New York Botanical Garden Bar Car Nights

img_5490

New York Botanical Garden Bar Car Nights: Applied Imagination replicas of 19th century row houses in NYC with a trolley whizzing by (photo Carole Di Tosti)

The New York Botanical Garden is an enjoyable respite and shelter from the storms and stresses of life. Throughout the year their amazing seasonal exhibits which combine spectacular floral shows with art, sculpture, poetry, music, and literary narratives provide a way for one’s soul to rejuvenate and be refreshed to face whatever fate deals next.

img_5431

At night the NYBG is a magical fairyland where spirit beings materialize and dissolve among the trees and dark shadows, Holiday Train Show, Bar Car Nights ( photos above and below by Carole Di Tosti)

I especially enjoy the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibits during the evening hours. It is then the shadows dissolve through the dancing, twinkling lights draped along tree trunks and foliage, and darkness blends in chiaroscuro with a spotlight of brilliance strategically placed here and there. The humidity and moisture are ripe; the whirring fans cool the air which feels luscious and exotic. It is a faerie landscape where the extraordinary is one with the natural and I almost expect to glimpse out of the corners of my eyes a glorious supernatural figure flash up, float mysteriously then evanesce as a vibrant fuschia phalaenopsis (moth orchid), emerges from behind the creature’s vaporous wake.

Bar Car Nights, the over 21 adult evenings offered during the Holiday Train Show, are particularly whimsical and romantic. As the trains strum exuberantly along the 1/2 mile of track that circles through the three thousand square feet of extended space (added last year), then snakes through the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory coming to rest in the Palms of the World Gallery, the thrill of the Winter season from one’s childhood is recalled. Couples can saunter through the galleries with liquid refreshments for purchase and completely relax.  It is an awakening to a simpler, happier time when morose emotions weren’t joggled by news events and chaos was a scientifically theoretical construct, not haphazard human emotions effected by bellicose, maniacal human beings.

The New York BotanicalGarden is an otherworldly place of peace and beauty. All of the volunteers, the staff of Applied Imagination who have created and constructed the beautiful replicas of present and past New York landmarks from natural plant parts, and the permanent Garden staff, receive great delight from knowing how much enjoyment they give to the thousands of visitors who attend the show.

Each year the exhibit manages to be singular. The more than 150 buildings and structures of New York City and upstate New York: Rockefeller Center. Sachs Fifth Avenue (video above) Empire State Building, Morris-Jumel Mansion, Poe Cottage, Olana, Kykuit, The Jewish Museum, New York Public Library, Park Avenue Armory, Yankee Stadium, Senator William Andrews Clark House (demolished right before the depression as too expensive to maintain), Tammany Hall, the National Arts Club, Macy’s, etc., are situated uniquely throughout the conservatory’s lush greenery. It is fun to identify the re-creations and compare them with their originals, which if you haven’t seen or toured (Kykuit, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Olana, the Morris Jumel), you will be motivated to do so as an examination of New York State and US history.

img_5469

Senator William Clark Andrews House had 80 rooms and was prohibitive to maintain-built 1904, demolished 1927, model completed 2006 (photo Carole Di Tosti)

img_5448

New York Public Library, Stephan A. Schwarzman Building completed 1911, model completed 2015, Holiday Train Show Bar Car Nights (photo Carole Di Tosti)

The likenesses are exceptional considering how the recreations are made with twigs, acorns, rose petals, seeds, gourds, buds, pistachio shells, moss, bark, pine cones, leaves, fruits, etc. In short anything we might throw off on the compost heap, ingenious Applied Imagination botanical artists conceptualize as part of a building edifice or roof and in the case of the cherub sculptures of Kykuit, a prominent body part.

img_5487

The Jewish Museum 1909 completed, model completed 2004 (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Various years not all of the structures are included; the World’s Fair buildings didn’t appear this year to make way for new additions which are the unique design of Director of Applied Imagination Leslie Salka in collaboration with Founder Paul Busse. The piece de resistance of the Holiday Train Show is the Brooklyn borough’s Coney Island exhibit that shines in the Palms of the World Gallery.

img_5500

The Brooklyn Bridge leads you into the Coney Island Exhibit, Holiday Train Show, Bar Car Nights, the Palms of the World Gallery (photo by Carole Di Tosti)

 

img_5506

Coney Island Exhibit, NYBG Holiday Train Show, Bar Car Nights (photo Carole Di Tosti)

img_5507

Coney Island replicas Luna Park Arch and Luna Park Tower, behind is the Wonder Wheel from the NYBG Holiday Train Show, Bar Car Nights (photo Carole Di Tosti)

 

img_5501

Luna Park Coney Island, behind the Wonder Wheel, to the left in the back is the Elephantine Colossus hotel a memorial to Topsy, NYBG Holiday Train Show, Bar Car Nights (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Several Coney Island structures from previous years (the Galveston Flood Building, the Luna Park Arch, the Luna Park Central Tower, etc.), are included in the exhibit with the new structures and all are situated in the reflecting pool. As you walk under the Brooklyn Bridge, you will see the famous Cyclone, the Coney Island Wonder Wheel and the Elephantine Colossus, the gigantic elephant-shaped hotel from the 1890s that has since burned down.

img_5509

Replica of The Elephantine Colossus Hotel, Leslie Salka, Director of Applied Imagination’s memorial to Topsy,  NYBG Holiday Train Show Bar Car Nights (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Director Leslie Salka was determined to include the hotel to memorialize Topsy, a female Asian elephant, who helped build Coney Island. The innocent Topsy was electrocuted to death by Thomas Edison as a huge draw for the 1903 Luna Park Coney Island exposition. Edison luridly filmed her heinous death, a fact that Michael Daly reveals in his book Topsy.

img_5502

The beautiful memorial to Topsy captured in the replica of the Elephantine Colossus Hotel at Luna Park in Coney Island which is featured at the Holiday Train Show Palms of the World Gallery (photo Carole Di Tosti taken during Bar Car Nights)

Daly’s book chronicles the story of the elephant’s travails as a pawn first in the greedy hands of a circus competitor of P.T. Barnum and then in the irate claws of Edison. In an article in the New York Daily News about his book, Daly says, “The electrocution was for Edison a means to vent his fury and frustration over his defeat” (with Westinghouse in the war of the currents), “as well as an opportunity to film the first death of any kind.”

 

Thus, Leslie Salka’s and Paul Busse’s addition of the Elephantine Colossus hotel replica, has a much greater significance than one would imagine upon first glancing at its beauty and ingenious creation from gourds and other plant parts. And Nikola Tesla fans will appreciate this final triumph of Topsy memorialized in the Holiday Train Show. It is a reminder that Thomas A. Edison’s reputation in mainstream history books belies the reality of what and who he really was.

img_5309-001

Director Leslie Salka of Applied Imagination who was inspired by Topsy’s story to memorialize the elephant in the replica of The Elephantine Colossus at Luna Park Coney Island, NYBG The Holiday Train Show day time (photo Carole Di Tosti)

The Holiday Train Show plantings always vary as does the placement of the variety of trains which are all G-gauge and include passenger trains, freights, trolleys, novelty cars, streetcars, diesels and locomotives. This year all but one of New York’s bridges reside high above strolling visitors. Trains whiz back and forth over trestles and one imagines what it might be like to be a passenger in miniature looking at the view of the panorama of orchids, cyclamen, hedges, ficus, begonias, palms, sage grass, camelias, and more.

img_5413

All aboard for the NYBG Holiday Train Show Bar Car Nights at Grand Central Station. Fun Fact: More than 80 million people ride Metro North a year (photo Carole Di Tosti)

For complete New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show programming, check their website HERE. Magical Bar Car Nights run the following dates on Fridays and Saturdays: December 2, 3, 16, 17, 23, 30; January 7, 14 from 7 – 10 pm. For family and children’s events (Winter Harmonies Concerts,  poetry readings with NYBG poet Laureate Billy Collins and former Vassar College Professor Eamon Grennan, children’s activities-Evergreen Express and “All aboard with Thomas & Friends”) check out the NYBG website or this Blogcritics article for listings.

The Holiday Train Show Bar Car Nights and the entire exhibition are sure to ignite your seasonal spirit and bring joy and vitality to help you usher in the New Year. The show runs until January 16, 2017.

