ILLEGAL HELPERS and Kalustyan's


Illegal Helpers at the Austrian Cultural Forum, is a new German play by Maxi Obexer about the refugee crisis in Europe. Dialogue is taken directly from transcripts of quiet activists who help terrified refugees cross borders and avoid deportation, plus one fictional character (Lukas, played suavely by Viennese Markus Hirnigel) who at first observes what is going on from a cozy bourgeois distance. The other characters tell their stories, including a beloved white-haired aunt (Vivien Meisner, riveting) who considers herself less an activist than one who considers refugees adoptive family. Un-didactically, the 1990 Dublin Regulation is evoked that requires EU countries to accept applications from asylum seekers, and the fact that one can get legal action without legal status. The play makes you demand a fairer, more humane world.

A half-cynical, pony-tailed lawyer played by Mark Byrne instructs a group in how to build a case for citizenship, which includes getting a good interpreter. Then, he lays out his astronomical charge (10,000 euros) for the process. Although this was only a staged reading (and barely staged—music might have helped), you can see the possibilities. The ideas stick. Obexer’s play doesn’t make you laugh, but on the other hand, it doesn’t try to wring tears.

In Germany, as the play points out, only 2% of asylum seekers get to remain. In this country, the crisis is deportation. Every American has a friend who has recently been deported without reason, dragged away in the night. Illegal Helpers has relevance everywhere now. Performances have been in Chicago, Washington D.C., Hungary, and Chechnya. New Yorkers will have another chance to see Illegal Helpers in late August. 


Kalustyan’s is a Little India food shop with a cafeteria serving mostly vegan food of rare deliciousness. Spinach, eggplant, lentil, and couscous entrees come with salad, pickles, olives, and pita. Mujadarah (spiced lentils and delicately fried onions) platter is a favorite. Available drinks are nonalcoholic at this small upstairs eatery, open from 11 a.m. to 7:30.

The megastore downstairs is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. It is impossible to eat at the restaurant without wanting to do a little shopping on your way out. Bird’s nest pastries, halva, lentils of every shape and color, packaged snacks, nuts, dried fruit, herbed bread and samosas, stuffed grape leaves, curry pastes, chutneys, cookies, jams. Kalustyan’s house-made baba ghanoush is smoky and about the best in the world. The extensive tea section includes Lebanese love potion tea with 32 ingredients. People also come here for such health potions as fresh turmeric, senna leaf tea, gluten-free flours, spirulina, and neti pots. 



A DOLL'S HOUSE PART II and Un Deux Trois


In this revisionist Broadway season (the wheelchair in Glass Menagerie), the world’s most famous play about marriage, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, gets a refreshing sequel with A Doll’s House Part II, by Lucas Hnath. In fact, it’s better than the 1879 play from which it derives.

In the fifteen years since she walked out on Torvald and their children, Nora has done very well for herself and is a rich woman. However, nineteenth-century laws prevent her from being a free agent. Particularly while married, she could be put in jail for what she has accomplished. “Twenty to thirty years from now marriage will be a thing of the past,” Nora says confidently—a line that gets a big laugh.

Nora has come to secure the divorce that Torvald denied her. Indeed, he has explained her absence by saying she is dead. The family retainer, Anne Marie—played with heart and humor by Jayne Houdyshell—ultimately must defend her employer.

Nora’s formidable daughter, Condola Rashad (recently Juliet against Orlando Bloom’s Romeo), is concerned that Nora’s visit might throw a wrench in to her imminent marriage to a conservative banker like her father. Cast against type, Oscar-winning Chris Cooper’s Torvald is sympathetic and almost crushable. Think of all the repulsive Torvalds we’ve seen.

The great Laurie Metcalf gives another blazing performance on Broadway. You feel everything that her Nora feels. When she must connive to get her way, her wit and ingenuity are never in doubt. Even against oppressive tradition, she persists. She is Wendy Davis, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Sally Yates, Kirsten Gillibrand, Gabrielle Giffords, the Notorious RBG, and HRC, winner of the popular vote.

