Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sam, I am

Westchester Broadway Theatre presents “Seussical, the Musical” through July 31, based on the stories of Dr. Seuss. With music by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, direction by John Fanelli, musical direction by Michele DeAngelis and choreography by Lexie Frare, “Seussical” stars Augie Abatecola of Mount Kisco, as The Cat in the Hat; Christine Gavin of Ossining as Mayzie LaBird; Brian Krinsky of East Stroudsburg, Pa. as Horton the Elephant; Fatye Francis of White Plains as Wickersham; Mackenzie Larrabee of Ridgefield and Sofia Singer of North Salem alternating as Cindy Lou Who; Lauren Lucksavage of North Massapequa as Gertrude McFuzz; and Matt Stout of Dobbs Ferry as  Yertle the Turtle/ General Ghengis Khan Schmidtz.

Performances are Thursdays (matinee and evening), Saturdays (matinees) and Sundays (matinees  and evenings). Tickets, which include a meal, are $75; $67 for senior citizens; $52 for children ages 16 and under and $45 for Friday evenings, which are show only.  

Reservations:  (914)-592-2222,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Butterflies are free

The Greenburgh Nature Center presents its second annual butterfly exhibit June 18 through September 30. Located in the center’s walk-through greenhouse, the exhibit showcases numerous varieties of native butterflies, such as Monarchs, Painted Ladies and Swallowtails, and their importance in nature.

Visitors will also see their life cycle first-hand, from egg and caterpillar stages to chrysalis and butterfly, and learn how diverse adult butterflies are in shape, size and color.  They’re also active, whether flying freely amid the greenery, fluttering from blossom to blossom in search of nourishing nectar, sipping water from a puddle or resting in a shady spot to cool off.

The center strives to increase public consciousness about nature: Part of the exhibit teaches viewers how they can help conserve or restore butterfly habitats. The show is free with museum admission: $7; $6 for senior citizens and students; $5 for children ages 2-12; free for children under age 2.  723-3470,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Savage Beauty

When I was a student at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, I took an art history course with Philip Gould, a disciple of the great Asian-art expert Sherman Lee. Gould liked to open a semester with a question that has always stymied museum-goers: What exactly is art?

Ultimately, Gould told us, art is whatever the artist says it is, which is both a fitting answer and a copout. But it has led me to think from time to time about what art includes. One thing art definitely does is to create its own world, its own integrity. The characters in Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights,” for instance, aren’t like most people, at least not like anyone I know. But they sustain a certain logic within their own environment. They are true to themselves, and they say something true about human nature.

I was reminded of this as I drank in “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” the knockout tribute to the late fashion designer that creates and sustains a world of macabre theatricality that has been attracting 200,000 visitors a day since it opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan May 4. So popular is the show – the  lines stretch from the entrance of the exhibit down the promenade of the 19th Century European paintings and sculpture galleries all the way to the Islamic wing – that The Met has extended its run through Aug. 7 and has established “Met Mondays With McQueen,” in which eager patrons can purchase timed tickets ($50) to see the exhibit between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on the day that The Met is generally closed. The last time I remember such a phenonmenon was when The Met did its Jackie exhibit in 2001.

“Savage Beauty” is really two shows. One is the exhibit on McQueen’s creations, which meld pleasure and pain, East and West, the theatrical and the everyday, strict construction and the softest, most diaphanous of fabrics. (A Savile Row tailor, McQueen said he learned about softness from Givenchy, where he was once head designer.) The overwhelming impression of ghoulish splendor is supported by the exhibit’s look – smoky, mirrored galleries, dark walls made of textured wood, soft lighting, dolorous baroque music.  It’s “Phantom of the Opera”-tic outrageous, creepy and marvelous. (Most of the time. The video with the Kate Moss hologram, set to the score of “Schindler’s List,” sent my mind reeling back to The Jewish Museum’s idiotic “Mirroring Evil” show, with its Prada death camps and pretend-you-are-Eva Braun installations. Fashion and the Holocaust simply do not mix.)

