THE PARISIAN WOMAN and La Bergamote


Uma Thurman in her Broadway debut

 A tax lawyer with no experience on the bench aspires to land a seat on the highest court in the country. (Sound familiar?) But what if the apparently GOP appointee were a secret Democrat. An insurgent on the Supreme Court could eliminate gerrymandering and voter suppression. Idealism dates this new five-character play in our more cynical age.

The judgeship may yet come about thanks to the tax attorney’s wife, who works both sides of the aisle in DC. Chloe, played by Uma Thurman in her Broadway debut, once bravely moved to Paris for a while, thus her husband thinks of her as the Parisian Woman of the play’s title.

Thurman is a screen actor of the magnitude that you rarely get to see on Broadway. Thurman is almost always onstage, and you feel you get to know her through her unique body language. She is very tall. But the playwright gives her little to do. Chloe herself explains that she is unemployed and without interests, in a scene with the amazing Blair Brown, fully expressed as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Brown’s legendary major stage magic outshines Thurman, but she also has a better part, with more authority.

The Chloe part is never given the chance to shine—or to seethe, as Uma Thurman does so well in a Lars von Trier film for which she should have won an Academy Award. She never shows anger in this play, when her anger has lit up and focused the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood to which she gave a well thought out response. But like most of the characters in The Parisian Woman, she is made to spend most of the play with the tired prop of a glass of wine in her hand.

Not coincidentally, theatergoers are allowed to bring cocktails and wine to their seats, even to bring a whole bottle of wine, as the couple beside us did. This is highly unusual on Broadway, and we were distracted during suspense onstage by the glug-glug-glug of wine poured.



French bistro La Bergamote, a ten minute stroll from the Hudson Theatre, has a long showcase of pastries and a good wine list. It’s a quiet place to talk pre-matinee. Salads are fine but the pastas and egg dishes, superior. The eggs Benedicts include a version with crab cakes. Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame look almost conjugal. You may find a chic Parisian woman at La Bergamote, or that je ne sais quoi in a chic Argentinian woman and her handsome son (pictured). 


AINT MISBEHAVIN and Marcus B&P


The dazzling Ain't Misbehavin', Newark Performing Arts, photo by Yasmeen Fahmy

Thomas Fats Waller was born in Harlem in 1904. The son of a minister, he turned his abundant talents to songwriting, piano, singing, recording, radio work. He was a great hustler. New York producers must have loved to see him coming to demo a song and take his payment in cash. They said he would sell a song more than once, and other artists had big hits with songs they stole from him. Waller died at 30 of pneumonia on a train in Kansas, and thousands of people lined the streets outside his funeral. 

Forty years ago “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, the Fats Waller revue, rocked Broadway. I jumped at the chance to see it again in a production directed by original cast member André De Shields at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. In ‘78 four of the five “Ain’t Misbehavin’” actors were so evenly matched that they were pitted against each other for Drama Desk and Tony Awards. The show won for best musical in both.

The new cast stays close to the delicious ‘70s interpretations. A lyric comes with a leer, a wink, and a double meaning. “Jitterbug Waltz” depicts the slow drag of a 1930s dance marathon. “Cash for Your Trash” – an ode to WWII rationing – doubles the tempo in the second half. It’s practically impossible to sing so fast. “The Joint is Jumpin’” scatters the cast as sirens blow. It’s Prohibition. Here come the cops.

The NJPAC production opened tentatively, but locked in early in Act I when the cast forms a chorus line to fervently demonstrate the manual and pedal sides of Waller’s stride piano – witty right hand over punching left. Rheaume Crenshaw sings a very simple “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling.” Borris York draws out every word of “I dreamed about a reefer five feet long . . .” in “TheViper’s Drag,” De Shields’s big number on Broadway. David Samuel self-mocks with “Your Feet’s Too Big” and “Fat and Greasy.” And the entire cast becomes motionless to sing/ask “What did I do to be so black and blue?”

Guest writer Becca Pulliam was a Jazz Producer at WBGO 88.3 in Newark, NJ, for 30 years.
 

Three dishes at Newark's Marcus B&P

Two blocks from NJPAC, an early 20th century department store is restored and lovely. Enter Hahne & Co. on Broad Street and walk west under the cast-iron-ribbed skylight to Marcus B&P, the new restaurant with the celebrity chef.

Marcus Samuelsson is a great catch for downtown Newark, now rising. After winning a James Beard Award at Aquavit in New York City, he opened Red Rooster in Harlem. At Marcus B&P, B is for  bar with local beers and Newark apple cider on tap, and P is for Provisions. Samuelsson teams Ethiopian cuisine with Swedish. Almost every item on the menu is locally sourced.

Fresh, long-stemmed greens in the appetizing Laurel Garden salad come from AeroFarms, a large-scale indoor grower in Newark. “The dressing has a little kick to it!” said my lunch companions, and they said it again upon tasting the fried chicken and plantain waffles with pickled red cabbage and hot, local Tassot honey. And again for the Dorowat rigatoni. (Dorowat is the classic Ethiopian chicken stew.) The brick-oven pizza is classic, with bubbling crust.

