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On the Culture Front: Oslo, Kyle Craft, BlackTail, Green Fig and more

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Like Robert Schenkkan did with "All the Way," J.T. Rogers shows the insane amount of wrangling and linguistic gymnastics involved in enacting real political change in "Oslo". In place of soaring speeches, we get secret walks and after-hours drinking sessions that blur the line between enemy and friend and, more importantly, begin to shed the cloak of hatred that has obscured the humanity on both sides. The title refers to the 1993 Oslo peace accords, which most people will remember as a photo of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands with Bill Clinton presiding over the ceremonious occasion. All three are largely absent from this meticulously brilliant and disarmingly funny masterpiece that gives you a fly-on-the-wall peek into one of the historic negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. All previous talks, including the Camp David accords, were between Israel and another Arab country that would claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinians before selling them out for their own country's interests.

Terje Rød-Larsen, who was then the head of the Fafo institute, believed there was an opportunity for peace if he could just get both sides in a room and let them get to know each other without the usual confines of having a mediator. Played with restrained eccentricity and deep warmth by Jefferson Mays, he's propelled by an unwavering idealism that never feels naïve. Throughout the show's two-and-a-half hours, time seems to speed up and there's a gathering momentum that the world indeed can be changed for the better. I kept thinking about the George Bernard Shaw quote from "Man and Superman": "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Kyle Craft conjures both Bob Dylan's tight folk phrasing and David Bowie's expansive sense of wonder. His debut album, "Dolls of Highland," opens with a rollicking piano riff and the energy sustains throughout the album's dozen keys-driven tracks. I caught him play a short but thrilling set at Mercury Lounge the other week. He apologized frequently for his voice between songs, but even in a cold-stricken state, his pipes are undeniably powerful and exude the beauty and painful longing of songs like "Three Candles," in which he sings "all that you had to give me was hell," complete with Dylanesque harmonica interludes. Craft, who grew up in Louisiana but now lives in Portland, brings an authentic southern blues sensibility to glam and folk rock but what makes "Dolls" one of the best albums of the year is his ability to transform his influences into a sound that's all his own.

Sometimes eating and drinking out in this city can feel like a staycation. This notion crept up on me the other week at the recently opened cocktail bar, BlackTail, which is molded after a prohibition era American Ex-pat bar in Cuba. The high-ceilinged, dark wood-drenched space is anchored by a reproduction of John Vanderlyn's painting "Landing of Columbus." The bar's name comes from the planes that well-heeled New Yorkers would take for boozy weekend getaways, and it's the brainchild of Dead Rabbit owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. The offerings include a mixologist's take on a rum and coke that transforms the tired island drink into a concoction worth savoring.

The Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African meld of cuisine at Green Fig is chef Gabriel Israel's take on modern Israeli food. Housed in Yotel, the restaurant features trees that sprout up through the middle of tables, giving an earthy, elegant and tranquil atmosphere to the feast that follows. Some of the many highlights include a mezze of hummus, tahini foam and charred eggplant served with a housemade flat bread called "laffa," a carrot steak with mozzarella and basil leaves, octopus carpaccio, and a skin-charred sea bream.

There are some places in the city I've walked by a thousand times without ever experiencing. The Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central is one. The building was a landmark on childhood trips on the crosstown bus, but I only stepped inside for the first time recently for their boozy brunch at New York Central Bar and Kitchen. The lobster benedict was even better than it sounds but had steep competition with mac and cheese carbonara, smoked salmon flatbread, and a bruleed raisin French toast that we had for dessert. There was also a deceptively simple cucumber mint gazpacho to start, which cleansed the palate as it perked it up.

I never noticed the Skylark, a rooftop bar and lounge just south of Times Square, until I dropped by to escape the insufferable humidity last week. While looking out the large windows across the Hudson River to New Jersey, I enjoyed munching on some shrimp and corn fritters while basking the air-conditioned swank digs.

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