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If you are a red wine drinker and like to try fine wines that have a robust flavor, then Sagrantino wines will list among your favorites. The Sagrantino grapes are small, finicky powerhouses, but despite their needing much care to properly cultivate in their indigenous Italian region, California, Australia and other areas of the world are jumping on the Sagrantino bandwagon. As they try their hand at producing the bold red wine which originated in Montefalco in the province of Umbria, Italy centuries ago, they will tease out its richness and unique characteristics.
Montefalco Sagrantino is a wine that is appropriate in every season. It is distinctive, flavorful, and vibrant and has an interesting finish on the palate. It pairs well with wintry fare of stews, roasts, short ribs, as well as summery grilled meats and chops. It is lovely with rustic and hearty vegetable and pasta-dish combinations. It also goes well with appetizers like cheeses and salumi and is a highly drinkable accompaniment to foods that are sweet or salted.
This is Sagrantino month at Eataly NYC and Eataly Chicago. Eataly is the extravaganza presenting the best of Italy in its restaurants, market and wine shop on 5th Avenue housed under one roof in an amazing and fun way. All month Eataly is offering Montefalco Sagrantino classes in its teaching school, La Scuola. It’s wine shop is hosting Montefalco Sagrantino tastings for free. Additionally, in its hugely popular La Piazza restaurant, one can pair up a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino with the cheese plates or salumi for a delicious treat or lunch.
Five Monetfalco Sagrantino producers are being offered at the Friday tastings. I had the opportunity to try each at an event at Eataly’s La Scuola during which various producers were present. Rebecca Mills discussed the wines, the food pairings and the producers Marco Caprai of Arnaldo Caprai Vineyards and Filippo Antonelli from Antonelli San Marco filled in with salient facts about their wines.
Alicia Walter chef from Eataly in New York City, created the dishes which paired beautifully with the wines. They were the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG wines, 2007-2009 vintages from the five different producers in the Montefalco region of Umbria now being featured at Eataly in March.
- Perticaia, Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2009
- Scacciadiavoli, Sagrantino Di montefalco DOCG 2008
- Antonelli, San Marco Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2007
- Arnaldo Caprai, Collepiano Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2007
- Tenuta Castelbuono, Sagrantino Di Montefalco DOCG 2007
The DOCG designation for each means that the wines must adhere to the highest production standards. The wines are produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes grown in Montefalco. The regulations include the specific months in the barrel, an October harvest, and the agriculture of the vines (number of vines per hectare).
You will be able to purchase these producers wines at Eataly NYC and at other fine wine shops in NYC, Chicago, San Francesco and Los Angelos. Their websites are above and you can place orders there. Better yet, travel to Umbria, visit these producers’ wineries. They will be happy to offer tastings and tours of their vineyards. However, if you aren’t planning a trip in the near future, drop in to sample the Montefalco Sagrantino at Eataly NYC or Chicago this month. As you open up your palate to these unique wines, you will note their different personalities, and you will probably walk away with a bottle of pure Montefalco Umbria. You will be glad you did.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is perhaps the most written-about event of the 20th century, with over 800 books alone devoted to parsing the details of the how and why of the assassination and the alleged subsequent cover-up. Some books justify the evidence produced in the Warren Commission Report, which found Lee Harvey Oswald to be Kennedy’s sole murderer. Many reputable writers and investigators, including the 1960s District Attorney of New Orleans, James Garrison, meticulously and logically disputed the Warren Report’s conclusions.
The mainstream media ridicules “conspiracy theorists,” who put forth the idea that a cabal of conspirators were responsible for Kennedy’s murder and wanted him “out of the way” for various political reasons. Witnessed by the World written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale and directed by Karen Carpenter provides an interesting spin on the assassination and the “conspiracy theory” decriers. It is informative, taking into consideration that there are those in subsequent generations who know little about the assassination and the major players connected to it.
The playwrights have cleverly avoid didacticism and preachiness. They posit information about the assassination through dialogue between an older journalist, Joan Ross (an excellent Charlotte Maier), enthralled with the research she has done about the assassination, and the younger, uninterested, uninformed screenwriter, Ira Basil (Max Gordon Moore in a good counterpoint), who is working with her on a writing project. Information is also revealed through the play’s developing action. We follow Joan and learn about the assassination as she channels information from her leads into discussions with the screenwriter, a friend, and her sources.
At the outset, the play shows the black and white TV clip of the Jack Ruby shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, which was the first live mass media murder viewed by millions. (There were no warning ratings preventing young children from watching the live coverage and later the incessant replaying of Oswald’s painful collapse after the bullet did its work.) We are in shock as the viewers at the time were in shock seeing Ruby conveniently smash the possibility that any trial of Kennedy’s alleged killer would take place.
If Ruby was a hero, performing the role of Oswald’s executioner, he was not released for his “good deed.” The mysterious incongruity is that Ruby received the death penalty after his first trial. This was overturned in a Texas appellate court. He was waiting for a second trial when he died of cancer in a Dallas hospital. Had he been threatened not to disclose the mystery of his relationships and background connections to mobsters, the CIA, Oswald and others? Though he was interviewed by Dorothy Kilgallen toward the end, Kilgallen never lived to “blow the lid off the JFK assassination” as she said she would.
Cohen and Beale explore these mysteries and others as Joan investigates Ruby’s early background and teen years to help Ira Basil finish a screenplay about Jack Ruby and the mystery surrounding his ties to organized crime and visits to Cuba. Though Ira warns Joan that she must not write about or investigate Ruby’s connection to the JFK assassination, Joan on her own recognizance pieces together information she learns from Jack Ruby’s sister, Eileen Kaminsky (an exceptional and believable Lois Markle). After Joan and Eileen become close, Eileen gives Joan a box of items which no one knows about. Ruby had given them to Eileen for safekeeping. Each item is a potential clue, a possible missing puzzle piece that Joan can use to create a logical picture of Ruby, his ties to organized crime figures and answers to the questions about why he killed Oswald.