There’s contemporary African-American art on the walls and neo soul music in the air. As our waiter Markus Jackson told us, Marcus B&P stays busy straight through the weekend, beginning Thursday after work.

ILLEGAL HELPERS and Kalustyan's


Illegal Helpers at the Austrian Cultural Forum, is a new German play by Maxi Obexer about the refugee crisis in Europe. Dialogue is taken directly from transcripts of quiet activists who help terrified refugees cross borders and avoid deportation, plus one fictional character (Lukas, played suavely by Viennese Markus Hirnigel) who at first observes what is going on from a cozy bourgeois distance. The other characters tell their stories, including a beloved white-haired aunt (Vivien Meisner, riveting) who considers herself less an activist than one who considers refugees adoptive family. Un-didactically, the 1990 Dublin Regulation is evoked that requires EU countries to accept applications from asylum seekers, and the fact that one can get legal action without legal status. The play makes you demand a fairer, more humane world.

A half-cynical, pony-tailed lawyer played by Mark Byrne instructs a group in how to build a case for citizenship, which includes getting a good interpreter. Then, he lays out his astronomical charge (10,000 euros) for the process. Although this was only a staged reading (and barely staged—music might have helped), you can see the possibilities. The ideas stick. Obexer’s play doesn’t make you laugh, but on the other hand, it doesn’t try to wring tears.

In Germany, as the play points out, only 2% of asylum seekers get to remain. In this country, the crisis is deportation. Every American has a friend who has recently been deported without reason, dragged away in the night. Illegal Helpers has relevance everywhere now. Performances have been in Chicago, Washington D.C., Hungary, and Chechnya. New Yorkers will have another chance to see Illegal Helpers in late August. 


Kalustyan’s is a Little India food shop with a cafeteria serving mostly vegan food of rare deliciousness. Spinach, eggplant, lentil, and couscous entrees come with salad, pickles, olives, and pita. Mujadarah (spiced lentils and delicately fried onions) platter is a favorite. Available drinks are nonalcoholic at this small upstairs eatery, open from 11 a.m. to 7:30.

The megastore downstairs is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. It is impossible to eat at the restaurant without wanting to do a little shopping on your way out. Bird’s nest pastries, halva, lentils of every shape and color, packaged snacks, nuts, dried fruit, herbed bread and samosas, stuffed grape leaves, curry pastes, chutneys, cookies, jams. Kalustyan’s house-made baba ghanoush is smoky and about the best in the world. The extensive tea section includes Lebanese love potion tea with 32 ingredients. People also come here for such health potions as fresh turmeric, senna leaf tea, gluten-free flours, spirulina, and neti pots. 



A DOLL'S HOUSE PART II and Un Deux Trois


In this revisionist Broadway season (the wheelchair in Glass Menagerie), the world’s most famous play about marriage, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, gets a refreshing sequel with A Doll’s House Part II, by Lucas Hnath. In fact, it’s better than the 1879 play from which it derives.

In the fifteen years since she walked out on Torvald and their children, Nora has done very well for herself and is a rich woman. However, nineteenth-century laws prevent her from being a free agent. Particularly while married, she could be put in jail for what she has accomplished. “Twenty to thirty years from now marriage will be a thing of the past,” Nora says confidently—a line that gets a big laugh.

Nora has come to secure the divorce that Torvald denied her. Indeed, he has explained her absence by saying she is dead. The family retainer, Anne Marie—played with heart and humor by Jayne Houdyshell—ultimately must defend her employer.

Nora’s formidable daughter, Condola Rashad (recently Juliet against Orlando Bloom’s Romeo), is concerned that Nora’s visit might throw a wrench in to her imminent marriage to a conservative banker like her father. Cast against type, Oscar-winning Chris Cooper’s Torvald is sympathetic and almost crushable. Think of all the repulsive Torvalds we’ve seen.

The great Laurie Metcalf gives another blazing performance on Broadway. You feel everything that her Nora feels. When she must connive to get her way, her wit and ingenuity are never in doubt. Even against oppressive tradition, she persists. She is Wendy Davis, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Sally Yates, Kirsten Gillibrand, Gabrielle Giffords, the Notorious RBG, and HRC, winner of the popular vote.

Contemporary language set against nineteenth-century costume suits the ensemble, as do a couple of anomalous twentieth-century devices: a water bottle, a box of tissues.



Café Un Deux Trois (123 West 44th St) makes a famous country paté first course and delicious Boeuf Bourguignon, though doesn’t hone strictly to a French menu. An institution since its splashy opening in 1977, Un Deux Trois evokes the eighties and parties hard late at night once the play is over. It’s packed early for the pre-theatre prix fixe, three courses for $35, available from 3:30 p.m. until midnight, which includes the paté, plus a choice of pasta, chicken or fish. The popular chicken Kiev comes sliced up (preventing you from enjoying the little squirt when you first cut in). Pastas are deservedly popular here, and the fish choice daurade, was in an expert olive camponata, though served with minute rice. You order off the a la carte menu for frittes. Desserts included a perfect New York cheese cake with raspberry reduction and a superior chocolate mousse.

