“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the luck I’ll never have again


It’s official. I have the theater bug, and I’m not getting better anytime soon. The week I saw “Hamilton”, I saw FOUR SHOWS, three of them in four days. For a variety of reasons the tickets (besides “Hamilton”) were very reasonable, but still. Four shows.

I’ll get around to talking about all of them in due course, but first I have to tell you about a very special outing to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. I’ve been hearing about “Hedwig” since it opened, and while it sounded interesting, it had never made it to the top of my list. But it’s a favorite of my “Cabaret”-loving friend, and when she suggested we try for the lottery together on a Saturday night, I was all in.

Our plan was to try for the lottery for the 7 p.m. show and then come back for the lottery for the 10 p.m. show if we didn’t win – and then, if that failed, we’d just buy discounted tickets for the 10 p.m. show. Secretly, because I am incapable of functioning past midnight, I was hoping we’d get tickets to the 7 p.m.

“Hedwig” marked only the second time I’d entered an in person lottery. (Last night marked the third, when my friend and I unsuccessfully tried to see “Hamilton” again – yes, we’re obsessed.) The first was for “Wicked” at the height of its popularity – no luck. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up at 4:45 for a 5 p.m. drawing. My friend frantically texted me that she was stuck in traffic a little ways away, so I wrote my name down and crossed my fingers that she’d get there before the 5 p.m. cut off.

She made it. She ran up to the table at 4:59 and put her slip in, then came over to wait with me. The girl minding the lotto shook up the entries, put her hand in, and called the first name.

The second name she called was my friend’s.

The fourth name she called was mine.

I was SHOCKED. But I told them to throw mine back in, which got a little cheer from the crowd, and then waited till my friend collected our tickets. They were for the second row, just off from center, for $37 each. Yes, really.


Photo credit @alixinchausti, awesome theater companion and “Cabaret”/”Hedwig” historian. 🙂

After a quick dinner at Olive Garden (I’m a sucker for those breadsticks), we went to the theater. Like our first trip to “Cabaret”, I’d decided not to look up too much about the show before I arrived. I knew it was about Hedwig, an aging German rocker who has had a botched sex change operation (the “angry inch”). My friend gave me a little more context – it’s played as if it’s a one night only, present day show, at the Belasco Theater where it plays, on the set of a musical that’s just closed. When you arrive, peek around the floor of the theater and look for a spoof playbill from the “musical” – I won’t spoil what it is for you, but it’s pretty great.

One of the best part about seeing “Hedwig” right now (and the reason you should try to see it before April 26) is that John Cameron Mitchell is currently playing the title role. Mitchell, who is 52, is the show’s writer (along with composer Stephen Trask) and was the original Hedwig in the off-Broadway production seventeen years ago, as well as in the film adaptation. It was so neat to see him in this role he created. After the show opened last year with Neil Patrick Harris (who won the Tony), Hedwig was played by Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall before Mitchell stepped in. Despite an injury (which Mitchell works into the show in wonderful ways), he is full of energy and is fascinating to watch. Darren Criss is up next in the role, and though I LOVE him in the “A Very Potter Musical” shows on Youtube, it will be a very different show.

The music is stunning, the story is fascinating, and I was privileged to see Tony Award-winner Lena Hall as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband, before she left the show, and watched with wonder how she made so much out of tiny reactions and facial expressions. And her songs! Wow. Her replacement, Rebecca Naomi Jones, starts on April 14.

As we sat in the front row and the floor vibrated under our feet, we laughed a lot and cried a little and danced in our seats, along with everyone else in the theater. With Hedwig breaking the fourth wall because under the show’s premise, there ISN’T fourth wall, it was a theater experience unlike any other I’ve had. Did I mention the music is amazing?

If you’re interested, check out the show’s website for more information – I wish you our luck with the lotto!

Have you seen “Hedwig”? What did you think?


Reading about New York

First posted March 19, 2014.

Most of the nonfiction I read falls into the memoir category, with an emphasis on travel. But one of my favorites is Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, a book for book lovers. If you haven’t read it, buy it now. It’s short and you’ll read it so quickly you’ll wish it were longer. I’ve read it a couple times and love all of the essays, but one of my favorites is called “My Odd Shelf”.

