Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another visit to Brooklyn ... an opera, a resto (Taperia); a new film & "Disgraced," a B'way drama

Just like everyone else in and around metro New York, we've been heading to Brooklyn periodically, of late, for various outings, restaurant visits, and to catch "local" events - both cultural (e.g.,the 9th annual Brooklyn Book Festival held late this past September) & culinary (for exemplary, interesting & reasonable eats). Just a few weeks ago (on Sunday, November 23rd), we returned to Brooklyn (St. Ann's Church, 157 Montague St., Brooklyn Heights), once again,
Cavalleria Rusticana - Sicilian church
for a performance of Pietro Mascagni's one-act opera, the storied, "melodramatic" Cavalleria Rusticana. The Mascagni operatic
masterpiece was a joint production presented by (and with) the String Orchestra of Brooklyn (Eli Spindel, conductor, SOB) and Grace Chorale of Brooklyn (Jason Asbury, Choir Music Director). 

Sarah Heltzel - Mezzo-soprano
The performance - the music, the choir, the five soloists - proved especially strong, emphatic, unassailable, and memorable ... kudos to the performers, one and all! Tenor, Alex Richardson (Turiddu), and mezzo-soprano, Sarah Heltzel (Santuzza), were both operatic standouts in their respective roles, and both, indeed, vocally powerful, melodic, and appealing ... continually kindling interest, evoking sincerity, and maintaining the substantial audience's undiverted attention.

Evening view from Montague St.
Following the highly successful, simply staged & emotion-laden performance of the iconic Mascagni (verismo) opera - and after hooking up with a friend of ours who is a member of the choir - we meandered just up the street to Taperia (132 Montague, between Henry St. & Clinton; tel. 718/596-1800) to dine. 

Taperia - Heated patio (where we dined!)
We sampled a wide variety of tapas dishes, an excellent bottle of the recommended house white wine (a clos Dalian, white grenache; @ about $30) & dessert!  And Taperia turned out to be, well, a relatively undiscovered gem of a dining venue - 
unknown, surprisingly, to either of our Brooklynite companions. The restaurant, I should note here, is friendly, very attentive to needs of diners, plenty atmospheric, ethnic, quiet ... and our meal added up to near perfection in a series of 7 or 8 small plates (@ $6-10 each).  

At the top of our list were the Spanish chorizo cubes cut up & blended into a fragrant & appealing stew of garbanzos, onions & tomatoes (so
Spanish chorizo - in stew
appealing, in fact, that we decided on a second plate of this very same chorizo stew!); the mixed plate of empanadas stuffed with beef, chicken & spinach, and Manchego cheese; the "traditional" glass of ceviche filled with
pieces of scallops, calamari & sea bass immersed in an admixture of lime juice, garlic, red onion, cilantro, jalapenos ... and served with white corn chips; and, finally, the ropa viejo (stewed, shredded beef, with white rice & nicely simmered red beans).

Flan - topped w/jellied fruit & whipped cream
Two desserts were selected (@ $6-8 each) - a bread pudding concoction and a silky-sweet Spanish flan topped with jellied fruit (apricot?) & whipped cream on the side - and we coupled the dessert plates with robust & intensely black cups of coffee (caffeinated, for one of our party, de-caf for the others). The two shared desserts neatly topped off a memorably filling combination of diverse savory small plates ... all presented with care & pride, in diner-oriented low-key comfort & toward our own great satisfaction & continual surprise! If you're in Brooklyn Heights - anywhere near Montague St. - you just might want to give Taperia a try - for entrée-size large plates, for soups, salads, for large orders of ceviche ... and, of course, for tapas!
NY TIMES - December 5th

In last weekend's New York Times / SportsSunday (December 7th), a bunch of staff writers & editors jointly contemplated the world without watching football in an article entitled "Who Needs Football?" (their starting point was here:  "... take a break from the ritual masochism ... anything you do will be less boring than watching a couple of lousy teams play ineptly against a couple of other lousy teams). And then they provided a batch of "suggestions for better ways to spend your Sunday."  Their suggestions included such possibilities as "Explore the City" (which we do, by definition, in each nybeat blog post); "Go to the Opera" (done, too, see above); "Eat" (we continually seek out & examine new restos & venues not yet fully known to us) ...
Benedict Cumberbatch / Alan Turing
So, what's new here; We've been not watching football for the past 35 or 40 years and have allocated our time to much more (in my opinion) interesting, enlightening, useful & enjoyable pursuits while exploring the NY metro area and even, occasionally, a somewhat further & wider "radius" (like that within and surrounding Montréal, Colorado, Wyoming, the Poconos)!  Which, rather indirectly, leads us to two more extremely worthwhile "cultural" experiences that I'd advocate for - and suggest you'd have a look:  

