On the Culture Front: American Psycho, The Father and More

On the Culture Front: American Psycho, The Father and More
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One of the more potent arguments made by people who don't like musicals is that it's hard to convey something truly terrifying through a medium steeped in song and dance. Until now, the most obvious rebuttal would be "Cabaret" and how Kander and Ebb used the very structure of the medium to seduce the audience until the show's final shattering moment.

Duncan Sheik and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's savagely funny and deeply chilling adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho" oozes terror as it lampoons the excess of the late 90s. Sheik's score seems to seep out of the walls of trendy clubs like Tunnel and into the consciousness of its vapid yet exquisitely dressed characters. Their dance moves are the ones they learned in a fog of overpriced drinks downed along a never-ending quest of sexual conquest. While dated to its end-of-the-millennium period - Patrick Bateman (played with nuanced revulsion by Benjamin Walker) brags about having a 32-inch TV - the show feels utterly relevant at a time with the wealth gap has never been greater. Sheik's razor-sharp dialogue illuminates that Bateman is not the only savage amongst us and provides moments for personal reflection if you're willing to take the plunge.

The dramatic moments in "Bright Star" are so awkwardly bungled that I fell victim to several bursts of involuntary laughter throughout the show. Steve Martin's limp book is devoid of his usual wit and the music (written with Edie Brickell) only occasionally rises above a mediocre blend of Bluegrass and Broadway. The title pleads for optimism but this is hollow amusement at best.

Florian Zeller's taut and unflinching "The Father" takes us down the path of dementia. Frank Langella embodies the title character, Andre, who struggles to hold onto his sense of self as his mind fades. Zeller writes with economy and wit but what makes the 90-minute one-act a standout is his ability to let us see the world through Andre's eyes and feel his confusion. Kathryn Erbe plays his daughter with a fine blend of empathy and frustration, and Doug Hughes steers the action with ever the subtle touch, allowing the artifice of production to fade in the shadow of a vivid cathartic experience.

Danai Gurira's "Familiar" seamlessly transports you to the large Midwestern home of the Chinyaramwira family where a Zimbabwean wedding custom threatens to upend the upper-middle class American dream that Marvelous (Tamara Tunie) and Donald (Harold Surratt) have built for their children. Gurira had Chekhov in mind when writing the play, and it comes through in the organic plotting and quiet philosophical musings that are woven throughout, but the action moves at the faster pace of a farce under the acute direction of Rebecca Taichman. It's a richer play by leaps and bounds than Gurira's "Eclipsed" which is currently on Broadway. Despite being set in war-torn Liberia, where ricocheting bullets are as common a sound as the hum of mosquitoes, there's a paralyzing static that infects the play. I'm guessing that Gurira was aiming for the weighty existentialism of Beckett, but these conversations between a warlord's multiple wives come off as too general and slickly littered with pop culture references. Wife #2 (Zainab Jah) becomes a fighter and her contradictions are the most captivating. Compared to "Familiar," this is a hollow trifle for Gurira.

Celebrity Autobiography mines the shallow musings of the famous for big laughs by reading verbatim from their autobiographies. Creators Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel, who are amongst the shows performers, have stumbled onto a timeless formula. The show I saw years back and the one I saw a couple months ago have two things in common: they're both uproariously funny and are feature monologues from Tommy Lee's autobiography. This time around Michael Urie stepped into the role of the Motley Crue drummer. Other highlights included mashups of Donald and Ivanka Trump's memoirs and the masterful weaving of the love triangle of Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Only in Bushwick would a coffee shop be reborn as an intimate haven for fine dining. That's exactly the trajectory of Fair Weather Bushwick, which recently traded in its baristas for chef John Creger, who makes ten course beer dinners on Tuesdays (and serves an a la carte menu the rest of the week). With room for less than two-dozen people, they are as intimate as they are decadent. A couple standouts on the seasonal menu were short ribs with polenta and smoked gouda, a deconstructed clam chowder served in a single half shell and cauliflower with brown butter powder that's altered how I think about veggies. The beers are no less interesting with an American wild ale from Crooked Stave and a pair of rare saisons.