As Joan’s investigation proceeds, she is spurred on with potential answers about the assassination. We are interested and happy to go along for the ride which she keeps hidden from Ira. However, when Ira discovers information which throws Joan’s character into muddy waters, we can see the headlines above her name “conspiracy theory nut,” a twist which is panicking Ira. He manages to continue working with her because he has grown closer to her and for personal self-interest: he will continue to receive the information she has given him about Ruby. They work well together on the screenplay which appears to portend lucrative possibilities.
In the midst of the Ira-Joan scenario, there is a detour down a dark road. Joan confides in friend Aaron Spencer (an appropriate and capable Bob Ari) about the screenplay and her secret investigation of Ruby’s mob connections, and in turn, the JFK assassination. Aaron, who is confronting financial difficulties and is forced to make some debt arrangements with shady mob characters, is told by Joe Capano (a smiling, insidious Joe Tapper) that he knows an old “uncle” in the criminal network who knew Ruby. Aaron shares the information with Joan, who tries to arrange a meet up with this “uncle,” to confirm the final threads of logic she is sewing together about how Ruby was connected to the JFK assassination. These threads tie in Ruby’s connections to mob figures, Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante and others.
Aaron discourages Joan about the meet up, but it has been arranged by Joe Capano who tells Aaron that Uncle Tony is anxious to talk to Joan. Joan is thrilled after years of research and hard work in overcoming the resistance of recalcitrant sources. She is exuberant because she knows she is going to be able to blow the lid off the Kennedy assassination with the final confirmation of testimony from Uncle Tony.
The play is a vital go-see-it for a number of reasons. It will be informative for those who are unfamiliar with the Kennedy assassination and the time period. The play provides a quick and dirty clip sheet of one element of the possible assassination conspirator network that will not be found through mainstream media, except the History Channel offerings. Highlighted is information which includes a growing body of research about the history of our government’s political machinations during the cold war and the extent that the intelligence community was willing to go to insure the US retained the upper hand against Communist leaders. The play is well constructed and keeps the audience engrossed about a period of our history which is crucial to understanding the present.
However, the play does manifest issues; some of the contrivances are problematic. The contrivance of character and dialogue to get out the information (an older journalist and a younger screenwriter unfamiliar and uninterested about the assassination) works because it is subtle and well crafted into the conflict and action of Joan’s investigation of Ruby. We can overlook it because it melds seamlessly with relaying the background information to the audience. But the character complication, that Aaron happens to be in financial trouble and just happens to be involved with mobsters who knew Ruby and who are still alive, is less seamlessly written into the play’s action.
Tthe contrivance of the naivete of Joan’s character cannot be overlooked. We understand that she is a brilliant investigative reporter who is putting the pieces together and who knows the score about the individuals connected with the assassination. We believe she is a hard hitting and uncompromising journalist and a thorough researcher. Her ingenuousness with her sources, for example overlooking the shady character of who she is dealing with seems incongruous and is not credible.
Would the playwrights have created even more tension…would the play have been more striking if Joan implies she knows the risks involved, but takes them anyway? Would this be a more heroic Joan, one more in keeping with who she is? If, yes, then, the conclusion would be more tragic, more appropriate, and of course, more ironic. Though the acting is excellent and the ensemble work holds together beautifully, it is a lot to ask of Charlotte Maier to reconcile the contradictions of Joan as a naive yet hard-hitting journalist. It is not as if her naivete has been intimated throughout the play as a tragic flaw. It is artificial, contrived. If Joan was portrayed as one who knows she is taking a risk but she does it anyway because there is a moral imperative…the truth must be revealed? This portrayal is logical, noble and in keeping with Joan’s character. It elevates the play to a greater reality. How many have risked their lives to tell the truth?
The great tragedy in the assassination of JFK is that the only justice the assassins, and there were more than one as the Senate Select Committee designated (which later puppets attempted to decry) is that justice was never served. The country, though never above corruption and villainy which our past is filled with, suffered many blows afterward. The most crucial misery was that the indomitable spirit of the American people was dampened. HOWEVER, IT WAS NOT EXTINGUISHED. If this is what was intended, and if the MO was to increase profits and gain lucre, then so be it. The perpetrators did that. They have reaped their reward. And the full weight of their actions will fall on their heads.
The play, which enjoyed its New York Premiere at 59E59 Theaters is a reminder that the JFK case, despite what one apologist wrote, IS NOT CLOSED. IT WILL NEVER, EVER BE CLOSED. SO THERE IS NO “CASE CLOSED” ABOUT THE JFK ASSASSINATION, no matter how much one may assert that we should all just not think about it. The magic bullet theory which fatuously has been used as proof that only Oswald was the killer and that there was NO conspiracy is, in fact, THEORY. Theory is not fact; it is hypothesis. Once the argument is raised to “belief” then theories are allowed in and by their nature, are uncertain. The best we can say is it is a 50% / 50% chance there was a conspiracy. The true perpetrators have gotten away with murder, probably not for the first time. Hopefully, for the last.
The review first appeared on Blogcritics.
Puglia Italy is a treasure. My cousins visited and added to their travel adventures in this glorious Southern province of Italy that borders the Adriatic Sea and Mediterranean. I was jealous as I have yet to tour the province. However, I have taken a step in the right direction by sampling their delicious wines at a mega tasting event in New York City last week. The event was sponsored by Vinitaly International USA-New York whose spot on International Academy led by Scientific Director, Ian D’Agata, held master classes. One of these was in Puglian Wines; the presentation was by Daniele Cirsone. To further promote their wines and indulge in appetizers and dishes with which they paired well, there was also an event at GD Cucine Showroom held afterward. Both the Master Class held by Consorzio Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia: “Puglia Land of Opportunity” and the event at GD Cucine Showroom were exceptional.
