DISBAND and Tavern on the Green

DISBAND was formed in the late seventies by a group of artists, all female, whose outrageous brand of political theater has been revived for reunion concerts at MoMA PS1 and all over. The recent program of twelve short songs and sketches was standing-room-only at the cool Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown.

In a famous skit, two men compare penises that grow and grow until they're able to have a sword fight with them. In a new one, an empty suit draped over a hanger, center stage, stands in for Gov Rick Perry. Bewigged Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington and Abigail Adams take turns scolding Rick, addressing corrupt campaign funding, state-sanctioned rape in the form of forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds, and the Constitution’s clearly stated mandated separation of church and state.

DISBAND sketches over three decades old are still very relevant. This “conceptual art punk band of women artists who can’t play any instruments” formed at Franklin Furnace, which was founded by Martha Wilson, one of the night’s performers. (Barbara Kruger and Ingrid Sischy are also members.) This performance also included Ilona Granet, Donna Hennes and worldwide sensation Diane Torr, in town for the US premiere of a film about her Man For a Day workshops

It’s so easy to imagine these fearless artists partying with Pussy Riot.

A walk across Central Park took us to the new Tavern on the Green, recently reopened after four years dark. The colorful crystal chandeliers and art nouveau mirrors were sold off, as well as the topiaries of teddy bears and elephant removed from the garden. Trees around the restaurant that had been strangled in ropes of hot, colored lights have been set free, and nature conservationists consider that in itself an improvement.

Since the bankruptcy filing in 2009, Tavern on the Green has been owned by the city and was revamped in character with the other rustic park buildings inside the park, with a new open kitchen, the original wood-beamed ceilings, and a lively bar, which it never had before. Bartender Savannah will mix you a drink called the Bronx: Dorothy Parker American Gin, orange juice, and sweet and dry vermouths. The old menu used to be all pasta and red meat. Under the direction of Chef Katy Sparks, grilled meat and fish and roasted vegetables are offered, with several ceviches that are popular on both lunch and dinner menus.

Pete Wells said the food isn't "so wonderful that it would lure crowds, but it wouldn't keep them away either," whatever that means. One day at lunch the most popular thing to order was the $18 tuna melt. (If nothing else, it gives you some idea of the pricing.) No bread basket comes with a main course or a main-course salad at the new Tavern on the Green. This can only be a money-saving decision that probably will be rethought as the restaurant fledges, because bread baskets should be de rigueur, even in a gluten-free world.

The Cripple of Inishmaan and Landmark Tavern

Oh Harry, we hardly knew ye! Daniel Radcliffe with Sarah Greene.
The Cripple of Inishmaan, written when playwright Martin McDonagh was only twenty-five, is based on real events. In the 1930s, a filmmaker visited a remote Aran island to make a documentary, The Man of Aran.

McDonagh’s dark comedy takes place in 1934. Christopher Oram’s circular set rotates three locations: the store, the shore and the bedroom. The sparse visuals and ocean sounds take us right there. Billy, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is lame and orphaned, taken in by two shop keeper aunties, sensationally played by Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie. We love hearing them worry over Billy’s future and his fascination with cows. Radcliffe (a.k.a Harry Potter) is totally convincing as Billy, book smart but bored, and utterly captivated by red-haired Helen, played by Sarah Greene, a sharp-tongued beauty who has been known to smash eggs over people’s heads. The aunts fret over this evil, wicked Helen's effect on gentle Billy’s fragile heart.

Just when you think it’s calm, the town gossip, fabulously played by Pat Shortt, reveals that a Hollywood filmmaker is casting a movie on a neighboring isle and taking the cast to LA. Billy decides to sneak away with a group of young hopefuls and try his luck. Surprisingly, the filmmakers are looking for a “cripple.” But Hollywood does not hold the charm of Inishmaan for Billy, and he returns to what is familiar: verbal and physical abuse, but it’s home. 

