I heart Hathaway

I’ve never understood the vitriol directed at Anne Hathaway. I guess she said a few dippy things that rubbed people the wrong way. Well, guess what? You were a dope when you were in your 20’s, too. You just weren’t famous enough for everyone to know it. As far as I can tell, she a dedicated actor who just wants to turn in the best performance she can.

I saw her at The Public Theater in her one-woman show, Grounded by George Brant, in the tiny, 275-seat, Anspacher Theater. It’s about a fighter pilot who loves flying and loves the Air Force, but suddenly finds herself grounded because of a pregnancy. She’s relegated to drone operations—an inferior position for a pilot—and it drives her to madness.

It’s directed by Julie Taymor, who knows a thing or two about tasty visuals, staging and sound design. The play opens in a dark house. The stage is wall-to-wall ripples of sand. A beam of light shoots down on center stage. Hathaway stands beneath it in a flight suit and helmet. A thin stream of stand pours down. The sand particles bouncing off her helmet are an effective opening.

grounded1The visceral thrill of flying sorties gives way to a move to Las Vegas and long, tedious drives to her desert base where she spends 12-hour shifts staring at feeds from a drone.


The tedium is only interrupted when she presses a button to rain down death from above. She slowly becomes detached from her husband, daughter, fellow crewmen and reality.


The play climaxes when she finally locates a high-ranking insurgent and, after following him for months, drops a bomb. She watches through the hyper-telescopic drone camera as a child runs out of a house to embrace him and it reminds her of her own daughter. It’s an effective, albeit, contrived conceit. Hathatway immersed herself so deeply in the performance that at the curtain call on the night I saw her, she was visibly shaken and choking back tears. She came out for a second round of applause and was still weeping.


Hathaway is on the board at The Public. In an effort to generate revenue, she’s agreed to hold post-show meet-and-greets on selected dates. You can pay $1,000 to meet her, or, for $1,500, you can sit in prime seats for the show and afterwards have a three-course dinner with her and George Brandt, the playwright.

Considering the condition she was in at curtain call, I can’t imagine dinner being a barrel of laughs, but I’ll bet you’d remember it.

I walked over to the Sean Kelly Gallery on my lunch hour to see Cyclicscape, ten new aluminum and stainless steel sculptures by contemporary artist Mariko Mori.


They’re white, smooth loops without a beginning or end. They have a nice flow to them.


The galley was empty and seeing them in a quiet, white space gave them gravitas. I’m glad nobody was around. A crowd sure can ruin a meditative moment.


There’s always some art-speak mumbo-jumbo in the press release. (Right, Ross?) This time, it’s something about the universe’s never-ending renewal of invisible energy that transcends physical matter. Oh, brother. Can I just say I liked them for no particular reason?



They reminded me of those squiggle pins that Paloma Piasso designed for Tiffany’s.



A Story of Success

Over the course of two decades in Manhattan, I met a lot of aspiring actors, musicians, singers, stand-ups, clothing designers, directors, etc., etc. Sad to say, none of them made it big. The high failure rate served as a sobering lesson to me. Why try? It fed my insecurities and predisposition for seeing failure as an unavoidable outcome.

I fell hard for actresses who would pack up and leave town because their spirits were crushed under the heavy weight of auditioning. Two or three times a week they were told they were too old, too young, too fat, too thin, too tall, had an accent, just not right for the part. A few years of that will wear your resolve down to a nub and send you into the loving embrace of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Having said that, I just stumbled across this journal entry last night.

October 27, 1993

Do you remember that really smart guy from the writing workshop at the YMCA? David? That dude had more talent than the rest of us combined. I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but not long after the workshop ended I was making my annual holiday pilgrimage through Santaland at Macy’s. God, I love that place. If that doesn’t put you in the New York holiday spirit, then there’s a hole in the space where your heart should be.

Anyway, I was walking past Santa’s throne and felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was that guy from the workshop! He was dressed as an elf. We had a nice chat. I told him how much I enjoyed the stuff he read in class, told him he was the only one who actually made me laugh and then (stupidly) asked what he was doing there dressed as an elf. He was working.

