Athena Film Festival Review: ‘Dilemma of Desire’

The poster for the film Dilemma of Desire directed by Maria Finitzio at Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Maria Finitzo’s documentary The Dilemma of Desire, currently screening virtually at the Athena Film Festival, examines female sexuality and pleasure against the backdrop of the repressive, toxic and macho culture represented by the former Trump administration, QAnon, Trumpers, “Christians,” the paternalistic Republican Party and all caught up in the “normalcy” of misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic and racist folkways. Interestingly, Democrats and other political parties are not exempt from an examination of the patriarchy in this film. The myths and follies of patriarchal thought and behavior are ancient and baked in by males, females and non gender described, who have bought into the lies of female sensuality for millennia.

Sophia Wallace conceptual artist during the Women’s March, ‘Dilemma of Desire,’ directed by Maria Finitzio, Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

More specifically, it has been males who define their own machismo by the ways that they oppress and control women. To dominate, whether for the profit motive or more psychological reasons, males and accepting females define conceptualizations of beauty, femininity, sensuality and the pleasure they are psychologically and scientifically able to seek based upon these confined and erroneous definitions. Finitzo, a two-time Peabody Award-winner blows apart the taboos and shameful strictures about how women must think, react and define their bodies and their sensuality. Focusing on four women who have broken open the boundaries in themselves to understand their bodies, Finitzo conducts extensive interviews with them as they help empower others in their journey deeper into their own sexuality and sensuality.

Sophia Wallace’s work demonstrating “Cliteracy,” ‘Dilemma of Desire’ by Maria Finitzio, Sophia Wallace’s website

Finitzio approaches central themes that paternalism for centuries has rendered women powerless and voiceless, manifested in the simple act that women do not even understand or know their own sexual organs to be able to draw them. This lack of literacy about their sensuality and sexuality has been a revelation in the life and work of Sophia Wallace, whose work about “Cliteracy,” Finitzio uses as a focal point around which she creates the grist of this documentary about four women who in their own way are attempting to change folkways and cultural assumptions about female pleasure and desire.

Dilemma of Desire, Sophia Wallace, Maria Finitzio, Athena FF
Sophia Wallace, ‘Delimma of Desire,’ directed by Maria Finitzio, Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

Memed by artist Sophia Wallace, “Cliteracy” is the scientific knowledge that the clitoris is fundamental to the female orgasm. The lies that the vagina is the seat of desire is a myth propagated by males, for obvious reasons. When women have felt let down in sex with their partners, they have taken the shame and blame upon themselves. The educated male has countered this with his empathetic understanding that female genitalia is more complex and deserves its own attention during intimacy. If the male partner is not empathetic or understanding, women for centuries have been left to “endure” sex as a chore and do it to beget children which they alone have been tasked to raise until recent times. Women who have established intimate relationships with women have actually received much more sensual pleasure during their lifetimes. Thus, the idea that most women don’t experience vaginal pleasure during intercourse (only 25% do according to the scientific data Finitzio states in the film) is a much needed revelation that Dilemma of Desire emphasizes.

Maria Finitzio, Sophia Wallace, Dilemma of Desire, Athena FF
Work by Sophia Wallace, ‘Dilemma of Desire,’ directed by Maria Finitzio, Athena FF, (courtesy of the film)

Using her interviewees as gatekeepers into this revelation, Finiztio chronicles key points about how the patriarchy has kept women in the darkness about their own bodies. The end result has been to hamper their freedom, their voice, their courage, their empowerment. The documentarian examines how Wallace is changing culture; how Dr. Stacey Dutton, a neuroscientist, enlightens medical science about the biology of the clitoris; how Dr. Lisa Diamond unravels outdated notions about women’s arousal; and how Ti Chang, an industrial designer, creates elegant vibrators for women that look nothing like the novelty toys in sex shops which are useless and created by men. To elucidate what these four have discovered, Finitzio interviews Umnia, Becca, Jasmine, Sunny, and Coriama who provide their life experiences about themselves and their relationships with men and women in their investigation of their own body’s capability of receiving pleasure.

Sophia Wallace, Maria Finitzio, Dilemma of Desire, Athena Film Festival
Sophia Wallace, Maria Finitzio directs Dilemma of Desire, Athena Film Festival (Sophia Wallace’s website)

Finitzio’s work is mind-blowing. She uses a maximum of effort to cobble together the interviews and create the backdrops that enhance the commentary of these truth-tellers. The cinematography, music and editing all enhance the overarching message that to be free, women must understand all parts of their being to appreciate all of who and what they can be. A defining moment comes when Sophia Wallace discusses what she heard from her cousin about her grandmother’s confession. Their grandmother had five children, but didn’t think she had ever experienced an orgasm or pleasure during sex. Meanwhile, of course, their grandfather’s experience was a sure thing. For Wallace, this was an eye-opening tragedy because her grandmother didn’t understand or enjoy what her body was capable of experiencing because she was intellectually, philosophically, culturally, sensually chained by the patriarchy whether wittingly or unwittingly.

This is a must-see film for men, women, non-binary, all who are walking around in a fleshly body and want to break free from the dilemma of desire that especially ties women up in knots and oppresses them in all of their being. The point is to understand and become “cliterate.” At least that opportunity must be allowed and Sophia Wallace’s work should be in a book, not just on a TEDTALK or as a conceptual museum piece in an art gallery. Thus far, book publishers are afraid to deal with such an important and culturally revelatory work. The excuse is that female editors are hesitant about sharing the information in book form with other females in the industry, for example libraries, universities. The fear exemplifies why “cliteracy” has remained in the realm of the arcane and it is a tragedy of oppression.