Paris: The Sorbonne, The Irish Cultural Center and an American Connection

20160921_210449-002

The Pantheon, near the Irish Cultural Center, La Rive Gauche (photo Carole Di Tosti)

People clamor that it is good to be busy. Sometimes I question that thought, especially when I have press deadlines, when cinema publicists are wondering where their reviews and articles are and I’m exhausted from seeing a play on Broadway that I must review the following day.

So my travel to Paris in September of this year was exquisite because it took me away from the NYC helter skelter night life of an entertainment journalist. In Paris, la Rive Gauche, the pace is not as fast, the imperative not as overwhelming.

I could casually take photographs of the rainbow colored and salubrious fresh vegetables, sumptuous steaming paella flavoring the air with delicious spices along with other items folks lined up for in the open air markets.

Paris, La Rive Gauche, open air market

Carole Di Tosti at an open air market in Paris, La Rive Gauche (photo Carole Di Tosti)

I did write but at a more leisurely pace. I could do casual interviews of musicians and star Anne Carrere of Piaf! The Show.

I could have a casual chat with Rita Duffy about her brilliant installation The Souvenir Shop-marking the 1916 Rebellion, at the Irish Cultural Center. At the Irish Cultural Center, I could speak with Irish poet Pat Boran, and I could cover the goings and comings of playwright Rosary O’Neill in her celebration of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and Impressionist painter Edgar Degas.

Pat Boran, Irish Cultural Center, Sinead

Pat Boron and Sinéad Mac Aodha at an Irish Cultural Center event. (Photo Carole Di Tosti)

Rosary O’Neill has more than a cursory connection to Beckett and Degas. She has thoroughly researched both men’s lives and has written plays about each. Her play about Beckett, Beckett at Greystones Bay received a focused reading in Paris in a downtown venue this September. It was directed and acted by Brendan McCall.

Earlier in the summer Barrett O’Brien directed and acted in the role of Beckett in a staged production of Beckett at Greystones Bay at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As a result of that production, O’Neill collaborated with the director and upon his suggestion, expanded the work into two acts. O’Neill’s Beckett is being developed for future focused readings and productions in Paris and back in the US.

Barret O'Brien, Susan Lynskey, Beckett at Greystones Bay, Ashland Shakespeare

Barret O’Brien and Susan Lynskey in ‘Beckett at Greystones Bay’ at Ashland Shakespeare Festival (photo Dylan Paul)

O’Neill’s love of Degas began when she first appreciated his work as a young child. It blossomed when she was a Drama Professor at Loyola in New Orleans, Louisiana where she founded the nonprofit theater company, Southern Repertory which produced a number of her plays.

It was during the time she ran Southern Rep, that she researched Degas’s life and discovered that he had strong familial ties to New Orleans where he stayed for about six months during the tumultuous era of reconstruction seven years after the Civil War. Fascinated by Degas’ relationship with his brother Rene’s wife, Estelle Musson, and intrigued by Rene’s spendthrift lifestyle which bankrupted the Degas fortune along with the crash in the cotton markets during and after the war, O’Neill marshaled her talents and wrote Degas in New Orleans

Sinead, Rosary O'Neill, Irish Cultural Center

Sinéad Mac Aodha and Rosary O’Neill at an Irish Cultural Center event (photo Carole Di Tosti)

This year marks the centennial year of Degas’ death. O’Neill, who has collaborated on productions of her two act play Degas in New Orleans has enjoyed seeing her work performed in regional theater in Texas and Louisiana. The play has received focused readings in New York City and New York where it caught the attention of professional musician and Bard College professor David Albert Temple, who wrote music for the play and collaborated with O’Neill to make Degas in New Orleans, The Musical.

Their collaboration which included producer/director Deborah Temple and a cast from a regional performing arts high school, brought the musical to New York City where it was performed in a one-night-only show. Prior to its New York premiere, the production was performed in upstate New York at Bard College’s Black Box Theater.

The musical like the play focuses on Edgar Degas’ time spent with his mother’s relatives, the Mussons. It intimates the potential for a love relationship with his brother’s wife, Estelle. Surely, if his brother had not bankrupted the family fortune after the crash of the cotton trade (a painting of the family’s cotton office hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art, as does his portrait of Estelle Musson with lovely red peonies), the situation would have been very different for the painter. Degas would most likely have stayed in New Orleans to pursue the possibilities of love with Estelle and to help her pick up the pieces after his brother Rene deserted her for her maid America. His painterly subjects would have been of the city of New Orleans, family portraits and perhaps even his cousin Norbert and his wife who were mixed race and free persons of color. But alas, Edgar had to return home to financially support his father, who was suffering a near breakdown because of Rene’s wantonness wracking up gambling debts.

Rosary O'Neill, Sorbonne, Irish Cultural Center

Rosary O’Neill and students from the Sorbonne at the Irish Cultural Center (photo Carole Di Tosti)

It would have been a magnificent tribute to Degas to mount a production of either the play or the musical Degas in New Orleans in New York City in celebration of the centennial of Degas’ death on September 27, 1917. Currently, the process is on hold. However, O’Neill’s play about Degas and the strong cultural ties between New Orleans and Paris are being studied by the students at the Sorbonne. French Professor of Contemporary Literature Joseph Danan will be examining Degas in New Orleans as contemporary literature. Additionally, the play will have  a focused reading in French at Columbia University’s center at the Sorbonne at Reid Hall. It is an event that is a first-of-its-kind.

Rosary O’Neill has made friends of visiting artists in residence at the Irish Cultural Center where she will be staying as her work is being studied and performed in Paris. She will continue to write, speak and share with the visiting Irish artists in residency at the Center, and be stimulated by their support and brilliance.

The Irish Cultural Center is the go-to place for events that highlight the strongly rooted Irish experience in Paris. It serves as an amazing resource for the community, students from the Sorbonne and visiting artists who are looking to feel at home in Paris. O’Neill is enthusiastic about her stay at the Center, and is happy that she, in a small way, is continuing to affirm links among the learning centers of the Sorbonne, the Irish Cultural Center and New Orleans. It will be a pleasure to cover the readings of her plays Beckett at Greystones Bay and Degas in New Orleans.

 

 

 

Fisher Stevens, ‘Before the Flood’: Video of the Q and A at Hamptons International Film Festival 2016

img_5019

Fisher Stevens at the HIFF 2016 speaking to me about his documentary ‘Before The Flood’ (photo Carole Di Tosti) See the video clip on Theater Pizzazz by clicking HERE.

Fisher Stevens’ Before the Flood is a prodigious effort by the filmmaker who is also an actor, writer and producer. The film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (he also co-produced the film), which screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival 2016, comprehensively details the subject of climate change through cogent interviews by scientists, activists, researchers, world leaders and more. Stevens’ perspective could have been a browbeating doom and gloom treatise on global warming. Instead, after seeing the film, one leaves the theater feeling the urgency that there are ways one can individually make a difference in the fate of the planet.

Stevens’s documentary is compelling and memorable as he traces how climate change impacts every being on this planet, every microscopic creature and every seed, every spore, every molecule of life that has managed to evolve and survive through the eons up to this point in time.  He shows how experts in climatology and related, supporting fields have been monitoring the planet for years and have produced the facts, details, information, data, maps, visuals, photographs that predict signs of impending global catastrophe. In an overwhelming consensus, they have explained what is ongoing and current: rising seas, melting glaciers, disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet. They have almost uniformly predicted the subsequent inundation of coastline cities, mass population migrations, starvation and decimation of a planet caused by greenhouse gas overload which created chain reactions that many believe are irrevocable.

img_5022

(L to R) Fisher Stevens and Artistic Director of HIFF David Nugent before the screening of Stevens/ superb documentary ‘Before The Flood’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Stevens also reveals the antithetical arguments to climate change and why they exist. Despite scientific consensus, climate change deniers managed, with Fox news propaganda prestidigitation, for expedience and profit, to turn black into white, to twist up into down and to morph fact into fiction. The result has been a quicker burn, a delayed global response which even after the Paris Climate Summit 2015 is not effectively doing enough to stem the glacial melt, dissipate the acidification of the oceans, ameliorate the dying of coral reefs, end unsustainable practices employed by energy corporations and create an effective reduction of carbon emissions to cool the planet.The scenario scientists, researchers and experts paint has far reaching dire consequences that impact every global culture and every land or oceanic ecosystem with supporting marine and wildlife. This result may be likened to the ushering in of the four horseman of the apocalypse: pestilence, war, famine, death.