But that is really the only false note. The  Empire inspirations from McQueen’s “Girl Who Lived In  A Tree Collection” (2008-09) -- with their swaths of fluted white and draped red and gold brocade fabric --are not only stunning, they look wearable. The gold duck-feather coat with its long, cream-colored fluted skirt, part of the “Angels and Demons Collection” he was working on when he died in 2010, is one of several ensembles that evoke Matthew Bourne’s all-male “Swan Lake.” (It also evokes Björk, but then, sometimes the mind does ping like a pinball machine.) And though the tough jacket with the hunky Renaissance St. Sebastian gives off an appropriate homoerotic vibe, the hourglass suits, Lady Gaga jellyfish boots, geisha straitjacket coat, ’60s-style floral-print hot pants and lavender thigh-high boots celebrate woman as muse.

Clearly, lots of people in the packed galleries were there for the fashion. But some were there for the headline value. McQueen committed suicide in Feb. 10, 2011 in his London apartment at age 40. He was succeeded by Sarah Burton, who designed Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge’s triumphant wedding gown. Burton herself was the living star of The Met’s recent Costume Institute gala.

So, then, among the art lovers and fashionistas were the curiosity-seekers, who had to be wondering, Why?
That is the question in this our summer of discontent. Why do brilliantly successful people – all right, we’re talking about men here – self-destruct? McQueen was really coming into his own. The fact that the spot-on Duchess of Cambridge chose the House of McQueen for her wedding dress proves he was the designer of the moment.

So what went wrong? There was talk of drugs, depression and his mother’s death, which seems to have been a catalyst. He was said to be painfully shy. Over lunch at the museum, my friends and I considered a report that he once rode 75 blocks with the engaging actress/fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker – without exchanging a word.

Of course, this leads to explorations of the relationship between madness and creativity, success and unhappiness. In the end, though, what it really comes down to is  the individual’s makeup.
You have to wonder if McQueen had a premonition of what was to come. The last collection he actually presented, “Plato’s Atlantis” (spring 2010), was all about the decomposition of nature. As he observed:
[This collection predicted a future in which] the ice cap would melt . . . the waters would rise and . . . life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Humanity [would] go back to the place from whence it came.”

“Savage Beauty” brings McQueen and us full circle.

Met hours are 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tues-Thurs. and holiday Mon., including July 4; 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri. and Sat. While visiting, I recommend the quiet, contemplative pleasures of “Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century” (through July 4) and the monochromatic minimalism of “Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective” (through Aug. 28), each in its own way a palate-cleansing antidote to the baroque riches of “Savage Beauty.”

Admission is $20;  $15.00 for senior citizens age 65 and over, $10 for students. Children under age 12 accompanied by an adult are admitted free. Express admission may be purchased in advance at For more information, call  (212) 535-7710.

Ahoy, matey!

The  Caramoor International Music Festival sets sail on its  66th annual summer season with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” and a nautically themed gala evening. 

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a 7 p.m. seated dinner provided by Great Performances. At 8:30 p.m., it’s down to the sea – or in this case, the Venetian Theater – for “Pinafore,” with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s under the baton of Caramoor’s Director of Opera Will Crutchfield, and soprano Georgia Jarman, tenor Robert McPherson, baritone Jorell Williams, mezzo-soprano Vanessa Cariddi, and baritones Scott Bearden and Jason Plourde on deck. “As a piece of theater, ‘Pinafore’ is a cheerful satire on the arrival of modernity, bureaucracy and democratic ideals to the Royal Navy of Queen Victoria's era,” Crutchfield said.  “As a piece of music, it is England's version of "bel canto" comic opera, plain and simple. That fact has been obscured by the long history of specialized Gilbert and Sullivan troupes, outside the operatic mainstream.  With this production, I have the opportunity to realize my long-standing desire to present a version that does full justice to the brilliant music and the operatic vocal writing.”