That had a profound impact on me. Clearly, that guy has a rare gift. If he, with his divine talent, can’t make it as a writer, what hope do I have with my meager skills? During class one night, he told me he made a living cleaning apartments. He said it like it was no big deal. It didn’t bother him one bit! He’s way more evolved than I’ll ever be. I walked out of Macy’s and gave up every dream I had.

Well, guess what? This week The New York Press printed a front-page story he wrote about his experiences as an elf. It’s really funny. It looked like a horrible gig but, if nothing else, he got a good story and some exposure out of it. I wonder if he got paid? He told me his sister is in Second City. They must have a good gene pool.

My stripper story was rejected by Details. No surprise there. I’ll edit it and send it to The New York Press. I think they have lower standards. I’ll bet David could get published in Details. He’s that good. I remember the instructor giving him the number of her agent and saying his stuff is publishable. Maybe he’s one of those dudes who’s afraid of success or thinks his stuff isn’t good enough. Who knows?

[Note: That, ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t guessed already, was David Sedaris. The only guy I knew who made it. And made it, he did.]

Last week, I climbed the mighty mountain of words known as Hamlet. Actors wrestle this bear to prove their mettle. A few years ago I saw Jude Law give a surprisingly effective performance. This time, Peter Sarsgaard is the melancholy Dane. 3:20 long and he was on stage for the majority of it. No small feat.

The director chose to present it with modern dress and staging. He didn’t mess with the dialogue, obviously. Typically, I prefer a traditional presentation. Modernizing tends to take me out of the story. Fortunately, the production was absorbing enough so that the modern clothing and staging blended in instead of distracted.

Hamlet14The Classic Stage Company is a tiny venue. Only 199 seats. The stage is on the ground floor and risers wrap around three sides so you’re uncomfortably close to the action. It’s an intrusive feeling. The actors walk up the aisles and stalk the audience. I was seated in the second row. In front of me were three boys about 14 years-old. Sarsgaard was giving an impassioned speech about his murderous uncle. He walked up to one of these kids, rested on one knee, looked him dead in the eye and delivered his lines. It was a performance for one person. It showed the power an actor can have over his audience. That kid will never forget it. That won’t happen to you on Broadway, no matter how much you pay for your ticket.


Fun fact: Hamlet is 400+ years old but it’s so steeped in our culture that you don’t need to have see it to know many of its lines. Here’s a sampling. Remember…these all come from one play.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”
“Frailty, thy name is woman!”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be…”
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
“In my mind’s eye.”
“When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.”
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest…”

Not bad, right?


Table scraps is all you get

I liken this post to the medley at the end of Abbey Road; a bunch of bits and pieces and half-cooked ideas that, once assembled, are an unintended masterpiece.

They removed the stitches from my surgery last Friday at 7:00 a.m. Instead of scurrying to work late, I pointed my car in the opposite direction and drove to Atlantic City.

It was a terrible place to begin with but now, with the closing of so many casinos, it’s worse than ever. Giant, hulking buildings that are empty and boarded up. Concrete ghosts. A town that only ever had a slender chance is now completely without hope. But I can’t seem to help myself. I can’t stay away. I know it’s lowbrow but I love it so much. I can’t account for my fascination.

Only the hardcore and destitute (and me) are gambling at 10:00 on a Friday morning. Towards evening, a different crowd will arrive. Italians with a questionable sense of fashion from Philly and North Jersey will stream down the Atlantic City Expressway. They’re fun to watch, too.

While walking into the Trump Taj Mahal, a disheveled man carrying a solo cup half-filled with beer walked up to me and said, “Hey, boss, you got 50¢?” 50¢! What can you do with 50¢? I gave it to him. There’ll be no redemption for him. That town is a repository of lost souls. I tend to spend too much time feeling sorry for myself. My career isn’t where I’d hoped it would be. I can’t take The Daughters on grand, life-altering, perspective-granting vacations. I’m getting older. But one brief stroll down the boardwalk and everything snaps into focus. I’m doing okay.

This dude bought into a crap game with $2,400. In my income bracket, that’s a significant amount of money.

Rows of $100’s. The box man swipes them with a counterfeit marker.

