Review: Sinking Ship’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ feeds the soul

How it’s New York: The show takes place at the Connelly Theater, one of those theaters inside an old school (?) you may never

Jon Levin in ‘A Hunger Artist.’ Photo by
Kelly Stuart

have known was there but is wonderful, and is presented by The Tank’s Flint & Tinder series, which makes space available to artists.
How it’s Irish: It’s Celto-Slav, really. But the Irish do have an affinity for Kafka.

Sinking Ship Productions
The Connelly Theater
220 East Fourth Street (between Avenues A & B)
Through Tuesday, June 27
Presented by The Tank

 

Sinking Ship Productions adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” makes you want to stand up and cheer.

It’s only June and I’m calling it now as possibly the best solo performance of the year.

It’s smart. It’s funny (and Kafka is really funny. Seriously, he is. The word “Kafkaesque” really should mean dread AND FUNNY, not just  scary as Hell. Though it’s scary as Hell too).

And it’s highly theatrical.

Inventive. Fresh. Physical.

Presented by The Tank, at the Connelly Theater (one of those theaters in an old building you probably have never been to), this is a work that is everything new theater should be.

And astonishingly, all of the roles are played by performer Jonathan Levin, including the fat producer, and the skeletal Hunger Artist. (more…)

Donovan at The Cutting Room!

How it’s New York: Donovan made a rare New York City appearance this past Tuesday, June 6th. It’s said that it’s Donovan who wrote the words on the cue cards that Dylan tosses accompanying the masterful “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in D.A. Pennebaker’s film “Don’t Look Back”. That scene was shot here in New York City.
How it’s Irish: Donovan now lives in County Cork, Ireland, with his family.

Donovan played all his big hits this past Tuesday at a sold out show at New York City’s The Cutting Room. The audience was full of fans who were excited to hear Donovan who rarely plays live.

It was just Donovan and his acoustic guitar for the evening. He opened with the beautiful “Catch The Wind” and ended the night with “Sunshine Superman”, “Season Of The Witch” and lastly “Atlantis”.

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Leaving the Cake in the Rain: A Celebration of the Music of Jimmy Webb

How it’s New York: The concert took place at the legendary Carnegie Hall.
How it’s Irish: Jimmy’s ancestry is part Irish; one of his biggest hits, “MacArthur Park”, was recorded by his dear friend, legendary Irish actor Richard Harris, and every morning he has a double shot of Bewley’s Irish Breakfast Tea.

“When we need a song, we go to Jimmy”.

The Carnegie Hall stage came alive on a recent Wednesday evening with a lineup that featured several living legends armed with an impressive collection of pop culture prizes – everything from Grammys to Oscars to Tonys to Hall of Fame immortality – but the real stars of this particular show were the songs of Jimmy Webb.

“The Cake and the Rain,” a celebration of Webb’s musical career that also

served as a benefit concert for the Alzheimer’s Association and the I’ll Be Me Foundation (in honor of his longtime friend and fellow music icon Glen Campbell) featured many of the colleagues, collaborators, and disciples of the fabled songwriter, who paid tribute by singing his tunes and telling some stories. Hosted by Michael Douglas, the incredibly diverse program included Judy Collins, Johnny Rivers, BJ Thomas, Dwight Yoakum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Shelea, Liz Callaway, and Graham Nash, who acknowledged the famous venue with the rousing If These Walls Could Speak. (more…)

The Pictures of Dorian Gray

How it’s New York: Visit to a New York bar.
How it’s Irish: It’s an Irish bar named for an Oscar Wilde character.

In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.

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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘The Public Image is Rotten’

How it’s New York: Documentary aired at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Focuses on the work of John Lydon, the London-born son of Irish immigrants.

He’s lived the life, of that there can be little doubt,  and the man at the forefront of Britain, no, the world’s, punk explosion back in the mid 1970s is still living it. Perhaps it’s not the ostentatious existence of obnoxiousness which representatives from other musical genres are, for reasons unknown, proud to display, but John Lydon, a man who shocked, even disgusted, most of the population while enjoying his heyday as the UK’s supposed public enemy Number 1, is still here, and has no plans on going anywhere. His supposed alter-ego, Johnny Rotten, may have been somewhat forced into semi-retirement many years ago, and while the attitude has softened somewhat, and the ironic sneer has metomphorphozed into a cheeky grin, the charismatic personality that some of us loved, and more loved to hate, is here, at Tribeca, and on the big screen.

