at the theatre: a streetcar named desire

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much from the current revival of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Something about the African-American casting struck me as a trick, a shtick, an effort to cash in on a trend that started with a sub par Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a few seasons back. Plus, there was the luminous spectre of Cate Blanchett – an achingly fragile Blanche in a production of the play that arrived from Australia last season at BAM – still figuring so vividly delicate in my mind. How exciting then to find myself at the Broadhurst Theatre the other night hearing Williams’ play as if for the first time. Led by the inquisitive mind of director Emily Mann, this is not a production that trusts in (or cares for) ghosts. It does, however, believe in the transformative – and destructive – power of desire. Slick with sweat and trapped in a threadbare tenement hothouse, Nicole Ari Parker’s Blanche is no broken butterfly: she’s a carnal animal unable to hold herself in check. Blanche may pretend to be otherwise but Stanley, a virile Blair Underwood, sees her for who she really is – something his wife Stella (the pitch-perfect Daphne Rubin-Vega) cannot bring herself to do. When Stanley succumbs to his own desires, telling Blanche “we’ve had this date from the beginning,” the brutal animalism that follows – here, a graphic scene of anal rap only alluded to in the original stage directions – is a consummation that (finally!) makes sense: there’s a price to be paid for running amok. Consensual desire  – such as that between a husband and wife? – when fulfilled can be transportive – but wantonness is a threat to the social order. That you still feel such powerful empathy for Blanche in the light of her self-destructive concupiscence is a testament to the multi-layered performance of Parker.  Her Blanche is seriously damaged goods – but then again, aren’t we all?

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at the theatre: one arm

Most unproduced scripts remain so for a good reason: they stink. Though on rare occasion a worthwhile or revelatory story falls victim to the passing zeitgeist – or even something as mundane and random as “scheduling difficulties” – coming to light only in an author’s afterlife thanks to the random diggings of an academic or biographer, more often than not the majority of aborted dramas remain squirreled away in the proverbial bottom desk drawer because they’re efforts unworthy of the author who either cannot let go of them for some intimate reasons known only to them or because they have been rightfully forgotten, not because they are misunderstood masterpieces awaiting post-millenial redemption. I’m afraid that One Arm, adapted and directed for the stage by Moises Kaufman for The New Group from an unproduced screenplay by Tennessee Williams, falls firmly in the category of one those bottom drawer curiosities best left undisturbed. Thematically, it’s vintage Williams: regret and redemption in the seedy underbelly of the Vieux Carre; however, this story of a champion boxer who loses one arm only to quickly descend into the lonely world of hustling – and ultimately murder – doesn’t hang together dramatically.  One has to blame Kaufman, who makes a fatal error in creating a god-awful framing device that only serves to keep the audience at arms length. “One Arm, an unproduced screenplay by Tennessee Williams,” intones the narrator/writer at the curtain’s rise.  It sets the audience up to be spectators, disconcerted voyeurs even, but it also shuts us out as participants. About all we can do is ogle the story of Ollie Olson, all-American hustler, as he suffers one moral degradation after another.  What we can’t do is identify – something that’s crucial to making Williams’ heightened lyricism work. On the eve of his execution, a stranger’s visit causes Ollie to realize just how many lives he has touched. Facing down death, the protective shell cracks: his arm may be mangled but Ollie still feels things. His final moments are a desperate grasp at connection with this stranger; a thwarted need to receive love.  It’s the kind of moment any lover of Williams aches to believe – the moment of the metaphor made flesh.  What’s heartbreaking is that in Kaufman’s production it comes off as half-baked. Or rather, er, one-armed.

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heritage, history, & hotels, too

May is National Preservation Month, in case you hadn’t heard. Launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1973 to showcase America’s historic places, Preservation Month celebration events include architectural and historic tours, river cruises and museum visits across the country. It’s also the perfect excuse to overnight at one of the Historic Hotels of America, a collection of quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity and architecture. From the legendary Palace Hotel in the heart of San Francisco, to the iconic Lenox hotel in Boston’s Back Bay, to the luxurious Royal Hawaiian, more than 50 member hotels across the country are offering packages designed to lure you into taking advantage of the social and economic benefits of historic preservation and heritage tourism.  Here are just a few.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia. (pictured above) Heritage Tour Package includes: traditional accommodations for two nights, hotel history tour, tour of the historic district by tram, afternoon tea one day in the Riverview Lounge, and breakfast buffet each morning in the Grand Dining Room. Rates start at $639 for two nights and are available through September 4.

The Lenox, Boston, Massachusetts. One if by Land, Two if by Sea Package includes a custom town-car tour. Guided by a historian, travel through time and visit Boston’s most famous sites – Paul Revere’s home, USS Constitution, Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument, and others. The Lenox and Boston History Experience:  Sit down with Bellman Jimmy Fisher and hear stories – from quirky encounters to brushes with fame – acquired over more than sixty years on the job. Since 1949, Mr. Fisher has stood curbside greeting guests to The Lenox and watching Boston history pass through the hotel’s doors.  Rates starting at $700 for two nights are available through December 30.

Bienville House Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana. Discover Quintessential New Orleans Package includes: deluxe accommodations, admission to the World War II Museum, admission to a cruise on the steamboat S.S. Natchez, admission to The Historic New Orleans Collections, welcome cocktail in the Iris Bar or at Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar, daily Continental breakfast. Rates from $465 for two nights.

