Sunday, March 31, 2013


A farmhouse on a hill located in Bucks County with a nearby barn, trees and pond.  There is a morning room with comfortable chairs and large window.  Vanya (David Hyde Pierce ), who is in his late 50s, and admitting to being gay, is seen in a nightshirt carrying coffee.  Sonia (Kristine Nielsen), his stepsister, 50ish and rather shy, enters with a cup of coffee for Vanya.  A spiff ensues because Sonia brings him his coffee every morning resulting in Sonia throwing the cup of coffee against the wall.   It is the first of the humorous aspects of Broadway’s latest Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.  

There is another sibling, Masha, who had gallivanted to pursue her acting career and with the death of their parents leaving Vanya and Sonia to take care of the house.  Chekov references are made throughout the play having parents who gave them these names via the author’s writings.

Enter Cassandra (Shalita Grant), the cleaning lady and soothsayer who will pause dramatically and go into her visions or “soothes”.   From her accent, she appears to be from Jamaica.  “Beware of Hootie Pie”.  Will we ever find out what that means?

Masha (Sigourney Weaver), also in her 50’s, comes into the picture and bringing a self-involved man in his late 20’s with the name, Spike (Billy Magnussen).  She will be talking about herself being in the movie business and Spike looking to succeed.   Cougar situation and already having five husbands.

It seems that Masha has gotten an invitation from an extremely wealthy woman who bought the Dorothy Parker house up the road.  It is a costume party. She is going as Snow White and wanting Spike to go as Prince Charming.  She also wants both her brother and stepsister to dress as one of the seven dwarfs. 
Spike, who has gone down the pond for a swim, brings back a young lady that he met. Nina (Genevieve Angelson) is young and pretty.  No need to say more.

Sonia as decided to be the Evil Queen from Snow White, but played by Maggie Smith on the way to the Oscars.  Hilarious!  End of Act 1 and that’s all you need to know.

I suppose that If one knows more about Chekov, it would be funnier in getting some of the jokes.  Otherwise, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will keep your attention and in good laughter.   One of the best scenes happens toward the end with Vanya as he delivers a monologue. 

Sigourney, Pierce and Neilson are fabulous!   Although Magnussen and Angelson give a fine performance, the comedic aspect owes- the title of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Cassandra”.   I highly recommend this show.

Friday, March 29, 2013


A contest is held every year by a Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas.  Ten people stand around a red $15,000 hard body pickup truck. When the starting whistle blows, each person puts one hand on the truck. They wear gloves, so as not to mess up the paint job. And they keep standing there (with some 15 minute breaks) until one by one, each gets tired or no longer motivated and drop away, with one person left standing. That person gets to keep the truck. This is the premise for the new Broadway musical, Hands On A Hard Body, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Let’s begin with the characters.  Each contestant  sang their “poor me” solo to back up their need for the truck.  Music was fine but the lyrics were getting pretty predictable and sometimes, the diaglogue.  One character sounded like Forrest Gump when he spoke, but lost the accent when he sang.  Same with the “Mexican” who either spoke Spanish or English with a Spanish accent. 

It was getting predictable when the actors did their “show off” number and were the next to leave.  The whole thing reminded me of a jazz band.  They all play the song and then each plays their solo of which the audience is forced to applaud. 

Here are the ten contestants.  J.D. Drew (Keith Carradine), 60, is a “good old boy” with gray hair and a high grin. He is accompanied by his wife, Virginia (Mary Gordon Murray).  Greg Wilhote (Jay Armstrong Johnson), early 20’s, a freckled white kid with a baseball cap. Kelli Mangrum (Allison Case), 22, pretty brunette with steel ambition. Jesus Pena (Jon Rua) the Mexican kid in is 20’s, who keeps reminding us that he is a US citizen.  Heather Stovall (Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone), 29, a flirtatious blonde restaurant hostess. 

Janis Curtis (Dale Soules) is a tough old lady with sun-burnished skin and missing teeth.  Her husband, Don (William Youmans) wears a cardboards sign “I love you Janis, Go baby Go”.  Ronald McCowan (Jacob Ming-Trent), 35, a good-natured African-American with a slight Louisiana accent. His singing is predictable. Chris Alvaro (David Larsen) is a well-built ex-marine wearing a pair of aviator glasses that conceal his eyes.  Norma Valverde (Keala Settle) is a stout Latina woman in tennis shoes and a floral appliqué t-shirt.  It becomes quite clear that she is motivated by God.  In fact, she provides the audience with a number  (“Joy Of The Lord”) that begins with her contagious laughter leading into a choreographed dance as each of the others join in and move the truck in various directions…the highlight of the play. 

I didn’t leave humming any of the songs, composed by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green. 