The wines featured at the Master Class on Puglian wines included the following offerings.
Mottura Vini Del Salento / Le Pitre Negroamaro – Salento IGP (2011)
Vigne & Vini Varvaglione / Papale Oro – Primitivo di Manduria DOP (2011)
Tenute Emera / Anima di Primitivo Primitivo di Manduria DOP (2011)
Azienda Agr. Duca Carlo Guarini / Boemondo -Salento IGP (2010)
Castel Di Salve / Cento su Cento Negroamaro -Salento IGP (2010)
Carvinea / Sierma – Salento IGP (2009)
Rivera S.P.A. / Il Falcone – Castel del Monte DOP Riserva (2007)
The wines at the tasting at GD Cucine included wines from the wineries listed above and the following offerings below.
Albea Winery Il Serlva Locorotondo doc 2012 SRP / Petrarosa Puglia Rosato igp 2012 / Petranera Puglia igp 2009 SRP
Apollonio Salice Salentino Rosso DOC -SRP / Terragnolo Primitivo Salento igt – SRP
Leone de Castris 50 Vendemmia Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva DOC SRP
Masseria Altemura Fiano Salento igt 2012 / Rosato Salento igt 2012 / Sasseo Salento Igt 2011
Palama Metiusco Salento Rosso igp 2012 / Albarossa Salento Rosso Primitivo igp 2011
Taurino Salice Salentino Riserva Rosso DOC 2009 / Notarpanaro Salento Rosso igp 2006
Tormaresca Trentangeli Castel del Monte DOC 2009 – SRP / Roycello Salento Bianco igt 2011
Buying and selling Manhattan real estate! It’s all about being in the right place at the right time with the right clients. If the opportunity to sign a deal on a most fabulous place in Greenwich Village just dropped in your lap, you’d probably leap at it. What if it involved a smidgeon of shadiness and a soupcon of fraud?
The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch presents a hilarious scenario of three rather desperate, down on their luck characters, one attractive and potentially nefarious thief, and a $12 million dollar townhouse whose occupant has recently died. From soup to nuts, this two act play is a cleverly written comedy that is beautifully acted by the ensemble cast and tightly directed by Carl Andress. Charles Busch, a Drama Desk Award winner for “Career Achievement as Playwright and Performer,” once again delights with his impeccable timing and comic genius in a play that skirts the edges of farce. The Tribute Artist’s trending humor, themes and ironies are incisive and just shy of brilliant.
The play opens to the sumptuous living room of a Greenwich Village townhouse where we meet grand dame Adriana (the lively and funny Cynthia Harris), the alleged homeowner. We appreciate Adriana’s sulfuric wit which she states, “is not nastiness, but my European sense of irony.” This upper crust lady is a former clothing designer and she is entertaining her down-to-earth and frenetic real estate broker, Rita (the excellent Julie Halston), who may or may not broker the townhouse sale. Jimmy (Charles Busch) a recently fired Las Vegas drag queen, who prefers to be called a “celebrity tribute artist,” is staying with Adriana for a while. When we are introduced to Rita and Jimmy, both are modeling Adriana’s designer clothing and Jimmy is modeling one of her wigs. Rita and Jimmy have been long time friends and they enjoy Adriana’s hospitality as she fills in details from her past which, unbeknownst to them, are portentous to their future. When they all fall asleep from rather too much drink, the scene shifts to morning and the comedy and plot complications jolt into the most interesting of wonderful possibilities.
During the night, Adriana has passed; she did say she was dying, but Jimmy and Rita didn’t believe her. No one will inherit this lovely house and it will end up in the hands of the government since there are no inheritors and no will. The path appears to be clear that Adriana wants the house sold and is exerting her will that this should be exacted by those who are present. They are a perfect combination: a real estate broker and a female impersonator who just happens to have in his repertoire all the greats from Marilyn Monroe to Betty Davis. Impersonating “Adriana” will be easy. Jimmy and Rita talk themselves into the devilish plan (a hilarious segue), plotting that Jimmy will become Adriana for the time it takes Rita to sell the house. In the clear, they will split their “winnings” fifty/fifty. They even have the perfect resolution for how to deal with Adriana’s remains. Through their euphoria, they both agree that they may have forgotten something, only they aren’t sure what.
What they’ve forgotten shows up in the next scenes, creates havoc and additional conundrums. The plot complications humorously involve the real heirs who will take the townhouse away from Rita and Jimmy. The inheritors are Adriana’s late husband’s loathsome relatives, niece Christina (a perfectly overwrought Mary Bacon) and grandniece Rachel Oliver (a fine Keira Keeley). An additional complication involves one of Adriana’s former lovers, the sexy and very masculine Rodney (Jonathan Walker in a hysterical performance). Somehow Rita and Jimmy deal with these “interlopers” and Jimmy’s impersonation of Adriana goes swimmingly for a time until Rodney throws the switch that could overturn their peaceful coexistence. Once again the elements of farce are stepped up with the added suspense that Rodney may be up to something worse than the “silly little fraud” that Rita and Jimmy had hoped to commit.
