative song always makes me think about those long drives I used to make across the Southwest.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The impact of random kindness

A random act of kindness really made my evening. I had a ticket to see a Shotz-like group of short plays inspired by famous paintings such as Monet's "Water Lilies" and Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring." The performance was the inaugural series called "Articulating the Arts: A Thousand Words," by a new group called the Articulate Theatre Company. That name just made me think of the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" when Mal is being defensive about kissing Saffron and getting knocked out by her drugged lipstick ("But she was naked! and...articulate!!")

Anyway, work was busier than usual, with meetings at 4 pm and 5 pm, so I was pressed to leave on time to get straight to the theater by 8 pm, which was near Penn Station anyway. I had to catch the 6:15 train to get into Manhattan by 7:30; otherwise, I would have to take the 6:42 express which might have gotten me there, but only just. I was working right up to the time my shuttle was scheduled to leave for the train station, but when I came out, it was gone - they had left without me.

As I was walking in the parking lot, one of my co-workers named Donna, who I know by sight but had never spoken to, was backing out her car and asked if I needed a ride to the station. I gratefully accepted and we got there just as the train was pulling up so I had to run for it and I made it on board with about 30 seconds to spare.

It was fortunate that I got there early because the show was oversold and I was meeting Andrea (from "Galentine's Day party" - February 16, 2014), Joan and Bruce there, and it turned out I was the first to arrive, so I saved four seats in the front row so we could all sit together. I said hi to Liz (who is co-stage managing the production as a volunteer), had a glass of complimentary champagne and we snacked on finger sandwiches, mini spinach empanadas and mini quiches. At curtain time, the place was chaotic with trying to fit in extra seats and get everybody seated - so much so that the play started 10 minutes late. So I was happy to sidestep all that nonsense, thanks to Donna's act of kindness.

The plays were a mixed bag. Some were inventive, some lacked chemistry. Liz's friend Margueritte (one of the Fishkill apple-picking gang) played a barmaid picking up a handsome artist in a play inspired by Edouard Manet's "A Bar at Folies-Bergere" and I didn't even recognize her with her glam makeup. I was watching her thinking there was something awfully familiar about her. I guess this is why I get unexpectedly recognized a lot more than I recognize other people.

There was a poly-themed play called "Tony, Tommy, Bobby & Johnny," inspired by Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry," but the ending was gruesome and horrible, with all the title characters made to fall into factory machinery and becoming ground up together and that was played off as humor. Once again, a writer fails to see the happy ending for an alternative relationship style, but rarely is the fault so ergregious as that one.

It's hard to pick a favorite because all the plays had faults, but I would have to say my favorite was the finale, "Purgatory," about an elderly woman confiding to her adult daughter about being raped when she was young. Also good was one titled "The Virgin" (based on the Gustav Klimt painting) about two people meeting at a high school reunion and discovering their teenage tryst meant different things to each of them.

Joan and Bruce left directly after while Andrea and I helped Liz put away the paintings used as props. Josh met us down in the lobby and we went out to have a drink. Liz took us to a club called BPM to meet a friend, but there was some fancy soiree going on and Liz's friend was the photographer, taking pictures of people in front of a step-and-repeat and we were very underdressed. Josh said he saw Jimmy Smits in the bathroom. The music was also pretty awful, with showtunes being played in the bar and dance music on the dance floor that mingled together like milk and orange juice. Liz said hi to her friend and we left to go to The Pony Bar at 45th and 10th Ave, which was blissfully uncrowded and quiet for a bar on St. Patrick's Day.

The service left much to be desired, but they had a good selection of ales, stouts and ciders, and the fried horseradish pickles were delicious. Liz, Andrea and I all had a glass of the bourbon barrel aged cider and Josh had an Irish stout. We all shared a generous shot of Bulleit 10-year bourbon and we talked until nearly 1 am before calling it a night.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The L-word

Last night Robin and I had our first date in quite a while, longer than I can remember. Even though we don't see each other very often these days, our connection as frubbles remains strong and it's always a joy to spend time together.

We walked about 10 blocks up to City Center to see a dance performance by The Next Stage Project. We got there early, so we went up to the roof where I've visited before and clambered up a 30-foot ladder to the uppermost part to take in the view around us.

The modern dance performances were dazzling and inventive, and broke some new ground by including some vocalizations and even singing. It's a rare privilege to see such grace and powerful movement at such a close distance (we sat in the front row of chairs on the sides, which brought the dancers within three feet of us at times). Puck and I enjoy seeing TNSP a couple times a year - the experience of seeing this communication through movement also comports nicely with our touch communication.