FullSizeRender(4)In just :25 minutes he’d whittled it down to about $200. He lost it all on aggressive, stupid bets. He was very angry. He kept announcing to no one and to everyone that he’d won a lot of money the night before. They always do that. When it was his turn to throw the dice, he’d chuck them so hard that they’d bounce out of the table and land across the aisle near the blackjack tables. He was in self-destruct mode but the pit boss, box men and stick man did nothing to stop him. I see it all the time.

FullSizeRender(2)This is the Revel Casino. It’s an “invisible” building. Its skin reflects the sky. Under ideal conditions, the building fades into the background. It’s a neat architectural trick. This is an un-retouched iPhone photo.

FullSizeRenderThe owner of the house in the foreground refused to sell. Its 80-year old resident moved there when he was just 5. The Revel is one of the casinos that went belly-up, so I guess he gets the last laugh.

Last week, a gas explosion destroyed three buildings on 2nd Avenue and 7th Street in the East Village. Two people died. It’s an area that I spent an awful lot of time in, so I was saddened. I paid countless visits to the Pommes Frites shop on the way home for a late-night order of Belgian Fries. Now it’s gone.

The site of the destruction became a tourist attraction. Thoughtless shitheads posted smiling selfies on Instagram while, in the background, rescue crews frantically searched for bodies. Locals put up signs asking people to please be respectful. The stoops that afforded the best camera angles were blocked by residents.

What a bunch of narcissists we’ve become. I hate the word ‘selfie.’ It’s infantile. This morning, I read a story about two high school students in Jakarta who plunged to their death over a waterfall while taking selfies. They stepped back for a better angle and went right over the edge. I think that’s called ‘thinning the herd.’

I saw The Audience with Helen Mirren as QE2. It’s by Peter Morgan, the same guy who was responsible for The Queen. Those two have their Royal groove on. It was catnip for an aging Anglophile like myself. Not a bad likeness, eh? That’s Mirren on the right.

image002It imagines what occurred during the weekly one-on-one smackdowns between Queen Elizabeth II and the 12 Prime Ministers who served under her. (Some of the PMs were played by American actors. I wondered if that was an Actor’s Equity insistence in order to transfer it across the pond?) It also imagined the Queen confronting herself as a little girl. A compelling, seamlessly executed plot device.

image001The meetings weren’t presented in chronological order. The show time-jumped backward and forward. Lightning-fast costume and wig changes performed on stage while surrounded by Ladies in Waiting allowed Mirren to shed years and put them back on again at will. Saying she’s a great stage actor is like accusing water of being wet.


My Nose Pressed Against the Window

I hate musicals. I find them tedious. This, from someone who averages a play a week. Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lloyd Webber & Nunn, Gilbert & Sullivan. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.

Having said that, Cabaret, with the delightful, hatchet-faced Alan Cumming as the MC, is probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen. In the original stage production and film adaptation, Joel Grey played the MC as a wacky harlequin. Cumming’s MC is a frightening specter of debauchery and lasciviousness. He has bruises all over his body and track marks on his arms. His MC will sleep with anything that’s not dead…and maybe some things that are.

acmcDespite my disdain for musicals, I’ve seen this show a few times. Live performances aren’t like DVDs, mp4 files or Tivo. You can’t enjoy it again later. They’re ephemeral. Once the production wraps and the company disperses, you’ll never see it again—unless they remount the same production, which is exactly what happened here. My Bride and I saw it in 1998 with Natasha Richardson (R.I.P.) as the doomed Sally Bowles. Since then, I’ve seen two other Sally’s in the current revival; Michele Williams, in a valiant but failed effort and, just recently, Emma Stone, who was superb.

stoneAt the opening of Act 2, Cumming is lowered from the rafters on a silver crescent moon. He’s wearing a silver sequined top hat and vest and silver pants. He dismounts the moon, walks into the audience and brings someone up on stage to slow dance with. [As he eyeballs the audience looking for a patsy he says, “I love the smell of fear.”]

He returns the (clearly rattled) audience member back to his/her seat, looks up to the balcony (where I’m always sitting in the back) waves, and says:

“Hello poor people! It must be awful for you. Ah, well. What can you do?”

