Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy. Not So Lucky Play by the Late, Marvelous Nora Ephron.

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Tom Hanks is a phenomenal human being and actor. Many would be proud to have him as a friend. Helping Nora Ephron mount her play, Lucky Guy, is a tribute to her and to him. They are to be credited and although it has not been made crystal clear, most likely they discussed and worked on the play at length before she was struck down by her illness. For the most part, I  write reviews that are supportive of the arts. I understand that every attempt made at producing and promoting a production whether on or off Broadway is a labor of love that engenders a very long process over hurdles, obstacles, nay-sayers and grouchy money lenders and enthusiastic investors. I acknowledge and appreciate. the courage, brilliance and perseverance it takes to present an artistic endeavor which could fall or succeed depending upon so many variables that sometimes it is impossible to calculate the why, the if and the how.

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The spectacular Sir Ian McKellan. He was so gracious to speak to me after the performance. See future posts about this.

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Blurry picture of Glenn Close, the blonde to the far right. I briefly spoke to her after the play telling her how much I loved her incredible body of work. She, too, was very gracious and smiled. But as Emily Blunt responded to me once a few years ago when I saw her at a performance of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, and apologized for complimenting her. She responded that actors don’t find praise droll and tiresome. “It’s better than saying, ‘I hated you!” she said with smiling humor. I doubt that Close found the praise droll and tiresome either. So much of the world of acting is filled with cattiness, criticism, negativity and soul angst. A bit of well-deserved praise from viewers is welcome.

Lucky Guy will not fall on its face because Tom Hanks’ presence in New York City in a live performance will draw tony crowds willing to pay $400 for premium seats and Hanks’ buddy celebrities  who will come to support him through rain, sleet, snow and desert temperatures, and who may have been comped to be seen in the audience. Others living in New York will purchase the “hot” ticket, though they may never have worked or buddied up with Hanks, just to see this  renown and beloved movie actor on Broadway. Certainly, the little people and fans will pay big money for the rafter seats to catch a glimpse of Forest Gump, the Oscar winning actor and the producer who has a fine eye for humorous talent exemplified when he backed little known comedian Nia Vardalos by producing a little film with a big heart, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

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Hanks quips and smiles to an adoring well wisher. Many pictures were taken with smart phones and iPhones. There was a crowd crush line up at the end of this performance.

The promoters know of Hanks’ draw capability by his track record box office. So if the play is less than sterling, if the plot is convoluted, chopped, contrived, unfocused and completely un-Ephronesque, if the sign offs from McAlary’s family were hushed and pressed, will the audience care? No. They are there to see an exhibition, a show, the glitz and the fun. They are not expecting great writing at this point, and since they are coming for all the other reasons and not to see a marvelous story, they will not be disappointed. They might be rather surprised that the play doesn’t cohere and that it shifts after the intermission toward a completely different focus, but that will not cool them from enjoying the evening. Why? Hanks is true to form. He rises to the occasion. He makes the thin, stereotyped, fictionalized characterization of the brilliant and courageous newspaper reporter Mike McAlary believable, likable and intensely human with yeomen’s help from an exceptional supporting cast, beautifully acted by Courtney B. Vance, Richard Masur, Christopher McDonald, Maura Tierney, Peter Gerety and Deirdre Lovejoy and aptly directed by George C. Wolfe.

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Mounted police were thrilled to take pictures with Christopher McDonald who has been in over 85 film rolls over the years and still looks like a kid.

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Even the horse was tickled to be in a photo op with McDonald. A bit later he head butted McDonald and pushed him forward as if to tease him. McDonald posed a fighting boxer stance in humor. It was a great and spontaneous moment. McDonald upstaged the horse, proving you have to be ready for anything in the moment as an excellent actor which McDonald is.

Lucky Guy is about the arc of success for Mike McAlary: his influences, his exuberance, his integrity, his passion and the conflicting loves of his life, his wife and his reportage and status as a columnist when he worked for New York City Newsday, The Daily News and The New York Post. Yet Lucky Guy also purports to be about the the men, McAlary’s editors, specifically Mike Daly and Hap Hairston with whom he worked closely and who supposedly knew him best. As an iteration of these newspapermen it also shows snippets of  New York City and the three New York tabloids during the 1980s and 1990s.

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New York City in the misty retrospective of the 1980s and 1990s, the play’s setting.