But this must-see documentary is uplifting despite the revelatory evidence of overarching power demonstrated by a handful of genocidal nihilists (climate change deniers), who are egregiously and willfully deaf, dumb and blind to the earth’s reality show. How Stevens’ journey (which follows the investigation and work of Leonardo DiCaprio as United Nations Messenger of Peace on climate change), arrives at the realm of hope that suggests a possible rainbow in our future, is miraculous, invaluable filmography.

The film must be seen for its poetic script, its breathtaking cinematography and concurrent dark and soaring music, its cogent analysis and exhaustive documentation through experts’ interviews, visuals, maps, data and much more. Fisher’s documentary is an accessible and definitive work on climate change. It will inspire all those who see it to become involved on a personal and community level to overturn the climate change denier’s lies and take action before it is too late. The film Before the Flood is being aired on National Geographic and is screening at City Cinemas Village East and elsewhere. Check about dates online.

Here, Fisher Stevens speaks to the moderator at the Hamptons International Film Festival 2016 after the screening of this seminal film.

Save

Patrizio Buanne, The Incredible International Singer in a Video Interview at the Friars Club

Patrizio Buanne, Friars Club, Neapolitan crooner, global entertainer

Patrizio Buanne at the Friars Club, NYC. Patrizio is appearing at the Highline Ballroom on October 22, 2016 at 7:00 pm. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETSClick here for Patrizio’s FB page. (photo by Carole Di Tosti)

How does one remain timeless as a musical performer? If you look at the greats, there are two qualities that come to mind. One element is the repertoire they sing; it speaks to everyone’s heart and resonates with passion. The second element that is required is a stellar, singular voice. In both instances Patrizio Buanne, who is an international entertainer with a heart toward eternal song classics that are loved globally, manifests both.

Patrizio’s multicultural heritage hails from Naples and Austria. When he moved back to Rome, he studied languages: he fluently speaks six. Patrizio, who sang and entertained family and friends as a young child, moved to turn professional in his teens after winning vocal competitions and after a music manager selected him to sing for the “Papal visit” (John Paul II) in Wroclaw, Poland. The song he sang which was half in Italian, half in Polish, had been written for the opening mass. With 85.000 people in attendance, Patrizio’s sudden popularity with the Polish public led to his first local record deal. Success followed success in Italy with a production company that produced shows for RAI and Mediaset. But Patrizio’s goals were expansive. The teenager wanted to be an international recording artist. And now he is.

He is globally known as an entertainer who sings stylistically as a crooner, but also sings pop, jazz, rock and popular international songs. He has a huge global fan base which has been exponentially growing since the first release of Patrizio (2009-Warner music), in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and South Africa. The album went platinum and resulted in a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Asia in May 2010.

On Patrizio’s birthday 2011 Patrizio (Concord records), was released in the US, and hit number 5 on the US Jazz Billboard charts. As most musicians, bands and artists must now do on the release of a recording, the album was followed by concert tours in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South Africa and the USA.

My video interview with Patrizio at the Friars Club in NYC on Wednesday, 19 October.

Also in 2011 for his South African fan base, he released an album of South African hits interpreted by Patrizio’s incredible voice singing in Italian, English and also Afrikaans language. The album featured duets with South Africa’s most popular singers, “Dankie Sued Afrika” (Universal music).

While this album was going platinum, Patrizio prepared a German-focused album in 2012 Wunderbar (Warner music GSA), where he adds Italian songs and original compositions with the German and Italian language. Just so you realize, the extent of his talents, Patrizio gift for languages is prompting him to move into the South American markets in the next year.

Every time Patrizio releases an album he goes on a global tour, as he did with his fourth worldwide release Viva la Dolce Vita (2015 Universal Music), an album in which he is an “Ambassador for Italian song with unique and singular song interpretations. The album includes new material with an international flavor written especially for him. His CD Bravo Patrizio includes the release of his most popular songs for his first 10 years which he is following through with tours (2016, 2017), in the US, Australia, South Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia confirmed by advanced sales.

In concert and as I found out in person as you will see in the video interview, Patrizio’s  charm, unforgettable persona and anointed voice allow him to revel in interpreting pop songs and Italian and international standards which have brought in millions of album sales globally. Currently wrapping up his US tour he will be in Richfield, Connecticut at the Ridgefield Playhouse (October 21st), NYC at the Highline Ballroom (October 22nd) and New Jersey at NJPAC (October 28t). CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS

 

Hamptons International Film Festival 2016 and NYFF 2016 Review: ‘Manchester by The Sea’

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by The Sea, HIFF 2016, NYFF 2016

Kenneth Lonergan at the NYFF 2016. He was unable to appear at the HIFF 2016 for Manchester by The Sea, his best film to date. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Manchester by The Sea is a pageantry of human emotions that Kenneth Lonergan prodigiously marches with relentless precision across the screen, encapsulated by the astonishing performances of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and a superb supporting cast. The plot development is a complicated paradox which exists on two levels. One is the emotional, interior level where protagonist Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck is breathtaking and magnificently drafted as the tragic everyman), reflects about a past he wishes to escape. The other is on the level of linear time in the present where Lee confronts his brother Joe Chandler’s (Kyle Chandler) death and the multiplicity of mundane details that must be carried out. Joe’s passing forces Lee to return to Manchester by The Sea, settle his brother’s affairs, and possibly assume the guardianship of his brother’s son, Patrick.

Lee’s former hometown is a place of great beauty, but Lonergan reveals by the film’s conclusion, that Manchester by the Sea may be a scenic paradise only if one has peace and joy within. For the protagonist it is the razor’s edge slicing his already bleeding soul. Of all the locations on earth, it is the last place he would wish to be to thrive emotionally in wholeness.

Manchester by The Sea, Michelle Williams, NYFF 2016, HIFF 2016

Michelle Williams in ‘Manchester by The Sea’ at the NYFF 2016 and HIFF 2016. Photo from the film

Cinematically constructed with a canny, unaffected minimalism, Lonergan alternates between the vividness of exterior scenic beauty of the coastal New England setting, and the nullifying, hackneyed interiors of families in homes which are supposed to be comfortable, but which are less than warm or real. The film’s tones are elusive and ever changing with haunting echoes spiked with humor, levity, somberness, and poignancy. Striking glimmers of scenes flare into one’s consciousness long after one has left the theater. It would be an understatement to say that this film is remarkable. It pulses with the vibrance of what makes us cling to our lives in hope, long after we, like Lee Chandler, may have been emotionally blasted by circumstances to merely exist in a roiling inferno of quiet subterranean rage and immobilizing despair.

At the heart of this film there is mystery and lustrous revelation. Lee Chandler’s suppressed identity and what he has experienced is gradually made alive to us so that we may empathize with him and wish for his redemption and healing. Lonergan has created a powerful human drama with broad and masterful strokes of storytelling. He unspools the underlying dramatic events with flashback. The flashbacks are the raw, vibrant dynamics which are Lee’s place-induced memory reflections as he robotically goes about the task of returning to Manchester to deal with his brother’s remains, hold the funeral, settle the financial estate, and monitor his teenage nephew whose enthusiasm for activities and girlfriends is a blind for the pain of losing his father and having his life upended by his uncle’s impending guardianship.

During the activities in the present, Lonergan alludes to Lee’s past through the townspeople’s off-handed comments; his identity remains a cypher. The mystery of Chandler’s going through the motions of existing in the present while living in a hyper-drive of emotional memories from the past, we later discover, is tied up with a horrible accident. For Lee and his former wife, Randi (Michelle Williams is simply, completely stunning), it is a cataclysmic, life-altering devastation. The writer gradually uncloaks the keystone revelation in a swift cut of shockingly unexpected visual images that explode on the screen and in our minds, then reverberate like the aftereffects of an earthquake.

Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, Manchaster by The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan, NYFF 2016, HIFF 2016

(L to R): Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester by The Sea.’ Photo from the film

It is a revelation that occurs well into the film, and it coalesces all our understanding about who Lee Chandler is and what he is going through. From then on, our empathy with his plight includes the hope that he will be able to forgive himself, end the self-flagellation and eventually reconcile his emotions to walk the road of healing. For the present it is perhaps just enough that Chandler can breathe and experience the physical manifestations of living until deliverance arrives, if it ever does, an uncertainty that concludes the film.

