Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Movie Review: Adam

Rated: PG-13

Website: Adam official site

Starring: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows

My Review: Adam is a very sweet and simple love story that is entertaining to watch, thanks to the talented cast, but is ultimately easily forgettable.

Adam is a socially awkward 29-year-old man with Asperger’s Syndrome, who lives alone in his Manhattan apartment after the recent death of his father. The lovely and newly single Beth moves into the apartment upstairs, and the two strike up a neighborly friendship, prompted by Beth expressing an interest in outer space and that being one of the few topics Adam is comfortable babbling on about ad naseum. Despite being a bit odd and difficult to read, Beth finds herself drawn to Adam, and when he tells her about his disorder she only briefly worries about that making him less than prime boyfriend material before they tentatively begin a romantic relationship. Their relationship progresses with many of the same roadblocks and rites of passage as any other: the meeting of the friends, the meeting of the parents, the first fight when he asks her currently on-trial father if he’s going to jail, etc. And like every other relationship, Adam and Beth ultimately have to decide if theirs is going to last for the long haul.

It’s no secret that Hugh Dancy can play cute and charming with aplomb, so it was refreshing to see him step away from the sort of fairy tale princes he usually plays and deftly portray Adam as a real man; yes, he has a disability, but he’s also a functioning adult with the same needs and desires as anyone else. It’s a Hollywood mainstay that lesser-known actors want to play disabled characters to be able to show off their range, and all too often they wind up playing them as caricatures—all twitches and impeded speech—rather than actual people. But Dancy approaches Adam and his Asperger’s deftly, making him nervous and awkward, but also smart and endearing. It would be easy to wonder what would compel someone like Beth to want to get involved with someone like Adam, knowing all the additional challenges their relationship will face, but Dancy lets you see in Adam everything that Beth does, and you hope for them to make it against all the odds.

Rose Byrne is lovely as Beth, and while at first I found it unrealistic that someone so smart and beautiful wouldn’t already be involved with some overly-coiffed Adonis, the filmmakers took care of that by having her confess that her last boyfriend cheated on her, thus making her attraction to the bizarrely sweet Adam more plausible. Amy Irving and Peter Gallagher (and his eyebrows) play Beth’s parents and only come into play in a few scenes that involve Gallagher’s character, an affluent accountant from White Plains, undergoing a trial for performing some creative accounting for an old family friend. At first accepting of his daughter’s new relationship (at least on the surface), when his legal troubles take a turn for the worst, he does an about face, creating the unnecessarily cliché, “It’s your boyfriend or your family—choose” scenario. But this gives Amy Irving the opportunity to shine briefly as she relates to Beth about the wonders of both loving and being loved.

My one complaint about Adam is that it adopts the typical non-ending that so many independent films use. The final resolution is left up in the air for the audience to decide, which some filmmakers seem to think will connect them to their audience members on a deeper level by letting them interpret the finale in the way they prefer. Personally, I find it to be lazy storytelling and think if you’re going to tell a tale, you should finish it. Otherwise, it has the same effect as me walking up to someone, crying “Knock-knock!”, then walking away. In other words, I prefer a disappointing conclusion to no conclusion at all.

Bottom Line: Adam is the very definition of a “cute movie.” It’s enjoyable to watch, encompassing all the things that most movie-goers like in a romantic film; relatable and flawed characters, a touching but not sappy story, a deviation from obvious stereotypes, and a few genuinely funny moments. But there’s nothing so amazing about Adam that will stick with you for days (or even hours) after viewing it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just is.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie Trailer Review: Alice in Wonderland

Opens: March 5, 2010

Website: Walt Disney Studios official site

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry

My Review: There’s really not a whole lot for me to say about this trailer. By now, you must know if you like the story of Alice in Wonderland and if you like the movies Tim Burton creates. So if you already know you like both, then you know you want to see this movie. I, for one, can’t wait to see how Burton darkly twists this already darkly twisted tale. My one complaint is that they have the nerve to advertise for it now, when it won’t be released until March 2010. I guess that will give the audience ample time to become curiouser and curiouser.