Scotch Eggs
The Landmark Tavern opened in 1868 as a waterfront saloon on the ground floor. Prohibition changed the upstairs living quarters into a speakeasy. Michael Younge, the current co-owner, tells us that the tavern has two ghosts: a Confederate soldier who died in the tub upstairs and a girl who wasted away of consumption. 

For one hundred plus years Landmark has served Guinness on tap and corned beef. Now pastas, chicken wraps and burgers, but Irish fare will always be on the menu: bangers and mash, fish and chips and Scotch eggs. Shepherds pie with peas, carrots, beef, onions, and a ribbon of mashed potatoes made my husband very happy. French fries come with almost everything and the side of garlic mayo was tasty enough for a refill. On Mondays Celtic musicians (flute, banjo, accordion and fiddle) gather in back and play from 8-11.

Mothers and Sons and Balkanika

Tyne Daly is a force to reckon with in Terrence McNally’s new Mothers and Sons. Daly won a best actress Tony nomination for originating the role of tightly wound, unapologetic Katherine Gerard, who shows up unannounced from Texas at the New York home of her late son’s lover, twenty years after her son’s death from AIDS. She insists that she does not want to stay long, and she can’t bring herself to leave. Her helpless outrage has little place in this swank Upper West Side apartment, where Cal lives blissfully with his new husband and adopted son. He should never have let Katherine in the door, but he doesn’t throw her out, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Frederick Weller as Cal and his partner Will (Bobby Steggert) go about the evening rituals of bath and bedtime for their six-year-old, Bud, while Katherine plants herself in the living room with a scotch, sentimentally remembering Andre, her late son. Cal misses him too, but has gone forward since Andre died. Katherine can’t and won't. Who was hurt the most is one of the topics for discussion. She’s angry and out of touch—and then very funny. It’s heartbreaking to watch. Sheryl Kaller directs. McNally’s many plays and screenplays include Master Class, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Dead Man Walking, and Frankie and Johnny.

Balkanika Restaurant serves healthy Mediterranean / Yugoslavian fare in a cozy, dark wood, deep-set room. From the street you’d never guess how far back the dining room goes. Old World manners prevail. A bartender lets you sit for as long as you like. However, two flat screens were muted but on—one had a chef prepping Balkan dishes including beef burek like we had for dinner, and the French Open was on the other. It’s an unwelcome restaurant trend to have multiple TVs and recorded music playing simultaneously.  

The colorful meze sampler platter has a choice of one, six, or eighteen spreads, served with toasted, whole-wheat pita triangles. After all eighteen were sampled, the favorites were walnut paste, artichoke with Parmesan, mushroom with sour cream, and Urnebes (feta, spicy red pepper flakes, egg whites, garlic and olive oil). The wine and beer selection includes Croatian, Macedonian and Turkish brands. Only five desserts, besides chocolate fondue, include Nutella raspberry plazma (minced cookies) crêpe.

After Midnight and R Lounge

Best-dressed Broadway musical for us, costumes by Isabel Toledo, was After Midnight, recommendable on the basis of its clothing alone: the bejeweled, fingerless opera gloves, slinky gowns, black tuxedos with black top hats—and white tuxedos with white top hats. It took the Tony for choreography, no surprise. Julius “iGlide” Chisolm and Virgil “Lil’O” Gadson are worth a show of their own, not to mention Karine Plantadit and the synchronized tuxedoed quintet.

Recreation of Harlem’s Cotton Club has been attempted many times, by Martin Scorsese among others. Every other version tempered high times with low seriousness, at least in one tune that hinted at the dark side to artistic life, almost as a corrective to the joy and abandon of the rest. Not so After Midnight, which banishes the blues and is a total, screaming joy at ninety minutes (no intermission).

The Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars big band recreates the Duke Ellington sound, which will reverberate for days after you have seen the show. And the singers are perhaps even more amazing than the dancers. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will be taking turns as featured singer. In February, k. d. lang made her well-publicized Bdway debut as After Midnight’s featured performer. 

