Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Evening in Williamsburg: Kent Avenue Crowd Outside the Final 2009 East River State Park JellyNYC Pool Party, Listening to Grizzly Bear

Around 6 p.m. we moseyed over to East River State Park after remembering today was the last pool party of 2009. We weren't sure we could get in, but we figured we might be able to hear Grizzly Bear. After all, at the McCarren pool, we enjoyed hearing some groups, such as MGMT, over the past few years even when we couldn't get in.

What we didn't expect was the massive crowd of hipsters who'd shown up and either were wary of waiting on the long line on Kent Avenue to get into the park or just decided it was fun enough to wander up and down the street.

It was like an Easter parade for hipsters. Nobody seemed particularly angry. Nobody was grousing or growling. It felt festive.

The cops were on bullhorns and even in a police van rolling down Kent Avenue (closed off for traffic) imploring people to get out of the street and onto the sidewalks. The cop in the police van kept telling people to get on line if they wanted to get in to the park and get drunk and see Grizzly Bear.

The cop even smiled and waved to the kids hanging out on the sidewalk.

Actually, the line was long but it was moving.

People who'd been there all day were coming out little by little despite Grizzly Bear. Maybe some people were tired or just don't like Grizzly Bear.

There were pizza deliveries to the crowd sitting on the sidewalk on the east side of Kent Avenue by the vacant new condos.

Dig in! It's Fornino's best!

These people are too young to know about sit-in strikes, right?

Or "up against the wall, motherfuckers"?

There was lots of texting going on, quite a bit of cigarette smoking, and yeah, some people were listening to the music, which was surprisingly clear, even as far away as Wythe Avenue.

Anyway, some of us on Kent Avenue enjoyed ourselves immensely. If you can have a pool party without a pool, why do you need a park? And don't we see enough of Chuck Schumer, Beyonce and Jay-Z without having to look at them in person?

Sunday Afternoon in Prospect Park: Rebellious Subjects Theatre's "Henry IV" at the Music Pagoda

Exactly a year ago on the last Sunday in August, we discovered the Rebellious Subjects Theatre company's first show, a terrific site-specific Twelfth Night at Goodbye Blue Monday in Bushwick. Today we were privileged to see the first half of this summer's much grander and more ambitious Shakespeare production of Henry IV and Henry V in an appropriately medieval-ish rustic setting, Prospect Park's often-overlooked Music Pagoda.

All the performances had been scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. on three weekends from August 22 through September 6, but yesterday's performance of Henry IV, a seamless amalgam of the separate Part I and Part II plays, was postponed to 12:30 p.m. today by Saturday's Spike Lee-produced extravaganza memorializing Michael Jackson and celebrating the late King of Pop's 51st birthday.

We ate an early light lunch, and having just missed the B48 bus on Lorimer Street, we took the L and Q trains to the pointy corner where Flatbush Avenue intersects with Empire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue and walked into Prospect Park past Lefferts Homestead and the Carousel to the underutilized Music Pagoda. From boyhood "mountain climbing" expeditions with our dad in this part of the park, we vaguely recall the Olmstead and Vaux-designed original music pagoda, which burned down in 1968 but we remember coming to the rebuilt one with our first girlfriend in 1971.

The only time we read Henry IV Part I was in our Midwood High School Shakespeare class with Mr. Grebanier, and we'd never seen a theater production. We knew the basic plot of Henry IV Part II but went to Wikipedia this morning to check out the articles on both plays. Frankly, we were dubious about combining them, but under the direction of Elyzabeth Gorman, assisted by Melissa Zygmant, the Rebellious Subjects flawlessly melded the two history plays.

The setting was utilized to good effect, with the stage of the music pagoda employed for the scenes at the court of the put-upon King Henry IV, father of the prodigal Prince Hal, and and of the court of the rebels, Northumberland and his son Hotspur, his brother Worcester, and the other aggrieved nobles.

