I Spy With My Little Eye: Something Dangerous

I finally committed the crime I said I’d never commit: I made a parental decision based on what everyone else is doing. How lame is that?

I broke down and got an iPhone for my 12 (and a half)-year old daughter. I felt (feel) that that’s too young to mess with something as hedonistic as a smart phone but my hand was forced. She’s got a lovely group of girlfriends. They all do well academically. They’re polite and can hold their end of a conversation. They’re the types of kids I want her around. And they’ve all got iPhones. ALL OF THEM. When they group text or share photos, Daughter Dear is left out of the loop. I know how that feels. I spent my entire childhood out of the loop and if I can spare her that burden by breaking one of my rules, I’ll break it. I don’t want her drifting to a different crowd because she was disconnected.

This has lead to no small amount of angst, worry and sleepless nights. I’ve taken a dramatic and, some would say, unethical step.

I loaded tracking/monitoring software onto her phone.

You can lecture me all you want about trust and privacy issues but, Jesus H. Criminy, she’s just 12 (and a half). I don’t think ANY 12 (and a half)-year old girl should be left on her own to navigate the scary world of Instagram. I don’t feel good about reading her text messages. It makes me feel kind of dirty. But I’m in a no-win situation.

I’m finding that “little kids, little problems/big kids, big problems” is more than just a clever turn of a phrase. It’s pregnant with truth. I wonder if any of the other parents monitor their kid’s mobile phone use? Could you accuse them of being lazy and uncaring if they don’t? What would you do?

We made our annual pilgrimage to the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the summer installation. Every year they do something special on the roof and every year I drag the kids up there whether they like it or not. (I think they like it.) We arrive when the museum first opens so that we have the roof to ourselves.

Some of these installations are pure genius and some of them fall flat. This year’s model lies somewhere in between. The Roof Garden Commission by Dan Graham is an interesting “S” of steel and glass set between two ivy hedgerows.

Roof Garden Commission4The roof was covered with grass (actually artificial turf) and is meant to be viewed in conjunction with the lush greenery of Central Park.

Roof Garden Commission5The interesting part, the “get,” is the glass. It’s two-way mirrored and while completely translucent from one side, you see a gentle refection from the other.

Roof Garden Commission2It’s a neat trick. You can still see through the reflective side, but the ghosted images of the city can be seen distorted in a half-circle. It makes for a fun family portrait.

Roof Garden Commission1I wish it were a larger exhibit. Once the crowds arrived, it lost some of its magic. People waited in line to take photos from the best, most reflective, angles.

My Bride points. I imagine the dialogue is something like, “See that building over there? That’s where Daddy wishes he had a pied-à-terre.”

Roof Garden Commission3It’s an interesting enough piece although I was somewhat underwhelmed. To date, the best installation I’ve taken them to—hell the best one I’ve ever seen—was Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s anthropodino at the Park Avenue Armory in 2009. THAT’S how it’s done.

After the museum we saw a Broadway musical. Despite visiting the theater on an almost weekly basis, the fact is, with a few exceptions, I can’t stand Broadway musicals. Quintuple my nausea if there are children on stage. Broadway kids are the worst. They’re precocious, overly-talented mini-adults. Behind each one, giving a good hard shove, is a failed actress trying to relive the dream.

My kiddies wanted to see Matilda and since I’d be willing to take a bullet for them, suffering a musical seemed like a small matter in comparison. So there I was at the Shubert Theater for a Saturday matinee with a stage and house full of children. Dreadful. Strike up the overture. Let’s get this over with.

I may have to re-think my knee-jerk revulsion. The girl playing Matilda was a joy to watch. The stage design was magnificent. The lyrics are peppered with hilarious asides for adults. Matilda’s mother sings this one from her hospital gurney just after giving birth to Matilda, a child she neither wanted nor loves. Where you’d expect an ode to the joys of childbirth, you are treated to:

“Oh, my undercarriage doesn’t feel quite normal.
My skin looks revolting in this foul fluorescent light.
I should be dancing the tarantella –
Cui buon fare Italiano. [Italian: With good Italian manner]
Not dressed in hospital cotton,
With a smarting front bottom.”

How can you not like that? Thank you, Royal Shakespeare Company.


The Thane of Cawdor Sleeps No More

He sleeps no more because his decapitated head was stuffed into a burlap sack and tossed into the middle of the stage.

