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This is a continuation of the conversation that took place at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center as presented in collaboration by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the League of Professional Theatre Women. The event was produced by Ludovica Villar-Hauser and Sophia Romma. For Part I Click this LINK.
Elisabeth Vincentelli: Could you talk about Mlima’s Tale. It was another different approach you took.
Lynn Nottage: It was commissioned by film director Katherine Bigelow (award winning director of Hurt Locker). And we were developing it together. She has incredible passion about elephants. Mlima’s Tale is told from the point of view of an elephant that’s been poached. And the play tracks the elephant’s tusks from the hands of the people who poach him to the hands of the people in China who buy his tusks. It’s a very stylized piece. Jo Bonny came in. And we decided that we wanted to make the piece very differently. It was based on my working with designers that was very collaborative. We decided that we wanted to work with designers from beginning to end which almost never happens. Usually what happens is that designers speak to the director during the first draft of the script and then they come back into the process during tech week. We thought we don’t want to make it that way. We want designers to be there very single day which is why I think the piece is more holistic and integrated on all levels. We were talking to each other and making creative decisions in the moment which was very exciting.
It was very imaginative with the lighting, music and movement.
We worked with a composer who had never done theater before. The equipment was all set up. During the first preview, a musician felt very deeply and he didn’t know he couldn’t just spontaneously sing. We had to say “Wait, you can’t do that.” (laughter)
What are the new musicals you are working on?
The first one is The Secret Life of Bees which is an adaptation of the book by Sue Monk with composer Duncan Sheik who did the music for Spring Awakening and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead who did Jelly’s Last Jam. Sam Gold is directing it and it will be at the Atlantic Theater Company in the Spring. And we’ve been working on it for a couple of years and it’s very beautiful.
Then you’re working on another musical of Intimate Apparel.
Well, it’s not exactly a musical. It’s an opera which is a co-commission between the Met Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre. It’s been interesting developing something which is kind of a hybrid and having Peter Gelb from the Met giving notes and Andre Bishop from the theater. Both of them have very different needs. (laughter) And Ricky Ian Gordon, the composer, is doing a brilliant job.
The third one which has been announced is?
The Michael Jackson musical. I’m writing the book on the Michael Jackson Musical. Michael Jackson’s written the music. (laughter)
What are the challenges for working on the book of a musical or opera,
The opera which is an adaptation of working on my own play Intimate Apparel? The challenge was in figuring out how to write a libretto from material I was so attached to. I didn’t want to let go of anything. And working with Ricky, the first time I handed him my libretto he said, ‘You’ve re-written the play.’ The second time I handed him the libretto he said, ‘You’ve re-written the play, again.’ And I asked, ‘How do I do this?’ He said, ‘You’re not trusting your collaborator. You have to understand in musical theater and opera, the music does 50% of the work. It is what makes it expansive. Trust that I’m going to allow people to feel and teach people to feel through my music.’ And once I trusted him, I was able to make some of those cuts and get rid of the exposition. I had to let him be the collaborator that he is, and allow him to do some of the heavy lifting. I had to let him do the story telling. He does beautiful story telling which allowed me to step away.
What about with Sue Monk’s Secret Life of Bees? How was it writing book for a work that was not yours?
Well Sue Monk gave us the license to do whatever we wanted. She was like ‘I’ve written the book.’ We made it clear that we made some massive changes and that we were not doing a strict adaptation of the book. We told her that we’re creating a piece that is inspired by the book that honors all her characters without making replicas of those characters.
How do you approach the writing of the book?
From my position of writing the book? I’m the architect of the narrative. It is my job to make sure that all the pieces come together. So I’m kind of like the contractor. I am there to make sure that everything is exactly as we want it.
How did you feel writing book for that musical?
It’s incredible and liberating as a book writer. So if get to a difficult point, I can turn to Susan (lyricist) and say, “You got this right?” (laughter) It’s the lyricist that’s doing a lot of the important story telling. I throw her the ball and she does the “slam dunk.”
You said you learned at Yale what “to do as a playwright and what not to do.” Could you elaborate on that?
Sure. When I arrived at Yale I had just gone from college to graduate school. So my assumptions when I was there was that they had a blueprint about how to be a good playwright. I learned a lot about structure, but I also think I also became imprisoned by a lot of what I learned because I didn’t realize I had the freedom to make my own decisions. I think that is what I meant.
Writing the play into a libretto are you turning it into prose or are you turning it into poetry?
I think it’s both. Some of it is definitely prose and some of it is definitely poetry. It’s a combination.
From the perspective of film how does that approach differ? What is the difference between a word and an image and what is special about each one?
The way in which film and theater function differently is clear. In theater we do a lot of problem solving through language. In film a lot of the problem solving is done through images. I think particularly in film there is the short cut you can take that you don’t have the luxury of doing onstage in the theater. You can quickly convey something by taking a character somewhere else in film, but because of the limitations of the stage, we have to use language sometimes to describe the visuals.
You were raised to appreciate the arts. What are you doing to advocate for young people in the arts?
I’ve been a professor for 17 years. I’m a teacher. And I think that’s the primary way to nurture young artists, because when I was young artist I didn’t feel that there were a lot of people to nurture young African American artists. I feel it’s essential to nurture the next generation and I’ve put in a lot of time and effort into helping directors and playwrights who are up and coming and emerging.
Which characters do you use to get their stories told?
I use the characters that assert themselves. The characters that come back and demand to be represented on the stage are ultimately the ones who win out.
Do you have a specific audience in mind that you are writing for?
I like to think that I’m writing for an audience who are friends. My friends are a very diverse group of people. So those are the friends I write for. But Intimate Apparel was very specific. It was for my mother. I don’t think I’ve written anything else with that kind of intention. I did this adaptation for this film director Lars Von Trier. (laughter) He would talk to me on the phone, but he would never direct any comments or questions to me. He wanted to speak to me through his producer. And this was on the telephone. The three of us would be on the phone and he would say, “Tell Lynn. . .” And I would respond, “I can hear you.” (laughter) The film was Manderlay.
Did you have any influencers?
I did have influencers. I had my parents who took me to theater. As a professional playwright, I didn’t have mentors who helped me nurture this career.
Now you’ve reached a certain point in your career, is there another medium you would like to work in?
Because of the past year or two that I’ve become so overwhelmed and busy, I don’t feel that I have the time to nurture my self. I haven’t had the time to read books and to ruminate. I have to endeavor, in the next couple of years, just to make time to think and think about what it is I want to do.
Did you have a sense that those two pieces that won your Pulitzers would stand out in some way.
The Pultizer came as a complete and total surprise. Technically, the Pulitzer is supposed to be a play that deals with American culture. And Ruined is set in the Congo. So when I got that phone call it was an absolute surprise. For Sweat I never thought that lightening was going to strike twice. So that was a total surprise as well.
Could you still comment on the lack of production opportunities for women in theater. We’re still below 20% and women of color are really at the bottom.
I think you put it very well. (laughter) It is a fact there is work to be done. And very recently there was another survey about theater and women. I can’t speak to the specifics of this in all the other areas, but for women playwrights they found that for white women throughout the country, there’s been an increase to almost parity. But for women of color and men of color, the numbers are still staggeringly low.
How can we change the dynamics of theater pricing?
I think there is a way to make theater more affordable and more accessible, as we did in Sweat. I teach a course called American Spectacle about how to evolve beyond the proscenium. And I teach it because of my incredible frustration with we as playwrights and directors and artists. We craft our productions very specifically for the stage and proscenium of Off Broadway Theaters that are limited in space and also limited in the audience that they reach. The audience that I want to reach doesn’t necessarily relate to the audience that I look and see is watching my play.
One of the things I realized is that I don’t have to be locked into that problem. We can be incredibly flexible. We can take theater to the people. And that’s what we discovered with the mobile unit. We can break out of the proscenium and bring theater into a gym and if there’s an audience for it, we’ve broken away from that limitation. The very first production that we did in Pennsylvania, people showed up with their kids. They had not been to theater. They didn’t know they were going to sit for two and 1/2 hours and so Stephanie Ybarra, the Artistic Director of the mobile unit, and I ended up holding people’s babies while people watched theater (laughter).
And I thought, ‘This is great. Why can’t we do this in Off Broadway theaters.’ The other establishing fact was we realized that most of those folks had never been to theater before. Not a single cell phone rang. People sat rapt. And I thought ‘…there’s something about that audience that’s different from New York audiences because they want to be there and not because they bought a subscription and have to meet the quota of plays’ (laughter). They are there because they want this entire experience. I think that in some way we have to re-educate the audiences that see theater in New York. I think that there are really bad habits that are being nurtured and we have to change that. (applause)
I’m here from a class at NYU and I want to know if you consider yourself a feminist?
I do consider myself a feminist. My mother was a feminist. And she was very outspoken on women’s rights and so I’ve been a feminist since the time I can remember.
Are you inspired by to write about what is going on in current politics and what is going on at the border and the lies that we’re hearing.
Yes. I’d like to write about it. At the very end of the mobile unit tour, we ended at a Native American reservation and one of the elders stood up and said something incredibly moving. He said, “I don’t understand what this border wall is. There are no borders in America. These fences that they’ve erected where they arrest people if they cross over mean nothing.” He and others understand that these obstructions shouldn’t mean anything because this is land that has no boundaries. That’s how I feel. And there’s part of me that wants to do a Walkabout and walk the length of the border and talk to people and collect their stories but it would probably take a very long time. (applause and cheering)
You can see Lynn Nottage’s play By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at the Pershing Square Signature Center, Irene Diamond Stage. For a schedule of where Lynn’s plays are being produced and to learn more about Lynn, go to her website: CLICK HERE.
For more about The League of Professional Theatre Women or to become a member CLICK HERE.
