The McKittrick Hotel
530 West 27th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Wednesday - Monday through April 19, $85
A few months ago, I finally gave in and saw The Perfect Crime, the mystery that’s been running in Manhattan since 1987 and features Catherine Russell; having racked up more than thirteen thousand performances in the same role, she’s now in the Guinness Book of World Records. Yet there was nothing special about it that made me understand its longevity. So it was with both trepidation and curiosity that I went to the New York premiere of The Woman in Black, which has been playing in London’s West End continuously since 1989. The two-act, 130-minute show is being staged in the McKittrick Hotel’s Club Car, the previous home of the National Theatre of Scotland’s fun, immersive drama The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, among other presentations.
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill’s Gothic novel and directed by Robin Herford, The Woman in Black gets off to a slow start, establishing a play-within-a-play format that could use a jump to get things going. A finicky old man named Arthur Kipps (David Acton) has hired an actor (Ben Porter) to punch up a ghost story he has written, based on events that happened to him. “I recalled that the way to banish an old ghost that continues its hauntings is to exorcise it,” Kipps says. “Well, then. Mine should be exorcised. I should tell my tale. I should set it down on paper, with every care and in every detail. I would write my own ghost story, and then, that my family might know and that I might be forever purged of it, relive it through the telling. The first part, the writing, I have done. Now comes the telling. I pray for God’s protection on us all.”
The first act introduces the audience to the setup: The old man has no sense of drama and repeatedly proclaims that he is not a performer, which is why he needs the Actor. (As in the script, Porter will heretofore be called Kipps, and Acton will be Actor.) In reciting the tale, the actor takes on the persona of Kipps as a young man, while Kipps juggles all the other roles, including a lawyer, a dapper gentleman with a dog, a landlord, a legal agent, and a carriage driver. Michael Holt’s set is spare, with a chair, a large wicker basket, and a curtain in the back that later reveals covered furniture behind it. Anshuman Bhatia’s lighting and Sebastian Frost’s sound play key parts in giving the show a bigger feel. Guests sit in chairs lined up in long rows; the bar features such cocktails as Woman in Black Punch, the Old McKittrick, and Mr Kipps. You can also have “Pie & a Pint”: a beer and a pub platter, pie & mash, or duck shepherd’s pie. A full dinner is available before the show.
The story that Kipps wants the Actor to tell is about himself as a young lawyer, as he travels to the end of nowhere, Eel Marsh House, for the funeral of a longtime client of his firm, the very much not-beloved Mrs Alice Drablow; in addition, he is to go through her papers to make sure her accounts are in order. As Kipps and the Actor play out the scenes, the latter often interrupts, concerned about how certain elements will be brought to life onstage. “There are so many things we cannot represent. How do we represent the dog, the sea, the causeway? How the pony and trap?” he asks. Kipps responds, “With imagination, Mr Kipps. Ours, and our audience’s.” He also notes that the unseen Mr Bunce will be using sound effects to further enhance the telling. The closer Kipps gets to Eel Marsh House, the creepier people act when they learn where he is going. And beware the Woman in Black, who’s liable to make you jump out of your skin.
The first act’s meta-discussion of stagecraft is repetitive and stodgy, but the show finally finds its groove in the second act, once Kipps arrives at his destination and dives into his research — and wonders what’s behind the locked door. After a bumpy beginning, the Actor settles into his responsibilities portraying numerous characters quite well while experiencing those long-gone days all over again. “I have a horror of it,” he tells Kipps. “Watching you, it is as if I relive it all, moment by moment . . . though you, of course, will never suffer as I did — I must always tell myself that.” Such is the nature of theater, which merely attempts to re-create and capture a sense of reality. There are plenty of scares as the denouement approaches; we were fortunate to have a screamer next to us, which was a bonus. Acton and Porter, who have performed the play in the West End, have an amiable camaraderie; Herford likes to keep things fresh, so he changes the cast in London every nine months (which is a far cry from the situation in The Perfect Crime). The Woman in Black is scheduled to run through March 8, but shows have a habit of extending at the McKittrick; Sleep No More has been playing there since 2011. [Ed. note: The Woman in Black has now been extended through April 19.] Of course, it looks like nothing will ever top The Mousetrap, the Agatha Christie show that has been running in the West End since 1952. Perhaps most important, The Woman in Black feels right at home in the Club Car, providing plenty of chills and thrills once the exposition gets out of the way.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (LÅT DEN RÄTTE KOMMA IN) (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park
188 Prospect Park West
Tuesday, January 21, $95, 7:15
