The Maids and Triomphe

Screen icons Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert
Australia's Sydney Theatre Company The Maids by Jean Genet, brought to New York by Lincoln Center, begins with the maids Claire and Solange dressing up in their employer’s gowns and perfume and dancing to Nico's I'll Be Your Mirror. It’s a dreamy start to the 90-minute avant-garde classic played without intermission that continues to build all the way through.

Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert are, unimaginably, the maid sisters. Tall Elizabeth Debicki is the self-dramatizing mistress, who one moment promises her servants, “Some day I’ll leave everything to you,” and in the next moment forgets their names, based on a true story.

The younger of the sisters, Claire, is the magic Cate Blanchett, a lioness. She bellows, frolics, and then curls into an exhausted fetal state. She isn't capable of defending herself, much less committing murder. It comes as no surprise that the naughtiest of the two sisters, Solange, is Isabelle Huppert, whose mischief is well-known from French cinema. Onstage her energy is unstoppable, and she is both coltish and graceful. Many have commented on her strongly French-accented English. We understood her and found her delivery haunting.

When the mistress is home, Blanchett and Huppert are such great actresses that they are convincingly servile and in awe of her. For her part, Australian newcomer Debicki holds court with aplomb. Much has been made of this production using a younger rather than older mistress. To us, the three seemed relatively the same age, which gave the old play (1947) a new twist.

When the mistress arrives, we see the video monitor as she gets into the elevator and the maids scramble to clear up the mess. The constant video projection was distracting, though sometimes used comically – we can watch as, in the kitchen, poison is mixed into the mistress’s tea. Glass walls surround the lavish bedroom and a long rack of countless gowns, color coordinated, and bowls of cut flowers create a bubble of excess – a suffocating world. It was unnecessary, because we felt trapped already. These women are captivating all on their own.  

 Florian Wehrli in his rooftop garden
Swiss star chef Florian Wehrli's good reputation precedes him. On the top of his restaurant in the Iroquois Hotel, he has a massive organic garden that grows red peppers, yellow tomatoes, potatoes, flowers, over thirty herbs. It's like the Garden of Eden, with the Chrysler building in the background.  "Taste this." He broke off a leaf. "It's stevia, a hundred times sweeter than sugar. I'm trying to figure out how to use it in a dish."

At Triomphe, the intimate restaurant downstairs, he serves food that is known for perfectionist beauty. His food is beautiful without seeming fussy or over-handled. If there's another quality besides taste that we could pin to Florian's edge it is crispness. Scallops in a crisp almond crust. Beef Wellington in a crunchy en croûte of bread instead of the traditional pastry. The gazpacho had crispness in micro minced peppers (grown on the roof) and the crunch of dried onion pieces. Crème brûlée, with perfect burnt shell, comes in "three mysterious flavors." The maître d' checks in to see if you guessed before he'll tell you what they are. Ours were bay leaf, raspberry, and toasted coconut, and we were only able to guess one. But when he told us, the other flavors rang out.

The well-written menu at noontime offers four prix fixes, including the Bounty lunch of three exquisite courses of vegetables, and "4 Courses on 44" (the restaurant is on 44nd St.) for, you guessed it, $44. Most popular is Tribute to Provence, at $25, with one main course, either shrimp niçoise full of lacy cress or grilled steak with white corn summer salsa, served with the perfect glass of wine.

Striped Sea Bass on Squid Ink Pasta
with Roasted Tomatoes
Triomphe regularly publishes a hardcover with photos of each of the dishes served that season. "About forty copies are printed," said the chef. "It's nice to remember what we did." Check them out in the Iroquois lobby library. Triomphe serves a pretty breakfast too and will soon offer a late-night menu.

50 Shades! The Musical and Turkish Cuisine

"Sure, I'll sign your contract, Mr. Grey."
50 Shades! The Musical Parody at the Elektra Theater is hilarious – and kind of X-rated. At the bar during intermission, a woman said she wondered whether the actors would actually get naked in the second half.

At one point, a cast member wags his finger at the men in the audience (there are a few), and tells them not to criticize their wives and girlfriends for reading books like Fifty Shades – as if the millions of female readers needed permission. The premise is a book club choosing to read Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, confident of its worth because the writer is English.

Amber Petty is innocent Anastasia Steele, working in a hardware store. She has an unforced singing style and a brilliance that transcends the material – the material being the tortuous bestseller. 50 Shades! The Musical is way better than the novel.

Journalists are not allowed to publish a picture of the incredible actor who plays the male lead, so as not to spoil the surprise when he struts out on stage. Christian Trevelyan Grey, the intimidating billionaire who introduces Anastasia to his wicked ways, is played by Jack Boice, comic genius. His uninhibited dance steps and crystal clear tenor voice held the audience in the palm of his hand. He’s so good you want to slap him.

Dinner in the garden at Turkish Cuisine
After 50 Shades we wanted to spice things up and walked around the corner from the Elektra to Ninth Avenue. Turkish Cuisine more than satisfied our craving for assertive flavors with an appetizer of spicy hummus and grilled pita, followed by chopped Shephard salad, grilled salmon, and the grilled combo that is one of the best deals in town.
The meze looked fantastic. Platters were generous, everything fresh and healthy. We should have ordered something with eggplant. In the pretty back garden, a neighbor cat climbed over the wall, sauntered through the tables, then hopped back up the wall to leave. Strings of lights swayed in the breeze and with the full moon above it felt like an outdoor café on the Bosphorus.