Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Art Spiegelman at the Jewish Museum; Dawat - haute cuisine of India; & New Perspectives / off-off Broadway

Spiegelman, Self-Portrait
In case you haven't been following the cultural & artistic "news" of late, you might just be unaware that a varied mixture of Art Spiegelman's work produced during the past five decades, or so - comix, comics, memorable & idiosyncratic New Yorker covers, graphic novels, cartoon  magazines & ephemera - is currently represented in a comprehensive retrospective exhibit at The Jewish Museum (5th Ave. at 92nd St.; 212/423-3200).
Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

Entitled "Art Spiegelman's Co-Mix:  A Retrospective," the show runs through March 23rd 2014 and celebrates in-depth, according to museum publicity, "the career of one of the most influential living comics artists." While Spiegelman is well known for his thematically bold New Yorker covers, he is, perhaps, best known for the 2-volume Maus graphic novel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project focusing allegorically, but laser-like, and with great profundity, on his parents' experiences during, & their survival of, The Holocaust. Spiegelman's work has been given prominence by the museum and is displayed in a large space (4 rooms, or more) throughout much of the museum's main floor. Reflecting all aspects of his diverse career, the show features drafts notes/idea pads, notebooks, preliminary drawings, completed early works (both comix & comic books), prints & finished volumes ... all currently on view & accessible. Indeed, there is much to see, much to read & skim, and much, too, to linger over and ponder in the various sections and display cases that comprise the exhibition.
Twin Towers Cover

This is a must-see show and one you might want to return to & mull over during a second visit because of the density of textual material and diversity of the graphic material on display. A great deal to see and to absorb has been accumulated & presented here, including Spiegelman's work and associations with other cartoonists, graphic artists, & children's authors ... notably his wife, Francoise Mouly (with whom he began to publish the "influential graphics magazine," RAW, in 1980); Charles M. Schulz (of Peanuts fame); and the late Maurice Sendak.

Meta Maus
Originally organized for the 2012 Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme, France, by Rina Zavagli-Mattotti, kudos must go to Ms. Emily Casden, Curatorial Assistant at The Jewish Museum, particularly for providing the rich descriptive print (& PR) materials reflecting so thoughtfully (in small spaces) on all aspects of Art Spiegelman & his work, as well as on the thematic content of the exhibition at large!

NYC [Agam] Menorah
Before dining, and following our afternoon visit to the Art Spiegelman show, we trundled down 5th Avenue to 59th Street at Grand Army Plaza where "the world's largest menorah" would be lit, ceremonially, at about 5:30. The golden-colored Hanukkah menorah - designed after a model created by the celebrated Israeli sculptor & experimental artist,Yaakov Agam - stands 32 feet high, weighs in at 4,000 pounds, and, if you look up & away from the traffic & the pedestrian crowd, can (still?) be seen diagonally across from The Plaza hotel right near the tip of Central Park (just off 5th Avenue!).

Yaakov Agam
Although delayed a bit for "technical" reasons, we succeeded in witnessing the candle-lighting event from a prime spot just below the great menorah: five candles were lit & glowing in the bustling plaza signaling to all of New York that the 5th night of Hanukkah, 2013, was, indeed, upon us. Next, we moved along, down to 58th St. and over to 3rd Avenue to Dawat (210 E. 58th; 212/355-7555) where the self-proclaimed haute cuisine of India awaited us and where several of the personal recipes of Madhur Jaffrey ("unique to Dawat") can be tasted.

Dawat - Interior
Dawat is a very welcoming & pleasant eating establishment - with exceedingly attentive & helpful service to diners and a head waiter(s) who offers (offered us, at least) solid advice & useful direction in terms of identifying our "final" choices among the various categories (& sub-categories) of dishes (mains, starters, soups, salads, etc.) offered on a highly diverse menu. And, once chosen, aimed to please my wife in permitting her (and us, really) to make personal substitutions - without additional charge - within the framework of her commodious Dawat Special (@ $29.95), affording her (still) a very complete & diverse dinner.
Tandoori chicken

My wife's "Dawat Special" - again, a complete dinner, offering a substantial
amount of food for one person (possibly two, depending) - contained the following "segments": a bowl of thick, creamy lentil soup; an order of tandoori chicken; seekh kabab (delicately spiced skewered vegetable rolls); fish tikka (a chunk of Chilean sea bass marinated in an aromatic herb mixture); chicken saag (chicken pieces smothered in a spicy spinach puree); potatoes with ginger & tomatoes in a thick sauce; a basket of naan bread; and a vegetable rice pilau, more than enough for two diners to share!