Would I Pay For It?: Yes, but only at a late-night showing. If I have to share the theater with a bunch of kids whose parents will inevitably complain about how this version of Alice is “too scary,” there is a distinct possibility that I will cut someone.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quest for the Best: Cold Stone Creamery Edition

Location: Various locations

Website: Cold Stone Creamery official site

Atmosphere: Every Cold Stone Creamery looks a bit different, but for the most part, it’s an assembly line of ice cream and toppings. You walk by the display of the various toppings on your way to the end of the line, then you come face to face with the variety of ice cream flavors available. There are many pre-existing “creations” to be had—ice cream and toppings blends that Cold Stone has already concocted—or you can put your own together. Just tell the ice cream jockey behind the counter what flavor you want and with what toppings, and they’ll chop it all together for you on a stone slab before scooping the mix in a cup or cone.

My Review: There’s really no need to wax poetic about Cold Stone Creamery; it’s good ice cream made into any sort of concoction you can imagine. But I do wonder what the best possible blend is. I’m a fan of creating my own, rather than going with one already on the Cold Stone menu, and I tend to favor the various candy mix-ins available. Despite being a bit of a chocoholic, I actually don’t care for chocolate ice cream, so I tend to stick with either Sweet Cream (for a basic sweet flavor) or Cake Batter (for ultimate creamy goodness) as my base ice cream flavor. The graham cracker pie crust mix-in adds an interesting texture and flavor, so that usually factors into my blend, as well as either Heath Bar or Butterfinger (which work better in ice cream than other candies, like Snickers, which when frozen can both chip teeth and cut glass). Recently I had a Sweet Cream blend with graham cracker, peanut butter, and Butterfinger that was like heaven in a tiny bowl.

So my question to the three of you who regularly read this site, is what is the ultimate Cold Stone Creamery creation? The next time I’m there, I’m thinking of something involving Gummi Bears and rainbow sprinkles and calling it “Rainbow Brite on Acid”.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Movie Trailer Review: Whip It

Opens: October 9, 2009

Website: Official Whip It site

Starring: Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon

My Review: I love movies about girls finding their true happiness when that true happiness isn’t a man. Not that men can’t be great and all, but there’s so much more to life.

Ellen Page stars in Whip It as a teenager in Nowhere, Texas, who dares to prefer listening to indie rock and dying her hair blue rather than attending the various pageants and debutante balls her traditionalist mother forces her into. By chance she happens to discover the existence of a roller derby league nearby, and after attending one match, she knows she’s found what she wants to do. So she straps on her old Barbie roller skates and puts herself into training to get on the team, much to the chagrin of her “normal” family.

If coming of age stories aren’t your thing, you should take something else into consideration: Roller derby is kind of awesome. I wasn’t aware that roller derby continued to exist after the 1980s ended, but there are apparently leagues all over the country, and last year I attended my first match. And since I can’t think of another word to describe it, it was awesome. The women on the teams are strong, beautiful, and able to kick anyone’s ass. And they get to use clever stage names like Hyper Lynx and Beatrix Slaughter. So if nothing else, there’s bound to be some pretty violent derby action to hold your interest.

Whip It is costar Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, and coming from both acting royalty and a long line of female-centric films, I would certainly hope she knows what she’s doing directing a movie like this. She’s always made it a point to portray women as strong, capable people, and there are few women out there stronger or more capable than a roller derby girl.

Would I Pay For It?: While I do think Whip It looks highly entertaining, I’ll probably wait to rent it. Combining the ludicrously high cost of a movie ticket with the utter rudeness of most audience members these days results in me only seeing a handful of movies in the actual theater. But once Whip It is on DVD, it’s going to the top of my Netflix queue.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Rated: PG

Website: Harry Potter official site

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter

My Review: For the most part, I have found the Harry Potter movies to be disappointing, unconvincing, and a relatively poor representation of the brilliant books they’re based on. And Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no exception. There. I said it. Let the public flogging commence.