It’s about Fadiman’s obsession with polar exploration and the collection of books she has built centering on it. You can read a little of it in this review, but the concept is a simple one: many of us voracious readers have a niche topic which fascinates us, one that the general population wouldn’t understand. I have a few of them – favorite authors that I’ve read almost everything by, girls’ mysteries stories with a focus on Nancy Drew and books about Nancy Drew, and fairy tales. But I’m starting to build a small collection which could be called “Books about NYC that I haven’t finished reading yet.” Not quite like Fadiman’s collection. Oh well.

The only book in this collection that I did finish is called My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City, and I gave it away. It’s a collection of essays from New York Magazine by notables from all fields about what New York was like when they first arrived, whenever it was. I saw it on the ubiquitous New York tables at bookstores and museums and finally gave in and bought it. It was, like Ex Libris, a quick read, but a good one.

Another “saw it everywhere” purchase was New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, edited by Teresa Carpenter, which offers snapshots of the history of this city in diary entries from New York residents throughout the city’s existence. I’ve dipped into it, but have yet to read more than 40 or so pages. What I’ve read, though, was fascinating!
When I graduated college I was given The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn as a gift. It traces the history of each section of the borough I’ve lived in since moving to New York, and while I’ve read up on some of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, I have yet to read all of it.

Not strictly about New York, but my friend gave me a copy of To Marry an English Lord, the book that inspired “Downton Abbey”, and while I’ve only read about three-quarters of it, I was struck by how many of the American heiresses in it were from New York society, and by the portrait of that society it painted.

A book that is useful for this blog: the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: New York City 2014, given to me by the fabulous Allie Singer. Once the weather’s a little nicer I’m going to use it to plan adventures in parts of the city I haven’t had the chance to explore yet.

On my to-be-purchased list: Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve seen it in the Met bookstore (where else) and my fascination with museums means I will eventually get around to buying it.

What’s on your odd shelf? What books do you buy faster than you can read them? And what books about New York should I add to my read-eventually pile?

“The Last Five Years”, the movie

The Last Five Years

I think I’ve more than established my love of musical theater on this blog by now, so it will surprise no one when I say that I watched the new “The Last Five Years” movie, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, on its opening night last Friday. My friend and I did not go to see it in the theater as planned (Village East Cinema is the only place in NYC showing it this week) because the showing we wanted to see sold out before I managed to buy a ticket. It was a bummer as Jason Robert Brown, the composer, was doing a Q&A, but it may have worked out for the best that we ended it up buying it on iTunes and watching it at my friend’s apartment.

Why? Because it meant that when we got to one of the few line changes in the musical and it turned out to be the kind of moment where we both started laughing and couldn’t stop, we were able to pause until we could breathe, and then we rewound and watched that bit again. (For fans, I’ll say it was the change to the line “These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical” that cracked us up – you’ll know why when you hear it.)

If you haven’t heard of this movie, let me try to sell it to you. First of all, it’s the new Anna Kendrick movie! Didn’t you love her in “Pitch Perfect”? My mom tells me “Up in the Air” was phenomenal, too, and she got an Oscar nom for that one! She’s a great actress and singer and she really gives a wonderful performance here, so if you’re a fan of hers, it’s worth a look.

Anna Kendrick as Cathy

And since this IS a blog about life in NYC, I can’t neglect to mention that the movie is set (and filmed!) in NYC. Cathy (Anna Kendrick) lives originally in an apartment in Red Hook; we see Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, from the musical “Newsies” and the TV show “SMASH”) hanging out near the water on a boardwalk and it quickly becomes clear he’s right near the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook. The couple end up sharing an apartment (unrealistically, in my opinion!) on 73rd street in Manhattan, and they get engaged and married in Central Park. Jamie even hangs out in Madison Square Park before visiting his publisher, Random House, which is implied to be in the Flatiron Building, where Macmillan actually is. There are other moments that show snippets of NYC, and together they really ground the story here in the city, in a way that the stage show, which usually has a pretty simple set, doesn’t.

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

So for the uninitiated, what is this even about? “The Last Five Years” is the story of a five year relationship between two twenty-somethings, Jamie and Cathy. Jamie is an aspiring novelist who finds enormous success very quickly, while Cathy is a struggling actress whose career never quite takes off. It’s told through alternating songs between the two characters. Cathy’s first song opens the movie, showing the end of their relationship after Jamie has left her, and her numbers work their way back to the beginning of their time together. Jamie’s first song tells of the start of their relationship and continues on until he leaves her. In both the show and the movie, their voices only come together in song twice: once, in the middle, when their timelines meet and they get engaged and married, and again at the end as Cathy sings about saying goodbye until the next time they meet and Jamie sings about saying goodbye forever as he leaves her.