I used to write about plays all the time but those posts laid there unread and unloved, so I stopped. Theater can make for a dull evening out and an even duller blog post. Just look at the plummeting ratings for the Tony awards every year. But I was telling a Texan about a highly unusual production of Macbeth I saw and he requested a post. So here it be.

Kenneth Branagh shipped his high-octane production of Macbeth across the pond from its sold-out run in Manchester. It’s not your typical trod across the boards. Rather, it’s a piece of performance art wrapped in violence and Shakespearean dialogue. Playing the role of the Castle Cawdor is the drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory, a castle-like structure on Park Avenue and 68th Street that was build in 1861 to answer President Lincoln’s Civil War call to arms.

macbeth6It’s an all-encompassing environmental performance that starts when you walk in the door. A 6:15 arrival is requested for a 7:00 curtain. Upon entering the armory, before you’re admitted to the drill hall performance space, the audience is given a wrist band and assigned to one of 12 Scottish clans.

macbeth9Once you have your wristband, you’re handed a program and a host directs you to your clan’s meeting room where you drink wine and wait to be called to the drill hall. They’ve gone to the trouble of printing 12 different program covers, each bearing the name and tartan print of the clans. The verso of the cover contains a brief history of your clan.

macbeth8The guts of the programs are the same. There’s a map of Scotland ca.1040 showing the location of the clans. I was a Macduff, which is brilliant because Macduff—my kinsman—is the guy who slices Macbeth’s head off. It’s a rough trade for the pleasure of doing that because Macbeth has Macduff’s wife and children murdered.

“All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?”

macbeth10All of these pre-show festivities effectively pulled me into the performance before I ever laid eyes on the stage. One by one the clans are called. You march up to the thick wooden doors of the drill hall. A cloaked druid asks, “What clan is this?” Everyone shouts, “MACDUFF!” He tolls a bell and the doors slowly swig open to reveal a Scottish heath. Another cloaked druid carrying a torch leads you into the dark hall. A mist hangs in the air. It’s cool and clammy. You walk into the cavernous hall across a stone path. Dirt, rocks, puddles and mud are on either side of you.

macbeth12The audience enters their seats by walking around giant stone columns. There are risers on either side of the stage looking down on the performance space.

macbeth2The lights dim and the play begins with a crack of thunder. A battle between the MacDonald and Cawdor clans is underway. The stage area is a dirt pit. Rain pours down on the combatants. Carefully choreographed sword battles rage all around. Sparks fly from metal blades as they impact. By the end of the battle, the actors are soaked and covered with mud and blood.

macbeth1The MacDonald clan is defeated and my favorite characters appear. The Weird Sisters float up between the stone columns. They poison Macbeth’s mind with predictions and lies. They make appearances throughout the play cackling hysterically when things are going horribly wrong for Macbeth. I love them. I want to date them. I remember them as the hot girls in my high school art class.

macbeth11I’ve always thought that Macbeth was unkind towards women. Lady Macbeth is the source off all the murder and treachery. When it comes time to murder the King, Macbeth hesitates. But Lady Macbeth is right there to shame him into action by questioning his manhood. Later in the play, she goes mad and hallucinates that her hands are dripping with blood that won’t wash off.

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!—
Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this
little hand. O, O, O!”

macbeth3The Weird Sisters are pure evil. Macduff’s wife is in one scene. In it, she and her children are brutally slaughtered. There are no strong female characters. You’ll have to see a production of Twelfth Night for that, I’m afraid.

macbeth4The vastness of the hall made it a spectacle, but it also caused an occasional problem. Some of the dialogue was swallowed up. The acoustics weren’t great and Shakespeare is tough on my ear in the first place. The plotting to overthrow Macbeth between Macduff and Malcome, the slain King’s son, was lost in the echos.

Guess who’s coming do dinner? Banquo’s ghost! The murdered Thane of Lochaber’s ghost takes a seat at the dinner table and is visible only to a guilt-maddened Macbeth. Hilarity ensues.

macbeth5This was one of my favorite theatrical experiences ever. And I’ve seen plenty. Branagh is a friggin’ genius. In addition to turning out a credible and broken Macbeth, he directed this shizzle. I rarely see a play twice but if I were wealthy I’d go again. I’ll have to be satisfied with having seen it once. Word got out and people are lining up at 8:00 a.m. for evening cancellations. It’s snowballed into an event.