Interestingly dressed and coiffed theatregoers collect at an art nouveau bar. The banquette near the bar is a great location to enjoy both the bustle and the flirtatious French manager with waxed moustache, Gérard. “As in ‘Gérard Depardieu,’” he says.

THE DRESSMAKER’S SECRET and Rôtisserie Georgette

 
A dressmaker, played by Tracy Sallows, raises her nineteen-year-old son (Bryan Burton) in post-war Romania. Robi is fascinated with all things Western and has his sights set on America. His mother, of course, prefers that he stay at home.

When Irma, a member of the party visits to have a dress made, Maria is anxious and fears surveillance. Irma’s brother (Robert S. Gregory) is likely the boy’s father. After two decades, he wants forgiveness and his sister to set the record straight. Irma’s own intent is a real surprise.

Confessions are made and hurts uncovered. Sallows is grounded and complex as Maria. Irma (played by Caralyn Kozlowski) is strong as Maria’a old friend, dodging self-disclosure.

With Cold War surveillance a hot topic, this ambitious play co-written by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihai Grünfeld (who has his own story about escaping Romania as a young man) is timely. The 59E59 Theaters fearlessly take on political subjects, including a very well-praised play by Jeffrey Sweet about lawyer and Constitutional civil rights activist William Kunstler played by Jeff McCarthy.


Rôtisserie Georgette is a short block from the 59E59 Theaters. Tall ceilings and a baronial atmosphere were most inviting on a cold winter night. “It’s Louis XV meets the kitchen,” says the founder Georgette Farkas.

The bronzed rotisserie chicken is delicious all on its own, without the dipping sauces, as is the duck in a bitter orange sauce. Twice-baked potato is another specialty and beautifully presented. Two all-star sides were the stack of maple-roasted carrots with grain mustard and the wedges of golden winter beets, granny smith apples and mimolette cheese. We didn’t have time for dessert but were recommended the pot de crème au chocolate, served in the mug it was baked in.   JENSEN WHEELER WOLFE

HEISENBERG with Mary-Louise Parker

One of the freer actresses of our time, Mary-Louise Parker

We're still talking about a fresh, new, two-character play we came to too late to review in 2016, Heisenberg, by British playwright Simon Stephens. We hope Heisenberg does well at the Tonys.

Mary-Louise Parker played to raves on Broadway in 1990 with Alec Baldwin in Prelude to a Kiss, more recently starred in the cable TV Weeds, for which she won a 2006 Golden Globe, and she received a Tony in 2001 for her role in Proof. Parker doesn’t play victims or losers. She is bold and one of the freer actresses of our time.

In Heisenberg, which seems to be written for her, Mary-Louise Parker plays an American living in London, a hippie grifter who meets a well-preserved older man in a train station (Denis Arndt). Their unlikely friendship leads them to spend a night together. In the morning, he realizes her intentions were not as he thought. Given time to reconsider, he chooses to go along with her anyway. She boldly takes them where they’ve never been before.

It’s a mature perspective that what initially seems very good can turn out to be very bad—and revert back to good in the end. The uplift you get from Heisenberg is philosophic and romantic. The title is from physics’ Heisenberg uncertainty principle that explains the more clearly you see one thing, the less clearly you see another.

HANSEL AND GRETEL and Dulce Vida

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel was performed in a holiday show by Amore Opera. The matinee audience was rapt as Gretel (adorable Smitha Johnson) murders the witch, shoving her into the oven, and with the superpowers newly invested in her, the children that the witch killed come back to life. It was a powerful moment. The ten children on stage were acting so totally.

Amore Opera nurtures a passionate performance, whatever the age of the singer. Rob Garner, with his velvet baritone and expressive acting, played the father. We were also pleased to see among the serious and professional gingerbread children Arden Wheeler Wolfe, in her third Amore opera. (Her favorite still is Don Giovanni.)

As the witch, Anita Lyons is full out, the way a witch should be. She is fun and creepy and enjoys every moment of her wickedness. She has some great dance steps! Amore Opera knows how to find humor in the drama (without resorting to broad panto casting). At a fraction of the cost of a ticket, don't expect the sets to compete with the Metropolitan Opera's. The forest backdrop seemed in danger of falling over, yet the magic went on. The orchestra is so good, conducted by lanky Richard Owen (in tux with tail coat). Looking forward to Carmen and a rare performance of Donizetti's La Zingara (The Gypsy Woman) in 2017.


Cozy, well-lit and welcoming, the Colombian restaurant Dulce Vida is prized on the Upper East Side. The menu is varied, though fish is practically absent. A popular platos fuerte is flank steak with rice, fried egg, red beans, plantains, and Colombian style bacon. The red bean casserole is another, with the Colombian style bacon, steak, and sweet plantains. Empanadas with shredded chicken or beef have a crispy corn crust.

Maria's Guacamole with plantain chips is especially great, and the vinegary pepper sauce, Aji, is simply wonderful, made in house. You can take a jar of Dulce Vida's green pepper sauce home. It's mild enough to serve to a Republican. Numerous postres (desserts) are also packaged to go, including flan and tres leches cake.