Chita Rivera is a Broadway legend and one of the most gracious and prodigious theatrical talents one would want to meet. Richard Ridge is the lead correspondent for Broadway World the go-to place online to find everything you want to know about Broadway, its stars, its happenings. For those who were there on Monday evening, 7 May they received a great treat. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in collaboration with the League of Professional Theatre Women presented Chita Rivera in conversation with Richard Ridge. After the interview, members discussed with Co-Chairs Pat Addiss and Sophia Romma who produced the event how they appreciated Chita Rivera’s authenticity and great good will, and Richard Ridge’s superbly guided questions.
Much of the evening which was too good to miss is captured here with some edits. I chose to sum up the beginning and conclude on a positive affirmation that strikes me as suffusing all that Chita Rivera has accomplished in her amazing life with her last comment in this piece. It is why she is who she is, after all is said and done!
The interview began with Richard Ridge asking Chita Rivera the “sixty-four thousand dollar question,” how she became a dancer. Chita Rivera’s answer is one for the ages. She said that she was a tomboy. And one day jumping from the chair to the coffee table, she missed her mark. Exasperated her mother said, “That’s it. You’re out of here. You’re going to Doris Jones.” From a time perspective and having raised children, Chita Rivera surmises, “I had no idea my mother was so smart. She wanted to save the house.”
Apparently, her mom who had exquisite legs and the most beautiful turnout, wanted to be a dancer, but chose to raise five children. However, she championed her daughter Chita to do that which she thought might work out to keep her daughter entertained and “the house saved.” What follows is Richard Ridge’s wonderfully knowledgeable and finely researched informal interview with the inimitable Chita Rivera.
So it was Doris Jones who took you to New York for your audition for George Balanchine? What was that like?
Well, we were very obedient in those days to adults and when you have someone wonderful like Miss Jones, it’s easy. Louis Johnson was really the first male, black dancer in the New York City ballet. He was my partner in Ms. Jones’ school. So the two of us won a scholarship to audition that day. I got out of the elevator and saw this gorgeous girl with legs up to my shoulders and so skinny and so beautiful and so calm. I looked at Ms. Jones and said, I’m scared. And Ms. Jones said, “Just stay in your lane.” And I’ve been staying in my lane ever since. You find out who you are by being who you are.
So you accompany a friend to the touring audition to Call Me Madam. What happened when you got there.
Well, Helen (I can’t remember her last name)…approached me in class and said, “Chita, I’m not on scholarship. I have no money. Will you go with me? I’m scared to death.” I said, “Absolutely.” I wasn’t frightened because it didn’t mean anything to me except it was an experience. I got the job but Helen didn’t! I haven’t heard from her since. So if anyone hears from her, let me know. (laughter) So I went home and told my mother, “They’ve offered me $250 dollars a week to go on the road with a woman by the name of Elaine Stritch!” I don’t think at the time I had even seen a Broadway show. But I loved it. It was an exciting time to be doing the choreography. The choreographer’s name was Jerome Robbins. And I got one of the four principal dancers. So I just continued to do what I was told and it was an amazing experience. It was the beginning of everything.
Doris Jones had performances when we were in her school. So I had the opportunity to dance during concerts and on point. But I never got the chance to dance with the New York City Ballet. I’ve thought about that. And I’m just fine about it. (laughter) And Ms. Jones, God love her, she had gorgeous schools. I invited her to see my shows and she never came. And one day, when I was doing Kiss of the Spider Woman, I was in a restaurant and there was Ms. Jones. I said why haven’t you come to see me? Are you ashamed of me? She said, “I’m busy making little Chita Riveras (laughter). I just let you out into the world.” So I give Ms. Jones all the credit. (applause)
You did Guys and Dolls and then Can Can when you started your life-long friendship with Gwen Verdon. What did you learn from her. And that day you were called into her dressing room what did she say to you?
I’ve always said that if I am reincarnated, I’d like to come back as the carriage instead of the horse. I think most dancers would like to be the carriage because the horse pulls and pulls and does the hard work…the carriage gets to carry the amazing people…what was the question? (laughter)
The dressing room when Gwen Verdon called you.
Michael Kidd choreographed the show. She was extraordinary. I lived in the wings of every show I ever did and learned so much that way. She called me into her room. At that time you didn’t cross a star’s threshold, not unless someone asked you to. You didn’t just presume. And so I went in. I remember her clearly saying to me, “Chita, you should be brave enough to go out and look for parts you can create for yourself.” I realized she was giving me courage and making me go out and find out who I am. And shortly after that, I did get a part. The fabulous Gwen Verdon! And the next time I saw her we were behind the amazing Tony Walton set and there we were in top hat and canes and I looked at the back of her head and thought, “Oh my God.” I’m standing next to Gwen Verdon. It was amazing. You don’t realize it until you’re in it and then you go, “Yeah!” And you don’t want to be anywhere else. You want to be there. She was a phenomenal artist and great friend.
Well the role that catapulted you to stardom was Anita in the groundbreaking musical West Side Story. (applause) We just celebrated Jerome Robbins’ 100th Anniversary.
Right and this is the 61st Anniversary of West Side Story. I always say, I’ve been running around living the life of a 35 year-old all these years and I never realized how old I was. So for age? Don’t count it, unless it’s 5, 6, 7, 8 (laughter/applause). We worked hard at the auditions and we didn’t realize we were working hard. We just were because that’s what you do. There were several auditions. It was Kenny Leroy as Bernardo. We had to be matched up with our guys. We didn’t realize we didn’t know how to sing. We were taught on the spot. And of course dancing is acting. And suddenly we had words. It was extraordinary. It was tough but it was good because we learned.
At what point during that process did you realize that the show was a such a phenomenon.
I don’t know if I realized it. I was so busy living it. You don’t have much time to realize it unless you’re looking at a fellow actor and you get those responses. We got to Washington, DC and “America” stopped the show dead. We didn’t know what to do with that. We said to Jerry, “What do we do?” Jerry said go downstairs, change your clothes and get ready for the next scene. That was the first time we got any kind of feeling about the response. But all along it was being built, the value of the words, the excitement. “Cool” was better than “America” but “Cool” came after “America.” “Cool was an extraordinarily choreographed piece. I watched from the wings when I wasn’t onstage.
You went to Leonard Bernstein’s apartment and learned a song at his piano?
I sure did. It’s kind of fun to say, “Lenny” and think that I knew him and that this amazing genius is a kind, giving soul. Well, I rang the buzzer. He escorted me to his music room, and I sat next to him on the piano and was nervous. And I carry little angels with me on my shoulders. One tells me what to do, the other tells me, “Don’t do that.” I remember one of them said to me, “You know you’re sitting next to Leonard Bernstein.” And the other one said, “Do exactly what he says.” So I listened to him and it was then I heard my own voice. He pulled it out. He just had a way of making you find yourself. And making you feel comfortable in your own shoes. He had the excitement for himself and the show. He was directing the quintet and we were all on the set. He was in the pit standing on a chair and he got so enthusiastic that he went straight through the chair. But dancers love to laugh anyhow, so we had a good laugh.
Could you sum up the best part of working with Jerome Robbins, what it was for you?
I don’t know because there are so many things. I used to call him “Big Daddy.” He had all the answers as far as I was concerned. I remember one time I was standing downstage. He was giving us a five minute break which I rarely took. Mickey Calin was gorgeous and several girls were hovering. I saw Jerry looking at Mickey and I got very nervous and I walked past him and said, “Don’t do it.” He was about to kill him, slaughter him. And we had a laugh and he said, “You’re a witch. You’re just a witch.” We had that kind of relationship because we all had respect for each other. And we were working so hard. And there’s nothing better than working hard and finding out that you can do it. What a creator he was. He introduced us to words and music and worlds we never knew. And feelings we never knew we had. That’s how you build your canvas, your life.
You created the role of Rose in the Broadway smash, Bye, Bye Birdie. (applause) You almost turned that show down, didn’t you?
Well, I read the script. Really! Who’s going to sit up there as a parent and let all these kids talk on the telephone? I wouldn’t let my daughter talk on the phone that long. I also learned that we don’t know what we’re talking about. Shut up and do your job. (laughter) Let them do theirs, you do yours. Gower Champion! He brought technicolor, he brought humor, he brought class, he brought Hollywood. And of course, then there was that funny person Dick Van Dyke. I just watched him. I am a great thief and I will steal. I have been around extraordinary people, so I just watched and learned a lot from them. And Dick is one of the funniest, kindest, most giving people in the theater. He’s 92 and he still going strong. He’s still funny. Don’t lose your sense of humor.
You’ve received many great phone calls during your career. Tell us about the phone call you received from Cy Coleman, Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse.
It was from Cy. It is amazing that I know these people. It is wonderful to know them. They asked if I would take the original of Sweet Charity on the road. There was Ben Vereen, Thelma Oliver and the greatest chorus of dancers. So we did it. That was a great phone call.
Then you got to do the film version.
The cherry on the top was that it was a wonderful experience to do the entire show for almost a year and another cherry to be with my buddy Shirley MacLaine. She always had a great sense of humor and we always made fun of her right to her face. Once when we were filming, we were supposed to head up to the rooftops, turn on a dime, run down a ramp. The lineup was Shirley was in the front, less to travel, then I was next, then Paula Kelly who was extraordinary. She had the furthest to travel. I loved to dance with the boys. They had the power, but I couldn’t travel like that. But Paula could. She was amazing. We were pulled aside and told, do exactly what they said for the shoot. So we hit it the first couple of times and on the third time, that was the final take. I said, “Damn.” I knew I wanted to travel further. It would fulfill my faith in myself. (laughter) I knew Paula was flying. I saw her out of the corner of my eye. That’s what the chorus does to you. You can see 360 degrees. Shirley said, “What’s wrong, kid?” I said it just didn’t feel right. She asked the director, “Can we do another take?” So we did it again. That was just great!
You received your second Tony nomination the original for Velma Kelly in Chicago, John Kander and Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. (applause) What happened the first time you heard the vamp to your number?