Ephron took on an ambitious challenge compressing McAlary’s story as a newspaperman, using the narrators-editors and newspaper people and his wife to bridge the enactments of seminal events in McAlary’s life. Whether the abortive conception of McAlary as a man whose star skyrocketed too quickly in bombastic, self-possessed glory that could only result in a plummet, Icarus-like to the earth, or whether the sheer weight of the attempt at compression of the hundreds of moments of a true life story caved in on itself (without using symbolic, representational short cuts of revelation to assist in the telling)  the ride became chopped and grinding. At best it was ill conceived and at worst it was a flatliner that catapulted into nowhere land. The dialogue witty and clever at times, reveals Ephron’s turn of phrase and humor. As for the excitement, thrill and edginess of the newspaper business? It was lost in the retelling through the selection of events and perceptions of the editors which decreased the vitality of what were fascinating and complex decades in New York City’s history.

The irony is that the urgency to chronicle the story truncated the spirit of the truth of these individuals, especially McAlary and the editors. This wobbly “truth” webs an obscurity that minimizes their very real conflicts with themselves and each other. This in turn skews the focus and redirects the play in the second act toward hyper-resolution as McAlary wins the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Abner Louima case. At this high and low point of his life, Ephron shows his humility in accepting the prize (which strangely appears like a mea culpa speech to his colleagues) and his resignation as his cancer battle overwhelms him. This battle in the play’s unfolding almost appears as a judgment on his life which it shouldn’t. The play lamely concludes with the recognition of the birth and death years of the two editors and McAlary projected on the screen as the men stand before us in a tableau. For a second, I was left feeling like this was a theater of the absurd Pinteresque let down, “That’s all there is folks?” What? Wasn’t this play about McAlary as the focus? Or was it about the editors? Was it about the last choking song of New York’s tabloid newspapers? Clouds swirled around my understanding making me feel that both the playwright and director were unsure about an effective ending and ran out of steam. Incongruency. The play was unable to hold  together the line of events that were so urgently chronicled.

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As I stared at the dates, I felt a dull thud of “ho hum,” when I should have felt a lightening jolt of recognition that the era of newspaper tabloid reporting had ended with these individuals and would never return again; that greats like McAlary were precious, rare talents, their flaws having enriched their work. The preciousness did not come through in Ephron’s least satisfying endeavor. What did come through was Hanks’ presence and being despite the muddled plot and characterization. Hanks’  acting skills  injected every ounce of spiritual strength and humanity into Ephron’s words. Hanks breathed life into a wooden, thinly written Mike McAlary. The cast were true to their best efforts and allowed us to envision what these living individuals might have been like at this time and place. Was the memory of McAlary served by Hanks? Absolutely. But the play was not a vehicle to introduce or remind us of McAlary’s genius. Unfortunately, it muted and veiled the artistry and the power of his legacy, and most likely it did the same for the other individuals who lived and breathed newsprint onstage.

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Call it a problem with plot, selection of events and perceptions. Say it was too ambitious a task to try to cover his journalistic career and life during that time. Call it a problem of how the truth of McAlary the man was cobbled together through interviews, newspaper articles and editorials, etc.,and spun. Call it what you will,  the play was uneven, misshapen. Hanks has been quoted as saying that the play is a fictionalized account of McAlary. Well, fictionalized would have been vastly more entertaining with great opportunities for extrapolation and flexibility of story telling. The identities and names could have been masked and the story better wrought; it could have been simplified to parable level or made more mythic. Or it could have been made more real, refocused on the relationship between McAlary and his wife which would have been an enhancement.  Somehow, their love never resonated as it should have.  And this wasn’t the fault of the actors, but rather in the thinly drawn interaction between them.2013-03-19 10.02.53

To accommodate Hanks, McAlary’s age was tweaked. The man died at 41. To say his life was cut short is an understatement. To say that his wife and children were bereft without him is another understatement. To say that he accomplished a tremendous amount in the years he had is another understatement for he wrote novels and screenplays and consulted on films. McAlary was a dynamo, beloved to his wife, relatives and friends, an amazing personality a newspaper man of the old school who adored his work. Indeed he adored life and wanted to live it to the fullest. He did, but his season for living was brief. And this is the tragedy with which all can identify. This is the story, and what a story.

But how do you put this in words and get it all in? You render it as legend; he’s an Odysseus, a hero, a champ, a newspaperman we can love. You create an independent narrator, one not involved as a character, one who has an overarching view who selects the crucial events that brought the man higher on his soul journey. Then you reveal what he has learned and what he has carved for himself out of the roughness of youth into a wisdom borne out of love, loyalty to his passion, trial and suffering. You show the nobility of the time through this narrator’s eyes, revealing the horror that has increased in the decades as a precursor to the new prowling terrorism of war on American soil. Then the focus is clear. Then the years of McAlary’s birth and death make sense in context. Then we understand their value and can say, here was a great newspaperman who captured the era with the dynamism of his reporting and we shall mourn an era that we’ll never see the likes of again.