While spinning these humorous events, the playwright carefully weaves in issues of class, gender, identity and social injustice. He does this with wit and subtle undercurrents of poignancy in keeping with the comedic pacing. Added to the glee, Jimmy unleashes his repertoire of old-time celebrity actresses with snippets of dialogue from their most famous scenes. Rosalyn Russel, Katherine Hepburn, Betty Davis and others show up and aptly spout “wisdom” to heighten the madness. In his impersonations Busch is at the apex of his powers. His “Running Wild” is superb. If you don’t know which actress performed the song from which iconic film, then you’ll have to get yourself to 59E59 Theaters where the production is being performed. Rita will clue you in to the impersonations just in case you were born after 1980.
The playwright ties up all the complications and reveals the inner workings of each character reinforcing one of the main themes: one never knows how things will out in the end. In Busch’s iteration the phrasing is more poetic. The production will be running until March 16th. It is being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters.
The review first appeared on Blogcritics. Click Here.
Vinitaly International Tour has launched the Vinitaly International Academy which is an innovative educational initiative about Italian wines. Master Classes on various Italian wines are being presented so that members of the wine trade can deepen their knowledge of Italian wines for sale, promotion and enjoyment purposes. This initiative was successfully launched at Vinitaly International Tour’s largest wine event in the U.S. in NYC on February 3rd at the Metropolitan Pavilion. And the initiative will continue as Vinitaly International Tour goes around the world to mainland China, Hong Kong, Russia and back to Italy’s largest wine event in Verona, Italy on April 5th.
The first of the Master Classes was on Barolo’s Cannubi. These wines are Italy’s oldest and most famous Grand Cru. This designation taken from the French means great vintages from specific areas, terrains and vineyards. Ian D’Agata, Vinitaly’s Scientific Director of the VIA (Vinitaly International Academy) presented at the tasting of these Barolo Cannubi wines and highlighted which ones were upcoming and which were more established producers. The tastings and information were a great way to find new Italian wines to love and to ask for.
Thsee wines are Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Piedmont and specifically the Barolo region. Some producers add other grapes like Muscatel or San Lorenzo. As for Barolo Cannubi? Cannubi is a long hill with a gradual slope lying in the heart of the Barolo area. The soils are rich in magnesium and maganese carbonate that are enhanced and weathered to richness by the air and unique microclimate. Surrounded by higher hills, Cannubi hill is protected from storms and extreme wind. Soil and exceptional microclimate give Cannubi a completeness and balance melding perfectly the structure and aromas and very elegant tannins making it an imminently drinkable wine.
Many of the wines we tasted were absolutely lovely, full bodied and elegant. deep- some with hints of red cherry others with raspberry notes, others spice. Aged in wood barrels, the spice and wood notes blend beautifully. Garnet-red in color, they cast ruby reflections. D’Agata asserted that the colors vary from a bright red that deepens with aging. The color is never inky black as some would want to claim. They offered a fine nose of penetrating clean scents: roses, vanilla, licorice, spices, toasted oak. Certainly a perfume of graceful power.
The Barolo Cannubi achieves maturity after 6 years from the harvest. As it ages well, it can be enjoyed throughout its life between 6 and 25 years. The prestige of the wines are site specific depending on the vintage and history of the vineyard. The bottles of Barolo Cannubbi can run $100 more at auction than a Barolo, again site specific with the reputation of the vineyard and vintage determining price.
This is a list of the wines presented:
Brezza Giacomo E Figli (Cannubbi)
Cascina Bruciata (Cannubi Muscatel)
Ceretto (Cannubi San Lorenzo)
Chiara Boschis (Cannubi)
Michele Chiarlo (Cannubi)
Scavino Paolo (Cannubi)
Virna (Cannubi Boschis)
If you, like me, are in a gastronomic paradise like New York City, San Francisco or Chicago and are always looking for lovely wines to go with fabulous cuisine, try one of these Cannubis. You can have them with cheeses and with fine (preferably free ranged, humanely slaughtered and anti-biotic free) red meats,like braised short ribs, steak, veal, roasts, game dishes. If you are in the wine trade, then get the word out about Italy’s oldest and finest “Grand Cru.”
Friends had introduced me to Amarone, but frankly it was a few years ago and I was not really informed about the wonderful Amarone wines. My friends were unfamiliar with it beyond being introduced to it at cursory tastings, one of the way wines are introduced but not really known.
Vinitaly International Tour has innovated a better way for wine aficionados to become familiar with lovely Italian wines. This innovation will not only increase familiarity with Italian wines which are gradually becoming known in America. The best benefit will be to further encourage our visits to wineries in Italy where we’ll be able to experience the wines on “their own turf” and spend more time savoring their flavors and understanding the terroir, production and their best years. With that knowledge, we can come back home and demand an increase in the wines’ availability.
The Vinitaly International Academy established this year provided an invaluable exposure to Amarone for those like myself who were familiar but not particularly knowledgeable about Amarone wines. Presented were the Amarone family of wines. Their quality and standards are exceptional because the association of producers has set the highest standards for their Amarone. Because of the popularity of Amarone, vintners have hopped on the train to cash in on the trend. The problem has been a diminution of the offerings and a lowering of quality. To ensure that this beloved and increasingly popular wine is not diminished or diluted in its power of enjoyment the association has adopted strict standards so the Amarone’s beautiful, riches are maintained. The association intends that Amarone’s history of greatness continue and that the wine NOT be treated like a commodity, but more as an appreciation of the art of fine wine making. Assembly line wines and lowered quality? These producers have an important point that few would argue with. What can I say? After the tasting, I was thrilled to add this wine to my list of favorites.
A bit about Amarone. Some is produced in the Valpolicella region which is near Verona. The finest grape growing region is in the hills which can be up to 700 metres high. The better vineyards are in the hilly region; the impoverished wines are in the alluvial plane which is not particularly advantageous to growing the grapes found in the traditional Amarone.
