28 Liberty Plaza
Between Liberty & Pine and Nassau & William Sts.
Tuesday, May 22, 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
Admission: free, all dishes $7 and less
Sponsored by the Downtown Alliance, the seventeenth annual Dine Around Downtown will feature signature dishes from more than three dozen Lower Manhattan restaurants, from pizza places and burger joints to steak and seafood houses. Among the participating eateries are ATRIO Wine Bar, Battery Gardens, Bavaria Bier Haus, Blue Ribbon Bakery, the Capital Grille, Cowgirl SeaHorse, Delmonico’s, Eataly, Financier Patisserie, Harry’s Italian, Inatteso, Le District, Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina, OBAO Water Street, Parm Battery Park, Route 66 Smokehouse, Stone Street Tavern, SUteiShi, the Tuck Room, and Ulysses’ Folk House. There will also be live music by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem-All Stars and a raffle. Each plate goes for no more than $7, with proceeds benefiting the Downtown Alliance, which “is striving to make Lower Manhattan a wonderful place to live, work, and play by creating a vibrant multi-use neighborhood.”
In the fall of 1944, St. Louis Star-Times arts critic William Inge invited up-and-coming playwright Tom “Tennessee” Williams to his garden apartment to interview him about his latest work, The Gentleman Caller, which was scheduled to open right after Christmas in Chicago (where it would be retitled The Glass Menagerie). Although the two men became friends — Williams referred to their “long association” in a personal homage he wrote for the New York Times in 1973 following Inge’s death — it has never been firmly established how close they actually were and whether they indeed may have been lovers. Playwright Philip Dawkins makes that jump in a big way in The Gentleman Caller, which is having its New York premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre through May 26. The two-character, two-hour, two-act Abingdon Theatre Company production is like a piece of fan fiction; although Dawkins did extensive research in writing the play, he still uses creative license as he relates what might have happened when the thirty-three-year-old Williams and the thirty-one-year-old Inge met, first on November 10, 1944, in Inge’s apartment and again that New Year’s Eve in a Chicago hotel room. Sara C. Walsh’s dramatic set features approximately a dozen lamps of all different heights, each constructed of stacks of typed manuscript pages; there are also pages scattered across the corners and back of the stage. At the center is a couch, with a chair to the right, a rolling wet bar to the left, and a record player in the right corner. In the second act, the couch turns into a bed but most everything else remains the same.
Williams (Juan Francisco Villa) serves as the narrator of the work, reminiscent of Tom in The Glass Menagerie, as if he’s looking back at the past, occasionally making side comments in an affected southern drawl to the audience. The snarky, swishy, no-holds-barred, extremely self-aware Williams is the opposite of Inge (Daniel K. Isaac), a stiff, rigid, overly serious, and unimaginative introvert. Within minutes, the deeply closeted Inge is climbing on top of Williams, then is horribly embarrassed by his actions. A few moments later, Williams, discussing where he goes to be with men, says, “Hotels are wonderful inventions, especially for inveterate homosexuals like ourselves.” Inge quickly responds, “I’m not a homosexual,” to which Williams replies, “And my name’s not Tennessee, but we all gotta answer to something’. Drink up. You’ll need it. ’Specially if you’re not a homosexual.” The two men drink a lot — while it affects Williams, Inge barely changes — as they discuss the theater, sex, suicide, isolation, sin, secrets, truth, and fantasy. Williams gets particularly excited when he discovers that Inge has written a play as well. All along the way, Tennessee makes such grand statements as “Mmm, one ought never to trust a playwright”; “Confess your sins to a priest, and he tells you privately what to do to save yourself. Confess your sins on stage and they crucify you in the town square”; and “A sanctuary is a prison to those that cannot leave it.”
“Ignite me,” Williams says to Inge, asking him to light his cigarette. However, the play never really catches fire. Most critically, there is no sense of connection between the Mississippi-born Williams and Kansas native Inge, or Villa and Isaac. There are some charming moments — Villa gets a well-deserved round of applause for using his feet in a most unusual sexual way — but it’s all just a little bit too quaint and calculated. And the ethnic-blind casting doesn’t help matters; Villa is of Colombian descent, while Isaac is Korean American, causing confusion. Plays about what went on behind closed doors between two well-known figures are always a gamble, running the gamut from Frost/Nixon and The Audience, both by Peter Morgan, to Mike Bencivenga’s Billy & Ray, about the Hollywood collaboration between Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, and Gino DiIorio’s Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant, which turns a real meeting between Samuel Beckett and the adolescent Andre the Giant into a lifelong friendship. (In addition, Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout’s Billy and Me, also about Williams and Inge, opened in Palm Beach in December.) But Dawkins (Charm, The Burn) and director Tony Speciale (The Dork Knight, Unnatural Acts) are unable to balance the truth with poetic license, resulting in a choppy narrative with questionable plot developments, although Zach Blane’s lighting is exceptional. “Accuracy is overrated, don’t you think? I’m much more fascinated by honesty,” Williams says. “Is there a difference?” Inge responds. Williams (The Rose Tattoo, The Night of the Iguana) would go on to win two Pulitzer Prizes, for A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, while Inge (Bus Stop; Come Back, Little Sheba) would win a Pulitzer for Picnic. However deliriously fun a bit of “what if” speculation about theater giants may be, The Gentleman Caller doesn’t add much insight into how the relationship between these two great playwrights might have influenced their lives and careers.
