no such thing as bad publicity

Los Pollos Hermanos

File under sad, but true: a fast-food burrito chain where a fictional drug trafficker runs his organization has become one of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s more improbable tourist attractions. As “Breaking Bad” finishes filming its final season in the city, the popular show has brought about a major boost to the local economy – yet it’s also creating a dilemma for tourism officials having to consider the ultimate cost of exploiting their city’s ties to a show that centers around drug trafficking, addiction and violence. (The show follows the fictional character of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth lord.) While other popular television shows such as “Sex and the City” and “Seinfeld” have spawned a veritable cottage industry of location-based tours, “Breaking Bad” has provoked a pattern of drug-themed products springing up around town. The Candy Lady store recently capitalized on the show’s popularity by selling blue “Breaking Bad” meth treats – sugar rock candy that looks like the meth sold on the show. And the Great Face & Body shop developed a new line of blue bath salts called Bathing Bad. (For the record they are not the street drug known as bath salts.) Meanwhile, Masks y Mas Mexican folk art store near the University of New Mexico sells papier-mache statues of La Santa Muerte — Mexico’s Death Saint who counts drug traffickers among her devotees. (During the chilling opening of the show’s third season, a pair of cartel assassins is shown crawling to the saint’s shrine in Mexico to request some divine help.) Tourists are also flocking to sites that before the show were unknown and unimportant: the suburban home of White, played by Bryan Cranston; a car wash that’s a front for a money-laundering operation on the series; a rundown motel used frequently for filming; and the real-life burrito joint, Los Pollos Hermanos, which is a fast food chicken restaurant on the show. “It’s raised the visibility of the city,” said Tania Armenta, a vice president for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, which created a website of the show’s most popular places around town to help tourists navigate. But whether it’s a perception tourists might come to equate with, say Ciudad Juarez, remains to be seen. Until then there’s apparently no such thing as bad publicity.

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at the theater: high & the motherf**ker with the hat

Ask anyone who loves the theater and they’ll tell you it’s an addiction that can be hell. Mostly because the defining nature of every addict is a river of denial masquerading as unrepentant optimism:  tomorrow’s musical will be better; the next play promises to be worth the endurance effort. Each season brings with it a flood of false hope – for transcendence, redemption, ekstasis – but it’s springtime that is particularly difficult for theater junkies. The lead-up to June’s Tony Awards brings with it a torrent of last-minute contenders hoping to open just before the cut off date for nominations. (And cash-in on the huzzahs, natch) For an addict that means April and May are all about calibrating lithium dosages to survive the peaks and valleys that come with such an onslaught. Coincidentally, addiction was also the issue of the moment inside the theater last week at a pair of plays that had buzz about them for all the wrong reasons. Matthew Lombardo’s High marked Kathleen Turner’s return to Broadway in the role of a tough-talking nun (and recovering alcoholic) cajoled into saving a young heroin-addled hustler. However the buzz wasn’t about Turner, whose fine performance couldn’t mask the feebleness of Lombardo’s script.  It was about the male full frontal. The junkie and his junk, as it were.  Rare is the play so confident in its ineptitude that it takes to marketing itself with bold-faced warnings of peckers on parade.  The producers of High, perhaps sensing the first-rate turkey on their hands, stooped to such sensationalism, which, alas, was not enough to save it from closing a week after it opened.  Not that anyone asked me but I think another four-letter title could have summed up the entire enterprise more succinctly: Junk. The gossip surrounding Stephen Adly Guirgis’ new comedy was so vicious that junk is what I expected to be jonesing for down the block at the Schoenfeld Theatre.  Proving all the backbiters wrong, however, The Motherf**ker With The Hat turns out to be possibly the most convincing love story since Lolita. Jackie and Veronica (Bobby Cannavale and Elizabeth Rodriquez) have a serious addiction: each other. They’ve been in love since they were kids. But after years of drug and alcohol addiction, Jackie’s finally sobered up and out on parole with the help of AA and a smooth talking Chris Rock as his sponsor. Yet Veronica doesn’t really care about sobering up – when love is pure and true nothing can come between them.  Nothing, that is, except the eponymous motherfucker whose hat Jackie finds in Veronica’s apartment.  What follows is one man’s soul crushing obsession to destroy his destroyer. Painfully thin, you can feel the ache in Bobby Cannavale’s guts as one betrayal begets another and salvation drifts further out of reach. Elizabeth Rodriquez is a house afire as his volatile and emotionally unstable soul mate. And contrary to almost every notice I’ve read, I thought Chris Rock gave an assuredly well-measured and funny performance. But it’s Yul Vaszquez as the health-food pushing cousin Julio that brings this comedy to a higher plane when he lets Jackie in on the secret that finally sets him free: big emotions are not for pinning down.  I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you; it’s always going to be a maelstrom when it’s your heart.

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