The Wort Hotel, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Last and Best of the West Package includes: two nights in a deluxe guestroom, dinner in the famous Silver Dollar Grill, a walking tour of historic downtown Jackson Hole, tickets to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, and a special Wort Hotel gift – the history book Meet Me at The Wort. Rates starting at $500 for two nights are available through September 30.

Omni Bretton Arms Inn, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Preservation Month Package includes: afternoon tea in the Princess Room, guided hotel tour, 20% off retail purchases and spa services of $50 or more, 20% off dining, 20% off the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour. Members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation also receive 10% off their guestroom rate, plus a copy of A Century of Grandeur, the hotel’s coffee table history book. Rates starting at $119 per night are available May 1, 2011, through July 31. Not valid May 27–29, 2011, and July 1–3, 2011. Two-night minimum stay. Subject to tax, and nightly amenity fee.

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, Hawaii. From the moment it opened its doors on a pristine expanse of Waikiki Beach in 1927, The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, has ushered in a new standard of exotic resort travel. A magnet for Hollywood’s elite and distinguished guests from around the globe, its enveloping pink glow reflects both the radiant beauty of Hawaii’s spirit and the essence of indulgent escape. 1927 Package includes a fifth night at just $19.27 when you stay four nights at the normal rate. Rates from $315 per night. Valid through June 30.

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green is good

Since the first celebration of Earth Day in 1970, the travel industry has made enormous strides in greening their practices, from recycling efforts and carbon offsets to rainwater collection systems and green roofs.  With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day coming up this week – April 22nd – green travelers can get rewarded for their efforts with special perks and programs at eco-conscious hotels and resorts around the country.  Here are just a handful.

Kimpton’s new Hotel Palomar Chicago features a green roof, joining a city-wide eco-friendly initiation.  A first for the Kimpton brand, the roof is covered with grass and vegetation to improve air quality, clean and retain rainwater, and add beauty to the urban landscape.  The Hotel Palomar Chicago was built with sustainability in mind, and operates with more than 70 eco-friendly practices as part of Kimpton’s brand-wide EarthCare program.

Located in Santa Fe, a city committed to a greener way of life, Eldorado Hotel & Spa is rewarding green-minded travelers who book “Go Green, Save Your Green” with a 15 percent room discount, complimentary overnight parking for hybrid vehicles and 20 percent savings on organic products at Nidah Spa.  For anyone staying multiple nights, sheets and towels are only changed upon request – another green touch.  Within walking distance to Santa Fe Plaza, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Canyon Road, guests of Eldorado Hotel & Spa can easily explore the city without use of a car.  Plus, the nearby Santa Fe Farmers Market is the largest in the state, with locally grown products from vendors across New Mexico.

The New Orleans Marriott is in the process of implementing a hotel-wide recycling program, the first large hotel in the city to do so.  Partnering with the stars of TLC’s “Trashmen,” the hotel will be able to recycle all paper, plastic and cans using their new recycling center.  At the hotel’s 5 Fifty 5 restaurant, the majority of menu items feature local ingredients such as dairy products from Smith’s Creamery, a family-owned and operated dairy in Louisiana.  For those looking to give back to the environment while in the Big Easy, the property’s Big Easy Spirit to Serve package helps volun-tourists connect with organizations such as Bayou Rebirth which works to restore coastal Louisiana’s wetlands.

St. Petersburg was the first city in Florida to receive the “Green City” distinction by the Florida Green Building Coalition for its renowned environmental initiatives.  During the month of April, guests staying at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club, a historic hotel celebrating its 85th anniversary, will receive free parking for hybrid vehicles and complimentary bike rentals to explore the city’s 50 miles of bicycle trails.  The Resort’s Vinoy Day Spa also offers organic treatments such as the Rejuvenating Eye Treatment using HollyBeth’s all-natural products.

Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort will be offering complimentary eco-education for kids and families April 10-24.  The Tiki Tribe kids’ club attendants will host a daily free 30-60 minute activity focused on unique aspects of Marco Island’s native eco-system, like Dolphin Mondays and Sea Turtle Tuesdays.  For instance: When sea turtles lay eggs – up to 100 at a time – the air temperature determines whether the turtles are male or female.  Within the nest, all eggs will hatch either male or female.  The majority of the Earth Day program will take place on the beach so that participants will be surrounded by the local environment as they learn.

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bucket list: 2009 edition – February

FEBRUARY

filbert steps

SAN FRANCISCO:  Following almost twenty years of idle threats, I finally made good on a promise to visit an old college chum and her husband over an epoch-defining birthday weekend.  As a bonus, another dear friend recently moved up to the Bay area from Southern California and we got to reconnect as well.  As a double-bonus, a third good friend happened to randomly be in town that same weekend.  The fortuitous end to an already momentous weekend was a dishy dinner overlooking a Pacific sunset with yet another friend,  the restaurant critic for San Francisco magazine.

NOLA ball

NEW ORLEANS:  If you haven’t been to Nola for Mardi Gras, what are you waiting for?  Under the guise of work, my best friend and I hit the Big Easy for four days of debauchery, capped by the Krewe of Orpheus Ball.  This was my second trip post-Katrina, and although is was difficult to see how much of the city has been left to wither, it was equally inspiring to bear witness to a persistent spirit that continues to loudly sing “We Shall not Be Moved.”

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