It’s a bit of a complicated conceit, but it works. In the stage show, the actors only connect with each other during the proposal/wedding song, but in the movie the two are in almost every scene together, reacting to the other person’s words and speaking occasional dialogue. It adds a depth to each character that I found fascinating, and my friend and I made new connections between lyrics and events that we hadn’t before, despite the fact that we’ve both been obsessed with this show for about a decade. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the cast recording with Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, and I was thrilled to see a production when I was in college and another one here in NYC two years ago at Second Stage, directed by the composer.

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I’ve been reading reviews in an effort to understand what non-fans might think about this movie, and they’re mixed. If you’re not a musical fan at all, you probably won’t like it, since it’s basically sung through. If you like your narratives to have a traditional narrative structure, you might not like it, since Cathy’s story is told backwards. And if somewhat selfish characters turn you off, as many reviewers seem to have been turned off, you may not like it.

But here’s the thing. It’s a movie about two people in their twenties striving for something they love and falling in and out of love. Yes, they’re selfish, and yes, you come to understand very clearly that these two were not meant for each other. It’s about ambition and jealousy and misunderstanding and being young and moving too quickly. Jamie and Cathy can both be pretty terrible to each other, but their pain is real, and the show paints a picture of why each acts the way they do. Different viewers will come away thinking one or the other is to blame for their relationship falling apart, and that’s okay. I think my opinion changes each time I listen or watch, and that’s what makes it such a great show.

As a teenager I listened to it, loving the hyperbolic outsized emotions of the long songs and dreaming a bit about falling in love. As a twenty-something I see myself and my friends in it as we struggle with careers and love lives and how to fit ourselves into them, or fit them into us. I bet my perspective will change when I’m in my thirties, and I know I’ll be revisiting the movie for years to come. I already half watched, half listened to it again the other night.

The change from stage to movie is a difficult one, as “Into the Woods” made clear. My friends and I have talked recently about how moving to film should add something to the show, something which can’t be achieved in the theater. As good as “Into the Woods” was, nothing exciting was added in translation. But with “The Last Five Years”, the vibrancy of the NYC backdrop made a huge difference, and seeing the characters react to each other made the fact that they weren’t really listening to each other even clearer. My friend pointed out how little true eye contact the two make, despite being together throughout the film, and how much emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of their relationship – there’s just as much lust as love to these two, and that’s something that isn’t clear in the stage show.

There are in jokes for fans, like the fact that the two women who played Cathy Off-Broadway, Sherie Rene Scott and Betsy Wolfe, both make cameo appearances, and that the composer, Jason Robert Brown, has a cameo as the audition pianist who “hates” Cathy and screws up her accompaniment. These are grace notes for obsessed people like me and my friend, but the quality of the music, the acting, and the cinematography stands for itself. The story may be a bit confusing for new audiences, but it’s the kind of complex that is ultimately rewarding.

If “The Last Five Years” isn’t playing at a theater near you, you can find on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, or other places on demand. Watch the trailer here.

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Warm up with the hot chocolate festival at City Bakery

First posted February 14, 2014.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. If you like hot chocolate, you should go to City Bakery this month. It’s located at 3 West 18th Street in Manhattan, and right now they’re in the midst of their annual hot chocolate festival. Each day in the month of February they offer a different flavor of hot chocolate, from banana peel hot chocolate to bourbon hot chocolate to something called Ode to the Polar Bear hot chocolate. It’s definitely a good Valentine’s-Day-month activity, if you’re looking for a date idea — or just a delicious outing to do with friends!

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a hot chocolate purist. And by purist, I mean reverse snob, because I often prefer cocoa mixed with water to fancier, thicker, hot chocolate. In Italy I had hot chocolate so dense it resembled warm brownie batter. Don’t get me wrong, I love brownie batter, but not when I want hot chocolate.

But City Bakery’s flavors are fun and adventurous, and in this cold, cold month, what could be better than a nice warm cup of cocoa? What’s the most interesting kind of cocoa you’ve ever sampled? And should I someday go to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate? Discuss!


