My husband, Bill, makes at least one or two trips to New York City each year to catch up on the latest in theatre and also movies that most likely will never make it to Charlottesville. We have one small independent movie house that does its best, but the same film often plays for weeks on end, while good Indi flicks whiz by us. Charlottesville is known for hosting the Virginia Film Festival every fall and you’d think we’d get all the good ones but that isn’t the case. In summer especially, the movie theatres show nothing but violence, fantasy and whatever junk is out there.
For those who don’t know him, Bill is a director, an actor and a playwright who has also taught for many years on the high school and college levels. His trips are usually 4 or 5 days in length and in that span of time he’ll usually take in 6 or 7 plays and whatever number of movies he can fit in, usually 2 or 3. He then writes his take on what he sees and his experiences on his blog, View In The Dark.
I don’t usually accompany him on his binges because I’m not fond of sitting for hour upon hour in dark rooms where the only light is focused on stage, even for the world’s best in theatre. It’s great for him to get away so that he can focus on what he’s seeing and I get some time to do nothing but take care of my own needs here at home.
We do however always plan an additional trip when together, we spend time doing other favorite city things. Although, seeing top Broadway shows is always on the list, we’ll often go to an art museum or two and take in sites like Ellis Island or riding the ferry to and from Staten Island while we recite Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, Recuerdo. And we always spend time in the City’s green spaces so that I don’t become overwhelmed by the energy of such a large metropolitan area. When I’m in Manhattan, I need continual grounding and the parks are the place for me to find solace amidst the crush and noise that is a constant in the City.
The week before last, I spent five days in New York City sitting in dark, crowded rooms with my Love, seeing some of the world’s finest theatre. The shows we saw were at night when the sun wasn’t shining so I got to spend most of my days out-of-doors. We did go to two afternoon movies I’m sorry we chose, but when you’re film starved as I’ve been, you pay your money and take your chances. The weather was perfect and too nice to waste time indoors seeing stuff that we weren’t moved by.
The Broadway shows we did go to were mostly spectacular, especially Death of a Salesman, with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Anything Goes, was refreshing, funny, and I wanted to get up onstage to dance and sing those old, wonderfully familiar Cole Porter tunes myself.
Porgy and Bess, left me wanting more of Gershwin. Though the story is a tragic one, music of the Gershwins’ always speaks to my soul, leaving me immersed in it even as I sleep. I’m still humming Summertime, I Got Plenty of Nothing, and I Loves You, Porgy, long after having the privilege of being in the theatre to see and hear this marvelous show.
On the other hand, The Best Man, a political piece about a 1960 president election, written by Gore Vidal, starring James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury, left me cold. About the same kind of hateful campaigning we’re experiencing right this minute, I could have simply stayed home and watched the evening news. The only difference between the ‘60s and now is the amount of money being spent to buy this years election. And even with those two all-time favorite stars it was nothing special.
The biggest surprise and absolutely stunning was a benefit performance of the gospel/musical, Momma, I Want To Sing, up in Harlem, at the MaMa Foundation for the Arts’, Dempsey Theater. We’d seen a segment about the Foundation and its work on CBS’ Sixty Minutes, a while back and agreed we’d love to see what they do in person. We both love music in all genres and especially soulful, African-American gospel. Aware of how important music is in everyone’s life, we find the Foundation’s mission of presenting, preserving and promoting gospel, jazz and the R&B arts through programs like Gospel for Teens, to be extremely important. Especially since music, as with most art curriculums, is disappearing from many a school program during these hard economic times.
Twice a year, the Foundation, auditions kids between the ages of thirteen and nineteen for a spot in the Gospel For Teens Choir. Those selected are immersed in gospel music, and then move on to an advanced class in performing for live audiences. They’ve won numerous awards and have traveled all over the globe bringing music and joy to those who have the opportunity to see and hear them. I’d go see it again in a heartbeat for the pure, inspiring energy they bring to my soul.
However, the best part of the trip for me was taking a subway ride downtown to walk on the High Line, one of the Manhattan’s newest green spaces, above the City’s canyons, on a mile long stretch of old rail road tracks. It’s beautifully designed and planted with native trees, shrubs and perennials, many of them in bloom when we were there. We walked it twice in as many days and the back pain I usually experience walking the streets of New York, surrounded by concrete and steel, was not in evidence for the rest of those days. Unlike the more serious faces of the hoards who hang out on Times Square, everyone walking the High Line was smiling. It has topped the list of my favorite parks in the City, closely followed by Bryant Park and of course, Central Park, where watching people with their dogs is one of my favorite NYC past times.
If you’re interested in theatre, movies and some stupendous writing do check out Bill’s blog, View In The Dark.