A week ago today (Wednesday, July 4th), we drove into Manhattan for fireworks – for Macy’s traditional Independence Day spectacle on the Hudson & for the “fireworks” within Nina Raine’s new play, Tribes (directed by David Cromer) at the Barrow Street Theatre in the heart of the west Village. It proved a very busy day, indeed.
We began our celebratory day with a stop at Ofrenda (our 3rd visit to this 7th Ave. South “Mexicana” eatery) during Happy Hour (4-7:00 pm), when the menu is just a bit different; there are, for example, a variety of small plates – “antojitos” – at $7.00 each and the drinks “discounted” to $4.00 for Mexican beers (Pacifico or Modelo Especial, for example) and $5.00 for house wines & margaritas (including “prickly pear" and cucumber). Glad to discover that this little Village resto is as good as, or better than, ever. We shared a few cold beers on this extremely hot (late) afternoon and a few of the antojitos – including a very pleasant and silky guacamole, in this case with mashed avocados, salsa fresco, chopped mango & accompanied by homemade tortilla chips; a spicy garlic shrimp “hot plate” containing “shallow-fried” tiger shrimp, garlic butter, white wine & chile de arbol sauce; and an appealingly scrumptious beef barbacoa quesadilla … an open flour tortilla with beef (barbacoa), jalapeno & cilantro pesto, and queso Oaxaca. We also shared a main, the jalapeno pork chops … with jalapeno butter, garlic-and-chihuahua cheese mashed potato &sautéed vegetables. An entirely pleasing, piquant & satisfying light-ish meal to bolster and sustain us throughout the theater-going activity before us – and the fireworks-on-the-river event to come.
Tribes has been at the Barrow Street Theatre for a few months now, after a very successful London run in 2010 (at the Royal Court Theatre) where it won an Olivier Award nomination for Best Play. The play, as has been noted, is intriguing, well acted, and unique; it is, in short, a drama focusing on issues of language and communication – societal, intra-familial – and the lack of successful communication (sometimes desultory communication) between & among the hearing members of the immediate family under dramatic scrutiny in which one of the members, Billy, is a deaf man who has grown up lip-reading but not wholly acknowledging his deafness as a handicap. And that’s the way the family members – academic/writer-critic father (Christopher) & mystery writer mother (Beth), and their two other offspring (Daniel & Ruth) – wanted it ... all failing to recognize (or, really, denying) the fact that Billy has been spoken at … and not to or with … his entire life but believing that that modus operandi is a valid one.
Indeed, the family never submits to, never truly recognizes, the issue of deafness as a handicap, or, at the very least, a psycho-social difference isolating Billy until, that is, Billy meets up with Sylvia (who is slowly losing her own hearing) and then learns how to be a functioning deaf man in a hearing world. Much of the first act displays this eccentric and argumentative family growling obscenities at each other, with Christopher “communicating” with his family in a “fuck this,” “fuck that,” and “fuck it all” vein all his own. All of which is, I presume, structurally essential to the drama and sets up the model (a kind of “normality”) against which Billy’s growth and growing independence can appear to accrue as his relationship with an increasingly deaf woman simultaneously grows & solidifies.
I’ll say no more about the finale nor about the two other siblings who can, at times, seem superfluous while at other times (especially the brother, Daniel) seem tendentious & essential, as he, too, attempts to cope with his own brutal & deeply rooted psychological difficulties. The direction (thanks to David Cromer whose production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town also had a lengthy run at Barrow Street) , the acting, the staging are all wonderfully intelligent & wonderfully idiosyncratic. So, I guess, it is no surprise that Tribes won a batch of awards in 2012, including the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play & the New York Theatre Critics Circle Award.
In contrast to Tribes, witnessing Macy’s fireworks seemed (merely?) glittery, colorful, thunderous, and, inevitably, patriotic, with little dramatic conflict nor pointed communication exhibited. After all, though, it was a traditional & celebratory 4th-of-July happening … some two hundred plus years after the fact.
And, speaking of fireworks, you need to journey uptown, as soon as you can, to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations” design exhibit, featuring the creations (e.g., hats, ensembles, evening gowns, “casual” skirts & dresses, jackets, scarves, wraps, shoes (!), and so forth) by these two giants in the world of fashion (Mme. Prada would argue that what she creates is definitely not Art, while Mme. Schiaparelli would argue that her design work is an art form, like sculpture or architecture, which, comes alive, really, only when residing in all dimensions on the human (female) form. Their various, colorful, somewhat outrageous & texturally varied creations are niftily (lots of mirrors & carefully lighted) and alluringly on display … and there is a video presentation by Baz Lehrmann dramatizing simulated “conversations” in each of the galleries between Mme. Prada (yep, actually Miuccia Prada) and Mme. Schiaparelli (played very realistically and glamorously by Judy Davis) and illustrating their key “artistic” and philosophical approaches, differences & variant points of view.
This show is a must if you have the slightest interest in clothing, fabrics, design, couture & contemporary culture – even if you don’t. For these are two creative giants – two Artists – with a great deal to say, to reflect upon … and to show to all of us.
Before we moved on to the naked photography – “Naked before the Camera“ – exhibit, we stopped at the museum’s main resto – The Petrie Court Café & Wine Bar – for a not terribly expensive ($$) light meal and brief R & R. We sampled a couple of American artisanal beers to accompany our shared main dish, Farfalle pasta (a mixed garden vegetable pasta, with wilted greens, Picholine olives & aged Asiago), and a couple of glasses of a fruity German Riesling to complement our 3 (for $22.) small-plate selections, including: a spicy-garlicky tomato, “broth-like, ”cockles-in-the-½ shells item; a potato-onion torta, with piquillo; and a dish of braised octopus, upon a solid “bond” of charred tomatoes & fennel. It was enough to tide us over and keep us on track …
What a holiday week, full of fireworks … and much more!