 

Lydon, who fronted The Sex Pistols, Britain’s most outrageous musical act, for three years before they imploded in 1978, is no stranger to controversy, or indeed, documentaries, having been the subject of a number over the years, most notably 2000’s ‘The Filth and the Fury’, the director of which, Julien Temple, is one of those interviewed for this one.

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Tribeca Film Festival: The strain in Spain stays mainly in the brain in ‘The Trip to Spain’

How it’s New York: It’s a “Spotlight Narrative” entry in the Tribeca Film Festival – in New York City, of course!

Filmmaker/DirectorMichael Winterbottom on the Red Carpet with Suze (Ray Foley, photographer, NYIA)

How it’s Irish (and English and Welsh): Actress Claire Keelan (“Emma“) is “from Ireland by way of Liverpool.” The director, Michael Winterbottom, hails from Blackburn, Lancashire, England. Steve Coogan (“Steve“) is an English actor, stand-up comedian, impressionist, screenwriter, and producer from Middleton, Manchester, England. And Robert Brydon (“Rob“),  is an MBE and Welsh actor, comedian, radio and television presenter, singer and impressionist.

Road Pictures: a genre as old as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as ground-breaking as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, as turned on its head as Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise, and as final (please!) as what-the-hell-my-agent-said-it’ll-be-good-for-my-career as Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, and William H. Macy in Wild Hogs.

In 2010, Michael Winterbottom contributed his homage  to road pictures as a British television-series-turned-feature-film called

I “squeezed the kids in” but “not doing a Mick Jagger”

The Trip. The premise was a paid food and travel article gig between two buddies, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, that turned into a culinary romp through Northern England. That film was so successful that Winterbottom repeated his efforts twice more: The Trip to Italy (his favorite cuisine) and, now, The Trip to Spain. (more…)

Podcast #38: Wils Wilson on ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart;’ ‘Narcan’

Play
How it’s New York: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart was a big hit Off-Broadway. “Narcan” played at Irish Screen America and at the Manhattan Film Festival.   rssheadphones1
How it’s Irish and Scottish: Jim Halpin, of “Narcan,” is from Limerick (he played young Malachy in “Angela’s Ashes.”)
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” is by Scottish playwright David Grieg, presented by The National Theatre of Scotland and the McKittrick Hotel (home of “Sleep No More.”)

We spoke to director Wils Wilson about the brilliant and unforgettable Scottish immersive drama “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,”a campfire pub play if there ever was one, with brilliance running through each line like water inside a snowflake. Alice Farrell spoke to Peter Halpin, star of the short film “Narcan,” which may turn into a feature film Stay tuned.

Featured tune is from Annie Grace’s “The Bell.” Annie was in the cast of  “Prudencia” when we attended. We think she has a voice to rival Dolores Keane and were sorely tempted to end with two of her songs.

‘The Present’: a small gift inside a big box

How it’s New York: ‘The Present’ with Cate Blanchett runs on Broadway, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
How it’s (Irish) Australian: Blanchett hails from Melbourne, Australia; the show comes to us via the the Sydney Theatre Company. Since itis an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” his  early (and really, untitled) play, this show is also “Celto-Slav” and Russian.

It helps to read the play first.

That’s an unusual suggestion for me– usually I like to let a work stand by itself. But here, it really helps to know what the set-up is before you go. Even if you just read an act or two.

All of the elements of Anton Chekhov’s later plays are already there in his early work known as “Platonov.” Chekhov didn’t name the play, discovered 20 years after he died himself, and it has been called “Platonov,” “Wild Honey,” and “The Disinherited,” among others; it’s been adapted by Michael Frayn and David Hare; directed with rich theatrical gesture by Jiri Pokorny. Uncut, the play would last about six hours. But it’s all there: ennui. Fading, poor aristocracy. Possibility of a marriage of salvation. Empty trysts. A smart, disillusioned, unfulfilled schoolteacher.

So there’s much to love about “The Present,” an adaptation of that early work by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband), directed by John Crowley. If anyone knew how to put people, hurt, dissatisfied, unpredictable people, in a room together and see what happened, it was Chekhov (Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” owes him a lot).