Amarone is composed principally of the Corvina grapes and Corvinone (bigger grape…and unrelated to Corvina). The Corvina grape is an ancient grape used by the Romans. To produce the wines, there is a meld of various percentages of Corvina or Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara and Oseleta grapes. Oseleta has fallen out of favor with vintners because it has a thick skin and little juice, though it is indigenous to the area. There is a much smaller percentage of Oseleta and Molinara, especially Oseleta simply because there is little juice yield. Usually an Amarone will have about 5% of either the Molinara or Oseleta.
Amarone is rich, smooth and depending upon percentages of grapes. there are spicy notes or black cherry savor on the tongue. Most of the wines we tasted had an interesting, memorable or lasting finish. A fine feature of Amarone is that it ages really well and actually benefits from aging.
The below list covers a few of the wines we sampled and my notes and Ian D’Agata’s informative Master Class, “Amarone, the Velvet Underground” are the first step to understanding this wonderful wine if you are not already familiar with it.
Begali / Amarone Classico 2008 The grapes are air dried. There was a subtle 17% alcohol content that was not readily noticeable. Notably rich tasting with 30% Rondinella and the rest of the main Corvina or Corvinone grapes and a small percentage of another grape (not Oseleta).
Brigaldara / Amarone Case Vecie 2008 This hadd a beautiful velvet mouth feel and lovely tannins. Again the grapes are air dried. The vineyard is in the high hills and they are harvested late and dried into February.
Musella / Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2008 This wine held the usual blend with less rondinella. Interestingly the wine was balanced with a fresh taste. What I liked was that the grapes were organically certified.
Speri / Amarone Classico Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano 2009 This wine from a famous vineyard was delicious. It was composed of 75-80% Corvina and Covinone, 15% Rondinella and the rest from Molinara. It had a spiciness from the Molinara and nice finish. It ages well.
Tommasi Viticoltori / Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2010 This wine is a typical blend with 5% Oseleta. It is a deep, rich red color typical of Amarone. It is imminently drinkable, not opulent, a big red wine. It has an alcoholic strength that is subtle.
At a later date, I will feature the rest of the Amarone we tasted. Look for the article.
Once again the international Vinitaly Tour graced NYC and the turn out despite the snow was huge. Vintners, producers, retailers, distributors, exhibitors wouldn’t miss the largest Italian wine event of the year. Present were key figures for Vinitaly, Stevie Kim, Managing Director at Vinitaly International and Ian D’Agata, Scientific Director of Vinitaly International Academy. Both Stevie Kim and Ian D’Agata were present for a number of the Master Classes and Ian D’Agata’s expertise proved invaluable in relating the notable details about specific wines from the highlighted production regions.
The Master Classes provided by the Vinitaly International Academy are designed to familiarize patrons, American distributors and sommeliers with specific Italian wines. Particularly informative classes were on Barolo’s Cannubi flight presented by Ian D’Agata and his discussion at the tasting of the Amarone family of wines. “Amarone, the velvet underground: treasure to be shared” was a memorable session that garnered applause at the conclusion. Other exceptional Master Classes where on Franciacorta and wines from Puglia.
Friends kept friends who were unable to make it connected via Social. Yangbo Du captured many great pix and snippets on Storify. More stories to follow on this blog.
CIAO and remember to check out the great Italian wines coming your way.
Joe Orton, the British playwright whose London hit Entertaining Mr. Sloan proved his brilliance, had his life cut short in 1967 at the age of 34. He was killed by his partner, who committed suicide in recompense for killing Orton. It is the theater world’s great loss, for Orton had experienced the steam of greatness as an exceptional playwright/writer, but not the substance. Whenever a production of his zany, dark comedies is revived, see it to appreciate the frenzy of hyperbolic farce that Orton was marvelous at creating. Impeccable timing and jeweled turn of phrase characterize Orton’s work. He is sardonic, like Wilde; over the top, like Monty Python; an iconic British wit.
Loot, in revival at the Lucille Lortel’s Red Bull Theater until February 9, is one of Orton’s gems. This production, directed by Jesse Berger, conveys Orton’s scorn of entrenched social institutions (religious, judicial, legal, medical). Clearly, the playwright had a rollicking time opening them to ridicule. This is appropriate for us currently; the hypocrisies Orton lays bare, are snatched from the 1960s. Yet, they are immutable now as they were then. In the delivery of the madcap and over-the-top plot extremities, we are able to bear the painful truths expressed underneath. If fraud, official corruption, murder and theft are the stuff of life, at least they can be used as meat to gnaw on for our entertainment sustenance in the hands of a savvy, sharp playwright, able director and acute acting ensemble.
The setting, the McLeavy living room is comfortably furnished with chairs and tables circling the walls, a locked chifferobe and what looks to be a folding screen more befitting a hospital room than a living room. The room is a style cacophony of weird items, the most strange being the coffin with decorative grave flowers at center stage. Thus begins the wackiness which develops into full-blown mayhem.
We discover from Fay, Mrs. McLeavy’s live-in nurse (Rebecca Brooksher), in a discussion with barely sentient, grieving Mr. McLeavy (a hysterical Jarlath Conroy), that the funeral service is today. The lovely nurse is a sweet, unassuming golddigger who has been married and widowed seven times.She is looking to be widowed again, after she marries Mr. McLeavy who is overwhelmed with grieving his wife and straightening out his affairs, especially his confused mind and emotions. While Fay encourages him that a month or so is an appropriate time to remarry, son Hal McLeavy (Nick Westrate) bursts onto the scene. His entrance with his beloved (he is gay) buddy Dennis (he is a polyamorous bisexual), fosters a scene switch into a plot convolution that stirs up the cauldron of madness.