Marc Vietor's intimately lavish production of "The School for Scandal" is yet another example of Red Bull Theater's consistently high caliber. The characters wield gossip as daggers while struggling to contain their lust and hypocrisy. Andrea Lauer's overly ornate costumes and Charles G. Lapointe's bombastic wigs and hair styling provide an ideal backdrop for the manic mayhem. Written more than a century after Moliere's "The School for Wives" and in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, it now acts as a fascinating glimpse into how the powerful were skewered at a pivotal moment in history.

As I was watching Alice Birch's "Revolt. She said. Revolt again," I couldn't help but think of it as a modern feminist response to David Ives' "All in the Timing." The opening scene titled "Revolutionize the Language (Invert It)" is a courting turned negotiation written with a fast-paced poetic lyricism that gives value to the sheer rhythm of the words. It sets a thrilling, confrontational, erotic and transgressive tone for the evening (a brisk 65 minutes) that shatters expectations and even occasionally confounds as it tackles questions of assimilation in many forms and settings. Like every production at the Soho Rep, the physical space (entering up steps to a large white platform that feels somewhere between a garden party and a surgical viewing gallery) is unique to this show. By the end, I had the same feeling I had after watching Caryl Churchill's "Far Away:" ethereally detached, slightly shaken and wholly refreshed from the experience.

The cocktail bar equivalent of that might just be the elegantly shabby Holiday Cocktail Lounge, one of only a few scarce reasons to visit Saint Marks Place in its post-frozen yogurt takeover. The bar, which prides itself on an understated curb appeal, just celebrated their year anniversary by unveiling a new menu of cocktails that could be categorized as "tropically complex." One of the best is the aptly named Ocean Club made with Santa Teresa 1796 Solera rum, fresh pineapple cordial and Lucano Amaro. You can almost hear the waves crashing in the distance when you take a sip. I also liked their take on the mint julep dubbed "The Madness That You Feel." Perhaps my biggest revelation was the Cubano Doughnut - a delightfully unholy union between a Cuban sandwich and a doughnut - this one comes from Brooklyn's Dough. Sweet and salty in overdrive and yet it tastes perfectly balanced. That you order it from a tiny counter underneath a disco ball only adds to the allure.

Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana updates the airy seductiveness of Bossa Nova for a millennial crowd. The 27-year-old imbues long fluid melodic lines with a slight melancholy or hesitancy, giving a surprising depth to her new album, "Back Home," which she played at her Birdland debut last month. One of her strongest compositions, "Servant #2," begins brightly with a strong hook that flows into a darker tone. Clad in skinny jeans and accompanied by Pablo Menares (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums), she appeared never to break a sweat throughout her flawless set, delivering solos that groove but also demand introspection.

It's almost too bad that the Lumineers had such massive success with "Hey, Ho." That's what I was thinking as I watched them play a show in the basement of Webster Hall, crowded with a largely indifferent crowd that talked through instrumental interludes and just about any other song besides the two they knew. The band seemed unfazed though lead singer Wesley Schultz did ask people to put away their phones and just listen to the show. This went ignored by many including a teenage girl standing in front of me who was teaching her mother how to text. We moved a couple times throughout but the atmosphere remained the same. It's a shame because the band delivered a solid performance playing their new album "Cleopatra." Cut out of the same sonic thread of their previous efforts, it brings the immediacy of pop hooks to the rich tradition of folk music.

Singer/songwriter Basia Bulat moves away from her folk roots on her latest and strongest album to date, "Good Advice." This was noticed when she took the stage in a sparkly getup at the Bowery Ballroom last month. A couple die-hard fans standing in front of me were disappointed, but you can't please all the people, right? Each song had a stronger more buoyant melody that demanded happiness and even a giddy sense of being alive in this moment. Listening to the album produces the same effect. As I walked home, the chorus of "Let Me In" circled whimsically and persistently in my head.

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