I took 12-Year Old Daughter to see The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe. She’s obsessed with the Potter books and movies and has a 12-year old crush on Radcliffe. He’s no pop icon joke. He was excellent. Instead of just cruising through his career, that dude repeatedly gets up on a stage and lays it all out there. This is his third trip to Broadway and he has NEVER missed a performance. What a work ethic that kid’s got! Huzzah.

She thinks I was taking her to see her favorite celebrity but what I was actually doing was exposing her to my favorite contemporary Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh. She was able to procure Radcliffe’s autograph. Without exaggerating, I think this was the happiest moment of her young life. Better than all 12 Christmases rolled into one.

playbillThe moment Radcliffe walked on stage, about :10 minutes in, she looked over at me and I’ll never forget the euphoric, that’s really him, look of pure joy on her face. It made me so happy. My dad never did shit with me. That poor, deceased soul never knew what he missed out on.

Following your passion is sexy

Q. What do the following words have in common?

Cold-blooded, assassination, bloodstained, torture, accused, premeditated, critic, grovel, swagger, excitement, lackluster, puking, amazement, arouse and gossip.

A. They were all invented by Shakespeare. This is a partial list of words and phrases he coined that are still in use today. 400+ years ago and the guy is still relevant.


I had a horrid day and just wanted to go home, crawl under the floorboards and die, but I had a ticket to see a production of As You Like It and didn’t want to eat the $18, so off I went. Walking down 36th Street, I was thinking that the last thing I needed was three hours of Shakespeare in a small, off, off, way off, Broadway theater being presented by a neophyte company.

I walked into a nondescript light manufacturing building off of 9th Avenue and took the elevator to the third floor. The doors opened into a small, almost bare performance space. Three rows of folding chairs on a riser. Low ceiling. Actors mulling about. And then that thing happened. That thing you can’t chase or anticipate. The thing that sneaks up on you and knocks you flat when you’re not looking.

The Happy Few Theater Company, in their inaugural production, with a small budget and an overabundance of creativity, put on a gutsy, highly enjoyable As You Like It. What a relief! Each actor adroitly handled multiple roles (which, out of necessity, included cross-dressing and gender-swapping) and live musical accompaniment was provided by the cast, most of whom were accomplished musicians. As if wrangling Shakespearean dialogue for multiple characters weren’t difficult enough. In addition to co-directing, Ellen Adair made for a particularly effective Rosalind. Real tears when called for, which never fails to pull me in. The production was supplemented with effective, well-placed video clips, including an hilarious wrestling match between Charles the Wrestler and Orlando that’s played out as a WWE arena extravaganza.

asyoulikeit-137It’s a new company but it’s not amateur hour. They are all masters of their craft. I’ve always been too consumed with fear to chase the things that really matter me. When I see an acting troupe like this, I can’t help but wonder what’s burning inside them that makes them persevere, despite the long odds. They’re hot.

There were seven actors and 16 people in the opening-night audience. This blog is just a blip. They’re not going to realize a swell in attendance because of this post. But they deserve it. I wish I were a wizard. I’d wave my wand, sparks, smoke, wind, presto. A full house.

This was posted outside the elevator:

signThat’s show biz.


On the other end of the spectrum (and by that I mean $$$$, not talent), Bryan Cranston gives a transformative performance as Lyndon Johnson in All The Way.

LBJAn edge I have over the rest of the audience is that I never saw Breaking Bad, so I wasn’t saddled with the weight of Walter White pressing down on me. I’ve read some chat-room comments about how the play is little more than an expensive history lesson, but I found it absolutely riveting and didn’t feel its 3:00 running time. I love political theater, so this played into my interests. They had me at y’all.

Overture/ Curtain, lights/ This is it/ The night of nights…

I saw tough son-of-a-bitch Ed Harris with his equally powerful real-life wife Amy Madigan in a creepy, funny, contemporary Southern Gothic horror-fest called The Jacksonian. It’s written by Beth Henley, she of the Pulitzer Prize. Also in the cast, Bill Pullman as a demented bartender with a ridiculous Elvis pompadour and Glenne Headly as a waitress looking for love.

Here’s a still from the production with Harris and Madigan. I stared at this thinking I’ve seen it somewhere before.


And then it came to me. This is an Edward Hopper painting.


Hopper painted lonely people trying to make an emotional connection with someone. Such was this case with The Jacksonian.