Hal is like a young George Washington; he can not tell a lie once confronted with the truth. Dennis (Ryan Garbayo), the undertaker will transport Hal’s mum to the cemetery.The other reason Dennis is with Hal is that both have committed a bank robbery and Dennis has become the chief suspect after his questioning earlier in the day. Better his questioning than Hal’s which would be disastrous for them both, for Hal, a parboiled Catholic with issues, can’t lie. If the moral contradiction of not being able to lie but having no problem with stealing seems patently absurd, you’re right. It is and so is the hypocrisy it represents; this is one of Orton’s tucked away jewels. The play abounds with them.
Dennis fears he will be pinched if he can’t stash the hot “loot” away from the piercing eyes of one particular copper, Truscott, (Rocco Sisto, who is hilarious in his continually indignant state). Truscott, who later appears in a poor disguise as an official from the Water Board, has been snarling and eying Dennis like a canny German shepherd. It is only a matter of time before Truscott finds him, discovers the evidence and throws him in prison, especially if he asks Hal any questions about the theft.
The loot which has been stashed but the locked armoire i is the first place anyone would look; and Fay, who can sniff out money like a dog sniffs out a bone, has intimated to Hal that she knows the loot is there and will expose them in a blackmail scheme. When she leaves, simultaneously, both spy the coffin with Mrs. McLeavy’s body inside. Hide the loot in the body? Gruesome, bloody horror! Hal is a “good” Catholic and that would be untoward. Besides, this is a farce, no matter how black hearted. Hide the body in the armoire and the loot in the coffin and lock both.? Perfect! That way Hal will not be lying if he has to deny the thousands are inside the wardrobe. And if someone gets a crowbar and breaks open the chiffarobe? They’ll be a bloody hell of a surprise. Mrs. McLeavy has been stuffed like a sausage and pickled with embalming fluid. She’s a real stiff.
The official from The Water Board (investigator Truscott inept disguise) interrupts their plans to check the water system. Hal and Dennis quickly send him off to the pipes, then speedily trundle the coffin to the armoire and lob in the corpse. In their frenetic haste they flip poor ole mummy like they’re hefting a log onto a wood pile. Their antics are hysterical especially in light of Hal’s professed Catholicism that has forbade him to see his mum naked but allows him to manhandle her remains. The woman hasn’t been able to RIP since she passed.
After this inglorious treatment, the miscreants lock the chiffarobe and dump their cash booty in the coffin sealing it just in time to escape detection. Truscott figures his inept disguise and circular questioning will eventually trip up the thieves so he can pin them like dead insects with the evidence, pulling out all the stops in his “intelligence” to do so. Orton’s characterization of detective Truscott, is an absurdity of confusion, all in the service of quick humor; Truscott is brilliant-inane, hypocritical-legalistic, corrupt but honest about it, opportunistic and self-serving. He is this and more in the interest of feathering his own nest, but money is his object.
The body-cash swap heightens our belly laughs. We see how these ingrates have dumped Mrs. McLeavy in a “most shameful position.” Added to the romp is Truscott’s indignation and frustration at the suspects “innocence” made all the more hysterical by his ridiculous questions which are as twisted as their answers. The scene is surprising and wonderful.
When Fay and Mr. McLeavy enter the fray, they contribute with flippant repartee. The pace steps up, high jinks fueled by understatement, irony. Orton weaves the scenes so the hilarity builds to climax in an even more preposterous and lunatic second act. Plot complications abound and mysteries are uncovered. The innocent are proven guilty and the guilty are shown to be innocent. Such are the pleasant spoils of ambition in a corrupt universe. For irony, Hal’s good, Catholic conscience has remained spotless. He has not seen his mum naked, and he never lied. He’s good to go. We just don’t know where.
The production does not disappoint. It is a pleasure to see the mostly American actors honor this astounding playwright and make him known to another generation of playgoers who can appreciate brilliant farce and black comedy. That said, it must be acknowledged that Orton is uniquely English. Though there is an opaque line between our countries and cultures differentiating America from England, there is a nuanced sensitivity that comes with presenting English cultural and social humor. It is more felt than studied, intuited than practiced. All humor is generic to place, culture, time, range and social consciousness. Very simply, there are some phrases which can fall flat to some ears if not comprehended in the way that the culture normatively means them to be. In this aspect the production’s humor was flattened by our cultural limitations. However, Orton’s words remain true if one has ears to hear them.
Loot is being performed at the Red Bull Theater by special arrangement with the Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation. George Forbes is the Executive Director; Jesse Berger is the Founding Artistic Director and Evan O’Brient is the Managing Director.
This review first appeared on Blogcritics, at this link: Click Here.
When I heard that Breakfast With Mugabe had received an extension Off Broadway and would appear at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row until March 2nd, I was pleased. It is a terrific show and enjoyed a near sold out run at the Signature Center when I reviewed it in August of last year. Now it is back by popular demand and I understand why. The tension, the undercurrents, the terrifying wild ride brought to you by the soft spoken and imminently dangerous Robert Mugabe (expertly played by Michael Rogers) is a play told in foreshadowing and suggestive of aggression and power unchecked. It should be seen because it is a reminder that all leaders if left to their own devices for too long will be corrupted and will destroy the good that they have set out to do. It is also a warning for the unsuspecting, those who attempt to play by the rules but have the rules turned against them because of expediency. These are a few of the themes. For more this review initially appeared on Blogcritics at this link.
From the moment we meet Grace Mugabe (Rosalyn Coleman) and hear the complaints she shares with psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Peric (Ezera Barnes) about her husband’s obsessive fears, there is an undercurrent of danger and ominous import in Breakfast With Mugabe, directed by David Shookhoff. According to Grace, Robert Mugabe is hallucinating enemy ghosts and malevolent spirits. Each day he sets a place at the table for one haunting devil in particular and conducts his life and his wife and children’s lives around this paranoia.