Lucky Guy is at the Broadhurst Theater.

B.B. King’s Signature Wines Launched. A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White, the Legend Continues.

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B.B. King toasts to fans and wine lovers with a glass of the B.B. King Signature Red.

The legendary blues musician and 15 time Grammy winner B.B. King is a dynamo at 87. If you are a B.B. King fan and have caught his blues act in concert or play his music at home, you know why this beloved Rock and Roll and Blues Hall of Famer has achieved global renown. His blues is easy listening. His musicianship is kinetic. His youthful verve is catching. His bubbling vitality has stirred B.B. King to keep a busy schedule. He tours globally averaging 250 concerts a year and promotes or plays at his B.B. King’s Blues Clubs occasionally in Orlando, Memphis, Nashville, West Palm Beach and Las Vegas (currently closed). All of his moves and his clubs encourage the iconic blues to flow. Visiting artists and musicians play music at B.B. King’s, whether funky and fast or soulful and smooth, LIVE, every night of the week.

In another contribution to stimulating our enjoyment of life, B.B. King’s energy has spilled over into creating his own signature wines. Whether you are a wine lover or B.B. King fan you can savor his wines at his clubs and in select retail stores, wine bars and music clubs nationwide as well as online. You and friends can share a bottle of red paired with the Bourbon Glazed Ribeye at B.B. King’s Orlando or share a bottle of white with the Southern Fried Catfish if you’re visiting family in Memphis and decide to drop in to B.B. King’s for a great evening of music, food and wine. When you enjoy his wines you are embracing this amazing talent who has brought so much to global fans and  has given back with joy to artists and musicians.

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B.B. King’s Signature white and red wines at Vinport.com/bbking

How did the B.B. King Signature Collection come about? Since B.B. King has performed in 88 countries throughout the world with hundreds of performances given in Europe, he has become acquainted with the  relaxing, leisurely and healthful style of meal enjoyment there. One of the most memorable visits was to Spain in 1991 when Seville hosted the original all-star “Guitar Legends” concert series. This series celebrated 27 of the world’s finest guitarists, including B.B. King, over a five day period of completely sold out shows. It is not a coincidence that his signature wine is sourced in the up-and-coming D.O. wine region of Almansa, Spain from the award winning Bodega Santa Cruz winery which has been producing wine for over 60 years.With the efforts of Bodega Santa Cruz winery and the assistance of Votto Vines Importing headquartered in Connecticut, B.B. King’s Signature Collection was established and is being launched nationwide.

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This Crianza will pair well with stews, red meats, and some richer pasta dishes. It will also compliment sausage, but nothing too spicy

The B.B. King Signature Collection is the misty elegance of the blues; it manifests the sine qua non of B.B. King, the legend, the personality, the sustained career excellence. The B.B. King Signature Collection Red 2010 is a Crianza blend made from Garnacha, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The B.B. King Signature Collection White 2011 is made only from 100% Verdefo grapes. The wines pair well with various dishes and can be drunk with appetizers to one’s taste as they are food friendly. They are moderately priced and won’t destroy your wine budget for the month and as in European style can be enjoyed as every day drinking wines. The suggested retail price is $13.99 which is perfect for casual enjoyment with friends, larger parties, as well as other dining occasions. You can purchase B.B. King’s Signature Red and Signature White at Vinport.com/bbking.

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This Verdejo pairs beautifully with seafood, light sauces, and marinated olives. It This Verdejo is light and refreshing on its own as an aperitif, and matches well with a wide variety of dishes including Mediterranean pizzas, sushi, and especially mussels or clams in broth.

Just a few details about B.B. King that you should know.When you think of blues, the iconic King of Blues,  the man with the golden fingers easily comes to mind. B.B. King has defined blues globally for the last 50 years. His tireless efforts have set the standards for blues. His work ethic and force of will are marvelous to experience given his age and effervescent spirit.

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B.B. King in concert.

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The riff.

B.B. King began recording in the 1940s and since then has released over 50 albums. His guitar style is memorable, identifiable and amongst the finest in the world. It earned him a #3 spot on the list of Rolling Stone’s “Top Guitarists of All Time.” B.B. King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In addition to receiving the Grammys, he was awarded with NARAS’ Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1987. Was he ready to throw in the hat and retire? Saay what? He was just beginning. He opened his clubs and continued to tour increasing his fan base to a new generation of fans who enjoy his music and dig his club scene. He has established his iconic presence with clubs in key cities and now has expanded our enjoyment with the B.B. King Signature Wine Collection. Now, is this man the blues or what?

