On the 7 and the 6

From my East Side hotel, I rode the L over to the High Line for a quick stroll.

too muchartificial wetlandI budgeted an hour, and it wasn’t nearly enough. I wasn’t expecting a horticulture field trip. Moving north from 14th Street, I saw an artificial wetland supporting Typha sp. and Lobelia sp. (since everything was cultivated and it’s not my neighborhood, I’m not going to chance an ID to species or cultivar); Rhus sp.; Joe-pye Weed (Eutrochium sp.); Rudbeckia sp.; Asclepias sp.; Vernonia sp.;

sidingdetailDaucus sp.; Ilex sp. in fruit; some sad-looking Juniperus sp.; Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi); Purpletop (Tridens flavus); as well as a few plants not native to New York state. But nary a Pawlonia tomentosa or Ailanthus altissima to be seen (or smelled)!

STAFFWith the exception of the red-cedar, all the plants were quite lush, thanks to the numerous gardening volunteers at work on a Tuesday morning.

PARKI love being able to get an different vantage point on streetscapes. On direct observation from the west, this PARK=> appears to be directing drivers into the lobby of a building.

work in progressToward the end of my walk, at 30th Street, I encountered a WTF WIP project.

another iconMuch more completed, the iconic Starrett-Lehigh Building, viewed from the north.

yardsThere must be L.I.R.R. trainspotters, but I didn’t notice any at this corner of the yards.

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Marvin’s Room

This wistful drama with comedy from 1990 gets its first Broadway run, powered by a name-brand cast. The technical means afforded by the American Airlines Theatre make for smooth scene changes (and there are a lot of them); the revolve makes sense here. The cast is gently amplified. Nevertheless, this is a play that wants to be in a smaller house.

Celia Weston is a good sport in playing Ruth, a character who largely serves to provide comedy in the form of euphemisms for constipation and an improbable remote control device.

It soon becomes clear that the important, interesting story arc is the relationship between Bessie (never flashy, always on task Lili Taylor) and Hank (Jack DiFalco). Their quiet one-on-one scenes, well directed by Anne Kauffman, take the time that they need. (But at times, we wish that Hank’s volume to be pumped up a bit.)

  • Marvin’s Room, by Scott McPherson, directed by Anne Kauffman, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, New York
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The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is an entertaining mix of potty-mouthed irreverence (it takes balls to trash a faith shared by fifteen million people) and old-school, conventional stagecraft. Set pieces roll in on wagons; curtains fly and travel in and out; a brief side diversion to Orlando, Florida is accomplished by nothing more than a vividly painted drop. The proscenium frame, suggesting a temple, with its clumsily animated Moroni, is the right mix of splendor and cheese. Musically, there’s nothing challenging here.

Even more subversive is the white boys’ chorus (set against a second ensemble of actors of color and both genders): as young missionaries ready to go out and convert the world, they are squeaky clean, with just a hint of possible man-to-man attraction. That tension is completely blown up by the number “Turn It Off,” led by Elder McKinley (the very able Stephen Ashfield) and sexily choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. A transformation enabled by a reference to The Clapper is too good to spoil (and how did they manage the shoes)? Some of the boys appear in drag in re-enactments of Joseph Smith’s days on the frontier, and the drag works here.

If the running gag with Elder Cunningham’s inability to pronounce Nabulunhgi’s name wears out its welcome immediately, the confrontation between Elder Price (Nic Rouleau gives good teeth) and the General (working that eyepatch is Derrick Williams) that caps “I Believe” is quite tasty.

My takeaway is that, no matter what our belief system, the stories we tell ourselves are “so fucking weird.”

  • The Book of Mormon; book, music, and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone; directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker; Eugene O’Neill Theatre; New York
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Long time no see

I visited The Frick Collection for the first time since high school, as far as I can remember. I came for the Vermeers, but my surprise find was the crazy intricate clocks on display, like David Weber’s clock with astronomical dials, and Jean-Baptiste Lepaute’s globe, still in working order.

In the library, of course there are many uniformly bound volumes on art and artists, as well as a set of Thoreau and Emerson. And Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, by John Fiske. Who he? Late-19th century expositor of Darwin, abolitionist, and (alas) champion of the “Anglo-Saxon race.”

locked outThe grand front lawn, opening on to 5th Avenue, is unfortunately not open to the public. Likewise this nifty garden at the back of the property.

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Advice to the parties

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:21-26
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Proposed access road

TIL that IAD was originally planned to be built in what is now Burke.

And, yes, the story of its relocation is another chapter in the book of wins for well-organized and -connected European-American communities, and losses for African-American ones.

