ECLECTIC RANT: Report on Our Annual Trip to the Big Apple

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday May 18, 2012 - 11:11:00 AM

My wife and I just returned from our annual, week-long visit to New York City. Long ago, we did the usual tourist stuff such as visits to the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations, the Cloisters, and a ride on the Staten Island ferry. Now we concentrate on seeing as many shows as possible -- usually eight -- and visits to museums. This year, we saw eight plays and visited the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Act, and the Neue Gallery. 

Shortly after arrival, we headed for the Visitor's Center on 7th Avenue near 53rd Street to see what they had to offer for discount tickets. We then went to the theater box offices to get tickets. That done, I am charged with standing in line for discount tickets at the TKTS discount booth at Duffy Square located in Times Square for that night’s or matinee performance. Times Square is a great people-watching spot. 

This year was a strong year for drama and comedy. We are not especially interested in musicals, although in past years, we did see the revised version of "West Side Story," "The Lion King," and yes, even "Cats." We also saw “Next to Normal” in 2008, a rock musical about a woman dealing with a bipolar disorder, which won the Pulitzer prize and a Tony.. 

No musicals this year. We did see "Clybourne Park," the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony nominee this year for best play, and in our opinion a worthy choice. The play is set in the same house in middle-class Chicago, Act I in 1950 in a white neighborhood where the homeowners are about to sell to a black family, and in Act II in 2009, the neighborhood is now mixed and a white couple plans to extensively remodel the house. Its about race. The play begins where Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun” ended. It is both funny and stimulating. 

We also saw a powerful production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman” with superb performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of Willy Loman, Andrew Garfield as his son Biff, and Linda Emond as Willy's long-suffering wife Linda. "Death" has been nominated for a Tony for best revival of a play, Mike Nichols for best direction, and Hoffman, Garfield, and Emond for their performances. "Death" is not dated at all. Miller's portrait of a failed American dream still resonates in our current uncertain economic times. 

"The Columnist" starred John Lithgow as Joseph Alsop with Boyd Gaines as his brother Stewart. Joseph Alsop was an influential columnist who saw his influence wane, especially after John F. Kennedy's assassination. Lithgow was in top form. He is a Tony nominee for best actor. Grace Gummer has a role; she is one of Meryl Streep's daughters. 

Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire" with a cast of mostly African American actors, including Blair Underwood as Stanley and Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche. Both were excellent. However, I was taught in college that Blanche represented a fading, surface gentility masking a decaying white south, while Stanley represented the new brash, confident new white south. I am not sure a black Stanley and black Blanche captured that symbolism. 

"The Lyons" starring Linda Lavin played, as New York Times critic Ben Brantley opined, "a suffocating, esteem-shrinking Jewish mother -- the one blamed for all her children's unhappiness . . . " And Lavin did it with humor. Lavin is a Tony nominee for best actress. 

"Other Desert Cities" by Jon Robin Baitz with Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, and Judith Light is a nice blend of comedy and intense family drama with politics thrown in. The play was a pleasant surprise to us as we chose it not knowing too much about it. "Cities" is a Tony nominee for best play and Channing and Light are nominees for best actress. 

"Lonely, I'm Not" is a satisfying, small off-broadway play about two star-crossed lovers, one a burnt out corporate "ninja," mending from a divorce and a nervous breakdown and a blind workaholic business analyst. Will they ulitmately get together? 

Finally, we saw Athol Fugard's "My Children! My Africa!” at the new Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street. We are unabashed Fugard fans ever since we saw "Master Harold and the Boys" with a young Matthew Broderick. Fugard's plays are about pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. Over the years, we have seen a number of his plays, usually off-broadway. In June 2011, Fugard received the Lifetime Achievement Tony Award. Any Fugard play, including this one, is worth seeing. 

The Tony award winners will be announced on June 10, 2012. 

In addition to our theater binge, we managed visits to the Metropolitan Museum , the Museum of Modern Art and the Neue Gallery ( When we visit the Met each year, in deference to my wife, we visit the costume exhibit. This year's exhibit ”Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations,” featured costumes by Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two Italian designers from different eras. An imagined conversation between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada were projected on the walls with Judy Davis playing Schiaparelli. We also visited the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia, especially the spectacular Damascus Room and the Moroccan Court. 

At MoMA, we stopped at the Cindy Sherman exhibit. Working as her own model for more than 30 years, Sherman has captured herself in a range of guises and personas which are at turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting. The exhibit is well worth seeing. 

The Diego Rivera exhibition is also well worth seeing. In 1931, Rivera was given studio space at MoMA and produced five portable murals. Later, Rivera added three more murals. The current exhibition includes the eight 1931 murals and designs for his famous Rockefeller Center mural. As you remember, Rivera wanted to include a portrait of Lenin in the mural. Rockefeller asked him not to. Rivera included Lenin in the mural anyway. Rockefeller paid Rivera for the mural and then proceeded to have the mural plastered over. There is a carbon copy of Rockefeller's letter to Rivera asking him not to include Lenin. And photos of the mural taken clandestinely before it was destroyed. 

On the way to the Metropolitan, we stopped at the Neue Gallery on 5th Avenue near 86th Street. The Neue Gallery is devoted to early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design. This year Neue featured "Heinrich Kuehn and his American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen," featuring photographic prints and autochromes by Kuehn and other important photographers. The Neue also has an excellent cafe, which unfortunately we missed this year because of the long line of people waiting to be seated. Instead, we lunched at the Metropolitan. 

All in all, this year was a great trip to the Big Apple.