THE HUMANS and La Pulperia


Set David Zinn, The Humans. Photo Sara Krulwich/NYT
Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele) and Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) moved in together and want to show off their duplex to the Blake family, visiting from Scranton, PA. On a neat dollhouse set, it seems a hopeful fresh start. The parents’ disappointment quickly turns it into a badly wired basement apartment in the floodwater zone. Oh look, it’s snowing! says the host hopefully, peering out the apartment's single window. But it turns out to be floating ash, as a neighbor has emptied an ashtray into the courtyard.

In spite of glimmers of humor, this Thanksgiving feast en famille, The Humans, is unrelievedly uncomfortable, a play that runs for two hours with no intermission. For the duration, Granny (Lauren Klein in the mainly-silent role of Momo) is parked onstage in in a wheelchair, drooling out of one side of her mouth.

Although Irish ballads are sung, the Blakes seem as Irish-American as the Sopranos. They share tragic problems with no dramatic context. The food in Pyrex dishes passed around the table looks gassy, and the bathroom is often evoked, with the previous occupant apologizing for the smell in there.

The action is frequently interrupted by a startlingly loud sound, like a bomb—never explained. The Humans can be nauseating, but the program comes with a warning in capital letters: “The play will be performed without an intermission. IF YOU LEAVE YOUR SEAT FOR ANY REASON DURING THE PERFORMANCE, YOU WILL NOT BE PERMITTED TO RETURN.”

A grounded and also funny character is the eldest, lawyer daughter played by Cassie Beck. Beck has a smart way of lightening things up—even though her character is overburdened by the playwright with a breakup, loss of her partner-track job, and uncerative colitis requiring a colectomy.

Jayne Houdyshell as the mother won the Tony for best featured actress. Houdyshell is hilarious when she discovers a mouse or cockroach. She lends a Shakespearean gravitas to the weakest lines, for instance as she reads the trite message Momo wrote before she lost her mind: "Dance more than I did. Drink less than I did. Go to church. Be good to everyone…".

Steele and Moayed are sweet as the young couple. What an ensemble of acting magnitude. There really should be a Tony Award for casting (Carrie Gardner, C.S.A.)! Reed Birney got a Tony as the father with the unpromising financial outlook. Also no surprise, David Zinn won for best scenic design. Young playwright Stephen Karam won the night’s fourth Tony for his play The Humans.


La Pulperia serves haute cuisine at moderate prices from a “borderless Latin menu.” We didn’t bother to take notes because everything we tried was so memorable. The signature appetizer is a light salmon brûlée, covered in a crisp burnt sugar shell and micro greens. Brazilian Moqueca Mixta (seafood with chorizo and soybean) is served in a large soup bowl with a halo of green coconut rice. This food is not heavy and is perfect for before a play. No bread is served or needed.

"Some people mistake us for a Mexican restaurant,” said our waiter from Puerto Rico, “so we added guacamole to the menu.” 

The grilled fish ribs are from a massive, prehistoric Caribbean fish. Next time we'll order that. Our grilled octopus was perfectly tender, and chewy, with a black crust. It came with a tasting of six vegetable cazuelitas, notably celery root gratin, eggplant chambota, and Russian potato salad with a Latin beat. Desserts are topped with ice cream made from tropical fruits cherimoya and lúcuma. 

The cocktail La Pulperia is pineapple, tequila, Cointreau, and jalapeno in a glass rimmed with black lava salt. Hibiscus Piscus is a deep red cocktail with chamomile tea, gin and pisco (brandy), with a rose bud floating on an ice slab.

La Pulperia’s bigger Second Avenue location offers a cooking and mixology class with chefs Carlos Barroz and Victor Medina in which you learn to prepare one dish and one cocktail. At the cavelike Theatre Row location there's a drag queen brunch on Sunday.

Small Mouth Sounds and Signature Theatre Café

In this intense, 100-minute, no intermission play, six people attend a silent meditation retreat. An unseen guru guides all-knowingly, promising participants that they will be changed by their experience. The guests are mandated to leave their cell phones at home, but when the guru's phone rings, he says, "I have to take this."

