March 30th, 2008



Usually I don't cook when I'm in mid-book, but for some reason, this book is different. We've been having a lot of people over for dinner, mostly on Friday and Saturday nights, and I've been in the mood for putting on the dog and putting out stuff I haven't cooked since my Stepford Dyke days.

Last night, it was homemade ricotta and spinach gnocchi.

They were good, and so was the rest of dinner. But that's not the point. The point was standing in the kitchen with Flanders and Swann's At the Drop of Another Hat on the stereo, singing along to "Status Cymbals" and "Sounding Brass," getting a little teary over "Slow Train," which is nothing but a list of small train stations, now defunct and empty, to a curiously haunting tune, rolling balls of extra-sticky gnocchi mixture in flour and laying them in a floured pan to put in the fridge until just before dinner. I didn't think a thought I can remember, but I was perfectly happy.

And then I got out my Annotated Alice and More Annotated Alice, and read both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in preparation for Horace Mann School's Book Day gig (guess what they're reading--go ahead, just guess) next week. And then our guests came, and we had a lovely evening.

All in all, a good day.

Irish Whiskey

There's this thing at City Center called Encores! As far as I can tell, the resident company interests some major star in one of the endless backlog of obscure and historically unsuccessful musicals and operettas from the history of the musical theatre, and then mounts a semi-staged reading of it, blocked, costumed, and minimally set-dressed, with a full orchestra playing the score on stage. The current Patti Lupone Gypsy first hit the stage as an Encores! presentation, but they specialize in more obscure fare.

So, did you know that there's a musical version of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock? Me, neither. The music's by Marc Blitzstein, the book by Joseph Stein. They moved it back a year, so that the poor, simple Americans didn't have to deal with understanding the ins and outs of Irish politics in 1924 (with O'Casey's permission, the program notes were careful to point out). Not that it really matters, since the traitor son still gets offed by the IRA, not the British. When it was originally produced, it sank like a shot, which probably had something to do with it's being horribly miscast, with Shirley Booth, heaven help us, as Juno.

As unlikely as the idea of Juno, the Musical seems, I found the reality remarkable. I liked the very basic staging, with the orchestra behind it. I liked the music (except for the opening number, which is called "I Am Alive," and is--to this listener, anyway--unintentionally funny). I loved Victoria Clark (who was the mother in The Light in the Piazza, which I found horribly pretentious, but that's not her fault). I loved the direction, especially in the second act, which moved right along towards its tragic denouement. There was a kind of Irish chorus of neighborhood gossips, too, who were worth the price of admission all by themselves.

I doubt very much that this one is going to take the step to a full production on Broadway, though. The first act is close to endless. And O'Casey's message, which comes through loud and clear in Stein's adaptation, too, is that men are stupid and useless and mindless patriotism is stupid, dangerous, and wasteful of human life. Not a message that's going to fly real far in today's political climate, I think.

Their next offering is No, No, Nanette, starring Sandy Duncan and Rosie O'Donnell. I'm so there.