We know nothing of this as the movie opens. We only discern the flattened affect of Chandler’s mechanical non-existence as the superintendent of a building in Quincy, Massachusetts. It is an existence from which he is interrupted when he must return to his former hometown, a place of exterior beauty and, for Lee, emotional terror, to deal with his brother’s death. Once there he must confront family, his nephew, and former friends under the continual oppression that reminds him that Manchester by the Sea, represents a wasteland. There, he has lost everything meaningful he has ever known.

Lonergan takes us painstakingly through the details of Chandler driving to Manchester reflecting (one of a number of flashbacks), upon the day he first heard of his brother Joe’s (Kyle Chandler is memorable in the supporting role), physical diagnosis that eventually leads to his sudden demise. The flashbacks create mesmerizing storytelling; they reveal family history, Lee’s relationships with Joe and his nephew Patrick (a humorous, heartfelt performance by Lucas Hedges). They also highlight the fragmented relationship between Joe and wife Elise (Gretchen Mol). If one studies the flashbacks as Lonergan integrates them with the arc of the plot development in the present, we understand that the whole is defined by the sum of its parts. Brick by brick Lonergan constructs the foundation of Lee’s condition and life path showing they have been arranged by these telling and vital moments revealed in the memories upon which hang his emotional threnody.
Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Manchester by The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

(L to R): Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in ‘Manchester by The Sea.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

With functionality the filmmaker also uses Lee’s reflections and memories to provide the solid plot points upon which are built the conflicts and the issues Lee must confront in the present as he is forced to deal with the horror of his past. We discover why his brother wanted him to take on the guardianship of Patrick. Underlying all of this is the linchpin issue: the conflict between Patrick and Lee which must be resolved. Will Lee force Patrick to live in Quincy where Lee’s job is, a safe haven for Lee far away from the hell of Manchester by the Sea? Or will Lee sacrifice himself for Patrick’s happiness so Patrick can be with friends, girlfriends, and activities he loves, fulfilling his life in Manchester by the Sea? One’s fulfillment is the other’s sorrow. For Lee, in Manchester floats the ashes of his former happinesses that are gone forever.

Patrick asks his uncle, why go back to a one room apartment and a job that he could do anywhere? It is an irony. And Lonergan answers Patrick’s question through an extended flashback, Lee’s memory of the horrific accident. Lonergan paints Lee’s remembrance in sharp visual images that emotionally stun, accompanied by an amazing selection of music (the music is brilliantly chosen throughout). Through this pointed flashback the mystery of Lee’s being and changed identity is brought into the unfortunate light.

The meat of the film is how Lonergan carefully patterns the relationship between Patrick and Lee starting with a joyful memory Lee has (in flashback), before tragedy strikes both brothers when Patrick was a youngster. It is a happy moment during a fishing outing and Lee kids Patrick about choosing him over his father. The irony is tremendously layered in the jump from the past to the present where it becomes twisted and sardonic; Lee must tell Patrick about his father’s death.  Of course, if he could choose, Patrick would rather his uncle have been the one to die, not his father. And Lonergan clarifies as the film progresses, Lee would gladly have chosen to be the one who would die rather than Joe. But fate twists reality into the antithesis of their desires.

Lee gradually adjusts to his nephew whom he hasn’t seen in a long while.  In Lee’s case, he appears to be emotionally non-present (we learn later it is  because his feelings are acutely raw; he must attempt to freeze them or erupt in a white heat electrical storm of rage). Patrick in youthful oblivion to his uncle’s state and even his own, blows him off temporarily for his two girlfriends, his hockey, his band, and his future prospects. But the strain and pull of youth and age, of humor, and the light and dark between them encompass the high points of the film which are immensely entertaining and an effective counterpoint to the sorrow and stirring scenes of heartbreak.

The emotional variety and seeming random reality of the actors’ performances captivate. It is impossible not to identify with the protagonist, despite how much one wants to extricate oneself from Lee’s engorgement on self-flagellation and broken heartedness. The scene between Randi and Lee toward the conclusion is Shakespearean and is incredibly human and real. Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck are not rendering performances, they are rendering a kaleidoscope of raw, emotional power. They are devastating.

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by The Sea, HIFF 2016, NYFF 2016

The irrepressible Kenneth Lonergan posed for me at the NYFF 2016 after a Q and A about ‘Manchester by The Sea’. Photo Carole Di Tosti

Lonergan presents the case, that some hardships might be too much for any individual to bear. Lee Chandler finds a way, even if it it brings him into a state of oblivion. Catastrophe has sifted his soul and he has found himself wanting. It and his response to the accident place him in a limbo akin to an eternal process of dying without the imagined peace of finality. Lonergan’s film is a case study in the tragedy and triumph of the human spirit, even if it is to just get to the next second in linear time while enduring a parade of painful images erupting from one’s unconscious.

Lonergan’s acutely crafted storytelling emerges from his discrete human characterizations. His dialogue throbs life like a palpitating heart. His visual craft seamlessly modulates his characters’ feelings and interplay. Like life’s dynamism, the effect is so intricate and whispering, that one can miss the broader picture of beauty in suffering and redemption in nanoseconds of humor and felt connection with others. All this is to say that the film is absolutely fantastic. It is a must see for the levity and pathos and the incredible cast Lonergan has marshaled to relay what is most tragic, humorous and uplifting in our lives.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

 

Save

KIKU Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden

Kiku, Ogiku, Kiku: Art of the Japanese Garden

An example of Ogiku at the New York Botanical Garden’s Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden until 30 October. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

 

For those of you who have visited Japan in the fall, you are familiar with kiku and will most probably have fond memories of kiku that you saw in amazing displays wherever you may have walked around Tokyo or other cities in the country. Kiku is the Japanese word for “chrysanthemum.” It is the most venerated of all Japanese fall flowering plants, not only for its beauty, but also for its medicinal qualities and ancient cultural tradition.

What is most amazing is how the Japanese for centuries have maintained what is now becoming the dying art of training and shaping liku into the most incredible designs. It is becoming a dying art because the process of training the growing, fragile Kiku into such lovely shapes requires great skill and is tremendously labor intensive. One false move, one mistake and the entire display may be ruined. Kiku are “no joke.” And it is for that reason they are celebrated in Japan as part of the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the ephemeral beauty of flowers, known as hanami.

kiku, chrysanthemum, NYBG, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden

Kiku, the chrysanthemum, is the foundation for all kiku displays. Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden at NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

 

kiku, NYBG, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden

Butterfly kiku, an innovative design at the NYBG exhibit, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Kiku presentations in conceptualization and philosophy are perhaps one of the most fleeting flower arrangements of all. The displays cannot be preserved beyond a few weeks. They are original. They are easily damaged and during the process of the pruning and training, they are incredibly fragile. Considering that it takes 11 months to grow, train and shape kiku into a cascade design, for example, for 11 months of labor, one receives, if one is careful, two to three weeks of beauty that vanishes as if it never lived at all. It is that impermanence of life that is so captivating a reminder for us to appreciate all that is beautiful for a season, until it withers. The irony is that kiku cannot even regrow their shapes. So, the artistry required to get them to their state of loveliness is truly exceptional

Indeed, one wonders why, in our fast paced digital age, anyone cares about pinching the buds off some flowers to effect beauty. Precisely. When one understands the process and the effort, one appreciates their pageantry. Besides, like all craft and artistry, if it can be preserved, we stay connected with our historical past and the past of other countries and their cultures. In our blink-and-it’s gone current cultural oppression of time, kiku are at once given to us from the ancients and are made modern by having those who care bring the art into the 21st century.

Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, NYBG

Kengai, cascade kiku at the NYBG exhibit, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The NYBG has taken on the laborious craft in order to insure that the art will continue to be enjoyed by visitors from Japan as well as those who are familiar with the fall chrysanthemums, but are unfamiliar with the ability of the plants to be trained and designed into magnificent trees, cascades, bridges and more. Each year the NYBG has its kiku exhibit in the fall, pioneered by the chrysanthemum masters at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo who educated Yukie Kurashina. Yukie has trained others like James Harkins in the fine art of floral theater. And under the supervision of Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolan Greenhouses for Living Collections, James (foreman of gardeners) and kiku expert Yukie with scores of volunteers have made the kiku exhibit at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into  a place of refuge mirroring the past and merging it with the present.

kiku NYBG, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden

Ozukuri, thousand bloom display at the NYBG exhibit, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

During the exhibit Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, you will see three traditional kiku styles:

  • Ozukuri which means thousand bloom. A single stem of a chrysanthemum plant is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous blossoms in a massive umbrella-shaped display.
  • Kengai which means cascade. Small-flowered chrysanthemums are pruned and pinched to frameworks that flow downward like waterfalls for lengths up to six and one-half feet.
  • Ogiku which means double and triple stem. These are enormous individual flowers presented at the end of stems that can reach up to six feet tall.

Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden is running from October 8 through October 30. For the full programming schedule that follows this exhibit, click HERE for the NYBG website.

Save

Hillsong United Band: NYC Interview

Taya Smith, Jad Gillies, Dylan Thomas, Jonathan Douglass, Hillsong United: LET HOPE RISE, Langham Place NYC

Hillsong United Band members, Jad, Taya, JD, Dylan at Langham Place, press conference for the film ‘Hillsong: LET HOPE RISE.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The wisdom that Themistocles the Greek general expressed, “Big things have little beginnings,” surely applies to Hillsong Church and Hillsong United band, both of which started in a small country church in Australia with about 60 people over twenty-five years ago. Hillsong church has now grown into a global phenomena with satellite churches dotting all of Australia (there are campuses in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Gold Coast and Noosa, etc.), and in cities like NYC, LA, Paris, London, Kiev, Moscow, Pretoria, Copenhagen, Marseilles, Barcelona, to name a few.

A reported 30,000 members attend services weekly. The Hillsong United band with its worship and praise music are the underlying thread that uplifts the worldwide membership with tours and Hillsong conferences that are nothing short of mind blowing, depression shattering, addiction obliterating. Hillsong music uplifts folks who attend their concerts/conferences because it captures their hearts with God’s love and grace reaching out to everyone, regardless of how small and repulsive, regardless of how rotten.

The band, like the church, are NO JOKE. Check out these stats:

  1. Hillsong UNITED’s single “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” topped Billboard’s Christian music charts for 45 straight weeks, with 59 non-consecutive weeks at No.1.
  2. “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” has sold more than 1.4 million copies resting in the Top 5, for more than 111 weeks.  
  3. Hillsong music has sold more than 16 million albums, kind of like Beyonce (16 million).
  4. The group’s 2013 album “Zion” debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ overall album chart and cracked the Billboard Top 5 in the U.S.
Hillsong United: LET HOPE RISE, Michael Warren, Langham Place, NYC

Director Michael John Warren (an agnostic), captivated by Hillsong United created the film ‘Hilsong: LET HOPE RISE’ telling the band’s story. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The filmmaker Michael John Warren (director “Jay-Z: Fade to Black”), got struck by a bolt of lightening when a friend brought the non-religious director to a Hillsong concert/conference in LA. Captivated, he felt the urgency to tell the band’s story and film the theatrical-musical concert experiences of the band and audiences in his film “Hillsong: LET HOPE RISE.” Ahead of the film opening in August, I had the opportunity to speak to band members Jad Gillies, Dylan Thomas, Taya Smith, and JD (Jonathon Douglass) with colleagues at a press conference at Langham Place in NYC. The interview has been tweaked grammatically.

How do you divide up who sings which songs?

J.D.  We put all the songs in a hat. (We laugh.)

I knew he was a trouble maker. He didn’t get his hair cut. (laughter)

J.D. That’s right.

Is it that who writes the songs sings them?

J.D. Well, when we write the songs, then it’s obvious. But we’ve been doing this for a while together and the beauty of what we do is that we’re really good friends which I think is really the strength of the band outside of the obvious things (their faith in God). And when we write a song, it happens really quickly. And we’re like ah…we can just hear Jad singing that or Taya. And often we’ll get a few of us to try it when we’re in the studio. And often a song will have two names on it. Like the first song we ever got Taya to do a project on was a couple of albums ago. We brought Taya in and said, hey, can you do the backup vocals for this. But it was the melody. We didn’t want to break her heart. It was a trial to do the lead vocals and it ended up that her backing vocals part was the lead on the album. We thought, we’ll have a go and if it sounds crappy, we won’t put you on. (laughter) It’s a pretty organic process.

JD, Hillsong United, Hillsong Church, Jonathan Douglass

JD wailing about the Lord and His love. Photo from the Hillsong United website.

So it’s really like a constantly evolving process which is phenomenal.

J.D. and Jad: Yeah.

You’re crediting it to a combination of factors. How did you get here, besides the fact that God ordained this before the foundation of the world (Biblical reference)? (laughter)

J.D. Love it. I was going to say an airplane. (laughter) I’m going to stop talking so someone gets the real answer. (laughter)

We saw the film. Is there anything in the film you could add to in terms of how the film evolved about how you evolved to this place and this time?

Dylan What’s crazy with the film is that we didn’t set about to make it. It was an idea from someone had who came to an event that we did in Los Angeles and he brought a friend of his who was a movie producer, a non-Christian guy. And he had an experience that he couldn’t explain and he wanted to portray that and put that experience into film. For us the whole experience is like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” And Tara and I were joking about that earlier. We were in the studio starting to record Empires and all of a sudden a bunch of cameras showed up and we were like, “Ahhh!!! They’re actually making a film. OK this is happening. Let’s do this.” And one thing happened after another and we went to the film screening for the first time and it was like, “This is the real thing.” And we never planned it. It wasn’t, “Hey let’s make a movie.” It just happened. And we’re here now and pitching it.

So how did each of you get involved with the group? We were hearing in the movie about the evolution of Hillsong, but how did each of you become involved? Talk about that process and how each person came to it.

J.D. In a nutshell, I grew up in a Christian home and my family started attending Hill Country Church when I was four years old. And I went to Sunday school in the church and grew up in the youth ministry and was always encouraged to use whatever gifting or talent that I had to exalt the name of the Lord and encourage people in their relationship with Him. So, for me, that was singing the music. So I started singing in their youth ministry as a thirteen-year-old young boy having no idea really. I didn’t really enjoy it because I was so nervous to sing in front of twenty or thirty people. It was like I was almost ready to throw up.

And that’s kind of part of the journey. Being faithful and trusting in God in that journey, we started writing songs. We’re like 15 years into the journey and Hillsong United church is thirty years into the journey, so it’s been a really authentic process. But I think just through that our story has been about bringing out who we are, with all the insecurities and all the rest of it. We’ve kind of felt we don’t have all that much to give and we’re just holding on during the ride and watching God do His thing.

Dylan Thomas, Hillsong United Band, Hillsong Church

Dylan Thomas, member of the Hillsong United band. Photo from the Hillsong website.

Dylan I started going to church when I was 10. I was taken to church. And bit by bit I got involved and I started playing music. I started playing in the kid’s church and that evolved and I grew out of playing in kid’s church and I started playing in youth ministry. And I think that Jad was the first to ask me to play on the first United album which is in 2005. And you couldn’t script it out and say I planned to do this. I just enjoyed playing music and wanted to play in the youth band. And the way it’s been, God’s just taken us on this journey. I would never sit here and say I planned this. Because I don’t think anyone of us would imagine doing any of this kind of stuff. Yeah, I just got involved. In my first tour I was the guitar player which was not very glamorous. I didn’t even know what to do. I was clueless. I didn’t even know how to set up a drum kit. And then I wasn’t the guitar player anymore. I was just trying to figure out what to do and things evolved.

Jad I grew up in New Zealand. And when I was twenty-one I moved to Australia to the Bible School in Hillsong which is called Hillsong International Regional College. Immediately, I got involved with the youth ministry and I basically was running a small group…a group of young kids. One day the guitar player couldn’t make it and asked if I could play. I said, “Yeah, whatever.”  And then that kept happening. And then a few months later, I was asked, “Hey can you roster the band.” I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” And then I was asked to sing a song and I sang a song and then they needed somebody to do something else, I did it. That’s pretty much how my involvement started. And here we are today. That’s not glamorous, is it…? (laughter)

Save the best for last, Taya.

Taya Yeah, it’s a similar story how this happened, not planned at all. I grew up in a Christian home, small country town. Moved to the city about 6 years ago, thinking I was going to do secular music. Though I was a Christian, I always wanted not only to attend church, but serve in the church. I made Hillsong Church my home and became planted in church and got involved also with the youth ministry and became a youth leader and was discipling six young girls. It was

crazy and amazing and I learned how to pastor people. And it was like the best experience ever. From there I got involved with the worship community’s youth ministry and then church. And then I was asked to come along and do backing vocals for one of the United projects. It was the craziest thing and that’s when we recorded Oceans. And if I’m honest, I probably told two people that I had something to do with that project because I didn’t even think the songs would actually make it onto the album. I didn’t want to be like, “I’m on the album…” and then it’s not there.