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King of Blues

Sagrantino Wine Tasting at Eataly’s La Scuola: It’s Sagrantino Month!

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This is Sagrantino month at Eataly. You can enjoy a glass of Sagrantino from various Umbrian wineries at Eataly’s restaurants. You can also taste the pleasures of Sagrantino wines every Friday when Eataly’s wine store will feature a select Montefalco winery’s Sagrantino vintage.

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I am enjoying a glass of Sagrantino Collepiano from the Arnaldo-Caprai winery. Eatay’s signature brand is on its stemware, of course. Eataly’s La Scuola is host to events like tastings and cooking classes. I have yet to get to a pasta class, though I could probably teach it as I learned how to make fresh (spinach, tomato, gnocchi, ravioli, etc.) pasta from my mom and nonna.

I don’t think I can easily tire of Sagrantino wines.  I am rather unschooled in superlatives and cannot tell you the finest wine ever produced in the last 60-100 years. I’ll leave the sommeliers to that and surely there will be disagreement, pretension (no offense guys and gals) and enough rant to bore the rest of us oenophiles. However, I do know what I like and after being introduced to a little known grape varietal and its wines from the region of Montefalco, Umbria, I’ve tasted enough wines made from the Sagrantino to know that they are a lovely accompaniment to hot appetizers, cheeses, salumi and meat dishes.

So I really enjoyed the Sagrantino wine tasting at Eataly’s La Scuola. I was introduced to different Montefalco wineries producing a variety of the region’s Sagrantino wines and blends, from Rosso to the straight Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G.

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I tried these wines which are an older vintage and found them to bloom into the satisfying Sagrantino mouth feel. The winery is Cantina Le Cimate and I had the opportunity to speak to producer Paolo Bartoloni who is happy that his wines are being introduced to the American markets where we will be able to enjoy them. My oenophile friend FK spoke to Paolo at length and hopes to visit him in Montefalco after FK returns to his home in Hungary.

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Paolo Bartoloni with Marco Caprai (back to the camera) both paisano from Montefalco, Umbria. Take a day trip there if you are visiting Spoleto or Perugia.

Eataly has been featuring Sagrantino wineries since its Umbrian promotion of products in the fall. That was my first introduction to the rare Sagrantino grape and the Arnaldo-Caprai winery. I enjoyed the wines then and at a delicious tasting hosted by Roberto Paris at New York Times 3 starred Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. As I attended other tastings and dined at other venues, I moved on falling back on my past loves, the better known Tuscan wines, primarily because I couldn’t get a glass of the Sagrantino blend or wine made only with the Sagrantino grape varietal. The restaurants simply didn’t have it on their wine lists, nor could I find it at my neighborhood liquor shop.

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Another delicious wine from the Antonelli winery. This is a Rosso, a blend of Sagrantino and other reds.

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Montefalco Sagrantino from the Scacciadiavoli Winery. The winery takes its name from an exorcist who lived nearby. I would have loved to have gone to a wine dinner the Scacciadiavoli Winery was hosting at Eolo, a restaurant in Chelsea, NYC. The food and wine pairings looked sensational. The way to fully experience the luscious power of Sagrantino is with a great food. The menu looked super. Rats. I hope to give you some feedback on  the dinner and restaurant it in an upcoming post.

This recent wine event at Eataly’s La Scuola was not an official tasting which made it relaxing and enjoyable.  As I tasted the rich, blood-red, full bodied Sagrantinos, I was able to mingle, share and talk at length with some of the producers and winery owners. I tasted Sagrantino blends in their roughness of youth and only wines made of Sagrantino in the mellowness of a 5 year aging. Either way, whether I was curious about drinking a red blend of Sagrantino and merlot with every day meals or saving the best, the aged pure Sagrantino wine, for a more special occasion with friends, the wines I tasted were unique and interesting. And there were some surprises.

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Dan Amatuzzi, Eataly’s wine expert (left) and Marco Caprai of the Arnaldo-Capri Winery which won Wine Enthusiast’s European Winery of the Year 2012. Marco is discussing the region of Umbria, its beauty and nearby cities to visit. He discussed Perugia and Spoleto which has the annual Spoleto festival.

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This ruby red Sagrantino with its lingering smell of vanilla and spices is produced by Colle Del Saraceno and Francesco Botti…on the BOTTI farm (it has been around since the last century) in Montefalco.