Blanchett is completely luminous in her Broadway debut as Anna, a young widow who is celebrating her 40th birthday by inviting several suitors and friends to spend the weekend with her at her country estate.

That little synopsis, though, is more than you might figure out for quite a while, all but the 40th birthday bit, which is announced. (more…)

All the world’s a cell: Phyllida Lloyd’s ‘The Tempest’ at St. Ann’s Warehouse

How it’s New York: Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse is one of the hippest places in the city; it’s known

L-R: Erick Betancourt, Harriet Walter, Sophie Stanton ©Teddy Wolff

especially as an importer of acclaimed and innovative work from overseas. The new building has the most comfortable lobby in town, with chaise loungeand often live music in the bar.
How it’s (Irish) English: The show is the third in the trilogy of Shakespeare plays performed by women, with the conceit that they are all inmates in a prison, and hails from England’s Donmar Warehouse.

Of all Shakespeare plays to set in a prison cell, “The Tempest” makes the most sense. Prospero, a sorcerer and the rightful Duke of Milan, is living on an island from which he cannot escape, after having been usurped by his own brother Antonio. He seizes a chance to cause a shipwreck when Antonio and King Alonso of Naples, complicit in the crime, are nearby, and restore himself and his daughter Miranda to their rightful places. Most prisoners can only depend on clemency.

The Tempest” at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the third in a trilogy from the Donmar Warehouse in London, all directed by Phyllida Lloyd, all featuring actor Harriet Walter, and casts of women performing a play within a play. “Julius Caesar” and “Henry IV” were presented earlier this season.

“The Tempest” is fiercely successful, asking the audience when and how does the punishment fit the crime. In each production, an actor frames the play by introducing the modern-day inmate telling the story. In “The Tempest,” Walter shows that Prospero’s interpretation  is based on the story of Judith Clark, a 67-year-old woman serving 75-to-life in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. Clark drove the getaway car in 1981 for a bank robbery that resulted in the deaths of two

(L to R): Liv Spencer (blond, somewhat outside the frame), Leah Harvey, Harriet Walter, Sheila Atim, Jackie Clune, Sophie Stanton, Martina Laird, Jade Anouka
©Teddy Wolff

police officers.  (Andrew Cuomo has commuted Clark’s sentence this past December, according to press notes, and she will be granted a parole hearing this year).

It’s impossible not to hear her story at the top of the show and ask what justice means- and that was the point of the choice. One of the play’s most indelible moments comes at the end, as prisoners leave, calling “Bye, Hannah!” while Walter sits alone in her cell.

But thematic sincerity doesn’t always make for great theater, and this is great theater. It has everything– terrific performances, surprise, spectacle, insight. If you can nab a ticket (It’s sold out, performances through Feb. 19), even if you’ve seen “The Tempest” before, you need to go.

You’ve never seen it done like this.

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Up the Scots! Celebrate Burns Night

How it’s New York: Thomas Burt is a New York lawyer, and the Iona Sessions take place in Brooklyn.
Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Robert Burns is Scotland’s favorite son, and symbolizes Scottish heritage. See below for Robert Burns songs sung by Jim Malcolm and the late Andy M. Stewart with Silly Wizard (with the late Johnny Cunningham, Phil Cunningham, Martin Hadden and Gordon Jones, filmed in 1988). Just try not crying when Andy M. sings it.

Trust me. You know a few poems by Robert Burns. What do you sing on New Year’s Eve? “Auld Lang Syne.” That was his. “My luv is like a…” if you’re thinking “red, red rose,” you’re right, and that was his, too. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” also his.

The “Bard of Ayrshire,” who wrote in broad Scots in the 18th century, has become over the years the national symbol of Scotland.

The Irish have Bloomsday, which celebrates James Joyce and “Ulysses.”

The Scots have Burns Night, which celebrates Robert Burns (1759-1796) in a formal dinner, complete with recitations, music, and, of course, Haggis.

There are fewer Scots than Irish in NYC, and as lawyer Thomas Burt points out, the Scots have been very good at assimilating. They are harder to spot, but they are here.

“It’s a focal point to remind us who we are, and what we have in common with each other.”

Burt is also secretary of St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, founded in 1756, before Burns was even born. He points out that past members include Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Carnegie. The society raises money for two children’s hospitals, provides scholarships for graduate study and more.   There’s also a Scottish Bar Association of New York.