My main issue with the movies are that they play like oversimplified Cliffs Notes versions of the books. There’s no way every detail J.K. Rowling packed into her tomes can make it into a movie, and still keep the movie under three hours, I get that. But the movies focus so heavily on the major action scenes (seriously, how many more Quidditch matches need to be filmed?) that they gloss over too many of the various backstories that lay the groundwork for the story arc of the entire series. They also pick and choose which emotional and relationship-based scenes to play, so the movies wind up missing out on a lot of the heart and soul that can be found in every one of the Harry Potter books.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince lays the groundwork for the final showdown between the good wizards and Voldemort’s army of evil followers, who are wreaking havoc not only in the wizarding world, but in muggle-based London, too. Draco Malfoy becomes a more major player as he is assigned to carry out a specific mission for Voldemort within the walls of Hogwarts, a mission that Snape must carry out if Draco fails, according to the unbreakable bond he makes with Draco’s mother. Dumbledore brings an old Hogwarts professor out of retirement and asks Harry to help him collect a vital memory from said professor; a memory about Voldemort during his schooldays which will help them know how to go about destroying him once and for all. And in between all the various scheming there are hormonal issues a-plenty for the students, such as Hermione being jealous of Ron and his psychotically clingy new girlfriend and Harry having a crush on Ron’s kid sister, Ginny.

As usual, the key scenes are played: Harry collects the memory he needs, Dumbledore and Harry figure out how Voldemort can be brought down, and you-know-who is killed by you-know-who. And everything is set up for the final installment, which will (thankfully) be split into two movies. But the movie feels disconnected and packs only a fraction of the emotional punch the book does. Too many of the developing relationships are either completely skipped or are so thinly portrayed that you’re left wondering why you should care.

Lupin shows up in one scene with a woman by his side, who you may remember as being another Order of the Phoenix member from the previous movie, but only a reader of the books will remember that she’s Tonks, and she and Lupin are now in a relationship. There’s absolutely no mention of the Weasley’s older son being engaged to Fleur, the French Tri-Wizard Cup competitor, so it’ll be interesting to see if Harry and company attend their wedding in the next movie. There’s also no mention of Percy Weasley and how his behavior has affected his family. When Ron attracts the attention of a girl at school, it seems as if she’s just some random new student, when she’s actually Lavender Brown, a fellow Gryffindor who should have been around since their first year. And the whole Harry and Ginny scenario is completely laughable. While in the books you could see their feelings for each other changing and growing, in the movie Ginny has hardly ever been a major player, so Harry’s sudden desire for her is out of the blue. And rather than being vivacious and personable, as she is in the books, movie Ginny is dull and wallflower-ish, which again adds to the absurdity of Harry’s interest in her. Ron and Hermione’s slow-building “will-they, won’t-they” relationship is the only one that’s even remotely convincing, and that’s just because it’s been going on now for six movies.

The most egregious oversight is right there in the movie’s title: the Half-Blood Prince. Harry gets a used Potions textbook filled with the brilliant notes of a former student with the declaration that the book is owned by the “Half-Blood Prince” scrawled inside the cover. But rather than trying to figure out who that is and what that means—like he does in the book—Harry just continues to use the notes to excel in his Potions class, and at the end of the movie, the Half-Blood Prince’s identity is revealed, with no fanfare or explanation, almost as if the director realized the topic had yet to be addressed, so he threw in an extra line to take care of that pesky issue. “Oh, by the by, I’m the Half-Blood Prince. See ya in the next movie, Potter!”