With a Southern Railway line forming the northern boundary of the Burke site, we might have seen VRE or Metro service to that airport in the 20th century instead of the 21st.

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Reflex

RUTH. Is that places?
SAM. Sure, Ruth. Places.
RUTH and DEBBIE. Thank you, places.

GLOW, s1 e7
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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2017: 4

Chelsea Marcantel’s examination of group dynamics within an Amish community, when it is subjected to both the external shock of an outsider committing a careless deadly act as well as the eruption of casual, intimate violence between two of its members, is called Everything Is Wonderful, a title with irony as solid as a horse. Telling one of its stories through fragments of the past and present, it follows Jessica Savage’s Miri, a young young Amish girl who leaves the community under a cloud and seeks a way to return. Savage masters the younger Miri’s innocence, her older self’s sarcasm, and her constant headstrong feistiness. Paul DeBoy is the stolid Jacob, Miri’s father. Director Ed Herendeen, festival helm, puts the expansive Frank Center performance space to excellent use, composing effective stage pictures while managing a couple of the script’s messier technical challenges.

The spine of this piece is a remark by Jacob (helpfully reprinted in the program book: “Forgiveness is a choice. It happens in an instant. Reconciliation is a journey.”

We Will Not Be Silent, by David Meyers, picks up the case of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose resistance movement in 1943’s Germany. An imagining of the interrogation of Sophie (the delicate Lexi Lapp) during the shockingly short period of time between her arrest and her trial and execution (five days), the play zeroes in on the question of conscience vs. self-preservation. Like Arthur Miller’s John Proctor, Meyers’ Sophie vacillates between signing a confession, a mere tissue of words, and maintaining her integrity. Her interrogator is the urbane Kurt Grunwald (Paul DeBoy, again), who can play good cop against his own bad cop. He lets a simple line like “I see” hang in the air like a dagger.

Lest readers infer that playwright Meyers approaches this material from the same point on the political spectrum as Miller, be advised that he is a former intern in the George W. Bush White House.

The title town of Evan Linder’s Byhalia, Mississippi lies just southeast of Memphis, and it earned a page in this history of American civil rights with the shooting of Butler Young, Jr. in 1974, the exoneration of his killer, and an ensuing backlash. Linder’s play, set in the present day, looks at the dysfunctional marriage of Laurel and Jim, a young white couple trying to get by, while the town’s history echoes all around.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Everything Is Wonderful, by Chelsea Marcantel, directed by Ed Herendeen
  • We Will Not Be Silent, by David Meyers, directed by Ed Herendeen
  • Byhalia, Mississippi, by Evan Linder, directed by Marc Masterson
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    BPP in the literature

    It’s very gratifying to read this acknowledgement:

    The authors are indebted to the original BPP [Bird Phenology Program] observers and coordinators who collected the extensive data that comprise the BPP and were used here…. Thank you also to the BPP participants from around the globe who have worked to revive those records by digitizing and transcribing them in recent years.

    The paper: “Long-Term Trends In Avian Migration Timing For the State of New York,” by Jessica Zelt, Robert L. Deleon, Ali Arab, Kevin Laurent, and Joel W. Snodgrass.

    I haven’t transcribed cards for a while; it’s time to get back to it.

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    Contemporary American Theater Festival 2017: 3

    The Niceties, by Eleanor Burgess, is this year’s festival production most likely to spark discussion in the car on the way home. Zoe (the centered Margaret Ivey), an African-American junior at an elite university somewhere in Connecticut, is in conference with her Polish-American history professor Janine (the buoyant Robin Walsh, who brings a little Christopher Durang to the part), reviewing a draft term paper. What begins as guidance about Zoe’s research methods (Janine urges fewer online links, more primary sources) spirals into an extended argument between the two women, who are separated by generation, race, and perhaps other qualities. Granted, Janine is sometimes culpable of some measure of whitesplaining. Zoe’s need to call out Janine for certain insensitive remarks (a gleeful anecdote about wordplay and British imperialism on the subcontinent, for instance) spirals into a full-on shouting match. The piece compensates for its lack of theatricality by being smart and balanced. We eventually learn that Zoe has enjoyed many advantages unavailable to those she considers her peers, while Janine has suffered some long-simmering prejudice.

    There is a power reversal reminiscent of David Mamet’s Oleanna, and a somewhat unclear denouement. Will Zoe work incrementally within the system, as Janine advises, to shape curricula and faculty that better reflect the experience of marginalized people? Will she rage against the machine from without, refusing compromise? Or will she escape the fight altogether, becoming a 21st century Josephine Baker?