NOT from City Bakery (from Max Brenner) but man, those marshmallows were delicious!

“Into the Woods” and out of the woods and home before dark

The blizzard-that-wasn’t messed up my week a little — but also gave me a work-from-home day, so I’m calling it even.  I was supposed to go to a concert on Monday night at Subculture, featuring Jason Robert Brown, Sierra Boggess, and (the real draw for my friend and me, since JRB is doing a whole series there and we can see him another time), the one and only Norbert Leo Butz. I saw him in “Big Fish” (he was great, the show wasn’t memorable), but otherwise haven’t seen him in anything – just fell in love with his voice as Fiyero in “Wicked” and Jamie in “The Last Five Years”. I’m bummed that it got canceled, especially since it’s unclear whether Norbert will be joining JRB in one of his other shows.

But I can’t really complain, because even without a Norbert sighting, this was a two show week for me. Wednesday night I went to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” (more on that soon, probably next week) and on Sunday, after that yummy brunch at Max Brenner, I went to see “Into the Woods”.*


I’ve talked about “Into the Woods” a little bit on this blog before, but not in any depth. It’s an interesting show. I’ve now seen four productions of it, meaning it’s tied with “Camelot” for the show I’ve seen the most times. I’m not sure that makes it my favorite show. In many ways, it should be. As I’ve said before on here, I love stories about story, and “Into the Woods” is certainly that. It’s also about fairy tales, which are some of my very favorite things. The music is sometimes catchy, sometimes beautiful. I haven’t listened to much else by Sondheim, so I can’t say how it compares, but the songs do run through my head after I’ve heard them. It has quirk and charm and hope, but no easy answers. All things I like. But it also has a ton of plotlines that can keep us from caring that much about any given character and a first act that can feel long while the second one can feel rushed. I like the show, but I have problems with it.

The Roundabout production is a unique one, put on by a company called Fiasco Theater. The show consists of a group of ten actors playing all the parts. There’s always doubling in “Into the Woods” – the narrator is sometimes played by the Mysterious Man, the Wolf is usually portrayed by one of the princes, and so forth. But with only ten actors, this production had to get creative. The princes, for instance, also were Cinderella’s stepsisters, and one of them played the Wolf while the other doubled as Milky White, the cow. The costumes were minimal, usually just a base with different props  or items of clothing added or subtracted to indicate character. Jack donned a coat to play the Steward, and the prince, when playing the Wolf, picked up a – well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.


Those surprises were a huge part of the humor of the first act. At the talkback my friend and I attended after the show, one of the actors described a good set as being like a great playground, with lots of great toys. As the show progressed, we never knew exactly what an actor might pick up to convey a certain character or to represent an object or setting. The set is centered on the piano, which is present throughout the show and which is exploded out to become the set itself. Piano harps lined the wings of the stage where curtains usually hang; metal keys formed the proscenium framing the stage; and ropes representing piano strings crisscrossed the back of the stage. From the ceiling of the stage and extending out into the house hung a ton of chandeliers. My friend mentioned that she’d read a review that said the set looked like it had been ordered off Etsy – I’d amend that to say it came from Anthropologie, and I was fine with that!

The actors had great rapport, not surprising considering a core group of them make up the Fiasco Theater company. Most of them did their MFAs together at Brown and they’ve done a number of shows together. They weren’t a diverse bunch, and I’ve heard more polished singing before, but their acting was great and overall the music was as lovely as ever. They left out a few things, including the Midnight bits where fairy tale advice is offered, but the show was left more intact than it was in the recent movie.

For me the most interesting part of this version was the turn from first act to second. It’s always a shift, but in the first act the gimmick of the minimalist casting and staging was always at the center of the joke. In the second half, the doubling loosened a little (partly because several characters die!) but the gimmick was still there – it just didn’t matter as much. Maybe it’s because the second half is so serious compared to the first, but I felt myself get caught up in the story in the second half in a way that I didn’t in the first. Some of that is the story itself – the fairy tales are shallower as they wend their way toward the happily ever afters. But some of it was done through choices by the directors, choices that kept the focus on the action.

If you have an opportunity to see this production, either here before it closes on April 12 or elsewhere if it continues to travel, I recommend it. It has all that I already love about this show, and it’s put on by a creative and talented group of people. I’m interested to see what Fiasco Theater does next!

