FROM THE WILDS OF MANHATTAN
Ah, but Did You See the London Production?
A New Yorker’s Guide to One-Upping Your Theatre-Mad, Ultra-Insecure Neighbors
When your New York City apartment is the size of a laundry room in Florida, you’re not going to spend every night ordering in Szechuan. So what do you do to relieve the boredom of living in the most exciting city in the world?
You go to the theatre. And by theatre, I mean one with a stage, live actors, and an orchestra, not a multiplex with screaming children and turned-over jumbo buckets of popcorn.
And if you’re Desk Jockey, who approaches every task as a Sisyphean challenge challenge to be mastered you see play after play after play until you run out of money or free evenings.
Most importantly, because you’re a New Yorker, you make sure you see the play before anyone else does.
Yes, New York has a host of theatre options. There’s Broadway, filled with its usual crowds, and crowd-pleasing techniques. And its audiences of tourists who love to hug the armrests that are rightfully yours.
But Broadway is expensive. And if you’re bringing your significant other, your children, your mother-in-law, and her friend from Saskatchewan who once starred in a high school production of South Pacific, the expense-o-meter goes right off the charts and into the floodlights.
So it’s important for New Yorkers to look for ticket opportunities early on. This opportunity will usually arrive in the form of an e-mail from Ticketmaster or Telecharge, and contain language that indicates you are “one of a few” who has been afforded the privilege of booking this miraculous event months in advance.
Through this method, which Desk Jockey is a sucker for, he has been able to get tickets for Billy Elliott, The Seagull, Equus, Speed the Plow, and South Pacific.
This is a valuable method for getting to these Broadway hits before the masses do. And most importantly, before your downstairs neighbor, Nan, the vertically challenged red-haired bore, gets there.
NAN, THE VERTICALLY CHALLENGED RED-HAIRED BORE
Certain people who do not live in New York, I’ve discovered, have this stereotypical view of Manhattanites: that they are incredibly insecure and need to wrap themselves in the latest, most fashionable intellectual garb before they have their first cup of coffee.
Having lived in two of the five boroughs for over 30 years, I find this balderdash. But every once in a while, you meet someone named Nan, who confirms the stereotype.
Nan is about 4 feet tall, wears more makeup than Louise Nevelson used to, and is most remembered by our doormen for her way of shouting “excuse me, excuse me,” rushing out the front door, and mowing down anyone unfortunate enough to stand in her path.
Nan is also a “writer” (of what, I’m not sure) who tells me she has “assignments” to write articles about Italy, India, and other far-off locations. She has also written content for travel books, one of which I picked up a few years back, and found it totally unreadable.
When Nan isn’t gallivanting about the world, she is going to the theater (she gets paid to review plays, too, or so she says.) And her greatest pleasure in life is meeting me on the elevator at 6 am, when we both go out to exercise, and asking me if I’ve seen a certain play that hasn’t opened yet.
My greatest pleasure in life is replying, with a slight flaring of my eyeballs, , “Yes, I saw it in previews.” Or “of course, I saw the London production two years ago.”
Her greatest disappointment in life, I am sure, is hearing that I beat her to it.
OFF-BROADWAY, NOW THERE’S THE TICKET.
As anyone including Nan, the vertically – challenged red – haired bore knows, the real reason theatre is not dead is off-Broadway. These plays are a gold mine of acting talent, great playwriting, and imaginative direction that don’t cost a heck of a lot of dough, especially if you join as a subscriber.
Off-Broadway plays offer the same kind of intellectual stimulation that “art” films used to offer, before films became “movies” starring Seth Rogen or Owen Wilson. They may cost more than movies (which in New York are close to $12) but they don’t cause you to exit the theatre into the light of day feeling as if you binged on cold pizza. Nor will you likely hear two seniors sitting in front of you arguing for hours about the medication they’re taking.
And it is at an off-Broadway theatre you will find the talent that eventually gets scooped up by Broadway producers, and later on, by Hollywood. The current crop of talents consists of great new actresses like Zoe Kazan (now appearing on The Seagull on Broadway), Peter Scannavino (in the October revival of Boys Life at Second Stage), and others you rush home to search on lortel.org (the off-Broadway electronic bible for off-Broadway groupies.)
Contrast this caliber of performance with the underwhelming showings by the most famous names in entertainment once they arrive on Broadway. Movie Actress Katie Holmes (a.k.a. Mrs. Tom Cruise) recently starred in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, and revealed she possessed all the acting nuance of a prom queen. Oscar-winning Julia Roberts (“Erin Brockovich”) starred in Three Days of Rain on Broadway, and gave a performance so quiet as to be virtually anonymous.
AFTER THE SHOW: DRINKS AT ETC. ETC AND/OR VICE-VERSA
The best, most non-competitive places to show off your early adapter status (and your playbill) are at a Theatre District bar/restaurant after the show. But not just any Theatre District bar/restaurant. Two that come to mind are Etc. Etc. (West 44th between Eighth and Ninth), and Vice-Versa (pronounced Vee-chay Vair-sah, Italian style).
You belly up to the bar, say hello to your favorite bartender (they turn over faster than Johnny cakes in Alabama), order a gin or vodka martini, and once you’re sufficiently tanked, you ever-so-subtly slide your Playbillonto the bar. Immediately, someone will ask about the play you’ve seen, the actors who were in it, and so forth. And no one among this crowd of authentic, theatre-mad New Yorkers would dream of intimidating you about when you saw the play, or if you saw it before anyone else. And that’s because the actors in the play you just saw have probably been at that bar, and the bartenders and your fellow customers know them very well. (The bartenders have also probably slept with most of the actors and/or actresses you just saw, or at the very least bought them drinks, and often dinner.)
A LIST OF WHAT’S ON AND WHAT’S GOOD FOR 2009
As a public service and a totally arbitrary guide to theatergoing for the truly discerning (and/or truly value-conscious), I hereby provide you with a list of what to see with all due dispatch during the holiday season.
Look at it this way: you can use the money you save to buy extra tickets for your great-aunt from Cincinnati or her cousin from a Red State. Actors and actresses don’t discriminate between red and blue, and they love the color green!
August: Osage County
Dividing the Estate
In the Heights