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I happen to enjoy great after dinner wines. Who knew Sagrantino could be used to make a delicious dessert wine? This Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G. Passito has been produced on the BOTTI family farm since the 19th century. And it is out of this world, great, almost liqueur-like because of the long period of natural air-drying. The bouquet of blackberries, cloves and cinnamon lingers on the mouth and persists on the nose. Wonderful with desserts and cheeses.

What is wonderful is that Eataly is offering Sagrantino wines by the glass for $10.00 in all of its restaurants Fridays and Saturdays. That means that if you are near Eataly on Fridays, check out the Sagrantino tastings. If you are dining there ask for a glass of Sagrantino from one of these producers. Though I dined at Manzo on Sunday, I was able to get a glass of the Arnaldo-Caprai Sagrantino Collepiano and when I checked, there are still some bottles for sale.

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If you walk into Eataly from its entrance on 23rd Street, you will see this sign reminding you it’s Sagrantino month. Enjoy a glass of this interesting wine from a grape varietal that was nearly made extinct.

If you are in New York City and haven’t yet been to Eataly, you are missing a great treat. If you are in town before the end of the month and you stop by, you will be able to enjoy these wines that are gaining global favorable renown. And if you visit Umbria, Perugia and Spoleto for the festival and Montefalco, the town where the Sagrantino grape varietal has made its home for centuries, you will be able to drink the vino locale with relish. Now that you are familiar with wineries in the area, you will be able to visit for tours and tastings of this amazing varietal that nearly went into extinction if not for a dedicated group of growers and producers and families whose generational lifestyle included making really great wines for every occasion.

WINERIES CELEBRATING SANGRANTINO MONTH AT EATALY AND AT THE LA SCUOLA TASTING

Antonelli San Marco

Arnaldo-Caprai

Perticaia

Scacciadiavoli

Tenuta Castlebuono

Cantina Le Cimate

Colle Del Saraceno, Francesco Botti

A DISCLAIMER: I was not able to feature a few wineries here because I ran out of time. When I travel again to Umbria to visit family, I will make sure to map an itinerary to tour the ones I missed. And I will try to taste their wines this week at Eataly.

Plane Love by Rosary O’Neill Performed at the Players Club

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Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who had a passionate romance that developed into an enduring love and successful marriage until Lombard’s life was cut short. Plane Love by Rosary Hartel O’Neill references the relationship of these two celebrities.

You know how you can see one version of a play with one set of actors and another version with different actors and a whole new meaning is presented with different themes and an enhanced understanding? Last month Rosary Hartel O’Neill’s play Plane Love directed by Melissa Attebery and starring David Copeland and Shana Farr presented at the Player’s Club in New York City had that effect on me. The play had a previous showing a year ago at the National Arts Club with a different group of actors and production values. I enjoyed it then and thought the play’s promise, if picked up by other Off Off Broadway producers had the potential to create momentum and drift up the line so that it could create a followership as happens with many Off Off Broadway productions.

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Rosary O’Neill and Diane Bernhardt (then President) at the National Arts Club reading of Plane Love.

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The reading of Plane Love was held in one of the many anterooms of the National Arts Club’s beautiful Victorian building which is a historic landmark.

A bit about Rosary Hartel O’Neill, the playwright before I discuss the play will elucidate some interesting details. I’ve known Rosary’s work now for over a year and have been privileged to have seen a number of her plays presented in scene studies at the Actor’s Studio. I have seen a few presentations of Plane Love, one at the National Arts Club and the other at The Actor’s Studio. I have read a number of her dynamic plays and absolutely love her The Awakening of Kate Chopin, based on the real life Kate Chopin. (If you have not read Chopin’s groundbreaking The Awakening, regardless of whether you are male or female, it is a compelling story and you will walk away from it shocked, your intellect, your soul lazered.)

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Rosary O’Neill and Melissa Attebery (Director) at the Player’s Club cafe.

O’Neill’s play The Awakening of Kate Chopin reveals how the real Kate Chopin came to write The Awakening. O’Neill strips open the events which are iconic in shaping Chopin’s phenomenal work. After The Awakening was published and universally vilified with criticism nearly likening her to the maw of Satan (Male critics at that time were terrorized by the true tenants of her themes.) Chopin never wrote or published another word again. O’Neill’s play is historical yet modern, it is vibrant and transfixing and it should be added to the repertory of seminal works showing casing men’s and women’s struggles with self-definition as they attempt to step beyond issues of sexual stereotype and fail miserably. Sound familiar? Welcome to the 21st century. Chopin’s character is a modern day Medea with a twist. O’Neill’s play examines the Kate who could write such an incredible story.

