Love and Information and Monte's Trattoria

Love and Information. Say what?

Caryl Churchill’s brilliant 1982 Top Girls is a feminist touchstone comparable to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe. Wherever Top Girls was produced it drew the finest actresses around (kind of like Vagina Monologues today) to embody the most exceptional “top girls” from history, and seated them around a table for a banquet. In the Off-Broadway New York production, Linda Hunt was sensational as Pope Joan, from the Middle Ages, history’s only female pope, who gave birth while riding a horse. Martha Plimpton was also amazing in the role.

Churchill is still Off-Broadway, if you can imagine, though you’d never guess from the genius set and production at the Minetta Lane Theatre, in association with the Royal Court Theatre. Her gift for dialogue and speeches shines, whether between strangers or close family members—the “love” of the title. A widow, played by Maria Tucci (a top girl in any role she has ever played), sadly packs up her husband’s clothing to give away. The younger woman asks, “Did he mean everything to you?” “Well, we’ll see!” comes the spritely answer.

There are 57 exchanges inside a white cube that transforms into 57 sets, each different, that include two heavy sofas, bicycles, patio furniture, several beds, and a piano. Loud, distracting transitional music and sounds define the scene and cover scene changes that happen all too quickly. It’s a surprise to see a couple in bed and two boys on a grass patch, both vertical. 

Sometimes there’s too much information, as in the date with a biologist or the info that has no relevance, as in the waiting room of people applying for green cards, where a boyfriend prompts his girlfriend with possible test questions about the U.S. The format takes some getting used to, but when you do, the scenes are little gems. Extended through April 6.
A toast between top girls, Churchill's 1982 game changer

Downstairs Monte’s vintage Italian restaurant hasn’t changed since it was opened in 1918. The waiters are charming and friendly, the food is reliable rich and delicious, the prices reassuringly mid-range. Plus, you’re in the heart of Greenwich Village, the heart of arty New York.  They hold a Tony Awards night with a wide screen TV. Maybe we’ll go!

Hot Italian bread and long-stemmed artichoke hearts, in lemon and light breading were tutti bella. Fruitti di mare linguini was magnificent, heavy on seafood rather than pasta. Tender linguini is homemade. You can get a half portion of pasta. Grilled trout was fresh tasting—not overwhelmed by garlic or butter—and a double portion compared to what you get in some restaurants (Momofuku). Our waiter, Tomas, was a prince, and kissed us as we left. We only wish we had time for his Tartufo.

The Tribute Artist and L'Entrecôte

Charles Busch is a cherished New York actor and playwright specializing in playing Hollywood leading ladies. In The Tribute Artist, directed by Carl Andress, a longtime collaborator, he plays a drag artist who can no longer find work in a Las Vegas that would rather see a drag Beyoncé than a Marilyn. In retirement, though coiffed and in a gown, he visits with reclusive widow Adriana (Cynthia Harris). Busch does his signature late sweeping entrance, looking impossibly glam. They relive old times and old loves with Rita, a lesbian real estate shark played full-throttle by clotheshorse and Busch star Julie Halston.

The modern art-filled, bookish parlor of Adriana’s elegant house in the West Village has wedding-cake walls and ceiling, as Rita points out. It’s every New Yorker’s fantasy to own such digs. They drink too much and sleep over. When they wake up, they find Adriana has sadly expired in her sleep. Estranged from family, she left no will. Well, the tribute artist can impersonate the widow! The real estate agent can sell the house for millions! But wait—the widow’s beautician niece (Mary Bacon) arrives from Wisconsin with her transgender son. Fortunately, they haven’t seen the aunt since childhood. The tribute artist looks just enough like the old moneybags to convince them.

Thanks to a Facebook connection, the widow’s much younger boyfriend of yore appears. He also has not seen the widow for years and buys the hoax for a while. Jonathan Walker is full of surprises. Keira Keeley as the transgender Oliver is adorable and smart, and just wait until you see her in a tuxedo. It’s all good—as long as nobody looks in the fur vault in the cellar.

Charles Busch has always been outrageously ahead of his time. The Tribute Artist suggests the world may be trying to catch up. Crisp, original music by Lewis Flinn enhances the fun.

Not far from the midtown 59E59 theater is Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte, a French brasserie with branches in London and Paris. There is no menu—the steak frites is all there is. Le Relais label vin rouge is only $25 a bottle, and the prix-fixe dinner costs only a couple of dollars more. No reservations, so go there at an off hour.

You start with a beautiful green salad with walnuts in a sharp, mustardy vinaigrette. The entrecote, lean sirloin, is best rare or bleu (bloody) and is served sliced, in a pale, tarragon-inflected sauce that has a secret recipe. Half of the tender meat is kept hot on a chafing dish while you eat.

You'll think you are in Paris. The all-female staff is dazzlingly efficient. You're in good hands! With the second half of your perfect steak comes another portion of heavenly crisp, hot, skinny frites such as you've only enjoyed in Europe (or French Canada). The house steak sauce will make you never want catsup with your fries again, which is a good thing, because you can’t get catsup here even if you asked for itor mayonnaise, or butter for your baguette.

Although there isn’t a main-course menu, the dessert menu has a huge selection, including a cheese platter with nuts that works as a main course. (That and the walnut salad is a tip-top selection for vegetarians.) The most ordered desserts are the profiteroles in Belgian chocolate and the 8" meringue tower.