Irish pubs are everywhere, true, but there are some Scottish pubs in NYC and Brooklyn: St. Andrews, 140 West 46th St.,  Caledonia Bar, 1609 Second Ave.,  are a few. More are listed here.

And the wonderful, amazing, BEST THING ON NEW YORK STAGE “The Strange Undoing of Pruedencia Hart,” which comes to the McKittrick Hotel courtesy of the Scottish National Theatre, with script by David Grieg, has just been extended until March 26th. The show, set in a Scottish pub,  includes free drams, Scottish music and a wonderful retelling of a “woman meets the devil” folk tale– in rhyme!  (this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Review/podcast has been delayed thanks to a cold that lasted pretty much all December and January but believe me when I say you do not want to miss this show).

IONA Burns-3There’s even a Scottish music session: the Iona Session is held on Mondays at Iona,  180 Grand St., in Brooklyn. And they are having a Burns Night celebration, too:

The IONA BURNS NIGHT returns in all it’s shaggy glory next Wednesday 25th January at 9pm. Fiddler Emerald Rae and piper Andrew Forbes will unleash the musical beasts. Poetry, comedy, haggis and cheap adult beverages will flow. JR StraussMax CarmichaelAmy LynnCalum MichaelMatt DiazPamela Jean AgaloosMiguel Coias and Karen Brown in the house. Crying and screaming permitted. Also dancing and laughing.

The Burns Society of the City New York was founded in 1871, and is still going strong. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to throw their own Burns supper, Burt says. It has a supper, and so does the American Scottish Foundation.

But what is a Burns Night (Burns Nicht) supper, anyway?  It celebrates the poet’s life, and the history of the Scots, and is held around his birthday: Jan. 25.

“It’s a rallying point for a diaspora that is hard pressed to find rallying points,” Burt says. “We assimilate out of existence into the economic and power structure of anywhere we land.”

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Overcoming the Competition

How it’s New York: It is catching up Tom Dunne’s old buddies across the pond, and they are fixing to hop across it for a visit!
How it’s Irish: Diddley, innit?

Irish music competitions sound like a nightmare to me, what with all the stories of young wannabe champions passing out and vomiting with the stress, and the bitter disputes over the scoring.  Yet there are good things that come from it. One of these is the camaraderie and friendship between old sparring partners. Two of Tom Dunne’s fellow contestants and subsequent buddies from competitions back in the day, namely Seamus Walshe and Patsy Moloney, have recently made albums which are well worth your attention.

seamus-trad-coverSeamus Walshe plays the box in a very personal style. In the liner notes of one of Seamus’s previous CDs Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion  Joe Burke likened his approach to that of an architect (Seamus’ chosen profession).  At the time, I considered that notion fanciful, preferring to just savor the luxurious experience of having that CD on repeat for a leisurely drive across the Canadian Rockies. Now I get the architect thing. There is definite evidence of a stately, elegant and logical form, yet lyrical and emotional touches abound.

seamus-turas

There are many examples of this on the new CD Turas: on the “Long Drop” Seamus shapes the first tune with phrasing and dynamic subtleties; as Eimear Reilly’s fiddle comes in for “Fred Finn’s Reel”, the stricter tempo and the “sit up and beg” figures enhance both the swing and the sadness in the tune; “The Torn Jacket” works as the release with a more straight-ahead approach (albeit with outstanding unison triplets).

 

The strong windswept melody of “Margaret’s Waltz” is stated with bold accordion and fiddle lines, leading into “Louis’ Waltz”, a staple of New York sessions (also known as “Dermot Grogan’s Favourite”). Here it is given a totally different treatment with the harp, fiddle and accordion creating a dense texture with the fiddle adding harmonic variations. The Poppy Leaf is another commonly recorded tune (twice by Tony DeMarco , and a stunning interpretation by Brian Rooney) which still gets a fresh treatment by Seamus and Grainne Hambly on harp. They take a relaxed pace, resisting the temptation to stuff the high part with notes, and smoothly transition into Charlie Lennon’s Rossinver Braes with its exquisite interplay of box and harp.

