Monday, April 14, 2008

How to turn 40: Step 4

We are home. We've been up since 2:30 Chicago time so we could be on the first flight out and I could report to work enriched but exhausted at 8:00 this morning. We are very tired. But not too tired to share some more highlights of our fabulous birthday Broadway blowout!

44xX: Get the brioche french toast. Fabulous! Don't get the huevos rancheros. Ranchero-less! Ogle the staff. Ogluous!

August: Osage County: This epic piece of theater takes the Southern Gothic traditions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and ratchets up its characters' utter collapse to the levels of King Lear ... and then smothers everything in the acrimony of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for good measure. The extended family at its center fails spectacularly, irrevocably and unpredictably over the course of three-plus hours and two intermissions. And I was completely swept up in its collapse Saturday afternoon, alternating between stifled sobs and gasps of laughter for the whole ride. The fiancé has learned that I like to mull over plays, musicals and movies alike, discussing them for days after I see them as I continue to wrap my brain around the playwrights' intentions, the directors' interpretations and my own evolving opinions. But out in the light of day, this play strikes me more and more as a soap opera wrapped in an after-school special dipped in a reality show rolled in an entire season of Dallas. Its characters survive every—and I mean every—Bad Family Tragedy as three generations dance together and apart in an intricate tango of lies, failure and blame. Don't get me wrong; it's epic, moving theater. But it piles on the Trials of Job awfully thick. Then again, it just won the Pulitzer, so what do I know? (Let me point out, though, that I just gave you an overview of the play's general themes without spoiling a single moment of its many surprises. Which makes me a far superior human to the New York Times' Charles Isherwood, who pretty much cataloged every spoiler in his review ... which the theater dumbassedly posted in giant type on its sidewalk displays. DO NOT READ IT if you intend to see the play. Which I whole-heartedly recommend.)

Hell’s Kitchen: Between shows, we met my friend Arno for dinner at a fabulous upscale Mexican restaurant curiously named for the neighborhood it occupies instead of the fabulous food it serves. We all practically licked our plates clean ... and then we stabbed each other with forks so we wouldn't have to share our desserts. EAT HERE. And get the tres leches. And do not, under any circumstances, share it.

Xanadu: What can I say? It's a delightfully campy stage version of a campily terrible movie. It's a festival of gay jokes and Cheyenne Jackson's brutal thighs lovingly wrapped up in a string of disco show tunes. It's inventively choreographed and expertly danced. And I speak with loving admiration and thinly veiled jealousy when I say that the pipes on the singers could put the horns on a garbage barge to shame. I have only two complaints: 1) the show looks kind of shabby, like an off-Broadway show that suddenly made it big and in all the excitement forgot to upgrade its wigs and sets, and 2) the sound mixing is so sloppy and so thoughtless that we couldn't understand a good three-fourths of the spoken dialogue. Which is a shame. At least I think it is a shame; we have very little idea what all we missed because we couldn't understand it.

Great Jones Café: We met Joe and David for a fabulous brunch on Sunday at this out-of-the-way spot in the Bowery. Then we explored the hood for a while, getting great New York history and trivia from both of them. They took pictures to mark our meeting, so I didn't. But they have yet to share the pix, so there's no proof we actually supped together.

Curtains: Dippy, silly fun. A great book punctuated by a mostly great score. Curtains is Kander and Ebb's final musical, which is not the strongest way for them to go out, but I'd still happily see it repeatedly. It stars the adorable David Hyde Pierce (for whom the fiancé and I have both threatened to leave each other) as a detective struggling to solve a string of backstage murders at a mediocre musical called Robbin' Hood. The bad-musical-within-a-musical trope is always a great way to squeeze together a bunch of unrelated music and allow major characters to burst into song with reasonably plausible frequency. We love Debra Monk and Karien Ziemba, and they deliver all the sass and moxie and Broadway diva fabulousness we'd hope from them in this show. Unfortunately, Curtains also co-stars Edward Hibbert, who is as fey and mush-mouthed and startlingly untalented here as he was on Frasier. His enduring career is one of the great mysteries of the theatrical world.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses: I’ve never seen a Broadway preview before. I’d assumed previews are full performances where minor, minor, minor kinks are worked out: refining the nuances of a lighting cue, finding a more suitable prop, tightening the chin strap on a dancer's wig, etc. At $100+ a ticket, I’d never expect a Broadway preview to include actors flubbing their lines … or coming on stage holding scripts that they've poorly hidden in the props they are holding. And yet, right there at dramatic end of Act I, the doddering old Madame de Rosemond marches out and proceeds to read her lines to poor Madame de Tourvel, who is having the breakdown of her fragile emotional life. Appalling lapses in professionalism notwithstanding, the production is quite lovely. It stars Laura Linney, and the fiancé was almost palpably giddy at the prospect of seeing her in it. Unfortunately, her performance is kind of ... wooden. And this comes from two big old homos who want nothing more than to love her in this sumptuously bitchy parlor drama of manners, appearances and cruelty in 1780s Paris.

Celebrity sightings: I’m traditionally not so good at this game, and this trip coughed up names only the most ardent theater fan would know: As we were walking to dinner one night, we’re pretty sure we saw Karen Ziemba heading in to a performance of Curtains. We definitely saw Rondi Reed hugging her castmates goodbye after two back-to-back performances of August: Osage County. And we saw Edward Hibbert (huzzah!) in the lobby of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. So since he wasn’t in the natural habitat of his own show, he’s the only true random celebrity sighting we had. LLD was a rare Sunday evening performance, and we’d hoped to see a lot of Broadway stars from other shows stopping in to see it on their night off, but no such luck. I did see Helen Mirren’s hair at intermission, but it didn't appear to be attached to Helen.

Times Square: It’s just like Disney World on a holiday weekend. Except with more Patti LuPone posters. And it's almost as if the city was just waiting for me to come celebrate my big milestone birthday in its show-tune-scented arms. Because in preparation for our arrival, it slapped this poster on the side of almost every phone booth from Times Square to the Bowery:

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