Well, I knew John Kander wrote great vamps. No one writes great vamps like John Kander. When you hear Liza’s vamp in Cabaret, it’s John Kander’s. When you hear Joel Grey’s vamp, you know John Kander wrote it. I said in my head, “Oh, I want a vamp.” John comes in and says, “Come on I want to play your opening number for you.” We go down to the theater and he started with Dum, dum…and I was so excited. And he said, “Wait Chita, that’s just the vamp. Wait for the song.” (laughter) It was just an amazing song. And when the curtain opens up on Tony Walton’s fabulous set? The theater is just greatest place in the world. (applause) You can go to so many different worlds, see so many different things, tell so many wonderful stories. I remember when my mother passed away. I was in Merlin. It got terrible reviews, but it was a magical show. When she passed, I don’t know what I would have done. But I went to the theater and I was placed in another world and it saved me. It saved me. So I’m very, very grateful.
You were in another world when you played Anna at a roller skating rink in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s The Rink.
They called and said, “We have another show, Chita, and want to know if you’d like to be a part of it?” I said, Well, let me think about it…Yes. They said, “You’ll have a co-star. How would you feel about Liza Minelli?” I said, well, I really have to think about that…(laughter) Of course! We’ve always wanted to play girlfriends. There was silence. They said, “Well, gee. It’s not girlfriends.” I asked what? They said, “It’s mother and daughter.” I asked who plays the mother? (laughter) Keep your sense of humor! But it was great. Every once in a while I found myself standing in front of Liza who was a joy to work with. I had met her mother. Make sure you’re there! Don’t miss the knowledge of those moments.
Your leg was broken during a car accident. It was broken in twelve places which required 18 screws. You were told you’d never dance again. You know many stars have life-threatening things happen to them. What got you through that experience?
I think my mom and my family. And I think of the example of Ms Jones, the way she taught us. I clearly remember going into the Emergency Room in shock. The X ray technician said, “Oh how nice to meet you.” (laughter) She takes the picture and comes out and says, “Oh, you did a good job on yourself.” I clearly remember shifting gears. I remember saying, “Oh shit.” And the climate of my mind totally changed. Then I thought, “What’s next.” Then Gary Chris who is a friend of mine and beautiful dancer talked to me. I realized it’s one of life’s lessons. Every single day, things change. You accept things for what they are and you just keep going. And I don’t think I could have kept going without learning from my teachers. It’s incredible to be recuperating in bed and feeling the healing happening gradually.
You accepted another Tony Award for Aurora in Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. (applause) Aurora was difficult to find because she is made up of fragments.
Yes. Fragments. When I finally realized not to become too desperate to find out who she was, to just be patient, one day, I realized that I was in his mind, his imagination. Then I found the character. It was his imagination because he envisioned her. I had the support of the amazing actors and Rob Marshall’s choreography and Hal Prince’s direction. It was so beautiful. The story was extraordinary. It was a story I wanted to make sure was heard. It was beautiful to look at. I wondered how was I going to be in the web? They said, you’ll see. It was a projection and I was standing in the center of the stage and I looked as though I was hanging on this web. I did do a lot of climbing. But my name is Chita. (applause) I’m lucky, really lucky to be around at the time these great shows were created and to work with such amazing people.
You played opposite Antonio Banderas in the stunning revival Nine. Everyone in the audience wants to know what was it like sharing the stage with Antonio Banderas.
I had several people say, you did that tango with Antonio and you did that high kick split. How did you do that? I said, you would be able to do that too if you were with Antonio Banderas. (laughter) Antonio Banderas was so extraordinary in that show and so was Raul Julia in the original. Extraordinary. I loved what Tommy Tune created. Raul? I could have done that split with Raoul. Antonio is the lover we have seen on screen. He was so perfect, so beautiful. So for my audiences, I tell them everything you’ve dreamed about Antonio is true. He was great to work with, sang, never missed a show. You know he’s a wonderful actor.
You received your ninth nomination on Broadway for Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life (book by Terrance McNally) What gave you the great pleasure of performing the show across the country for people who couldn’t get to New York.
First of all there are so many sensational theaters across the country. Those people are theater hungry. So it’s a joy to bring a show that you’re proud of to them. And they really appreciated it. So when someone asked about doing it? I thought, initially, what do I have to offer? You’re so busy, you don’t step back and look at your body of work and yourself because it’s you and you live it. The story is the adventure of my life. It’s God’s way of letting me realize what I have. Four brothers and sisters, music everywhere, my father’s a musician in a white suit, I’m telling it and hearing it at the same time. I think damn! This is interesting. It’s a lot of music when music means so much. We had a great time. Dancing on the kitchen table with a lot of hungry kids and Graciella Danielle’s imagination? Wonderful.
You recived your 10th Tony nomination for your emotionally moving and mesmerizing performance in John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terence McNally’s The Visit.
You know I say, I don’t need any more friends. I have enough friends. It’s a responsibility to return those calls. But Roger Rees who left us is a friend I got to know only a little bit, but I did have some time with him. He was a wonderful man and a wonderful actor. The piece was so dark that people thought the show was about revenge. No. It was about love. Yes, some people died, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t about love. And the truth comes out that they have made mistakes themselves in the “Yellow Shoe” song. My character buys the town up. But she arrives with the casket empty and leaves with him in the casket. But she makes the entire town realize that he did love her. I just loved it. I thought John Doyle did an extraordinary job. And the score that John Kander wrote was wild and wonderful. The production and the characters are really what theater is all about.
What do those three men, John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrance McNally mean to you?
Well, they knew things about myself that I didn’t know. They allowed me to get to know me. They put words in my mouth I might not have said, but I certainly grew to understand. Freddy knew my sense of humor. John writes the most beautiful music you could ever hope to sing. Terrance, I don’t remember meeting him 60 years ago. I learned so much from him. They made me feel good about myself. They cared and they became like partners in life. Fred is not with us anymore. But in a way he still is.
In 2009 Barack Obama awarded you with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (applause) What was it like to be in the room?
Oh please! Barack and Michelle Obama? I remember watching him when he and Michelle were dancing…he had a little bop. A tiny bop. I said to Michelle, is that a bop? I know that bop! I think it’s just great. And Michelle said, “Yeah. That’s his bop. It’s the only step he’s got.” (laughter) But to be in the same room? I think after a while, you just have to say, “Thank you God!”
Shakespeare’s comical plot of Measure for Measure radiates with riotous and melodic, exceptionalism in the glorious musical Desperate Measures. The musical currently at the York Theatre shines like no other rendition of Shakespeare’s work because of the adroit skill of the playwright Peter Kellogg who wrote the book and lyrics. Coupled with the musicality and memorable compositions by David Friedman, Desperate Measures is an incredible hit that is biding its time to make its mark on Broadway.
The comedy is non stop. The brilliant, clever story twists run rampant throughout. Indeed, the Western update of Shakespeare’s work is lifted to satiric high farce. Set to an illustrative musical songscape which is both appealing and profound, Desperate Measures delivers moment to moment fun and enthralls with good will and joy.
Thus far, I have taken my measure of this production twice. Each time I’ve appreciated the specific, brilliant direction by Bill Castellino. His acting ensemble’s choreographed movements during the musical numbers are reminiscent of the amazing work of the great Graciela Daniele. Additionally, the six-member cast portray the spin-off Shakespearean characters with invested realism and inventiveness that reves up the humor and makes it a stand-out. The cast’s unparalleled singing and cavorting through the setting of the 1890s Old West transforms many of the fantastical elements into searing present-day themes.
For that reason alone. this production must be seen. Uplift and encouragement suggest hope throughout each Act. Above all Desperate Measures brings us the wonderful reminder that laughter provides goodness like a wholesome medicine. And bitterness dries up the bones. So! You need a dose of healthful chortles? This show sheds them in abundance.
In ‘The Ballad of Johnny Blood” the ensemble and Johnny (an adorable, multi-talented, effusive and expertly winning Conor Ryan), introduce the conflict. Prisoner Johnny will hang for the love of a woman who unwittingly caused his downfall when he shot his rival in self-defense. However, Johnny has an advocate in the Sheriff (the equally adorable, smooth, brilliant, reserved, heroic Peter Saide), who guards him. The Sheriff creates an effective plan to soften the law and order governor of the territory (the hilarious, preening, fascist, sexual predator Nick Wyman). The softener, Sister Mary Jo (the exquisitely voiced and excellent Emma Degerstedt), will plead for her brother’s release.
To convince the Sister to visit the governor, the Sheriff sings “That’s Just How It Is.” The superb lyrics of this tuneful, beautifully rendered song by Saide carry one of the vital themes of the production. The unfair culture creates economic injustice. The rich prosper. The children of the poor suffer. Rarely can one upturn this dynamic. However, every now and then a time comes when goodness can prevail. If people take a stand and “speak up,” they can make a difference. The demure and innocent Sister Mary Jo, persuaded by the Sheriff’s challenge decides to ask for her brother’s pardon.
Of course the novitiate, has no idea of the nefariousness of the governor. We recognize his qualities immediately with Wyman’s Governor’s “Some Day They Will Thank Me.” In the song, the arrogant, presumptive, martinet reveals he is a blaggard. As the Sheriff prompts her to be more convincing with the Governor, Susanna sings “Look in Your Heart.” Unfortunately, Wyman’s Governor confirms our worst fears about those in power. Because Susanna persuades him with her lyrical loveliness, the Governor ties her up in a Gordian knot. He will release Johnny for one night of Susanna’s love.
In the beautifully wrought “Good To Be Alive,” (a high-point among many in the show), Johnny begs his sister. Trade her chastity for his life. The humorous debate that ensues leaves Johnny facing death. And Susanna’s refusal to give her chastity to the Governor over her brother’s pleas appears cold-hearted. Nevertheless, once again, the brilliant Sheriff comes up with an ingenious (and hysterical), plan to obtain the pardon.
However, will this ridiculous and incredible plan work? To encourage themselves, Johnny the Sheriff and Susanna (Sister Mary Jo’s real name) are joined by the alcoholic, atheistic priest (the hysterical Gary Marachek), to sing the uplifting “It Doesn’t Hurt to Try.” Indeed, since the risk of life and death is great, any plan that can stave off the hangman’s noose for Johnny is a boon. Thus, off Susanna and the Sheriff go to set the plan in motion eliciting the help of Johnny’s love Bella (the wonderful Lauren Molina), whose occupation as a saloon singer gives her special talents to work a miracle for Johnny’s life.