An appealing guest played by Brad Heberlee provides a monologue about his sad life, which was in and of itself good--but left us thinking each would get their turn to win our sympathies, à la Chorus Line. Fortunately, that does not happen--but one watches Small Mouth Sounds (terrible name for a play) expecting the worst. There is a lot of crying; each is overcoming a personal tragedy. A lesbian couple, played by Marcia deBonis and Quincy Tyler Bernstine, are the most affecting, dealing with illness. Theirs is an unsentimental part and inspiring. The one character who maintains his silence, Jan, played by Max Baker, creates a whole story when silent. His blue eyed-eyed empathy is a beacon. If only the other characters didn't talk so much.

Bess Wohl and Rachel Chavkin are playwright and director of this ambitious play. Set designer Laura Jellinek came up with thrilling wrap-around video projection of summer cricket and hard rainfall.


Frank Gehry designed the Signature Theatre, a performing arts complex with three theatres, a drama bookstore, and a café bar with a grand piano, open most days in the afternoon. The café serves gooey flatbread pizzas, a fine salade niçoise ($8), hot empanadas, wraps, sandwiches and desserts. Paper plates and plastic forks, but wine is served in a proper glass. Friendly bar service, well lit, comfortable, and a late happy hour when the shows let out. For a mere $25 annual subscription you can be a card-carrying member of this happy, arty place.

DICK GREGORY at B.B. King Blues Club



There has never been a better time to appreciate the wit

"You're talking about Trump? You're the crazy one."
and wisdom of Dick Gregory, American civil rights leader, social critic and comedian, whose life is the subject of the hot, one-man Broadway play, Turn Me Loose. Actor Joe Morton plays Gregory eight times a week, delivering some of his best material and funniest lines from over the years. Morton was there to make a moving introduction before the 83-year-old Gregory took the stage with his latest stand-up act.
 


The reason Canada never has extreme weather is because “it never fucked with the system.” White folk hire black folk “to change their babies’ diapers,” but white folk walk their dog and “pick up their dog’s shit.” Black folks and white folks are different; he gives numerous hilarious examples. A one-time diet and fitness expert, Gregory is in great mental shape and physical shape. He is more outrageous than ever. 

Often you think, “Did he just say that?” Shocking lines were delivered in a softer voice, like a stunning comment about the Queen that I couldn’t be sure I heard right.

Ever aware of his audience, Gregory follows a wild opinion with an innocent “So anyway…” He is au courant, celebrating yesterday’s Supreme Court victory on abortion rights: “Don’t let anyone tell you what the fuck to do.” Only one mention of the GOP nominee: “You’re talking about Trump? You’re the crazy one.”

To hear more of beloved Dick Gregory—with the language cleaned up—see the highly praised, extended by popular demand Turn Me Loose.
 



A lot is going on at B.B. King’s—Saturday Beatles brunch and Sunday Gospel brunch, not to mention weekly music trips to Cuba. I wish, then, that the food were less expensive and easier to get. This night was admittedly a sold-out spectacular occasion, but I waited an hour to be served the famous smoked beef brisket burger at $25. As famished as I was I found the French fries a bit soggy and the collard greens salty. People sitting near enjoyed Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson's lauded Memphis style BBQ ribs, shrimp and grits, and his delectably creamy macaroni and cheese. No one ordered a $12 dessert out of fear that it would be served after the show was finished. 

Jon Paris and his rocking band, with bass guitarist Amy Madden, were performing their weekly gig—no cover charge for some of the best live music in New York City. Paris’s guitar picks are his calling cards, printed with JonParis.com. I caught the guitar pick that Jon tossed into the audience. It was just like catching the bride’s bouquet or the home-run ball at Yankee Stadium.

SHINING CITY and BXL Zoute



Billy Carter and Matthew Broderick have a session

Shining City, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, features Matthew Broderick in his Irish Rep debut as staid widower John, who for the first time in his life seeks the help of a therapist. In a compelling monologue, John describes how he sees his late wife as a ghost. He sees her in the red coat he bought, a big expense, that she admired in a shop window and never expected to receive. John believes his dead wife appears to him as punishment for his interest in another woman. Billy Carter, so memorable as the patient bartender in The Weir, plays the compassionate therapist Ian, who helps John shake that unhelpful belief.

