Friday, August 24, 2012

Go "Into the Woods" at Central Park.

It’s almost the last midnight for The Public Theater’s free presentation of Stephen Sondeim’s classic fairytale-gone-bad musical, “Into the Woods,” currently playing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  Although the Delacorte Theater has played host to free Shakespeare performances every summer, during the annual “Shakespeare in the Park” series, this is the first year that the theatre has also hosted a free Sondheim show.

Despite being completely free (although it is possible to score tickets by making a large arts donation…), Shakespeare (and now Sondheim) in the Park is annually one of the most difficult shows to get tickets too.  Would-be patrons generally must either be on line by 6am on a performance day, and wait until the box office opens at 1pm, with the hope of getting tickets for that evening’s 8pm performance, or take their chance at virtual ticketing, an online lottery that rarely seems to pay out. There are also a few other way to get tickets, but at the risk of giving away a long guarded secret, I am loathe to post that information publicly here.  Feel free to e-mail WGINY if you want more info, but act quickly as the show closes Labor Day weekend, with the last show on September 1. 

I first heard of Sondheim’s musical, “Into the Woods,” when I was a teenager, taking an acting class at my high school, and I immediately fell in love with the story, and especially with Bernadette Peters, in one of her most recognizable and challenging roles, as the “Witch.” I did not think that any actress could rival Peters’ talent, but I must admit that I was captivated by actress Donna Murphy’s portrayal of the Witch in this limited engagement show, and in her malevolent wisdom, she may have rivaled Bernadette's original performance... 

Although slated to begin at 8pm, the show actually started around 8:10pm, giving patrons the opportunity to find their seats, use the restroom, and generally arrive a few minutes late.  There did not appear to be any bad seats in the theater. The set design was simple, utilizing the natural surroundings of the park to build a forest scene that may very well have been the same woods used in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” (which WGINY did not have the opportunity to see, but which was put on by the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater earlier this summer). No pictures were allowed in the theater, but I should add that the designers did a superbly quirky job of juxtaposing the set and costumes together (take notice, for example, how the "Giant" appears, voiced by Glenn Close).

For patrons with hearing impairments, the play's dialogue was presented on two screens on either side of the theater in closed caption.  I appreciated this, and found myself following the captions at times just to be clear on Sondheim’s creative song lyrics.  In fact, being familiar with the show, I found it hard to contain my desire to sing along, but found that the audience was quiet and contemplative throughout the show.

Sondheim’s play is full of comic musings and double entendre, and is as much a fairytale for children as for adults.  My one qualm with this adapation was the young child cast as the narrator.  I am ingrained to expect a Dick Clark type in the narrator’s role, an older gentleman who can double as the “Mysterious Man” character (who, in this rendition, turns out to be played by Chip Zien, who portrayed the “Baker” in the original Sondheim show on Broadway). While I understood the whimsical aspect of casting a child in the narrator role, I felt it was misplaced for this show.

There were also some over-exaggerated sexual undertones throughout the show, such as between Little Red Riding Hood (played by the adorably snarky Sarah Stiles) and her Wolf (portrayed by Ivan Hernandez, who plays the role like a capricious, mischievous "Jack Sparrow"), but overall the show was true to its roots.  Actress Amy Adams breathed a young, sweet life into the play as the Baker's Wife, and her counterpart, played by Denis O'Hare, captured the audience as the tragic protagonist, the Baker. 

Exploring wishes, desires, fantasies, selfishness, selflessness, and other motifs, "Into the Woods" finds itself full of moral dilemmas, conundrums and other parables, leaves the audience with some enigmatic conclusions: "If the end is right, it justifies the beans," and "Sometimes the things you most wish for are not to be touched."  

WGINY Reader Tip: Want to meet the actors? Head to Gate 1 right after the curtain call and many of the actors will come out to greet you, and may even agree to sign autographs and pose for pictures. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Watch the Sun Set Over New York City, From Your "Manhattan Kayak"

The New York City skyline, lit up against the backdrop of a night sky, is a familiar, iconic scene, but you've never seen it like this... Normally, I would insert the obligatory picture here, but I didn't have my waterproof camera that day (okay, actually, I don't own a waterproof camera). By "that day," I am referring to a recent dusky evening, on which I had the adventurous pleasure of embarking on a "New York After Dark Tour" with Manhattan Kayak Company.

Joining a tour of approximately 12 people, we were each given a life vest and a paddle, received some brief paddling instructions on the dock, and then boarded our sit-upon kayaks one by one. Then two experienced guides accompanied our group as we paddled up and down the Hudson River for a little over an hour. Each kayak was equipped with a small back lamp, which the guides turned on as the sun turned down.

Pausing to take in my surreal surroundings, I was mesmerized by the sky, as remaining blue patches began to swirl above my head, mixing with marigold, mauve, rose and red-orange, like a painter's palate. Words cannot capture the magnificent image of the setting sun descending behind the skyscrapers, as we literally watched a New York night begin to come alive and vibrant. The natural light of the day faded out and the glimmer of the city shone bright with electrical buzz, and all the while I sat in the middle of it all.

