The Great White Way

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So here I find myself at Friday, the end of the first long work week after my return from a fantastic vacation.

I’m a little tired, a little stressed, a little melancholy. A week ago today The Good Man and I were walking the High Line in Chelsea and feeling relaxed and happy.

Today I’m sitting at a desk feeling anything but relaxed and happy.

And so to curate the memories from my time off just a little while longer, I’ve decided to write a review column.

While in New York, The Good Man and I took in three Broadway shows. Below are my reviews of the three shows, presented in the chronological order in which they were viewed.

And away we go:


 The Anarchist

The Good Man and I arrived in New York in the early evening on Saturday and so we simply had some good food and slept. Sunday we started exploring, and late in the afternoon, decided to hop over to the TKTS booth to see what sort of Broadway tickets we might scare up.

Most of the shows were already sold out, but The Anarchist still had seats available. The show was still in previews and the opening wasn’t until the following Saturday. The play was written and directed by David Mamet, he of the Glengarry Glen Ross fame and a well known and well respected playwright.

In addition, the play starred Patti LuPone and Debra Winger, two notably amazing actors.

Basically, we reasoned to ourselves, a new Mamet play with two amazing performers should, by all accounts, be worth seeing.

So we plunked down the cash and went to the show.

I knew going in that any Mamet show was going to have a lot of talking and not a lot of doing. Oh dear god. I had no idea what was in store for me.

Here I’ll borrow someone else‘s words to set the background:

The play is set in a prison. LuPone is Cathy, an anarchist who had shot police officers and has been in prison for 35 years. Winger’s role, as Ann, is less clear. She is probably a prison psychiatrist. Ann asks questions and Cathy answers, philosophizing about religion, the meaning of life and redemption.

Naturally, Cathy wants out. She wants to see her father before he dies and argues that she has served her time.

Ann keeps asking her where one of her accomplices is, and Cathy says she does not know. Ann asks her about redemption and about being born a Jew who has been reborn a Christian in prison. They talk about it and then talk some more.

The show began as most Mamet works do, right in the middle of the conversation. You as an audience member have no context. You just gotta run, hop on and don’t ask too many questions.

The freight train sped along for just seventy minutes then abruptly stopped.

We in the audience applauded because the performers did the best they could with the material.

Then when we stopped clapping, we all looked at each other like “what the hell just happened?”

My biggest fear at that moment was that The Good Man was going to turn to me and say “wasn’t that great!?!?!”

He did not.

Afterwards, over an egg cream, we talked about the show. At first I felt really disappointed in the whole thing, then I got a little mad.

Mr. Mamet has always been massively self-indulgent in his works, but this went beyond the pale. And that he forced two fine actors to rattle through his haphazard script is pretty much a crime.

Basically, this whole thing left a really bad taste in my mouth. Isn’t Broadway supposed to be the best of live theatre?

(A final note: Just this week, in the wake of the official opening on December 1, the show has received awful reviews and will close December 16th after just 17 regular performances. Seems it wasn’t only The Good Man and I that were put off the show.)




Image from backstage.com



Nice Work If You Can Get It


Two days after the disaster on 45th street, The Good Man and I dove back into the fray.

We visited the TKTS booth again and this time picked up tickets to the show Nice Work If You Can Get It.

This combined two happy elements for us. The book is inspired by some of the works of PG Wodehouse, he of Jeeves and Wooster fame and author of hundreds of hilariously funny books, and the music and lyrics of Gershwin.

Oh, and it stars Matthew Broderick.

As an aside, as we were stepping up to the ticket taker at the very doors of the theatre, he said to me “hang on a moment” and from behind the door came Mr. Broderick’s wife, Sarah Jessica Parker. She was extraordinarily nice to everyone, thanked the man taking tickets, said excuse me to us and made her way out. She must have stopped by for a quick pre-show “break a leg” to the hubby.

As she walked away, The Good Man commented, “wow, she’s really cute in person” and I totally agreed. She is actually quite adorable in real life and very sweet. I think the camera does her little justice, actually.

After the star sighting, we found out seats. As the curtain went up, both The Good Man and I had very high expectations for the show.

Very, very high expectations.