Following the basic plot of Measure for Measure, yet giving it a modern Old Western twist, Desperate Measures follows with the parallels yet adds its own flavor through the lyrics and tuneful songs. For example, in order to train Bella for her upcoming role where she switches places with Sister Mary Jo, the Sheriff assists Sister Mary Jo in teaching Bella how to present herself in “The Way You Feel on the Inside.” Additionally, as the situation to save her brother’s life has thrown the Sheriff and Sister Mary Jo together, we recognize a budding romance between them which neither wants to acknowledge. The Sheriff especially, a proud man, doesn’t even want to contemplate that he is attracted to Sister Mary Jo, who will be taking her vows to be a nun in the next few days. The memorable “Stop There” recalls the fear of unrequited love and identifies the reality of the pain of falling in love and allowing one’s imagination to run away before the love interest accepts being loved.
To conclude Act I the ensemble joins in the thrumming song “In the Dark.” As each individual identifies that the darkness is the place where anything can happen, they encourage themselves to hope for their desires. For Johnny it is his release. For the Governor it is a fulfillment of his passion for Sister Mary Jo. For Bella who is duping the Governor, she hopes for the ability to pull off the deception that she is Sister Mary Jo. For the Sheriff and Sister Mary Jo (Susanna) they secretly yearn for the hope that they might be able to love one another. The musical number beautifully caps the conflicts and themes of Act I and establishes the set up for the resolution of the conflicts in the second act.
The Governor’s fabulous seduction scene, the ensuing hi-jinks and the heroic actions of Johnny’s love, Bella, transport us to comedic heights. How the conflicts thread their way to the conclusion, bring the characters together and apart again. And they resolve in a hysterical climactic scene which brings down the house. The music of the second act is as heady as is the first. And once more, the various songs resonate as does the clever rhyming dialogue.
Memorable and engaging, this is a production where the smarmy villain receives his comeuppance. And where an alcoholic, atheist priest manages to redeem himself. There is love, unique heroism, surprising justice, and redemption for even the wicked. Perhaps! As for the specifics, this review holds no spoiler alerts. You will just have to see this most superb musical production to discover the incredibly clever rhymes and production’s tremendous vibrance for yourself.
Can there be a better rollicking, musical update of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure? I think not!
I cannot say enough about the music (folks have asked when the CDs will go on sale), and the lyrics and book by this prodigiously adroit team of Kellogg and Friedman. The functional and minimalistic Western sets trope the humor, time and place, as do the costumes. Their simplicity carries the farce and comedy, yet makes room for the dark, ironic undertones in the themes. Thankfully, the characters in this production suit the measure with which they have bestowed grace and beauty. However, such does not occur in life, as Kellogg reminds us and Shakespeare reminds us in Measure for Measure.
Nevertheless, the show’s currency resonates timelessness. Heroes may thwart villains. Innocence may triumph over corruption. Love may save. Justice might win out despite overwhelming odds. Does absolute power corrupt in Desperate Measures? Indeed, as it corrupts in Measure for Measure. Both works reflect the vicissitudes that confront individuals whether in the Old West 1890 or in our current world. However, when good men rise up to stand against lust, avarice and overweening privilege, the light of truth can disperse the darkness. That it does so tunefully, memorably, riotously in Desperate Measures is very welcome for us at this time.
Kudos to the musicians David Hancock Turner, Justin Rothberg, Joseph Wallace, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman. And accolades to the design team James Morgan, Nicole Wee, Paul Miller Julian Evans for their creative exploits on Desperate Measures. A word to the wise. The production most probably will be moving to a more expensive venue. This New York premiere has already enjoyed two extensions. See it now, so you will be able to see it again. You will be thrilled you did.
Desperate Measures runs with one intermission. It will be at The York Theatre (619 Lexington Avenue) until 26th November.
Playwright and celebrated writer A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh renown), pursues the concept of what exactly it means to have fortune favor you when those “blessings” become a club that family members use at will for their manipulative pleasure. How is praise used? To taunt others and shower fulsome blandishments more for the one praising or in sincerity to encourage and support? In the Mint Theater Company’s fine presentation of The Lucky One, we have the opportunity to see into the soul of the one whose blinding achievements dazzle and spur on familial fawning, but only after disastrous sibling rivalry explodes in vengeance and wrecks havoc on an entire family.
Amidst a beautifully appointed stage set and lovely period costumes characteristic of The Mint Theater Company productions, we are introduced to the Farringdon household, a family that appears to be successful and at peace with themselves and each other. Much of this pretense circles around the youngest son, Gerald Farringdon (Robert David Grant), upon whose sterling coattails family and friends are happy to ride. In the play’s initial sequences, with the assistance of Henry Wentworth (Michael Frederic), Thomas Todd (Andrew Fallaize), Letty Herbert (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) and parents Sir James Farringdon (Wynn Harmon) and Lady Farringdon (Deanne Lorette) who all turn in competent performances, we are given a tremendous build up to the family star, Gerald. He is betrothed to Pamela Carey (the lovely, feeling Paton Ashbrook) whom we are led to believe is more than his equal in perfection and grace.
The first act painstakingly outlines the dynamic between the siblings, the older Bob Farringdon (Ari Brand is heart-broken, jealous and constricted as the love-deprived brother), who works in the city and Gerald (Robert David Grant in an intriguing and constrained portrayal) who works for the foreign office. The play gradually reveals the layers of personality of each, and dark, swirling currents between siblings as changing events transform their interactions. Their perceptions of each other are further impacted by family pressure, influence and malevolence which both begin to confront by the play’s end.
Initially, portrayed by friends and family with a heavy emphasis on outer external behaviors and accomplishments, we divine that there is nothing Gerald can’t accomplish; he is the charming, shining success who will probably be Ambassador to the U.S. before thirty-five. Of course Pamela dazzles and sparkles. The universe pivots around them as they cultivate solid favor with the ease and regularity of sunshine (albeit above England’s cloud cover). The irony in Milne’s cleverly depicted family matrix is that Gerald’s perfection irks. We are grateful when the great-aunt, Miss Farringdon (a terrific performance by Cynthia Harris), is edgy with Gerald, and does not quite embrace the family’s views of his exalted state. This he bares with good will as seems to be his characteristic response to everyone.
Miss Farringdon’s twitting of Gerald, and her down-to-earth nature for an “uppity” Brit is not only appealing, it is a welcome relief. It is a reality we have been looking for. We have had enough of the parents’ and friends’ fawning over Gerald. How dare he be flying so high above us lowly plebeians? He doesn’t even look the part! He should be more stunning, more fantastic, more wonderful. What is going on?
This is a clever turn by the director Jesse Marchese and his apt casting and shepherding of the actors to reveal the layers beneath Milne’s characterizations and the ironies as we battle with our own presumptions about greatness, image, likeability, and family perspectives. Indeed, if not for the family reaction to Gerald and his contrast with Bob who is the invisible one, Gerald would fly a normal pitch. It is the contrast that sets Gerald on a heavenly course, a wicked injustice for Bob with whom we have a predisposition to empathize, and to whom we look forward to meeting when he finally arrives. The irony we do not consider is that Gerald’s elevation is not easy for him either, and perhaps it is even more wearing, for he must be the perfect one. Who better than he knows this is not the case.
The darkly brooding personality in the family, cultivated and referred to by the unsettling adjective “poor,” as in “poor Bob,” is apparently filled with dour rain as Bob is introduced to us. He has just cause; Pamela was “his” before she fell under the spell of Gerald’s charm and scintillating shimmer. No wonder he twitches in their presence and appears forlorn and unsettled. He is like an open wound.
Because of everyone’s presumptions about Gerald, and his lack of feeling in taking Pamela from Bob, we are appalled that the family has been so unloving and insupportably cruel. It is apparent they have thrown over Bob, who hasn’t quite turned out as they expected, for the grand Gerald, the younger, brilliant, lucky one who has exceeded all of their expectations. Will someone teach this family how to be nice to one another and not play favorites? We cringe for Bob who is indeed, “poor.”
We are even more distressed when Bob asks for Gerald’s help and Gerald isn’t immediately forthcoming. By that point we applaud Bob’s powerful, though obviously manipulative, deceitful and perhaps even malicious wooing back of Pamela whom he importunes to be his friend. She promises to support him through the dire circumstances he has “unwittingly” gotten himself into and for which he childishly blames his upbringing, his parents’ favoring his brother over him and his ill placement in an environment which he also blames for causing his weakness of character. Not once does he accept responsibility for his own choices or acknowledge that he is accountable for his own life. Indeed, in the flux and flow, Gerald appears to be sympathetic to Bob, though Bob doesn’t acknowledge it, nor does he show his brother any affection when Gerald extends it.
A.A. Milne’s characters are drawn with insightful subtly. We swallow Bob’s whining excuses and agree with his dishonorable manipulation of Pamela toward his cause that she is his only friend. We realize as the events unfold in the second act how neither brother has been accurately portrayed or understood by their family whose superficiality is noxious and lacks vision.
When the brothers confront one another in the last moments of the play, our eyes are opened. We are abashed that we allowed ourselves to be blinded by the light to miss the profound aspect of how Gerald has been navigating his parents’ expectations with challenges at every turn, and how Bob has perhaps, like much of the world today used excuse, manipulation and guilt to pursue his own duplicitous desires, not really understanding his own weaknesses because he justifies them at every turn.
Milne’s work and the Mint Theater Company production follow many vital themes which thread through all of our lives: selfishness in family relationships, sibling rivalry, self-blindness, willful ignorance of the complexity of human nature, weakness of character, manipulation, deceit and more. The play resonates deeply in its characterizations and propels us to look into our own souls, but that requires some thought and introspection.