So then, yeah, a month later I had the best lunch of my life with our global creative pastor, Cass Langton. She said, “Hey. Would you quit your job?” I was doing retail at the time. I was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “Would you quit it today?” I was, “Yes.” She said, “We want you to come on staff at City Campus, and look after the vocals. You need to quit today because you’re going to be in South Africa next week with the United boys going on tour. I was like…balling my eyes out. Best day ever. It’s been the God journey the whole time. It’s been crazy that we’re here and there’s a film made about our church Hillsong United and we’re as astounded as anyone else. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.

Taya Smith, Hillsong United Band, Hillsong Church

Taya Smith, member of the Hillsong United Band. Photo from the Hillsong website.

For each of you, if there were a bio-pic on your band, which actors do you imagine portraying you? (laughter)

Russell Brand?  Katherine McKinnen  (from Ghostbusters)

Taya: I’ve heard that.

Brad Pitt (laughter)

Christopher Walken (laughter)

Meryl Streep

For Jad, a younger Stephen Bauer?

I went last night and it’s amazing how you hold the audience. Were the lyrics always shown from the beginning? Because that really cements people’s involvement.

Jad, JD, Dylan, Taya Yeah.

And was Hillsong as a group defined by the fact that the church had a tremendous audience and then you were able to pull the larger audience beyond the church? Or do you think the interaction beyond the band and the church grew both?

Jad We’ve always put the lyrics up. It’s intended to be inclusive. It’s intended to be interactive. We want people to sing. The songs were written for people to sing. And we like to think that we’re not performers. We want to lead people to a place where they can express themselves, where they can use the songs that were written to draw closer to God, or to gain encouragement or inspiration or whatever. So we’ll always put the lyrics up and it also helps people understand what they’re singing, what we’re singing, to process it. It helps people to express what they believe. With regards to Hillsong, thirty years ago, Hillsong was 65 people in a school hall. A week later, it was 50 or so people and a week later it was 48. And Pastor Brian figured out in the next six weeks there would be no people there. All that’s to say that it was small beginnings. What’s happened over thirty years is just a story of perhaps God doing amazing things with some pretty ordinary people. I mean if you were to ask about the global reach that Hillsong has now… thirty years ago, we would all be thinking you had rocks in your head…especially Pastor Brian and Bobby (his wife). They were just trying to do something significant and plan a church and do something with what they had. Years later with the opportunity that we see now, it’s all because of the fact that it came out of a local church. And that’s the truth of it.

Jad Gilles, Hillsong United, Hillsong Church, Australia

Jad Gillies, member of the Hillsong United Band. Photo from the Hillsong website.

Someone asked about the title of the church. It reminds me of a scripture that says something to the effect that Christ and Christians, should be like a city on a hill, shining their light. I have to say that’s what you do with songs. You allow the Lord to come through you, shining His light. (Matthew 5: 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  5:16, Let your light so shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven).

JD Well it definitely works for that…like in Matthew 5; it talks about put your light on a hill so that it will shine. The truth is the church was called Hills Christian Life Center when it started, there in the hills area in the suburb of Baulkham Hills, New South Wales. It was Hills Christian Life Center. When we started to do music really early on, it started to be Hillsong music. And the truth is that music traveled, though on the cassettes it still said Hills Christian Life Center. Then people just started identifying us as “that church from Australia, that Hillsong church.” It was over twenty-five years ago, that people identified us with Hillsong Church. And we said, they’re calling us Hillsong Church anyway so the title came about. But you know the way that God works is through paradox in so many different ways. That’s kind of how it happened.

We know what goes into the process of your creating music. What goes into your process of writing the lyrics? What is that experience like?

Dylan It’s different every time. I wish there were a set way to make music and create the songs. We work really hard on making sure that our lyrics obviously line up with scripture. And we have a couple of people in Sydney who make sure that theologically it’s true and that kind of stuff. We work really hard in making sure that we’re progressing both lyrically and musically so that we’re always listening to so much music. But we all get in a room and jam out a song. If it feels right we keep working on it and if it kind of flops we’re on to the next one. No one’s too precious about anything. It’s a pretty fun experience. And we’re such good enough friends now, that there’s not really any egos in the room. We shut each other down and encourage each other and we’re all friends at the end of the day.

Could you talk about the different kinds of songs each of you sing? You have a song that you know how to bounce to. You have a different tone that you’re singing and you have a power poppish song that seems to get the crowds going. Seeing you live was impressive.

Taya The strength of our team Hillsong United is actually the strength of each different person. I feel like we each bring different elements. In places where I would be weaker, people step in. That’s the best thing about our team. It would be weird if we were all exactly the same, doing the same things. I think we read things differently, also.

Jad A lot of people’s personalities go to create and embody the songs as well. So you know J.D. has a lot of energy and whatever he kind of flies that to, that becomes the song and the personality of the song. Same with Taya; she has enormous passion and range and so when she applies that, that becomes the song, just as much as the lyric and the music. That’s the cool thing. When you really invest yourself into a song, it takes on more of a life of its own.

The film Hillsong: LET HOPE RISE opens on September 16th in theaters near you.  FOR TICKETS, CLICK HERE.

Cynthia von Buhler and Speakeasy Dollhouse Productions: Interview Wrap Up

Cynthia von Buhler, Speakeasy Dollhouse, The Bloody Beginning, Wyelin, Brooklyn

The lovely Cynthia von Buhler. Photo courtesy of Speakeasy Dollhouse productions and Cynthia von Buhler.

I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Cynthia von Buhler in between her busy schedule producing her widely popular show in a new venue in Brooklyn. Amidst my attending indie movie screenings, Off Broadway and Broadway shows, wine tastings and doing interviews and write-ups, we finally agreed to an online interview.

Here’s a bit of information about the prodigiously talented Ms. von Buhler. Cynthia is the producer, director, playwright of Speakeasy Dollhouse Productions: The Bloody Beginning, The Brothers Booth, The Midnight Frolic and The Illuminati Ball. Each of these productions is a wild, immersive phantasmagoria where the audience not only gets to watch and enjoy but also becomes part of the action. The action is replete with the macabre, the beautiful, the damned in an intense, showy spectacular that turns traditional theater on its head and sparks your craving to see the productions again and again. Each night is different and spins out of control into an extraordinary evening of entertainment including drinks and food, if you so dare to purchase.

Extraordinary is the only way to describe the one-of-a-kind, multiple sense titillation you partake of going to a Cynthia von Buhler presentation. She is a great gal, adorable, ebullient, innovative. I have seen and reviewed two of her shows for Blogcritics. The reviews are at these links. Midnight Frolic Review.  The Brothers Booth. Here is my email wrap-up with Cynthia.

The Bloogy Beginning, Cynthia von Buhler, Speakeasy Dollhouse Productions,

‘The Bloody Beginning,’ a Speakeasy Dollhouse presentation conceived, directed, produced by Cynthia von Buhler. Photo courtesy of Cynthia von Buhler.

How did you evolve Speakeasy Dollhouse?

In 2011 I decided to do a Kickstarter to research the mysterious murder of my grandfather in 1935. The Kickstarter was for a book and a one night immersive play. The play was such a hit that it never stopped after all these years and it spawned three other plays.

Link to Cynthia’s KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN

Link to a Teaser Trailer VIMEO of Cynthia’s production, Speakeasy Dollhouse, THE BLOODY BEGINNING

Getting Acquainted Link to Cynthia von Buhler’s The Speakeasy Dollhouse

Speakeasy Dollhouse, 'The Bloody Beginning,' Cynthia von Buhler, Wyelin, Brooklyn

From ‘The Bloody Beginning’ The Speakeasy Dollhouse. Photo courtesy of Cynthia von Buhler who conceived, directed and produced the show.

How does your style of theater differ from the mainstream. Why should people flock to your show in Brooklyn?

Immersive theater is interactive and exploratory. It engages the audience and transports them to another time and place. Rather than watch a play, the audience is in the play.
Ed. Note: (I would venture to say that the audience becomes the play. It’s a surreal Rene Magritte experience.)

Explain what your current show is about and how you have updated/perfected/workshopped it to precision.

Cynthia von Buhler, The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning

Photo from ‘The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning,’ conceived, directed, produced by Cynthia von Buhler.