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE . . . (Max Ophüls, 1953)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, May 20, 4:50, and Tuesday, May 22, 9:05
Series runs through May 22
Max Ophüls’s The Earrings of Madame de . . . (also known as just Madame de . . .) is a marvelously told tale, a majestic cinematic achievement that Andrew Sarris considered the greatest movie ever made and Dave Kehr called “one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands.” In 1950, the German-born auteur made La Ronde, a merry-go-round of romance in which one of the two lovers from one scene moves on to someone else in the next. Three years later, Ophüls again follows a series of current, past, and potential lovers in The Earrings of Madame de . . . , but this time via a pair of diamond earrings whose meaning and importance are altered every time they change hands. The film opens with the Comtesse Louise de . . . (a radiant Danielle Darrieux) looking through her personal possessions, from jewelry to furs to a Bible. During a two-minute continuous shot with a handheld camera, Ophüls shows only her hands and the side of her face until she sits down and looks at herself in the mirror; it not only immediately establishes the woman’s character — like her fancy things, she has become merely another object, an empty reflection — but lets the audience know that they are in the grip of a master, that the very motion of the camera itself will play a central role in what we’re about to experience.
And indeed, Christian Matras’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, composed of wonderfully orchestrated close-ups and sweeping montages, guides us along as we follow the travels of a pair of diamond earrings that, through various circumstances, keeps coming back to the countess. Louise, whose last name we never learn through clever blocks made in sound and image, needs money, but she is afraid to let her husband, Général Andre de . . . (a stern Charles Boyer), know. She decides to sell the diamond earrings he gave her as a wedding present — she not only wants the cash but also is seeking to rid herself of what the jewelry represents, a love that is not what it once was. Meanwhile, her husband is saying goodbye to his lover, Lola (Lia Di Leo), shipping her off to Constantinople as if she were a piece of jewelry he no longer requires. But when Louise’s playful flirtation with the graceful Italian diplomat Baron Fabrizio Donati (Neorealist director Vittorio De Sica) threatens to become more serious, Andre gets more serious as well, and the heart-wrenching melodrama reaches epic dilemmas.
Loosely adapted by Ophüls with Marcel Achard and Annette Wademant from the novel by Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin, The Earrings of Madame de . . . is a ravishing film, every moment a gem. Darrieux, who also appeared in Ophüls’s House of Pleasure and La Ronde and only passed away this past fall at the age of one hundred, is bewitching as the countess, a long-unsatisfied woman attempting to break out of the shell she has been held captive in. Boyer, who had previously starred in Anatole Litvak’s Mayerling with Darrieux, is beguiling as the general, a proud man who is protective of certain possessions. And De Sica, who appeared in more than 150 films but is best known as the director of such Italian stalwarts as The Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D., and Miracle in Milan, is enchanting as the baron, who has fallen passionately in love with Louise and doesn’t care who knows it. Their courtship is breathlessly depicted in a whirling, swirling series of dances at various balls where they are the last to leave. James Mason, who starred in Ophüls’s Caught and Letters from an Unknown Woman, famously wrote, “A shot that does not call for tracks / Is agony for poor old Max, / Who, separated from his dolly, / Is wrapped in deepest melancholy. / Once, when they took away his crane, / I thought he’d never smile again.” Ophüls, who died in 1957 at the age of fifty-four during the making of Les Amants de Montparnasse, goes all out in The Earrings of Madame de . . . , an unforgettable movie with a spectacular ending. The film is screening May 20 and 22 in the Quad Cinema series “La Cinémathèque française presents: French Melodrama,” a dozen films running through May 22 selected by French critic Jean-François Rauger that also includes Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, François Truffaut’s The Woman Next Door, Alain Resnais’s Mélo, and André Téchiné’s Hôtel des Amériques.
