On the Culture Front: 'Hamilton,' 'Mercury Fur,' 'Fulfillment' and More

Hamilton feels as if it's about to burst through the rafters of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, making its transfer from the Public Theater feel as natural as the Lin-Manuel Miranda's slick hip hop libretto. The lines roll off the actors' tongues with such ease but never feel that they're in service of a cheap rhyme. Miranda as Alexander Hamilton is both unassuming and commanding, fleshing out our perception of the founding father with help from Ron Chernow's eponymous biography.

From a historical perspective, there's the complicated relationship between Hamilton and his friend and future assassin Aaron Burr. Common knowledge of the events is frequently challenged as is the validity of who gets branded a hero or villain. Miranda distills this vexing thought into a haunting refrain ("Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.") that threads through the show.

There's plenty of theatricality and comic relief, and both come through in Jonathan Groff's joyously outsized incarnation of King George, who views America as a spoiled and ungrateful lover. It's these moments of levity that ground the more serious moments, but it's the music that takes the genre to the next evolutionary step and will most likely be looked back on as a watershed moment in musical theatre. Miranda applies the grooves of hip-hop to the structure and clarity of musical theater, creating an organic pulse that bleeds the line between action and song -- it is as utterly memorable as any Broadway show in the last decade.

Plays like Mercury Fur remind me why I love the theater above all other mediums. Philip Ridley's terrifying intermission-less piece brings us face to face with the darkest impulses of humanity without the comforting distance of the other. In a dystopian future that still has creature comforts like beer, we see how instincts of survival can trump any moral impulses where love and compassion are luxuries. While its images are seared into my mind like a nightmare that persists into waking hours, Ridley's play never feels like its goal is shock value. Scott Elliott directs the ensemble with a keen sensitivity and restraint is wielded as a weapon. While there are graphic scenes on stage towards the end, it's the tension that builds up to them that has the real power to haunt.

Thomas Bradshaw is often labeled a provocateur. The first play of his I saw was Purity, about college professors who plan a trip to Thailand to have sex with underage girls. It was shocking for sure, but what I remember most about it was how refreshingly spare and unadorned the dialogue was. Bradshaw's characters feel less like well-made constructions as much as demons he has to exorcise. They are blunt and often have bad intentions, but you never doubt their existence. The world they live floats between real and surreal, naturalistic and theatrically heightened. There's a Greek-like inevitability that threads through most of his plays, and like the Greeks, he often has a lot to say about how we live our lives. His latest play, Fulfillment, asks the question, "What makes us happy?" Its main character is a successful lawyer who just buys a pricey condo as we're let into his life. This veneer of fulfillment is soon shredded by a series of external and internal forces. While the terrain is less overtly shocking than a typical Bradshaw play, it's one of his more absurd. An upstairs neighbor who's pathological in his desire to make noise and then cover it up would be at home in an Ionesco play. If this signals Bradshaw's dive into absurdity, it will be thrilling to see what he comes up with next.

On the film front, a new documentary really captivated me. Finders Keepers, recounting a battle for an amputated leg, proves that you can really make an emotionally moving piece of art about anything as long as you have a deep sense of compassion and curiosity about your subjects. The bizarre factor will draw people in, but it's really a family portrait and a penetrating meditation on the relationship between fathers and sons. There's humor throughout, but it only ends up heightening the emotional wallop.

On the food front, Jimmy Carbone put on his aptly named annual Pig Island, a feast of all things pork. Vendors set up across an expansive stretch of concrete and grass bordering the Ikea parking lot in Red Hook. As in past years, I arrived with lofty ambitions of tasting everything and was sooner met with the much more limited constraints of my mortal stomach. Some of the many highlights included Cuban Chinese outpost Calle Dao's head cheese terrine, Flying Pigs Farm's mole verde and the only non-pork addition: a salad from Bittergreen made with kohlrabi slaw, grilled corn, peaches, and grilled and pickled summer squash. The dish that now haunts my dreams is Butter's pork belly s'mores -- seamlessly blending savory and sweet impulses into a singular bite of desire.