Afterward we went to Totto Ramen. It was Puck's first time to visit, but I was amazed how much it has changed! When I first visited last year with Katie B and Katie M after my TSMC screening of Tampopo, it was a dark, cramped below-ground noodle joint with no climate control and a crowded waiting list. Now, it's a bright, modern and street-level enclosed restaurant about three times the original size (with a huge bathroom by NYC standards) that was able to seat us immediately. The menu hasn't changed and the food is as good as ever, so this was a nice surprise. I suppose there are traditionalists who will miss the old Totto Ramen, but I'm not one of them. The transformation was as startling as Lai Lai Noodle House into Tampopo Ramen in the movie.

We came back to TSMC and had a little improptu Purim celebration and listened to some music, waiting for Puck's homeward-bound train. We had an interesting talk about the L-word (the four letter one), and it reminded me of the following quote I've posted before from Daniel Pinchbeck's book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl:

"Robert Johnson notes that the English language reflects our emotional paucity. Ancient Persian and Sanskrit possessed more than eighty words for love, denoting different qualities and valences of communal and erotic feeling. Whether we want to proclaim our affection for Krispy Kreme doughnuts or our significant other, we are stuck with just the single word, obliterating differences and qualities."

Saturday night Katie M had come over to watch movies, and one that we watched was Another Woman, Woody Allen's introspective masterpiece. It reminded me of the importance of having authentic and honest relationships with the people in my life, and that includes using the right words to describe our feelings toward each other. Unfortunately, our society tends to stifle that kind of honesty in a variety of ways, but I keep trying to find ways to work around that.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Work hard, play hard

As promised, it's been a very eventful past three days, and mostly good stuff. Well, the only not-so-good stuff is work-related, so it's not a big concern to me but we'll get to that.

Thursday night I went out with my BFF Lori to Town Hall to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Patti Austin perform the music of Ella Fitzgerald. I've been delving into the Lady Ella catalog lately, so it was a timely performance. I only know Patti Austin from a couple songs - "Christmas Time is Here" from the Charlie Brown Anniversary album, and "Through the Test of Time" that was on a demo CD from long ago. But I was really impressed with her voice after 60 years in show business.

It's important to me to keep up the opportunities to hear live music after last year's musical Renaissance, so Lori and I also made plans to see Tori Amos at the Beacon in August.

Friday night I met up with Lourdes at TSMC (her first visit to my place) and we walked up a few blocks for the Poly Women's Group at Natalia's place. It was a surprisingly small group, but that might have been better for Lourdes because I imagine it must be a bit intimidating for a newbie to walk into a large raucous group of women, as we can be at times.

I went directly from the meeting down to MMMM, where again it was a very small group and surprisingly, composed of only people I already know - my friend Lori (the professional dominatrix who appeared on Josh's show at the PIT), Sardonica and Kiwi, that's it. Despite there being just the four of us, we had a good craic going, talking about Lori's work, getting older, sharing photos, romantic types, bed theft and many other topics. Lori and I exchanged phone info as we were leaving, since she might show up at Poly Cocktails on Monday.

Saturday was another double-event day as Liz had an extra ticket to see an afternoon play called "Love and Information" at the Minetta Lane Theater in the West Village, a few blocks from Kacey and Becker's apartment. It was a very interesting play, especially from a technical standpoint. It was basically 57 short vignettes that were almost completely unrelated to each other, shown in rapid succession using a dizzying array of lighting, sound and staging techniques.

One of my favorites was a man and a woman sitting at a playground swing. The woman is trying to convince the man that they are married, but he doesn't believe her. She's distraught and says if they made love that would prove it because only they know each other's preferences in bed. He is taken aback and refuses, and it ends. There were many such scenes and partial scenes where I wanted to see the whole play that the scene suggested. So overall it was fascinating, but I found it a little unsatisfying.

We left directly after curtain - Liz went to a meeting for a new production and I went home to meet up with Kristina (again, her first visit to TSMC). We entered the Mathilda ticket lottery (since I've now seen The Book of Mormon, I can move on to something else), but we didn't win. Plan B was to see the new Wes Anderson movie, Grand Budapest Hotel, with Kacey and Becker, but the show they had their tickets for was already sold out.

We had dinner at E&E Steakhouse and we took our time about it. We sat down at about 6:15 and got up at close to 9 pm, and managed to talk through so much life history and all kinds of things we didn't know about each other. It was kind of like the High Line with Kacey all over again, except we actually planned this one (although it wouldn't have happened this way if the movie hadn't been sold out). We came back to TSMC after dinner and watched my favorite Miyazaki movie, Howl's Moving Castle, which she hadn't seen yet. We're going to try and see his latest and last film, The Wind Rises, on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, I have a work call at 10 am but happily nothing planned after that. I should hopefully get some rest before what could be a busy day at work on Monday, and then Poly Cocktails that evening.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Oscar party 2014

It’s been a fairly quiet week for me so far after the big Oscar party on Sunday, where I had seven lovely people show up for a very fun night of food, fashion and friendly competition. From left, we had Liz, Josh, Illona, Lytle, Victoria, Piper and Robin. 