Contemporary language set against nineteenth-century costume suits the ensemble, as do a couple of anomalous twentieth-century devices: a water bottle, a box of tissues.



Café Un Deux Trois (123 West 44th St) makes a famous country paté first course and delicious Boeuf Bourguignon, though doesn’t hone strictly to a French menu. An institution since its splashy opening in 1977, Un Deux Trois evokes the eighties and parties hard late at night once the play is over. It’s packed early for the pre-theatre prix fixe, three courses for $35, available from 3:30 p.m. until midnight, which includes the paté, plus a choice of pasta, chicken or fish. The popular chicken Kiev comes sliced up (preventing you from enjoying the little squirt when you first cut in). Pastas are deservedly popular here, and the fish choice daurade, was in an expert olive camponata, though served with minute rice. You order off the a la carte menu for frittes. Desserts included a perfect New York cheese cake with raspberry reduction and a superior chocolate mousse.

Interestingly dressed and coiffed theatregoers collect at an art nouveau bar. The banquette near the bar is a great location to enjoy both the bustle and the flirtatious French manager with waxed moustache, Gérard. “As in ‘Gérard Depardieu,’” he says.

THE DRESSMAKER’S SECRET and Rôtisserie Georgette

 
A dressmaker, played by Tracy Sallows, raises her nineteen-year-old son (Bryan Burton) in post-war Romania. Robi is fascinated with all things Western and has his sights set on America, while his mother would prefer he stay at home.

When Irma, a member of the party (Caralyn Kozlowski) visits to have a dress made, Maria is anxious and fears surveillance. Irma’s brother (Robert S. Gregory) is likely the boy’s father. After two decades, he wants forgiveness and his sister to set the record straight. Irma’s own intent is a real surprise.

Confessions are made and hurts uncovered. Sallows is grounded and complex as Maria. Irma (played by Caralyn Kozlowski) is strong as Maria’a old friend, dodging self-disclosure.

With Cold War surveillance a hot topic, this ambitious play co-written by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihai Grünfeld (who has his own story about escaping Romania as a young man) is timely. The 59E59 Theaters fearlessly take on political subjects, including a very well-praised play by Jeffrey Sweet about lawyer and Constitutional civil rights activist William Kunstler played by Jeff McCarthy.


Rôtisserie Georgette is a short block from the 59E59 Theaters. Tall ceilings and a baronial atmosphere were most inviting on a cold winter night. “It’s Louis XV meets the kitchen,” says the founder Georgette Farkas.

The bronzed rotisserie chicken is delicious all on its own, without the dipping sauces, as is the duck in a bitter orange sauce. Twice-baked potato is another specialty and beautifully presented. Two all-star sides were the stack of maple-roasted carrots with grain mustard and the wedges of golden winter beets, granny smith apples and mimolette cheese. We didn’t have time for dessert but were recommended the pot de crème au chocolate, served in the mug it was baked in.   JENSEN WHEELER WOLFE

HEISENBERG with Mary-Louise Parker

One of the freer actresses of our time, Mary-Louise Parker

We're still talking about a fresh, new, two-character play we came to too late to review in 2016, Heisenberg, by British playwright Simon Stephens. We hope Heisenberg does well at the Tonys.

Mary-Louise Parker played to raves on Broadway in 1990 with Alec Baldwin in Prelude to a Kiss, more recently starred in the cable TV Weeds, for which she won a 2006 Golden Globe, and she received a Tony in 2001 for her role in Proof. Parker doesn’t play victims or losers. She is bold and one of the freer actresses of our time.

In Heisenberg, which seems to be written for her, Mary-Louise Parker plays an American living in London, a hippie grifter who meets a well-preserved older man in a train station (Denis Arndt). Their unlikely friendship leads them to spend a night together. In the morning, he realizes her intentions were not as he thought. Given time to reconsider, he chooses to go along with her anyway. She boldly takes them where they’ve never been before.

It’s a mature perspective that what initially seems very good can turn out to be very bad—and revert back to good in the end. The uplift you get from Heisenberg is philosophic and romantic. The title is from physics’ Heisenberg uncertainty principle that explains the more clearly you see one thing, the less clearly you see another.