The grounds in front of the pagoda featured the battle scenes and the mostly comic doings of Falstaff and his riotous retinue, bringing the action to the feet of the audience, which started out relatively small and grew as the play progressed. It was interesting to see people passing by stopping and then being so interested that they stood in the audience for the rest of the performance.

Smart people who planned to come took blankets, as the ground was rather muddy from all the rain. We watched a towheaded four-year-old or so boy, walking by with his parents, who stood transfixed by the scene late in play when the king is falling ill and talking to his heir, in which Steve Viola (Henry IV) and Montgomery Sutton (Prince Hal) excelled. Sutton was impressive as the dissolute companion of Falstaff and as defender of his father's throne - and ultimately, at play's end, King Henry V; the transition, leading to his rejection of Falstaff, seems quite natural and consistent with the prince's character.

Falstaff always seems like a foolproof role, and Jonathan Levy had the comic heft and bluster to get lots of laughs from the audience. Bryn Boice as a dithery Mistress Quickly and Sutton Crawford a feisty Doll Tearsheet were also very funny. We thought Ben Friesen, whom we'd seen last year as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, did a lot with the small role of Bardolph, one of Falstaff's flunkies and companions in dissolution; Bardolph seemed sardonic, bemused and somewhat removed from the drunken, bombastic comedy around him.

All the actors handled the Shakespearean dialogue naturally, but Nick Reinhardt as Hotspur was especially effective. Hotspur gets some of the best speeches in Part I, and here he seemed both passionate and fiery without losing any dignity. These are very male-dominated plays, but Tiffany Abercrombie stood out as Lady Percy, Hotspur's devoted wife, who here seems to struggle with suppressing her fear and doubts about the whole rebellion that eventually makes her a young widow. We were particularly impressed with her final speech, to her distraught father-in-law Northumberland (Eric Rice), whose own veneer of high-minded detachment finally cracks when he learns of Hotspur's death.

The fight scenes were spectacular, and the decision to have them fought with arms as swords, made the action - which can be kind of stilted in some productions - incredibly visceral as hand-to-hand combat takes places almost in the audience. Ben Rezendes, who played the young John of Lancaster, the king's other son, as sensitive and vulnerable, did really good work as fight choreographer, assisted by Jon Ledoux (who played the Chief Justice as dour, digniried and committed to the rule of law even when it's against his own interests).

The costumes were traditional fourteenth-century, we think, and while the scenery was limited to the merest hints of royalty and nobility onstage, the illusion of time and place held. A wooden wagon/cart served multiple purposes in front for the scenes with Falstaff's crew and others. The transitions between the royal court, the rebel intrigues, and the carousing lower orders were handled skillfully as actors "offstage" managed to seem there but not there as they "disappeared" within full view of the audience.

Frankly, the play started off a bit slowly for us, but soon its rhythms took over. The two parts of Henry IV don't have the immediate Shakespeare-in-the-park appeal of the comedies or tragedies; even among the history plays, they're not usually as gripping as Richard II, Richard III, or Henry V, although the comic business of Falstaff and his companions (here,Drew De Jesus was a sparkling, slightly nasty Pistol) helps.

The combined Henry IV began with Patrick Woodall, co-founder with Lauren Ferebee of Rebellious Subjects Theatre, addressing the audience as the Chorus, after which he sat down on someone's picnic blanket - still in costume, though he smoked a cigarette - and watched the play with the rest of audience, until near the close of the play when he returned to the "stage" to speak again.

It was a terrific production of Henry IV (you can find a more professional review by Jennifer Rathbone at TheaterOnline) and we wish we could have gone back after it ended close to 3 p.m. for today's 4:30 p.m. of Henry V, featuring many of the same actors.

Hopefully we can return next weekend for that. The Rebellious Subjects Theatre again made the last Sunday in August a Shakespearean pleasure for us, and we're grateful to them, as well as 7th Sign Theatre Productions and the Prospect Park Alliance, also involved in these Henry plays in the park.

