Thursday, December 26, 2013

Afternoon in the west 20s ... eve in the West Village: The High Line; Chelsea galleries; Amber / Asian cuisine + "Small Engine Repair"

The High Line - Chelsea Segment
With some time on our hands and tickets to an off-Broadway play (a 7:00 pm curtain for Small Engine Repair) at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on west Christopher Street, we figured we'd spend the afternoon doing a bit of gallery hopping in Chelsea, focusing on a few key shows on West 21st St., and then taking a short walk on The High Line ... just strolling along a section of the elevated park between 14th & 23rd.  

The High Line - I. Baan, 2009
If you've never been to The High Line, you're missing an above-street-level park & promenade - a so-called "aerial greenway" (see photo) - with wild, natural vegetation that runs, now, from Gansevoort St., a few blocks below 14th St. in the Meatpacking District (between 10th & 11th avenues) up to 30th St. and soon, in the 3rd & final phase of the project, will reach 34th.

Promenade Plantée - Paris, 1993

Modeled on, and inspired by, the nearly 3-mile  Promenade Plantée, or "Tree-lined walkway," in Paris which was completed in1993 (it begins just east of the Opéra Bastille & winds through to the boulevard Périphérique), the 1-mile long High Line park/promenade was built on & along the north-south RR "bed" of the old West Side spur of the New York Central. An elevated freight line, long in disuse, it was to be demolished by the City of New York; but, instead, after considerable pressure & support by a vocal & involved group of local residents it was determined that the space would become a city park - a recreational structure & cultural site. Today, Friends of the High Line effectively maintains & preserves the public park/promenade as a "non-profit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation." 

Map - The High Line
So, if you plan to visit the Chelsea area of Manhattan, and hop to and from a few art galleries, as well, enjoy a walk on The High Line, now operating on a winter schedule, open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, seven days a week. Lots of interesting urban architecture, sculpture, cityscapes, vegetation - and people - to be seen (and photographed) along this unique 20+ block route!

We exited The High Line at 23rd & 10th, dipping down (again) to street level via the stairs (as the elevator wasn't in operation), and walked the few blocks to West 21st (our immediate goal) to visit two notable gallery exhibits:  Richard Serra's New Sculpture - Inside Out, 2013 (Gagosian Gallery @ 522 West 21st) and Bing Wright's unusual stained-glass photo "montages" (Paula Cooper Gallery @ 521 West 21st).
Richard Serra - "Inside Out," 2013
Serra's Inside Out (see photos) consists in a substantial edifice, constructed of attached weathered steel plates. Viewers can enter the maze-like structure and  proceed in a small number of different directions within reaching, at some point, an egress from whose vantage point one can see different sides and portions of the whole. 

One can also walk around the whole and attain a feel for the massiveness of the "sculpted" project. 

Richard Serra - "Inside Out" Section
But, whether one enters and circles through the structure or walks slowly, diffidently, around the external portions (i.e., the attached plates) of the massive figure, one cannot help but feel that the finished project would have benefited from a larger, more open venue. The structure's exceedingly solid, heavy, massive presence feels somewhat cramped & constricted - excessively massive - for the available gallery space at Gagosian. Inside Out is a substantial piece of imaginatively "sculpted" steel which seems, in a sense, to be occluded all around by the limitations of the gallery space ... to the extent that the full impact of the work feels reduced in stature, power & value. (Note: I have seen Richard Serra's huge sculpted steel works in considerably larger, more spacious surroundings - at the Dia Beacon, for example - and the overall effect(s) proved much more powerful & dynamic.)

Bing Wright - BrokenMirror/EveningSky
Bing Wright's show housed just a few doors away & across the street from the "Richard Serra: New Sculpture" (at Gagosian) did not disappoint at all. While there is a degree of sadness that seems to permeate the broken mirror motif witnessed in all of the photo montages on display here (see photo), the bold & muted colors amid cracks suffused with setting sunlight all join together synergistically to promote a masterful overall aesthetic effect. Wright has, it would seem, developed a photo technique - one of efficiency & directness - that has clearly evolved into a dazzlingly radiant form. 

If you decide to take that walk on The High Line, in the Chelsea vicinity, consider dropping down to street level, navigate yourself to 521 West 21st, and have a good look: the Bing Wright show runs through January 18th @ Paula Cooper.