Ian, a former priest, is in search of love. Lisa Dwan in the role of Ian's bad wife does some fine acting, though her part is thankless as written. We are meant to question their child’s DNA—Ian is too easily let off the hook by the playwright, Conor McPherson. In a small role, James Russell is remarkable as a hustler who meets a lot of unhappily married men. Russell’s looming height and coarse accent give his scene a welcome threat and sense of danger.

The play was rehearsed offsite during a two-year renovation by Garrison Architects. The inauguration is in September, after finishing touches are completed. The new space is so powerful and fresh feeling, with dark walls and comfortable seating. We’re so glad to see the deserving Irish Rep get a glorious makeover.

For Shining City, the scenic design of Charlie Corcoran exploits the seemingly infinite possibilities of the new stage, making the Dublin therapist’s office feel expansive and warm in spite of the cold rain outside. The Irish Rep has always been a harbor in a storm. And though not a favorite McPherson, this incarnation does justice to the topics of transition and the ghosts that will hang around.



Down the street from the Irish Repertory Company is the pretty Belgian restaurant BXL Zoute (zoute means “to salt”) and a hundred Belgian beers on tap and in bottles. We chose delicious beers made in Trappist monasteries: Westmalle Trappist and Chimay.

The Croque Madame swept past our table dozens of times during a pre-matinee lunch: a gooey, cheesey croque with fried egg on top, served with frites and a salad. Instead we ordered a super salmon with crisp skin, served over leeks and roasted potatoes, in a red wine reduction, and moules frites or mussels and french fries, the house specialty, with cuvée, on the $17 prix fixe. Mussels come with many sauces here, include Grand-Mère, with cream and bacon;  à la moutarde (very popular), and a hot Thai coconut curry sauce. For dipping in to sauce pots a first-class bread is served, whole wheat and white.

BXL Zoute, near the Flatiron, is perfect for pre- and post-theatre. Faux oriental carpets are painted to the floor. The bar is friendly and welcoming. Here is great food at affordable prices. Where else can you get Profiteroles and ice cream for $7? Our Belgian captain, Hugo, said the regulars most often get the filet mignon with veg sides at $30 and the steak tartare and frites.

AMERICAN PSYCHO, the musical, and the Strip House



American Psycho, the musical, captures what it was like to live in New York City at the end of the last century, when the rich got richer. The hero so to speak, Patrick Bateman, is introduced fresh from the tanning bed with a sensational number about his grooming technique (“Never put cologne on your face”). While he’s shallow and he knows it, it is the shallowness of others that drives him into a rage when he overhears vapid conversation in the Hamptons, and jealousy consumes him that his rival’s business card has a crisper font than his own. 

Patrick’s anger turns into violent frenzy—at least in his imagination. The musical departs from Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel in that Patrick’s private seething results in vivid, murderous fantasies. After the bloodbath at the end of Act One, four on-stage cleaners meticulously mop up during the entire intermission. 

The smart choreography by Lynne Page and Rebecca Howell sometimes evokes the paintings of Robert Longo and is athletic, surprising, and sexy. Benjamin Walker is smashing in the lead. His nemesis, played by affable Drew Moerlein, is another perfect casting, and they are well backed by Keith Randolph Smith, Theo Stockman, Dave Thomas Brown, and Jordan Dean. American Psycho, the musical, is more gender fluid than either the novel or the film starring Christian Bale (2000, directed by Mary Harron).

A new classic, “You Are What You Wear,” rhymes haute couture designers of the 80s. Overall, the female characters are inspired—bold and sarcastic, not victims at all. (Patrick’s secretary is the one weakly written part.) Heléne Yorke as Evelyn, Patrick’s socialite girlfriend, is fresh and has great pipes, and they are believable as a couple. Solid work by Alice Ripley in a number of parts, including Patrick’s overly sedated mom. Morgan Weed is cool and Hepburn-esque (Katharine, not Audrey) as Courtney, Evelyn’s BF and Patrick’s GF.