Liz won the leather blank journal for picking Her for Best Original Screenplay, winning a tiebreaker with Lytle, who also picked correctly, by having more correct picks that her at that point. By the way, that poster behind Liz is a collection of famous movie quotes, each illustrated with a clever infographic, a holiday gift from Piper.

Piper was the big winner of the night, taking home a $50 AMC Theaters gift card with an astounding 20 out of 24 picks correct (I got 19 right). Lytle won the AMC Marathon poster for picking Best Film Editing.

Everyone got a CD of Oscar-winning songs over the decades for picking "Let it Go" for best song, the shoo-in category of the year. The songs on the Oscar CD were:

1.     The Way You Look Tonight (1936) from Swing Time by Frank Sinatra
2.     Over the Rainbow (1939) from The Wizard of Oz by Eva Cassidy
3.     Mona Lisa (1950) from Captain Carey, U.S.A. by Harry Connick Jr.
4.     All the Way (1957) from The Joker is Wild by Jeffery Osborne
5.     Call Me Irresponsible (1963) from Papa’s Delicate Condition by Tony Bennett
6.     The Shadow of Your Smile (1965) from The Sandpiper by Chuck Brown
7.     The Windmills of Your Mind (1968) from The Thomas Crown Affair by Sting
8.     Up Where We Belong (1982) from An Officer and a Gentleman by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
9.     (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life (1987) from Dirty Dancing by Glee Cast
10.  Under the Sea (1989) from The Little Mermaid by Samuel E. Wright
11.  Beauty and the Beast (1991) from Beauty and the Beast by Peabo Bryson      and Celine Dion
12.  A Whole New World (1992) from Aladdin by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle
13.  Streets of Philadelphia (1993) from Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen
14.  You Must Love Me (1996) from Evita by Madonna
15.  When You Believe (1998) from The Prince of Egypt by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston
16.  You’ll Be In My Heart (1999) from Tarzan by Phil Collins
17.  Into the West (2003) from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by  Annie Lennox
18.  Falling Slowly (2007) from Once by Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti

The Best Picture inspired menu this year included the following food and drink:

Crackers Phillips - multi-grain crackers with boursin cheese, green onion and capers
Phil-a-mushroom - stuffed mushrooms with bacon
12 Spears You Crave - a tray of long items and dips: pickled asparagus, baby carrot sticks, celery sticks, cheese sticks, beef and turkey sticks, Pringles breadsticks, bell pepper strips, green onion sticks, fresh cucumber sticks, snap peas and baby zucchini sticks.
American Mussels - mussels crudite
Dallas Fryers Club - chicken wings
Her-shey's kisses - dark and milk
Flaming Nebraska - Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow frosting that Liz toasted with a blowtorch

Gravi-tea - "Starry Night" black tea with almond slivers and coconut rasps

Robin did another fine job this year tallying points for the contest. They even came up with some clever descriptions for each person (e.g. Josh's was "Beard of truth, full of tacos")

Monday night Liz and Piper joined Kristina and me at Shotz to the Future at Celebration of Whimsy, a different theater on the LES a few blocks east of Beauty & Essex. Liz actually used to work there, and this was her first time at Shotz – I've been trying to get her to go for almost a year, off and on, give or take. She ran into a guy she knew from the theater scene, and he introduced her to Jenna, one of the Amios family, who was looking for help on upcoming plays, so they exchanged information. 

Jenna looked at me and asked if I've been to every Shotz because she sees me all the time. I told her I think I might have missed one in the last two years since I started coming with Kacey and Becker. She said I’m probably neck-and-neck with another woman for most performances attended all-time. I guess I could go back through my blog and count them up.

Monday, March 03, 2014

2014 Oscar roundup

This week has been all about preparing for the Oscar Party on Sunday. My off-nights on Wednesday and Friday I cleaned the apartment, washing my tablecloth, bath towels and rugs, taking out all my paper recycling, cleaning up the entry hall and moving my hot water dispenser next to the stove to make room on the table. I brewed my Gravi-Tea (the Starry Night black tea I got at Wicked Faire with coconut rasps and almond slivers, because what has more gravity than stars, right?) and bought all the ingredients for my "12 Spears You Crave" and "Crackers Phillips" dishes. The pickled asparagus was a little hard to find, but the nice people at Wegmanns in Princeton were able to track it down for me.