On May 22, Harvey Milk would have turned eighty-eight. Instead, the San Francisco city supervisor and outspoken gay activist was assassinated on November 27, 1978, at the age of forty-eight. His moving life story has been turned into a nonfiction book (Randy Shilts’s The Mayor of Castro Street), an Oscar-winning documentary (Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk), an opera (Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie’s Harvey Milk), a two-time Oscar-winning film (Gus Van Sant’s Milk, starring Sean Penn), a cantata by Jack Curtis Dubowsky, and several children’s books. And now comes A Letter to Harvey Milk, a stage musical about Milk’s legacy. It’s 1986, and Harry, a retired kosher butcher, has been given an assignment by Barbara, his senior center writing teacher: He has to write a letter to a deceased person from his past, and he chooses Harvey Milk. Based on the short story by Lesléa Newman, A Letter to Harvey Milk features a book by Jerry James, Cheryl Stern, the late Ellen M. Schwartz, and Laura I. Kramer, with music by Kramer, lyrics by Schwartz, and additional lyrics by Stern. Adam Heller stars as kosher butcher Harry Weinberg, Stern is his deceased wife, Julia Knitel plays Barbara, Michael Bartoli is Milk, and Jeremy Greenbaum, Aury Krebs, and CJ Pawlikowski play multiple ensemble roles. The ninety-minute show is directed by Evan Pappas, with sets by David Arsenault, costumes by Debbi Hobson, lighting by Christopher Akerlind, sound by David M. Lawson, and music direction by Jeffrey Lodin.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: A Letter to Harvey Milk runs through June 30 at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free for performances June 1-23. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite play or movie about an activist to email@example.com by Tuesday, May 22, at 3:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.
In the fall, the Essex Street Market, a fixture on the Lower East Side for nearly eighty years, will be moving across the street. So its annual spring block party will be featuring current businesses as well as new ones coming in later this year. Taking place May 19 from noon to five o’clock, the party will include such vendors as Saxelby Cheesemongers, Arancini Bros, Puebla Mexican, Samesa, Josephine’s Feast!, and Harlem Shambles, with most food items five dollars or less. There will also be live music by Yotoco, Cumbiagra, and DJ tres dos.
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth St. between Second & Third Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 3, $69
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is the first play that New York Theatre Workshop has ever done twice, and initially it’s easy to see why. The 1976 play, written by the mighty Caryl Churchill, made its New York premiere at NYTW in 1991 and is now being revived there through June 3, in a new production directed by the sizzling hot Rachel Chavkin, the mastermind behind Hadestown, Small Mouth Sounds, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, and other uniquely inventive shows. A talented, diverse cast of six performs multiple roles each, without regard to age, race, gender, or physical ability. The subject is the English Civil Wars of the seventeenth century, focusing on the rebellion involving the Diggers, the Levellers, and the Ranters, which in many ways parallels what is happening, or might happen, in the United States today. So what went wrong with this dream team?
In a production note, Churchill explains, “The audience should not have to worry exactly which character they are seeing. Each scene can be taken as a separate event rather than part of a story. This seems to reflect better the reality of large events like war and revolution where many people share the same kind of experience.” Unfortunately, only part of that concept works. Vinie Burrows, Rob Campbell, Matthew Jeffers, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Gregg Mozgala, and Evelyn Spahr easily shift between characters on Riccardo Hernández’s spare set, a wooden platform on which various chairs and tables are moved around and taken away. But there are continuity issues; you don’t always know who someone is or what they’re doing. In other works, Churchill has magnificently shown that narrative flow is not always crucial; for example, the stunning Love and Information consists of very short scenes played by unidentified characters who arrive and depart in the blink of a strobe light. And in Cloud Nine, actors switch roles between acts, lending another level of depth to an already deep play.
To add to the tumult, in the first act the actors use handheld microphones, which perhaps was meant to bring the centuries-old story into the present but instead makes it look like any one of the characters might break into song or a comedy routine at any moment. (In fact, the play begins with a musical version of a biblical passage.) In the second act, the microphones are gone but the period costumes have been traded in for contemporary dress. (The costume design is by Toni-Leslie James.) Also, the entire show is open captioned on a small digital monitor near the back center of the stage. While it is admirable that four-time Obie winner and Olivier Award winner Churchill and three-time Obie winner and Tony nominee Chavkin want to make every word accessible to audience members with hearing difficulty, as well as emphasizing the idea of equality for all, its location is endlessly distracting. As the dialogue moves across the monitor in red LED lights, it’s hard not to look at it even if you can hear the words, your eyes caught by the movement; the monitor also displays the title of each scene — “The Vicar Talks to His Servant,” “Two Women Look in a Mirror,” “A Butcher Talks to His Customers,” for example — information that is not available elsewhere and is often necessary in order to know which characters are onstage. I’ve seen other productions that use open captioning at the side of the stage or in supertitles above, where it is far less distracting, so its positioning here is more than curious.
