Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Monday afternoon, Studio 5 American Ballet Theatre, during a rehearsal for a new pas de deux choreographed by Susan Jaffe and danced by Misty Copeland and another dancer whose name I did not catch.

"It's very much a work in process," Susan had said a few days earlier when I had run in to her at Barnes and Nobel.

"So am I," I said.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Big Love

Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely, celebrate Toshi's birthday every year by staging a series of shows at Joe's Pub. Typically (and they've been doing this for ten years now), they raise the roof and bring the house down, but this year, Toshi's birthday celebration intersected with the inauguration week of Barack Obama, so there was a lot to celebrate. The final show of the series every year is the Sacred Music Birthday Show and it features Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock and Toshi's mother.

Before the show last night, Bernie and I were standing in the hall behind the stage as the band collected itself. I was on my way to the bar to get some drinks for Laura and I and Bernie was on his way upstairs to grab a spot in the crowded booth from which he could take some pictures.

Without saying a word, Toshi gathered us into her prayer circle and we held hands with the band as she focused everyone's energies on the task at hand.

It was a calm moment of presence, a private reflection before a public display. It was the way that all great things begin, with an honest connection and faith in the power of collected individuals.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The audience in the first couple of rows of the Anspacher Theater at the Public, waiting for Lemon Andersen's County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle to begin.

Lemon Andersen
was one of the original Tony-winning cast members of Russel Simmons Def Poetry Jam and County of Kings tells the story of the kid who made his way to Broadway, against all odds. County of Kings is an auto-bio-pic for the stage, paced with a hip hop cadence and a focused restlessness, like the stage is the only thing capable of containing this performer.

"It's an achievement being out there on your own, telling the story, just you and what you've got to say," said the man in the seat in front of me to his friend at intermission.

"You been there?" came the skeptical reply.

"Not like that, no. But I gave it a try once or twice and it'll wear you down and tire you out if you don't got what it needs."

"You think he's got what it needs?" his neighbor asked, peering over his glasses at the program.

"mm-hmm, he's got it," nodded the critic, adjusting his cane. "He's got more than me, I'll tell you that."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Closing Time

The Luesther Lounge, on the last night of the Under The Radar Festival . . .

Saturday, January 17, 2009

After Party

Every night, after the Under The Radar shows finish, participants and audiences have been gathering up in the Luesther Lounge on the third floor of the Public Theater. Normally a rehearsal hall and sometimes a theatre, the Luesther has been transformed into a nightclub/salon where discussions continue into the wee hours of the morning (well, until 1:00 when folks get turned out by the building staff).

It's one of the best parts of the Festival, with seating and tables thrown together by whatever prop-storage had on hand and a bar in the corner tended by folks from the Pub. Mark Russell, the Festival's artistic director, dressed in black with ponytail back, wanders from table to table, smiling and talking, shaking hands and introducing folks like the generous host he is.

Last night, I sat down on the floor to draw and fielded questions from a curious young woman who wandered by to look over my shoulder ("Why don't you draw the bar from a different angle? Why are you drawing at all? Do you think you glorify your subjects when you draw them? Are you making things better than they are? Can I see that other one? Is that ink or paint? Can I introduce you to my friend? Do you think things really look like that?") as Reggie Watts performed an impromptu set from the makeshift stage.

"Is he on the internet?" the young woman asked. "Yes," I replied, "everyone is on the internet . . . "

Friday, January 16, 2009


Transition, performed by Reggie Watts and Company as part of Under the Radar.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Under The Radar

Holcombe Waller in Into The Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest, performed as part of the Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater.

Holcombe Waller is a frequent performer at Joe's Pub. He has a unique, almost heavenly voice and often sings of sadness curable only through the act of finding beauty in the bleak and turning it into music. His show is a meditation on his world view and features a remarkable visual element with projections seen on a large screen behind the performers and on cardboard boxes which serve as the set (along with a table and some pillows). It's a sensual and hopeful piece which stakes a claim to the space between a concert and a play without really being either one. A nudge in the direction of theatre--a unifying notion more disciplined than Holcombe's desire to gather his impulses--would more completely link the elements and might lift the piece from beautiful to remarkable.

But that's sort of what Under The Radar has to offer, its tremendous strength and its gift to New York. Under the Radar is a peek at works one might not otherwise see. Ideas in process and artists from around the world, stretching out to do something different.

In his introductory program notes, the Festival's organizer, Mark Russell positions the Festival in the context of an America about to be, a country filled with promise at the poise of Something New. "Let's take a brief moment before the hard work begins," he says, "to take stock of what our theater artists are saying to us. Slip under the radar to see what they see, hear the stories they have to tell. Directly or indirectly, I count on artists of our time to illuminate our world, make us think in a different way."

Last night at the Festival, I watched Samuel Beckett's First Love, an early novella he wrote, before Beckett-like became an adjective. It's illuminating in the best sense of the word, a peek at comic despair caught up in the concerns of the heart, before Beckett turned his attention outwards to the world. Like an indy love song written to the tune of Waiting For Godot and performed with sparkling befuddlement by Conor Lovett, First Love was the perfect example of the warm interior moment before the great work begins, the idea pulsing with promise, under the radar.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Jackie Hoffman is one of the bedrock performers at Joe's Pub. She performs several times a year, always brings a great audience and always delivers an outrageous and funny show.

Last night I got to bring my cousin Maude along to see the place and give her her first exposure to Jackie Hoffman. I'm not sure how she felt about buying the CD, but I do know that she left the place knowing that "Live at Joe's Pub" was available at all fine venues and makes a great stocking stuffer for anyone who still thinks it's the holiday season. I also know that Maude laughed a lot--even though she felt like some things probably shouldn't have been as funny as they were--and would probably have gone to see Xanadu if it had still been open. Of course, if Xanadu had still been open, Jackie would have had less to kvetch about.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Lucy Wainwright Roche at Joe's Pub Friday night.

Earlier in the evening we went to catch Frally's set at Rockwood Music Hall. We hung out just a little too late, so we missed the very beginning of Lucy's set at Joe's where she played my very favorite song of hers, but we got there in time to catch Lucy's parents, Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche join her for a couple of tunes.

Both Frally and Lucy performed covers of Springsteen, proving either that the boss's advance marketing campaign for his new album is far-reaching and innovative or that everybody really does have a hungry heart.