Finitzio’s film spotlights the core issues of this tragedy. And in due season, Wallace will be known globally in print as well as virtually for her work “Cliteracy.” Dilemma of Desire is screening on the Athena Film Festival website and other screening platforms. CLICK HERE FOR ALL THE ATHENA FILM FESTIVAL OFFERINGS INCLUDING THIS EXTRAORDINARY FILM.

Athena Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival: ‘Beans’

(L to R): Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson in ‘Beans’ directed by Tracey Deer at Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

Beans Tracey Deer’s award winning narrative film, inspired by true events, is one of the superb offerings this year at the 11th Annual Athena Film Festival. Throughout March, Athena FF is holding digital Q and As, screenings, talks and more, all uplifting women in film’ and women’s leadership. It is the only women’s film festival in New York City, and sans pandemic it is held at Barnard College. Hopefully, Athena Film Festival will return live for its myriad activities, screenings, conferences, Q and As, parties and awards ceremonies in 2022.

The events in Beans and major thrust of the narrative are inspired by Tracey Deer’s own experiences as a young girl going through the cataclysmic trials of the Mohawk Resistance in the community of Kanesatake, near the Town of Oka, on the north shore of Montreal, Canada. Written by Tracey Deer and Meredith Vuchnich, Beans is a hybrid coming of age story and social justice film set against the backdrop of a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. The standoff arose when without permission or negotiation Mohawk land was grabbed by developers who intended to expand a golf course and build condos on lands disputed since 1760 and which involved desecrating an ancient cemetery.

(L to R): Foreground-Violah Beauvais, D’Pharoah Woon-a-Tai, Kiawentiio, Paulina Alexis, Taio Gélinas in ‘Beans,’ Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

During this Oka Crisis, the character “Beans,” whose Indigenous Mohawk name is Tekahentahkhwa (played by the excellent Kiawentiio) learns to appreciate her identity as a Mohawk. She vies between accepting her mother’s wish for her to go to a tony white school to establish a better life for herself and hanging tough with cruel, bullying April (Paulina Alexis) who abuses and exploits Beans’ yearning for friendship using power dominance and browbeating to release her own inner torments.

Tracey Deer’s characterizations are spot-on, as are the actors who portray Beans, April, and Bean’s mom Lily (Rainbow Dickerson). All of the women are representative. Lily is attempting to raise her daughters, teach them successful values, yet negotiate her husband who is a protestor and warrior battling with his countrymen for Mohawk land rights. Beans is torn between her father’s fight and showing what tough resistance is and growing up to be a young woman apart from her mother’s selecting an identity for her and expanding beyond the “sweet-natured,” innocent, good girl.

As Beans worms her way into April’s cold heart by obeying her instruction, and accepting April’s toughening-up abuse, she learns the warrior way to be brash, bullying and fear-inspiring. However, when her eyes are opened to the difficulties April has with her family, Beans learns that becoming inured to pain and not expressing emotion is self-damaging.

(L to R): Kiawentiio as Beans-Tekahentahkhwa and Rainbow Dickerson as Lily, in ‘Beans,’ directed by Tracey Deer, Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

Throughout Beans’ and her family’s journey through the, at times harrowing and punishing 78-day standoff, we see their courage in resistance.. They suffer brutalization from the surrounding community who is caught up in the events. The themes of the film about social activism in returning Indigenous lands back to the Mohawk, represent an ongoing struggle by various Indigenous populations who still fight against land grabs that began when European colonials first visited the Americas. For the Mohawk in this area of Quebec, the Provincial government and Canada have still not returned the land to them, though the cemetery is untouched and the golf course has not been expanded. Subsequently, the Mohawk still seek the lands which belong to them in this ancient dispute which continues to this day.

Beans was the opening night film in the festival. Look for it on IMBD and elsewhere for its performances, storyline and fine direction by Tracey Deer. It is deserving of the awards it won: three awards at festivals (Tracey Deer won VIFF for Best Canadian Feature Film). It was nominated for five other awards.

Reflections on ‘The Gardener’by Lanie Robertson, With a Stellar Cast in its World Premiere Online

Stacy Keach Zoom Theater, the “good friends of Lincoln Center Theater” is offering a free virtual event to benefit The Actor’s Fund. The world premiere of Lanie Robertson’s magnificent play The Gardener is streaming live until February 18, 2021 on this link. https://www.stacykeachzoomtheater.com/

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie (courtesy of the site)

Starring Ed Harris as Claude Monet, Stacy Keach as the Prime Minister of France, Georges Clemenceau, and Amy Madigan as Monet’s stepdaughter Blanche, the playwright spins out the days which become the turning point in the lives of Monet and Clemenceau as they reaffirm the closeness of their relationship as good friend,s who inspire each other to benefit the culture and world around them.

Robertson begins the play identifying elements that essentially intimate the cultural times in which both men, lived though not through specific dates. The chronology is abstruse. For example Monet has lost his wife Camille and his son, Jean which has devastated him. And he refers to these events and their impact on him as does his stepdaughter Blanche. At the top of the play we follow the discussion that Clemenceau has survived an assassination attempt which identifies the time around 1919 after WWI. After the assassination attempt which Monet and Blanche believe killed Clemenceau, he turns up jocularly alive to visit Monet. The painter is at Giverny, Monet’s studio and garden, which he is planting and developing and to which Monet refers as his true legacy.

Ed Harris as Monet in ‘The Gardener,’ written by Lanie Robertson, directed by Stacy Keach, (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

Interestingly, Clemenceau doesn’t “get the love” Monet expresses about the flora and fauna of the garden environs which Monet works day and night, and has come to know as intimately as he knows his paint’s thickness on his variety of brushes. Clemenceau claims he prefers the city noises, uproar and busyness of street hustle and bustle and his life as a politician, journalist and Prime Minister of France.

