August 16th, 2008


Blood on the Stage

An old friend of ellen_kushner's is i town with his teenage daughter for a week. She's never been to New York before; he hasn't been back since before she was born. They both love theatre. So we've got lots of plays and fun times planned, and New York has been doing its inimitable best to make the visit memorable.

The first theatrical experience was a performance of an off-Broadway play our friend Anne Bobby is in: All the Rage, by Keith Reddin at a tiny theatre on Macdougal Street. I'm talking less than 100 seats, ranged in this case on either side of the playing space, like jury boxes. The action (and there was plenty of it) unfolded between us and a little below, between two and eight feet away. Intimate. Which was interesting, since almost every character (and there were plenty of them) had a gun and was filled with rage.

The play was interesting--a modern revenge tragedy, with the spiraling body count touched off by panic and anomie rather than politics or passion. There are a lot of structural quotations from Shakespeare (including a woman dressing as a man and trying to retreat, a la Imogen, to a simpler and quieter place. Which (since this is a late 20th century play) is the house of an eccentric recluse who hates noise and loses all his considerable fortune because he will not take care of business. Quotations from Blake and Poe and Shakespeare are woven into the plot, as well as stuff I'm not familiar enough with classic movies to identify. And the acting was wonderful. It's only around for another couple of weeks, but if any of you is in New York, go see it. Seats are only $18.

The Theatre of Life

On Thursday, we didn't see Hair.

Used to be that Shakespeare in the Park played, you know, Shakespeare. Indeed, the first play this summer was Hamlet, which I wasn't around for, but with the reviews it got, I'm not sure I wanted to see it anyway. The second (and far more popular) production is Hair. Which my mother wouldn't let me go see when it was playing on Broadway because of nudity. Ellen's old friend, a far more enlightened parent, had no objections to his 17 year old daughter seeing the play, so they set out bright and fairly early to Central Park, getting there at maybe 9:30 (yes, I know--it just seemed bright and early) to a line that wound over hill and dale and the news that the people at the head of the line had been there since 1am. It was an unshaded portion of the path, next to the ball fields, and a hot and sunny day, but they settled in to wait.

I showed up 11-ish to keep them company and see how they were doing. They were hot. I gave them my umbrella. It is black and none too large, but it kept the sun off. Other people in line had blankets and coolers and pillows and sand chairs and canvas folding chairs with drinks-holders in the arms and books and magazines and packs of cards. It was a heterogeneous crowd. There were old Hippies in jeans and people who might have been hippies once, but had gone to the polo-shirt and chinos side of the Force. There were kids in army surplus with long hair (the guys, anyway) and kids in ironic beads and Viet-Cong army shirts. There was a guy with a flute, practicing. There were some guitars. People were talking to their neighbors, reading, playing cards, sleeping, staring into space, doing puzzles, all of them looking happy rather than otherwise. It was a real New York scene.

We sat and talked a bit, and then made plans to meet at the Metropolitan Museum when their wait was over. They did not get tickets, but they did get vouchers for tickets, which would give us first crack at tickets that got turned in. But we had to be back in the park at 6:30 to be sure to be there when our number was called.

Post-museum we reconvened at the Delacourt. At this point, our party had swelled to the tune of another old friend and Ellen, who arrived in her Odyssey baseball hat (worn backwards) and two canvas bags full of bread and cheese and tomatoes and olives and a dry shirt and towels and socks. All members of the party (except Ellen) were drenched to the skin because just as the Museum was closing, it had started to pour, to thunder, and to lightning. By the time she showed up, the rain had stopped, but the sky continued threatening, and in the meantime, the female members of the part y were very glad to retire into the lady's room and change our shirts. Then we all sat on a rock (parts of which were dry) and ate our picnic surrounded by our fellow voucher-holders, similarly occupied.

Friendly greetings were exchanged, and opinions on whether the performance might be rained out. The consensus was that it probably would be. Nobody left. It got cooler, moved on into downright chilly. Somewhere behind the clouds, the sun set. The lady next to us went to the concession stand and bought a sweatshirt. Shivering, I followed suit. On the front, it has a skull (for Hamlet) with a mohawk (for Hair) on the front. Yes, yes, the mohawk is a total anachronism, but it's a lot more becoming to the skull han a 'fro or long hair and a headband would be. Plus, the sweatshirt is warm, which was all I cared about at that point, and it had a hood, which I pulled up over my wet hair.
Approximately 5 minutes after we were handed our tickets, it started raining again.

Did we go home? No. We sat there, on a park bench this time, with plastic supermarket bags under our butts, because our numbers had been called, and we had tickets to Hair in our pockets. We were not alone. A lot of people were standing beneath the theatre's overhang, trying to stay dry. Even more were milling around outside beneath umbrellas and impromptu raincoats made of garbage bags. Beside us a young woman was whiling away the empty hours with an endless stream of narration, song, and pointless questions aimed in the general direction of a weedy-looking young man in a porkpie hat and a goatee. I know how she came by her adorable polka-dotted umbrella ("I feel like I'm sitting in a cupcake!")--she stole it in a bar. I know she thinks Richard Gere is hot ("If he was dead, you'd still want to make out with him"). I know her boyfriend doesn't think Richard Gere is hot. I also know that he was listening to our conversation, because when we were talking about coming back Sunday and trading off waiting in line so nobody had to sit there all morning, he said, "You're not allowed to do that."

And then they cancelled the performance.

Nobody was very surprised by this announcement, although they were, of course, disappointed. We listened to the cast sing a chorus of "The Age of Aquarius," and then we decided to go to Popovers, dry off, and drown our sorrows in hot chocolate and popovers the size of a cat's head. Half-way there, it stopped raining.

Yes, we're going to try again on Sunday. I'll let you know what happens.