If you have a taste for the ghoulish, you’re likely to get sucked in by Nitehawk’s latest Film Feast, in which a multicourse meal accompanies a movie for the cinematic gourmand. On January 21, Nitehawk’s Prospect Park branch will be serving up a delicious gem, the original Swedish thriller Let the Right One In, a chilling yet tender coming-of-age story about friendship and the meaning of family. In a snow-covered Stockholm suburb, twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is severely bullied by Conny (Patrik Rydmark), Andreas (Johan Sömnes), and Martin (Mikael Erhardsson). The frail, blond Oskar dreams of getting even, but he always backs down. But then he meets the dark-haired, somewhat feral Eli (Lina Leandersson, dubbed by Elif Ceylan), who has moved in next door in their apartment complex. While Oskar lives with his divorced mother (Karin Bergquist) — his father (Henrik Dahl) has moved out to the country — Eli lives with Håkan (Per Ragnar), an older father figure who goes out to gather what Eli needs to survive: blood. But the aging Håkan begins encountering difficulties, forcing Eli to go out and hunt down her own food. As people start to go missing in the small community, Eli and Oskar’s friendship begins to blossom, two outsiders coming to terms with who they are. But when Oskar suddenly strikes back, Conny’s older brother, Jimmy (Rasmus Luthander), gets involved, and the steaks, er, stakes, get a whole lot higher.
Based on the 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is a gripping horror film that is one of the best of the young century. By making the protagonists children with common adolescent problems, Lindqvist, who wrote the screenplay, and director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Snowman) create a more realistic setting, so the scares are that much more intense. Hedebrant and Leandersson have a magical chemistry, their tentativeness and fears intoxicating. They exist in a world that is meant only for them; all of the adults are essentially peripheral, whether parents, teachers, or community members wondering what is going on, and the other kids are merely in their way. And it’s all about that very moment; they both might be twelve, but Eli is going to be that age forever while Oskar gets older.
The atmosphere is thick and tense throughout, elevated by Hoyte van Hoytema’s inventive cinematography and Johan Söderqvist’s dramatic score, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. Despite some very memorable scenes involving shocking violence, at its heart Let the Right One In is a sweetly innocent love story, albeit with a few unusual complications. Matt Reeves directed a 2010 English-language remake starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz, and the National Theatre of Scotland staged a terrific theatrical adaptation that played at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2015, but there’s still nothing like the original, a visually stunning and psychologically adept fresh new take on the vampire legend.
The five-course feast, with each dish and cocktail named after a part of the film, consists of “”A Little About Drugs” (black cherry, lemon infused Absolut, clarified lemon juice, black shaved ice) with “Good Job Pig” (caraway scented pork belly, pickled carrots, rosemary parsnip purée); “You Smell Funny” (lingonberry, Swedish punsch, allspice, cinnamon, Absolut, Amaro Pasubio, violets, Laphroaig 10 Yr.) with “the Sled Drag” (blodpudding, celery root, Napa cabbage, lingonberry); “Oskar, Do You Like Me?” (acid adjusted apple juice, dill infused Absolut, pine, Salers, pickled apple) with “I’m Trapped” (Swedish meatballs with pour it yourself Absolut gravy); “Virginia!” (Absolut, banana, cream, walnut, caraway, served ice cold) with “Blood Brothers” (rye bröd, gravlax, apple, dill crème fraîche, beet reduction splatter), and “Thank You” (frozen chocolate and espresso martini, white shaved ice) with a “Bloody Kiss” (Hallongrotta, Absolut Pear whipped cream, powdered sugar). Smaklig måltid!
If you haven’t been to the Shed yet, the entertainment hub at Hudson Yards, this Saturday offers you a pretty good reason to finally head over. From 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, admission to the two current art exhibits, “Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates” and “Manual Override,” which usually require $10 tickets each, is free. There will also be several special programs as well as food trucks in the McCourt, a photo booth on level six, and music and dance. There will be tours of the wide-ranging Agnes Denes retrospective, which consists of more than 150 works from throughout the career of the eighty-eight-year-old Budapest-born American artist (including newly commissioned pieces), at 2:30 with artists Bahar Behbahani, Tattfoo Tan, Avram Finkelstein, Moko Fukuyama, and Janani Balasubramanian and astrophysicist Dr. Natalie Gosnell, at 3:15 with curatorial assistant Adeze Wilford, at 3:45 with senior curator Emma Enderby, and at 5:00 with John Hatfield and artist Torkwase Dyson. “Manual Override” brings together the work of Morehshin Allahyari, Simon Fujiwara, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Sondra Perry, and Martine Syms, which combines social and ethical issues with cutting-edge technology. In addition, DJ Synchro will be spinning in the lobby from 2:00 to 4:00, DJ April Hunt from 4:00 to 6:00, and DJ Bembona from 6:00 to 8:00; Dance Battle: It’s Showtime NYC! vs. the D.R.E.A.M. Ring will get under way in the lobby at 2:15 and 4:30; the two dance teams will be hosting workshops around the building at 3:00 and in the Tisch Skylights at 5:00 and 5:15; and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter J Hoard will perform in the Tisch Skylights at 5:30.
