Friday, April 24, 2009

This American Life, episode 379 live on Screen

Last night, from the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cinema 3, I watched the taping of This American Life, episode 379, Return from the Scene of the Crime. Now, I can guarantee that I would probably have gotten a kick out of any type of This American Life live show (this might not be entirely true...there was a stretch during the spring and summer of 2007 when I found all the new radio episodes produced to be kind of blah). However, I really do want to recommend this live show to you. Whether you listen to it on the radio when it airs next weekend (May 2nd) or see the encore screening in movie theaters on May 7th, I think you might also enjoy it too.

I think the storytelling in these stories is a nice balance of funny and that other quality that makes you stop feeling like you are listening to someone read a story to you in a movie theater, and instead makes your brain slip deeper into the realm of storytelling like what does it feel like to prepare to tell the story of your mother's death in front of thousands, and to know that you are going to lose it and cry, but to do it anyway?

You may have read my review of the Moth live storytelling last month, and I think last night's show is a good example of the type of storytelling I prefer. It felt less like the tellers were trying to impress the audience, and more like they were just trying to put some sense to the confusing and upsetting stuff that had happened to them, and to try to find some meaning in it that might be relate-able or useful to someone else. So in the end, I left feeling a little bit different then when I walked in, and to me, that is always a good outcome.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Oresteia

On Sunday, I saw the final showing of Anne Carson's An Oresteia at the Classic Stage Company. It was a marathon staging of Carson's translations of three plays by three writers, Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Sophocles’s Electra, Euripides's Orestes, which take 5 hours to show together, in this staging.

I hadn't seen any Greek theatre since a particularly bad experience with Electra, put on at La Mama by the Gardzienice Center for Theatre Practices in 2005. However, after reading the Oresteia at Oxford (only the plays by Aeschylus, and only the translation by Richard Lattimore), I fell pretty hard in love with the trio, and since I like Anne Carson quite a bit, I was excited at the prospect of seeing it live. A shame it didn't turn out better.

Carson's translation was better for the stage than I expected, given its modernization. I thought the plot would be very easy for someone to understand, even if they hadn't read the plays before (unlike my first experience with Electra, which was basically impossible to understand, even though I already knew the story. Now, by complaining, I'm worried I sound like Kate Ahlborn). However, it is definitely too modern, particularly for reading. I'd be interested to take a look at Ted Hughes's translation (a poet I love far, far more than Anne Carson), and Robert Lowell's (ditto). If anyone has read either, please comment!

When I walked in, I felt as though I was back at La Mama. Extras were hanging from the ceiling, painting blood onto the backdrop and mopping it onto the floor, and I was in a seat so bad it had a screen. The actual show started out well (given that you weren't in the wings, which have a blocked view for the first 28 minutes of the show. Seriously. Luckily, I was moved to the main audience section.), and I definitely liked their version of Agamemnon (is it a coincidence it was the only one by Aeschuylus?), which was well-acted and had some deliciously creepy moments. The second play was alright, but decidedly not as good as the first, except that Mickey Solis had a bigger part, and he was either really good at acting or really looked like Freddy Prinze Jr., and for one or both of these reasons, I liked him a lot. The third part of the play was horrific. It somehow turned from a pretty serious and well-done piece into some bizarre Sarah Lawrencesque experimental theatre peice complete with a jazz singing Electra and a cross-dressing Helen. I probably wouldn't have left if I could, because the story is just so damned good (who loves Greek family drama? Kristin does.), but the staging was so awful I considered it even though doing so would have forced me to walk almost onto the stage.

I wouldn't recommend either the translation or the CSC staging (lucky you can't go!), but I would definitely recommend picking up the Oresteia (go with Aeschylus's version), because it's a damned good story.

Gianni Rodari and The Grammar of Fantasy: A Conversation on Stories, Images, Ideas

On Monday evening, I went to see a lecture on Gianni Rodari at the Italian Cultural Institute (686 Park Ave.) Rodari was an Italian author, perhaps best known for his fables and stories for children. I like all that I’ve read of his work, though, admittedly, that is not very much. The first story I ever read was “L’acca in fuga”—loosely translated as the letter “h” escapes. It’s about a letter “h” (l’acca) who gets made fun of by all the other letters of the alphabet. “Don’t you know that no one pronounces you?!”—the other letters jeer. (In Italian, “h” only serves to give other letters—usually “c” —a hard sound.) Dreaming of other countries where “h” is more revered, l’acca hops on a bus, escapes and Italy falls apart. Cherubini (angels) begin to fall from the sky, chiavi (keys) no longer work, chianti begins to take on a horrible taste. And, horror of all horrors, no one can correctly pronounce the name of Dante Alighieri. Fortunately, l’acca has a good heart and returns to Italy—but not before demanding a bit more respect.