Money makes the world go around
Of that we can be sure
ppthbbbt on being poor

Laughter. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious, particularly the people in the good seats. But do you know what? It cuts me to the bone every time. It hurts to be laughed at because I can’t afford a decent seat. It makes me feel like I haven’t tried hard enough. Or at all.

A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go ‘round
That clinking, clanking sound
Can make the world go ‘round

Some of my responsibilities at work shifted a few years ago. Instead of designing marketing material solely for Institutional investors, I started working for Private Wealth advisors. I had always known about a category of investor called High Net Worth. It wasn’t until I entered that rarefied air that I discovered a classification above that called Ultra High Net Worth. $50 million or more in investable assets. You’ll never see an Ultra High Net Worth client in a hospital emergency waiting room. They’re never made to wait. For anything. They and their families are accommodated in ways you can’t imagine.

If you happen to be rich
And alone
And you need a companion
You can ring (ting-a-ling)
For the maid

Last Wednesday I saw the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. I wanted to hear piano virtuoso Emanuel Ax tackle Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite—a couple of real knuckle-busters. I got in for cheap, but my view of the stage was obstructed. I couldn’t see the horn section.

In the ‘become-a-patron’ section of the program I read that if you donate $25,000 annually, you are considered a “VVIP.” I had to look twice because I thought it was a W. That’s a Very, Very Important Person.You get to attend private chamber music concerts in stately apartments on the Upper East Side. First-chair members of the Philharmonic take you to lunch.

In case you thought I was exaggerating.

vvipIf you happen to be rich
And you feel like a
Night’s entertainment
You can pay for a gay escapade

Larry David is about to open in a new comedy on Broadway. It broke the record for advanced sales. $13 million. It achieved this distinction because the better seats cost $425 and they’re selling briskly. That’s $850 for a pair of tickets to the theater. And, apparently, they’re flying off the shelf.

I am SURROUNDED. This town is choking on money to the point where they have to invent new superlatives to describe über-wealth. To me, they’re simply new benchmarks for my own mediocrity. No wonder I feel inadequate.

ppthbbbt on being poor, indeed.

 Tastes Like Chicken

On the way to Lincoln Center I took a shortcut through Central Park. I saw people gathered around what turned out to be a murder scene.

hawk4A hawk was eating a pigeon.

hawk5It was a wonderful example of bird-on-bird violence. People move to New York City to get away from this sort of thing.

hawk1There’s a healthy hawk population in Central Park. There’s an inexhaustible food supply and skyscrapers have lots of nooks and crannies in which to build a nest. They’ve taken to urban life quite well.


Secret Code(ing)

I’ve had a few people tell me they’re unable to comment from WordPress reader. Because of my insatiable, sophomoric need for attention, this bothers me greatly. If I know I’m missing out on just one comment—never mind a few—I’m up all night watching a moonbeam traverse my ceiling.

Does anyone know a good WordPress coder who wants to make a few bob fixing this mess? I paid top dollar to migrate this address from Blogger to WordPress and this shouldn’t be happening. Good help is tough to find.

[Edit: WordPress helpline wonk Jason said this site is “…a bit confused on where it lives.” Just like its owner. A developer will fix next week. Huzzah.]

Here are some plays I saw this past season. Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for stopping by. You are the gift.

The Elephant Man
By Bernard Pomerance
Bradley Cooper
Patricia Clarkson
Alessandro Nivola

elephantI had deep misgivings about casting The Most Handsome Man AliveTM as the hideously deformed John Merrick. Talk about defying logic! The worst casting choice since Edward G. Robinson played an Egyptian in The Ten Commandments. An Egyptian, for Christ’s sake! [“Mmmwaaaa…Where’s your Messiah now…ya see?”]