And not only were these skyscraper high expectations met, but also blown right past. (< - terrible grammar, and yet I don't care) Set in Prohibition era New York, the show had a zany story line that roughly centers around a rich guy on the eve of his third marriage who, stumbling home sauced after his bachelor party, bumps into a sassy bootlegging girl, and is a bit taken with her. Through a series of funny events, the bootleggers end up hiding their gin in the basement of the rich man's Long Island home ("I never go there"). When the man and his new wacky wife show up to honeymoon at the same home, they end up surprising the bootleggers. Lots of singing, tons of dancing and a lot of hilarity ensues. The cast is amazingly talented and the show just flowed beautifully from start to finish. Mr. Broderick really can do anything, can't he? Sing, dance, act, theater, television, movies. All of it. And while Mr. Broderick was the most well known actor in the cast, really Kelli O'Hara is the star of the show. She is luminous and definitely enchanting. Hell, by the end of the show I was ready to marry her! What a great show and what a great way to regain my trust in the quality of the shows on Broadway.




Image from Entertainment Weekly

And finally…


War Horse

We had seen War Horse here in San Francisco and it really resonated with me on a very deep level.

In fact, The Good Man and I had been talking for a long time about a trip to New York, and it was my desire to see War Horse on Broadway that became the motivating factor.

I didn’t want no TKTS who knows what seats we’ll get scenario. I insisted The Good Man buy tickets early and get the best seats he could.

Oh boy did he. Second row. From start to finish we were right in the middle of the action.

Since New York’s Lincoln Center has a pretty big stage, the production was a little different than in San Francisco and in many ways the performance was far better.

Whereas when I saw the show at The Curran in San Francisco, we sat quite a bit back and I was very into the storyline of the horses, meaning I stared at them the whole time and the actors were secondary.

Being so up close this time, the puppet horses simply integrated into the scenes and I was all up in the middle of the characters and their story. Being able to see facial expressions and quite literally sit in the middle of the action was a profoundly different experience.

As with the last time, I was completely engaged in every moment of the show and when “the big sad part” came along I did again cry my eyes out, but it was so much more real this second time. When the lights came up I had dried up my eyes, then immediately started crying again. Then I stifled it and went to the restroom to clean up. And so I cried again.

All of this crying occurred even knowing what was going to happen and when. And knowing how the situation resolved itself.

There is really something about the crucial scene when Joey, our lead horse, is caught in the barb wire on the battlefield that about does me in. I should probably hire a qualified therapist and figure that out. It just demolishes me. (and that’s good theatre, folks!)

As The Good Man hugged me while I wailed like a baby, I said to him, “I don’t think I can do this again.”

My goal after seeing the show in San Francisco was to see it again in New York, then see it a final time in London. But have mercy, I don’t think I can go through that again.

What an amazing show. For anyone reading this who may say, “Oh, just watch the movie” I say no. Absolutely not. The magic of this show is the amazing puppetry of the animals. This play is the story of World War I told from the view of a horse which makes it groundbreaking. It’s the puppetry of the horses that makes it exceptional, and there is no way a movie using real horses can even come close.

Whew, just thinking about it again gets the tears burning at the sides of my eyes. It is just so profoundly good.

Our original plan after the show was to go to Rockefeller Center to watch the tree lighting. No way that was going to happen as I was a soppy mess, so we tucked into a family run pizza joint and noshed and kibitzed with the owner and watched the lighting on TV.

Yeah, pretty much among the top five most amazing days of my life.




Image from performingarts.about.com


Ok, well there you have it. What I wouldn’t give to have the kind of time and money to go back to New York and see every single show on Broadway. I’d love every single ding dang minute of it.

Well that’s that, and my lunch hour is over. Back to the salt mines.

Oh, I see I have eight new emails from the Boss Man. How fun.



Willing Suspension of Disbelief

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“An actor struggles to die onstage, but a puppet has to struggle to live. And in a way that’s a metaphor for life.” – Handspring Puppet Company, creator of puppets for the stage show “War Horse”

Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of joining two very dear friends and The Good Man for a night out on the town. We started at a little French restaurant for both dinner and great conversation. We lingered a bit over our food, but skipped dessert as we had tickets to the theater, and it was nearing showtime.