Bottom Line: Once again, a Harry Potter movie fails to live up to my expectations and doesn’t pack enough of an emotional punch for me to truly care about what happens to the characters (the Harry Potter onscreen will never live up to the Harry Potter that played in my head while reading the books). Luckily, someone was smart enough to split the upcoming final story into two movies rather than pack everything into two and half hours. I just wish someone had been smart enough to do that with all of the movies after the third one.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Quest for the Best: Cake Shop Review

Location: 152 Ludlow Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Cake Shop site

Price: Prices vary, but the Peanut Butter Bomb is around $5

Atmosphere: Cake Shop is a bizarre blend of a bakery, a coffee shop, and an indie performance space. It’s tiny and cozy with a selection of mismatched tables and chairs if you decide to enjoy a snack on the premises. At night it becomes a showcase for various local and/or independent bands, and there’s usually a cover charge.

My Review: I didn’t go to Cake Shop for a concert, so I can’t attest to how well it works as a performance space or how talented the bands they book are. I went to Cake Shop for one reason and one reason only: To try their famous Peanut Butter Bomb that I had heard so much about.

During the day, Cake Shop functions like a basic coffee shop; there are various beverages and baked goods (most of them of the vegan variety) to be had and some haphazard seating if you decide to stay. I traveled down to the Lower East Side on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so the joint was sparsely filled and I could enjoy my treat without the annoyance of the usual coffee shop-dwelling hipsters (and hipster wannabes). I had heard various raves about the Peanut Butter Bomb, and once seeing it in all its glory in the display case I understood what all the fuss was about.

The Bomb (as I call it now that we are intimate friends) is essentially chocolate and peanut butter nirvana. It’s a thick layer of chocolate cake, then a thin layer of fluffy, whipped peanut butter goodness, a thin layer of cake, a huge tower of the pb stuff, all covered with a soft chocolate ganache, and drizzled with liquefied peanut butter. The whole thing is assembled as a large cake and when you order it they cut you off a generous slab. I’m under the impression that the Bomb is considered a vegan dessert, though I may be wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s delicious and worth every diet-destroying calorie. My only complaint is that the layers could be more evenly distributed, so you don’t have to work so hard to make sure every forkful has some chocolate and some peanut butter. But it’s a minor inconvenience and I’ll probably revisit Cake Shop for another Bomb in about six months—aka, how long it’ll take me to burn off the calories from this one.

Bottom Line: Cake Shop is a great stop for something delicious when it’s not crowded. I wouldn’t want to be crammed in there when a show is going on, but during the day it’s chill and the Peanut Butter Bomb is good excuse for buying larger pants.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Theater Review: South Pacific

Location: Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official South Pacific site

Starring: Laura Osnes, David Pittsinger, Danny Burstein, Andrew Samonsky, Loretta Ables Sayre

My Review: It would be easy to dismiss a musical primarily about racial intolerance during World War II as irrelevant in this day and age, but just spend an hour with the bigot of your family (and every family has at least one) and you know that intolerance still thrives today, it’s just a not as loudly displayed as it once was. It’s also easy to classify all Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals as cheesy or “theater lite,” but you must be forgetting that Oklahoma! has attempted murder, The Sound of Music has Nazis, and Carousel is just one big bag of sadness and despair with a catchy soundtrack; they’re not all about beautiful mornings and raindrops on roses. So while my initial reaction when hearing there was going to be a Broadway revival of South Pacific was, “Really? That show?,” I was thrilled to see that the production playing at Lincoln Center is both relevant and not cheesy, and just all around enjoyable.

The story revolves around two would-be love affairs on a small island in the South Pacific during WWII. The primary one involves Navy nurse Nellie, a self-pronounced hick from Little Rock, who instantly falls for the older and more sophisticated Frenchman Emile when he shows up to an officer’s dance. He now owns and lives on a plantation on the island after being forced to flee his native France for killing a man, which Nellie accepts as being OK because he tells her it is. But the fact that he has two mixed raced children by a now deceased island woman is enough to make her back off the relationship and his once enticing offer to marry him and join him on the island. The lesser love story involves Lt. Joseph Cable, a pompous Princeton graduate from Philadelphia, who, despite his obviously low opinion of the islanders, falls in love with the beautiful and naïve Liat, who happens to be the daughter of Bloody Mary, a shrewd (and somewhat scary) local woman who revels in taking the money of the seamen stationed there for such delicacies as grass skirts and shrunken heads. Once she has successfully presented her daughter to Cable, Mary insists that they must marry, a demand that goes against everything Cable was ever taught back home, causing heartache for everyone involved in the match.