Following our "dip" into the art galleries on (and near) West
Amber - External View
21st St., we thought we'd wend our way downtown (further) for dinner and our off-B'way theater engagement at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on west Christopher Street, just 1/2 a village-length block from Amber / West Village (@ 135 Christopher St.; tel. 212-477-5880). Specializing in sushi, sashimi, wok & grill platters & pan-Asian cuisine, this small, cozy & pleasant spot
- with staff consistently eager to please! - and a small, friendly & welcoming bar up front, seemed perfectly suited for our needs that evening:  a relatively quick meal to fortify us for what would soon prove a pretty intense theater event (billed as a "comic thriller") ... & with no intermission.
Amber - Internal View
We began with a tasty tempura mixed-vegetable appetizer, with a mildly spicy sauce - crispy, well-prepared, and certainly large enough to share.  While the salads & "special rolls" seemed particularly tempting, as described, we opted for our mains directly after our final bites of the tempura appetizer. My wife selected the bowl of pineapple fried rice accompanied by a large quantity of good-size shrimp (@ $12). The dish was extremely appealing but prolific and so she needed some help wading through both the shrimp and the fried rice. (Of course, I was glad to accommodate her, digging into the bowl for a few spoonfuls of its contents!). 

Shrimp Salad with Spicy Chili Sauce
But my own plate - Sangria crispy duck, with red wine glaze (@ $18) - proved, well, just about perfect ... yep, crispy on the outside and tender, fragrant, carefully cooked sections in the interior. A small Asian-inflected masterpiece, indeed: sweetly (heavenly)  glazed & thoroughly, hardily, grilled, all adding up to justify my to return to this little pan-Asian gem!   

We also knocked down two tall glasses of pale ale, an antidote to all that fried rice ... and opted to skip dessert when we found out that their signature crepe item (a dessert praised by other diners) was not available that night. 

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
In short, a fine, filling & fairly priced pre-theater meal at a West Village (Asian) dining spot to which we will certainly come again for a wider sampling of their diverse fare - including, most especially, their home-made pan-fried pork dumplings; their sushi; & a small selection of items from their list of "special rolls" ... possibly the "Double Dragon," a shrimp tempura roll topped with eel, avocado & salmon roe!  Hmmm ...
Onward, finally, to the theater - and to our 7:00 pm curtain - for an in-depth look at Small Engine Repair ...
An MCC Theater production, directed by Jo Bonney, Small Engine Repair is an intense, relatively fast-paced comedy-drama 75 minutes long (straight through) without intermission. The play is set in an orderly but run-down repair shop in Manchester, NH, owned by Frank (John Pollono; actor & author), the central motivational "force" behind all the action. Frank has invited two of his high school buddies to meet at his shop, bringing together these foul-mouthed "friends," Packie (a slacker) & Swaino (a blowhard & loser) - with some bad blood between them - for what turns out to be, well, rather hyperbolic, alluring, and  mysterious pretenses. Packie is told that Frank may have cancer & Swaino was informed that strippers would be on hand for a party. Neither, of course, turns out to be true, but plenty of beer and Johnnie Walker Blue is provided by Frank as tensions mount between the three old friends. And so we begin to wonder exactly what a seemingly calm, steady & avuncular Frank has on his mind.

John Pollono
It turns out that while his two friends have been persistently evolving into near-complete failures, drifting around & about pretty much aimlessly, Frank has been running a business successfully & raising a daughter, Crystal (now a 17-year-old ready to attend college), pretty much by himself since high school. But something more seems to have transpired beyond what Frank is letting on, amounting to the real reason that Packie & Swaino have been summoned to the shop.
Something is, indeed, amiss, and we only learn about what this issue consists in as the evening proceeds and the Johnnie Walker gets more heavily dispersed. We learn, for example, that Packie, though seemingly an intellectual Neanderthal, knows something about the internet, the uses of social media, and cell-phone-related apps, like Foursquare, for "checking in"; we learn more about the relationships, both current and past, between & among the three friends; and we learn that Frank's daughter Crystal - and thus Frank himself - is in some kind of difficult or compromised situation and that it is all related to a "preppy," rich, college athlete named Chad who shortly enters the mix, arriving on the scene, he thinks, to sell Frank some drug-related materiel ... he deals in "ecstasy."  

And here, as they say, is where the Mamet-like plot proverbially thickens ... with Frank's anticipated assistance & "payback" from his old friends; with social media apps influencing action & outcomes; with revenge, retribution, and things increasingly more sinister developing which I won't dare reveal here just in case you have the opportunity to see the play when it (again) surfaces, on or off Broadway, or elsewhere. 

(Note: A brief fall, early-winter run of Small Engine Repair was extended through December 21st and has now closed.)

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