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David Copeland (Actor’s Studio actor) and Shana Farr in the library of the Player’s Club where the reading was held.

Plane Love echoes some of the struggles of love, autonomy in relationships and trust revealed in the play The Awakening of Kate Chopin. But Plane Love has lighter notes, is clever and witty with the deep undercurrents playfully brought to the surface in a successful expiation. Interestingly, it too, has a basis in real life relationships. The characters and situation are styled after a celebrated Hollywood couple, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard who were passionate for each other and fit together in a Plato’s soul love that is rarely duplicated. It was a love that Gable never overcome after Lombard’s death in a plane crash.  The couple in Plane Love is also mirrored to some extent to reflect O’Neill’s relationship with her current husband, Bob. Rosary and Bob met on a plane and grew their romance through letters. (In the play they chat via e-mails and IMs. Tweets and Facebook posts are too potentially public. Yes, folks their love chats were private and personal, not to be shared with others in this Anthony Weiner social media culture of “fat finger” clicking mistakes.) Their absences, because of Bob’s extensive travel and Rosary’s living in another part of the country made their joyful hearts bond with the heat of their words and imaginations. Distance love can be a really great spur for passion.

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Shana Farr plays the role styled after Carole Lombard in her relationship and marriage to Clark Gable. Melissa Attebery is introducing the play.

Energetic and vital David Copeland and Shana Farr melded with the ethers of director Melissa Attebery and the result was dynamic and alive. Some script changes were made for the better and the ending  was supernally charged and had morphed from the time I had seen it at the National Arts Club and the Actor’s Studio. I will not give a spoiler alert except to say that the changes made the poignancy and connections to today really pop. I was moved and emotionally affected where in the previous versions I was not. The actors subtly and seamlessly developed the relationship between the characters through their power and ability to be eternally present. Exceptional acting talent whispered and nuanced the delicacy of how couples bond, the wheels and woes of emotional stripping and unmasking toward trust, the inevitable hurts and glories and the risks of unifying one soul to another.

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After the performance, the audience applauds . David Copeland, Rosary O’Neill and Shana Farr

This production for me proves that casting excellent talents like Copeland and Farr is essential, good direction is paramount. A fine play will stand despite mediocre direction and a lack of will on the part of all concerned. Nevertheless, the audience will walk away from such live theater feeling something was not quite right, there was a drop of energy, the actors had a bad night or the play had dead spots. And as such, a good play will be forgotten until it is unearthed two decades later and electrically the cast gets it, the director is on fire, there is a unity of spectacle and everything is right. That is when the audience walks away with a sigh of relief, energized in a catharsis of human feeling and the play has a long run or a full run.

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Great actor Edwin Booth purchased the Victorian building off Gramercy Park to have a place where he and his actor friends could congregate and enjoy themselves. He hired Stanford White to renovate the place adding various features which were conducive to enjoying parties and seeing plays. There is a cafe downstairs and auditorium with a stage on the second floor. There is an amazing library with old volumes and the place is festooned with paintings and pictures and drawings of actors. Booth also had White renovate an upstairs portion where he had apartments for himself. When all this was finished, Booth lived at the Player’s Club for five years and then died…presumably a happier man for giving his actor friends a comfortable and convivial place to hang out in NYC,

This production of Plane Love was in the second category. Look for the playwright, the actors and the director. They are not fading away, and look for Plane Love to gradually get its wings and fly uptown eventually toward wider avenues and brighter lights.

Croatian Wines. Vina Croatia Wine Tasting Review: Part I

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Dalmatian Coast, Croatia. This is on Adriatic across from Italy. These vineyards are protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Some of these vines have been producing continuously for more than two thousand years.

Croatia is a beautiful land. Not many Americans are familiar with the country unless they have Croatian friends and colleagues who introduce them to the wines and foods of Croatia or unless they have heard Lidia Bastianich discuss her Istrian heritage. Istria is in the North-Western section of Croatia. You can be sure when Croatia becomes part of the European Union in July, promotional marketing for the country will abound and you will wish that you had visited before it became incorporated into one of Europe’s most hectic and busy tourist destinations.

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Map of Croatia minus the surrounding Balkans and border countries.

Croatia once a territory in the former Yugoslavia, above all is a crossroads. It is where East meets West. It is where the foodie cultures have merged and various fare from surrounding countries have melded to create lovely, distinctive cuisine. It is also where the hot Mediterranean climate meets the cold Alpine climate. And these variations in climate and terroir have produced unique environmental zones that are great for growing a number of grape varietals that for centuries have become acclimated to the unusual growing conditions. As the vines adapted, they grew strong and thrived so that the wines produced from them have a distinct, delicious and discrete flavor that is wholly and unmistakably Croatian. Amazingly, some of the hardy vines are centuries old yet still produce grapes. Indeed Croatian wine production is ancient, dating to a time well before the Roman empire.