This show is a return to my first immersive play, Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning. It’s about the murder of my grandfather. The challenge this time was moving it to a new location. Weylin (the former Williamsberg Savings Bank), is absolutely gorgeous and sprawling, so the experience might even be better than when we did it at The Back Room.

How many years have you been producing the show?

Each show is a workshop of sorts, so it has been workshopped for five years.

Ed. Note: (She has produced it for 5 years since her Kickstarter campaign and that is how long she has been producing her shows.)

The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning, Cynthia von Buhler

Photo courtesy of Cynthia von Buhler from ”The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning’ at Weylin in Brooklyn.

In what way does the show turn male chauvinism on its head? Or does it?

That is an interesting question. Italians at that time period were often chauvinists. This is a period piece and the goal of the work isn’t about fighting that. My grandmother was a powerful woman though. She had a shotgun and she used to protect the ice truck filled with bootleg from the mafia when they went up to Canada to buy whiskey.

What is your training and background in the theatre, the arts, acting?

My training is in visual art. I have a Bachelor of Fine Art from The Art Institute of Boston and I studied art At Richmond College in England. I grew up in the Berkshires of Massachusetts surrounded by theater. I have been involved in creating theater since I was a child when I acted in your typical productions of Oklahoma, Peter Pan, West Side Story and the like. I can still do a rousing rendition of Oklahoma.

The Illuminati Ball, Cynthia von Buhler

‘The Illuminati Ball,’ conceived, directed, produced by Cynthia von Buhler. Photo courtesy of the production.

What have been some memorable performances given the wild, interactive style you embrace?

I’m enjoying my new show, The Illuminati Ball. It’s my most surreal and bizarre show yet. It’s an immersive excursion which means we transport our audience by limousine to a location for a transportive experience

Link to visuals of Cynthia’s The Illuminati Ball.

The Bloody Beginning at Weylin may be extended. Performance dates:

When: 7/22, 7/23, 8/12, 8/13

What: Speakeasy Dollhouse

Price: $60 (regular admission); $120 (Ten VIP admission – no waiting in line, table seating, champagne toast); $200. (2 VIM admission {Very Important Murder} – same as VIP with a murder role.

Purchase tickets at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2554772

Check back to see if the show is extended or the production is being presented at another venue.

Save

‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas’ at the NYBG

peony, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Peony at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

If gardens represent a fount of life, revealing some of humankind’s and nature’s finest living creative achievements, artists throughout the centuries have been inspired to recreate on canvas the fanciful delight of blooming plants selected and arranged to display the best of life’s natural pageantry.

As part of the 125th year celebration of the NYBG, the dynamic NYBG team (scores collaborated to mount this exhibition), are paying tribute to the gardens that inspired American Impressionist painters (a brand of impressionism that revolves around subject, not painterly style).

The showpieces of “Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas” receive an exquisite rendering in a unique floral exhibit at the Enid. A. Haupt Conservatory, and complementary display of more than 20 paintings and sculptures in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery.

roses, NYBG Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

Roses at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Foxgloves at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG's 'Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.' Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Foxgloves at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Both the art work at the gallery and the show gardens in the conservatory capture American historical trends in painting (in plein air, influenced by French impressionism), around the turn of the 20th century and reflect the renewed interest in Colonial Revival gardens found in private residences and art colonies in the Hamptons and Old Lyme Connecticut.

The vibrant impressionist paintings and the radiant, ebullient floral showcase in the conservatory are mirror images of one another. The paintings reflect the subject American Impressionists were most enthralled by, American gardens.

Daniel Putnam Brinley, 'The Peony Garden,' Matilda Browne, in Voorhees's Garden, William Chadwick, Irises, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Counterclockwise from top: Matilda Browne, “In Voorhees’s Garden,’ William Chadwick, ‘Irises,’ Daniel Putnam Brinley, ‘The Peony Garden,’ NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, John H. Twachtman, Wildflowers, Theodore Wores, Thomas Moran's House (East Hampton, Long Island), Edmund William Greacen, In Miss Florence's Garden

Counterclockwise from top: Edmund William Greacen, ‘In Miss Florence’s Garden,’ John H. Twachtman, ‘Wildflowers,’ Theodore Wores, ‘Thomas Moran’s House (East Hampton, Long Island)’ NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Artists appreciated that the gardens of the time uniquely characterized the domestic experience on the East Coast. They highlighted how middle and upper middle class Americans turned to their gardens for respite, relaxation, emotional uplift and sanctuary from the confusion of the cities, the unhealthful effects of pollution with heavy industrialization and unsettling urbanization.

The entire exhibition encompassing both venues reveals the marriage between the artists’ impressionism and their veneration of floral homespun, of gardens whose symbolism acknowledged a unique, national character distinct from the formal European gardens of France and the heavy-handed Victorian gardens of the gilded age. Americans seemed to have a desire for such subjects, though every now and then artists honed in on the more formal garden aspect sometimes for utilitarian reasons.

John Singer Sargent, The Fountain of Oceanus, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

John Singer Sargent, ‘The Fountain of Oceanus,’ (1917), NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo Carole Di Tosti

John Singer Sargent, Vase Fountain, Pocantico, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

John Singer Sargent, ‘Vase Fountain Pocantico,’ NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

John Singer Sargent painted The Fountain of Oceanus (1917) and Terrace, Vizcaya (1917), when he was visiting two wealthy families to complete portrait commissions. (both paintings are at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery)  William de Leftwich Dodge built a studio house on Long Island in an airy classical style and created a series of Impressionist paintings to magnify his design of the terraced formal gardens and intricate pergolas. (His painting The Artist’s Garden [1916] may also be viewed at the Library Art Gallery)

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

 

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

At the time (1890s-up to WW I), there was a burgeoning interest in gardening and horticulture. Avid gardeners from spring to fall embraced planting multiple flowering species, so that when segments of flowers finished their growing seasons, others timed with sowings and plantings would be exploding into an exuberant cornucopia of petals as the earlier plantings waned. Thus, the gardens would always or nearly always be in a rainbow of blooms.

Concurrently, artists influenced by European impressionism were returning to America where they evolved their own cultural impressionism centered around intimate American lifestyle subjects.

NYBG, American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

They eschewed the panoramic landscapes of the frontier style paintings of the golden west and expansive, mountain stained vistas. They supplanted images of vastness with the discrete, intimate, homely patchwork of every day life in the East. Our impressionists (like the French impressionists), painted urban scenes, old farms, villages with colonial styled homes, picturesque public parks and unpretentious homestyle gardens where the gardeners themselves were nature artists. But these were uniquely American.

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Childe Hassam, Old House and Garden, East Hampton, Long Island

Child Hassam, ‘Old House and Garden, East Hampton, Long Island,’ (1898) at NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

persian buttercup, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, NYBG

Persian buttercup at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

There was a synergy that occurred by happenstance. Following French Impressionist Claude Monet’s example at Giverney, some artists (Hugh Henry Breckenridge, John H. Twachtman, Maria Oakey Dewing, William de Leftwich Dodge), planted their own gardens to evoke inspiration, then applied paint to canvas distilling the picturesque living arrangement they had effected in an intriguing unity of aesthetics. The conceptualization was that the gardens were echoes of their canvas counterparts; they were living paintings. What the artist did was to telescope the natural beauty not with a realistic style of painting, but one that was restive, evocative, with heavier brushstrokes. The thickness of paint teased out amorphous shapes and these hinted at the innate virtuosity of animate flowers. Artists could glorify an expansive color palette which reflected life’s infinite variety and emphasized an explosive riot of colors bursts.

Gardens like Ceilia Thaxter’s (Appledore Island, Maine), provided a wealthy subject for artists like Childe Hassum, who was a regular visitor to Thaxter’s seaside garden.

Childe Hassam, Celia Thaxter's Garden, Appledore, Isles of Shoals, NYBG Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Childe Hassam, ‘Celia Thaxter’s Garden, Appledore, Isles of Shoals’ (1890), NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Floral show at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

He painted in plein air and enjoyed the luminosity of the sunlight bouncing off the alternate churning ocean waves and smooth glassine waters. Thaxter was a poet, writer, gardener and quasi-horticulturalist whose informal summer artist colony was frequented by renowned romantic/abolitionist/regional writers (i.e. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett), and painters (William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassum), both of whom painted her and her colorful botanical evolutions.