Tuesday, December 24, $50-$75, 9:00 pm - 3:00 am
Free Christmas Eve? The thirty-third annual Matzoball for singles is taking place on December 24 at Capitale on Bowery, a holiday extravaganza running from nine at night to three the next morning. Partnering with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, the all-night party started primarily for Jewish singles, but now singles of all religions and ethnicities are welcome, as long as they are twenty-one or over. General admission is $50, with the VIP Fast Pass offering front-of-line privileges and a half-hour open bar for $75. There will be a live DJ performance and lots of dancing and mingling; there will also be Matzoballs, which were founded in 1987 by Andrew Rudnick, held Christmas Eve in Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, DC, and three Florida cities. And as a bonus, it just happens to be Hanukkah as well.
Docks Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill
633 Third Ave. at Fortieth St.
Saturday, November 23, $65-$125, 12:00 - 3:00
“Before the twentieth century, when people thought of New York, they thought of oysters,” award-winning author Mark Kurlansky writes in the preface to his 2006 book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. “This is what New York was to the world — a great oceangoing port where people ate succulent local oysters from their harbor. . . . Oysters were true New Yorkers.” So what is Docks Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill, a Murray Hill institution for four decades, doing hosting an All-Canadian Oyster Festival?
For more than fifteen years, Docks has been home to a fall and spring oyster festival, but last November, for the first time, it featured Canadian oysters exclusively, eighteen different varieties, in addition to holding a hotly contested shucking competition (with a $1,000 cash prize). The Canadian fest, which will also serve chowders and shrimp and includes live music by People vs. Larsen, returns November 23, with master Montreal-based oyster-shucking champion Daniel Notkin as MC and celebrity shucking judges Julie Qiu, oyster sommelier and founder of In a Half Shell, and chef Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish restaurants. Below is an edited, combined transcript of separate interviews I conducted with Notkin, Qiu, and Gruel as well as Docks executive chef Freda Sugarman and one of the event’s chief organizers, Emmy winner Michael-Ann Rowe, the Fishionista behind such shows as Off the Beaten Palate and Put Your Best Fish Forward.
twi-ny: When did you shuck your first oyster?
julie qiu: January 13, 2010 — my birthday, by chef Lawrence Edelman! I blogged about it before In a Half Shell existed. 😀
andrew gruel: Seventeen years old, working at Cook’s Lobster House on the lobster docks in Bailey’s Island, Maine. I shucked oysters and cherry stones all summer, suffering shellfish infection one after another from stabbing myself so many times.
twi-ny: What is the key to shucking an oyster?
ag: Don’t use muscle, take your time, breathe.
jq: It’s easy to learn, difficult to master. The key to shucking a good oyster is to use as little force as possible and to leave as little of a trace of blade as possible.
dn: We all shuck a bit differently depending on the area of North America and around the world. There are lots of ways to get into an oyster, but the key to opening an oyster is to get into that shell so that you’re not breaking it or causing it to crumble, separate that adductor muscle from the top of the shell, and that same adductor from the bottom and leave nothing behind. The oyster should be presented and opened as if it didn’t even know we were there — just like it was four seconds earlier locked in that shell.
twi-ny: What is the Shuckinhell list?
jq: Shuckinhell is a special category (and Instagram handle . . . not me) dedicated to the worst of the worst shucks that are paraded around as “good oysters.”
twi-ny: What’s the most common problem nonprofessionals have?
dn: There are a few! Getting into the hinge or into the shell I think is the hardest part. It can be very slight or very “tight” depending where you enter: If you go in through the “lip” (the slight opening where the top and bottom shells meet around the oyster) and that’s very tight, that can be tough. If you go in through the hinge (at the back where the shells are connected), that can be very small or very tight . . . and not having the right knife or one that’s too dull — that leads to a lot of problems and danger.
twi-ny: What is the greatest misconception New Yorkers have about oysters?
dn: Well, I actually think New Yorkers are doing great! New York was founded on oysters, and the resurgence and interest that New York and many cities have shown gives great joy and hope to all of us who care about ocean health and the preservation of our environment. Our good friends at the Billion Oyster Project in New York are just doing phenomenal work on educating young people about marine life and are making great strides with their efforts to repopulate the harbor and making it livable again for all species. No small task!