Upon first consideration, I didn’t realize the first act is carefully constructed to set up the revelations in the second act. I thought it slow, but the fault was my lack of focus on the ironic mystery being presented. Indeed, I was too quickly drawn into the surface reality by A. A. Milne’s superb writing of characters, like the family members, who presume and judge. By the play’s conclusion, the questions Milne raises about our misapprehension of personality and perception of others and especially those close to us come into crashing focus. Milne leaves us with few answers.
Kudos to the Mint Theater Company for taking on this richly complicated work and executing a presentation of which Milne couldn’t help but be proud. The production runs with one intermission until 2 July at The Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. You can find tickets if you CLICK HERE.
Anthony Bourdain (star of Parts Unknown), is his edgy, humorous self in Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. The film, which screened in its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, Bourdain produced with Zero Point Zero Productions’ partners Lydia Tenaglia, Christopher Collins, Joe Caterini and co-director Nari Kye (Anna Chai also directed). However, Bourdain whose narration threads through the key issues about food waste globally and in the U.S. is more acerbic and ripping than ever I imagined he could be. But he, Dan Barber (Stone Barnes, Blue Hill), Mario Batali, Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin), Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), Tristan Stewart (Toast Ale) and others who are in the forefront of trying to figure out how to rescue food and use it to create delicious meals, must tell it like it is. The situation is bleak.
Food waste is perhaps the most dire problem we face as Americans that we can do something about right now. Consider a few of these facts that directors bring out through interviews and celebrity chef comments in the initial segments of their amazing documentary.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for “people consumption” (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes yearly), gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to around US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$310 billion in developing countries. Ninety percent of the food produced ends up in landfills. According to Anthony Bourdain, all along the processing of food for consumption, there is waste at every junction from the farm, and the harvest, to the distribution, to the grocery story or green market, to the preparation, to the dinner table, to the leftovers.
And where does this food predominately end up? In landfills. In garbage dumps. If we could only redistribute the unused food to those who need it. Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be rescued, there would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world. But globally, people are not just hungry. It is a tragedy that globally, thousands of individuals face chronic starvation and die from disease and malnutrition. In the U.S. one in six individuals is food insecure, (in Europe it is 1 in 20). These are not just lazy, “good-for-nothings” as politocos would have us believe so we can dismiss them and de-fund programs which they label entitlements. The families are working in low paying jobs (an employment situation which has never been recovered since the second Great Depression), and many of them are white. In the film, Mario Batali looks dead into the camera (in the US we are the worst perpetrator), and he brings the problem right into our homes. He says, “This waste is criminal!”
Anna Chai and Nari Kye’s efforts are subtly brilliant because of how they have structured their film and carried us along a journey of discovery to recognize the staggering numbers and the criminality of food waste that resonates profoundly for our own lives. First they identify the unimaginable and make it visible. They outline the causes (taking us to farms, showing the process of food distribution, etc.), then bring us to the end of the line-the food devastation in landfills.
This is where the concept of food waste goes exponentially unconscionable and Batali is not kidding when he points out the egregiousness of waste as not only “stealing” food from the hungry, but also wantonly, negligently stealing all of the resources our planet offers for us to make it to the next generation. We won’t get there if the situation continues into the next decades if we continue to be as brazenly stupid as we have been culturally.
Filmmakers and experts reveal how food in landfills exacerbates global warming-climate change. As the food decomposes methane gasses are released. Methane, heavier than CO2 is a worse pollutant of clean air. It erodes oxygen supplies, acidifies the oceans, chokes off marine life, harms ecosystems that sustain plants, animals and us. You didn’t note any discussion about the higher degree temperatures increasing glacial melt did you? We won’t acknowledge that is happening for fear of offending those government leaders who think global warming is a matter of belief.
You thought you had handled the problem of plastic by shopping with your cloth bags? Well, what about the food you are throwing away? Filmmakers point out that one head of lettuce in a landfill takes twenty-five years to break down. You have to throw away some lettuce because your guests won’t eat wilted leaves? Throw it in your composting bin or bring it to your green market for them to compost. If you multiply your leaves and that head of lettuce you threw in the garbage last week with thousands upon thousands of heads that got wilted and that grocery stores daily en masse throw away because housewives like their lettuce crisp and fresh-looking (even though it has no taste and the wilted leaves at the green market have much more nutrition and taste because they were picket in the morning), then you begin to see the extent of the problem of why food waste is so endemic.
Filmmakers show that unsustainable farming practices expend and do not replenish resources (air, water, rich soil). Think of the water wasted to irrigate veggies that end up in your waste-can and end up in a landfill. The amount of money that can be saved with careful planning and husbanding water, crop yields, etc., not only can be realized by farmers and businesses and grocery stores and distribution centers, but it also filters but can also filter down to families if thoughtful planning is accomplished and if consumers don’t mind selecting some bruised fruit at a lower price (often more delicious), than the perfect apples and oranges with no taste.
Food and resource waste directly correlating to global warming and climate change, whether deaf, dumb and blind politicians acknowledge this or not, insidiously correlates to shifting population migrations as refugees challenged by drought, famine and war in a subtle and complicated connection with dwindling resources (food, clean water) seek areas to live that are not under such duress. When Bourdain implies that everything about food is tied to everything else, the message not only “hits home,” filmmakers have brought you to a place where you need to see interventions and programs and innovations that are eliminating and reducing our criminality of food waste.
The interviews and visits with celebrity chefs are legendary. They follow Tristam Stewart to England as he shows how he recovers 900,000 tons of bread wasted a year by making artisinal beer). They travel to Modena, Italy and then Milan to see Massimo Battura who created Food For the Soul and the divine concept of the artistry of the Refettorios. With beauty and elegance he has found a way to touch the hearts of the “invisible needy” that rivals dining at The Four Seasons and uplifts their souls. At the outset they visit Dan Barber who takes us through his guided veggie discoveries and tastes as he educates us to the egregiousness of food waste with produce (fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food). And they shadow Danny Bowien’s travels to Japan where chefs surprise him with delicious dishes that use unbelievable cuts from the animal that he never tried including the uterus and vows to take home to his restaurant.
These entertaining, enlightening and uplifting segments of the film, which are woven into the dialogue about food waste, dissolve the “doom and gloom” of the underlying problems by showing there is much we can do. Indeed, entrepreneurs and innovators, spurred by funds from the Rockefeller Foundation (which is supplying grants through YieldWise) are working to ameliorate the situation and move the paradigm to Zero Food Waste in the next decades, regardless of the lack of political will that recently has been demonstrated. The uplifting examples of how other countries and individuals are curtailing food waste are inspiring. They encourage us to toward activism on a personal and local level: at the very least composting, wiser food shopping and more.
This is a must-see film for its clarity, for its inspiration, for its no-holds-barred revelations, for its love and good will, for its energy. Its unforgettable incisiveness magnifies the importance of our individual and national global food waste imprint. Its generosity and positive outlook spur us to become leaders in our own lives and communities so that we can have a global impact. The situation is bleak, but it is not without hope. We can positively shape our future and the future of the generations that come after us. It is only a matter of starting today.
Check the website for updates.
Check this page for more information on global food waste.
Dale Chihuly, world-renown glass artist non pareil, has avidly embraced the concept of evolving his artistry. In his thirst to investigate ancient techniques from the masters of glass blowing in Venice, a skill which has been traced to Roman times, Dale Chihuly in 1968 applied for and received a Fulbright to study at the Venini glass factory. From that time on a new avant garde movement in hand-blown glass sculpting as a fine art was born. Since then Dale Chihuly’s revolution in this fine art has burgeoned with amazing stylistic innovations of an exuberance and color radiance that are internationally venerated as the signature genius of Dale Chihuly, who is a consummate believer in the possibilities of glass.
Throughout the spring and summer until October 29th, Chihuly’s spectacular masterworks are appearing in a completely new iteration at the New York Botanical Garden’s Chihuly Exhibit. Considering that it took over ten years for Chihuly to return to NYBG, where his amazing installations in 2006 were first introduced to New York City, this is no small feat. The current exhibit was years in the planning, as Dale Chihuly, his team and the NYGB team considered and imagined a show which would honor the last exhibit and enhance his current artistic revolutions. This is never easy where Dale Chihuly’s work is concerned because it is nearly impossible to keep up with his energy and enthusiasm.
In 2006 his exquisitely delicate Blue Herons situated amidst the reeds and plant life at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory Courtyard’s Tropical Pool absolutely astonished. They are deemed a work of art in their own right. Should they or should they not be included almost eleven years later? They have been and if you saw them in 2006, look for them in a stunning new display.
Yes, it has been a long time coming, but NYBG Chihuly is so worth it. This artist has returned in an exhibition that is even more majestic than his first.
The current exhibit is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience for tourists and New Yorkers alike, especially if they have never seen Chihuly’s masterpieces in any showcases around the world or visited the Chihuly Studio in the state of Washington. That his artistic genius now boldly graces the New York Botanical Garden’s living landscape and settled in unique arrangements is an opportunity that will never happen again.
Chihuly architectural installations have been configured around the world wherever glass can be staged and organically connected by him: botanical gardens, in, over and around water, in forests, canals, in museums, in deserts, in the most ancient of cities, (Jeruselum and Venice), indeed anywhere his intuition and joy brings them. His exotic sculptures have propelled light beams to visitors’ eyes, have touched their souls and have uplifted their hearts. When you see his work you must acknowledge whether to a lesser or larger extent, that here is a wondrous beauty in a substance whose infinite possibilities you probably have never considered. Over the ten year period Dale Chihuly has traveled the world with exhibits, won awards, and plumbed the depths of his unconscious where true artistic creation lies, he has continued to evolve and revolutionize.
To give you an idea, his work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Just viewing all that his exhaustive career has spanned, glimpses of which you will see in this exhibition, you can’t help but be amazed. That is one of the most vital features of NYBG Chihuly. Through its organizational details lovingly presented, you are able to understand the arc of Dale Chihuly’s journey of evolution since his early days as an initiate in Venice, to a mature artist who is currently refining his artistry using other mediums, a number of which appear in the more than 20 installations that took three weeks to ship in and set up at the Garden.