While I have seen quite a few stage productions in my life, I am not what one would call a “theatre geek.” All three of the other talented people at the table self-describe themselves as such, so obviously I learn a lot from them every time we are together.

On that beautiful night in San Francisco, we found ourselves at the venerable old Curran Theater with tickets in hand to see “War Horse.”

This show first came to my attention at the 2011 Tony Awards (where it picked up five awards). The brief yet enchanting moment when the puppet horse came on stage sent a jolt to my soul. I turned to The Good Man and said, “Let’s fly to New York to see it!” and he smiled, as The Good Man does, and inserted reason into my life. “I bet it will come to San Francisco. Let’s see.”

Of course he was right.

Life almost got in the way, because this past weekend was the closing of the San Francisco run of the show. Whew! I owe The Good Man so much for pulling this one together.

Now, while I love the quirky old Curran, she also makes me tired. It’s small, short on bathrooms, the seats are massively uncomfortable and it’s stifling hot inside. And yet I keep going back there because they stage some of the best shows in the world.

I went into this production with extraordinarily high expectations. They were all beat. Hand’s down.

This is the most magical and profound show I have ever witnessed.

It’s no secret that I am a horse person. I have spent time among horses. I’ve studied them. I was trained to ride by a protégé of Monty Roberts (the inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer”) and she taught us in his style.

Which is to say one must listen to a horse. You must note the posture of their ears. Understand why a foot stamp. Realize that a deep inhale or a deep exhale actually means something.

I’ve spent hours simply watching a horse so that I could hear what it was telling me.

So you know I was going to have an extraordinarily critical eye when it came to the puppetry in this show.

I’ll cut to the chase…they nailed it. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. From simple ear flicks, to a shivering coat when brushed, to head posture. At one point, there was a long dialogue between two human characters while two horses stood off to the side. The horses sighed, tipped a front hoof on edge, stamped, and shifted weight from side to side. If you’ve ever made a horse stand still you’ve seen all of those. It wasn’t affected, just simply natural.

These bits of metal and canvas transformed into actual horses in my eyes. It was absolutely magical.

And then woven around this astounding feat of puppetry was a really difficult story set during World War I.

A boy’s father wins a young horse at auction and the boy and horse embark on a deep friendship. Albert trains the horse, Joey, with ease and understanding. They have that special bond that only a horse owner can know. But when England goes to war, Joey is sold into service for the cavalry by Albert’s father. Quickly, our young Albert lies about his age and enlists so that he can find his horse and keep him safe.

It is an extraordinary journey through history, exploring many notable events of WWI.

I’ve often been told in crafting stories that there are no new plots and it is the job of the writer to find a way to bring a new perspective to a known story. In this play, the underlying story is one we know. War is awful. Ravaging. And it irrevocably changes those who were sent to the front lines.

We know that story, but when you add the majestic layer of these well wrought puppet animals, it becomes something almost cinematic. How they staged such an ambitious production on the Curran’s small stage is still a miracle to me.

From light cues to small movements to the amazing work of the puppeteers, this show transcends theatre. You willingly suspend your disbelief and don’t want it back for a single moment.

It was perhaps one of the most profound moments of live theatre I’ve ever experienced.

Now I’m sad that I waited so long to see it because I want to see it again. This despite the fact that I totally ugly cried right there in the theatre. I mean cried so hard I was afraid I couldn’t get my composure back. Thankfully I was in good company, most of the patrons shed a couple tears, too.

We were all that engaged in the story.

Driving home, The Good Man and I talked about the show. I wanted to know what he thought about it from a theatrical perspective. He wanted to know what I thought about the accuracy of the portrayal of the animals. Together we decided it was unlike anything we’d ever seen.

Whew. I was so emotionally done-in that I slept like a rock that night. Over Sunday breakfast The Good Man and I again idly discussed the show. Just trying to speak about one of the more powerful scenes in the show brought tears to the corners of my eyes.

It’s rare and beautiful to find a piece of creative work, be it a book, movie or play, that gets inside the cellular walls of your soul and hangs on. “War Horse” is that, for me.

I will be thinking about that show for a very long time and trying to find a way to see it again.

Hey Good Man, I think it’s still playing on Broadway. How ’bout a road trip?





Hard to believe these mechanical devices become real horses, but they do




Image from AlEtmanski.com