Much is subtext and inference in this play which draws one into the mystery of these two icons. It may force one to look up more information about the time, Monet’s greatest of masterpieces and this statesman of France who was prickly, Republican (in the French sense of the word) a humanist, Monet’s good friend and lover of art. I cannot imagine a better selection of cast than Amy Madigan, Ed Harris and Stacy Keach who also acutely directed this vibrant production.

Amy Madigan as Blanche, Monet’s stepdaughter, in ‘The Gardener’ by Lanie Robertson, directed by Stacy Keach (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

Of course though Clemenceau could not have foreseen the romance of Giverny for global tourism and posterity, art lovers and professionals alike understand the importance of Giverny’s gardens to Monet’s final works; the garden informed his painting and provided the inspiration and respite to innovate and be energized to the muses of the creative process. Thus, both Monet’s garden and his works have become synonymous with Monet’s complicated genius and artistry.

Monet’s painting of Giverny house and studio (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

What is intriguing about Robertson’s The Gardener, which heightens this interplay of Monet’s artistic talent being dependent upon his skill as a gardener, is the vitality of Monet’s relationship with Clemenceau. Again, this is inferred as the great unspoken. It was Clemenceau who after Monet died, arranged for the display of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies) cycle which eventually ended up in 1927 at Orangerie, now Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France. Clemenceau understood the greatness of Monet’s intention to symbolize the hope of peace, and healing power of nature, light and solace of the garden to soothe and renew the souls of soldiers who returned emotionally and psychically deadened after the hellish abyss of WWI. Clemenceau’s attraction to Monet’s work and friendship, was reaffirmed in 1908 and lasted to the end of their lives. Robertson suggests Clemenceau sought Monet and his work for its power to revitalize and restore his being. The friends’ connection lies beyond the veil, in an ineffable, immutable bond. And if one investigates further, theirs was an agreed upon arrangement that was fated for all time.

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie (courtesy of the site)

What is not spoken of in the play, Robertson alludes to and the brilliant actors convey, inhabiting these iconic individuals. It is Monet’s Water Lilies masterpiece that he worked on for three decades and to which Clemenceau encouraged him to add panels. The day after the Armistice in 1918 was when Monet asked Clemenceau to take two panels which he signed on Victory day and offer them to the State. Clemenceau was the intermediary to have Monet’s “great decoration” displayed in the way Monet wanted, a display that he finalized the conceptualization of right after his son Jean died. Thus, when Harris as the bereft Monet discusses Jean’s death with Clemenceau and the sonorous and vital Amy Madigan as Blanche expresses her grandfather’s great grief and hers at Jean’s loss, we understand why Monet sent away everyone from his home. We understand his need to be alone for his final work to be finished. We understand (sorry for the spoiler alert) why Blanche leaves with Clemenceau. It is for the greatness of what is to come; and all contributed in their way to its becoming.

(L to R): Stacy Keach as Clemenceau, Ed Harris as Claude Monet in ‘The Gardener,’ a World Premiere (courtesy of Stacy Keach Zoom Theater)

This “becoming” achieved its final form in the arrangement of the panels in the Orangerie as a panoramic frieze exhibited seamlessly to embrace the viewer in two elliptical rooms. The two panels at Clemenceau’s suggestion grew to 8, though Monet pledged more. But these 8 are the apotheosis of the Water Lilies cycle that Monet had begun thirty years before. He meant it to be his final contribution to the uplifting of France and perhaps for all time and for all of the world, as a monument to peace.

It has been said that Clemenceau encouraged Monet to create a total of 19 paintings some of which Monet destroyed. Indeed, Monet held them all back, hoping to achieve greater and greater perfection until he could work on them no longer, and his death released the paintings to Clemenceau in 1926. In1927 Clemenceau secured the 8 panels to establish the exhibit which is the impressionist’s monumental achievement, not necessarily appreciated nor understood by the public in 1927 or the next decade.

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie (courtesy of the site)

However, when one visits the Musée de l’Orangerie, one experiences the arrangement of Monet’s unique vision of form and color in a watery landscape that is sprinkled with waterlilies, shimmering ripples, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, varying shades of light and dark green vegetation, all suggesting the ethereal qualities of light and air. Symbolized beautifully is the thread of life these natural elements that were conceived in Monet’s consciousness and then manifested in his garden which, for as long as it remains, imbues the eternal as does the “great decoration.”

Monet’s lily pond at Giverny (courtesy of the site)

Monet said about his creation, it is the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore.” Assuredly, the “elliptical shape of the rooms” suggests the mathematical symbol for infinity. The panels are a seamless continuum in time and space materialized. Likewise, Monet conceptualized his garden, planted, watered and cultivated the rich soils to express a beauty which he materialized using his vast array of knowledge of florals and accompanying plants to align the inner eye with the infinite, the eternal. His Garden and Monet’s exhibit in Musée de l’Orangerie are nonpareil.

This production is broadly relevant in its themes and scope. What better way to memorialize the message to remain uplifted through art in our time of mob violence at the Capitol, the horrifying insurrection against democracy, a noxious political divide and a pandemic. What could be better than to view the exchanges between two exceptional actors portraying cultural giants looking back to a similar time (the aftermath of the brutal WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic) as they worked to bring the hope of peace through the halo of artistic expression.

Monet’s lily pond at Giverny (courtesy of the site)

Harris, Keach and Madigan give brilliant performances re-imagining individuals we are barely acquainted with but know culturally. Memorable is Madigan’s humorous taking down of Harris’ Monet when as Blanche, she is outraged that Monet gives her pate to the cats, the sumptuous pate that she slaved. Her specific and factual description of what it took to make pate back in the day is marvelous. The actors convey the humanity of these greats at a still point in time that allows us to identify, engage and appreciate their friendship and the value of such friendships in times of great trouble.

