Monday, February 2, 2009

An Entertaining NYC Evening

Catherine and I had a full night on Friday: a meeting for coffee with a friend, a play, dinner and late night music. Perhaps because we didn't have to spend a lot of time on the subway—we walked to our first two commitments in SoHo and back for dinner in the East Village, so we only had to take the train to hear the band—we both said that we had a lot more fun than we'd been expecting to have. Even with the bitter cold (it was in the teens with a pretty strong wind).

The play we saw was Target Margin's production of Tennessee Williams' Ten Blocks on the Camino Real: it's an early one-act that Williams later expanded into the more famous full-length, Camino Real. I don't know the finished play at all—I've never read it or seen a production—but after seeing this earlier incarnation, I'm curious to get a copy and compare the two. It's an extremely expressionistic piece, which at first surprised me until I began to think about The Glass Menagerie and, to a lesser degree, Streetcar: they're both basically naturalistic plays that employ abstract devices in the storytelling; Ten Blocks, by contrast, is entirely surreal abstractions. The play begins when a young American boxer stumbles into an unnamed town—in Mexico, Spain, South America?—in which the inhabitants all appear to be in a sort of limbo: they don't seem entirely alive and yet they're not quite dead, either. This, of course, is the point of the piece—an allegory about life and death and the illusive, intangible connection between them; if it feels a bit heavy-handed by 2009 standards, I'm sure it was revelatory in 1948. I've been intrigued by the productions I've seen from director David Herskovits: he brings an eclectic visual sense to theater and doesn't shy away from making a point with broad strokes; it's not to everyone's taste but I think his augmentations of the theatrical devices serve the surrealistic world of Ten Blocks well. For instance, when Kilroy appears, he wears enormous golden boxing gloves that impede his ability to perform actions in the script; sound effects are amplified to deafening levels; the characters are exaggerated to the point of characture. The actors all give nice performances, especially Curt Hostetter; I had trouble hearing a couple of them several times but I was on the back row and, as he usually does, David used just about every inch of the cavernous playing area at the Ohio (I am so going to miss seeing plays in this space!). My favorite Target Margin piece is still the two-part Faust from 2006, but Ten Blocks is a strong work and a fascinating interpretation of a rarely-seen play.*

For dinner, we went to Xunta, a tapas bar in our neighborhood. The menu is Catalan—which anyone from Barcelona will tell you is not Spain—but most of the items are the same or very similar to Spanish dishes. While they usually have a great selection of wines, they hadn't recieved an order from their distributor last week so we wound up with what was basically our fourth choice; it was still pretty tasty. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old guy, my only complaint about Xunta is that some of the menu is printed in blue ink and the blue lightbulbs they use make it very difficult to read: I had to get my phone out and use it as a flashlight. Apart from that, though, we really like the place: the service is good, the atmosphere cozy (the up-side to the lighting) and it's pretty inexpensive.

We ended our evening by heading out to Spike Hill to hear p o c k e tt k n i ff e, the resident Friday night band there. It's ridiculously easy for us to get there: we get the L train at First Avenue and take it one stop to Williamsburg; the bar is even right across the street from the subway entrance. Robby Sinclair, the band's drummer, also played in Ralph's production of A Quick Nut Bread and has worked with This Ambitious Orchestra. Naturally, we arrived to find Benjamin Ickies and his friend, Pablo Cubarle, already there with some other people—it may be a city of 9 million people but we invariably run into people we know at these events. Catherine and I liked the set they played: it was fairly eclectic—a couple of songs reminded me a little of Radiohead but there was also a sort of '80s techno number and one or two electronic numbers that had a more free form jazz feel. We arrived "late:" the band was supposed to start at 11 but we figured that wouldn't happen and, sure enough, we had time to get a beer before the first number around 11:30. The set had a nice flow, the guys are all good musicians and I was almost surprised when they announced their last song: the time flew by without my really noticing. I'm looking forward to seeing them play again—earlier in the evening, I hope.

*Interestingly enough, there is a film of the play from 1964 with Martin Sheen as Kilroy.

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