31 July 2012

Yelp Reviews

I'm always more than happy to support my friends in their creative endeavors, especially when they're bloody hilarious. A friend of mine recently produced the above video in which another friend gives a dramatic reading of a Yelp review. I hope you enjoy it; I think it's hysterical.

30 July 2012


Jim Parsons is Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Once the famed haunt of disco divas, Studio 54 is currently home to a rabbit named Harvey.

Harvey is the story of one Elwood P. Dowd, an affable bachelor who lives with his widowed sister, Veta, and her daughter, Myrtle Mae, in the Dowd family’s Denver mansion in 1944. Elwood likes to pass out his card to people he meets and spend his afternoons drinking at Charlie’s Bar with his friend Harvey. Not so unusual until you learn that Harvey is an invisible six foot three and a half inch white rabbit whom Elwood insists on introducing to everyone he meets. Harvey you see is a pooka, a creature from Irish mythology that usually takes the shape of an oversized animal, and apparently only Elwood can see him (well, most of the time). Intent on introducing her daughter into high society, Veta sees Elwood as an embarrassment and tries to have her brother committed to the local sanatorium, Chumley’s Rest. But Veta’s plans go astray when her frantic tale gets her admitted instead while Elwood and Harvey go on their way. After Veta’s release, everyone searches frantically for Elwood who shows up at Chumley’s Rest looking for a missing Harvey. He proceeds to charm the staff, making a profound impact on them while Veta decides that regardless of Harvey, she likes Elwood just the way he is.

Made into a much beloved film in 1950 with James Stewart in the Elwood role, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase may at first seem too old-fashioned for a revival but this Harvey is utterly delightful due largely to the casting of Jim Parsons as Elwood. Parsons is a perfect Elwood. With his childlike interest in the most common of things, gentlemanly manners, and unwavering belief in Harvey, the role could have been all wrong in the hands of another actor. But Parsons makes Elwood utterly believable. He is able to convey all the wonderment of Elwood’s view of the world without coming off as corny or clichéd. He also does a fine job maneuvering around the stage with an invisible rabbit next to his side.

In one monologue Elwood explains how he came to meet Harvey. “I started to walk down the street when I heard a voice saying: ‘Good evening, Mr. Dowd.’ I turned, and there was this great white rabbit leaning against a lamppost.” You never learn exactly why Harvey appears to Elwood when he does. Could it be a result of Elwood’s alcoholism?  Maybe. But when he says, “Doctor, I wrestled with reality for forty years, and I am happy to state that I finally won out over it” you get the feeling there’s some other tragedy from his past that Harvey helps Elwood to forget.

Jessica Hecht and Jim Parsons in a scene from Harvey. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Jessica Hecht turns in an outstanding performance as sister Veta. Speaking in a perfect 1940s voice (she could have stepped right out of a black and white movie), Hecht makes Veta very likable even when she is at her shrillest. And the moment when she lets slip that she too has seen Harvey is one of the great moments in the play.

The rest of the cast is top notch including Charles Kimbrough as the befuddled Dr William R. Chumley, Mad Men’s Rich Sommer doing his best Jack Carson as the orderly Wilson, and a brilliant cameo by Carol Kane as Chumley’s wife Betty.

The set is wonderful, rotating between the Dowd household, all wood and Victorian furniture, and the sanatorium’s waiting room, minimal and bright white. And the special effects (“Harvey” flips through a book and opens and closes doors) were just right.

The night I went, the theatre was packed and the audience lively (the fans of Jim Parsons, best known for his role as Dr. Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, were particularly vocal). Walking out of the theatre afterwards, I couldn’t help but glance at each lamppost I passed to see if there were any white rabbits. 

Harvey plays at Studio 54 through August 5. For more information, visit here.

27 July 2012

Her Majesty's Secret Service

Forget the fireworks and the army of Mary Poppins and the athletes from all over the world. My favourite moment of the Olympic opening ceremony was the pairing of James Bond with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The short film, Happy & Glorious, that showed 007 arriving at Buckingham Palace to escort the Queen to the games was great fun. Bond looked dashing, the Queen actually said the words "good evening Mr. Bond," and there were corgis. It doesn't get much better than that. Now, let the games begin!

If you missed it, you can watch the video here

26 July 2012

Murder Is My Business

Weegee shooting outside his studio (ca. 1939).

With the winning combination of photography, true crime, and New York, the International Center for Photography (ICP) exhibit “Weegee: Murder Is My Business” was bound to be a favourite of mine this summer. And after a recent viewing, I’m happy to report it didn’t disappoint.