The messages, themes and parallels of that time to this carry great relevance and currency for us today. Bravo and thanks to Robertson, Harris, Keach, Madigan and the creative team for this superb and unforgettable zoom theater experience. To see it CLICK HERE. https://www.stacykeachzoomtheater.com/ IT ENDS ON FEBRUARY 18, 2021. You will be happy you did. And after you finish watching, donate to The Actor’s Fund, CLICK HERE

New York Botanical Garden: Intimate ORCHID Spotlight Replaces Annual Exhibit

Phalaneopsis orchids, NYBG
Phalaneopsis Orchids, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

As a result of the pandemic, the New York Botanical Garden has changed its approach regarding its annual orchid exhibition. In keeping with safety and security for New Yorkers, Garden members and guests, the annual Orchid Show will return in 2022. As a replacement, the Garden is focusing on a personal and close-up view of orchids without the fanfare, showiness and crowds.

corsage orchid, NYBG,
Corsage orchid, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

This year unusual orchids and other plants from NYBG’s permanent collections will be displayed in select galleries of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory on February 20–April 4, 2021.

vanda orchids, NYBG
Vanda orchids, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Continuing with reduced indoor capacity, The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is forgoing its traditional orchid exhibition presenting a limited Spotlight on Orchids and other permanent plant collections in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. A visit to select galleries of the Conservatory will reveal displays of orchids in brilliant white and striking colors set against the foliage of aroids, ferns, and bromeliads. The plantings highlight how the orchids might be found in nature as they blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

phalaneopsis orchids, NYBG
Phalaenopsis orchids, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The approach brings attention to orchids in their habitats and emphasizes investigation of orchids as one of the largest of plant families in their their variety with differences in their shape, size and color to attract pollinators. Orchids thrive on every continent except Antarctica and can be found even the desert gallery of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Paphiopedilum, NYBG ‘Orchid Show: ‘Singapore,’ 2019, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory (Carole Di Tosti)

As visitors walk through the various galleries, they will be able to view and explore unique orchids from NYBG’s renowned collections from around the world. The Garden is known for its rare orchids. Don’t forget to take a long, lingering look at the glass case between the galleries where many of the Garden’s rare and small orchids enjoy their special, controlled environment. Also, check out the artful floral creations. These are fashioned by Botanical Garden horticulturists. The creations combine expressive orchids from the popular Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) to lady slippers (Paphiopedilum) with rocks, tree trunks, vines, and other found materials.

Dancing Lady Orchids, NYBG
Dancing Lady orchids, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

NYBG looks forward to the return of its annual Orchid Show in 2022.

Cymbidium Orchids, NYBG
Cymbidium orchids, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Spotlight on Orchids runs from Saturday, February 20, through Sunday, April 4, 2021; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Phalaenopsis Orchids, NYBG
Phalaenopsis orchids, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Tickets for Spotlight on Orchids is open to all visitors with the purchase of an advance, timed Garden Pass + Conservatory ticket, which includes access to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and outdoor gardens and collections. Click on http://nybg.org/visit for more information or tickets.

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature at New York Botanical Garden

Yayoi Kusama pictured with her work (courtesy of the site)

The New York Botanical Garden is presenting its expansive 2021 exhibition, KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature. The internationally celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is being featured for the Spring season since the exhibit was postponed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition includes four experiences that will debut at the Garden which is the exclusive venue for KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature. The exhibition will be installed across NYBG’s landscape, in and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building. Timed, limited-capacity tickets for the landmark presentation go on sale to the public March 16, 2021, at https://www.nybg.org/event/kusama/

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature
Members-Only Benefits

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature Members-Only Benefits

  • Exclusive Member ticket Pre-Sale, March 11-15
  • Complimentary exhibition and Garden admission – visit again and again, for free!
  • Exclusive Members-Only Preview Day, April 9
  • At the Patron Level, enjoy the best of the exhibition with a dedicated Patron pre-sale beginning March 9, complimentary Infinity Mirrored Room tickets when interior access begins, and special viewing opportunities.
Yayoi Kusama’s dynamic colors and design elements are unique and striking (courtesy of the site)

Experience Yayoi Kusama’s profound connection with nature

Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is one of the most popular artists in the world, drawing millions to experience her immersive installations.

Exclusively at NYBG, Kusama reveals her lifelong fascination with the natural world, beginning with her childhood spent in the greenhouses and fields of her family’s seed nursery. Her artistic concepts of obliteration, infinity, and eternity are inspired by her intimate engagement with the colors, patterns, and life cycles of plants and flowers.

Portrait of an incredible artist in photography (courtesy of the site)

Explore Kusama’s eternal love for plants

Spectacular installations feature Kusama’s multifaceted art, including monumental floral sculptures that transform NYBG’s 250-acre landmark landscape.

Across the grounds, discover installations that include the artist’s legendary Narcissus Garden (1966/2021) in the Native Plant Garden. Nearby, marvel at Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021), where soaring trees are adorned in vibrant red with white polka dots. The horticultural spectacle across the landscape changes throughout the seasons, with tulips and irises in spring, dahlias and sweetpeas in summer, and pumpkins and chrysanthemums in fall.

In and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, Kusama’s work comes to life through a seasonal progression of violas, salvias, zinnias, chrysanthemums, and other colorful annuals, while her plant-inspired, polka-dotted sculptures are nestled among meadow grasses, bellflowers, and water lilies, including Hymn of Life—Tulips (2007) in the Conservatory Courtyard Hardy Pool. Her mesmerizing Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity (2017) is on view in the Visitor Center gallery.