First, see (!) the new film,The Imitation Game, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in a subtly brilliant performance as Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician & computer wizard (father of computing/computer science & artificial intelligence), in his central role as the "morally dubious" cryptographer who solved the "Enigma code," the German strategic communications code during the 2nd World War, and, which, arguably (we are told) aided the Allies in ending the war some two years earlier than it might have otherwise lasted. 
More or less faithful to the book on which it is based - Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Andrew Hodges - the film (directed by Morten Tyldum) focuses centrally on Turing and, specifically, on the intricate narrative details surrounding the sequence of events just prior to the cracking of the "indecipherable" German code. 

Carefully constructed (even "sculpted"), the film's components fuse together & unite the three unequal constituent threads of the film - replete with post-war revelatory scenes; flashbacks to Turing as a "difficult" young public school student; and, foremost, presenting the time frame (however condensed & intensified) at Bletchley Park, the UK center where the "team-building" & code-breaking efforts take place. That is, all three narrative strands merge - as a cinematic force - to depict the period, the war-time work, post-war difficulties with the "authorities," and Turing's idiosyncratic personality ... his genius, his temperament, his sexuality, his interpersonal skills (or lack thereof), and his analytical methods. 

Alan Turing / Bronze bust
And while the supporting cast provides the necessary harmonious acting ensemble (kudos to Keira Knightley) & theatrical backdrop against which the Turing character acts & re-acts, it is Cumberbatch as Alan Turing whose every movement absorbs & maintains our attention with a performance that is simply sterling - genuine, riveting, masterful, enigmatic (pardon the use of this adjective), and, at once, understated & powerful.

Ayad Akhtar - Playwright
The second - and, for the moment, final - cultural experience I'd advocate attending, and suggest you purchase tickets for immediately (!), is the Pulitzer prize-winning drama by Ayad Akhtar, now on Broadway, entitled Disgraced (at the Lyceum Theatre; at 149 West 45th St.).

Tautly directed by Kimberly Senior, the play, in four scenes (between 2011 & 2012), takes place in a stylish, commodious upper East Side apartment and explores the personhood, the personae - values, conscience, self-worth, hopes, desires, motives, depths, solidity - of one Amir (Hari Dhillon), a thirty-something Pakistani-American lawyer and his relationship(s) to his wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol), a nephew, Abe (Danny Ashok), an Afro-American colleague, Jory (Karen Pittman), and her husband, Abe (Josh Radnor), an art dealer. 

Hari Dhillon - Amir
At the outset of the drama, Amir, though of east Asian ethnicity, is a confident American corporate attorney who soon, he assumes, will become a partner in his law firm ... and who just happens to be of Pakistani origin.  But, as things progress, and muddy as they are apt to do, and as he interacts with the other characters - his artist (pro- or faux Islam-oriented) wife; his pro-Pakistani nephew; the Jewish-American art dealer interested in his wife's work (?) and his wife herself; his black-American corporate lawyer colleague (wife of the art dealer) - things, shall we say, become less & less routine and obvious to him, and he stands on less (& less) firm ground. 

At the end of Scene 4, when the play is about to conclude, and things in the apartment are both psychologically and
Three photos - from Disgraced
physically "packed up," we wonder ... and these are the central & perplexing questions about which the play is concerned:  Can Amir, will Amir, maintain his sense of American-ness, his American needs & cultural values; can he, or will he, maintain what might only have been his posture, a hopeful pose?  Or, might he travel (at least mentally, psychically, even physically) to Pakistan, toward more traditional roots?  Or, further, does he (can he), truly fit in and belong anywhere at all?

The play, in short, is about Amir's fall, his dislocation, his disorientation, a crisis in his identity, resulting, ultimately in loss - of a job, a partnership, an American wife, his American friends (the black & Jewish couple), and a way of life as an American, an American professional. You will, indeed, formulate your own serious questions as you view the play and, certainly, afterwards, after you have chewed over & digested  what you have just witnessed.

So, once again, as The New York Times editors formulate the question for us:  Who needs football?  Come on ... get serious ... Really!