Have you seen this production, or another one? What do you think about “Into the Woods”?

*I know I’ve probably said it twelve times on this blog by now (and more in person – sorry, friends), but if you live in NYC and you’re under 35 (or have friends who are under 35, which, you all do) and you’re not taking advantage of HIPTIX and HIPTIX Gold already, you are missing out. To recap, HIPTIX is free, signing up to it gets you two $25 balcony tickets to each show put on by Roundabout Theatre Company. HIPTIX Gold involves a $75 that gets you access for a year to two $25 tickets per show – but this time on the floor. I’ve seen five different Roundabout shows since then (and I’ve seen “Cabaret” multiple times, because it stretched across two seasons), and all of them have been really well done.


Brunch at Max Brenner

It’s a snowy day here in NYC — not as snowy as we’d expected, but snowy enough, and because mass transit was shut down last night and is only slowly getting back to normal, it’s a work at home day for most of us. So while we’re all hopefully cozy, let me share an experience I had this weekend that will make you hope you have hot cocoa in your cupboard.

It was Sunday morning and my friend and I were meeting in Union Square. We were headed to a matinee performance of “Into the Woods”, but first we needed brunch. We didn’t have a set place to meet, so when I texted her that I had just gotten off the subway, she texted back to say she was walking up from the Strand, and did I have any interest in brunch at Max Brenner, since it was right near Union Square.


I’d never eaten at Max Brenner, but I’ve walked past it dozens of times over my years in NYC. And I knew one thing about it: It’s all about chocolate. My answer, of course, was yes.


We settled in at our table and took a glance at the decadent menu. There were breakfast items like waffles and pancakes that sounded intense, and I opted to keep things simple: mac n’ cheese, and a hot chocolate with marshmallows.


My friend got hot cocoa too, and they came in these funny little handle-less mugs. I loved the plates they were sitting on, too!


By the time our lunches came I was too hungry to remember to take pictures of it, but my mac n’ cheese was delicious. Not my favorite — that still, weirdly enough, belongs to Panera — but still pretty good.

As we wound down after eating and chatted, I kept snapping photos of the decor. There were stacks of giant chocolate bars sitting along the backs of the booths.


And on the walls you might spot inspirational chocolate messages, like this one.


The hot chocolate machine behind the bar looked amazing — I want one for my apartment!


When our bill came, it was in this awesome tin.


And when it was time to leave, we took a detour to check out the chocolate shop.


We managed to leave without buying anything… this time. The meal was pricey, even for NYC brunch, but it was a fun experience and I’d go back again — maybe just for dessert. Bet they have a wonderful chocolate cake on that menu…


Hey Ladies at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

I’ve talked about Housing Works’s bookstore café on this blog before. It’s a bookshop in SoHo where all of the merchandise has been donated, most of the staff is made up of volunteers, and all of their profits go to support the good work done by Housing Works, an organization dedicated to helping people with AIDS and HIV. I love any and all bookstores, especially used ones, but Housing Works is special because of its mission, its beautiful space, and the awesome events that are held there.

I went to one on Thursday night. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (or talk to me in person!) you might know that I love the site The Toast and even had a couple pieces published by them last spring. The Toast does a lot of things really well, and one of those things is humor. Many of the humor posts are by one of the Toast’s founders, Mallory Ortberg, but I would have to say most people’s not-Mallory favorite humor on the site is the Hey Ladies series. You can read them here — make sure to start with the oldest one and work your way forward. I’d say go and do it now, but you might never come back from that rabbit hole.

Back in the fall the two writers responsible for Hey Ladies, Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss, held a Hey Ladies: Live! event at Housing Works. I went with a friend and was treated to an hour of live readings of the emails of a group of fictional women living in or near NYC whose unhealthy group dynamic is so terrible and yet so compelling. The thing is, reading this series, you’re laughing at and horrified by these women, but you also come to realize that you’ve been on email chains that, if just a little more over the top, might have been just like these ones.

And I know I’ve started emails with “Hi ladies!” before. I know, I’m ashamed.

Thursday night was Part 2 of Hey Ladies: Live! at Housing Works. The theme was Home for the Holidays and the women read several holiday-related email chains, from St. Patrick’s Day (in Hoboken…) to the merits of seeing a high school ex on Thanksgiving Eve — and a premiere of a new piece, the characters’ letters to Santa.