In the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building, explore paintings, biomorphic collages, sculpture, and works on paper inspired by Kusama’s deep knowledge of nature, and in the adjacent Ross Gallery, enjoy Walking Piece (ca. 1966), a multiscreen digital projection of a performance work from the artist’s collection.

Yayoi Kusama’s exclusive presentation will be at NYBG from Saturday, April 10 – Sunday, October 31, 2021 (courtesy of the site)

See new monumental and immersive works

New monumental sculptures Dancing Pumpkin (2020) and I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020) make their debut in the NYBG landscape. They join the artist’s first-ever obliteration greenhouse, Flower Obsession (2017/2021).

Patron pre-sale begins March 9, 10 a.m. ET
Member and Corporate Member pre-sale begins March 11, 10 a.m. ET
Public tickets on sale: March 16, 10 a.m. ET

FOR TICKETS GO TO THE FOLLOWING LINK

https://www.nybg.org/event/kusama/

‘Mustard’ 2021 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival Solo Production

In the award winning solo production Mustard performed by Eva O’Conner and directed by Hildegard Ryan, the condiment of various shades of yellow and heat gains a new symbolism and significance. The award-winning comedy/drama, an offering of the 2021 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival online, is from Fishamble: The New Play Company based in Dublin. Mustard has been screening online in January because of the pandemic. 

The Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival is presented yearly. Because of the pandemic, this is the first year it has been streaming productions online, including a total of 20 events, with panels on various topics. One, for example, concerns producing during the pandemic.

Mustard, written and performed by Eva O’Connor (courtesy of Fishamble: The New Play Company)

Mustard originally premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, where it won the 2019 Lustrum Award, Edinburgh, and the 2019 Scotsman Fringe First Award. It was also nominated for the Scottish Mental Health Awards 2019. Eva O’Conner was last seen in the 2020 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival in Maz & Bricks. She is a superb performer whether in a two-hander or solo as in Mustard which she also wrote.

How O’Connor inhabits the the retelling of the story of the love possessed, lovelorn, hollowed-out character E is absolutely authentic and moment to moment mesmerizing. Her dynamic enactment of E’s relationship with a stunning, professional cyclist from London is both humorous and striking in its approach, as she develops the shades of difference between passion and obsession, between sexual addiction and love. All of this is accomplished in the name of the character’s yearning for a lasting relationship and a dollop of madness on the side.

Eva O’Connor in Mustard, Fishamble: New Play Company, 2021 Origin First Irish Theatre Festival (courtesy Fishamble)

What E discovers about herself is her ability to maximize self-loathing. As she reflects back on the relationship, she encounters her stifling obsession for the cyclist who demeans her with a series of annihilating events. The humiliation and embarrassment of her dead-on emotional suffocation and idolatry of him as her “love” object consumes her. And, it renders her immobile in an acute depression which she endures by returning home to mom. Vying between want and repulsion because she allowed the cyclist (a Brit) to redefine her being, she realizes she crafted this eternal fire of “love” for him into a weapon of emotional self-destruction.

Her only release is “mustard.” How she employs the condiment to salve her soul, psyche and physical yearning becomes an active segment of E’s account. We watch fascinated as she sets the stage for the moment of maximum catharsis and pain, curious about how all of the various props she has brought with her, a bucket, a clothesline, etc. figure into the context of her explaining the “love” affair with this “guy” whom she’s lived with for almost a year.

Eva O’Connor in Mustard directed by Hildegard Ryan (courtesy of Fishamble: The New Play Company)

O’Connor performs the characters of E, her evangelical mother and her English sometime lover with personality and spot-on revelation. Her relationship with her mother is humorously delivered with Irish accent and gesturing. Her adoration of the cyclist and her final answer to his effrontery, slaughtering her soul, is disclosed in heady wonder. Over all, O’Connor’s dialogue, descriptions, infusions of rhythmic language and unique interplay of the characters is beautiful, lush, unique and thrilling. For anyone who has experienced a similar stripping down to raw nerve by a “love interest,” this is a must see. O’Connor and her character’s emotionally mad ride are unforgettable.

After twenty minutes of viewing, it is obvious why O’Connor won awards for her play, incisively and excellently directed by Hildegard Ryan. Once again Fishamble: The New Play Company proves itself to be on the cutting edge of drama and comedy that is significant, as it expresses the depths of human emotion and feeling with dramatic ardor and vitality.

You can still see the last week of the 2021 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival by going to their website to view the calendar of events; these end on January 31st. For tickets to plays and the calendar of events CLICK HERE. For tickets to Mustard whose last performances are on Wednesday, 27th January at 8 pm and Sunday, 31st of January at 2 pm, click on this link. CLICK HERE for MUSTARD. You’ll be glad you did.

Raindance Film Festival Review: ‘Everybody Flies’

'Everybody Flies' documentary written and directed by Tristan Lorraine (courtesy of the film)
Tristan Lorraine wrote and directed the documentary ‘Everybody Flies’ (courtesy of the film)

Before the pandemic how many times a year did you fly on a commercial airline? Did you ever smell anything in the ambient air during the flight? If you did, was the smell like stinky feet?

Tristan Lorraine, former Airline Captain directed and wrote the documentary Everybody Flies, presented by Fact Not Fiction Films. The documentary highlights an explosive revelation about something we take for granted on flights because we trust the aviation industry, the FAA and airline companies to build flight worthy aircraft that will not crash. Indeed, statistics have proven that flying is safer than driving. But is it?