American Psycho has an extraordinary Christmas scene in which rotating platforms present the players in surreal tableaux. There’s a birthday party (Patrick pulls a large knife from his jacket to cut the cake), a wedding, and intricate ensemble work in every setting including Patrick’s VHS cassette-lined living room and sterile office. And it’s all to a disco pulse that includes Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Huey Lewis and the News “Hip to Be Square.” If boy-meets-girl musicals put you to sleep—Kinky Boots, we mean you—have a truly kinky date with Patrick Bateman and his pals.


Arden (age ten) skipped the R-rated American Psycho but joined us beforehand at the Strip House for New York strip steak, goose fat fries, and vegetable sides. Steaks are grilled in salt-and-pepper char, the line-caught tuna served “black and blue” or charred on the outside, cool inside. We tried each of their delicious sauces with our steaks and charred broccoli. In her quest to compare every famous burger in town, Arden pronounced theirs juicy. (She found the goose fat fries heavy. We found them scrumptious.)

Theatre Row Restaurant Review wasn’t expecting to meet the Charlotte Brontë Society at the Strip House, but we also learned the all red, with red leather banquettes Strip House doesn’t typically have a matinee lunch crowd either, though it’s right on the edge of Times Square. The clientele is pretty much alpha males—like Patrick Bateman—closing deals over $50 chops. The lunch menu is more in our budget, listing steak au poivre, le burger, and tempting main course salads, including a seafood Cobb.

The original restaurant downtown was the memorable Asti’s, which featured performances by opera singers. (Which is what you find now at Caffe Taci, at Papillon restaurant on Saturday nights.) The son of Asti’s owner installed autographed photos of opera sopranos in the midtown location, where they hang along with autographed vintage photos of burlesque dancers. Don’t leave without trying the reinterpreted Baked Alaska with chocolate-cherry ice cream and pistachio sauce or the giant twenty-four-layer chocolate cake, so dense it is served with a steak knife. 



WOMEN WITHOUT MEN and Palm Restaurant


"Tragedy is at least interesting."
In the all-women's faculty lounge at an exclusive Protestant girls’ boarding school in Dublin, tests are scored and passive-aggressive comments traded. The 1938 Hazel Ellis play, Women Without Men, is a nascent Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with everyone vying for most popular teacher and insisting they never do. 

“The more unpopular you make yourself with the girls, the more the teachers will like you,” says the Latin teacher, Miss Strong, who always removes herself from conflict, crisply played by Mary Bacon.

Aedin Moloney (the true Irishwoman among these fine actresses) is Miss Willoughby, and what she says is always shocking one way or another. This quietly outrageous character is as close as things come to being campy fun. Another breath of fresh air is the crusty French teacher, Mademoiselle Vernier, played with exquisite hauteur by Dee Pelletier (who is French Canadian). We’d like to try one of those sugar cookies freshly baked by Mademoiselle Vernier. The formidable history teacher, played sympathetically by Kellie Overbey, is at work at her masterpiece and about to come undone.

Playwright Hazel Ellis (1909-1992)
When you look at the eight-by-ten photos of these actresses in the lobby, it’s impossible to match them to their Miss Gooch roles. The ever-changing 1920s conservative tweeds and bouffant wigs keep the eleven actresses mostly hidden. (Costumes Martha Hally, wigs Robert-Charles Vallance.)

Great ensemble acting, including the three girl students (Shannon Harrington, Alexa Shae Niziak and Beatrice Tulchin) whose mischief is severely punished. Someone is always getting punished and shamed, but the dialogue is ever witty. As the Latin teacher puts it, “Tragedy is at least interesting. It’s better than sheer dreariness.”

In Women Without Men men or their absence is never mentioned. The play premiered nearly eighty years ago in Dublin, one of two plays that survive by Dubliner Hazel Ellis (1909-1992). (The other is Portrait in Marble, about Lord Byron.) There isn't even a wiki page for Ellis. The Mint Theater Company has rescued another playwright from oblivion. 




The Palm West is the offshoot of the one on the East Side, where cartoonists could pay for their meals by leaving drawings on the walls. Frescos here includes restaurant guests Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, James Brown (who autographed his picture) and other guests you might not recognize. Theatregoers who lunch at Palm and attend a matinee are walking advertisements, carrying leftovers in shopping bags with Palm logos.
"Are you sure they call this a Palm Sundae?"