Laura Osnes is currently playing Nellie while original cast member Kelli O’Hara is on maternity leave, but the night I went I actually saw Ms. Osnes’ understudy, Laura Marie Duncan. But if I hadn’t read the Playbill insert that said she was an understudy, I never would have guessed. She holds her own throughout the show and plays Nellie with a perfect blend of youthful optimism, immature uncertainty, and small town naivety. And she has her comedic timing well tuned during the “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Honey Bun” numbers. As her French paramour, Emile, an actor with a booming baritone voice is needed to properly convey the emotion behind “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine,” and David Pittsinger was a great casting choice. Primarily an opera performer, he belts out Emile’s signature songs flawlessly, but is also impressive when not singing and seamlessly portraying Emile as a man who makes no apologies for his past and has happened to fall in love with a girl from small town America with prejudices even she doesn’t understand.

Also standouts in the cast are the supporting, and more comical, roles of Luther Billis and Bloody Mary. Billis, played by Danny Burstein, is one of the sailors stationed on the island who is determined to take full advantage of his time there, whether it means finding a way to get to Bali Ha’i—the mysterious island where all your fantasies come true, which he is forbidden to visit—or conning local woman Bloody Mary into buying the wares that he and his fellow sailors create. Unfortunately for him, Mary is a far more shrewd businessman, and manages to turn his opportunistic offers around on him by presenting exotic items Billis can’t resist. Played by Loretta Ables Sayre, Bloody Mary knows how to expertly play all island visitors to her advantage, whether it mean clowning with the sailors to get them to buy what she pedals, or seducing the “sexy Lieutenant” into coming to Bali Ha’i where she plots to have him marry her daughter. Both Billis and Mary first appear merely as clowns to provide the comic relief in South Pacific, but as the show continues, you see hidden depths in them as Billis struggles to put his schoolboy crush on Nellie aside once he realizes how she really feels about Emile and Mary rails against Lt. Cable, declaring she will marry her daughter off to a cruel man if he won’t marry her himself.

The biggest weak point in South Pacific is the performance of Lt. Cable by Andrew Samonsky. When Cable first arrives on the island, overly cocky and self-assured, Samonsky nails it. But when he falls in love with Liat, there isn’t enough of a visible struggle. Rather than seeming like a man who is pitting what he feels in his heart up against what’s been ingrained in him since childhood, he still comes across as cocky and self-assured, but just a bit more whiny on top of it. Samonsky’s singing voice leaves a lot to be desired, too, as his performances of “Younger than Springtime” and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” are thin and unconvincing. The role of Lt. Cable is small enough that his performance can’t bring down the entire show, but it is significant enough that the effect of this one weak link is palpable.

Bottom Line: South Pacific may qualify as an old-fashioned musical, but when it’s as expertly presented as this, it doesn’t seem dated at all. And the theater at Lincoln Center manages to put other Broadway theaters to shame. The stage is thrust into the audience, so at times you feel as though you’re a part of it all, and during the overture and the second act entr’acte, the stage slides back to reveal the zealous orchestra performing below stage. Seeing how excited they are to be under the stage, you can’t help but feel just as excited to be there, too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Movie Review: Away We Go

Rated: R

Website: Away We Go official site

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal

My Review: Away We Go is a sometimes sweet, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, quirky indie film that is enjoyable in the moment, but probably won’t stick with you once it’s over. It’s a good example of a rental for a weekend when there’s nothing to do, where you’ll say, “Wow, so-and-so was a lot better than I thought he/she would be.” But due to having a free movie pass and a bit of a crush on John Krasinski, I went to see it in the theater.