As has been mentioned, the NYBG was in discussion with the team at The Chihuly Studio years before, until they were ready to set dates and finalize the schedule. This was after they selected legendary works and designated themes with an expansion of a Chihuly exhibit which would mirror the expansion that has been occurring at the NYBG. Of course, newly innovated pieces would be included which may be found in the Native Plant Garden and the conservatory Courtyard’s Tropical Pool.
The result is stunning. The ebullient, striking beauty of Chihuly’s glass innovations evoke unique harmonies with plants and flowers in the Garden’s smaller venues and against the verdant, rolling landscape of stark, shadowy pines, water garden rushes and grasses, and eye-catching floral springtime and summer borders. Specifically arranged to offer surprises and gobsmacking moments as one saunters along Garden way or on ancillary paths, the glass creations are in one-of-a-kind displays. With thoughtful precision, the selections of his works were chosen to evoke an indefinable aura and exceptionalism for the beholder. Combined, the artistic panorama in glass provides a unity and pageantry that will never be seen again after the 29th of October.
This singular exhibition of his work, which is a retrospective that includes earlier creations together with new artistic achievements unfolds throughout the New York Botanical Garden as a celebration of Dale Chihuly’s life, career and timeless conceptualizations. Indeed, if Dr. Carl Gustav Jung (author of books on art and the unconscious), were alive to view some of Chihuly’s achievements over the last four and one-half decades since he co-founded the international Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State (1971), he would have embraced Chihuly’s unconscious impulses to allow intuition and in-the-moment serendipity to unleash the power of breath, heat and fire’s natural elements in the creation of never before imagined or visualized hand-blown glass artistry.
If you listen to Dale Chihuly’s discussion of how he and his team worked on his tour in Ireland, Finland and Mexico to eventually showcase in Italy, you note how Chihuly allows the realm of intuition and the spontaneous to dance in his imagination; then you will understand what inspires his artistic creativity which is a fusion of playful whimsy and joyful intuition. This is the fuel that energizes this artist. We are fortunate to be witnessing these works at NYBG which symbolize Dale Chihuly’s ethos…which has come into a full expression in our time.
The exhibition includes more than twenty Chihuly installations. Various glass constructions were selected to be showcased in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory’s living theater displays in the Palms of the World Gallery and in the hallway vista which leads up to the seasonal display rotunda of the Conservatory where you may see the splendid White Tower With Fiori.
This installation has an interesting origination. Because some of the fabulous hues in White Tower With Fiori (and others in the adjoining vista that are pale purple), can only be created with rare elements that the U.S. bans, the phenomenal work was made in 1997 in the Czech Republic. The rare mineral combined with silica turned the glass to a lustrous, glassine, pale pink. This color, Chihuly chose for the delicate flowers that surround the tower. Only when the piece was finished could it be shipped back to the U.S.
If you move through the various sections of the conservatory, you will come upon surprises that will visually startle. Tucked among the lush, dark plantings are lovely, slender, tapering swan’s-neck-shaped pieces that arise from a pool of water in which their white reflections shimmer. In the conservatory vista of the Aquatic Plants and Vines Gallery, you will note the lily pond and arising from the water-splaying fountain as if growing there, are the eye-popping, crashing colors of his Macchia Forest, 2017, in an exceptional and new arrangement. In these installations Dale Chihuly’s artistry of glass and water reflect and enhance one another in a visual fluidity that draws the eye and soul because they transcend into archetypes.
Water features heavily in this exhibition as it does in all Dale Chihuly’s exhibitions. In videos discussing how he likes to work and how he worked in his fabulous exhibition Chihuly Over Venice, he and his team suspended large glass chandeliers (hand-blown in glassworks in Finland, Ireland and Mexico), in Venetian buildings and over the canals in a presentation that is unparalleled in historical meaning and splendor for the sheer audacity of it. Chihuly has said that he is “always drawn to water.” He has decried that water is “extremely important to his work and being,” perhaps because “water is extraordinarily creative.”
Thus, it is appropriate that the many installations found in this Chihuly Experience at the Garden feature water. His pieces are featured in the pools or fountains in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Outside, the welcoming sculpture as you enter the Conservatory Gate is Red Reeds on Logs, 2017. The high-powered-red reeds are pumped up by the reflecting pool upon which they are situated and ping off the glinting surface of the water below.
New artworks inspired by Chihuly’s summer 1975 Artpark installation (when he collaborated with Seaver Leslie), are Koda Study #1 and #2 (in the Native Plant Garden), and Koda Study #3 in the Conservatory Courtyard. The first two follow Dale’s intuitive impulse toward water. The works are made of polycarbonate sheets, another medium he originated for his art, and they create intriguing effects as light bounces through them during the day, to twilight.
Chihuly’s vibrant constructions are also exhibited at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. There, you may see his sculpture, Blue Polyvitro Crystals, situated in the Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life that looks like huge chunks of blue ice that will never melt. This work in polyvitro demonstrates Chihuly’s love of experimenting in various mediums. He has applied his talents to innovate in paint, sculpture, polyvitro, glass and neon (check out the new installation Neon 206).
His gorgeous Seaforms (a favorite of mine), are in a glass case inside the library. His Fire Orange Baskets (an innovative design which he gleaned looking at Northwest Native American baskets), are on another display floor of the library. And if you have a bit of time, return periodically during a different season to view how the light impacts his works outdoors as they are transformed by the sun as the earth transits its orbit. And spend some time in the library (on a rainy day).
There, you will note the transformation of Dale Chihuly’s career, shown with a revelation of his early works, a glass series and other drawings and paintings on paper. These highlight another facet of Chihuly’s expression of talent but also demonstrate a practical use. They were a way that Dale Chihuly could convey what he wanted his team to help him execute in his innovative designs. Words and/or gestures are rather limited for the crafting in glass, when an illustration (granted that the artist has illustrative skill as Dale Chihuly has), is a stellar tool of assistance to execute one’s conceptualizations.
NISE: The Heart of Madness directed by Roberto Berliner is a fascinating account of maverick, Brazilian psychiatrist Nise da Silveira (a poignant and stirring portrayal by Glória Pires) who created a ground-breaking therapy for mental patients which assisted them toward self-healing in their lives. In a number of instances her patients were able to be returned to their own communities, despite a prognosis that they were hopelessly beyond “sanity” and would live in institutions for the rest of their lives.
In this exceptional and heartfelt chronicle (screenplay by multiple writers including Berliner), the director outlines the arc and miraculous impact of Nise da Silveira’s efforts. He highlights her experiences beginning with her return to work as a psychiatrist after an eight year period. Berliner takes up the journey of how da Silveira, with patience, intuition and love encourages the transformation of her patients over time.
Berliner recreates the horrific setting of the National Psychiatric Center in Rio De Janiero that houses chronic schizophrenics who are treated as low life forms, imprisoned and are clothed in rags when we are first introduced to them. They are out of control and violent; their madness has completely overtaken any ability for them to communicate easily. We are convinced that they are hopeless and beyond the reach of the medical profession.
The male, conservative doctors (the ensemble is outstanding) outnumber Nise da Silveira. They embrace “modern” treatments (electroshock, lobotomies, insulin treatments, imprisonment,) which appall her. We understand that the doctors have a ready population of guinea pigs (these patients) upon which to experiment and exercise their preconceptions and stereotyping. The parallel of the violence which the medical profession enacts upon patients which are supposed to be served, but which are used to serve doctors is a theme which threads throughout the film.
Though we don’t realize it at first and fall into the trap of believing these brutal treatments may have efficacy, because of da Silveria’s response and courage in the face of the doctors’ oppression, we come to realize that these men have a proclivity to select the aggressive, immediate, lazy-man’s way of solving problems. As the film progresses and Berliner shows the slow, painstaking, intuitive approach of da Silveira with trial and error and observation, we realize that the mainstream doctors have selected wrong-headed treatments that are counterproductive and that yield harmful, fatal results on a population that cannot speak up for itself. The patients have no advocates and have been dumped in asylums by family members who have signed away their autonomy and free will to the state.
Berliner creates a frightening, heartfelt and uplifting historical pastiche of how da Silveira single-handing opposes these renowned men of the psychiatric profession in Brazil and world-wide by countering their use of these barbaric medical treatments which she labels as violent. These colleagues ridicule her and punish her with a demotion by placing her in charge of Occupational Therapy for the patients. They relegate her to a section of the hospital which is a filthy, run-down garbage heap, perhaps with the intention of forcing her resignation. She has been consigned to a no prestige placement, apart from their company and away from any potential of career advancement. However, she remains curious and positive though she will be spending her days with an ill-equipped staff, a group of violent schizophrenics and a situation which seems beyond improvement. This is a David and Goliath story with a twist.
Clearly, the conservative doctors have underestimated her will, intuition, brilliance and empathy for the individuals under her care. With the assistance of the nurses and aides, she transforms the garbage dump into a clean and workable unit that her patients and staff appear to acknowledge and recognize. Through observation, love, humanity and the Golden Rule, da Silveira proves her own methods (she stumbles upon activities that elicit the individuals’ inner world through art-painting, sculpture, wood-working, etc.) have more efficacy than those of her conservative, brutality oriented, male peers.
As she learns from her patients’ art which is astounding in its expressiveness of their inner world because they are allowed the freedom to be who they are in their artistic endeavors, their unconscious allows them to self-heal. Nise da Silveira encourages them to become a community with each other as they take interest in their own person-hood and thrive. Nise da Silveira studies the symbols in their work and researches the concepts of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung and the collective unconscious. She contacts Jung and receives his affirmation and she eventually pioneers the acceptance of Jungian Psychology in Brazil. However, her colleagues do not recognize Nise da Silveira’s efforts. They threaten her job security and even have performed a violent act which sets the patients backward.