Last time at the Palm we highlighted the attractive signature salad, with blue cheese and bacon, served in a carved, whole iceberg lettuce bowl. It's still there, with the delicious garlic-vinaigrette and other big salads including a chopped salad with sliced steak. Red meat is their specialty, and steak sandwiches, burgers and hand-cut French fries. We needed our experienced waitress, Jill, to walk us through the vast menu for the Power Lunch prix fixe, just $25, with three courses and a vegetable side thrown in. You almost won't have room for chocolate cake at the end, but can always carry it home in a Palm bag.

KEY CHANGE and DIRT CANDY



Developed at a women’s prison in the north of England, the one-hour Key Change moves quickly as actors sketch out common prison scenarios (fights for the phone), regrets (poor choice in men) and longings. The newbie, Lucy, played by Cheryl Dixon, is protected by feisty Angie, brilliantly played by Jessica Johnson, who pledges to stay out of trouble when she’s released (this is her third bout in prison).

Kelly (Christina Berriman Dawson), brings poignant humor when she acts out the abusive boyfriend or pusher in the women’s backstories. They return to a bad situation because they have nowhere else to go. The stories are sadly similar: knocked up young, no money, bad partners, petty crime, jail, prison. The eldest, Kim, well-played by Judi Earl, is waiting out her sentence with apparent good nature and skill—but don’t mess with her when she’s on the phone to her grandchild!

Key Change, by Catrina McHugh, an Open Clasp Production, won a Best of Edinburgh Award and tours prisons. It’s magic when the women’s letters from family turn into birds, so strong are the worlds of dream and fantasy. Gentle segues and two brutal fight scenes are smartly paced under the direction of Laura Lindow.

Spoken in Geordie, the dialect of Northeast England, rather than in the silky tones of Queen’s English on Downton Abbey, we missed a full ten percent of the play. A glossery of prison lingo (“zoppie” for pharmaceutical drugs, a prison’s favored currency) is included in the program. For a more immersive experience, on display is a real prison cot in a six-by-eight-foot cell demarcated by masking tape that you can try out.
 
Broccoli and Potato at innovative Dirt Candy
On the edge of Chinatown, Dirt Candy serves vegetables in ways designed to blow your mind, and regularly succeeds. Entrées are named for the veg: Carrot (carrot sliders on a sesame seed carrot bun), Broccoli (a broccoli “dog” served on a bun, with mustard barbeque sauce) with vinegared, freeze-dried broccoli rabe leaves. Cauliflower (curried cauliflower with papaya chutney and pappadam), etc.

You arrive to complimentary hot bread in a weave of vegetable colors and flavors: carrot, beet, celery, spinach. Every dish we tried we loved, except for Potato (warm potato salad with olives, bitter greens and yams) which had good textures but tasted bland at room-temperature. The limitations of titling the dishes simply is apparent in Brussels Sprout Tacos (no, thank you). Rutabaga torte was a revelation, a ginger and sage mille-feuille layered with smoked cream cheese and mustard, and topped with candied rutabaga.

Amanda Cohen, chef and owner, wants you to taste something you’ve never had before, and all safe and healthy. (To avoid crazy prices, Cohen’s food for the most part is not organic.) The margaritas are refreshingly different: mezcal, infused with yellow and guajillo peppers. Each drink and dish is Instagram worthy. Although the restaurant’s name, Dirt Candy, evokes an earthy bowl of beans perfumed with garlic, in none of the dishes did we taste even a hint of garlic. Beans were part (a minimal part) of only one vegetable entrée (Fennel). Lemon, yes. Ginger, yes. But nowhere did we taste soy or injudicious use of sugar, salt, pepper, or peanut. Desserts include the lauded Onion Chocolate Tart and Carrot Meringue Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream.

The servers were great and the ambience too. We prepared to leave a big tip, only to find that Dirt Candy, an innovator in all matters, embraces the new ban on tipping that a few restaurants have adopted. (A twenty-per-cent gratuity is added, divided among wait staff and the kitchen.)