Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Taste of Home, Part 1

This weekend, I had a real treat in New York. Mom and Wendy came for their first visit since I've moved here to the city, a taste of the broad meadow in my urban jungle. Weary from a week of tax conventions and boring lectures, the Hoosier ladies made there way here early Saturday morning. Greeted by another grey and rainy New York day, we met up at their hotel in Astoria/Long Island City, just down the road from my apartment. After checking out my new digs, with pictures to prove it, we headed into the city to see what trouble we could get into. Coming out of the 49th St, we met the crowds and rain of Times Square (much to the dismay of Wendy's hair) and ventured to the TKTS booth, currently occupied by a band of foot stomping Jesus Freaks. After picking up some chance matinee tickets, we veered away from the crowds and traveled west to Hell's Kitchen for a bite to eat before the show. Spying an advertisement for brunch, we tucked into a near-empty Mexican restaurant for salsa, steak, and an hour of unlimited drinking (for only $5 - who doesn't love that?). Our stomachs full and a little buzzed (Wendy sipped cokes and supervised), we braved the cold again and headed north to Studio 54, the location of our afternoon show, the one I have been aching to see since landing, Wishful Drinking, created and starring Carrie Fisher. Set against the backdrop of the decaying the mysterious Studio 54, former home to legendary parties and height-of-their-youth stars like Liza Minelli, Michael Jackson, Debbie Harry, and Andy Warhol, we settled into our prime-orchestra seats (thank you TDF) in anticipation of the show. As the curtain rose, Ms. Fisher appeared in silhouette, making shadow puppets to a mashed up intro of "Happy Days Are Here Again" and the Star Wars theme. Entering through the scrimmed-door, she appeared onstage in pajamas and rhinestone flip-flops (which she quickly removed), on a living room-esque set, complete with glasses of water, Coke Zero, and a garden gnome who was never introduced. Sighting some skeptics in the audience, she even passed out drink tickets and ear plugs. Like Studio 54 itself, Ms. Fisher has seen brighter, flashier days, as the show chronicles her journey through Star Wars fame, Hollywood marriage and divorce, alcoholism, substance abuse, and mental health. Not missing a beat, she quips that last time she was here, people were having sex in the balcony and doing lines of cocaine. As far as I know, the Saturday matinee crowd, of which I was the seemingly youngest member, were only guilty of unwrapping candy and checking their hearing aids. She tells her story with overwhelming veracity and wit, assisted by slide projections, a few songs, audience participation, and even a giant chalkboard for a lesson in Hollywood Marriage 101 (her parents are Eddie Fisher and the divine Debbie Reynolds). Similar to Elaine Stritch at Liberty, she uses her time onstage to deal with her troubled past, work her through her issues, and learn to laugh at what was once tragic ("Location, Location, Location"). The show was clever and very funny, more Fisher poking fun at herself and her mistakes than any sort of serious or sad reflection. Not a swan song, but rather a triumph, a portrait of a woman coping with her problems, rather than a woman defeated by her problems. Brimming with camp, sass, boozing and Hollywood name calling, this was my kind of show. We all enjoyed the show very much, and were glad to have caught it on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Busy bees we are, we scooted back down Broadway to hit up the TKTS booth again for evening tickets. With orchestra seats for the evening performance of Ragtime obtained, we took the subway back into Queens to check into the hotel and allow Mom and Wendy to freshen up a bit. Dark but still rainy, we met up again and took the packed train into Manhattan, along with everyone else form Astoria looking for fun in the city. After locating the Neil Simon Theater, we went around the corner for beers and appetizers at a corner diner, though I probably should have had coffee and salad, you only live once. Ce la vie. We popped into the theater for showtime and situated ourselves in the cramped seats (perhaps when the theater was built a hundred or so years ago, people were smaller?). Having just opened a few days earlier, the house was quite full and abuzz with what the first Broadway revival of Flaherty and Ahren's most celebrated work might behold. The curtain opened to a huge, vertical set, the actors assembled in tableau. Unfortunately for us, the overhang from the balcony blocked our view from the very top and took away from the evening's performance (if only the TKTS man would have spoken up!). The musical tells the story of the early 20th century, played by three families, one white, one black, and one Jewish, their paths intersecting each other as the plot unfurls itself. Mixed in are appearances by several famous figures of the era including Houdini, a sexy Vaudeville star, Henry Ford, and Booker T. Washington. It is a very interesting concept and subject material, especially now that I am living in New York. Today, both the African-American and Jewish communities are quite established in the city, giving way to new immigrant groups from Latin America and Asia, another chapter in this island's mixing pot. The story and the music are quite grand in scheme and style, embracing the qualities of opera as well as musical comedy. This production was done in a fairly bare bones way, with limited set and theatrical flare, focusing rather on the story, acting, and music. I thought the production was quite good, though I admit to some minor dozing, as I am apt to do. Warm theaters, beer, and a lack of brass and dazzle are a deadly combination for Bradley the theatregoer. Drowsy and recovering from the complex piece, we headed to the Upper West Side for a few nightcaps and munchies at Magdaleer's (spelling?) Pub where Aly is now working. After being ID-ed (Mom and Wendy were thrilled), we found a table in the packed house. The evening turned into an IU reunion when Justine, Quinto, and Dylan Weinberger showed up, and it was quite a good time. We guzzled down beer and hard cider and gnoshed on jalapeƱo poppers and thick cut fries, everyone catching up or meeting for the first time. Two subways later, we arrived back to Queens a little after 2 am, certainly having made the most of their first day in New York. I'd say it was a little more exciting than tax classes.

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