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The Northernmost part of Croatia where the Zagreb, the capital is located.

Croatia’s beauty from upland mountains to the Dalmatian coast and numerous islands in the Adriatic and Mediterranean is apparent even from stills. The country, now coming into its own, is moving rapidly to innovate and blossom into one of Europe’s most unique treasures. It has positioned itself for a continued prosperity after having gone through the upheavals and cataclysms during and after the fall of Communism, and the troubles leading up to Croatia’s War of Independence. Since 1998 Croatia has been peacefully enjoying its sovereign status as an independent republic, continuing to reconstruct, rebuild and develop its infrastructure, industry and tourism after the devastation of the 1990s.

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Istrian vines’ red clay soil. Istria is where Lidia Bastianich was born. Her family left and went to Italy when Yugoslavia went over to communism.

Threaded all through Croatia’s turbulent history, has been the fabulous wine making culture and the pleasures of experiencing a rich heritage and lifestyle of great food and wine.  The Communists could never dampen Croatian wineries’ good wines, but the prevalent socialist concept was quantity over quality, the mass production for mass consumption all over Yugoslavia. Now that the Republic of Croatia has its full lead, the emphasis has changed and the paradigm has shifted to focus on quality fine wines, boutique wineries and fine dining.  As the younger generation takes over innovates and implements newer wine making techniques, the wines the country is currently producing  will continue to manifest some of the highest quality wines Europe can offer.  OMG. Who knew?

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This wine region is surrounded by three rivers: the Danube, the Drava and the Sava. It is the Easternmost region of Croatia.

Having never been introduced to imported Croatian wine and never having visited Croatia, I consider myself fortunate to have been available to attend the Vina Croatia wine tasting event at the Astor Center. Not only was it fun, but I became educated to some of the best wines coming out of the country, wines which I will look to purchase in the U.S. in the near future. However, it would be even more fun to visit some of the friendly Croatian vintners back in their country where I could go on a wine tour and take the proper amount of time to do wine tastings, coupled with food pairings, as many wineries have restaurants attached to b Dalmatiast demonstrate their delicious wines. Food and wine cannot be appreciated without each other as any gourmand or food and wine lover knows.

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The Wine Guys, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, wine writers who have appeared in the Huffington Post and elsewhere are widely traveled and knowledgeable about fine wines and good food. This is the first Master Class at Vina Croatia, the Astor Center.

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Cliff Rames is a sommelier and wine expert who gave an interesting and informative tasting class on the varieties of Croatian grapes and wines. I walked away knowing the wine regions and many of the varietals used to make the delicious wines I was tasting.

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The pic/tweet is from Yangbo Du on Twitter. The picture is of Cliff Rames and Ashley Colburn who is a travel expert with her own production company. She visited Croatia and has been back many times since, loving everything about the country’s beauty, food and wine.

During the tasting, I took a few classes to become better educated in the Croatian wine making regions. The first class, “Vina Croatia: Taste the Place” was taught by The Wine Guys, Mike DeSimone an Jeff Jenssen wide travelers and jocund wine writers. The second class, “Beyond Plavic Mali: Croatia’s Other Indigenous Varietal Wines’ was by Cliff Rames, a sommelier  who was an expert in Croatian wines. The speakers proved knowledgeable and informative as they lead the tasting through the four wine regions: Dalmatia, Istria and Kvarner, Slavonia and the Croatian Danube and the Croatian Uplands.These regions are further divided into sixteen sub-regions and 66 appellations. Because each sub-region has grape varietals that are only unique and distinct to that region, the wines produced there cannot be gotten anywhere else in the world. These are tastes that are more then special and unique; they are gold. And the Croatians have been enjoying some of these wines for centuries; it is the vino locale they drink with every day meals and the vina for festivals and celebrations. Of course, the clergy have been having a ball for as long as there has been a church, making their own wines and using them for sacramental purposes.

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Grgic Plavac Mali 2008: region Dalmatia. The grape varietal is Plavac Mali.

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These are Dalmatian vines. The area is very dry and the vines are accustomed to little irrigation and dry heat. This is a World Heritage vineyard on the island of Hvar.

