Friday, May 20, 2011

20 Tips for Visiting Family from the Midwest

(In no particular order):

1) Do not ask for a "slice of cheese." What you want is called a plain slice or, if you must, a regular slice.

2) Uptown is a direction, not a destination.

3) Take that god damn fannie pack off, please.

4) Sure, dad, that "I Heart NY" shirt will look really good on you. Totally buy it.

5) Hail cabs, don't call them.

6) Dumb as it sounds, you are waiting on line, not in line.

7) A bike lane is part of the street, not part of the sidewalk.

8) If you get out of a cab and hit a cyclist with the door, it's your fault, period.

9) Yes, that's a film shoot happening. No, you may not attempt to speak with the star.

10) The Empire State Building is the really tall one, the Chrysler Building is the really pretty one.

11) Yes, there really are that many subway lines.

12) "The City" means Manhattan.

13) No, you will not be shot on site upon entering Brooklyn.

14) If you want to be robbed, wave that camera around more, please.

15) Going to the Statue of Liberty is a waste of your fucking time and mine.

16) No, I have never run into that particular celebrity on the street.

17) Twenty percent is on the low end of the tip spectrum here.

18) Get the hell out of Manhattan every chance you get.

19) Times Square actually really sucks.

20) Fucking walk faster!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beautiful Distractions

I had this half-hour interaction today with an 87 year-old woman in a Whole Foods. She said you never really figure anything out about life or who you are until you're in your fifties, but you chug along and do the best you can until then anyhow.

She said she's going to die happy, and that no man, including her husband who died of Altzeimers, has ever really done her any wrong. And she said a good measure of happiness is the ability to forget. She lived through the bombing of Frankfurt in 1944. She's probably got some things in her head worth forgetting.

The conversation started with a remark of "I don't understand those things," and a gesture toward my laptop, which had about fifteen windows open. I said I don't understand them as well as I want to. She said they isolate people, gesturing toward a pair of young women on laptops sitting right across from each other, in each others' presence but on other planets.

I said they do sometimes, yes. But then I told her about the friends I have in South America and France and L.A. and San Fransisco and New Orleans who I wouldn't know without those things. And about the friend in Cannes right now who never would have been able to make the film she made without them. She grinned a little, half-understanding, and extended her hand.

"Hildegaard," she said. "What's your name, young man?"

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Last (sob) Theater Review for my College Newspaper

A version of this review will be printed in the May 12 edition of The Envoy.

Redemption Has its Price
Jesus Hopped the A Train marked by memorable performances
Scott Klocksin, Staff Writer

This spring's Hunter College production of Stephen Adley Guirgis's modern urban tragedy “Jesus Hopped The A Train” is set at Rikers Island Prison in the present, and opens with a rude reminder to extinguish any doubts in the house about who's in charge.

A large, menacing figure named Valdez pierces the anxious pre-curtain darkness of the Fredrick Lowe Theatre in full prison guard regalia, barking in a working class New York accent an otherwise mundane announcement about audience comportment.

Welcome to Rikers, bitch.

People end up in The Joint for all sorts of reasons, but in this play there are some doozies. Lucius Jenkins (Roger Smith) is a paranoid schizophrenic who admits to eight murders in a vicious, multi-state killing spree. Angel Cruz (Luca Ritter) is a 30 year-old bike messenger who lost his childhood friend to the seclusion of a religious cult and reaped vengeance by shooting the cult's leader in the ass.

Jaclyn Mitgang summons a wide-ranging and disciplined ardor as Mary Jane Hanrahan, a public defender tasked with representing Angel. It's hardly a match made in heaven. Angel wants another lawyer. Mary Jane wants another client. But in looking back on the tumult of her past, she takes a fondness to Angel and decides his crime of peculiar if genuine passion is worth going out on a career-threatening limb for.

Lucius, meanwhile, is a tad harder to like. His status as a born-again Christian does little to divert the wrath of either the prisoners or the guards. Hope—at least of the kind the judicial system can provide—is lost for him, and his liveliness comes from on high. In their exercise yard encounters, Angel isn't convinced by Lucius's semi-coherent proselytizing.

And, to put it mildly, neither is Valdez.

Ryan Castro's convincing performance as the sadistic Valdez is one of several that stand out for deftly shouldering the burden of a script which demands full commitment in its reification onstage. Also worthy of mention is the way Roger Smith renders Lucius with an energy that is by turns manic and devastating yet always shot through with fortitude and emotional truth.

That Lucius, the Serial Killer could also be Lucius, the Charismatic Human Being, is brought home by a poignantly-delivered homage by “good cop” guard D'Amico (Ernest Pysher).

Caleb Levengood's sparse set, consisting mainly of a chain-link cage set at a 45 degree angle from the audience, fits the mood of the show like a big, chicken-wire glove, but makes for some awkward viewing at times. On several occasions, Valdez delivers lines obscured by the fence, and his bullying swagger suffers for it.

Th verisimilitude in the vision of director Antonio Edwards Suarez is also dealt a small blow in scenes in which Lucius and Angel pass cigarettes through an inexplicably imaginary fence that's supposed to be between them, though the Lowe's space constraints may have made this unavoidable.

The small set changes are executed by guards with a swift militarism befitting the bleak setting.

And that setting, as the play goes on, becomes the crucible of an improbable bond between Lucius and Angel—though, like the one between Angel and his lawyer, it's a bond that can't hold for long.