My own choice, the (tandoori) raan ($26.95), heartily endorsed by our head waiter, consisted of a whole small tender leg of lamb braised with ginger & spices, then roasted in the tandoor oven until crispy outside and "meltingly tender" inside.  A lightly spicy lentil sauce came with the dish to provide just the right amount of moisture & additional flavor. Although advertised on the menu as comprising a small leg of lamb, the results proved to be a large dish half of which I had packed up & took home. A very unusual lamb dish, indeed, and one I had never before encountered on a "standard" Indian menu.

Chicken adraki tikka
We ordered two Indian pale ales to complement our dinner ... to aid us in digesting all of the attentively prepared, (moderately) spicy fine food.  While we were full & content ... and pleased with what we had ordered, we barely scratched the proverbial surface of the very comprehensive & varied Dawat menu. Therefore, suffice it to say, we simply must return, in the not-too-disant future, for another "go-round" - many more choices to be made here at Dawat, including samplings on the menu from their "popular curries," "kebabs," "seafood" & extensive tandoori offerings! Perhaps we'll even try a Madhur Jaffrey item or two, such as the Western Indian vegetarian stew called Sindhi Karhi or Crab Nazakat, an "exotic" crab salad combined with mustard seeds, kokum, honey, coconut milk & fresh curry leaves served up with a spicy potato croquette. But ... who knows.

And now, for a moment, on to the "theatre":  This season Broadway & Off-Broadway houses seem to be just inundated with exciting new plays (Domesticated, The Jacksonian, Bad Jews, The Night Alive) and attractive revivals (Richard III, Waiting for Godot,The Glass Menagerie, No Man's Land).  Much to see this season - perhaps more than usual, both on, and off, Broadway. But, in your search for a musical, drama, or comedy, you ought not to neglect the sometimes "budget" productions offered in off-off-Broadway venues, housing small theater companies where actors, directors & writers are experimenting in new forms, brief(er) formats, mixtures of short plays, and other idiosyncratic theater pieces which might just satisfy your varied entertainment needs & aesthetic interests. 

Richard Vetere
One such organization is the New Perspectives TheatreCompany (Melody Brooks, Artistic Director), located in a small but satisfactory space at 456 West 37th St., where we recently saw Richard Vetere Explains the World ... Ten Minutes at a Time. The production comprises six short (10-minute) "plays" (some, well,mere sketches) with such titles as "The Intern," "Fortress America," "88%," "No More Writers," "A Strip Club Christmas Memory" ... and features a diverse, highly talented ensemble cast of multi-racial actors delivering the material with intelligence, spirit & panache. The subject matter reflected in these short plays proved funny, sad, odd & timely focusing on such topics as, well, (unpaid) "internships," perhaps the most seamless & funniest of the six. Other content broached the borderline between the accused terrorist(s) and one's civil rights, and the question, or condition, of a world without writers & writing, in which writers "work" purely underground, positioned precariously, awaiting interrogation & punishment for their words.  All content, of course, is emphatically generated by Richard Vetere and his roving, salt-impacted, (black) comedic, idiosyncratic world view: "I don't always find the world most interesting," he declares. "But when I do, I write about it." And so Mr. Vetere does, extensively ... in the guise of playwright, novelist & screenwriter.
Theatre Development Fund

Sadly, Richard Vetere Explains the World closed in mid-November (we attended the final performance of the run on November 17th). Next up at New Perspectives seems to be a collection of five short plays by Richard Wentz,a world premiere preview - entitled Night of the Working Dead. Beginning on January 15th, the 5 plays in the sequence organize a tribute to, and honor, "working stiffs across the country." You can probably catch this next group of short plays for $9 a ticket via TDF ... so check out the off-off Broadway listings during the next few weeks!  You're sure to enjoy at least a few of the plays in the upcoming production ... mounted under the  aegis of the new play development program at New Perspectives

At any rate, take yourself to an off-off theater in the near future for, well, any play whose description catches your fancy ... anything can happen; you just might be pleased, charmed, shocked or (simply) satisfied for having had the experience! 

Chekhov's Cherry Orchard - Off-Off
I'm checking the TDF web site, simultaneously, as we speak ... for interesting possibilities during the coming weeks; there is consistently something in the off-off "marketplace" for just about every imaginable taste & theatrical preference. And the TDF web site works just fine!

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