The story follows the road trip of Burt and Verona, who are expecting their first child, as they travel to various cities looking for the perfect place to call “home” for their new family. Living a sort of bohemian/hobo lifestyle in a tiny, overcrowded house in chilly Denver for the sole purpose of being near Burt’s parents, they decide to find a more desirable location after his parents announce they’re moving to Europe for the next two years. They visit various family and friends in Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal, and Miami, hoping to find both the perfect location and the perfect role models for the sort of family they want to create. But while each location has an initial appeal, none are the home Burt and Verona are looking for.

John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph both put in impressive performances as Burt and Verona. Since both are primarily comedic television actors I was apprehensive about seeing them star together in an indie comedy-drama, but their performances were both touching and funny, and most impressive of all, convincing. Allison Janney is a bit over the top as an obnoxious former coworker of Verona’s, but Jim Gaffigan’s portrayal of her subdued and somewhat miserable husband is both hilarious and depressing.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is the biggest standout secondary character, as a neo-hippie mother who is a friend of Burt’s family, but her character is so over the top that I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the writers or of Gyllenhaal overacting. Everyone knows how annoying parents who judge the parenting ways of others can be, especially those who will preach to you of how you’re destroying your child’s life by bottle feeding, and Gyllenhaal portrays that deftly. But while her overwrought aversion to using a stroller leads up to one of the movie’s funniest moments, it’s so unrealistic that anyone would react like that and that people like Burt and Verona would even be friends with her. Away We Go is at its best when it stays within the realm of believability of a young couple looking for home, but on a few occasions some of the characters behave too much like a character, giving what is a sweet yet flawed film an uneven feel.

Bottom Line: Away We Go is enjoyable, and while some of the supporting roles can delve into unrealistic territory, seeing Krasinski and Rudolph playing against type (and playing it well) is a treat. And so my unrequited crush on John Krasinski continues on…

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quest for the Best: Sweet Revenge Review

Location: 62 Carmine Street, NY, NY

Website: Sweet Revenge

Price: Cupcakes are $3.50 each

Atmosphere: Sweet Revenge is set up like a tiny bistro/café. In addition to their cupcakes, they offer a small selection of sandwiches, salads, breakfast options, and other eats. They also have a selection of beer and wine available, and will help you pair your drink with a cupcake that compliments it. There are only a couple of tables and some bar seating, so if you want to enjoy a treat and a cocktail on site, get there early.

My Review: With a name as awesome as “Sweet Revenge,” I was expecting something more from the cupcakes they offer. They’re not bad, but they are a bit disappointing. When you get them to go, as I did, the staff pops each cake into an individual plastic cup with lid, which I thought was both a clever way to prevent smushing in a bakery box and a horrible waste of plastic. Their signature cupcake, conveniently called Sweet Revenge, is a peanut butter cake with a bit of chocolate ganache filling, topped with peanut buttercream frosting. I’ve had plenty of peanut butter-inspired cakes before, but never one where the cake itself was peanut butter, so kudos to whoever came up with that concept. If only it tasted as good as it sounds. The cake part was too dry, and there wasn’t enough ganache filling to compliment the peanut butter taste of both the cake and the frosting. The frosting—the best part of any cake, in my opinion—was tasty and not overwhelmingly peanut-y, but was a bit too sugary and runny, rather than thick and creamy.

Their version of red velvet cake, called Crimson & Cream, is a raspberry infused cake with a cream cheese frosting. I’m not a huge fan of adding fruits to cakes, but if you like raspberry, you’ll probably enjoy this one more than I did. Again, the cake part was too dry for my liking, and the frosting tasted like basic vanilla, lacking any of the snap that cream cheese frosting has. Also on their menu is a cupcake simply named Dirty, which is a chocolate cake with dark chocolate frosting, but I opted for the Not So Dirty, which is the same cake but with a milk chocolate frosting. This was the best of the three flavors I sampled; the cake wasn’t as dry and the frosting had a very true chocolate flavor, but was still too runny for my liking.

