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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Faux McCoys


Twenty-five years ago, I drew the above to celebrate Susan's and my recent acquisition of a Montgomery County, NY, farm. Our friend Lily Bartels appropriately dubbed it "The Faux McCoys." The silo was sold a few years thereafter; the cupola came off the barn during a re-roofing and, as it's not original to a Dutch design, remained off. Asta, our Australian Blue-Heeler puppy, aged into oblivion. The portrait remains a nostalgic reminder of what's now a generation ago.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Highland Fling

From the Food Vault: I wrote this review in 2011, but when you’re dealing with a place that has been successfully operating, with little change, since 1936, you’re liable to lose your chronological bearings, as I note below. Prices have increased a bit since this visit, but you can get updated info at the restaurant’s website.

                                                                                          

YOU MAY THINK YOU WALKED INTO THE WRONG PLACE, as I thought. Not that the Highland doesn’t look sufficiently restaurantlike – but it looks like you’ve entered an Italian joint from your parents’ (or, you stripling, grandparents’) childhood. Which already probably projects the Highland into its own future. It opened in 1936.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Twenty years is an eternity in this business. Three-quarters of a century is freakish. But another anachronistic phenomenon kicks into play here once you’re seated and studying the menu. You feel like you’ve been here before – been here often enough that your server’s easy familiarity was earned by those repeated visits. Why else would anyone be so friendly?

Read the online reviews and you’ll learn it’s the nature of the place. Nothing in the experience of my recent visit proved otherwise. It was a Sunday evening, going on 7. Downtown Pittsfield was sepulchral, with open-for-business lights peeking only from an occasional convenience store. My GPS, grumpy for getting the wormy downtown streets wrong, tried to send me to Lenox, but I wrestled it to the destination.

Monday, April 23, 2018

According to Alice

From the Theater Vault Dept.: As the father of a theater major, I’m no longer easily persuaded to avail myself of child-centered entertainment. But this production of “Alice in Wonderland,” I was told by a very reliable friend, was exceptional. It was.

                                                                                   

THANKS TO ITS ROBUST WORDPLAY and surrealist approach to the fears of childhood, this is a story that resists the transition from book to other media. Which only seems to encourage those adaptations. “Alice in Wonderland” is one of nearly a dozen children’s shows devised by the Prince Street Players beginning in the late 1960s, with book and lyrics by Jim Eiler, who co-wrote the music with Jeanne Bargy.

Charlie Barnett IV and Taylor Fuld
It’s the current offering of the Theatre Institute at Sage, and gets a superb production from an all-student cast who take over the stage with the aplomb of Broadway veterans. You won’t mistake it for a performance by polished pros, but this is as good as community theater gets, which is very good indeed.

The adaptation captures the best-remembered moments from “Alice in Wonderland” and even incorporates a bit of “Through the Looking Glass” in a music hall sequence that’s very entertaining even as it stops the momentum of the rest of the story.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Italian Without a Master

Guest Blogger Dept.: We call once more upon the redoubtable Mark Twain to enlighten us, this time with reflections upon his vacation residence in Florence. It first appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1904, with the six illustrations by Albert Levering reproduced below, all of which were collected in The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories, which Harper and Brothers issued in 1906.

                                                                          
         

IT IS ALMOST A FORTNIGHT now that I am domiciled in a medieval villa in the country, a mile or two from Florence. I cannot speak the language; I am too old now to learn how, also too busy when I am busy, and too indolent when I am not; wherefore some will imagine that I am having a dull time of it. But it is not so. The “help” are all natives; they talk Italian to me, I answer in English; I do not understand them, they do not understand me, consequently no harm is done, and everybody is satisfied.

In order to be just and fair, I throw in an Italian word when I have one, and this has a good influence. I get the word out of the morning paper. I have to use it while it is fresh, for I find that Italian words do not keep in this climate. They fade toward night, and next morning they are gone. But it is no matter; I get a new one out of the paper before breakfast, and thrill the domestics with it while it lasts. I have no dictionary, and I do not want one; I can select words by the sound, or by orthographic aspect. Many of them have French or German or English look, and these are the ones I enslave for the day's service. That is, as a rule. Not always. If I find a learnable phrase that has an imposing look and warbles musically along I do not care to know the meaning of it; I pay it out to the first applicant, knowing that if I pronounce it carefully he will understand it, and that's enough.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Innocent Ear

MY DAUGHTER MADE HER RADIO DEBUT IN MANCHESTER not long ago, and how this came about is worth the telling. We begin in 1972.

I was a high-school junior, freshly enamored of theater having made my stage debut with roles in Joseph Kesselring’s “Arsenic and Old Lace.” This was in suburban Connecticut, so it was only natural that the Theater Arts students should be invited to spend a show-going week in London in February. A mere $300 bought airfare, hotel room, and tickets.

The first show we saw was a musical version of “The Canterbury Tales.” I didn’t like it very much. Next was “Never the Twain,” a quirky mash-up of works by Kipling and Brecht, which was far more appealing, but by then I realized that some of my favorite actors were performing on the West End, and I forsook the rest of the scheduled offerings in favor of such fare – beginning with Alec Guinness in John Mortimer’s “A Voyage Round My Father,” which I wrote about here in 2012.

