New York City Theater

On the second day of my weekend trip to New York City I saw two plays. My interest in the theater is growing more intense and New York City is a major source of inspiration. The major goal of this trip was to see “The Humans” at the Roundabout Theatre Company. “The Humans” was written by a playwright who grew up in Scranton, Stephen Karam. In fact, both Scranton and Danville are mentioned in the play. I knew that because I read the script I bought on my previous trip.

I started my day with breakfast at the Theatre Row Diner. I knew this place was inexpensive and it is obviously associated with the theater. It is located near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I ordered two scrambled eggs with sausage, wheat toast, and fried potatoes. This meal cost me less than $10.00 which is pretty cheap for New York City. I had to return to my hotel to clean my teeth because unfortunately I sometimes get a lot of food particles caught between two molars which can be painful. For this reason I always bring a floss brush with me.

After that annoying diversion I got to work on a major photography mission. I had a long list of establishments to photograph for my notes. This might not seem a worthwhile activity but I did find my custom travel guide extremely useful on this trip and I visit New York City often enough to justify this major project. During the course of creating my notes I often come across many interesting details about the city. For example, the first establishment I located was the Ensemble Studio Theatre which was actually not far from my hotel. This theater has a reputation for developing new plays. Next I found the Irish Arts Center which will be moving into a new building in the near future. Some places I photographed just for the hell of it, like Tout Va Bien, the French restaurant I ate at on a previous trip. I proceeded to Circle In The Square, a theater which is hidden away in the Paramount Plaza building. Some of the high rise buildings on Broadway actually have theaters within the building. It is very easy to overlook these theaters since there is no exterior evidence of their existence except for some signs. I also located the New York City Center which is a Moorish Revival theater located farther uptown than I usually go. I then found two public sculptures, Robert Indiana’s LOVE and HOPE sculptures. I wasn’t sure if there were actually two different sculptures but I did manage to find them both. I also came across many other interesting things to photograph since I was in an unfamiliar section of the city but I will have to identify what I saw later.

Once I had found everything on my list, I wanted to head on down to Greenwich Village to locate the Off-Off-Broadway theater I was going to in the evening. I also had a list of other establishments to photograph in Greenwich Village. I took the 1 train from the 50th Street Station to 14th Street where I had to transfer to the 2 train to reach Christopher Street. Once I was on Christopher Street I managed to find my way to Waverly Place and located the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. This theater is very nondescript so it is hard to tell if you are at the right place. Basically it is just a red door with the word “Theater” over the door. A small message board is the only clue that this is the right place and it only read “Rattlestick”. So I took a photo of the door and then went off to locate more theaters in the area. I found the Lucille Lortel Theater and the Barrow Street Theatre.

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

I then walked towards Washington Park and managed to find John Barrymore’s apartment building. I’m going to be reading a biography of the Barrymores so I thought it would be cool to at least stand outside the legendary John Barrymore’s apartment building. This site was also made famous by the Paul Rudnick play “I Hate Hamlet”. He was inspired to write that play while living here and learning of the apartment’s association with John Barrymore. Playwrights are obsessed with John Barrymore’s ghost. Another play I’ve seen and read was Jason Miller’s “Barrymore’s Ghost”.

I then proceeded to Washington Park which was just down the street. I took lots of photos of the Washington Arch. There was a man playing the piano in front of the Washington Arch so I took lots of photos of him since he could not stop playing to beg for payment. I left the park to take a decent photo of The Players Theatre on MacDougal Street since they are constantly sending me spam. Along the way I saw the Provincetown Playhouse and Caffe Reggio. I did want to do some shopping in Greenwich Village but the stores I wanted to visit did not open until 11:00 a.m. so I had to wander around a bit until then. Eventually I decided to stop in at Caffe Reggio for a coffee since it was ridiculous to just photograph establishments without actually entering any of them. I ordered a cannoli and a cappuccino with whipped cream. The cannoli was good but it proved to be pretty messy to eat. I was glad I checked this place out because the decor was very unusual and bohemian.