We hear in Grace Mugabe’s dark notes of alarm her misery as she tells the story of her husband’s increasingly disturbed mental state. In particular, she refers to the traumatic event in the airport when her husband made a loud scene commanding his bodyguards to stop her and the children from escape, when there was no apparent need to do so. Since then the Zimbabwean President’s wife has been kept prisoner in her own home and cannot go shopping or enjoy the fruits of their position with autonomy, a reality she wishes to end. She begs Dr. Peric to convince her husband to let her leave with the children. She also hopes he will be able to help Robert as best he can since the malady is obviously a dire one that may destroy Mugabe’s political leadership and power regime.
From this too-long exposition scene, the playwright develops the issues which progress to their final resolution. We learn that Dr. Peric, who has been entrusted to help Mugabe, is a member of the once elite class of white farmers who still maintain their farms while many of his social peers are losing theirs to Mugabe’s resettlement plans. Unlike the other former white colonials, Peric has embraced Mugabe’s leadership, has an interracial marriage, and has been a tremendous help to patients at the hospital in Harare. There, the doctor has a sterling reputation because he is loving and culturally flexible. He uniquely understands the spiritualism of the people of Zimbabwe. If anyone can help Mugabe, it is Dr. Peric, but as he makes clear to Grace Mugabe, the President will have to forgo all of his airs and his will to power. He will have to submit to Dr. Peric’s will during the treatment. Thus the playwright introduces the conflict between Dr. Peric and Robert Mugabe as psychiatric patient.
The second problem we assess from Grace Mugabe’s discussion is this: Obviously, Mugabe has lost his hold on reality, though his hallucinations and paranoia are probably grounded in reality. Apparently, Mugabe’s power structure and leadership are beset on all sides by those who want to overthrow his government and replace it with their own factions. In this underlying atmosphere he most likely fears everyone and knows his enemies are seeking revenge for the blood of those he is responsible for having killed. His country has known war in its struggle for independence. His separate power struggle to maintain his despotic rule under the guise of equality and fair elections has also resulted in bloodshed. He can trust only his select group and must suppress any recriminations and guilty feelings about having acted stupidly and without diligence. He must play the role of the brilliant and powerful leader. Mugabe is wrestling with Mugabe for power over his own demons generated by his past actions. Unless he thwarts them, they will overtake his future and the country he intends to rule.
Another complication is in the character of Grace Mugabe. She is pompous, manipulative and extremely clever. Either she is Mugabe’s prize or his bête noire. Her pleas to Dr. Peric and her explanation of her husband’s deteriorating mental state give us the impression that she completely trusts that Dr. Peric has the upper hand and will eventually be the catalyst to help her escape. Her situation is tenuous. Mugabe’s mental decline is impacting his ability to lead and maintain his political power over threatening rivals.
Grace Mugabe is looking out for her husband, but especially, she is looking out for number one. Even if she intends to remain on top as the President’s wife and adviser, her husband will drag her into the abyss, as long as he the dinner plate sits on the table for his chief spirit enemy so Robert can have conversations with him. This is not a leader. Grace doesn’t want to be around for the overthrow. She will escape preferably with Dr. Peric’s help and plenty of money to live abroad. Despite her husband’s attempts to hold on to her and reality, the wolves are circling and closing in.
The playwright has thus established the conflicts in the first scene. When he finally introduces Robert Mugabe (Michael Rogers) after the immense build-up, we are surprised to discover that this may not be the man Grace Mugabe has described so acutely. He is humorous and insightful, and has a penetrating mind and confident spirit. Either Mugabe is “fronting” or Grace has misrepresented her husband’s condition for her own ends. We remain intrigued as the ominous undercurrents swirling around the question of truth and the integrity of each of the characters gradually come to light.
Playwright Fraser Grace uses Dr. Peric’s questioning of Mugabe’s past traumas to create dramatic momentum. As we gradually wend our way through the dense thicket of defense mechanisms Mugabe displays to cover up death and loss, we understand how Mugabe’s self-torture over the past blocks him in the present. Theirs is an interesting “tug of war.” The sense of foreboding we felt in the first scene never leaves us, so we feel relieved that Dr. Peric uses tact and truth to scrape away this uncanny, hyper-manipulative and brilliant leader’s tough outer skins until the softer layers are exposed. Lulled by the doctor-patient interplay, we may be misled and not readily recognize how the playwright cleverly diminishes the doctor’s personal presence while brightening Mugabe’s as he becomes unburdened.
Finally, the doctor arrives at the healing revelation Mugabe seeks. The outcome is counter to what Dr. Peric expects and what Grace Mugabe desires. Ultimately, the doctor has enabled Mugabe to find his own solution to exorcizing the spirits, freeing himself, strengthening his leadership and deepening his power regime. Dr. Peric has been invaluable, but Mugabe feels no compunction to accommodate him while he guides the country’s toward a new horizon. Grace Mugabe, always the survivor, rides her husband’s wave to the shores of success, no longer desiring to flee. And we, like Dr. Peric, are rattled at their ungenerous callousness as the ominous foreboding we’ve felt all along hits us with its harsh realities.
The play is cerebral, intricate, surprising, foreboding, powerful. I loved it. I thought that of all the actors, Rosalyn Coleman’s performance as Grace Mugabe was the most layered and complex. Ezra Barnes’ and Michael Rogers’ interchange of waxing and waning personas and presence was subtle and enlightening. Together with an excellent Che Ayende as the imperious aide Gabriel, the cast brings us carefully to the stark finish. David Shookhoff has aptly directed his ensemble to present an amazing portrait of this determined and cagey leader who, despite all odds, including avenging spirits, has kept himself in power using any means necessary.
This review first appeared on Blogcritics at this link.
