Tag Archives: east village

What You Wanted When You Moved To New York City

I’ve had the last couple of days off, and yesterday I fell into what some like to call “the zone.” In addition to the stream-of-consciousness piece below, I also wrote several thousand words on a short story I’ve been chipping away at for months. It was a good day.


What You Wanted When You Moved To New York City

2013-02-15 15.40.49Here are the days you don’t want when you move to the city: the day you see a dozen cockroaches go scattering in your Bushwick apartment’s kitchen cupboard. The day you and your roommate, a childhood friend, wake up covered in bed bug bites. The day the train explodes down the track, leading to a panic attach so bad it gets you to the doctor for the first time in two years. The day you —

Anyway, those aren’t the days you want.

Today is the day you want.

You were tired and had been off all day the day before, so you went to bed at eight p.m. not feeling like you’d missed out on a thing. Thanks to that, you wake up, and it’s six a.m., and you’ve had ten solid hours of sleep.

The first thing you do is pee. Then you write. And you write and you write. And you write some more. And you’re just going over notes, just refining ideas, but it’s something beyond feeling what you thought you’d be feeling.

And then it’s the time you would normally wake up and you’ve already been through one revision and printed it, and you’re going to review it once more this morning, and after that, go for a walk.

And it happens just like that. And no one calls you and you don’t get interrupted and there’s not a problem with having your flow disrupted by anybody else’s drama, and when you leave your apartment it’s a little breezy, a little cool, but you just walk. And walk. And walk.

I cracked up when I saw this sign. Fantastic.

I cracked up when I saw this sign. Fantastic.

And when you get to the L train you just walk on board and take it out to Williamsburg and when you get there you walk up north eighth and a little down Berry towards Blue Bottle but you don’t really believe Blue Bottle exists on that strange, deserted hill, and anyways, all the coffee places in Williamsburg seem like they’d harsh your creative buzz at two on a Friday afternoon, so eventually you circle around back up Driggs and get back on the L and take it back to First Ave, where you were thinking of getting off the train on your way out anyway, but you didn’t.

And you think you’re going to Simone’s, at St. Marks and First. But you get there and it’s two thirty or so now, and the sign says that on Friday, Happy Hour doesn’t start till four, and the hell with it if you’re going to pay full price for a drink that would be half price any other day.

Besides, you’re outside and there’s sunshine and you don’t need to use the bathroom yet. You walk down First and as you pass the McDonald’s and the Duncan Donuts (and the small bar you never noticed before, in between) you think, that’s the spot where that guy and his girlfriend were sitting when I bought them breakfast that time. You felt guilty for being able to offer to buy them a bagel and a coffee each, when he reacted, but all you could do was do it. Afterwards, your family told you you’d been too soft hearted.

You haven’t bought food for anybody in a while.

You walk down first Avenue and a few times you want to turn down one of the streets; at sixth you think, it’s too early for dinner and at fifth and fourth you think, the streets there are shaded… eventually you hit a street with a development where you know there’s an outpost of Vselka, and you’re curious, so you cut across.

The shade is cooler now but it’s been about an hour and a half of walking – first around Williamsburg, now around the East Village – so you keep walking past the taco stand and onto Bowery, on westward to First, then south to Houston (not even half a block) and along the way.

A chance of timing at the lights sends you to the south side of the street, where overlapping shadows cast across the pavement. You’re thinking about a bloody mary now, the ones they serve at Lure with the little shrimp cocktail. It’s neither the time nor the day for Bloody Marys but you’ve walked enough to feel like it’s time for a sip, so…

You use the bathroom at Lure; it’s elegant and clean, and the servers are friendly (when you do drink there, you always make sure to tip well).

2013-02-15 15.31.14A bier hall in the West Village. A little piece of Brooklyn. Bigger on the inside. Something in the day’s perambulation finally clicks, and now it’s time to sit at the bar, sip a beer and write.

You have your notes with you, and something has shifted, everything is blocked out, beyond the paper and a pen made from recycled bottles.

A thousand words pass. Your phone battery dwindles to yellow, then red, and meanwhile you make your way down a strange narrative pathway that seems both inevitable and unnatural.

It’s been a seven-hour walk and there are still hours left in the day. Hours to fill, and reasonable achievement already accomplished.

You head home.

These are the days you wanted when you moved to New York City.

2013-02-15 15.22.49

THEATER REVIEW: “To Kill A Kelpie” by Matthew McVarish

First, to declare a bias – Matthew McVarish and I were at drama school together in Scotland, and I’ve previously reviewed his sold-out debut show, One man went to busk (it’s the second review on the page). In addition, he and I will be working on a project about marriage equality together later this year for Glasgay 2012.

That said, I’m pleased and lucky to be able to say that this new work, To Kill a Kelpie, offers an hour of drama both light and dark, and is a strong piece of theatrical art with a message. Co-produced by Poorboy Theater company Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse (where McVarish is also involved), and executive produced by Pamela Pine, the show is directed by Sandy Thomson.

The evening unfolds in two parts: first, McVarish’s hourlong drama about two brothers who finally break their own silence as regards something that was done to them both many years ago, then a guided discussion including representatives from various organizations that try to deal with ending sexual abuse.

As one might expect, there is heaviness to this drama. How could their not be, given the topic at hand? And yet McVarish’s script makes a conscious decision to take place in its own moment, as two brothers try to find a way of communicating through the silence that has plagued their adult relationship. As they try to understand what was done to them, the different coping mechanisms they ask themselves and the ways in which they parse the events that took place while they were children reveal two men who have each, in their own way, carried the scars of their abuse for years. Additionally, the quickness with which the two brothers reconnect lends itself well to lighter moments: this is not a play where the audience should be afraid to laugh from time to time.