Arthur Fellig (1899-1968), who immigrated to New York as a young boy, worked in a variety of photography-related jobs from photographer’s assistant to darkroom technician before striking out on his own as a freelance photographer. Nicknamed Weegee after the Ouija board for his uncanny ability to get to the scene right before a crime occurred, he become one of the best-known photographers in New York. With his trademark cigar in mouth and Speed Graphic camera in hand Weegee ushered in what would become known as tabloid journalism.

The ICP exhibit focuses on the years 1935-1946 when Weegee was at the height of his fame. During this time, he lived across the street from Police Headquarters in a tiny cold-water studio with just the bare minimums—a single bed, a beat-up desk, a police radio. His studio is partially recreated in the exhibit, which along with his camera, oversized press badge, and hat on display help to bring to life the man behind the photos.

"Mr. Esposito in line for night court" Weegee (January 16, 1941).

Weegee strove to beat the police to the scene of a crime and to see his photos printed first. To facilitate this need, he drove a 1938 Chevy Coupe, which acted as an office on wheels. Outfitted with a police radio, it included a portable dark room, typewriter, and change of clothes (along with a supply of cigars), allowing Weegee to get his photos and copy (he often wrote his own captions) to the Daily NewsHerald-TribuneJournal-American, PM, PostSun, or World-Telegram before his competition. Always aware of his public image, he didn't shy away from getting his own face in the papers and took to stamping his photos “Weegee the Famous.” In 1945, he published many of his images and prose in a book, Naked City, which became a bestseller.

Weegee’s beat was the streets of New York. In particular, the streets at night (that's when murder happened). And with his blinding bright flash, he captured New York in all its grimy realism. Murder suspects hide their faces, children stare right at the camera, fires blaze, cops go about their business. In one image, candy-store owner Joseph Gallichio lays dead while his neighbours look on. In another image, a pristine white hat sits upright near the head of its murdered owner, Dominic Didato. Yet there is also humour to be found in some of the images. In one section, cross-dressing men descend from the back of a police wagon, smiling and posing for the camera like models on a runway.

"Their First Murder" Weegee (October 9, 1941). 

Part of the exhibit is devoted to Weegee’s show at the Photo League in 1941 (the title for this exhibit comes from that show). Weegee’s homemade displays are recreated including the use of red nail polish on the white board to mimic blood (Weegee’s idea). The guest books from the 1941 show make for great reading; one visitor complains about the unprofessional quality of the displays while another innocently asks how one can become a Weegee.

Yet crime wasn’t the only topic that interested Weegee. Toward the end of the exhibit visitors can watch some color footage of people at Coney Island that he shot in 1948. The colour lends a modern air to the people playing and laughing on the beach and proves that murder was not Weegee's only business.

The exhibit is at the ICP through September 2, 2012. For more information, visit their website here.

18 July 2012

Jimmy & Gran

East of Eden (1955) was my introduction to James Dean, and I've always had a special fondness for the film. There is something so real about Dean's performance as the tormented Cal that his anguish seems to practically leap from the screen. This screen test, less than a minute long and without audio, gives viewers a glimpse of the actor's talent and his amazing screen presence. For me what makes this test special is the actress with him, Lois Smith, who made her screen debut in the film in the role of Anne. Some of you may know her better as Adele "Gran" Stackhouse on True Blood, the wise grandmother to Sookie and Jason. Jimmy and Gran—what a combo.

16 July 2012

Edwardian Summer

Edward Linley Sambourne was a cartoonist and illustrator best remembered for his work for Punch magazine. He was also a keen amateur photographer. During the summer of 1906 when Great Britain was experiencing a heat wave Sambourne took his camera to the seaside towns of Brighton and Folkestone. Save for the woman on the steps of a bathing machine, it looks these women must have been burning up. They're even wearing jackets and corsets in the first image!

Earlier that summer he took the ferry over to Ostend in Belgium where he captured these women using a bathing machine. Speaking of which, these machines were quite popular during the Victorian era. You would enter the contraption on the beach, change into your bathing costume, and then the machine would be wheeled into the water (often pulled by a horse) where you would then descend the steps directly into the water without people on the beach seeing anything improper (like a woman's legs). They would be out of style by the 1920s. They sure do seem like a lot of work. But the women's outfits are adorable.

These and more wonderful photos can be found on the blog The Library Time Machine, The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea here.

13 July 2012

Friday the 13th

It's Friday the 13th, a date that for many superstitious people is unlucky. I've never held to that belief but then again there are a lot of superstitions that I don't buy into like a black cat crossing your path is a bad omen. I for one adore black cats, which is why I love these photos from 1961 of a black cat casting call for the Black Cat segment of Roger Corman's Tales of Terror starring Joyce Jameson, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price (how great was he?). I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that these cats were not amused. Have a great weekend everyone.

 from Life Magazine.

