The Lying Lesson and El Quijote

Looking uncannily like her subject, Carol Kane channels Bette Davis, the woman, in Craig Lucas’ The Lying Lesson. Late in life Davis attempts to move back to her Maine hometown and, if possible, meet up with her first boyfriend there. The young woman assisting in the house sale is unaware of who she is and sometimes refers to her as “Mrs. David.”

Tall, blond Mickey Sumner has a bewitching tomboy style that is particularly in evidence when she lights two cigarettes at once, a la the 1942 Now, Voyager—one of the few references to Bette Davis’s films in the play. Admittedly, the Maine accent is tough for even an American to fake. Sumner is the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler.

Two fascinating actresses are heroic through a play that gives them little to do. Kane’s big scene is recounting, blow-by-blow, seeing the old boyfriend again. It’s so powerful and funny that you believe Carol Kane is Bette Davis.

As for the vintage set—the shabby Maine cottage with plaid furnishings and 50s kitchen—it’s ambitious, but what a dump. One can’t imagine BD setting foot in it much less spending the night.

When you visit the Atlantic Theater Company or the Joyce in Chelsea, there are many fabulous restaurants to choose from. But if you visit from out of town, and you’ve never been there, you might like to try the famous El Quijote, in the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Dedicated to Don Quixote, there is a party room named for Dulcinea. Theatre Row recommends the recreation of sixteenth-century Spain in Jaime Manrique’s absorbing novel Cervantes Street.

Tapas and seafood rule the vast menu. Paellas come in many forms, and delicious sangria in pitchers and half-pitchers. If you’re in the mood for a snack at the bar, the fried calamari is tip-top. Free tapas are available at the early happy hour.

Through the 50s onwards, the Chelsea Hotel has played host to numerous artists whose names and art works adorn the hotel’s lobby, currently being renovated. El Quijote has never been so much as repainted, and bears the pong of a billion cigarettes smoked there before the 2003 statewide ban on smoking in restaurants. In other ways, it’s good some places never change! The better to imagine being here while songs were written by Bob Dylan, Nico, Graham Nash, and Leonard Cohen—and poems by Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso.

All in the Timing and Uncle Jack's

A series of intricate, quick wordplays by David Ives is revived at Primary Stages, where it had its premiere in 1993. There’s a parody of Philip Glass, with very clever stagecraft. A play about Leon Trotsky’s last days in Coyoacán, Mexico, partly relies on one finding Russian and Spanish accents funny, which is to say, this particular play didn’t age well.

“The Philadelphia” is classic, about an extravagantly happy man in a restaurant, whose outlook, he explains, is L.A. all the way. He informs another diner that he is unmistakably displaying a Philadelphia. The waitress complains she has a Cleveland.

Anarchically comical and irreverent, five gifted actors skillfully showcase their talents playing completely different characters in each of six scenes. We especially liked Jenn Harris as the eager student of a universal language, taught by charlatan academic Carson Elrod, and giant Matthew Saldivar as the expansive, self-satisfied, world-kissing “L.A.”

One of us was an actress in her former life and understudied all of the parts in All in the Timing—a damn impressive feat. Understudies are so under-sung! Where is the Tony Award for best Broadway understudy? Theatre Row Review believes there should be one.

Steakhouses are often all-male, but if there’s a woman dining at Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, she’s liable to be Japanese and chic. This is because Jack’s is one of very few restaurants on this continent serving Kobe steaks ($250 for 16 oz, $125 for 8 oz). There is also an appetizer of Kobe meatballs– and lobster cocktail as well as shrimp cocktail. Crab cakes served in a shrimp-colored shrimp sauce were amazing. Fridays during Lent: one-dollar oysters and clams from 4 to 6 p.m.

Our dry-aged Porterhouse and filet mignon were ordered medium and were beautifully charred on the outside, juicy and red inside. The filet mignon was ambrosial. Steaks are served bone-in or bone-out, in an interesting nod toward worldwide proto-vegetarianism. Not that a vegetarian would set foot in a steakhouse, however Uncle Jack’s anticipates them, with its ambitious selection of seafood, shellfish, salads, vegetables garnished with a giant potato chip, and potatoes done every which way. 

Ann and Café Fiorello

You don't have to remember Governor Ann Richards to love “Ann.”Creatures from Outer Space who happen upon Lincoln Center and buy tickets to this show, with no knowledge of Texas gubernatorial history, will fall under her spell too.

Holland Taylor wrote the snappy play and has been performing Ann Richards for years. She’s made up to look exactly like her, in a copy of Richards’ white Chanel suit and stiff white hairstyle. Her friend the humorist Molly Ivins said the hair made her look like a Republican. She was anything but conservative—a left-wing Democrat, feminist and supporter of gay rights. Richards’ vote against a concealed weapons bill lost her re-election. She said, half facetiously, that gun owners should wear their guns on a chain around their necks so we all could see.