The night we were there, “American Idol” discovery Fantasia Barrino blew us away with her distinctive renderings, total engagement with music and audience, and blasé, nonchalant way of leaving the stage when she finished. Toledo barely covers Fantasia in a fringed costume that Rihanna might feel comfortable in.

The inspirational, soigné, comic genius Adriane Lenox is the Cotton Club habitué who embodies the spirit of not just After Midnight, but nightclubs everywhere, and is the font of all wisdom in Women Be Wise, by Sippie Wallace. In her two numbers the audience seriously falls in love. Adriane Lenox was new to us, but now we’re dying to see her in the film The Butler.

The singing is worth a show of its own, particularly risqué ballads like Women Be Wise. Creole Love Call, known as “the orgasm song,” sung by Rosena M. Hill Jackson, was as tender as it was shocking. It had more plot than the entire play.  After Midnight has a very loose plot of two of the dancers getting hitched, then one of them dying—though reviving long enough to jump out of the casket and have one last dance. Yes, that is quite a plot. But it’s a bit sketchy—whereas Roseana M. Hill Jackson‘s orgasm had three acts and a couple of subplots.

Julius "iGlide" Chisolm

 R Lounge, in the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square, has that view that you see with the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. On any night but New Year’s you enjoy an almost reasonably priced, more-than-adequate tasty meal. The chefs work hard to make it memorable, thus the 99-cent homemade potato chips on the menu are unavoidably everyone’s starter. The chips are good but save your appetite for a healthy main course such as seared salmon with Israeli couscous and vegetables.

On an average weeknight office workers—mainly female—share apps and cocktails or even sit alone and talk on their cell phones. When you feel on top of the world you go to R Lounge—or when you need to unwind by yourself, apparently. Women eating alone is a great recommendation for any restaurant. It shows that the place is cool, meets a certain high standard (the ladies’ room is lovely, in fact, with ikebana, an artistic sink, and gentle lighting), and is, moreover, romantic: not a sports bar. And possibly it has a romantic view out the window.

The view comes with no cover charge most days. Maneuvering yourself into the window seat may take some tries. But if you go there on New Year’s Eve, it will cost you a million dollars (actually, one thousand dollars) to sit at that very same table, eating potato chips.

Mama Mia and Jekyll & Hyde

Mama Mia! opened on Broadway thirteen years ago and still fills the house with ABBA fans. In the 70s, single and pregnant Donna opens a resort on an island in Greece. Twenty years later, her daughter decides to get married and the three possible fathers show up for the wedding. In the film starring Meryl Streep as hippie Donna the footage of Greece is breathtaking. But in the stage version you get invited to the party.

The audience sang along and rocked out which no doubt they do at every performance of Mama Mia! around the world. Theatre veteran Judy McLane, after seven and a half years of playing Donna’s girlfriend, now plays Donna. Her strength, relaxed delivery, and vocal pop chops are perfect for the role. She is Donna. Trio numbers with sidekicks Lauren Cohn (Rosie) and Corinne Melancon (Tanya understudy) were fun. The young lovers were precipitous and hunky. Dance numbers got the audience up and swinging their Spandex-clad hips. The florescent swimsuit and flippers song was too much fun. Both my eight-year-old daughter and seventy-seven-year-old mother-in-law loved it.

Jekyll & Hyde is a haunted restaurant and bar in Times Square named for 19th century grave robbers Burke and Hare, who inspired the book by Robert Louis Stevenson. There’s a choice of two entrances from the street: one normal and the other scary. Impromptu science experiments, talking wall sconces, and unexpected guests at your table are the norm. The Asian salad with cashews, mango, red peppers, and soy ginger sauce was surprisingly good. Burgers and hearty pasta dishes are also. If you want to avoid the weekend crowd you can pay for a J&H membership. Fifty dollars for a one-year Esteemed Pass will get you priority seating and you’ll wiz right past the waiting crowd. The Chamber of Horrors is in a back room. Entertainment fees are tacked onto the bill.