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On the Culture Front: Summer Culture Recap

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There are many good reasons to leave the city in the summer, but the past few months have provided great reasons to stay.

On the music front, Postal Service played a much anticipated reunion concert at the Barclays Center. The acoustics couldn't have been better, elevating the supergroup trio (Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello and Jenny Lewis) to a near magical sound. Songs like, "Such Great Heights," and, "Sleeping In," pulsed through the sold out crowd, and Gibbard joked that the way to build a following is to release a record and then do nothing for 10 years.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band knows a thing or two about longevity with more than half a century on the scene. They exemplify the persevering spirit of New Orleans, and their new album, That's It is no exception. They played an intimate show at the aptly retro McKittrick Hotel on a rainy, sweaty night in July -- a 90-minute blues-driven set drawn mainly from new material including the festive, "Halfway Right, Halfway Wrong," which brought many people to their feet with its driving beat and blazing brass solos. It's all about the brass.

Outside, Comedy Central held a their annual free stand-up show, Stars Under the Stars, Central Park. The evening's highlight: comedian John Mulaney dissecting the idiom, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" as he talked about his upcoming marriage. Possible reasons included, "Because you were never really good at chasing cows in the first place."

On the theater front, there were a number of challenging and beautiful plays including Tennessee Williams' beguiling Two-Character Play, running through September 29. Written almost as a protest against the well-made writing he became known for, this experimental romp follows brother (Brad Dourif) and sister (Amanda Plummer), Felice and Claire, as they journey through the pivotal moments of their past that have shaped who they've become. Truth and fiction are hopelessly intertwined as Williams leaves it to us to figure out what's really happening. It's not easy theater, but it's rewarding.

Equally challenging was The Civilians' site installation, Be the Death of Me, which ran for a brief weekend in June. The show consisted of dozens of stories about death from the perspective of doctors, EMT workers, vampires and mothers: but the order was up to the audience. The cavernous Irondale space was divided into areas on two levels. I was assigned to start in a corner area on the mezzanine but then free to wander. When I ended up at the bar for a drink, an actor appeared and launched into a monologue. The evening exuded a fun unpredictability and the intimacy of never being more than a few feet from the action.

The action in Neil Labute's Reasons to be Happy simmered discreetly under razor-sharp dialogue as conflicting molecules gathered force. The all-star cast featuring Josh Hamilton (Greg), Jenna Fischer (Steph), Leslie Bibb (Carly) and Fred Weller (Kent), handled the subtle beat shifts with aplomb in one of Labute's most fully realized plays (or screenplays) to date. He's moved past the grounding idea of In the Company of Men -- that you can kill a person only once but can hurt them over and over. The characters in Happy don't set out to destroy each other but rather become undone as their dreams collide.

John Guare's wistful new play, 3 Kinds of Exile, made its debut at the Atlantic Theater with Guare himself making his off-Broadway acting debut. The evening was a collection of three one-acts examining the title theme with a philosophical curiosity. The second, "Elizabieta Erased," featured Guare examining his relationship with Polish actress Elzbieta Czyzewska who died in 2010. It's a startlingly personal exploration of the playwright's own guilt and shows Guare at the top of his game posing difficult questions not only to himself but to us.

On the food and drink front, I learned about Chilean Pisco at the speakeasy cocktail bar Bathtub Gin and watched Booker and Dax's Dave Arnold gather his celebrity friends, and a rather large "puff gun," to make crunchy snacks as we downed delicious whiskey cocktails, all to raise money for the upcoming Museum of Food and Drink. I also had the pleasure of attending a Peekskill beer dinner with brewer Jeff O'Neil, at Jimmy's no. 43. I've said before Jimmy's intimate five course beer dinners are one of the city's best-kept secrets, and this was one of their best. It began with a drunken shrimp roll paired with Peekskill's Simple Sour, and other highlights included roasted duck gyoza with their Triple IPA and Korean BBQ pork belly with their Eastern Standard IPA.

To give summer a proper send-off, Jimmy put on his annual Pig Island event on September 7, where a ticket provided unlimited food from an impressive lineup of chefs from Kuma Inn, Palo Santo, Darby, The Good Fork and many others preparing their best dishes using local pigs. Sixpoint poured bottomless glasses of their signature brews, and Park Slope's Fort Reno BBQ made a killer pulled pork sandwich.