Undaunted, she holds an exhibit of the amazing art work on the hospital premises and invites the renowned Brazilian art critic Mário Pedrosa (Charles Fricks) to attend. He is thrilled to view the artistry of these “mad” individuals and recognizes they see beyond into another world of consciousness which they are able to express freely so they can bring others in touch with who they are.
Berliner shows that this is an important crossroads in da Silveira’s amazing career as a psychiatrist who continued to research, write and foster “mad” ones’ artistic achievements, as well as successfully employ the therapy of animals to encourage self-healing.
The artistic achievement by these individuals and many other “mad” ones, has been acknowledged to be some of the finest, most valuable of modern art produced in Brazil. These works have been registered (127,000 thus far) and are recognized around the world for what they represent. They are in the Images of the Unconscious Museum (da Silveira donated the works so they would be protected). There have been 150 exhibitions in Brazil and abroad.
The many themes of this film concerning the obtuseness of the medical profession to employ quick and dirty and wrong treatments and medications resonates profoundly for us today. So does the patients use as guinea pigs to serve science and not the other way around, with the exception of the Holistic approach (observation, patience, humanity) which is what da Silveira practiced. The last part of Berliner’s poignant and triumphant film is absolutely breathtaking. You will have to see this wonderful film for yourself. I will not spoil it for you.
For more information about Nise da Silveira CLICK HERE.
Photographs of the paintings taken from this site. Poster courtesy of the film.
Every year I attend the NYBG Orchid Show (now in its 15th year) I am pleasantly surprised to note that the exhibits are increasingly more intricate and more lovely. This year Orchid Show: Thailand is absolutely smashing. It runs until 9 April. The team of professionals, staff, volunteers and others whose creativity, prodigious effort and great good will in executing the drama of a beautiful, living production of one of the most exquisite and exotic of plant species, has outdone itself.
Karen Daubmann (AVP of Exhibitions and Public Engagement at NYBG) originated the theme Thailand which she had been considering for a number of years. She is thrilled with Christian Primeau’s (Designer of Orchid Show: Thailand) and March Hachadourian’s (Director of the Nolen Greenhouses who curates the show) culminating work to create this striking exhibit. Christian and Marc collaborated to select the orchids and then came up with the unique and inspired interpretations and symbolic representations that are NYBG’s Orchid Show: Thailand.
It has been a while since the staff and experts conceptualized a geographical theme for the NYBG orchid show. Thailand was an excellent fit. For uber orchid experts, Thailand is synonymous with orchids. Thailand has been in the forefront of orchid horticulture in the cultivation and hybridization of orchids and in the expansion and promotion of orchid farming for more than a century. It is the biggest exporter of tropical orchids globally and if you ask an expert, he or she will tell you that whether native or hybrid, orchids are mostly associated with Thailand.
The Thai people lionize orchids because they flourish in the companionable climate. They add explosions of vibrant, joyful color amidst the lush, green tropical foliage and they contribute handily to the GNP. Thai horticulturalists have been able to propagate a great variety of hybrids which have become ready plantings in Thai gardens adding tranquility and loveliness to promote well being. Their admiration of exotic tropical plants, the orchids’ wide variety of sizes, shapes and hues have prompted Thais to grow them on trees that line public streets.
Another reason why the country “fell” into orchid breeding and pursued it with diligence is because Thailand is the birth place and residence of 12oo known native species. Of course, there may be some native species yet to be discovered in Thailand; one can be sure botanists and orchid horticulturalists are on the hunt for them.
To realize Karen’s theme the NYBG team researched the integration of orchids in Thai culture. They explored how to incorporate particular elements of Thai social and religious structure into the exhibit. They made sure to honor symbols and traditions that the Thai people venerate, adhering to them assiduously throughout the show; that was Christian’s particular passion. Combining these features and designing them into the backdrop of the veritable kaleidoscope of the orchids themselves, has made this show a number one pick to revisit time and again to renew one’s spirit and be soothed by the phantasmagoria of beauty that bathes the senses as you saunter through the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
After seeing the show once or twice, you get it! Upon entering the Palms of the World Gallery at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, one’s perspective and emotions immediately shift. You are in a subtropical, lush, other worldly habitat where the plants are happily riotous. Centered in the reflecting pool which echoes the vibrant pageantry above and below in mirror images, the elaborately hued hybrids, the Phalaenopsis (moth orchids), Dendrobriums (hard cane, soft cane), pansy orchids, Oncidiums (dancing lady orchids) Paphiopedilum (lady slippers) and Vandas luxuriate. Water reflections in the Palm Gallery’s pool reverberate the striking color palate of orchid hybrids which Christian and Marc selected to exemplify the Thai people’s preferences for amazing rainbows of color.
Also in the Palm Gallery are noted the Thai cultural elements that thread throughout the other galleries that comprise The Orchid Show: Thailand: water, elephants and noted varieties of orchids specially featured as Thai favorites (Vandas, Dendrobiums, Paphiopedilum). The reflecting pool is reminiscent of the Thai’s evocation of tranquility and serenity in their gardens which often sport small pools, ponds, waterfalls. The elephant topiaries carrying orchids indicate their veneration of the Thai elephant, chang thai. It is their national symbol. Thai elephants have been used for centuries as a means of transport and a laboring force. Chang thai’s picture is in on the emblems of many of Thailand’s provinces.
As you move around the Palms of the World Gallery and saunter into the walkway of the conservatory toward the piece de resistance, the 360 degree centerpiece heart of the exhibit, you will see elements of the Thai culture represented in the design features of the exhibit and in symbols throughout. To become aware of them, it will take close scrutiny. These design elements include bamboo sectionals and dividers-pieces of bamboo filled with moss. There are amazing dendrobium plantings in water jars, small topiaries which are a tribute to mai dat, the ancient Thai craftsmanship of clipping trees/shrubs into fanciful shapes. There are hanging Thai sky lanterns and hand carved teak spirit houses.
If you have time you will note placards with information about lucky numbers and the sky lanterns. Numbers are very important symbols for Thais. They believe in lucky numbers: numbers divisible by three, odd numbers, the lucky number 3 and the penultimate lucky number 9. But the number 13 is bad news. You will never find it in Thailand which is similar to our rejection of the thirteenth floor in hotels across the nation.
At the beginning of the walkway after you leave the Palms of the World Gallery, look up. You will see the sky lanterns (khom loi). If you count their number it will total nine. Thais use khom loi during festivals and important occasions. These offer a soft, glowing, halo effect in the evenings; you’ve seen the sky lantern festival photos where folks light the lanterns, and like tiny hot air balloons, they rise over water. These lanterns will be lit during Orchid Evenings to create an enchanting effect. There are different sky lanterns farther on in the 360 degree centerpiece gallery which also number nine and which will be lit for Orchid Evenings. There is no preventing the good luck which is manifest everywhere in this orchid show.
Integral to that insurance of good luck in Orchid Show: Thailand are the teak spirit houses hand carved by Thai artist Pirot Gitikoon, near the grand centerpiece. Spirit houses are traditional in Thailand and represent a merging of religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese ancestor worship and ancient Thai spirit worship or phra phum which is widespread.
Spirit houses appear in places of business and homes. It is believed spirits live in these houses made for them to guard against disaster: floods, typhoons, storms, catastrophe, etc. The spirit houses at the NYBG are hand carved with dragon elements: dragons symbolize wisdom, power and protection. Offerings of food, fruit, candies, cans of Fanta soda, exotic ceramic dancers, ceramic elephants are on a platform in front of the spirit house. They are there to lure the spirits to feel at home. These offerings include everything a spirit would need to live in the house, be entertained, eat, have transportation and protect the environs.
At this point in your journey, you have come upon the 360 grand centerpiece. It is a sala inspired by a structure created by Thai architect Mom Tri. Salas are pavilions which are incorporated into temple complexes and public places. They are used for relaxation, rest for weary travelers, meeting places, etc.
The NYBG sala and circular staging environs are adorned with all of the orchid varieties we’ve seen throughout the show arranged into a spectacular finale. The water element is present in a reflecting pool, the elephant topiaries carry white Phalaenopsis and fabulously hued Dendrobium. Paphiopedilum cling to moss on rocks in the pool. Mammoth Bromeliads frame the pool with ferns, palms and other foliage. Mega plantings of fabulous Phalaenopsis frame either side of the sala, while in the back spanish moss drips and pansy orchids greet those who peek behind the structure. Exceptional living theater.
Above are two pictures of the Thai sala from a different perspective, one a close-up
I took hundreds of photos capturing some of the thousands of orchids and found it difficult to wrap my mind around the prodigious effort it takes to choose the orchid show theme, plan the design, effect appropriate research, decide upon the plants, strike the previous show (Christmas train show) grade and prepare the ground, select the plants, arrange the design settings, then plant each orchid for this extravaganza which Christian mentioned took around nine (lucky number) months to plan and put together. The more I visit, the more I begin to understand what such a horticultural production, which March Hachadourian likens to a theatrical spectacle, entails. Can you imagine the behind-the-scenes drama to create this panoramic phenomenal display?
The Orchid Show: Thailand must not be missed. One should especially come back for orchid evenings. Christian mentioned that the night before the show opened to the press, he was in the conservatory surveying the final results. The lanterns were lit, it was peaceful, tranquil and absolutely “magical,” a term he said he doesn’t use lightly. I believe it.
The photo above is the duality of reflections in a pool where up is down and the Phalaenopsis mirrors itself as the light and color bounces off the water.
I am definitely going back in the evening when the Garden is at its most ethereal and “magical.” An Orchid Evening is coming up this Saturday, 4 March. Orchid Evenings are Saturdays: March 4, 11, 18, 25; April 1 and 8. Fridays: March 31 (LGBT night) and 7 April.
The Thailand theme will be expressed everywhere in the Garden to enhance the exhibition.In addition to Orchid Evenings, there will be Film Screenings (Ross Hall) Dance Performances by the Somapa Thai Dance Company (Ross Hall or seasonally in Conservatory Plaza) Orchid Show Tours, Orchid Care Demonstrations and Orchid Expert Q & As. In the NYBG Garden Shop there is themed merchandise and a sea of orchids to purchase with an expert on hand to guide you. Phalaenopsis is easiest to grow with recurrent blooms.