The play asks uncomfortable questions: one brother reveals that he’s struggled to even recognize his own sexuality over the years, because he had tangled up the acts perpetrated upon him and his own desire to love other men. The other denies any feeling of having been affected, although it slowly becomes more obvious that, in fact, he has. Both brothers have found their relationships to others, particularly children, impossibly strained as they constantly try to sort through their own baggage.

Performers McVarish (as Fionnghall, the brother who seems, on the surface, to b e more of a loose canon) and Allan Lindsay (Dubhghal, who has returned from doing aid work among tsunami-afflicted natives somewhere quite far away) navigate the questions their characters ask themselves with honesty and frankness. Some parts of their conversation are uncomfortable: one admits he is afraid his sister doesn’t want him around her children, the other terrified he may have the potential to cause the same damage enacted upon him onto another. Forgiveness, revenge, therapy and repression are all tried as the characters range for coping mechanisms; in the end, it is conversation – speaking about their trauma, and about how each has begun the journey of unpacking that trauma – that offers the best hope for healing.

As the play draws to an ambiguous ending, the audience is invited to take a few moments to stretch before heading into a follow-up discussion. Led by Pamela Pine, the discussion first invites comments and questions from audience members before asking audience members if there’s anything they think they might do differently in their lives going forward. Aside from stressing the importance of parental and community involvement to determine when children might be at risk, the discussion also creates a space where audience members are invited to share their own stories of surviving abuse.

What was remarkable about this portion of the evening, to me, was the clarity with which one could see how To Kill a Kelpie had created a space where audience members, whose ages covered a large range, felt they could speak openly about experiences taking place around them. On opening night in New York City, audience members spoke – some at length – about how positive they found the play, and about how well it communicated emotions that echoed reactions they’d had to their own experiences.

For more information about Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, you can visit their website at www.stopcsa.org. To Kill a Kelpie will run in NYC through April 15th, first in the East Village before heading uptown. More details are available on the production’s website.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Beautiful Laugh” at La Mama

Clowning is a respected art with a long history, distinct from other forms of theater. My understanding of clowning comes out of familiarity with more classical European traditions, such as Marcel Marceau and the Commedia Del Arte style captured so excellently in The Corn Exchange’s production of Dublin by Lamplight, or the Harlequin story as viewed through the memory of a production I saw at Tivoli, in Cophenhagen, when I was about seven years old. In these forms, it’s often the precision of physical movement that distinguishes the skilled from the unskilled performer.

The style of clowning used in That Beautiful Laugh is different. It is a physical kind of comedy, related – particularly in the case of performer Carlton Ward – to circus acts and Coney Island contortionists, but it is also a comedy of noises and expression.

At the top of the show, a narrator (Alan Tudyk of Firefly, Dollhouse, Suburgatory and more) explains that there are multiple kinds of laughs, and lists some – as we wind through the cyclical routines presented by Flan (Tudyk), Ian (Ward) and Darla Waffles Something (Julia Ogilvie), the audience is no doubt meant to experience some of these different kinds of laughs. Whether or not the ultimate laugh – that beautiful laugh – is attained is, I suspect, largely in the hands of the audience on any given night.


The double-entendre title of this NY Fringe production refers to both the candies kept on hand by social worker Becca (Margaret Daly) and, more obliquely, to the powerless pawns who must navigate the tsunami of bureaucracy that results from the illness of a loved one. The fable traces the primary character, Bryce (Sarah Grace Wilson) as she wanders through the maze of the American health care (or should we say, health insurance?) system during her father’s grave and ultimately fatal illness.

Never fear for spoilers – really, this isn’t a play about Bryce’s individual journey, but rather what her journey represents. Along her health care Commedia, Bryce learns (sans a kindly Virgil to show her the way through the maze) how even though her father tried to make provisions along the course of his life for his care in the event of a catastrophic event, the Sweet Insurance Company (personified with grandiose flair by Zachary Fine) has other ideas. With deep pockets and commitment to making them deeper, Sweet pecks and needles at each of the characters in turn, the self-christened “spirit of the insurance company.”

But wait. This is theater, and Bryce can fight back. Thanks to a stroke of fate, she’s able to afford both a lawyer and the best neurosurgeon in the world. She’s not rich, we’re told, but she’s “well off.” She’s also a bit of a brat, although by virtue of watching her struggle along at her father’s side, refusing to give up because other than him, she’s all alone in the world, we can sympathize with the exhaustion and tension she must be feeling.

Where writer Susan Dworkin makes this play a subtler critique of the system than one usually expects is in showing both the positives and negatives – though mostly the negatives – of the current ways health care reaches various strata of society. Sure, Bryce has to pay full cost for her father’s doctor, but a family of illegal immigrants receive the procedure for their dad pro bono. In the end, it’s the super-rich who can pay for the care they want outside the health insurance industry system, and if the super-rich make their money off morally questionable activities, well…so do the insurance companies. In Dworkin’s vision, it’s the middle class that gets screwed.

Although the play feels long at just under an hour and a half, the musical numbers and extremely dark humor help bring a further touch of absurdity to the production. An education inherent in the walk through the pitfalls of trying to find affordable health care for your elders will no doubt be of benefit to a number of theater-goers (that is, if it doesn’t send them running to their psychiatrists in despair).

In a final confrontation, Dworkin’s characters suggest that the only way to triumph over the system is to either challenge it from within or to make enough money to remove oneself from it. Interestingly, the idea of government-run health care never enters the debate, which makes the script seem a bit out of sync with modern times, and one wonders how it will age, but in the immediate future this is a play where the ideas will engage you more than the production itself.

Previous NY Theater reviews can be read here and here.