On the positive side…everyone was on key and other than accents, they all did a fine job both in full numbers and solos.  The choreography by Neil Pepe was well done.   Not much on sets and that’s okay.  Other than the truck there was a stage left area devoted to the Nissan dealership. 

Perhaps there will be a show about the New York tradition of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and call it, “Hands On A Soft Weiner.” 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Who Wants To Be A Millionaire had a question of nickname for one of the Cable Movie Channels.  Contestant asked audience.  69% said, "Skinamax!!!  Much laughter followed! Even Meredith said it was an appropriate answer. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I did my shopping today at the Fairway Market in Douglaston.  They had ground sirloin on sale for $3.69 per pound.  Then there was ground pork.  I asked about that one.  Mostly boneless sirloin plus shoulder, butt and fresh ham, for $1.99 per pound.  They grind the meats there. I made a hamburger using half and half.   Not much fat.  Added a little salt and nothing else.  Placed it on a challah bread roll.  BEST FARKIN HAMBURGER I'VE EVER HAD!!!! 

I prepared 9 pretty good size burgers from this.  The price came out to 90 cents a burger!

Next one, I'm going to add Tamari Sauce and some fresh ginger (ground on a microplane grater).  



Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Open the door and you see a bar on the right taking up more than half the length of the restaurant.   Tables and chairs line the opposite wall.  Lots of space in the middle.  Even more at the front of the bar.  Continue to the back up a few steps to about a half dozen tables that are surrounded by a sort of couch padding and what could be construed as the “dining room” aka private “vip” area.  Dance club type music fills the air and only for the atmosphere.

The purpose is to draw bar goers, who love to mingle, drink and eat.  Don’t expect “bar food” as Ivy Bar and Grill would be more likely to refer to themselves as a “Gastro Pub”.   Located at 944 Eighth Avenue and 56th Street, the menus have twists on food as well as not the most common beers. 

Take, for instance, about a dozen just on tap.  Jacob, one of the managers, gave me some descriptions.  Leffe is a Belgian wheat beer, similar to Blue Moon, with a bit of smoothness. Mother’s Milk, an Irish stout.  Ommegang Witte, a white Belgian, with orange, smooth beer similar to a Stella Artois.  Bronx Ale. Why not?  Brooklyn’s got theirs and so the Bronx has one as well.  This pale ale is “hoppy” and refreshing. Peak Organic.  And for those that have a wheat allergy there is a Hard Cider. 

I eyed a cocktail called, Acai Lemon Drop.  Grey Goose vodka, Cedilla Acai Liquor, lemon and fresh acai berries.   Might as well have one that appears “healthy”.   It tasted both sweet and tart…loved it.

We now get to the food.  Jim Hanley is the Executive Chef who put the twists on what one would construe as “common food items”.   Start with using local produce from the Farmer’s Market, along with fresh seafood and meats.   Sampling the menu I opted for an array of appetizers, of which most are meant to share.

Salmon Carpaccio.  It’s not sliced as thin as a beef carpaccio, as this one has to be at least thick enough to flash broil this sushi grade salmon.  It’s topped with a spicy ginger aioli and crisp vegetable threads (I must inquire how this is done).  

Polenta Fries.  What a great idea.  The herb infused “corn flour meal” is cut up into thick “French Fries”, sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese and served with a dip.  

Spice Crusted Tuna on Plantain Chips.  This sushi grade tuna is dusted with spices and seared rare. Served on plantain chips with avocado cream and grilled mango, they are accompanied with two pepper sauces.   I found that although both the salmon and tune were slightly cooked, they retained their “non-fishy” flavor.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops.   They have this as an appetizer with almond peach vinaigrette, sliced scallions and basil.  An entrée portion has mango relish, jalapeno crema, accompanied by grilled asparagus, sliced garlic potatoes, and cilantro scallion sauce.   This one screams “fresh”.

Layered Shrimp and Avocado is like a shrimp cocktail served in a jar.   The black tiger shrimp is halved, with a layer of chopped lettuce, avocado and green goddess dressing.    A few layers of this. 

Shrimp Sliders.  5 spice marinated shrimp, sautéed, dressed with scallion ginger aioli served on mini brioche rolls. Accompanied by an Asian style slaw of carrots, cabbage, sriracha, and rice vinegar.

Lobster Tacos.  The fresh Maine lobster meat (after cooking whole lobsters) is cut up into chunks and mixed with grilled corn, tomatoes, and basil cream.  It is served on 3 soft flour tortillas. 

Sweet and Spicy Calamari.  The fresh calamari is cut up into both the rings and tentacles, breaded and fried.  A sweet and spicy sauce is drizzled over the top as well as having a peanut ginger sauce to dip it in.   Very tender and a welcome change to dipping it in a marinara sauce.