Here’s the thing: Except for the Santa one, I had already read all of these pieces. But it didn’t matter — the delivery of the readers had me laughing the whole time. The “real” hey ladies emails that they read between pieces, submitted by the audience, were also a blast. I just hope no one recognized themselves!

My friends and I really enjoyed ourselves, as I’ve had at every event I’ve been to at Housing Works. If you’ve never been, pop in to browse the next time you’re in SoHo, or check out one of their events. You won’t be disappointed!

And seriously go check out the Hey Ladies series over at The Toast. I promise you’ll laugh!

The Improvised Shakespeare Company

After all the theater and New Year’s celebrating I did the week before last, I decided I needed a quiet week and weekend. Besides a choir rehearsal and a brunch, my evenings and weekend were left wide open, perfect for relaxing. I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I made it to the gym three times last week. If I do it again this week, it’ll be cause for celebration.

Anyway, it was late Sunday afternoon and I had just gotten home from my brunch, with a short stop on the way back from Manhattan to run some errands. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating some cereal and counting down till 6 p.m., when I could pick up my laundry.  Around 5:30, my cell phone buzzed. One of my friends from brunch had told me she was going to see a performance by the Improvised Shakespeare Company that evening, and now she was texting to say one of her friends couldn’t make it and did I want to come along.

The show was at 7 p.m., at Theater 80 on St. Mark’s Place, a small theater I’d never heard of before. It was going to be a bit of a rush to get there, and I’d have to wait to pick up my laundry on the way home, but I’d heard about this show from friends before and it sounded like something I would love. Besides, it was only an hour – I wouldn’t even get home all that late.

I’ve said it before, but one of the best things to do when you live in NYC is to be willing to say yes to random opportunities. The only other improv experience I’ve had since moving to NYC was Freestyle Love Supreme, but I knew this was something I shouldn’t miss. I made it to the show with just a few minutes to spare and found out my friend had front row seats. I sat down, met her other friend who was there, had a nice chat about “Downton Abbey” (don’t spoil it, I was coming back from the show when it was on and haven’t watched yet!), and then the lights went down on the house and up on the stage and it was time for improv.

The title of the one hour improvised performance was suggested by an audience member: THE MASK OF MURDER. It was, as one of the players noted, both the opening AND closing night of this very special Shakespearean show. Hee. Five men proceeded to enact a show that was a mishmash in themes of Macbeth, Hamlet, and perhaps King Lear, with some interludes with French soldiers that reminded me of the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Watch from Much Ado About Nothing.

It was over-the-top and absurd, and while I’m not sure their speeches were all in iambic pentameter, the language WAS decently Elizabethan – except when they were quoting song lyrics. There was a long running gag involving references to songs by R.E.M. My friend and I both had a little trouble catching this since neither of us know that many R.E.M. songs, but most of the audience got it. I cracked up when crows became an important plot point, since a group of crows is called a murder, and we all laughed when a character said he hadn’t done something because he’d been too busy counting crows.

Each actor portrayed at least three and sometimes more characters, and by the end of the hour practically everybody was dead, as they should be at the end of a tragedy. The only one left was the mad wife of a duke, who was now queen due to everyone else being dead, in large part because of her machinations. I’ve forgotten her closing speech already, but it was one of many that included great rhyming couplets.

The show was silly, the jokes were dirty, the actors were clearly having a fantastic time – I’m sure Shakespeare would approve!

The Improvised Theater Company is based out of Chicago but they come to New York every few months. Check out their site to join their mailing list and find out when you can see a show. I know I’ll be going back!

Stories in the Theater


I’m on the subway on a local train. It’s Saturday night and even though I’ve just left Times Square, the train isn’t crowded. I spot an express train across the platform and consider switching, to save some time, but decide it’s not worth it.

It’s my third night of theater in a week, my second in a row, and I keep thinking about the shows I’ve seen. I’m listening to the Broadway cast recording of “Into the Woods” to drown out the teenagers – or maybe they’re college students – talking at each other at the other end of the car. But I saw the movie last week, and I’m seeing the stage show soon, and it fits in with the where my thoughts about the other shows are going.