The Orchid Show: Thailand runs until 9 April. For additional events and programming, CLICK HERE.
Recently (February 13), I attended the salon of Stephanie and Ghordie Thompson, 420 12th Street, Park Slope, New York where a staged reading of Rosary O’Neill’s play The Awakening of Kate Chopin staring Michelle Best and Chris Stack was presented. Directed by Keith Bulla, this post Civil War romantic drama takes place in 1882 at The Chopin plantation 100 miles from New Orleans in an impoverished and destitute one street town in rural Louisiana.
Michelle Best played Kate Chopin, the defiant Irish beauty with a captivating frankness of expression and a brilliance of action. In the play, Kate Chopin (future author of The Awakening) must decide between her dying husband and her lover, Albert the wealthy planter next door (Chris Stack). She chooses her lover. He leaves her. In agony she goes forth to become the great writer she was meant to be.
This tour de force of obsession and liberation is rooted in the real life of the famous first great American novelist Kate Chopin. Chopin was considered a fine writer until she violated the mores of her time with her second novel, The Awakening (1899). She dared to portray her protagonist Edna Pontellier as a woman who evolves into a free thinking, free acting woman. Edna seeks out autonomy and uplifts her own individuality, regardless of the Southern culture’s finding this to be intolerable. These were near heretical notions for women in 1899 when the book was published, even in the North.
Because Chopin portrayed Edna Pontellier truthfully, revealing her sexuality, her rich, inner life of freedom and her complex relationships with her husband and other men with whom Chopin, following literary conventions, insinuates she had passionate affairs, the press vilified her. For Chopin’s forward-thinking depiction of Edna and the other women in the novel, which was years ahead of its time, her work was excoriated as “morbid,” “vulgar,” “disagreeable.” Depressed about its reception, though it received a few positive reviews, Chopin returned to her short story writing, and never wrote another novel again. Four years later she suffered from a brain hemorrhage at the St. Louis World’s Fair and died two days later.
O’Neill’s play is based on elements of Kate Chopin’s life some of which may be discovered in a biography Kate Chopin by Emily Toth (1990). The Awakening of Kate Chopin details interesting concepts about Chopin’s life which dovetail with her characterization of Edna Pontellier and add an accessible elucidation to an understanding of the writer
The play uncovers events which happened in Chopin’s life prior to establishing her writing career in St. Louis, Missouri where she eventually moved. O’Neill cleverly indicates that Chopin used autobiographical elements of her own life (all writers do) as literary fodder to create her magnificent portrayals of women in The Awakening, a novel venerated and read widely in schools, colleges and universities today.
O’Neill’s Kate and the other women in the The Awakening of Kate Chopin are equally revolutionary for their time, and O’Neill’s work echoes the life of the real Kate Chopin. O’Neill’s Kate wants to hold on to her marriage and her six small children. On the other hand there is the allure of reaching beyond the traditional roles forced upon women. Kate’s inner life encourages her to perhaps seek something which she could call her own.
As inexorable circumstances close in on her marriage and situation, Kate is inspired to launch herself as a novelist. However, her relationship with her husband is strained and she becomes walled in when their cotton business goes bankrupt and a wealthy next-door neighbor presents more complex problems.
Ultimately, O’Neill’s Kate is is torn between establishing her own independence by writing and maintaining her love for her children, against negotiating a failed business, a philandering husband and a seductive, sexy planter. Though the sequence of events has been tweaked with regard to the real Kate Chopin’s life, there is a passionate affair (scandalous for the time).
The conflicts and elements in O’Neill’s evocation of Kate Chopin’s life in The Awakening of Kate Chopin are all too real. Many women in 2017 will empathize with O’Neill’s characterization of her protagonist, for she is an iconic woman confronting issues that married and unmarried women face in their life journeys. The Awakening of Kate Chopin, which leaves off right before the real Kate Chopin moves to St. Louis and becomes known to the world, is an epic drama of the first American woman novelist who is still highly controversial today.
I was intrigued to be at the salon to hear the reading of segments of the play for the first time with these well cast, fine actors. Michelle Best was subtle and evolving as the conflicted Kate. Chris Stack portrayed the sexy Albert with predatory insolence and sensuality. The soon-to-be-divorced Albert helps save Kate’s family business from Oscar’s (her husband) poor decisions while igniting her desire for a sexual relationship.
Keith Bulla is a director who has extensive experience working with playwrights on the development of new work. He predominately does this at the Actors Studio but may be encouraged elsewhere if it is the right property. Bulla’s interest and insight spearheaded the reading. His gentle skill with the actors elicited from the depth of O’Neill’s writing a growing understanding by Best and Stack of how to best access these complex, fascinating characters.
The salon was sponsored by Stephanie and Geordie Thompson who are co-founders of InspireCorps, a non-profit arts education organization dedicated to supporting the arts.
Based upon the audience’s response in the “talk back” which generated discussion about Kate Chopin as a writer ahead of her time, yet obviously living these events in her time before she moved to St. Louis where her writing took off, I would say this is an auspicious “first” which portends great things to come for The Awakening of Kate Chopin.
Every year Slow Wine which is a welcome offshoot of Slow Food features wine producers on tour from the West to East Coast, from San Francisco, California, Seattle, Washington, Austin, Texas, ending in New York City. All of the wines featured at the tastings are either certified organic or biodynamic with an emphasis on clean, quality, affordable wines that are cultivated without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and are nurtured with attention to the phases of the moon and farming and wine making techniques that are both ancient and modern. This year’s Slow Wine tasting was in a perfect setting: Eataly downtown on Liberty Street in New York City.
Slow Wine which produces a a guide for food as well, identifies producers taking into consideration the life of the cultivators, their vineyards and their wine production. There is a breakdown of excellence according to three categories: the snail, the bottle and the coin.
The Snail identifies a cellar that has distinguished itself through its “interpretation of sensorial, territorial, environmental and personal values” in accord with the Slow Food philosophy (clean, of quality).
The Bottle is given to cellars that show “a consistently excellent quality throughout the range of wines presented.
The Coin indicates good value for the quality of the wine.
For the three categories of wines, there are the epitome of the “Slow Wines.” These wines uniquely manifest fine sensory elements and reflect the personality of their terroir, their history and their environment. The”Great Wines” are singular in their exquisite sensory qualities. The “Everyday Wines” are those that are drinkable with food or alone and demonstrate a measurable price which bestows good value.
At the 2017 tasting there were too many wonderful wines and so little time to get to them all without passing out. However, this year a few tours were offered by the Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (University of Gastronomic Sciences). For two tours, I and a small group of educators and press followed Lucas Lanci as he introduced us to sterling producers.
On the first tour, the producers had distributors/importers. On the second, the producers were looking for distribution and importers to collaborate with. We tasted some interesting wines, some extremely memorable, others not to my palate. But then I favor red wines and the whites have to pop with a memorable palate and nose.
Carparsa is one of those small but memorable producers. Located in Tuscany, they produce 25,000 bottles a year on 30 acres. They are certified organic and have achieved a Snail signification and are identified as a “Slow Wine,” indicating that the nose, palate and color reflect the personality of their terroir, their history and their environment.Their importer is Artisan Wines, Inc.
There were three wines for tasting, all of them made from 100% sangiovese grapes, all of them Chianti Classico. The Caparsino Riserva 2012 was the superior wine receiving the “Slow Wine” designation because it fulfills the classic wine of the Mountains of Chianti expressing the terroir of the region with its rich fruit, mellowness and distinguishing spices and herbs. The Chianti Classico Doccio a Matteo Riserva 2012 is ready now, but it will be more full bodied in 2018. Like all the Chianti Classicos it is an intense purple color. The tannins are strong and crisp and the long finish indicates spiciness on the palate. The Doccio a Matteo Riserva 2007 carries the same expression of the other wines, all of which are best with pasta dishes and appetizers like salumi and strong cheeses.
Carparsa Azienda Agricola also boasts a bed and breakfast where one may stay for a “farm holiday” in the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany’s vineyards in the Chianti region. There you may relax, tour the winery and learn about the 600-year-old cellars and the wine making which is a family concern headed up by Paolo Cianferoni. You may also take a trip to Siena which is in Tuscany and worth the visit.
One wine that I thought was exceptional was from a smaller producer. Iuli from Cerrina Monferrato in the Piedmont region has a production of 40,000 bottles. Thirty-four acres are under production and the cultivation is certified organic. This producer had a wonderful purple red wine constructed from Barbera grapes that I really enjoyed. Rossore 2013 gave a palate of full bodied fruit, little hint of tannins and chocolate and tobacco savors. It is designated with a Snail and identified for excellence as a “Slow Wine.” Check out this wine at Indie Wineries or Natural Wine Company in Colorado.
Cantine del Notaio in Basilicata, Italy is a larger producer (360,000 bottles) on 74 acres. It has a Snail designation and its vineyards and wine making are certified organic and biodynamic. We were told that Gerardo Giuratabocchetti is practically obsessive about the Aglianico del Vulture.. The vineyards have been passed down through his family for generations. Of the three wines for tasting. I enjoyed the Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2012, designated “Slow Wine,” and L’Atto 2014. Both are deep reds with firm structure, berry fruit and luscious mouth feel with a satisfying finish, great with pastas, cheeses, salumi and meats. There is a cantina for tastings and tours of the winery as tourists and guests tell of great stories about the area and the wine making. The importer is Vinifera Imports.
2017 Slow Wine always is an enjoyable tasting. It is a pleasure to know that the producers are concerned about the environment, about clean food and wine not poisoning the individuals who buy and enjoy their products.
FOR MORE ABOUT WINE PRODUCERS AT THE 2017 SLOW WINE TASTING AT EATALY DOWNTOWN, SEE THIS ARTICLE ON BLOGCRITICS CLICK HERE.