Splashing around in my kayak, sitting on a body of water separating two states, my favorite view was, perhaps surprisingly, the southwest exposure of the sky over Jersey City. The further south one looked, the more open the water became, and toward the west, of course, was where the last remaining colors of the sun could be glimpsed the longest. Although we did paddle somewhat "after dark," the tour might more aptly be named something like "Sunset Over New York Tour."

I purchased my tour via bloomspot for under $40, and I have also seen Manhattan Kayak offer a similar voucher on zozi. At that price, the tour is well worth it. The normal price tag is $80 per person, which begins to feel a bit overpriced considering the length of the trip.

Manhattan Kayak does offer a 90 minute Full Moon Tour, when appropriate, for only $65, and a daily 45 minute "Fun in the Sun Tour" for $40, which runs twice on weekdays, and four times a day on weekends. Check out their calendar for these and other trips, and make sure to read the descriptions to choose the appropriate trip for your skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced).

WGINY Reader Tip: If you've never kayaked before, try getting your feet wet first, for free, by stopping by an introductory kayak class with the The New York City Downtown Boathouse (not affiliated with Manhattan Kayak), offered on Wednesday evenings at Pier 96, or taking out one of the Boathouse's free kayaks for a quick (only 20 minutes allowed) early evening or weekend paddle.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sarge's Deli: A Kosher-Style Staple That Rivals Trendier Counterparts.

Photo by Meredith V.
Photo by Meredith V.
When I was growing up, whenever anything was ailing me, my mother would serve me matzo ball soup from the local kosher-style deli.  "Jewish penicillin" we called it.  My mouth still waters whenever I recall those comforting soup bowls.  In fact, anytime I see mazto ball soup on a restaurant menu, my endorphins immediately enter hyperdrive.  So when I decided to try a local Murray Hill staple, Sarge's Delicatessen and Restaurant (for the first time, although it has been a neighborhood favorite since 1964), I was delighted to see matzo ball soup on the menu.
Photo by WGINY
Upon first walking into Sarge's, pass by the large butcher-shop style counter in the front, and head towards the dining area in the back, where you will find a pleasing arrangement of free starters waiting for you at your table.  While most delis give just cole slaw, pickles and rye bread, Sarge's steps it up a "nosh," and includes a complimentary side of freshly made chopped liver.  My dining companion and I devoured the liver, which was uniquely mixed with chopped hard-boiled egg and a hint of blended spices.  

Next up was the matzo ball soup, that warm broth from my youth which is hard to replicate, but Sarge's did a fine job.  I must admit I was initially disappointed by the nakedness of the soup-- no noodles, vegetables or poultry-- but I still savored every drop and enjoyed the perfectly packed matzo ball.  Moving on to the main courses, Sarge's truly serves up some monster sandwiches!  (True story: there is even a sandwich on the menu called "The Monster"!).  One sandwich is definitely enough for two people to share, and if you decide to dine alone, you may want to opt for the more economical "soup and 1/2 sandwich" option, self-explanatory.  We had the opportunity to try both turkey and corned beef, and I would highly recommend either, or any of the combination sandwiches offered.  

Don't be fooled by the no-frills diner atmosphere of Sarge's, the fact that the tables around you may be full of local senior citizens rather than hip tourists, or the lack of celebrity photos on the wall... this is a solid dining establishment that can certainly rival the likes of the trendier Katz's and Carnegie Deli, and with much more reasonable prices.  

Sarge's Delicatessen and Restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is located at 548 3rd Avenue, between E. 36th and E. 37th Streets. Sarge's also delivers throughout Manhattan, and offers a catering menu for large parties.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Curious about NASA's Mars Rover, "Curiosity"?

This Sunday night (or, very early Monday morning for East Coasters) will mark the long-awaiting landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, "Curiosity" on the surface of this mysterious Red Planet. "Curiosity" is expected to touch down at exactly 1:31 a.m., EDT, August 6, for a two year expedition to explore the Martian surface and look for signs of life (past or present), beginning with the Gale Crater, believed to once have been a water-filled lake, and serving as the "landing pad" for this historic mission.  As the most advanced Rover ever to land on Mars, curiosity is abound for what "Curiosity" might find and photograph for us mere Earthlings.

Apparently, Times Square will play host to the largest viewing event on the East Coast, as New Yorkers and tourists will converge and watch the landing live on the same big screens that New Year's Eve revelers follow when they come annually to countdown the famous ball drop.  Viewers at Times Square will be privy to live feed directly from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Flyer courtesy of DXagency

If you can't make it to Times Square, you can still watch the feed live from your own computer, via NASA's own website, or through Toshiba Innovation.  You can also listen to live coverage via NASA's first online space (radio) station, Third Rock Radio (which may be my new favorite radio station).  This will be NASA's first national "social media" event, virtually bringing together seven participating NASA field centers around the country.