It’s performed in a small off-Broadway theater. (I don’t think it’d work in a mainstream house. The story is too dark.) Some of it is quite violent and uncomfortable to watch and the nearness of the stage and the actors ratchets-up the tension.

No happy ending here, kids. Harris plays a dentist slipping into a drug and alcohol-fueled meltdown. Headly’s character winds up permanently brain-addled from a nitrous oxide overdose. But it’s got loads of laughs! I don’t know how the actors can put themselves through this meat grinder of a play seven times a week. The show’s literature warns, “May be inappropriate for 14 and younger.” Now, THERE’S truth in advertising.

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I needed a laugh and this still made me laugh so hard that I’ve temporarily turned it into my screen saver.


It’s from the brilliant and hysterical all-male British import of Twelfth Night. Here, Mark Ryalnce’s Olivia is mortified by the unwanted advances of Stephen Fry’s Malvolio. The look on Olivia’s face is priceless. I’ve seen that look many times while out on a date.

It’s a traditional staging and back then, women weren’t permitted to act, so the female roles are played by dudes. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early. Before the play, as in Shakespeare’s day, the cast gets dressed on stage in front of the audience. There’s some seating on stage as well to simulate the groundlings at the original Globe Theater. At the performance I attended, someone in the on-stage gallery fell asleep in full view of the audience. It happens!

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I saw Harold Pintner’s Betrayal with real-life husband/wife team Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. It’s a husband/wife epidemic! The toughest part of the play was trying to believe the Daniel Craig could be cuckolded. That’s the problem with seeing a named actor in a play. They arrive with a lot of preconceived notions and baggage. I enjoyed it but was confused because the audience was laughing riotously at things that I’m not entirely convinced were supposed to be funny. The run was completely sold out before it even opened, so they’re having the last laugh.

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Orlando Bloom made a hell of a stage entrance as Romeo. He came roaring in on a motorcycle and screeched to a halt at the front of the stage. You can see skid marks on the boards from the previous performances. He was wearing a helmet with a faceplate and when he removed it and ran his hand through his curly brown locks, there was an audible swoon in the theater. It was like a slow-motion shampoo commercial.


The guy is good. He can handle Shakespearian dialogue. His co-star? Not so much. Condola Rashad, an otherwise fine actor, recited Juliet’s dialogue with little feeling or heart. Apparently, the ticket-buying public agrees because they’re closing the show in December, earlier than scheduled, on account of unenthusiastic ticket sales.

[Bonus material.]

I learned something new. “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” is NOT, Where are you, Romeo?, as I’d always assumed. Her intent is, it makes no difference if your name is Romeo or Montague, “The name of my enemy…”. I’d still love you. She follows this with:

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

She further extrapolates on the uselessness of names:

“So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”

Old dog learns new trick. Woof.

King Confusion I

I’m seeing Richard III at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tomorrow. Kevin Spacey plays the crippled, humpback King in a leg brace. Clever boy.

richard iii_1

Being a man of modest education and having, at best, a tenuous grasp of Shakespeare, I began my preparatory work last week. If I don’t conduct my due diligence I’ll be lost by the end of Act I, Scene II. Many plot points hinge on events that occurred in previous plays.

I poured over my copy of Cliffs Notes, saw Spacey discuss the production on Charlie Rose, read every available page on Wikipedia and watched Pacino’s Looking for Richard. I find it all a bit hard to grasp, although I felt somewhat vindicated by the Pacino documentary. Early on, while trying to summarize the story, he loses his train of thought and says it’s no wonder people are put off by it.

The cast of characters is a confusing jumble of same-names. There’s Richard of Gloucester, Richard, Duke of York, Richard Ratcliffe, Richmond, who becomes Henry VII and Richard Grey, son to the Queen. But which Queen? There’s Elizabeth, Queen to Edward IV and Elizabeth, Queen to Henry VI. And don’t forget Princess Elizabeth of York. In addition to Edward IV, there’s Edward, Earl of Warwick, Edward, Prince of Wales (who becomes Edward V) and Edmund, the Mayor of London. There’s Henry VI, Henry VII, Henry, the Duke of Buckingham and Henry, Sheriff of Wiltshire. There’s a Thomas who is a Cardinal, a Thomas who is an Archbishop, a Thomas who is Earl of Surrey, a Thomas who is Earl of Derby, a Thomas who is Marquis of Dorset and a Thomas who is a soldier.

Do you know what? Fuck it. I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going.

richard iii_2