11 July 2012

Peter and the Starcatcher

The Lost Boys are surrounded in Peter and the Starcatcher. Photo: O&M Co.

The other night I was transported to Neverland for a few hours when I saw a performance of Peter and the Starcatcher. Adapted by Rick Elice from the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel of sorts to Peter and Wendy, deviating from the original Peter Pan back-story in many wonderful ways.

The play opens with the entire cast on stage and one of the actors proclaiming, “When I was a boy, I wished I could fly.” From there the story takes off at breakneck speed with the sailing of two ships—the Wasp with Starcatcher Lord Leonard Aster on board and the Never Land, which carries Aster's daughter
 Molly and her governess Mrs. Bumbrake along with a mysterious trunk that is said to contain “the greatest treasure on earth”—star stuff. Once at sea, the Wasp is overtaken by pirates while on the Never Land Molly befriends a group of kidnapped orphaned boys who are to be sold into slavery. One of them is nameless, known only as Boy. But by the end of the play he has a name—Peter Pan. Together Molly and Peter endure a shipwreck and run-ins on Mollusk Island with a giant crocodile, the island’s ruler who peppers his speech with names of Italian dishes, and the infamous pirate known as the Black Stache. Add a mermaid song and dance at the top of Act II, an inedible pineapple, and a tiny fairy, and the result is a story filled with humour, adventure, and magic.

Peter and the the Black Stache. Photo: O&M Co.

The design of the show is inventive to say the least. On a nearly bare stage, a dozen actors play 50 roles and rely on the simplest of props. A rope for example becomes the hold of a ship, ocean waves, the jaws of a crocodile, among other things. The execution is so smart, so funny that it makes any wish for an elaborate set obsolete. It also asks the audience to use their imagination, something unique in this day and age. And then there is the music, reminiscent of English dancehall songs and sea shanties. The show's composer, Wayne Barker, is a friend of mine so you may think I'm biased when I tell you that the music is delightful but it really is.

Peter’s name may be in the title but the show belongs to the Black Stache. Christian Borle was outstanding as the notorious pirate. Flitting across the stage with his oversized mustache, he tossed around malapropisms and threats effortlessly while being assisted by the ever-faithful Smee. The scene in which the future Captain Hook loses his hand (not by a croc) is one of the funniest in the play, and Borle played it with comic perfection. Celia Keenan-Bolger as Molly was also a standout, the only woman in a cast of men, while Arnie Burton did a nice turn as Mrs. Bumbrake. Adam Chanler-Berat as Peter was fine but his performance left me a little underwhelmed.

Even though the audience was not asked to clap if they believed in fairies, by the end of the play they were on their feet cheering.

Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. For more information, visit their website here.

07 July 2012


The heatwave that we and the rest of the East Coast have been experiencing was especially relentless today. Note to self: don't go down into a subway station unless you know the train is pulling in. Waiting on the platform is akin to a trip to Hades. The kids in this photo knew how to beat the heat. They were experiencing a terrible heatwave themselves in New York on July 6, 1911 when this photo was taken. I am sitting about an inch from my AC but boy does a block of ice sound nice. 

This and other summertime images from the past can be found here.

06 July 2012

Paul & Joanne

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward—one of the great Hollywood couples. They appeared together in ten films while she starred in five that he either directed or produced. Married for 50 years, he once said their long lasting marriage was due to "correct amounts of lust and respect" while Joanne described marriage to Paul as "being married to the most considerate, romantic man." To see them burn up the screen watch their first film together, The Long, Hot Summer (1958). Based on a series of William Faulkner stories, it's a tale of ambition, family secrets, and passion set in the steamy South. What more do you need?

05 July 2012

Monet's Garden

Claude Monet reportedly said that if he hadn’t become a painter he would have been a botanist. This interest in plants led to the creation of his famed garden in Giverny with its colourful flowerbeds, mix of rare and common plants, and Japanese-inspired water garden with his beloved water lilies. In their exhibit "Monet's Garden," the New York Botanical Garden has attempted to recreate some of the magic of Giverny so a few weeks ago I headed up to the Bronx to take a look.

I started off at the Victorian-style Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Inside a French flower garden flourished on either side of the walkway with hollyhocks, roses, foxgloves, poppies, delphiniums, irises, and more. It was all so lovely. I just wish I had visited earlier and seen more spring flowers (the flowers in the exhibit will change along with the seasons).

At the end was a recognizable green Japanese bridge over a small lily pond. It took a while to get a shot of it as everyone wanted to stand on it. I don't blame them. I did too.

Yet outside was the biggest surprise of the exhibit. There in the courtyard pools were water lilies the likes of which I had never seen. They were huge and beautiful and absolutely amazing. Some of the flowers were the size of cabbages. Fish swam around the lily pads and dragonflies buzzed by and even though it was incredibly humid I could have stood there all day looking at them.