Turas means trip or pilgrimage and this album echoes that reflective note.  While it doesn’t have some of the exuberance of Seamus’ previous recordings it is an album of great sensitivity and maturity. It is also noteworthy that he has brought along some famous musical friends for this particular journey, including Alec Finn, Charlie Lennon, Noel Hill and Steve Cooney.

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Murray Defeated Dimitrov In R4 Of US Open – Then Why Did The Scot Clutch Her Head?

September 7, 2016 - Andy Murray in action against Kei Nishikori in a men's quarterfinal match during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Andrew Murray at the US Open (Courtesy of Garrett Elwood/USTA)

How it’s New York: This article covers a Men’s Round 4 (“R4”) at the US Open, which took place in Flushing, Queens.
How it’s Irish: Celtic – Andrew Murray, the No. 2-seeded player representing Great Britain, is Scottish!

At the US Open R4 Monday night, I saw Andrew Murray (Great Britain) get his own back from Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) – who had beat out Murray in the Miami Open this spring.

 

And Murray took control with his serves, firing off a personal-best, 141-mph serve that had commentator John McEnroe jumping out of his chair. 

…firing off a personal-best, 141-mph serve that had commentator John McEnroe jumping out of his chair.

“I did go up in [racket string] tension a little bit from the last match. Maybe that allowed me to feel like I was able to swing a little bit harder.” (Which also explains why Dimitrov halted the game to have his racket restrung.) Murray added, “I didn’t give him an opportunity, once I was ahead, to let him back in the match.”

September 7, 2016 - Andy Murray in action against Kei Nishikori in a men's quarterfinal match during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Andrew Murray at the US Open (courtesy of Garrett Elwood/USTA)

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Kids of All Ages Welcome

How it’s New York: It features an interview with Kevin Crawford, leading light of the Irish Trad scene in New musictonyYork, where he talks about his rambunctious musical beginnings in Birmingham, England.
How it’s Irish: It is the latest in a series on the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School in Digbeth, Birmingham 

Pat Molloy understood kids. He knew how to get them engaged but also ,when they were under too much pressure, to just let them be kids. Some knew the tunes they wanted straight off the bat; others needed a little prompting so he used “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as an introduction. Of course the idea grew into a jig version, a reel version and a hornpipe version (I’m sure he had barn dance and mazurka versions up his sleeve as well). For those who needed a bit of theatre he also had a party piece of a 4-part manoeuvre before putting the fiddle to the neck (think of a fun version of the military “present arms”). At the other end of the scale he used to also relish the senior student – if I recall correctly his oldest first-time student was 80 years old and full of self-doubt, but still walked out of Hendon Road with a tune.

This spirit is at the core of the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School, about to run for its 5th year on the weekend of 23rd and 24th, 2016,  a welcoming place for all interested in traditional Irish music, whatever your current level or age.

We have noticed at previous summer schools that those attending or teaching could be split up into different categories: the Little Kids, the Big Kids and the Adults.

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Lúnasa and Karan Casey at the Highline Ballroom

Lunasa 5

Lúnasa

How it’s New York: At the Highline Ballroom, NYC, Monday December 14, 2015
How it’s Irish: Irish Trad Super-group Lúnasa with singer Karan Casey

I love it when I get early Christmas presents!!!  Last Monday was a whopper!  Two of my Irish trad favorites on the same stage and they delivered a jovial blinder of a set of tunes and songs to delight an extremely eager New York crowd.

Front man and flute phenom Kevin Crawford, who has been living in New York over the past year, was like the host at a great gathering, floating about the audience, pre-show, and whipping up the anticipation in the crowd.

I was particularly excited to see Karan Casey, my all-time favorite traditional singer, and to hear the collaboration between these innovative musicians!

The evening was filled with Lúnasa‘s trademark jigs and reels flying from the nimble fiddling fingers of Colin Farrell and the deft pipework of Cillian Vallely. They brought a wealth of other styles from the traditional canon, with some original Breton dance tunes penned by Kevin Crawford and some tunes from French guitarist Gilles Le Bigot.  There were jigs and slides a plenty from the likes of Leo Rowsome, Emer Mayock, and one of my favorites, The Stolen Purse by Kevin Burke and Patrick Street.  The driving base of Trevor Hutchinson and the jazzy guitar of Ed Boyd provide a strong backbone with the whirlwind of Kevin Crawford‘s flute bobbing and weaving over everything. (more…)