After the performance, gala attendees are invited to the After Dark party, where they can join the “Pinafore” cast for dessert and dancing with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. 

Tickets to the gala are $2,500, $1,250, and $600 and include pre-concert cocktails, dinner and priority seating at the concert and an invitation to the After Dark party.  After Dark-only tickets, which also include the concert, are $250. Suggested attire for the event is “nautical chic”. For gala information and reservations, please contact, or call the Special Events office at (914) 232-1492. 

Tickets for the concert only and for the entire season, which runs through Aug. 10, are available through Caramoor’s Box Office at (914) 232-1252 or at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hello, Dali!

There are more movies to savor with “Surrealist Outdoor Cinema,” which the Katonah Museum of Art is presenting in conjunction with its current “Double Solitaire” show.

On July 14, it’s Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” about a government clerk who ends up in Kafkaesque bureaucratic hell after trying to correct a clerical error. Hailed as both brilliant and wildly uneven, the film does eerily presage the current absurd American work environment.

July 21 finds museum viewers “Spellbound” as psychiatrist Ingrid Bergman tries to figure out whether an amnesiac Gregory Peck is really a murderer. The film, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most stylish works of the 1940s, has a key dream sequence that was designed by Salvador Dali after Giorgio de Chirico reportedly turned down the master of suspense. Also, note the haunting score by Miklos Rózsa, who in the 1950s would score such biblical epics as “Ben-Hur” and “King of Kings.”

Finally, it’s Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (July 28), with Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter’s Queen of Hearts and Mia Wasikowska – so terrific with Michael Fassbender in the recent, deeply felt “Jane Eyre” – as the titular heroine.

The movies have been chosen by film editor Andy Keir (“True Blood,” “Beloved”).

The museum’s Sculpture Garden will open at 8:30pm for picnicking, with all films beginning at 9pm. Each screening is $12 for members and $15 for non-members, and includes complimentary gourmet popcorn.. In the event of rain, movies will be shown the following evening.

The films complement “Double Solitaire: The Surreal Worlds of Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy” (through Sept. 18), for which the museum received an $80,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Sage and Tanguy were married for 15 years until his death in 1955, sharing a studio at their home in Woodbury, Conn., where they spoke only French. She was younger and he more established. But they both knew how to serve and volley artistically, and the exhibit considers the extent to which they influenced each other and went their separate artistic ways. Surely, his “The Hunted Sky” (1951) and her “Tomorrow Is Never” (1955) both chart the quintessentially bleak terrain of Surrealism. But Tanguy’s bulbous mutant figures seem to have more in common with Dali’s while Sage’s blank canvases and empty easels – she brought a lot of geometric shapes to her work – form a city of window-less, people-less skyscrapers.

The Katonah Museum of Art is at 134 Jay Street/Route 22 in Katonah. For more information, please call (914) 232-9555, ext. 0 or visit

Their way

 This month, the Westchester Broadway Theatre salutes a variety of Jersey boys. On June 18, it’s “Simply Sinatra,” starring Steve Lippia. Backed by a band, Lippia recreates Sinatra’s impeccable ease with melody and lyrics alike. Standards include "My Funny Valentine," "Summer Wind," "The Lady Is A Tramp,""That's Life," "Mack The Knife," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and more.

Then on June 25, “Let’s Hang On!” offers a tribute to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, who inspired Broadway’s “Jersey Boys.”  “Let’s Hang On!” features four guys and two gals, backed by a four to seven piece band, performing "Big Girls Don't Cry," “Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," “Walk Like A Man," "Sherry," "Who Loves You," "Rag Doll" and other favorites.