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Another vineyard during the growing season. The vines and roots are protected by the surrounding rocks and dry, rocky soil. The yield is not plentiful, but it is extraordinary for its taste, making Plavac Mali, Babic, Lasin,a Plavina grape varietal wines, and white wines, with Gegic, Posip varietals and even ice wine with a combination of wines.

Because you need to go there or go to the next year’s Vina Croatia wine tasting event in New York City or another area of the country, I will just whet your drinking lusts with some of the wines I adored during the classes. From Dalmatia, there are the world heritage wines some of which have been produced on the island of Hvar, get this now, the world’ oldest continuously cultivated vineyard. We are talking about 2,500 y ears of production, folks. No wonder this area is protected by UNESCO. Wonderful red wines I tasted from DALMATIA were the BIBIch R6 2009 (red grape varieties: Babic, Lasina, Plavina) the Babic Vrhunski 2009 (Babic) the Grgic Plavac Mali 2008 (Plavac Mali) Korta Katarina Reuben’s Private Reserve 2007 (Plavac Mali) and three white wines Boškinac Gegic 2011 (Gegic) Korta Katarina Pošip 2010 (Pošip) and Bodren Triptih 2010 (ice wine grape varietals-Müller Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc). The pictures below show the grape varietals, both white and red from Dalmatia.

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From Lidia’s birthplace, ISTRIA AND KVARNER, the milder climate produces more lush environs than the rocky Dalmatian coast. The grapes that have adapted to this climate are the Malvasia Istriana (white) and Teran varietals (red). White wines I enjoyed were Trapan Malvazija Ponente 2011, Damjanic Malvazija 2001, Nada Zlahtina 2011 (Zlahtina grape varietal) and Matoševic Antiqua 2008 (Malvasia Istriana). Red wines I tasted and enjoyed were the Franc Arman Teran 2009 and Kozlovic Teran 2011. Interesting note. British wine critic, Oz Clarck reported that Istria was Europe’s no. 2 terroir for Merlot. Not jammy it has a freshness and when young is fruity; when aged it has an elegant, intense bouquet. Like other Bordeaux varieties it is blended with a local varietal, in this case, Teran (great potential for aging with notes of fruit and pepper) offering a very interesting combination.

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From SLOVANIA AND THE CROATIAN DANUBE, a region characterized by plains covered in golden fields of wheat and the three rivers that surround it (the Danube, Drava and Sava) Croatia’s principal grape variety is found, Graševina. Slavonia is home to the species of oak used to make the barrels that age Italian wines (Barolo and Barbaresco). Croatian winemakers also use this oak especially for larger barrels. White wines I enjoyed from this region were Krauthaker Graševina 2011, Kutjevo Graševina Vrhunska 2011, and Ilocki Podrumi Traminac Kvalitetni 2011 (Gewürtzreminer).

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The CROATIAN UPLANDS include the hilly, picturesque  ranges dotted with family-owned vineyards that surround Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. It  is the coldest wine region in Croatia. Though there are not many native varieties here, the international varieties like Pinot, Riesling or Sauvignon are doing well because the chilly climate and very cold winters allow the wines to preserve intense aromas and high levels of acidity (which bring longer aging periods). The higher elevations offer an abundant amount of sun and wind to cure and rest the vines. The Reisling I tasted from this region was delicious: Bolfan Rajnski Rizling 2011. The Pinot noir I tasted, the Bolfan Primus Pino Crni 2009 was very good, distinctive.

In my second article, Part II of the Vina Croatia wine tasting event, I review my walk around tasting where I had the opportunity to speak to some of the vintners themselves and hear stories of their techniques and struggle with the land to tease out the finest selection of grapes, usually hand picked for their harvest to make the best wines. As one of my oenophile friends tells me (CBlack an oenophile, contributor to this article and photographer of many of the photos in David Copp’s, Tokaj: A Companion For The Bibulous Traveller)  speaking with the boutique vintners, especially on their home turf, is an unforgettable experience. (I was just glad to meet a few at this tasting. I will eventually travel to their home turf for the full experience.) However, even in brief discussions I had with wine lovers, producers, agents and the Wine Guys at the classes, the love of sterling wines is always manifest. Sharing that love and gaining new information about the next trend in fine wines is what brings folks out despite crowds and inconveniences. It is all in the name of the fast growing global wine community achieving greater wine drinking pleasure. Count me in!

For more information about Croatian wines, check out the next article in this series.  And check out the website of Blue Danube Wine Company for online orders. In the U.S. they are based in Los Altos, California.  If you are on Facebook you can locate them by using the search feature and just typing in their name (or click the Facebook link here.). They are also on Twitter: click here for Twitter page if you are on Twitter.)