And it’s a shame, because there are many wonderful lines — particularly dealing with sin — that get lost in the theatrical commotion. “What is worst, I am not praying to you about the worst sin. I sin in my fear of praying about that sin, I sin in denying my fear,” Cobbe (based on Abiezer Coppe) bemoans in an opening monologue. “I have come to see that there is no sin but what man thinks is sin,” says Claxton (loosely based on Laurence Clarkson), who continues, “So we can’t be free from sin till we can commit it purely, as if it were no sin. Sometimes I lie or steal to show myself there is no lie or theft but in the mind.” Then there’s this gem, offered by a preacher: “It is no sin to take up arms against the king. It is no sin if we fight singing praises to God, if we fight to bind an unjust king with chains.” In writing the play, Churchill used such sources as Walt Whitman, a Levellers newspaper and letter, a Ranters pamphlet, and excerpts from the Putney Debates of 1647, which involved Col. Thomas Rainborough, private soldier Edward Sexby, Col. Nathaniel Rich, civilian John Wildman, Commissary General Henry Ireton, and eventual Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. The different styles of language don’t always meld together; while some scenes are exceptional, others fall flat.
In many ways, the Public Theater’s recent production of Bruce Norris’s brilliant The Low Road, inspired by Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and taking place shortly before the American Revolution, covered much more successfully some of the same conceptual territory: slavery, property, capitalism, politics, religion, war, poverty, and independence, and there was even a roundtable discussion using contemporary technology. In the debates, Cromwell, speaking on a proposal regarding representation in government, asks, “But how do we know another company of men shall not put out a paper as plausible as this? And not only another, and another, but many of this kind. And what do you think the consequence of that would be? Would it not be confusion? Would it not be utter confusion? As well as the consequences we must consider the ways and means: whether the people are prepared to go along with it and whether the great difficulties in our way are likely to be overcome.” The same can be asked of this production of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, in which a more-than-plausible script results in utter confusion, and judging from the number of people who left at intermission when I saw it, not everyone was prepared to go along with it.
A POP CULTURE EXTRAVAGANZA
Milk Studios (and other venues)
450 West Fifteenth St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, free - $160
New York magazine’s fifth annual Vulture Festival takes place this weekend at Milk Studios and other locations, celebrating pop culture. Below are only some of the nearly three dozen events that encompass film, music, comedy, art, podcasts, books, and more; all tickets include complimentary access to the Vulture Lounge following the event. Among the other participants are Julianna Margulies, Rachel Bloom, Adam Pally, Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, Debi Mazar, Darren Star, Wendy Williams, Johnny Knoxville, Cameron Esposito, Marti Noxon, Rachael Ray, Adam Platt, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Groff, Liev Schreiber, David Edelstein, Bo Burnham, and Wyatt Cenac.
Saturday, May 19
John Leguizamo: In Conversation, moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz, followed by a book signing, Milk Studios — Penthouse, $30, 11:30 am
One Book, One New York, One Event: Jennifer Egan in conversation with Adam Moss, Milk Studios — Studio 1, free with advance registration, 2:30
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Five Acts, conversation focusing on five of her projects, Milk Studios — Penthouse, $30, 4:00
Roxane Gay and Amber Tamblyn Present Feminist AF, with special guests Jennine Capó Crucet, Sharon Olds, and Morgan Parker, Milk Studios — Studio 1, $30, 6:45
Tracy Morgan in Hilarious Conversation, moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz, Milk Studios — AT&T Studio, $30, 8:00
Sunday, May 20
Jerry Saltz’s Masterly Tour of the Met Breuer, tour of the Met exhibit “Like Life” led by Jerry Saltz, Met Breuer, $150, 9:00 am
Boozy Brunch with Your Best Friends Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, and Phoebe Robinson, conversation with stars of new Netflix film Ibiza, moderated by Michelle Buteau, Milk Studios — Studio 4, $30, 12 noon
Claire Danes and Jim Parsons’s A Kid Like Jake, discussion of new movie with actors Claire Danes and Jim Parsons, director Silas Howard, and writer Daniel Pearle, Milk Studios — Studio 1, $30, 2:15
In Conversation with Samantha Bee, the Full Frontal Team, and Rebecca Traister: discussion with Samantha Bee, Melinda Taub, Ashley Nicole Black, Allana Harkin, Mike Rubens, and Amy Hoggart, moderated by Rebecca Traister, Milk Studios — AT&T Studio, $40, 5:45
Ava DuVernay and the Cast of Queen Sugar, with Ava DuVernay, Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Kofi Siriboe, Milk Studios — Studio 4, $30, 6:45