In each case, dinner is at 6:30 p.m., with the show at 8:30. Tickets are $75, plus tax. Westchester Broadway Theatre is at 1 Broadway Plaza in Elmsford. For reservations, call 592-2222 or visit

Bein’ green

Nature lovers might also want to take in ArtsWestchester’s “A Spin on GREEN” (June 17-July 30), which addresses the ever-changing, ever-challenging relationship between man and nature while considering the role art plays in the "Going Green" movement. Showcasing the talent and diversity of the Katonah Museum Artist's Association membership, the exhibit consists of work by 27 artists, who interpret the theme through a variety of media. Pieces of assemblage, photography, sculpture, painting and collage unite in the Arts Exchange Gallery to explore the many shades of green.

ArtsWestchester is at 31 Mamaroneck Ave. 428-4220,

Jacob Burns Film Center celebrates 10th Anniversary

The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville turns 10 this year. But unlike other 10-year-olds, it’s giving presents rather than worrying about getting them.

The Burns already got the festivities rolling in May with “JBFC at Ten,” featuring films from its recurring series of the past decade. June sees the “24 Hour Movie Marathon” (11 p.m. June 18 to 11 p.m. June 19), with a surprise banquet of new films, foreign cinema classics, screwball comedies, music videos, documentaries, animated subjects and works unavailable on DVD or VHS. There’s a prize for everyone who stays for all 24 hours and, not surprisingly, free coffee throughout the night.

July and August offer an array of goodies. The “Sounds of Summer: New Music Documentaries” series opens July 5 with “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune,” which includes a Q&A with director Kenneth Bowser and The New York Times critic Janet Maslin. This series runs through Aug. 10.

The “Party Movies” series (Aug. 12-Sept. 1) includes “The Lady Eve” (Aug. 13 and 15), a screwball comedy with Barbara Stanwyck as a shipboard con artist and Henry Fonda as her romantic mark. “Movies For Kids (and Their Families)” (July 1-Aug. 28) features films like “Against All Flags,” with Errol Flynn buckling all swashes.

Don’t forget that the center is offering all children’s tickets to films in this series, which are screened at noon, for $1 all year long, thanks to series sponsor Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor and Jefferson Valley. In addition, all JBFC members who purchase a ticket for a screening on the first Wednesday of every month in 2011 will receive one free small popcorn at the concession stand.

The center is a nonprofit cultural arts organization dedicated to presenting the best of independent, documentary, and world cinema, promoting 21st-century literacy and making film a vibrant part of the community. Located on a 47,500-square-foot, three-building campus, the JBFC is just 30 miles outside of New York City. Since its opening in 2001, more than one million people have seen  4,500-plus films from some 40 countries. The campus includes the 27,000 square-foot Media Arts Lab – the JBFC’s state-of-the-art education center, a creative and educational community for storytellers in the digital age, offering one-time workshops, intensive courses and weekend programs for children and adults of all ages. 747-5555,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An unmarried woman

On June 11 and 12, The Harvey School Black Box Theatre in Katonah will present “Girl in Blue Armchair,” Susan Courtney’s study of Mary Cassatt, the only American painter invited to exhibit with the French Impressionists.

Cassatt was both part of and apart from her time. Determined to carve a career for herself as an artist and a single woman in an age when upper-class women were wives and mothers, Cassatt was also a dutiful daughter who ran the family home in Paris after her beloved older sister, Lydia, died. (The family moved there from Pennsylvania after Mary decided to make her art in the City of Light.)

She was a fairly conventional painter until 1877 when the painter Edgar Degas invited her to join a new group that called itself Les Independents, the “Impressionists” being a sobriquet that stuck from a critical journalist. With that invitation, her life and her art changed forever.

Cassatt and Degas’ relationship remains the subject of fascinated speculation. Whatever did or did not pass between them – there is no historical evidence that they ever had an affair – they shared a deep bond borne of their total, uncompromising commitment to their art; their proud, stubborn, hypercritical natures; and their Franco-American heritage. (She was an American of French-Huguenot descent; he, the French child of an American mother who had spent some time with her relations in New Orleans.)