Steakhouse Springrolls.    Mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, sliced steak in a crisp spring roll with a homemade steaksauce.  Two long springrolls each cut into two pieces.   A mini-meal unto itself.

As for the rest of the menu, there are sandwiches, burgers and entrees to partake in.   They are working on desserts.

Monday, March 18, 2013


A 1930’s looking auditorium preparing for graduation.  Old fashioned wood carved podium, school banners with one that reads, “The graduating class welcomes Governor Ann Richards”. Backdrop screen projection of 1988 Convention.  Ann Richards is introduced to a roaring crowd.  “Twelve years ago, Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, made the keynote address to this convention, and two women in a hundred and sixty years is par for the course. But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and with high heels.”

This quip was one of many in the new Broadway show, Ann, both written and portrayed by Actor Holland Taylor.  Taylor, who did countless research and interviews, performs as she imagines Richard’s life to have been.   Truth be told, I had absolutely no clue to the background and concluded that Ann, not only holds for being a one-woman show but is probably the best non-musical of the season, let alone kudos for the comedy.

“Now there was a driving issue in Texas that will sound somewhat familiar, about whether or not children should be punished if they spoke Spanish in public schools. Ma (Texas’s first female governor) said, ‘if the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it is good enough for the school children of Texas’.”

She continues talking about her childhood, career and viewpoints. The phone rings and a second stage moves on replacing the scenario with an office.   A second voice is heard from a side office or intercom, but we never see another person.  At this point Ann is in her “Governor” stage as we now get a strong glimpse into her family and political career through phone calls and calling out to her secretary, Nancy (Julie White). 

We are then back to her talking about her life and after the four years in office. One of my favorites is, “If I got turned out after my concealed weapons veto, without which every Tom, Dick, and Harry could jus’ walk into your home or your place of business packing heat, then I say, ‘So be it’… Now I tole ‘em I might consider a law that lets guys carry guns hanging from a chain around their neck. That way we could say, ‘look out, he’s got a gun’. And the idea of women carrying a gun for protection? Give me a break, Gladys. 
There’s not a woman in Texas could find a gun in her purse. “

In her final speaking to the audience, Ann refers to the rest of her career, death and philosophy.   How much of this is Taylor’s own insight and philosophy is something to dwell on.   Two thumbs up and a big toe for Holland Taylor. 

Ann is being performed at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Cirque du Soleil is back in New York City with their latest show, Totem that premiered April of 2010 in Montreal. Written and directed by artist Robert Legpage, Totem traces one fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian stage to its desire to fly.  The characters evolve on the stage with what symbolizes a giant turtle, something that is behind many ancient civilizations. 

The visual background is a swamp with video images that become a river source, a marsh, a lake, an ocean, a volcanic island, a pond, and a starry sky.   As the show commences we see the main character, The Crystal Man, as he descends the sky animating the turtle’s skeleton.

What are the acts? Here are just some of them.  Bars - The Giant Turtle shell is whisked away to reveal a community of amphibians and fish that lives beneath its carapace. They burst into a playful parallel bars number, leaping from one bar to the next, criss-crossing in mid-air with inches to spare.

Rings Trio -Bollywood-inspired music accompanies two men as they compete against each other on the rings, until a woman arrives and shows them how it’s done. With her graceful movements and physical strength she takes to the skies above a summer beach.

Foot Juggling- Two Crystal Ladies emerge from the fiery bowels of the earth to evoke the creation of the world and the beauty of minerals. Wearing sparkling costumes that mirror the Crystal Man, the artists spin squares of glittering material on their hands and feet.  It was like watching winners of a pizza pie toss.

Fixed Trapeze Duo - Like two lovebirds, a young man and woman tease, play and sulk in an innocent game of seduction and eventually intertwine their bodies in a lighthearted vertical dance of fresh, unusual movements and lifts.

Manipulation - The Scientist features an orchestra of glass containers filled with mysterious fluorescent fluids as he steps into a transparent cone and juggles with luminous balls that might represent planets or molecules, making them chase after each other in spiral orbits.

Roller Skaters - In a scene that evokes a wedding ceremony, a pair of roller skaters spin and whirl at heart-stopping speeds atop a tiny platform, 1.8 meters in diameter and shaped like a drum.

Russian Bars – What would we do without them? The jumpers are launched into the air and fly weightlessly across the sky leaping from one bar to the next with astonishing agility that represents the escape from gravity.

No Cirque du Soleil is complete without its comic characters and Totem does lend itself to physical amusement. I have seen Cirque du Soleil since 1984 when they performed in Quebec.  Great show. Many times I felt as if I were watching the winning acts of America's Got Talent. Excellent musical score, but not much vocals.   Performance is at Citifield.   Best to go when there is no Mets home game.