After hanging out around Christopher Park and Sheridan Square for awhile, 11:00 a.m. finally rolled around so I went to Three Lives & Company, a nearby bookstore. I was undecided about which book to buy but eventually I settled for The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow since I’m going to explore Chicago some day. I then went to Bleecker Street Records where I bought a DVD, the Ramones Musicladen. This was a PAL DVD but I did not realize that until much later. Although it was only 12:15 p.m. by then, I took a 3 train uptown to ensure that I would be in the Times Square area by 2:00 p.m. I remember that the 3 train was extremely crowded and I was unable to hold onto anything so only the press of other people kept me on my feet. I got off at 42nd Street because the 3 train does not stop at the 50th Street Station. During the long walk to my hotel I took lots of photos of establishments in Hell’s Kitchen to add to my collection.

I dropped my purchases off at the hotel and then walked along West 49th Street towards Broadway. I came across a Susquehanna Trailways bus parked along West 49th Street. I bet that bus was doing a New York City tour which I could not go on because it was all booked up. I located the Laura Pels Theatre in order to take some photos but I was too early so I wandered around Times Square to take more photos of various Broadway theaters. I never get tired of wasting time that way! I should mention that I saw some heavily armed NYPD soldiers guarding Times Square due to the recent terrorist threats. One thing that I came across that particularly amused me was a sign that read “Super Natural Visions $10”. This must have been for psychic readings. I’m very familiar with supernatural visions but I don’t believe in psychics. An extreme form of creativity can seem supernatural if you manage to reach the deepest part of the psyche where you encounter that which is unfamiliar to the conscious mind. So it seemed very ironic to advertise this on Broadway.

Laura Pels Theatre

Laura Pels Theatre

At 2:00 p.m. it was finally time for the major goal of my trip, seeing the play “The Humans” by Stephen Karam. This show came to my attention because even the brief description mentions Pennsylvania. After learning that the playwright was originally from Scranton I became even more interested. Stephen Karam was apparently involved with the Scranton Public Theatre before moving on to bigger things. Eventually he moved to New York City and became a fairly successful playwright. It is great to find someone from the region living the dream! I’ve read in The Hollywood Reporter that this play will migrate to Broadway. Getting a play on Broadway is every playwright’s dream. It is exceedingly unlikely to ever happen so this is like winning the state lottery. I am really jealous, but it is encouraging in a way to see someone achieve this.

I have to admit that the title is not specific enough. What play isn’t about the humans? But I loved this play since it is the sort of subtle tragedy I prefer. By subtle tragedy I mean that you are not overwhelmed by the tragedy, but it is present to the same degree that tragedy is present in real life. People deal with tragedy without getting too emotional about it, even if they do feel deep grief in private. One of the things I love about theater is that it gives a voice to this silent grief and allows some eloquent expression of grief. Much of the tragedy in this play is very familiar; illness, losing a job, dementia, and economic hardship.

Both Scranton and Danville are mentioned during the course of the play. This alone is enough to thrill me since I have been exploring both of those cities. Danville is much closer to Williamsport and is considered to be within the area. As a matter of fact, I was driven through Danville by the Susquehanna Trailways bus on the way to New York City although we did not stop to pick anybody up there. Scranton is served by Martz Trailways which runs many buses to New York City. Of course, I wouldn’t like a play just for mentioning some familiar places. I would like this play without that.

The stage set was designed to represent a duplex apartment so there were two floors. This sort of thing would be hard to reproduce in community theater. I was a bit shocked by the unprotected edge of the upper floor since an actor could easily walk off the stage and fall to the lower stage. I half expected the character in the wheelchair suffering from dementia to start rolling towards the edge of the stage. It would have been horrifying to see her crash onto the stage below!

The play was your basic kitchen sink drama. There is a lot of criticism of this form of social realism but I don’t think such criticism is justified. You can’t very well write about royalty these days. Nobody could relate to the court intrigues of kings and queens. I suppose you could treat celebrities as royalty but writing plays about their lives would seem like tabloid exploitation. Elevating the tragedy of the common man is the only option. I’m inclined to view the failed artist as a tragic figure but this can seem self-centered.

I think I heard some people in the audience speaking Russian and this surprised me because the language barrier should prevent you from enjoying a play unless you are fairly proficient in the language.