If we examine the interior of planes and specifically the environment within the cabin, we must reconsider airline safety. After seeing Lorraine’s film, one may think twice about getting on an older aircraft of an airline company that has recorded toxic fume events which are highly dangerous and have led to debilitating physical conditions for those who were not only passengers but especially for the flight crews who over time suffer from the cumulative effects of breathing toxic air.

An aircraft toxic fume event occurs when bleed air used for cabin pressurization and air conditioning in a pressurized aircraft is contaminated by fluids such as engine oil, hydraulic fluid, anti-icing fluid, and other potentially hazardous chemicals which are carcinogenic and also cause nerve damage. Some events are visible and all are aware of the smoky, misty air which smells like what it is, air contaminated by dangerous substances. But other times the toxic molecules are invisible, not apprehended by the passengers or crew. Nevertheless, if one checks for these substances by testing the furniture, walls and other surfaces in the cabin interior, their residue is present, indicating the air is contaminated microscopically.

Using longitudinal research over eighteen years compiling videos of comprehensive eye-witness testimony, factual scientific data and evidence about toxic bleed air, Lorraine makes the inexorable case that not only does poisonous air waft into plane cabins, that air causes severe physical and mental damage to victims who suffer after fume events from the harmful chemicals they inhaled. In one instance Lorraine interviews a pilot. He became paralyzed and couldn’t move his arms. But for the co-pilot the plane might have crashed.

The specific chemical pollutant which Lorraine discovered in the leaking oil that is most devastating is tricresyl phosphate (TCP). Though at one time the air filtration systems and compressors not connected to engines prevented toxic chemicals from entering the air supply, those systems were abandoned. Instead, the current system which is subject to engine oil leak bleeds and toxic cabin air is present on every plane, If there is an engine oil leak, despite Hepa filters, invisible molecules infiltrate the air conditioning and invade the passengers’ and crew members’ lungs.

Interestingly, Hepa filters can strain out virus molecules; so COVID-19 can’t be spread easily on planes. However, Hepa filters do not strain out the smaller molecules in TCP. Although fume events don’t happen regularly because they are a function of a number of problems occurring together, minor events are more prevalent. It is these that have a cumulative effect on frequent flyers, flight crews and those who travel more during the year than those passengers who fly once every four to five years.

Lorraine’s interviews with airline staff and passengers are spot-on. Because Lorraine experienced a toxic fume event which ended his career, he knows which questions to ask and which to use to follow up for specific noteworthy details. Ironically, until doctors eventually identified the cause of the poisonings in former airline staff who were perplexed by their physical suffering, the air quality issues on planes were diminished by regulating agencies in collusion with airline companies and manufacturers. Air quality problems were dismissed and “company men” using a “banality of evil” modus operandi compared the air quality in planes to that in home kitchens and other benign environments.

Lorraine proves to be thorough in his investigations to smack down the lies of the airline industry which is more concerned about profit than the people on their flights. With a toxicity monitoring device Lorraine measures the air quality in various places from his kitchen to a London street to an airplane cabin. By comparison the cabin’s toxicity numbers were astronomical, proving the regulators and companies cannot to be trusted to have their clients best interests or welfare at heart. Of course, holding to account airline companies, chemical manufacturers, the FAA and other agencies who regulate the use of such chemicals has been difficult. Not only have airlines been in collusion with the FAA, etc., they have stalked and investigated litigants who sued them after toxic fume events, as Lorraine revealed in interview video clips with toxic fume event sufferers.

'Everybody Flies,' Tristan Lorraine, documentary, Raindance Film Festival
‘Everybody Flies’ (courtesy of the film)

According to the research accomplished for the film the Federal Aviation Administration identified “204 fume events recorded in its ‘Service Difficulty Reports’ (SDR) database since October.” Recently, there have been notable events, one including Spirit Airlines in 2018. A “noxious, burning odor” caused a Spirit Airline plane to make an emergency landing July 27th 2018. The flight was diverted to Myrtle Beach International Airport in South Carolina after passengers identified the fumes and subsequently were treated for headaches, nausea and difficulty breathing. No one swabbed down the plane to check for a residue of chemicals. They should have.

Interestingly, there was no hazardous material found on the plane. Nevertheless, the 220 people on board had breathed in and filtered through their lungs and into their blood streams poisonous molecules. Passenger Mary Vincent Randall filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court about the smell which caused her “serious and permanent injuries.” Hopefully, her litigation will be successful.

Lorraine points out that lawsuits for damages because of toxic fume events can go on for years and end up costing the litigants thousands. The companies have lawyers on retainer and are willing to spend the money to bankrupt them in order to make the litigant “go away.” Averse to negative publicity, airline companies will move heaven and earth to prevent “bad press” from tarnishing what they have promoted as a safe mode of travel. This is why the truth has not gotten out to the flying public who, when they find out and it hits critical mass, will force the industry to make corrections insuring there is safe air on all planes.

Until then, the airline industry’s reprobate, negligent behaviors persist. Lorraine points out the horrific irony of this. The problem could be solved with filters more effective than Hepa filters to prevent contaminants from entering the cabin via bleed air. And the FAA and regulators could mandate all airline companies change the air systems on planes so that the air filtration systems and compressors are not connected to engines.

Lorraine has devoted years of his life to provoke all those in the industry to make airplanes as safe as their reputations say they are. With his hard work as evidenced in this film to alert the public, and with the efforts of the unions as attention is brought to the issue, change is happening, though it is slow.

