Contrary to its name, Justin Kuritzkes' "The Sensuality Party" is anything but sexy. This intermissionless play recounts an orgy that was more harrowing than hedonistic. Each character is scarred by the experience in a different way and is given a monologue to purge their soul. The catch here is there's no real stage. Actors sit in the audience and often deliver lines from their seats, causing the forth wall to evaporate if not completely shatter. I usually hate plays where the characters are just talking about what's previously happened, but under Danya Taymor's naturalistic direction, it feels like this is the only way this story can unfold.
George C. Wolfe's new musical "Shuffle Along," - yes, it's not a revival despite the producers unsuccessful appeal to the Tony nominating board - tells not only the story of its namesake 1921 show that made history as the first all black musical but how its creators were subsequently forgotten. One of the most chilling numbers in the show, "They Won't Remember You," is a blistering indictment of how history is erased and distorted throughout time. Any other year, this would sweep the Tonys but this is the year of "Hamilton."
Both Miles Davis and John Coltrane would have been 90 this year and to commemorate the occasion, Jazz at Lincoln Center put on a few concerts. I caught two of them including a tribute by their house orchestra which was curated by trumpeter Marcus Printup and Ali Jackson. The roughly dozen songs included classics like "Boplicity," "E.S.P" and "My Funny Valentine." Despite being listed in the program, they skipped over "Someday My Prince Will Come." Other omissions were inevitable when dealing with an artist as vastly prolific as Miles. Like Picasso, his work can be divided into distinctive periods, and save for Printup's inventive brassy arrangement of "Tutu," the later years were ignored. I would have loved to hear something from "In a Silent Way" but the thing about Miles is it's all good.
The following evening Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane led an all-star group in the slightly more intimate Appel Room overlooking Central Park. Ravi has made a career playing a vast array of his father's music, but the setlist hewed to the evening's theme of spirituality. "Central Park West" was an equally appropriate selection but more than any one song was the cohesive groove that Lovano, Coltrane, Tom Harrell, Steve Kuhn, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille and Brian Blade conjured up. Each effortlessly worked in virtuosic solos. Harrell kept his head down causing his white mane to cover his face, contrasting with his black leather blazer. He'd lift his head only slightly to blow a phrase into his trumpet. Workman is aptly named and routinely laid down intricate bass lines with endless momentum. Cyrille and Blade melded seamlessly as the two drummers but the former stood out for pounding a whole section out on nothing but his body.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson's one-man-performance in the revival of Becky Mode's fine dinning takedown "Fully Committed" is as much a test of physical endurance as it is a feat of comic timing. Broken into a series of frantic phone calls, Ferguson tackles each character so naturally that it's easy to forget that he's talking to himself. Mode added some modern references but her acerbic and witty observations of the high-end food service world are largely left in tact and still relevant today.
Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" is his most personal play, so much so that it wasn't published until after his death. Written as a way to reconcile with the looming ghost of his bipolar mother, the scenes to this day feel raw and immediate. Jessica Lange completely embodies the character, Mary Tyrone, with a disarming warmth that makes her moments of mania all the more chilling. She lights up the stage whenever she descents from the tomb of her upstairs bedroom, but when she's not in the room, the conversations feel rather staid. Gabriel Byrne, John Gallagher Jr., and Michael Shannon are all capable actors, but they can't build up a captivating momentum - save for Shannon who comes to life in the second act. The play still achieves its catharsis but it does so in spite of this sluggish revival.
Ivo Van Hove finds the electricity in "The Crucible" one of Arthur Miller's most didactic plays written at the height of the communist witch-hunts. It's impossible not to see it through this metaphor but Van Hove amps up the feelings of small town isolation and Philip Glass' score constantly pulses underneath creating an almost unbearably claustrophobic feeling. Jan Versweyveld's set and lights evoke a sterile schoolhouse, one where the learning more often distorts the truth rather than shining a light on it. There's a palpable fear just beneath Saoirse Ronan's fiery performance and an unrelenting refrain: why can't reason prevail? This feels all the more relevant as the Republican Party coalesces around the dangerously illogical fear mongering of Donald Trump.
As the general election kicks into gear, there will no doubt be a need for cathartic entertainment and strong drinks. Drexler's serves both up on the weekend when they serve platters of bagels and lox (can't go wrong with the "Larry David") and finely mixed cocktails like the gin-based bramble along with live acts like Zulu Kings who play a ferociously syncopated version of New Orleans jazz. The space gets crowded, especially when they open the front door and the music seeps onto Avenue A, but it's easy to while away hours here even if you're standing. There are few places that deliver unadulterated joy so casually, so I hope they stick around for a while.
I've walked by Salinas' understated storefront on 9th avenue many times without giving thought to what lies within. It turns out Chef Luis Bollo has been serving top-notch Spanish cuisine since 2011. Stepping through entrance past the dark-curtained windows reveals an elegantly cozy front bar where I sipped a finely mixed mezcal-based cocktail made with black and blueberries before heading to the rear enclosed garden space for dinner. There's an immediate feeling of warmth in the chic but muted décor. The word "tapas" has become almost as tired as "brunch" in the culinary world but Bollo's small plates are true marvels. Highlights include popcorn-crusted octopus and a housemade rice-blood sausage called "morcilla" served with Manila clams and cooked in a spicy broth. An off-menu suckling pig is also worth asking for but it would be hard to go wrong with anything on the menu including an array of arroces, which you can think of as paella's fanciful cousin.
Sam Beam has been known as Iron and Wine for more the decade but he's stepped slightly out of that persona to share the spotlight with indie singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop. They played a pleasantly mellow set at Town Hall a few weeks ago on a stage strewn with antique lamps and a fine backing band that delivered the albums lush arrangements. "One Way to Pray" has an effortlessly rolling melody and "Midas Tounge" a driving acoustic riff but some of the others are more austere. Hoop can sound like she fell out of a time machine from the Middle Ages, giving their music a specificity but also an affectation.
When I walked into a packed Bowery Ballroom, there was a palpable excitement in the room and for good reason. Wolf Parade was about to take the stage after a five-year hiatus. When I saw them in 2010, I openly wished in this column for them to play "Apologies to the Queen Mary" in full. This concert was billed as exactly that. An easygoing momentum propelled the spirited set and displayed why it's their strongest album to date. Bluesy undercurrents of "You Are a Runner and I am My Father's Song" meld with the grunge sensibility of "Modern World" and the angular melodic perfection of "I'll Believe in Anything," which closed out the show.
I first saw Kiki and Herb in high school and was blown away by how they blew apart the conventions of cabaret by infusing the madness, melancholy and weathered optimism of the traveling troubadour into a set of songs that could exist on their own but otherwise wouldn't pack the emotional wallop. It's been nearly a decade since Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman took the stage as their nighclub circuit performers, and it turns out that their alter egos have been up to a lot. Their Joe's Pub show, "Seeking Asylum," details adventures around the world and relationships with foreign dignitaries - all seemingly plausible in the vivid world Bond and Mellman construct, which is undoubtedly chaotic but somehow more reassuring than our own. They opened with a moving rendition of MGMT's "Time to Pretend" which brought out the song's dramatic flourishes while acting as a perfect entrée to their world. Bond had many great quips through the two-hour performance on subjects from sexual tourism ("back in the day it was just known as going on vacation") to transgender rights ("till everyone can pee where they want, no one should be where they should"). But one line in particular is seared into my mind: "If I could love, I would love you all."