Then I saw something really extraordinary. After a preamble, the play started like this:

elephant man1As Dr. Treves read a detailed description of Merrick’s deformities, photos flashed on the screen. Meanwhile, Cooper slowly distorted and bent his body. At the end of the scene, Cooper was gone and The Elephant Man stood before a stunned audience. This, augmented with a master class in acting by Patricia Clarkson, made for one of the more satisfying nights this year. The last :10 minutes of the Act 1 was so deeply moving that I almost lost it. Clarkson, as Mrs. Kendal, reaches out to shake Merrick’s hand—the first time a woman touched him. The moment hung there in the thick, quiet air,

The River
by Jez Butterworth
Hugh Jackman
Cush Jumbo
Laura Donnelly

People are killing themselves trying to get tickets to this, paying as much as $275 per seat. It’s an intimate theater—the capacity is only 776 seats. And it’s Hugh Jackman, after all. Here’s the dirty little secret that nobody is talking about:

It’s kind of boring.

theriverIt’s about a guy who falls in love too easily with women he barely knows. Hell, that’s not so special! That’s been my standard operating procedure for years. It’s not the actors’ fault. The source material is flat. Butterworth’s last play, Jerusalem with Mark Rylance, was so compelling that I left work “sick” to attend a mid-week matinee because I wanted to see it a second time. I’m not sure what happened here.

The Real Thing
By Tom Stoppard
Ewan McGregor
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Cynthia Nixon
Josh Hamilton

real thingIt wasn’t well received by the critics and discounts are readily available, but I had a nice time. This is Stoppard’s most accessible play and it looked like everyone was having a pretty good time. McGregor, especially, embraced the part of a philandering husband. Nixon’s British accent was a bit strained, which is inexcusable since she’s been acting since she was a child. Aside from that, what’s the beef? Lighten up, critics!

A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)
by Sam Shepard
Stephen Rea

particleI didn’t have high hopes for this. It’s based on Oedipus, which I know nothing about. He sleeps with his mom and murders his dad or something like that? But it’s Sam Shepard and, dammit, attention must be paid. It was a good enough production but I’d had a long day and was so fucking tired that night. Attending the theater when you’re tired is suicide. The lights go down. The chair is comfy. They’re reading a bedtime story. Good night, sweet prince.

This Is Our Youth
by Kenneth Lonergan
Kieran Culkin
Michael Cera
Tavi Gevinson

youthI didn’t have high hopes for this (Part II). I’m anti-Michael Cera. His line delivery is one-note and monotone. Also, I once read an interview where he complained about the burdens of fame and that worked my nerves. He’s a poor puppy. But I got a pfat discount so I went.

I’m still not ready to concede that Cera is a good actor overall, but he was quite good here. The revelation is Kieran Culkin. He had the flashy role and made hay with it. Tavi Gevinson isn’t a trained actor. She started a fashion blog at age 12 and is still a teen. No formal training! Her serviceable performance makes me wonder about the value of acting classes.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
By Simon Stephens
Nobody you’d know
dogProbably the most satisfying of the lot. Anonymous casts are sometimes best. Movie stars come with preconceived notions. Hugh Jackman was…well…Hugh Jackman. But with a cast of unknowns, the characters are allowed to develop unique personas. They’re free from all that baggage.

From London. A boy with Asperger’s syndrome sets out to discover who murdered the neighbor’s dog. An enjoyable first act segues to a trippy, brilliantly staged second act. You experience what navigating London might be like with your five senses overloaded. Alex Sharp, who just graduated from Juilliard in April (April, for cryin’ out loud! Some struggle.) is solid as s 15-year old mathematical genius who can barely walk down the street, much less navigate the London tube. Emotionally manipulative but SO WHAT. Excellent.

By Ayad Akhtar
Gretchen Mol
Josh Radnor
Karen Pittman
Hari Dhillon

disgracedPulitzer Prize winner. Brilliantly written sociopolitical drama about progressive, smarty-pants upper class professionals who might harbor a bit of racial prejudice after all when it comes to Islam. Mol quite good, Randor a little stiff. The lead was originally played by Aasif Mandvi but he couldn’t accommodate the off-to-Broadway transfer. No matter. Dhillon is broken and sinister enough.

Ayad Akhtar might be my new favorite contemporary playwright. (Sorry, Mr. Mamet.) In addition to this gem, his Invisible Hand is also currently playing off-Broadway. And as good as Disgraced is, that one is even better. A Wall Street sharp is kidnapped by Pakistani terrorists who force him to raise money on their behalf via illicit stock trades. Terrorists get a taste of capitalism. Hilarity ensues. (Not really.)