Though many thought Richards, who married a civil rights lawyer at age 19 and had four children, was later in life a lesbian, Taylor doesn’t take it up. Perhaps the inevitable movie version of “Ann” will. We never see the chain-smoker, nor does Taylor’s Gov. Richards thrillingly recite the fifty states (perhaps it wouldn’t work in the theatre) as she did as keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic convention—an indelible moment in US history. But who can quibble with the electrifying performance Holland Taylor pulls off?

She’s delivering a graduation address when we meet her, and later, we get to hang out with Gov. Richards in her office, where she spars wittily with her staff and has provocative phone conversations with then President Bill Clinton. The charismatic Holland Taylor isn’t didactic in the least, and her play is good to the last drop, followed by a thundering standing ovation. Theatre Row Review will have to backtrack: We’d earlier predicted Laurie Metcalf for the Best Actress Tony, but now we think it will be a dead heat with Holland Taylor.

Lincoln Center is surrounded by restaurants. The one directly in front, Fiorello, is one of the busiest and moderately priced. If you’re alone, the antipasto bar is a congenial place to sit and mingle with people on their way to the ballet, the philharmonic, Film Center, and the theatres. Or get a table outdoors – in cool weather, heated. One evening the weather turned chilly, and we were offered blankets. Choose from about forty antipastos on display. Entrees include their signature lasagna, thin as a kringle, big enough to share, and a personal pizza with paper-thin crust that overlaps the plate. On the way out, complimentary dark chocolate with sea salt – your night at the opera might call for it.

American Girl Place Café and Cinderella

Rumplemeyers, the upscale midtown ice-cream parlor of old, morphed into the cultish American Girl Place Café – near enough to Broadway for lunch pre-matinee. You may want to book post-play in order to take your time. Our drama critic’s 7 year-old daughter could find not a single thing wrong with the experience. She even ran into someone she knew and bonded with the 12-year-old in the next banquet.

The store sells dolls constructed in the owner’s image. Basically, hair color and skin color are all that change. If a child doesn’t own one, she or he may choose from an array of loaner dolls to sit beside them during the meal. Our youngest critic brought her look-alike doll, which was given her own seat at the table and brought a tiny teacup and saucer. (At home, her mother says, she never plays with the doll.) She manned the “conversation box,” asking thoughtful questions. “Do you ever feel homesick? What do you do about that?” Several question slips were tossed aside before she read the next: “If you had your choice, would you be an only child or one of ten children? You can only pick one or the other.” The decor is flowery, pink, black and white.

Blue-cheese burgers, mac and cheese, tic-tac-toe pizza are substantial, served with a mountain of sweet potato fries – you’d expect doll-size portions. We had so much food there was enough to take home to Daddy. A generous appetizer platter includes pretzel bread, mustard and ranch dips, fruit and carrots trimmed with a little mohawk of green. Dessert is a chocolate mousse flowerpot, heart-shaped cake, and fruit kabob.

When you book the American Girl restaurant online, you are asked to pay on the spot your party’s prix fixe at lunchtime of $24 per person (whether adult or child). As you are about to pay online, a question flashes:“Are you 18 years of age or older?” Apparently some girls succeeded in the trick of using their parents' credit card to book reservations from their iphones. One clever girl ordered a whole range of dolls, dolls’ dogs, wardrobes, luggage, and a miniature grand piano—a thousand dollars worth of merchandise.

Cinderella on Broadway has magic, love, humor and heart. This updated production of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic seems softer and a far cry from the original 1957 Julie Andrews version. The stepsisters are contemplative and not as mean. They are more focused on their own ambitions rather than thwarting Cinderella’s. The Prince exhibits leadership skills and truly cares about his kingdom. The stepmother isn’t completely a pill. There is an updated text with new twists, characters (including a rebel), and songs outside of the original score.

It all works. The star is Cinderella’s inside-out gown that transforms from peasant’s frock to ball gown in seconds. Costumes by William Ivey Long are glittery, bright and beautiful when danced. The many layered ball gowns flutter and swirl. Our 7-year old critic described them as "poofy, like big cupcakes," and she wished "I hope I can go to a real ball someday and wear a dress like that!" She loved the choreography and the gorgeous voice of Cinderella—Laura Osnes. A special shoutout to Harriet Harris, who is hilarious as the stepmother.

Who doesn’t want to believe that dreams come true? Santino Fontana, the Prince, sums it up: “You can get what you secretly wish for. We should all keep hoping for the impossible.”