Small wonder, then, that Cassatt continues to intrigue writers (including yours truly, the author of “The Essential Mary Cassatt,” published in 1999 by Wonderland Press and distributed by Harry N. Abrams Inc.)
Now we have a play by Susan Courtney, an adjunct professor of theater at Westchester Community College and a Valhalla resident. The title, “Girl in Blue Armchair” is taken from one of those works in which Cassatt, never a mother herself, captures children unsentimentally, in all their sweet, sulky, riveting self-possession. Our own Martha Handler – who writes the “Sass & Class” column for our WAG magazine – caught up with Courtney recently. Here is her interview:

What was it about the painting that inspired the play? Or, was it the
the painter herself?

 “For two years, I taught art at Adam Clayton Powell Junior High School in Harlem. One day while I was looking through a large art book there, I came across a painting of a woman bent over a wash basin where the outline of her back was so beautifully done. It captured an intimate moment in the life of this woman. It was called "La Toilette". I was curious as to who painted this, because for some reason I felt it was painted by a woman. And it was. It was the first painting of Mary Cassatt's that I ever saw (or perhaps I saw her work before but didn't know it was hers). At this point, I decided to look into the life of this woman. I was in awe of that fact that here was this woman from Pennsylvania living in repressive Victorian times, who managed to create a successful career for herself as an artist. In looking at her other work, I found "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair". This painting seemed so liberated to me. The little girl is not in a conventional pose, and it reflects Mary's unconventional side. I found it interesting that Edgar Degas helped her with it and advised her to paint the furniture up on an angle. The blue color in the painting is so striking, and it captures a moment in the life of this little girl.”

What if anything does the play reflect about you?

“I feel that women have a struggle to be artists in our society, and the struggle still exists, many years after Mary Cassatt. But it is easier now. Women have to make choices and the biggest one, of course, is motherhood. We want it both ways: We want to be successful in our careers, and we want to have children and devote time to them. Mary chose not to have children. She said, ‘To be an artist, one must make primary sacrifices.’ I felt this was sad, but it was what she felt she had to do and she accomplished her goal to be a famous painter. I feel my struggle to be an actress while working as a teacher and mother is difficult. But I would never want to have to give up being a mother. Maybe each woman has to find her own time. Now things are easier as my daughter is older (16), and I have more freedom.

How would describe the kind of drama this is?

“This is a two-act play – an historical fiction – that is biographical in nature. It is based on research I have done on Mary Cassatt's life as well as personal interviews I have done with the Cassatt family. One of the current members of the Cassatt family said to me, ‘People still ask me today: Did Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas have an affair? I say, I don't know!’ Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas burned their letters of correspondence which leads us to ask, ‘Why?’"

What do you hope the audience will get from seeing the play?

“I have always loved the art work of the Impressionists. Today, if there is an exhibition of work by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Morisot, or Cassatt, people flock to it and sometimes wait in line to see it. It is said to be one of the most beloved periods in art. I would like people to come away with an experience of what it was like to be an artist at that time and to maybe identify with their struggles. The Impressionists were rebels of their time – kind of like Andy Warhol for our time or the hippies in the ’60s. I would like people to get to know the struggle and the people involved and feel a connection.”

Performances are at 7 p.m. June 11 and 3 p.m. June 12. Tickets are $12; $10 for senior citizens. The Harvey School Black Box Theatre is at 260 Jay St. (off Route 22).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hudson Valley Shakespeare is ready for “Hamlet”

 The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival kicks off its new season with a preview fundraiser at 4:30 p.m. June 11 at Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison. In this, its silver anniversary year, the troupe is taking on “The Comedy of Errors,” the Bard’s ode to that staple of Hollywood comedies and melodramas alike – twins – and the decidedly un-Shakespearean “Around the World in Eighty Days.”
The infinite variety of
the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
– a très modern “The Taming of the Shrew”

But no doubt, the news that will be on everybody’s lips at the benefit is that the company will for the first time be presenting the work that defines every Shakespeare troupe – indeed every theater company and every actor – “Hamlet.”