If you want a more intimate viewing experience, fly on over to a landing parties at East Village bar, Professor Thom's, or New Jersey's William Patterson University (the latter accessible only by car).

Still feeling curious? Check out's article about why we continue to return to the Red Planet, and view some of the Hubble Space Telescope's most majestic pictures of Mars at

Follow WGINY on facebook for an exclusive opportunity to read some "fan fiction" about the rover's landing. 

Thanks to DXagency and Toshiba Innovation for providing information on the rover's mission, the Times Square viewing event, and NASA's live feeds. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Catch Musical Parody "Triassic Parq" at the SoHo Playhouse Before It Becomes Extinct!

It's a play 65 million years in the making.  If you're thinking about "Dino DNA," you're following the right tracks, but this story wasn't authorized by Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg, as the show's narrator, Morgan Freeman, explains. Rather, "Triassic Parq" is a rapturous hour-and-a-half of creative, low-budget musical parody theater, and it's only showing (for now), through August 5, at the SoHo Playhouse.  Read on to find out why you should try to catch these dinosaurs in action lest they disappear forever (again).

Audience members enter a small, 200-seat theater adorned with jungle vines and "electric" fencing (to keep the dinosaurs at bay, of course), as the soothing sounds of roaring dinos, chirping birds and other natural melodies fill the air.  The story begins with a bang, literally, and a crucial climactic scene is revealed with the opening number, "Velociraptor in a Cage (Velociraptor Full of Rage)."  The audience is left wondering what it all means, as the story backs up, and we learn that the "Q" in "Triassic Parq" stands for "question" (and, undoubtedly, and not even very subtly, queer and/or questioning).  "Triassic Parq" indeed examines some tough questions, such as whether faith and science can co-exist, and whether scorned lovers can overcome the "true weapon of mass destruction...emotion."

Imagine a man-made fairy tale park, on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, where visitors can view real, live dinosaurs such as velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rex.  The island's electric fences are the only thing separating the vicious beasts from the public, who are driven by in SUVs on dinosaur tours of the park.  Behind those fences, dinosaur pastor, Velociraptor of Faith (played by Wade McCollum), ensures that his dinosaur clan honors their creator, "Lab," and does not step too far out of line by asking too many questions about their origin.  Velociraptor of Faith makes it clear that his leadership, and the clan's faith in "Lab," should not be challenged.

Unbeknownst to the dinosaurs living on the island, the human scientists of "Lab" were careful as could be when they cloned the dinosaurs from DNA extracted from ancient mosquitoes, mixed with a just a small amount of modern frog DNA to complete the scientific process.  In order to control the population, only female dinosaurs were created.  However, as Morgan Freeman explains, "life finds a way."

Thus, hilarity, disharmony and chaos ensue when a female T-Rex suddenly discovers that she has grown an extra appendage, of sorts, and her mind, emotions and desires begin to change along with her (his? its?) body.  When Velociraptor of Innocence (played perfectly coyly by Alex Wyse) begins to ask too many questions, she is forced into the forest, on a soul-searching journey to find Velociraptor of Faith's sister, Velociraptor of Science, who had been banished from the clan, ostensibly for her beliefs and her unwillingness to blindly accept the will of "Lab."  Velociraptor of Science (played by Lindsay Nicole Chambers) roars onto the stage  with a ferocious charisma as she sings about the meaning of the word "Science."

The cast of only eight actors does a wonderful job of transporting the audience to a "Triassic Parq" full of singing and dancing dinosaurs (not to mention, a rambunctious, yet quiet "Mime-a-saurus," played by Brandon Epinoza).  The catchy and clever rock/hip-hopera music, and the flashy, fresh choreography (developed by choreographer, Kyle Mullins) bring this show full circle.  Accompanied by a live "Pianosaurus" (Zak Sandler, who also serves as the show's musical director), and percussionist (Jeremy Yaddaw), one can't help but fall for "Triassic Parq."  It's the kind of show that makes you wish you had been witty enough to write it, and one that you want to immediately see again as soon as it ends.  Three days after seeing this show, I still find myself singing to myself, "It's a Beautiful Day to be a Woman."

For an added treat, if you don't mind being poked, prodded, sat on or even laid upon, purchase an on-stage ticket and become part of the live action of "Triassic Parq."  Leave the little ones at home, as this sexy show is definitely R-rated.

You can purchase tickets to "Triassic Parq" on the show's website here, or try discount ticket site, broadwaybox (on-stage tickets are not available discounted).  Also on the show's official site, you can read more about the show's co-authors, Marshall Pailet (also composer and director), Bruce Norbitz, and Stephen Wargo, among other creative team members, as well as production members, and the full cast of characters.  Oddly enough, WGINY discovered this show via a targeted facebook ad, which brought me to the show's facebook page, which everyone should "like" if only for the daily dose of amazing dino humor.

"Triassic Parq" was the 2010 recipient of the New York International Fringe Festival award for Best Musical.