THE BLOG
01/29/2014 12:04 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2014

On the Culture Front: Wine Dinner at Famed Beer Bar, Green Porno and More

I've long been writing about the amazing beer diners at Jimmy's no. 43, and it turns out their wine dinners are equally impressive. Last Monday night, chef Annette Tomei prepared a series of inventive and tasty cassoulets which were paired by wines by Blake Johnson's Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Known for being a celebration of carnivorous pleasures, it was a delight to find the vegetarian cassoulet (with roasted butternut squash, brussels sprout leaves and mushrooms) to be one of the highlights of the evening. Another was a perfectly balanced Moscato d'Asti from the De Forville winery that paired seamlessly with a not-too-sweet warm apple tart.

On the theater front, Red Bull's production of Loot is pure ecstasy. Jesse Berger gets Orton's dark farcical tone, and there isn't a false note in his stellar revival. I often wonder, "Why revive this?" when I see so many companies produce the same plays ad nauseam. Berger (like he did with Genet's The Maids) brings a thrillingly modern sensibility to the emotional terrain of the play without changing its core or calling attention to his own cleverness. The cast is universally strong as is the design team. The only question: How to get Red Bull to do more full productions?

There's no forgetting you're at a Jay Scheib directed show as he literally puts himself on stage, moving balletically between the actors, filming close-ups of his actors that are projected in real time on a massive screen above the stage. I've found the results are mixed, sometimes the gadgetry brings a story to vivid life as in "Untitled Mars" and other times it just puts a distance between characters and the audience. I'm happy to report that "Platonov, or the Disinherited" is resoundingly the former. Taking on Chekhov's unfinished first play, Platonov, Scheib transforms its incompleteness into a jagged virtue. Characters wander aimlessly, burning through their lives with endless passion or is it just inertia from a drug-fuelled existential existence? They explode like firecrackers going off prematurely in their boxes. The video aspect allows the actors to run wild on stage without worrying about blocking. The end result is thrilling and signifying Scheib might be onto a new wave of theater.

I was giddy walking into Reid Farrington's Tyson vs. Ali. As a casual boxing fan, the idea of the imagined match-up was appealing, and I was curiously how video could enhance the experience. Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed with the result and felt that the stage fighting sequences (which there were a lot) were zapped of the urgency that keeps you watching a match.

"Beautiful" is a straight-forward jukebox musical detailing the life of Carol King with an astute book by Douglas McGrath that concisely distilling the events of King's early life and entry in the music business with wit and warmth. It's quite satisfying to get a glimpse into the creation of such iconic songs as "One Fine Day" and "On Broadway." Jessie Mueller shines in a star-making performance and her voice thankfully emanates slightly more from Tin Pan Alley than the Great White Way. Those looking for depth may be disappointed, but it's an undeniably fun way to spend a couple hours.

The same can't be said for the Roundabout's challenging, difficult, frustrating and occasionally rewarding revival of Sophie Treadwell's "Machinal." I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. Michael Cumpsty is outstanding as an annoying and possessive husband, so much so that he often overshadows Rebecca Hall whose performance is as weak as her character's will. Central to the play is our ability to empathize with Hall's character, simply titled "Young Woman." The name suggests that Treadwell wants to make a larger point about young women during the 20s but these more substantial ideas fall victim to melodrama.

Outside Mullingar, John Patrick Shanley's new play is so slight as to evaporate into the dreary Irish clouds that hang over the Reilly's and Muldoon's, two families of farmers who struggle to stay afloat and find a shred of happiness somewhere in the midst. There's a lot of potential and a hint in the last scene that there's a great play buried somewhere, but it remains largely offstage.

On the music front, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell infuses a new musical richness into the seminal Bristol Sessions. With Buddy Miller and Carrie Rodriguez on rhythm guitar and fiddle respectively, Frisell opens up the structure of these classic songs like "Where We'll Grow Old" with his ethereal phrasing and warm vocal harmonies from Miller and Rodriquez. The city backdrop, viewed from the Allen Room's massive walls of windows behind the stage, is always impressive and a nice contrast to basement jazz clubs.

I came back the following week and was equally impressed with Vijay Iyer and his trio. Iyer has an impossibly tight rhythmic style that brings anything he plays to life and makes a persuasive case for the continuing relevance of Jazz. Longtime bandmates Marcus Gilmore (Drums) and Stephan Crump (bass) are equally strong, making the word 'backup' seem inaccurate.

On a final indefinable front, the enigmatically energetic and enchanting actress Isabella Rossellini put on a very entertaining and at times moving show about the weird and wonderful sex lives of insects and marine creatures at BAM's Fishman Space. Dressing up in costumes and showing clips from the Sundance series from which the show originated, Rossellini shines a light on the humor of mating but also touches on our profound need for it beyond utility. Green Porno is incredibly cheeky fun but buried slyly in there is a message about those who wish to define acceptable mating practices and the urging for them to stop.