Sunday Morning in Williamsburg: Complacencies of the Peignoir and Nature in Our Own Backyard

After getting our laundry done at the Metro Laundromat by 7 a.m., we headed for our own Dumbo Books HQ backyard, which on this late summer Sunday morning seems to be returning to a state of nature.

Who says Williamsburg isn't green?

The grapes on the vine look good.

Four hundred years ago, when Henry Hudson sailed, we figure much of north Brooklyn looked like this, no? Only without apartment buildings.

Some of the figs have ripened, but most have not, it looks like.

These buildings face Metropolitan Avenue.

It was cloudy and cool early this morning.

Twice we got tangled up in the vines as they met and held us prisoner momentarily.

We really like the vines getting all tangled.

The vines are climbing up the fire escapes.

And plants are growing by the steps to the back door.

We're really, really grateful to have use of this great Williamsburg backyard.

It's a perfect place to sit early Sunday morning to drink iced tea and read the newspaper.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Canarsie House Books Now Available on Amazon

Amazon now features three inexpensive literary trade paperbacks published by Brooklyn indie publisher Canarsie House:
ISBN 978-0557080779, $7.00

LORIMER STREET: Selected Stories
ISBN 978-0557082933, $8.00

ISBN 978-0557083473, $6.00
All Canarsie House books are available for free reading online at Scribd.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Night in Williamsburg: Summer Starz movie "Babe" with Grand Street Community Band at East River State Park

We headed over to East River State Park this evening to get a last whiff of summer. As a college teacher at various schools, we've already gone back to work, so our idyllic summer off is finally, abruptly over. We brought with us to the park a book which we needed to read for work, and we did get some work done, but to the music of the very professional Grand Street Community Band and the crooning of Assemblyman Joseph Lentol before tonight's kid-friendly SummerStarz feature, Babe.

The community band, founded just last year, was tuning up when we got to the park around 6:30 p.m. Few people had arrived at that point.

There were more people on the grass by the river, enjoying the end of one of the last days of August.

It was no longer so hot and humid. We were in t-shirt and shorts, as were others, but it was nicely comfortable and nobody was sweating.

We found two benches behind the movie screen. One had a picnicking family; we sat on the other one and read.

The Grand Street Community Band skillfully played (you can hear their music here) a series of marches and then John Williams' familiar themes from the Star Wars trilogy.

Then, Susan from Town Square introduced Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, who's represented this district in Albany for ages. The legislator, she said, was going to sing a song.

Joe Lentol thanked the community band and praised their work but noted that they didn't know any of the songs in his repetoire. So he sang "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific a capella.

"Now do 'No Sleep Till Brooklyn'!" cried a hipster on the right side of thirty. The assemblymember demurred or, more probably, didn't hear this constituent's plea. It was getting dark (which is why our cell phone takes these blurry pics). The last selection from the band was the John Philip Sousa march that we always associate with "for a duck may be somebody's mother." The little kids went wild.

While they got the movie ready, we found the one open porta-potty amid about two dozen locked ones. Actually, a bicyclist had found it before us. When we walked back, two blondish boys about 5 or 6, started interrogating us about why we were there. We said we were inspecting the concrete.

One boy asked if we knew who he was. No, we said. "Conrad!" he shouted. Then his littler friend, or brother, named Monroe we think, began hitting us, and Conrad joined in. Their mommies were not far away but paid no notice, so we grabbed their hands and said, "No hitting."

Then we found a seat on one of the little concrete stubs on the side and watched Babe, which was very sweet without being saccharin. There were a bunch of Orthodox Jewish guys who came in with Joe Lentol, and they looked like big machers, but they left before the film began. We don't think it was because its star was a pig.

Anyway, it was a nice, relaxing evening, and as we walked through the still-summerlike bustle of people on Bedford Avenue - at 7th Street a street preacher was asking people loudly if they ever thought about God - we were grateful for this respite in a kind of stressful week. That's what kids' movies and parks and community bands and singing assemblymen are for, isn't it? That'll do, Pig. That'll do.