Thaxter’s grounds, like other artist/gardeners of the period made sure her beds  were replete with quaint and strikingly picturesque old-fashioned floral favorites of grandma’s “thrown-together” garden.

Through various seasons, these might include spiking blooms of phlox, hollyhock, lupines, piquant snap dragons and pointed delphiniums, the popular, tasty sweet peas, puff-ball hydrangeas, carpeting forget-me-nots, bachelor buttons and sweet-faced violas, that ran like pixies up to the edge of porches and backdoors and nooks and crannies.

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Iris at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Iris planted by the cottage at the NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

And in corners blue and yellow iris might appear to their finest advantage. From spring to fall, an exquisite luxuriance of flowers blossomed. Examples of these species may currently be seen blooming in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory floral showcase.

These widely planted varieties along with roses, peonies, cleomes (spider flowers), baby’s breath, cosmos, strawflowers, poppies, and golden tickweed at various times of spring and summer months flourished in wide swaths of varicolored beds planted to imbue a non-formal seemingly random outgrowth. Conscious gardeners intentioned the appearance of  helter skelter, profuse arrangements, as if the plants themselves decided which spots suited them best and plopped there unceremoniously to stretch out and take the sun and rain with ease.

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

American gardens at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Country cottage at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Attention was given to colonial revivalist styles where gardens were utilitarian, intimate and incorporated the lifestyle arrangements of the family so that the matron of the house, for example, could fling open the backdoor and pick the heavenly scented lavender to create sachets or go to the side of the house to pick peonies for a table arrangement.

Beginning with inspiration from the artists whose adoration of vintage gardens as a throwback to a more gentile and nostalgic time, Guest Curator Linda S. Ferber applied her expertise to investigate seminal works, some known, some from less renowned American impressionists.

Poppies and sunflowers at the NYBG's 'Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.' Photo Carole Di Tosti

Poppies and sunflowers at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo Carole Di Tosti

Strawflower, hot bikini, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Strawflower ‘hot bikini’ at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

From the guest curator’s selections which included one formal garden, the predominance of works encompassed the artistic loveliness of dooryard gardens of homes in various locales in the East, some in Pennsylvania and Maine and some in the Hamptons, New York which picture grey shingled houses festooned by splashes of variegated hued plants.

The various works then provided the creative heart for Francisca Coelho and the horticultural staff to gain their inspiration and provide the doorway into recreating a three season garden encapsulating the style, elegant simplicity and peace-filled homey comfort these American gardens exuded.

Their splendid result abides in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory even to the recreation of the grey clapboard, white shuttered country cottage that one would adore living in to escape the frenetic pace of the city. The cottage has a porch with rocking chairs and if you sit in one and look out on the hollyhocks, foxgloves, delphiniums, sweet peas, beauteous painted tongue and all the flowers previously mentioned here (you need to take an up close and personal view to catch them all), you will exhale a deep breath and allow the fragrances and mystical plenitude of nature to incite your senses and move you to a peaceful sense of well being.

This splendid exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens runs from May 14th through September 11, 2016. To purchase tickets and check programming for the event and throughout the summer click the website HERE.

A facsimile of this article appears on Blogcritics at this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Parity Productions Champions Women and Transgender Artists’

 

Parity Productions, Gramercy Park

Through the window onto a new reality. Parity Productions launch was hosted by Janos Aranyi and Theresa Llorente in their beautiful home overlooking Gramercy Park. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

 

Criticism of women advocating for equal pay, equal voice and equal command over their destiny has been easily dismissed by men and their willing women sycophants who have slimed women with the “F” word as “feminist” ideologues. Any momentum to provide women with the opportunity to excel has always been demeaned as “unnecessary” and has been met with resistance.

That is as it should be. Resistance is more productive than hypocritical co-optation which lulls individuals into believing they have made progress when actually they have been running the perimeters of zero.

In the arts, in live theater and in film there has been tremendous resistance to hire women behind the scenes as directors, playwrights, designers, technicians, et. al. And gender inequality is rife in front of the camera as well, with male dominated film subjects, lead characters, stories and well funded blockbusters taking all of the pie and male dominated companies reaping heavy proceeds leaving the crumbs to women lackeys lining up at the back of the bus. (Jennifer Lawrence is in a minority of one with few female colleagues even nearing her status)

A recent Variety article identified gender inequality is not only a plague in the US film and entertainment industry but it is as endemic in Europe as well.  If we don’t understand why and how this has happened, we stand the chance of never equalizing gender roles in the arts.

Parity Productions launch, Ludovica Villar-Hauser

There was a cocktail hour where guests mingled and were welcomed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser and her team of collaborators at Parity Productions.

Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters), who was honored at the 6th Annual Athena Film Festival  with their “Leading Man Award” because of his outspoken stance and support for women, spoke about the under-representation of women in the arts. He labeled it as the “banality of evil.” In other words this has not been an overtly “wicked” and intentional act on the part of men in power.

Feig implied that gender inequity has been borne out of negligence, out of a lack of attention to necessity…the necessity to recognize and reward women for their incredible talents and contributions. That banality is part of the continuance of gender dominance and the comfort of the “young/old boy’s network,” which speaks a “common language” as it comfortably objectifies women. It is these issues and others that have spurred on an unconscious dismissal of women and the passing over of those who are not ready gender cronies.

As for those who have an active mentor or help-meet to give them the 10 legs up they need to begin to compete? There are vastly too few men willing to act as mentors. Women are the ones who must mentor each other as has been occurring with conferences like Women in the World.

Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Parity Productions

Opening remarks by Founder and Artistic Director of Parity Productions, Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo Carole Di Tosti

 

Indeed, the government is taking notice. There has been a call to investigate gender discrimination against women directors in the film industry which hopefully will be carried over into theater and the entertainment arts, though the recent cry has been that things have been getting better for women in the theater. Really?

Thanks to the resistance in the entertainment industry, whether intentional or not, women are joining advocacy groups and creating their own teams to combat the gender inequality in the entertainment arts like never before.

We Do It Together is an example of a global non-profit which has been created to finance and produce films centered around women and dedicated to the empowerment of women.

Others groups like Parity Productions are NYC based with a global reach. They are organizing and strengthening themselves with unity and coherence of purpose by establishing their own opportunities increasing women and transgender representation in the arts so that gender equality is the rule, not the exception.

Ludovica Villar=Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, Antoinette LeVecchia, Village Stories, Parity Productions launch

(L to R): Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, actress Elizabeth Jasicki, getting ready to present from her one woman tour-de-force ‘Village Stories’ at the Parity Productions launch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The launch of Parity Productions on Monday May 16, 2016, is noteworthy because it is one of the more accessible ventures in a city known for being difficult to break into at all levels of the entertainment matrix. Parity Productions according to its Founder and Artistic Director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser is the “first organization to combine the art of theater with advocacy for women and transgender artists.” The company mission looks to produce new works and has pledged to hire at least 50% women and transgender artists on every production as well as supporting other productions that have pledged to do the same.

Parity Productions has been blessed that the estate of Sylvia Sleigh has made a donation of 25 rare works of art in the name of Sylvia Sleigh who was a progressive, Welsh-American artist. Sleigh represented equality of subject and treatment of men and women in her art. Her works are being offered for sale as part of the fund raising initiative and can be purchased through the Parity Store (click here).

Shows that Parity Productions will be presenting for the 2016 season are the delightful Village Stories in the summer and the historical Household Words in the fall. Both represent an intriguing and complex look into the place of women striving against paternalism  in the past and how that perspective has ramifications for both men and women in the present. To get a heads up on ticket sales, click HERE.

The Writers Desk

The Italian Thing Blog

Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park in the Congo DRC is Africa's oldest national park and home to a quarter of the world's mountain gorillas.

History Of The Ancient World

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell,and you can foresee the future too -Marcus Aurelius-

The Fat and the Skinny

All Along the NYC Skyline

A Christian Apologist's Sonnets

All Along the NYC Skyline

Blogcritics

The critical lens on today's culture & entertainment

Wicked Green Smoothies

the ultimate fast food...

Dena Weigel Bell

An Online Portfolio

traceykparker

Academic / Creative Writer / AKA Trailer Parker, PhD

Writingfeemail's Blog

Random observations on writing and life

Writing Around the Bend

Just another WordPress.com site

The Dragon Blog

Fantasy Author Raani York's voice

texthistory

Curious anecdotes and musings on what makes us 'us'

Belinda Witzenhausen

Writer/Editor/Creativity Coach/Artist/Consultant