I’ve never arrived in NYC on a Saturday evening. That was a trip. But I’ve definitely never arrived at Penn Station, which is the Madison Square Garden subway stop, on a Saturday, with a UFC fight on tap, for which Donald Trump is attending. And I’ve never had to wheel luggage through a mob of pro-MAGA and anti-Trump supporters, for which the police outnumbered both sides. That was a trip and a half.
This holiday was booked, flights to and from, seven plays, one opera, a cabaret act, before I ever settled on a hotel. It was only by the grace of Tablet and a smoking hot offer that I ended up at the Merrion Row.
The MR has three things (on TripAdvisor) going for it. One, it’s central. Two, it’s whisper quiet with a comfortable bed and great linens. And three it’s new (much like the Moxy was last trip, and the Refinery the trip before). Which is my un-scientific and prejudicial way of thinking there is less chance of bedbugs: newness.
Although we left YVR late (we had to be de-iced of all things, on November 2, in YVR!), we arrived at EWR on time. Up front the service was especially cordial; AC gets one or two things right, but an egg white wrap concocted by David Hawksworth was plainly not one of them. I had just enough time to train to Penn, walk up to West 45th, check in, half unpack, and make it a few blocks over to the Friedman for Height of the Storm.
Some people will buy tickets because of Dame Eileen Atkins, whom they know as the Queen Mum in The Crown; which is unfortunate, because they should know her from Cold Comfort Farm. Some people will buy tickets because of Jonathan Pryce, whom they probably know from GoT or The Wife, but too bad they don’t know him from Brazil, or even his lovely obsessive malevolence in Taboo. And some will buy tickets because it’s a London transfer and The Guardian called it the best play of the year. But I bought tickets because the brilliant-can-do-no-wrong-has-a-career-better-than-Tom-Stoppard Christopher Hampton translated the Florian Zeller script, and he didn’t let the world down with Reza’s Art or LL Dangereuses. (Although there is something very Yasmina Reza about Zeller, which seems a little obsessive.)
In a previous Zeller play, Frank Langella played the father and won a Tony. In another, Isabelle Huppert played the mother. Here you have the a mother and father playing together; what’s next, The Waltons? Whether this is a play about a man with early onset dementia and a dead wife, or a bereaved wife, or just an old doddering couple, is more or less left up to the spectator; Zeller seems not to care for the linear. Is the play as great as the Guardian claimed? I would say the jury is out. The production however, the scrim on a proscenium, how old school heavenly, and then a raked set with a ceiling no less (I had a “stimulus package” just thinking about it). Star turns yes; Pryce’s early signs of Parkinson’s were ludicrously real, it was almost like he wasactually ill and hiding it as an actor. But as a play, it lacked. Or maybe, memory as it ebbs in old age, maybe that was the intent?
Sunday dawn came early. It was, after all, the end of daylight savings. (There is a First Nations story in Canada that when one chief saw Europeans manipulating the daylight hours he proclaimed “that’s like cutting an inch off the top of a blanket, sewing it on the bottom, then saying you have a longer blanket.”) I slept well on the Hypnos mattress (two bucket list mattresses down, Hypnos and Hastens, just the Dux to go). Following breakfast I headed up to Central Park.
The 2019 marathon, underway, was still an hour away from heading into the final meters for the champions. But the elite wheelchair men and women, who started at 8:30 a.m., were coming to a close. I did see Romanchuk and Hug, among others, careen around the final curves towards the finish as the former took champion in the men’s wheelchair, while standing in the shadow of the Plaza (cordoned off from the hordes), in a sea of onlookers, cops, sanitation workers and out of town gawkers.
Onwards downtown. A Vogue-ish photo shoot was occupying the sidewalks, but the hordes manoeuvred around. Whatever happened to the ghost town of downtown? The side streets of After Hours or Hannah and Her Sisters? Downtown used to be deserted off Canal and Houston.
Someone in a “reputable” publication had recommended Charlie Bird for pasta. So I stopped in for some near perfection if perfectly overpriced tagliatelle. En route I passed numerous vendors with scarves, tourist tat and fashion items of dubious provenance. But then I passed a vendor with authentic scripts; TV and movie scripts, final versions. How NY is that? That was a New York street scene.
A matinee beckoned. Loki (aka Tom Hiddleston) meets Daredevil (aka Charlie Cox) meets [the actress hired to play the female role. Thank you Me Too; we’ve come so far].
Not that the world needs another production of Betrayal, but this spartan set, two chairs, a rotating stage and a back wall, harshly lit, seemed somehow definitive, and speaking of playwrights who understand linear, Nobelist Pinter went so far as to move it backwards, in time, that’s like Nina Simone singing Little Girl Blue while playing Good King Wenceslas. Only geniuses fear to tread… It was six deep at the stage door for Marvel spotting. Would Loki prevail? I didn’t wait to find out.
Onwards. Downtown yet again. Had Julia Sweeney arisen from the dead? No, she’s just been living in Chicago raising a kid. Very funny. Very strong set. Her analogy of the gospels, put in order of being written (Mark first, Matthew, Luke, John) as each a script vetted by Hollywood producers that must be rewritten to be more audience-friendly, was ridiculously on point. “But darling, Mark has no miracles, where’s the sensationalism? You must rewrite.” And when you get to the end, with miracles, raising the dead, wine from water and wedding feasts, you end up trumped by James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino who drop acid at a director’s retreat and come up with a script called Revelation. So much for “the story.”
Jetlag prevails. The Hypnos mattress beckons.