At the end of the play, a few actors remained on stage and asked for donations to the Broadway Cares charity. I forgot to mention that the Laura Pels Theatre is below street level. After the show I was ready for diner. I was going to eat at Zuni’s in Hell’s Kitchen but I discovered that this restaurant had closed permanently. Instead I had to backtrack to Restaurant Row on West 46th Street where I decided to try the Brazil Brazil Restaurant. I ordered the Camarão no Coco, sautéed shrimps with mushrooms and herbs, coconut milk served in a fresh coconut shell, sautéed broccoli and rice. I also ordered a drink, a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. I can’t find the actual name of the drink online but it was something like Limonada de Janeiro. This meal was very expensive, $55.00 with the tip, but at least the food was pretty good. I just hate paying a lot for a crappy meal.

Brazil Restaurant

Brazil Restaurant

I returned to my hotel to drop off the theater program, i.e. Playbill, and left at 5:45 p.m. to reach Greenwich Village for the final goal of my trip, a play at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at 8:00 p.m. The first thing I did in Greenwich Village was to retrace my steps to the Three Lives & Company bookstore where I bought a copy of “The Village” by John Strausbaugh. This book is a history of bohemians in Greenwich Village so what better place to buy it than in Greenwich Village itself? I saw this book on my previous visit to the book store earlier in the day and regretted not buying it. I then had to wait in a park for a long time for the show to begin. Fortunately it was chilly but not real cold. I played solitaire on my smartphone.

The play I saw at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater was The Bachelors by Caroline V. McGraw. This show wasn’t actually produced by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. It was a production of Lesser America, a theater company which must have rented this theater. Everyone in the theater seemed to be in the line for the bathrooms and the show started 10 minutes late. This play had a lot of physical action with liquids being drunk and spewed back out. I was sitting in the front row so this was a bit alarming. The audience was mostly young people but there were two gentlemen sitting behind me speaking in such a thick Southern redneck accent that I thought it was a joke at first. They were sort of comical talking about trying to get into Bubba Shrimp after the show.

The play was about three bachelors and their sorry love lives. I’m not sure why a female playwright would write a play on bachelors since she could hardly sympathize with such characters. The behavior of each bachelor did seem slightly strange and overly forlorn. One bachelor had his girlfriend break up with him after she discovered she had cancer. She wanted to experience life to the fullest during the time she had left to her. Another bachelor was fired after touching a stripper on a business trip. And the last bachelor had a naked girl in the attic but unfortunately she did not appear in the play. The play ends with a door mysteriously opening like an invitation to life’s party. At least that was my interpretation. I thought it was a very abrupt ending and it caught me by surprise. A door opens. Oh, that is the end of the play? But I did enjoy the play. It seemed like something that talented college students would create to celebrate their lifestyle.

I took the 3 train back uptown again but instead of walking back to the Christopher Street Station I walked to the closer 14th Street Station to avoid making a transfer. I still had to get off at the 42nd Street / Times Square station. I walked though Times Square again before heading into the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.

That was the end of my successful trip but there are a few details about my departure which I need to record. Finding my way to Gate 2 in the Port Authority Bus Terminal was a little difficult. There was a kiosk like a giant touch pad that provided directions. I had to go down one level and then go down a concourse to reach the stairs to go down another level. Going down two escalators took me to Greyhound Gates 60 to 85 so that was a mistake. There are several Hudson News convenience stores in the Port Authority Bus Terminal where you can buy overpriced snacks and drinks. I bought a bag of pretzels and a candy bar for breakfast plus a bottle of orange juice and a Sprite. I must have spent $10 for all of that! I should bring my own snacks in my luggage on future trips. I did bring two bottles of orange juice and a bottle of Sparkling Ice to ensure I had something to drink. My hotel room had a small refrigerator which was empty so I was able to keep them cool in that.

In conclusion, this trip was a big success. I learned how to make a more extensive trip to New York City without spending too much money. It would still be more economical to make day trips using Susquehanna Trailways tours. Also I rarely have an extended weekend to make the trip worthwhile.

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