Dragging myself away from the water lilies, I head over to the Rondina Gallery where two Monet paintings were on display along with photos, documents, and other items from Giverny including one of Monet’s palettes, a perfect ending to a great exhibit.

“Monet’s Garden” runs through October 21, 2012. The Bronx is always a trek but much cheaper than a flight to France so go if you can. For more information, visit the Botanical Garden’s website here.

Photos by Michele.

04 July 2012

It's the Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July! What are everyone's plans for the day? I'm going to have a nice lie-in before heading to the park. I'll also be listening to one of my favourite bands, X, sing "4th of July." Written by Dave Alvin of the Blasters, it's a brilliant song. You can listen to it here.

Lady Liberty and other vintage patriotic images found can be found

03 July 2012

Shelley's Ghost

"Percy Bysshe Shelley" Amelia Curran (1819)

While studying in Ireland one summer I got the chance to hear the critic Terry Eagleton give a talk at the end of which he sang a tune about English literature whose refrain was “Milton, Blake, and Shelley will smash the ruling class yet.” I wasn’t a big Milton or Blake fan but I was of Shelley.

So a few weeks ago I was more than to happy to indulge in all things Shelley at an excellent exhibit at the main branch of the New York Public Library called “Shelley’s Ghost: The Afterlife of a Poet,” which showcased items related to Shelley and his family and friends including his wife, Mary Godwin Shelley, in-laws William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and friend Lord Byron.

The exhibit was a collaboration between the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle housed at the library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University where the exhibit originated. Small and intimate, the design was as Gothic as you can get for a New York library with dim lighting, dark velvet curtains framing faux windows, and silhouettes on the wall that appeared to be melting. The perfect setting in which to ponder some of the leading writers of the Romantic era.

"A Cat in Distress" (ca. 1803-1805), Shelley's earliest surviving poem. 
Transcribed by his sister Elizabeth.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), the son of a baronet, demonstrated an early gift for writing and published his first work while at Oxford. Another publication, a pamphlet espousing atheism, would get him expelled. Shortly afterwards he married Harriet Westbrook, a friend of his sisters, only to abandon her (she was pregnant at the time) and their daughter a few years later to run off with Mary Godwin, the daughter of William Godwin (his mentor) and Mary Wollstonecraft (the young couple allegedly had clandestine meetings at Wollstonecraft’s grave). They would spend the rest of their time together (they married after Harriet's death) living a nomadic life primarily in Europe. In the summer of 1816 they stayed in Switzerland with Lord Byron where the story goes to keep themselves entertained one night, they held a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Mary Shelley’s effort would become Frankenstein.

Life was not easy with the early death of all but one of their children, unfaithfulness on Shelley’s part, and constant money problems. Yet during this time Shelley managed to produce "Adonaïs, "Ozymandias," Prometheus Unbound, and a preface to Frankenstein among other things. He drowned while sailing from Livorno to Lerici at the age of 29 and was buried in Rome in the same cemetery as another doomed English poet, John Keats. Mary Shelley would spend the rest of her life promoting the work and legacy of her late husband. She never remarried.

"Mary Godwin Shelley" Reginald Easton (1857)

Tragedy was a theme running throughout the exhibit. From the untimely deaths of Wollstonecraft, Shelley, and Byron to the suicides of Mary Shelley’s half sister, Fanny, and Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, to the loss of children including Byron’s beloved daughter Allegra at age five. The morbid aspect of their lives may be one of the reasons why interest in them continues to this day. But their writing deserves a revisit if you haven’t done so since school. 

On display were notebooks and manuscripts including excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscript, the first time they've been seen in the U.S. And then there were the letters. I found the ones between Godwin and Wollstonecraft the most interesting, including notes she wrote to him while waiting to give birth to Mary (Wollstonecraft would die 11 days afterwards). The only known letter to Bryon from Allegra was also especially moving.

Other items included Harriet Shelley’s engagement ring, Shelley’s baby rattle of gold and coral (he did come from money after all), and bits of Shelley’s skull (not sure I wanted to see that). A nice finishing touch to the exhibit were small letterpress cards with Shelley quotes that visitors could take away. One read, “No man has a right to monopolize more than he can enjoy.” Indeed.

The exhibit is over (I really must blog about these things while they’re still going on) but you can visit the library’s website to read more about it here.

01 July 2012


It's July, which means heat waves, loads of sunscreen, a holiday (yay!), and summer cocktails. My drink of choice this summer is Pimm's Cup, which I first enjoyed many years ago in England. There are a variety of ways you can have your Pimm's; I've been making mine recently with Ginger Ale. Check out the Pimm's website for different recipes here.


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