    Easily overlooked in the play’s back and forth about class and race is the conflict over what constitutes historical scholarship in this century. What weight are we to give crowdsourced emotional responses, for instance, against a documentary record dominated by a particular socioeconomic group? How do we match the unwritten experiences of 18th-century enslaved people with the Federalist of Hamilton, Jay, and Madison? The rage of a Trump rally with a peer-reviewed research paper?

    The provocative exchange between these two intelligent women, alas, outstays its welcome. The text needs some trimming.

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    Contemporary American Theater Festival 2017: 2

    Along with economic dislocation, the 1970s are surfacing as a minor theme of the festival. That’s the setting for Allison Gregory’s very strong Wild Horses, a one-woman play in flashbacks to the Me Decade and its music of rebellion. Kate Udall portrays seven-plus characters in the life of a fractious 13-year-old girl. Udall’s young girl finds a couple of sketchy friends, raids her parents’ liquor supply, begins to understand the fraught system of human physical relations, and hatches a futile plot to rescue abused horses from a nearby ranch. The coming of age story has shades of Equus set in the Southern California foothills. Udall’s vocal choices are at times difficult to distinguish when three characters are speaking quickly, but she gives each a distinguishing gesture to keep things sorted out. Physically, she is even more accomplished—for instance, a darkly comic scene on a water bed—and especially when she conjures leading a horse with nothing but a looped belt. She gamely climbs on the roof of a vintage van to re-enact her girl’s escape from a bedroom window, even though the set piece could use some serious reinforcement. And she’s quick with an ad lib, whether it’s a bit of costume gone wrong or she’s gotten ahead of her story.

    The Festival experiments with an immersive experience in Studio 112, seating audience members around picnic tables in the playing area (on backless benches, please note) and selling concessions from a side window let into the aforementioned van.

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    Contemporary American Theater Festival 2017: 1

    Welcome to Fear City, set in the Bronx of 1977, tells a straightforward, earnest story of economic uncertainty, racial profiling, random violence, and misguided choices. It’s much in the vein of Lorraine Hansberry. The 1970s dance break is entertaining, but perhaps that’s not playwright Kara Lee Corthron’s artistic objective. She frames the story with some fourth wall-breaking devices that are less than successful. At points, the characters speak their subtext in an exaggerated shuck an’ jive that is gratuitous. And the coda, a polyrhythmic chant, leaves us feeling a tad manipulated.

    There’s a subplot that develops towards the end of the first act—is this a flirtation, or an incitement to arson?—that, unfortunately, goes nowhere.

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    Since 1835

    Washington’s National Theater quite recently gave up its rope-and-sandbags rigging system: it was one of the last of the “hemp houses.” Rebecca Cooper has the story for Washington Business Journal, and there is good video about the transition to the cables-and-counterweights system (less flexible, but standardized) that most hands know.

    Going back a little farther in time, a documentary short from the 1950s shows IATSE Local 22 loading in the National’s touring show of My Fair Lady.

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    Serendipity

    How wonderful to come across a cite of one of our stories from 2006, ‘Adventure Playgrounds’ a Dying Breed in the U.S., by Kristin Wiederholt for KALW, about a Berkeley playground where kids bang together play forts from scavenged nails and scrap lumber, in one of the texts I’m recording for Learning Ally, Julie Bullard, Creating Environments for Learning: Birth to Age Eight, 3/e (2017). (Inside baseball note: This NPR story is so old [in the digital domain], it doesn’t follow our copy editing stylebook that all words in the title are to be capitalized.)

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    Sky Meadows double loop

    On my way out to visit Charlie, I took a fairly easy double-loop hike in Sky Meadows State Park. I didn’t push very hard on the climb, taking the shortcut across on the Gap Run Trail, which proved to be very good for singing Wood Thrush. Acadian Flycatchers, a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, and several Indigo Buntings also were heard and seen.

    The mostly sunny, sweaty summer day was also pretty good for butterflies, in particular a Zebra Swallowtail or two hanging out around its larval host plant, Common Pawpaw.

    not quite sureI followed the Snowden loop (I think this trail is new to me): some gentle climbing as the loop reaches the southern edge of the park property. This trail was much less busy than the ridge trails. At the second stream crossing (not much more than a trickle), I pulled out my camera to photograph an interesting orange and black guy (he didn’t stick around), but I did get a snap of what I’m pretty sure is a Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton).

    Best bird of the day was a Brown Thrasher checking out a ripening patch of (alas, abundant) Wineberry.

    All told, about 3 miles in 3:00.

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