Saturday morning I woke up early for the AMC Best Picture marathon that I’ve done for the past three years. This year Piper and Josh both came with me, so it was fun to do it as a group. I grabbed some good seats in the back of the center section, so there wouldn’t be any issue with people sitting directly behind us. This had the added benefit of allowing us to get in and out by climbing over the back of the seats to the walkway behind us, instead of shuffling past other seated people.

As I do every year, here are my impressions of each of the Best Picture nominees.

Philomena – This was a pleasant surprise for the kickoff movie. Last year’s lead movie, Amour, was a tough swallow at 10 in the morning, butPhilomena was delightful and poignant in equal measure. Judi Dench was wonderful, but we’ve come to expect that from her. And even though the subject matter of a woman being forced to give up her son hit uncomfortably home for me, the director Stephen Frears struck just the right tone to keep it from being bogged down in melancholy. I would have liked to see this win an award, but it didn’t quite muster enough momentum to break through.

Her – I was really looking forward to seeing this one, and it didn’t disappoint. It was funny and sexy and thought-provoking, and Amy Adams has an unexpectedly touching supporting role. Plus, the lead character writes love letters for a living, which dovetails nicely with my annual art project each October. Also, it made me think back to the 2004-2005 timeframe of my life, when I fell in love with Tara online, with just her words on the screen, without ever hearing her voice or seeing her face. So for me, the idea of falling in love with someone’s mind is not at all that far-fetched, especially in my current asexual identity. This is probably the first movie from the showcase that I would buy on Blu Ray when it comes out.

12 Years a Slave – This was the tear-jerker movie of the showcase, as Puck warned me it would be. Very difficult to watch, with many cringe-worthy scenes. Equally hard was to disassociate Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt from their roles in the movie, but somehow I managed to watch Best Actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor without thinking of Serenity or Kinky Boots. At the end, when I was crying my eyes out, I told Piper the movie made me think of all the people in the world who are still trapped in their own versions of slavery who are still waiting to be set free, waiting for society to evolve and treat all people justly and compassionately – and how many will never have that bittersweet ending in the movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street – To me, this was probably the most disappointing movie of the showcase, because I love Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. While I appreciated the technical artistry of the film, the plot seemed derivative to me, a mashup of GoodFellas (Scorsese’s best work),Boiler Room (which is derivative of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street) and Scarface(with the drugs, minus the guns). The kid who comes from nowhere rising up to the pinnacle of power, and the inevitable downfall. Leo did the same thing for Steven Spielberg in Catch Me if You Can. Plus yeah, there were a lot of f-bombs and misogyny throughout.

American Hustle – The first of the two movies I’d seen previously, this one improved on second viewing in the theater. The plot is so complex that I missed a lot of it watching at Liz’s place on her small screen with people talking throughout. It probably didn’t deserve as many nominations as it got, as evidenced by the fact it didn’t win anything. I felt it was the same tone as David Russell’s last work, Silver Linings Playbook, but not done quite as well. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show yet again and proves why she is Hollywood’s biggest female star – she lights up the screen like no one else in her generation. It was picking her for Best Supporting Actress (instead of winner Lupita Nyong’o) that cost me a tie with Piper for the Oscar Night contest.

Gravity – I actually skipped the first two-thirds of this because 1) I hate watching 3D movies, 2) I saw it once already, and 3) I needed to buy some blank CDs to make prizes for the party. Josh also left in the middle because he just didn’t have the stamina to make it any further in the marathon (it was about 2 am at this point). To me, Gravity is a movie like Titanic – technically ambitious and popular in its time, but it will not be remembered as a great movie in the annals of Best Picture winners.

Dallas Buyers Club – Obviously, as this point in the marathon, things are starting to get a little hazy, and impressions have to be taken with a grain of salt. I really appreciated Matthew McConaughey’s performance, maybe even a touch more than Jared Leto’s. I appreciated the film’s message about people suffering from HIV and AIDS. But overall, I found the movie a little boring and one-note and I didn’t really feel engaged with the plot (again, probably because of the late placement in the lineup).

Nebraska – This was hard to stay awake through at 5 am, but I liked the story. It’s hard to watch Will Forte and not think of Saturday Night Live, though. There were many funny moments that would be rewarding on future viewings, but it seemed like quite a longshot to win Best Picture. If the rationale of the Academy was to expand the list of nominees to include popular movies to boost ratings, this seems like an odd choice to do it.

Captain Phillips – This was probably my least favorite of all the nominees, mainly because I detest Paul Greengrass’ “shaky-cam” aesthetic that ruined the Jason Bourne franchise for me after the first movie. There’s less of that in Captain Phillips, but it’s still just not my kind of movie. The Wolf of Wall Street was disappointing because I expect better from Martin Scorsese, but this movie was just not my cup of tea because in a lineup of “based on a true story” movies, this was the least interesting story to me.