The lecture itself was more than mildly interesting and, in true Italian fashion, started 45 minutes late and not before several long-winded introductions. It felt a bit disordered, at times, because of the flip-flop from Italian to English (and there was a lot of flip-flop). After the talk, there was a film screening, which turned out to be a quite funny. Film highlights included: Gianni Rodari talking to a group of children about his stories in a setting that was not unlike Barney’s playground, the appearance of a monster at the Barney-like playground, and a graphically-designed cake floating in the sky while eerie music played in the background (Rodari wrote a book about a cake in the sky).

There was a reception afterward, with wine, cheese, and small hot dogs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Da Silvano

I have been to Da Silvano (260 6th Ave.) three times. I have left feeling amused three times. I have left swearing that Manhattan is dead to me twice. I have left feeling personally tricked once.

My first encounter with Da Silvano was at the bar. I was with my friend Hannah, waiting to see a movie at the IFC Center. I ordered a glass of red wine ($6). Hannah ordered a negroni, incognizant of the price. [Don’t let this happen to you at Da Silvano] It ended up costing a disproportionate $15. BUT, we were given a big basket of chips that tasted of smoked meats. In the hour or so we were there, these things happened:

1. Someone lit something on fire. The room filled with smoke.
2. The server who lit something on fire was yelled at by the manager-in-an-immaculate-tanned suit.
3. The bartender—in an attempt to pull off a fancy move/look sexy—broke a martini glass.
4. Hannah and I expressed concern about the shards from the broken glass.
5. We listened to a threesome of sorts (two women who seemed to be friends + one man whose friend seemed to be his blackberry until he met the two women), engage in loud conversation about high heeled shoes and sex.
6. We watched an Italian t.v. show featuring a woman in a sparkly, faux-diamond encrusted unitard.

The second time I went to Da Silvano, I was with my cousin, waiting to see a movie at Film Forum. We shared a salad (good) and I had tortellini in a cream sauce (v.good). In the hour or so we were there, these things happened:

1. We watched two servers making fun of another server for having a hole in his pants.
2. I overheard two men assessing the attractiveness of women who walked by.
3. I had to wait for the bathroom for a long time because it was occupied by a couple who subsequently made out on a park bench.

Last Friday was the third time I went to Da Silvano; it was also the time I felt personally tricked. I’m pretty sure Hannah did too. We ordered wine and an appetizer plate of meats and cheeses. [Most of the appetizer plates cost around $16}. Since we didn’t want paté, we asked if we could substitute prosciutto. The waiter said si si si so we got prosciutto, salami and parmigiano. In the hour or so we were there, these things happened:

1. I overheard two men complaining about 51st st. station and two women philosophizing on relationships.
2. Someone walked in on me in the bathroom.
3. We found out that our appetizer plate cost $30--$10 for prosciutto, $10 for salami, $10 for parmigiano.
4. We watched a group of women pass around and then chat on a phone. I think someone’s boyfriend was on the line.
5. Hannah and I left feeling disgruntled.

Gizzi's Coffee

Last Wednesday, I went to the Fiction Circus's show at Gizzi's Coffee (16 W 8th St). The show was great/graphic, as always, and Gizzi's was a fantastic coffeehouse.

The actual coffeehouse was pretty nondescript and coffeehouse like, with the exception being that it was in Manhattan and not ultra-crowded. There were two couches there, and they were both open. In my mind, this makes it the best coffeehouse in the entire city, because I hate sitting and reading at tables, and in a lot of places, you can't even find a table.

I decided to try a fudge brownie and an iced vanilla latte. The brownie was pretty bad, actually, but the latte was probably the best I've ever had. I love iced vanilla lattes, and this one was superb. It was also served in a hurricane glass, which is either really awesome or really lame, depending on who you are.

The barista looked exactly like Carter Ooosterhouse, the man I want to marry, and was very flirty ("Do you want that with extra love?"), so that was also a major plus for Gizzi's. Plus, when Stephanie ordered a ceasar salad and they had run out of croutons, they gave her chicken on it for free, and in general were very concerned about the orders. And the staff danced along to some of Kevin's performance, which was very endearing.

Overall: Significantly better than Starbucks.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

City Bakery

I think some people like City Bakery a lot, but I always am lured in and then leave feeling disgruntled. This is mainly due to the lack of menu or clear pricing on many of the items. I go in, then am pressured into ordering something without knowing the price ahead of time, and then pay more than I want to. Rarely do I feel that it is worth the price. Also it is perpetually busy in there. Also will they ever take that scaffolding down?