“A few years ago I might have said we were not ready for ‘Hamlet,’” founding artistic director Terrence O’Brien acknowledges in an interview in the company’s Spring Folio ( “But now I think we really are.”

His cautious nurturing of the troupe and the play speaks to its profound place in the Shakespeare canon. And that in turn speaks to the profundity of Hamlet himself. Literary lion Harold Bloom has called Shakespeare in general and Hamlet – the play and the character in particular – the beginnings of modern consciousness. It’s a theme on which he plays provocative variations in his new “The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life” (Yale University Press), suggesting, for example, that the soliloquizing Hamlet is the forerunner of Milton’s diabolically self-possessed Satan in “Paradise Lost.”

Yet as Bloom has also pointed out in previous works, Hamlet – a man who cannot help but pluck at the heart of his own mystery – is ultimately unknowable, even to himself. In this, he is like the nihilistic Iago in “Othello” and, to a lesser extent, the rakish, Machiavellian Edmund in “King Lear,” Bloom writes. And he shares a bond with the disaffected Brick, hubby to that most desperate of housewives, Maggie, in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Charles E. May posits in “Tennessee Williams: 13 Essays” (University Press of Mississippi ). Just as Brick’s detachment from his wife and the world can’t be put down entirely to his betrayal of buddy Skipper and a perhaps suppressed homosexuality, Hamlet’s weltschmerz can’t be contained in his grief over his kingly father’s murder at the hands of his usurping uncle, Claudius and his mother’s o’er-hasty remarriage to the assassin. Rather, May suggests, Brick’s self-disgust and Hamlet’s melancholy are part of a greater realization that there is something fundamentally damaged about humanity. They’ve peered into the abyss, and though they are still in this human world, they are not likely to embrace its concerns again.

“Hamlet,” then, is what we might call an existential drama, and given that, it’s no surprise that even the most experienced of scholars and actors would be bewitched, bothered and bewildered by it.
“The longer I read, teach, and meditate upon ‘Hamlet,’ the stranger the play becomes to me,”   Bloom, the Sterling professor of the humanities at Yale, writes in “Anatomy.”

Such strangeness can be oddly liberating. The Spring Folio quotes Derek Jacobi – as close to a definitive Hamlet as I ever saw -- as saying: “The play and the part are capable of endless reinvestigation, and that is what makes it so absorbing and so rewarding to perform."

Indeed, there are as many Hamlets as there are actors – and readers.

In a web post ( and her new book “The Long Goodbye: A Memoir” (Riverhead Books), Slate cultural critic Meghan O’Rourke explores how “Hamlet” has enabled her to grieve for the loss of mother to colon cancer at age 55, in part by demonstrating the chasm between the bereaved, who are bound in a bell jar of sorrow, and a world, that however sympathetic, sails blithely on.
“Hamlet” is very much about grief and death. But it is also about dying, which is altogether different. For much of the play, death is an abstraction for Hamlet -- a disapproving ghost, a philosophical problem he can’t quite solve (“To be or not to be”), a mystery that sets him a challenge to which he feels inadequate. It’s only when he encounters the concrete possibility of his own demise at the hands of Claudius during his aborted exile to England that he begins to understand that life and death are two halves of an unanswerable riddle. What matters is how we face them. (“The readiness is all.”)

For all its preoccupation with death, the demanding “Hamlet,” Terry O’Brien says, “should make us all very happy we’re alive.”

The season runs June 14-Sept. 4.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Art op

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, Inkwell, Manhattanville College’s literary journal, is launching its first Inkwell Journal High School Poetry  Scholarship, open to high school seniors  throughout the tri-state area. Award categories include a first prize of $1,000, a second of $500 and a third of $350, along with publication in the journal. Inkwell’s editors will be entertaining original poems, one per submitting student, through June 30. For more information, call  323-7239 or visit