Three years later, I received this email message:
I was crawling around, looking up a show I was once in, when I came across yr blog, where you write about a trip to London in Feb 1972, and a theatre-binge you went on. Hah - I'd been in Canterbury Tales in 1970, which you thought crap, and was in Never the Twain, a Brecht-Kipling conflation you thought more interesting.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Artie Shaw: Again for the First Time

THERE ARE JAZZ BANDS AROUND THE WORLD TODAY dedicated to presenting the music of the Swing Era (and many another jazz era), but to tackle the Artie Shaw legacy requires an extraordinary amount of talent and fortitude. Shaw himself did it in 1968 and during the 1980s, with Walt Levinsky and then Dick Johnson taking over for him in the clarinet department; when James Langton decided to put together a band to play Shaw’s music, he wisely turned to clarinetist Dan Levinson to provide the needed virtuosity.

Levinson is as versatile a player as you’ll find on the jazz scene. Although he’s got a solid grounding in the world of swing, he can take you back to the earliest decades of jazz and make it sound as fresh as it must have seemed a century ago. He has collaborated with Langton on Benny Goodman tribute concerts, during which he sounds convincingly Goodman-esque, but going into Shaw territory requires a significantly different approach.

You can hear the result on “The Unheard Artie Shaw,” a disc recently issued on the Hep Records label, which has done a wonderful job of getting and keeping older jazz recordings in print – and they’ve done especially well by Shaw, issuing a number of his 1940s sides and airchecks.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Nightmare Music

AS NIGHTMARES GO, it wasn’t all that awful. But, having no recall of any other nightmares I may have encountered during the past couple of decades, it was significant in the amount that it frightened me. And it was remarkable in being a two-part horror, separated by a period of wakefulness.

Herbert von Karajan and Friends
I must have come out of part two with a shout, because my wife groggily asked what was wrong. “A nightmare,” I said while struggling to keep the details in mind so that I could enthrall her with my suffering. I never got the chance. “Aren’t those nightmares awful?” she mumbled, and went back to sleep.

You get to hear it instead.

I was staring at some sheet music. That’s the first thing I remember. It was a piece I didn’t know, a vocal work, and I understood that I’d been brought in to sing the bass part. That I could hear an orchestra tuning up nearby meant that something – rehearsal, I hoped – was imminent, but as I hadn’t worked on the music at all I was feeling incredibly nervous. I can’t sight-sing. I’m pretty good with a tune once it’s been inculcated, but to pluck it off the page seems to me like witchcraft.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Thai Score

From the Food Vault Dept.: I was delighted to discover this restaurant a decade ago, and am even more delighted that it endures, because I’m thus able to treat myself to a regular dose of khao soi, a dish like no other – and prepared here with a particular richness I haven’t found at the few other Thai restaurants I’ve visited that serve it.

                                                                                                

IT’S NOT JUST THE EXCELLENT THAI FOOD that awaits. It’s the fact that you can order a $7 bowl of khao soi for lunch ($8 for dinner) and enjoy an amazingly fulfilling meal. It features chicken and two types of noodle along with other flavorful leaves and shoots, and it swims in a coconut-scented curry that livens the palate without causing incendiary damage.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
In short, this can be one of your more economical stops. You can also dine (as I often do) as if you’ve not eaten in weeks, and make your way from appetizer to miso soup to this entrĂ©e and that, guaranteeing that you’ll leave laden with take-home containers.

And this is happening in a most unprepossessing space in an unlikely part of Albany. Not far from the intersection of Central Ave. and Everett Rd. is a Home Depot. Enter the parking lot, but veer left. A small strip mall sits near the highway, and you’ll find, after a glance or two, the frills-free space that is Capital Thai.

How long has it been hiding here? Seven months, I was told during a recent visit. Three months, I was told a month ago. No matter. It’s here and, based on the dinner crowd that arrived during my own dinner last week, it’s being discovered.

Monday, April 02, 2018

How They Did Love

ALL ROMANCES ARE POSSIBLE; any enduring outcome is unlikely. We work hard to stay united. We’re given little in the way of helpful precedent. If communication is the most important tool (my experience says it is), then Terrence McNally’s 1987 off-Broadway hit “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” is a two-hour master class in discovering our secret selves, delivered with discursive dialogue that’s whip-crack smart.

Rita Rehn and Steven Patterson
Photo by John Sowle
As a one-set two-hander, it’s a natural for a theater looking to economize without artistic compromise, but it requires a creative team that’s as smart as the script. The stellar production at Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre puts two fabulous actors on a set (designed by John Sowle) just stylized enough to alert us from the start to expect touches of fantasy.

We’re not merely observes of Frankie and Johnny. We’re voyeurs, eavesdropping darkly on their cries of carnal passion (conducted to the strains of a Goldberg Variation). When the lights come up, Johnny (Steven Patterson) is laughing, laughing too much, to the discomfort of bedmate Frankie (Rita Rehn). The reason? It’s a joke that sets the tone of the play, a joke that takes a conventional premise into a nicely surprising payoff.