“The Real Thing”, which closed this weekend and starred Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Cynthia Nixon, is a Tom Stoppard play about a playwright and his complicated relationships. It had me thinking about writing, and storytelling, and the way we talk to one another. If we rehearse something we want to say, or write it down, before we tell it to someone, does that make it less genuine? If words are polished instead of spontaneous, what does that do to their meaning? And what about the stories we tell about our lives? When I’ve told a story so many times that it has its own rhythm when I tell it, does that make it more real or less real? Does a story lose truth when it’s been shaped, or does it gain it?

“Side Show”, which also closed this weekend, is a musical based on a true story about conjoined twins. But it takes liberties with their history, and within the show there are stories shaped around the characters that aren’t always true, stories shaped to achieve certain goals, from freedom from abuse to entertainment and profit. Even though the story isn’t all true, there’s truth there – isn’t there? Even though it’s been molded and retold to provoke a reaction from the audience, the heart is still there – and if some of the themes in “The Real Thing” are to be believed, the shaping of it might be what reveals its truth.

I don’t want to give too much away about “The River”, starring Hugh Jackman, since you can (and should!) go see this well done, thoughtful play before it closes on February 8. Knowing too much about it might spoil it. But I will say it’s about the parts of ourselves we choose to share with others, and the patterns we find ourselves in. How do our histories and baggage impact our present relationships? If we tell someone something about ourselves, something true and special, is it diminished by having been shared with someone else?

“Into the Woods” is about stories too – it takes familiar fairy tale sand subverts them, going beyond the happily ever afters for a glimpse of what happens next. We tell stories to make sense of what happened, to remember and understand – that’s why the Baker’s Wife says that the Baker must tell their son the story of how it all happened. But I think one of the (many) messages of “Into the Woods” is that our stories don’t really have endings. Until you’re killed by a giant, there’s always an after ahead of you.

I’ve talked about stories on this blog before, and it’s obviously a lens through which I view life and theater. This blog itself is made up of stories of mine, some better told than others. Often they’re condensed, refined – I don’t put the raw cut of my life or experiences on display here. Does the fact that they’re polished versions of my life, neatened up around the edges and given a beginning and an end, make them less true? Or is that just what has to happen when you write something down? Writing gives stories a different life and form – maybe it doesn’t have to be a question of better or worse. Maybe it’s just a question of getting the story told.

And of course, all of these pieces of theater which I’ve talked about were themselves shaped, each word carefully chosen and expertly crafted to present the writer’s vision. But “The Real Thing” and “Side Show” and “The River”, and when I see it in a few weeks, “Into the Woods”, are all live theater productions where the interpretation of the writer’s words is found in the dialogue between how the actors choose to live the writer’s words and the impact their actions have on the audience.

I’m not on the subway anymore. I sit on my couch, typing up what I wrote the other night by hand, tweaking and adding and shaping it until it says what I want it to. The thing about spontaneity is that it’s easy to get it wrong the first time, to say something that you don’t actually mean, or forget to say something you desperately wanted to. Once you capture your thoughts in words on a page, it’s up to the reader – or the audience – to decide what you meant. You’ve done your best – now sit back and be ready to be misinterpreted.

The Angel Tree at the Met


One of my best friends was in town this weekend, and because she’s an art history person we had to make one of our annual visits to the Met. Her boyfriend had never been, so we gave him a quick highlights tour — and during it we came across a holiday exhibit that I liked almost as much as I love the origami tree at the Museum of Natural History. It’s called the Angel Tree.


My photos came out a little blurry, but I loved the angels on the tree and the variety of figures on the ground. If you look at the picture above, you can just see an elephant. According to the Met’s website, the scene is a nativity, with 18th century Neapolitan figures. It’s the legacy of a woman named Loretta Hines Howard, a passionate collector of creche figures whose collection was first exhibited at the Met in 1957. Howard began donating figures to the museum in 1964 and they’ve been exhibited at the holidays ever since.


Howard’s daughter, Linn Howard, worked with her mother on the displays for many years, and now continues the tradition with her own daughter, Andréa Selby. There’s more information on the Met’s site, but I definitely recommend popping into the Met before January 6 to check it out — especially since the Met’s admission is pay-what-you-want. Make sure to visit the period rooms in the American Wing while you’re there! They were closed when I went this weekend but are always worth a visit!

I’ve covered some of the major NYC Christmas trees, but I’m sure I’ve missed some! Anyone have a favorite to share?