Most importantly, Lorraine’s whistleblowing reminds us that the airline industry is more concerned about profits than people and that is why some consider the solutions to fix the problem too onerous to do anything about. On the flip side Lorraine shows that other companies are making effective changes by using different air filtration systems which actually are not more costly. He highlights that the Boeing 787 is one such plane that has a safer air filtration system. Additionally, using a stronger, more efficient filter that locks out the toxic molecules would make a great difference in preventing the hazards of toxic fume events in cabin air.

Lorraine’s documentary is a wake up call for the public. We must be aware of the potential catastrophe of the possibility of toxic fume events to petition congressional representatives. Above all we must show continued, fervent support for airline industry unions as they endeavor to make cabin air safe. Considering that before the pandemic, millions of people were flying every day, and now the numbers are millions fewer, the hiatus has some positive consideration for passengers and crew who are on international long hour flights not experiencing toxic fume events simply by not flying. For the longer one is on a plane with invisible contaminated air molecules, the greater the physical harm. In relaying the information Lorraine’s message is clear with credible and frightening documentation as we see ourselves in the shoes of those witnesses who have suffered from toxic air poisoning.

Everybody Flies is a must see film, especially if you are a frequent flyer. The airline industry must be held accountable. The changes which will insure safe cabins along with comfortable flights must become a universal, global mandate. Lorraine’s documentary goes a long way in helping to make this possible.

New York Botanical Garden 21st Annual Winter Lecture Series

'NYBG Glow,' NYBG
NYBG Glow at NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

GARDENS OF MEANING

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The 21st annual NYGB comprehensive lecture series features non-traditional perspectives that illuminate and delve into the gardening experience.The 21st annual NYGB comprehensive lecture series features non-traditional perspectives that illuminate and delve into the gardening experience.

NYBG Glow, NYBG
‘NYBG Glow,’ NYBG, gazebo (Carole Di Tosti)
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><strong> The lecture series is being held online. It begins on Thursdays, January 28, February 25, and March 25, 2021, from 11 a.m.</strong> to <strong>12 a.m</strong>. The lecture series is being held online. It begins on Thursdays, January 28, February 25, and March 25, 2021, from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.

NYBG Fall plantings (Carole Di Tosti)

The lecture series highlights speakers who approach the garden from unique perspectives—healing, inclusiveness, and music. These experts add new comprehension to our notions of calming our psyches to create lovely spaces and promote an extraordinary gardening experience.

NYBG Waterfall, late summer (Carole Di Tosti)

Speakers includeSue Stuart-Smith, Leslie Bennett and Larry Weaner.

NYBG herb garden late summer (Carole Di Tosti)

Sue Stuart-Smith is a distinguished psychiatrist and avid gardener. She believes that gardens may interact with us in ways that can sustain our innermost selves.On Thursday, January 28 online from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sue Stuart-Smith is presenting The Well-Gardened Mind.

NYBG late summer (Carole Di Tosti)

Leslie Bennett is the founder of the Black Sanctuary Gardens project. The Black Sanctuary Gardens Project creates gardens of refuge and beauty in collaboration with Black women and communities. On Thursday, February 25 online from 11 am. to 12 pm. Leslie Bennett is presenting Gardens of Sanctuary.

NYBG daffodils in the Spring (courtesy NYBG)

Larry Weaner is a landscape designer and composer. He believes that designing a garden and composing music are linked by a freedom of expression within formal constraint. On Thursday, March 25th online from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Larry Weaner is presenting Music Composition and Landscape Design.

NYBG Glow
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)

You may register online for each lecture at NYBG.ORG, or call 718.817.8720. Each lecture IS $15/$18 (Garden Member/Non-Member) The series: $39/$49 (Garden Member/Non-Member.

New York Botanical Garden Glow

NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
New York Botanical Garden Glow, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, December 28, 2020 (Carole Di Tosti)

As an outdoor color and light show in the evenings, New York Botanical Garden has been presenting Glow. Sauntering along the paths of the Garden with the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory as the focal point, the shades of color illuminate the pine trees and create an otherworldly aura throughout. The beauty of Glow is that it is outdoors and there is no crowding with lots of room to spread out in safety.

NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, another view, December 28, 2020 (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow, Gazebo (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow, Reflecting Pool (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow, Leon Levy Center (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)

Washes of brilliant colors, thousands of dazzling, energy-efficient LED lights, and picture-perfect installations fill the Visitor Center Reflecting Pool and magically energize surrounding gardens and collections. As part of the experience, visitors can also enjoy artistic ice sculptures; music; roving dancers, including a Hip Hop Nutcracker NYBG remix; and more outdoor fun. To warm up and add satisfaction to your appreciation of GLOW, you can have a hot chocolate or latte at the Pine Tree Cafe with other treats and sandwiches, pizza and Paninis.

NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)

In accordance with New York State and City requirements for cultural institutions and safety protocols that include limited ticketing capacity and social distancing, timed-entry tickets for NYBG GLOW must be purchased in advance.The new, limited timed-entry ticketing system staggers visitors’ arrivals, promotes social distancing, and mitigates the risk of crowding in high-traffic areas.

NYBG Glow, Ice Sculpture (Carole Di Tosti)

More information about NYBG’s enhanced safety protocols, including a “Know Before You Go” video, is available here.

NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)

Dates left to get tickets: Friday, January 8; Saturday, January 9; Friday, January 15; and Saturday, January 16, 2021. Glow takes place during the hours: 5–10 p.m.

NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG Glow (Carole Di Tosti)

Timed-entry tickets for NYBG GLOW must be purchased in advance. General admission is $30 for adults and $18 for children two to 12. Children under two are admitted free. Admission for Garden Members is $20 for adults and $10 for children two to 12. Visit nybg.org for details and to purchase tickets.

NYBG Glow ends on Saturday, 16 January. You still have time to visit this gorgeous winter celebration at the Garden. Don’t miss it.