I think moreover that there’s just so much for them to learn about oysters that is fascinating. We addressed a lot of them in our documentary, Shuckers (that we hope to bring out on a platform soon), but they’re just amazing: Each single oyster filters fifty gallons of water a day (1M oysters = 50M gallons filtered!); that they don’t filter garbage or waste but rather algae and phytoplankton, which cloud up the waterways and if allowed to overpopulate cause red tide and death to all species; that they live in estuaries where the rivers meet the sea for just that reason; that they’re 650 million years old; that they’re one of the healthiest things you can eat on the planet; and that the more you eat them (these days) the more you’re saving the world!
Oysters used to be mostly wild but now they’re all farmed but have to be grown in natural waterways, so the more you eat oysters, the more money goes back to the farmers, the more we filter the water and replace the oysters that were once there, the more they have a greater appreciation and presence, and a greater voice to improve our oceans and water systems.
I think the only misconception is for those who choose not to eat oysters because they’re concerned about harming animals (i.e., vegans). Oysters have no central nervous system, no motility, no cognition, and likely the same bioreactionary traits we are now finding in lettuce and all plants and trees and all aspects of nature. All told, if you eat lettuce, you can feel okay, and even better eating an oyster.
twi-ny: Do New Yorkers really get into watching the competition, or are they too busy eating and drinking?
dn: Boy, can they get into it! When you get really good shuckers, it’s a great show. And you don’t have to sacrifice eating and drinking. Each round lasts about a minute and a half, so grab a drink, grab a lobster roll and a plate of oysters, and watch the show!
twi-ny: Why the switch to Canadian oysters from local fare?
freda sugarman: We felt that it was super important to showcase areas in Canada that produce incredible shellfish. I enjoy having a close connection with the farmers and love seeing their passion for their product.
twi-ny: What are some of the primary differences between Canadian oysters and oysters from, for example, the East Coast, the West Coast, and Japan?
jq: Wow, that’s a big question. Primary difference: Species. Environment. Growing methodologies. But that’s generally the differences between all oysters. Canadian oysters take a bit longer to mature than other oysters grown around the world. For that reason, some of them are petite in nature but have very complex and layered flavors.
twi-ny: What’s so special about Canadian oysters?
dn: Well! First off, all oysters are special. To say one was more special than the other would be like choosing a favorite child — ideally not possible. But what distinguishes our maritime Canadian oysters is their perseverance in the face of long winters and harsh conditions. That means each of these beautiful oysters in the small but perfect size of ~2.5-3" is that they take three to five years to get to that point. Which means they’ve weathered a number of storms, and the best and most hearty survive.
Compare this to a New England oyster, which takes one to one and a half years to grow to 2.5/3", and a Gulf oyster, which takes one year to grow to four inches. Well . . . these little guys put in the work. You get a beautifully clean taste and fresh, crisp character — cold butter and the fresh, clean salt of remaining ocean water with hints of a rich vegetal stock indicative of the algae they ingest. Beautiful oysters all.
twi-ny: What are your personal favorite oysters?
jq: I’m an equal opportunity international oyster lover. Can we make this question about favorite Canadian oysters? If that’s the case, I’m a fan of Village Bays from New Brunswick, Kusshi from Deep Bay, BC, and Raspberry Points from PEI.
ag: I will happily indulge in every type of Canadian oyster.
twi-ny: Freda, you prepare oysters several ways at Docks. How do you prefer to eat them?
fs: A simple touch of lemon.
twi-ny: And to drink?
fs: Everything goes well with tequila!
twi-ny: Michael-Ann, you’ve traveled all around North and South America writing about food. Where have you had the best oysters?
michael-ann rowe: Atlantic Canada. Seriously. Second to that is the US: Wellfleet (East Coast), and a surprise in Alabama were Murder Point Oysters.
twi-ny: You were born in Canada and live both there and in New York. Are there differences in how New Yorkers and Canadians eat oysters?
m-ar: Not really. They either douse them with a blast of pickled horseradish or eat them the right way. . . .
twi-ny: Which would be?