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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Theatre-NYC Henry IV and CLIVE

Henry IV at the Pearl and Clive

For Two more disparate plays to be seen in successive weeks I could not have made better choices.

In Shakespeare nothing is subtextual, in Brecht, subtext is text.

Both plays feature young protagonists finding their way in the world. One born wealthy, heir to the throne of 15th Century England, the other a debauched poet slumming the underground of 20th Century New York City. (Him, as with Falstaff, I can Identify with.)

There the similarities end. In a classic staging by The Pearl in their new space, which cleverly blends the bare bones of early 21st Century architecture with evocative elements of Shakespeare's London, complete with Boars Head, casks of Sack and ale, and period battle implements, bring Henry Bolingbroke, Prince Hal and Falstaff vividly to life. Strutting and bellowing and sawing the air thusly in the best possible ways...sans big name stars save for director Davis McCallum who has been everywhere lately from Brooklyn to off Broadway, the ensemble of Pearl members and new hires, almost all double or triple cast, proved admirable and up to the task especially with the smaller roles. Particularly magical is Lady Mortimer's protestation against her husband going to war. Her song in Welsh bewitched me. Brilliant job by Ruibo Qian. Dominic Cuskern, Chris Mixon and the ever fantastic Sean McNall keep the energy flowing in their myriad roles. Bravo Pearl for bringing the Henriad to NYC.

At the other end of the theatrical spectrum is a play called Clive by the New Group which is an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's first play Baal. This version by Jonathan Marc Sherman changes the time and place from pre-WWI Europe to pre-September 11th New York City. The play features big names like Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Zoe Kazan and is essentially esoteric in nature.

According to Eric Bently, "The mythic Baal was a fertility god, hence a god of life. This...drama presents the archetypal battle between life and death, Eros and Thanatos."

The play is about the nothingness of death that mars our wonderland fantasy of day-to-day existence. Nobody likes death. The opening scene reminded me of another Ethan Hawke vehicle; Hurly Burly by David Rabe which also featured in its opening scenes copious amounts of fine, snort-able powder, and a guy in a leisure suit. This play though has even fewer likeable characters in it. But the challenge for these actors as they delve into the murky depths of human archetypes is to flesh out intellectual arguments and depict a reality both foreign and accessible. I was captivated and engaged for the entire intermissionless one hour forty five minutes as folks vamped and sang across a surreal set of minced up doors rigged for sound. First virginity dies only to be resurrected as a slut, then a chanteuse. Best friends OD and impromptu funerals end up in escapes to deeper dens of inequities where homo-erotic jealousy prompts friend to murder friend. Clive is not a fiend. The drugs and drinks he imbibes in excess do not facilitate his hedonistic desires, they do not incite his murderous rampages, his disregard for life, his own or others. They are simply a medium of the times for all around him who attempt to share his wanton spirit. They serve to deaden the pain of knowledge, heighten the acuity of sensuality and lighten the mood of an otherwise doleful dirge. If Prince Hal woke up in Clive, he would have immediately recognized his Falstaff. A man for whom Honor is a lesser word and seldom if ever spoken. Lines like "you're a rat dying in the gutter. Who cares?" probably will not go down in theater history with the likes of "the better part of valor is discretion"' but in four hundred years, who knows? I do know if you have an adventurous spirit and you want to see movie stars behaving badly without it being a reality tv show :You won't leave Clive happy. But you will leave tremendously satisfied.

Kudos for the New Group in attempting a near impossible theatrical feat. Bravo the actors. In a world where stars do everything possible to show themselves in favorable light, these cats take the ultimate risks. There is no "good" light in this play. (That is not a commentary on the luminous lighting design by Jeff Croiter.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Sandwich

The only preparation I made well before Super Sunday was to secure my growler of #9 from the beer distributers on Court Street. After work Sunday I missed my train and had to secure some quick vittles for the game without much time to spare before kick-off. Poor, poor planning on my part, I know. Where to go in this hood of eatery after eatery? As I walked along near deserted Court from Boro Hall, crossing Atlantic Avenue, I decided on Cobblestone Foods, and I am quite glad I did. I promised Mike, employed there since October, that I would write a review of his newly developed sandwich. I forget its name, but at twelve dollars I was a little taken a back. "Are you really hungry?" Mike asked. He read the look on my face and proceeded to sell me on the best sandwich not made in my kitchen since a Brie on Baguette I had for lunch one early June day in the south of France. Ah, Antibes...but that's another story.

Back to the sandwich. First I must say a few things about what I find essential to a great Sammy. I prefer quality over quantity. Two slices of mediocre bread stuffed with sub-par meat so you can't get your mouth around it and slathered with mayo, mustard, or any other condiment designed to mask the fact that you are eating the least expensive cut of meat poorly prepared in the most un-loving of methods is a recipe for acid reflux just thinking about it. I don't like the sandwich dripping onto my hands so that it takes a roll of paper towels to get through, and by the end I have to use a knife and fork if I want to finish it at all. I expect every bite to be packed with flavor and balanced.

That being said- The Sandwich that I missed kick off for while waiting for it to be made..."Brisket, roasted 20 hours," Mike said. Or something like that. I wasn't thinking brisket when I walked in, I was thinking pork. Pulled, spare ribs, loin, chop...anyway...Brisket? Slow cooked and then chilled and then grilled to warm it slightly, topped with sautéed onions and a special dressing which Mike got very cagy about when we started talking exact ingredients. His eyes opened wide and his full beard bristled as he mentioned the word "Barbecue". "OK, sold." I said, my stomach doing flip flops. "And give me the last spare rib," I said not completely convinced I would be satisfied. It seemed like it took forever to make, and when it was done, the size disappointed me a little. For twelve bucks I expected a freaking loaf of bread instead of a hero roll. But Mike gave me what was left of the Cole slaw as my side, and he could probably sell ice to Eskimos, so I grabbed my bag of food, shook Mike's hand as he introduced himself and made me promise I would write a review, and sped to the TV and my Super Sunday.

I got home. Shed my coat, set up my table, poured my beer, and laid out my food choices. I started with an appetizer of sorts, one bite into the spare rib to satisfy my Jones for pork. Took a swig of brew and then opened the foil to The Sandwich. The main event.

It was expertly cut in half all the way through, a squared eight inch cibatta roll packed with thick slices of brisket. Not the brisket of my youth, the stuff warming on steam tables floating in its own juices at bars like McCann's that catered to the working class on a half hour lunch. I took a look at the cross section, all I could see was meat. I took a bite, wondering if I was biting into shoe leather, dry and tough or... so fatty that all you could wonder was where's the beef?

What I got was a perfect bite of bread, brisket, onions and sauce. The meat melted in my mouth. It was so tender with just the perfect amount of juicy-ness, the onions, perfectly caramelized, sweet and accented with the lightest touch of barbecue sauce. Every bite was packed with these intensely rich flavors and textures from first amazing bit to last. I ate it slowly. Present with each chew. It took two and half pints of beer to wash down. That's how I kept myself from wolfing it up and being sad afterward that it was gone. No part of it leaked out onto my hands or table. It was perfect. Satisfyingly rich. I am making myself hungry just writing about it.

Thanks Mike. You sold me a quality product. I will be back. I might never order that sandwich again because I don't know if that level of perfection can ever be repeated, but I will be ordering every other sandwich on your menu.