‘Meet Me in St. Louis’: Irish Repertory Theatre’s Spectacular Holiday Show

Irish Repertory Theatre continually proves that it can do the extraordinary with skill, talent and enthusiasm, as it mesmerizes and endears its members, donors and global audience with exceptional productions. This is particularly amazing during a time when New York City theater is staying safe and waiting until the blessings of the COVID-19 vaccines mitigate the dangers of the pandemic which to date has killed 330,000 Americans.

Thus, we welcome being cheered up for the holiday season. And what better way than to peer into past reflections of hope when The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, unofficially the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, commemorated the 100th year of the Louisiana Purchase. The Fair, the last great international exposition before World War I, was an extravaganza that included hundreds of thousands of people, animals, unique items and displays. It magnified the bright future of industry and innovation from 63 exhibiting countries and 43 of the 45 United States.

Max Von Essen as “the boy next door” in Irish Rep’s ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (courtesy of Irish Repertory Theatre)

Excitement about the St. Louis Fair, which is the central image highlighted in the titular song of the musical Meet Me in St. Louis, drives the beginning and finale of the Irish Rep production. The book by Hugh Wheeler and songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane are based on the Kensington Stories by Sally Benson and the 1944 MGM Motion Picture Meet Me in St Louis. Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore with musical direction by John Bell, orchestrations by Josh Clayton and produced by Ciarán Reilly, this Holiday Special in Song and Screen can be appreciated again and again, whether with family or individually. You will never tire of the show because it is that wonderful.

Shereen Ahmed as Esther in front of a green screen, ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ (Irish Repertory Theatre)

The production values are sophisticated and spot-on. The orchestra’s superb technique performed seamlessly on zoom (thanks to the wizardry of musicians, Bell, M. Florian Staab and others) perfectly blends with the gorgeous voices of the cast, a tricky technical feat, especially with the ensemble numbers. The tuneful and lighthearted, upbeat songs (Trolley Song,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Drunk Song,” “Touch of the Irish”) and in other instances poignant, familiar numbers (“The Boy Next Door”) are a pleasant remembrance, if you have seen the MGM film and the 1989 Broadway version which starred Charlotte Moore as Anne Smith.

(L to R: William Bellamy, Ali Ewoldt, Kylie Kuioka, Austyn Johnson, Shereen Ahmed, Top Row: Jay Aubrey Jones, Melissa Errico, Kathy Fitzgerald in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ Irish Rep (Irish Repertory Theatre)

Some of the songs in the Broadway version have been cut, a wise choice for a streaming production you watch via your tablet, phone or computer. But one song that had been cut from the 1989 Broadway show was added in the Irish Rep version (“You’ll Hear a Bell”). This song, reprised in the second act, is beautifully rendered by the golden-throated, imminently watchable Melissa Errico the mother. Anne Smith encourages her daughter Esther (Shereen Ahmed) about understanding and recognizing love based on her own experience with her husband, Alonzo Smith, Esther’s father.

Melissa Errico in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (Irish Repertory Theatre)

Charlotte Moore shepherds the cast with precision. She astutely teases out winning performances and humor from Kylie Kuioka (Tootie) who is a fireball of joy and mischievousness, the perfect foil for the sedate, companionable, near-in-age, wry, older sister Agnes (Austyn Johnson). The marriageable sisters, Rose (the vibrant Ali Ewoldt) and linchpin of the production, Esther (the soulful, exciting Shereen Ahmed) propel the plot development. Theirs is newfound love with their prospective partners the reserved Warren Sheffield (Ian Holcomb in a fine portrayal) and the “boy next door” John Truitt (the affable, illimitable Max Von Essen).

As Esther expresses good will toward the family which is sorrowful about moving, she  poignantly sings the profound (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) which is nostaligic under any circumstances and particularly heartbreaking under present circumstances of the pandemic. Shereen Ahmed’s Esther is particularly well wrought with her lyrical vocal instrument and authenticity of portrayal in the lead that Judy Garland played on film.

Shereen Ahmed in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ set magically appears (Irish Repertory Theatre)

With the couples’ togetherness thrown down by Alonzo Smith’s moving the family to New York to make more money and raise their standard of living, we note this makes sense if seen through modern values that lift wealth and money above well being and happiness. However, Father Smith (Rufus Collins does a fine job in the concluding scene) in a throwback to old-fashioned values and economies of the past (only Dads worked) chooses to please his family by remaining in St. Louis. It is a gift that all adore beyond treasure and we yearn for in a culture that over the last two decades has been on the brink of losing its fundamental values of the preciousness of life, love and family.

William Bellamy, Kerry Conte, Kathy Fitzgerald, Jay Aubrey Jones and Ashley Robinson round out the cast of this marvelous production which was produced remotely with the dexterous application of green screens and lovely backdrops. In its technique, applied imagination and sheer audacity, the production, not streamed live from a stage, is a book musical with actors separate, home alone. filming, which has never having been done before. This was a realization which John Bell musical director affirmed to Melissa Errico who quipped in her New York Times article that Meet Me in St. Louis was a show where no one actually would meet in St. Louis or anywhere else. Read Melissa Errico’s account here.

Great praise goes to the cast, the creative team and director Charlotte Moore for this Christmas treasure. The Irish Repertory Theatre has exercised their vitality and prodigious cleverness to provide this most American of celebratory entertainments at a time when we crave affirmations of friendship, love, family, togetherness and joy present in the show’s themes. This is one you must not miss.

Irish Repertory Theatre’s Meet Me in St. Louis runs until Saturday, 2nd January. For tickets and times go to the Irish Repertory Theatre’s website. Click Here.

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