When popping the first cupcake out of its individual cup I wondered how I was supposed to eat it, since it almost immediately began to crumble in my hand. But I pressed on, and in about two minutes found myself covered in crumbs with overly soft frosting covering my hand. The other two I attacked with a fork, which worked better, but the entire point of a cupcake is that it’s a treat you can easily hold and eat on the go. If I wanted to dirty up a plate and fork, I would just get a slice of a regular cake.

Bottom Line: I give Sweet Revenge credit for having a great name, clever cupcake flavors, and a unique gimmick in their offering of cake and booze pairings. But when it comes down to the cupcakes themselves, I prefer ones with moister cake and thicker frosting that won’t fall to pieces in my hand. And lord knows in this city, there is no lack of places to find cake like that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Theater Review: Waiting for Godot

Location: Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NY, NY

Website: Official Waiting for Godot site

Starring: Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman, John Glover

My Review: After suffering through the abysmal The Philanthropist, I was thrilled that the next offering from my Roundabout Theatre subscription was a great production. But it’s a great production of a play I’m somewhat ambivalent about.

Describing the plot of Waiting for Godot overly simplifies the play, but here goes: Two dusty hobos, named Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting in a stark and barren location for Godot to arrive. They’ve never met Godot, so they don’t know what he looks like, nor are they sure why they’re waiting for him, but they continue to wait nevertheless. To pass the time they tell jokes that never reach the punch line, bicker about things like ill-fitting boots, and contemplate hanging themselves from a nearby tree, if only they had a bit of rope. The large and in charge Pozzo arrives on the scene with his slave, Lucky, in tow, and while he’s blustery and unsettling, his company allows the two to pass the time more quickly. At the end of the day, a young boy arrives to announce that Godot will not be coming, but he will surely come tomorrow. And then another day begins, much in the same way as the one before.

Not a whole lot actually happens on stage; the entire point of Godot is for each audience member to decide what it means to them. For those interested in some serious analysis, surely there are plenty of Drama student’s term papers available that cover the various themes and metaphors of the play. For those interested in my take, I believe the play is a comment on the futility of life. Much like Estragon and Vladimir, we’re all constantly waiting for something that may never arrive; waiting to find that dream job, waiting to meet that person who will change our life, waiting to take that big vacation, waiting to figure out what we should be doing with our time on Earth. And the sad truth is, that while we wait for the big life events to happen, the rest of life quietly slips by, and to pass the time, we tell jokes, sing songs, bicker and argue, delight in the occasional distraction (no matter how disconcerting it may be), and every once in awhile ponder what would happen if we just ended it all. And then another day begins, indistinguishable from any number of days preceding it, and we continue to wait.

The production of Godot playing at Studio 54 presents this study in wasted life beautifully, with its minimalist set design and excellent cast. Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin are the main two, and while both are primarily known for their comedic acting (and there are plenty of opportunities for some clowning in Godot), they also deftly express the sorrow and frustration in waiting for something that seems doomed to never happen. John Goodman is the oversized Pozzo (both in terms of personality and actual size), a well-to-do blowhard with a slave (John Glover) who he keeps on an increasingly short leash. Whenever Pozzo arrives on stage, he’s meant to disturb the monotony that Estragon and Vladimir have established, and Goodman does an excellent job of commanding the scene whenever he appears. As the mostly silent slave Lucky, Glover manages to be both comic and tragic in the same moment, as he totes his master’s luggage through the barren wasteland they’re traveling and obliges his commands to “think” and “dance”, which he does on shaky limbs while panting and gasping for air. Yet when Estragon and Vladimir attempt to show him a bit of kindness, Lucky lashes out at them, preferring to remain an abused slave to the master he’s used to. And if that’s not a bleakly accurate metaphor for life itself, I don’t know what is.

Bottom Line: Waiting for Godot is a slow-moving play for an audience who doesn’t mind thinking about what they’re seeing. The end of the first act feels like the end of the play, and you wonder what could possibly happen in Act II. And then Act II begins, and the whole point (or rather, pointlessness) of it all becomes clear. With a lesser cast, Godot would be a plodding bore, but in the hands of these expert players, you don’t mind joining them in the wait.