The show is currently at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row until March 2nd.
I wanted to return and sample more of Chef Justin Smillie’s fare. A friend and I share the same birthday, so we decided to go for dinner and were happy we did. We received the royal treatment.
Following recommendations from New York Times, Foursquare, Immaculate Infatuation, and my own experience the prior year, I was completely thrilled with the dishes I ordered as were my friends. So were our neighbors at the table sitting next to us. Repeat diners they were ecstatic with their “to die for” Porchetta Alla Romana. The previous couples had scarfed down the “Spit-roasted Short Ribs” and left an large empty plate of the remains of the dish which was the main rib bone. Hmm. I was encouraged.
The decor is rustic and the atmosphere is relaxed. We sat in a section that was family style, conducive to speaking to your neighbor which is fun because I am nosy. I like viewing what others have ordered and if the group is friendly I will ask about their enjoyment of their various dishes. This homely, family style approach is what I think is the beauty of this restaurant which guys really love because it is not self-aggrandizing, nor pretentious. Indeed, it is an informal wine bar and restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In answer to those “foodies” (?) outraged that the New York Times gave it three stars because they thought it was like a sandwich shop (see the reference in Immaculate Infatuation), I would say that perhaps they are less flexible and more into their own pretension and conceptualization of “branding” than gorgeous tasting food. The idea of a market section up front where one can buy some of “the best salumi della casa in NYC, gelato, and other home made products beggars their idea of “three stars.” Well, I’ve gone to Michelin starred restaurants and the food was neither deliciously prepared nor were the elements combined well. So, it’s all in the perception and it brings to mind that with regard to restaurants, sometimes, the emperor is naked (The Emperor’s New Clothes) but no one wants to say it.
Back to our meal. First, came the basket of bread. If you adore crusty, substantial and sumptuous bread, Kamel Saci creates his bread’s magic from his own recipe and bakes it on the premises. Add Il Buco Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is green, fresh and exceptional and you are home. My birthday buddy adores bread, so she was in heaven. If your taste doesn’t run to olive oil, and you’re a dairy fanatic, they will bring you delicious, fresh butter to spread on the fabulous bread.
We had appetizers and sides and then for some of us the Primi was the main meal and others, the Secondi.
Lattuga was just what I wanted: little gem lettuce, pickled onions, anchovies, tarragon, red radish. The combination of ingredients melded beautifully and seasoned with the unique taste of the tarragon. The lemon dressing was light and accentuated the freshness of the greens.
The Crispy Artichokes with lemon were wonderfully delicious. They were thin and curled by the char and dark browned to a perfect crunchiness. My friend who thought the gem lettuce was “romaine” which she hates, selected these as a veggie. There wasn’t a crumb left on her plate after we each had a little taste.
The Bucatini Cacio e Pepe is pasta setaro with fresh pecorino romano and black pepper. The pasta is all home made on the premises and was of course, perfectly al dente. My birthday buddy Andrea said it was really good, a compliment that one does not hear often dropped from her lips as she frequently orders pasta dishes and they are mostly, (silence), “OK,” or “good.” She is a pasta fan and gave Emily and Margaret a taste, but did not share the plate with Emily who was a bit disappointed as she loves pasta. But the pasta was Andrea’s main course. Do you blame her for not wanting to share it?
Polletto al Forno is poussin, roasted meyer lemon, capers and bread crumbs. Margaret thought this dish very good. Again, these are words I don’t normally hear, especially when they are said with the enthusiastic and emphatic pronouncement that Margaret made. Chef Smillie created the perfect combinations of ingredients and flavor textures and tastes with this dish. The beauty with all these dishes is that they are spot on, having achieved a regularity that is duplicated, without variation or unevenness.
The Slow-roasted or Spit-roasted Short Ribs are like that as well. These are the rave of city reviewers everywhere, whether for lunch in a sandwich or for dinner. OMG! I say amen to that. I do think they are amongst the best short ribs in the city and in a portion large enough to share with four. They were cooked to tender, flavorful moistness, complemented by the castelvetrano olives, celery, walnuts, horseradish and lemon which, squeezed on the meat, was a wonderful, unique addition. This is Chef Smillie’s creation of perfection. I had been waiting for a year and it was worth it. Absolutely marvelous.
To round out our luscious main courses we added Contorni.
The Crispy Polenta was amazing, crunchy with the salty, pungent taste of the parmesian on the outside and moist softness with milder notes of the corn/polenta on the inside. This was a delicious and wonderfully different way to morph polenta which I have found tiresome when it is served the usual way under the short ribs or meat. Same, same, enough already.
Carrots salsa verde. These had an incredible and luscious char which combined with their sweetness and hinted of other seasonings. They too offered a taste that was exceptional and interesting. The carrot plate was empty by the end of the meal and the pieces of polenta that were left, Margaret took home for her husband. They were devoured that evening.
Fingerling Potatoes valdeon we didn’t try. I wish we noted them because if they were anything like their brother contorni, they were probably wonderful and unique also.
Our shared dessert was home made seasonal Fruit Crostata and Vanilla Gelato, and Flourless Chocolate Cake and Gelato. Yum. The espresso and cappuccinos rounded off the dinner.
Il Buco Alimentari et Vineria is a NYC treasure. (See menu which is seasonal and changes.) And the beauty is you can go for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In fact the breakfast sandwich with 2 organic eggs, salame rosa, rupert cheese and focaccia fino is an incredible value. You will probably want to order a few Brioches for take away, since they go beyond originality in the flavor palette with the following varieties: “White Chocolate,” Chocolate Cherry, and Pistachio and Apricot Brioches. And then there are the Bombolone plain or filled with jam or dulce de leche. I don’t think it gets much better than this.