Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Trip to Broadway for The Glass Menagerie

Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, Celia Keenan-Bloger and Brian J. Smith make up the cast of the memory play The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. Photos from The Glass Menagerie website.
Last Saturday morning was snowy and grey, and I said to TD, "I would love to go see The Glass Menagerie." I had never before seen Tennessee Williams' masterpiece. The play first came to Broadway in 1945 when Williams was only 34 years old, and established him as a great new American playwright. The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, as the main character, Tom Wingfield, remembers life with his mother and sister and a visit by a gentleman caller in the family's St. Louis apartment long ago. The current production on Broadway at the Booth Theater had garnered great reviews and was soon to close so it had been on my mind as something that I did not want to miss.

At home, we went online to the TKTS website and saw that the play was listed that very day for half price tickets. We quickly got dressed and rushed out the door and took the subway up to Times Square, hoping the tickets would not be sold out. After an anxious wait in the line we reached the ticket window and scored two half price tickets for the matinee performance.

We had a little time to kill so we walked to Angus on West 44th Street, a favorite restaurant in Times Square, for lunch and sat in the bar area where we had a Croque Mademoiselle and a glass of white wine. Suffiently fortified, we headed around the corner to the Booth Theater, which is a great old Broadway Theater, and settled into our cozy, plush seats.

It was indeed a beautiful memory play. The minimal set depicting the family apartment was arranged in pools of black shadows, and the lighting would dim when a character was remembering a story and going back in time. The cast was amazing – including strong, brilliant Cherry Jones as the bossy mother Amanda Wingfield, and Zachary Quinto, previously known to movie goers as Doctor Spock in the Star Trek movies, who was a revelation as the tortured Tom. He delivered a powerful performance in elegant, reserved moves. Of course the real star was the Tennessee Williams language and writing and storytelling – so poetic and lyrical and elegiac. The set and the performances and the writing fused together to create one of those memorable productions that stays with you long after. I was so grateful to see it with my Valentine. 

The play ended, there was a standing ovation, the lights came up, and they opened up the doors at the back of the theater. It was snowing so we bundled up in our big coats and left that dark cocoon of art and memory and went out into the white snow on Broadway.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Elegant 30s at F.I.T.

Last week TD and I attended the opening night party for the new exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology which celebrates the glamorous, luxurious clothes of the 1930s. This show includes both women's and men's fashion, and was co-curated by Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at F.I.T, and G. Bruce Boyer, the menswear writer and editor. You may remember Patricia, who gave us a private tour of Ivy Style about a year ago.
Here is yours truly with Bruce and Patricia at the opening –

Entitled Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s, the show explores fashion between the Great Depression and the impending doom of World War II. The era is renowned for its timeless, refined designs which transcend fashion and could still be worn today. Lodged between the stick-straight, up-and-down flapper styles of the 20s and the exaggerated shapes and over-sized shoulder pads of the 40s, 30s design struck the perfect balance by following and flattering the lines of the body. Lighter fabrics and textiles woven on wider looms enabled manufacturers to drape and shape clothes in graceful new ways. "There is a sense of naturalism," Patricia Mears said to me, noting the lack of corseting or padding. "The construction looks simple but it's very complicated and creates an elegance and sophistication."

Menswear too is displayed with the women's clothes, and shows how the handsome style of the 30s continues to be an influence. "Men's tailoring still today derives from either the English draped model or the Italian deconstructed model of the 30s," said Bruce Boyer.

High-wattage costumes from Hollywood movies also dazzled during the era, and there are some glittering examples on display.

The gallery is decorated with muted, sheer curtains of light chiffon which Patrica said were inspired by the Normandie, the famous 1930s French luxury ocean liner.

This show offers a hushed trip to a more refined time. The 30s hit an ideal which will never go out of style and continues to inspire. Its theme of simple elegance is the very essence of chic style which looks effortless but is in fact rigorously thought out. The exhibit is up until April 19th and admission is free.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Save Our Libraries and Bookstores

The back side of the library from Bryant Park on a summer night at dusk.  

The main branch of the New York Public Library, now called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, is one of my favorite places in the city. I have written about it before on the blog - please go and read all about it here! I also recently attended a lecture at the library on Edith Wharton which you can read about here.
Opened in 1911, it is a beautiful and timeless Beaux Arts building

where anyone can go to read or research or write.

In the monumental Rose Reading room, I love the carved and painted ceiling overhead

and the heavy wood tables and chairs and the elegant bronze reading lamps.

The corridors are lined with marble

and other iconic New York buildings are visible through its lofty windows.

The library really is uplifting and inspirational, like a church.
Across the street is the Mid-Manhattan Library which was founded in 1970 and houses the largest circulating collections of The New York Public Library. I was there recently in the building doing some research, and it is in terrible shape. Inside, it was dirty and shabby with neglect. One floor which used to be filled with shelves of books was practically empty except for tables where it seems homeless people have found a place to sit. I wasn't getting very far with my research and I asked a librarian for help, who apologized saying, "We used to have more books." I asked her about the floor vacated of shelves. She said, "The management likes a 'light and airy look.'" Huh? Less books in the library for a light and airy look? That doesn't make any sense. It's a library. Which by definition requires books.

You see, there is a plan afoot. The Library has already sold off the popular Donnell Library on West 53rd Street in a controversial sale to a real estate developer. Now the Library has proposed a plan to vacate the Mid-Manhattan Library and sell the building to a real estate developer. It also wants to sell the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. These circulating libraries would move into the main Schwarzman building which would be gutted. Its historic seven story book stacks would be demolished and 1.5 million books would be moved to a site in New Jersey. Again, there is that confounding idea of a library with less books. This plan was created through a closed door process with no public input, has been condemned by architecture critics, and will cost New York City taxpayers $150 million.

During Mayor de Blasio's campaign, he promised to halt this plan, though time is now running out. You can learn more about the plan here, and write to Mayor de Blasio here to tell him to stop this plan.

At the same time comes the news that the renowned 109-year-old building that houses the famed Rizzoli bookstore on 57th Street will demolished. (This photo from The New York Times)

The limestone mansion will undoubtedly be replaced by another superluxury supertall residential building, as if New York City needs one more Bloomberg-era billionaire apartment tower stretching its long shadow over Central Park. Please go here to sign a petition to have the Rizzoli building designated a landmark which could save it from demolition.

The cultural life and intellectual life of a city are just as important as real estate development but things have gotten a little out of whack here on the island of Manhattan. It's disturbing for someone who loves books and beautiful things.