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On the Culture Front: A New Generation of New Yorker Cartoonists, No Place to Go, and more

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New Yorker events are always a treat, so when I heard Editor-in-Chief David Remnick was hosting a panel featuring the magazine's younger generation of cartoonists a couple weeks back, It was an easy invite to accept. The evening (pretty short at just over an hour) was made up mostly of each of the four cartoonists (Drew Dernavich, Emily Flake, Farley Katz, and Zachary Kanin) reading a slideshow of panels of their work and talking about what was going through their minds when they drew them. At one point, Katz admitted he had no clue what he was thinking as he sketched a particularly otherworldly drawing at 4am. While each has a distinctive style -- Dernavich leans towards the macabre, Flake dissects the dating world with a razor sharp wit, Katz juxtaposes bold disparate images, and Kanin highlights absurdities in language with exaggerated drawings -- as a whole they represent a move towards a new modern comedic sensibility for the magazine. One I look forward to.

In other things new, I attended the opening of Benares, an Indian restaurant in Midtown, last week. While most of the bites passed around packed a flavor punch, there were a couple notable standouts. Lamb chops sliced thin and served on the bone balanced a meaty game taste with a smooth tenderness and a touch of heat to finish. They seemed to disappear quickly. Freshly fried samosas satisfied my carb craving, but it was the jumbo shrimp, cooked in the dining room and dusted with a variety of spices, that resonated most deeply in my stomach and later in my mind.

There was no shortage of awesome things to eat at the Heritage Radio Network Fundraiser at Santos Wednesday night. Celebrating the 100th episode of Beer Sessions Radio, the event pulled out all the stops serving a "sugar shack pig" cooked by chef Brendan Corr. He roasted the whole pig in maple syrup before pulling it apart and stewing it in large pot. It was so good I went back for seconds -- not nearly as sweet as I thought it would be -- and learned that Corr is unemployed at the moment. A restaurant would be smart to snatch him up now. Other food worth noting included a massive tray of aged cheddar from Jasper Hill. Subtle, smokey, and slightly tangy; it's just about a perfect cheese. I washed it all down with cans of Sixpoint's Bengali Tiger IPA and a whiskey and soda made with Washington Wheat Whiskey. All in all a good evening hosted by Jimmy Carbone, who I should point out runs one of the more interesting brunch menus in the city at his locavore joint, Jimmy's No. 43 in the East Village. The bahn mi sliders made with pork belly and poached egg are particularly awesome.

On the theater front, I saw a few shows this week. Singer/songwriter/playwright Ethan Lipton evokes the pain of being displaced from one's job and world, both literary and metaphorically as his character's job in No Place to Go is being relocated to Mars. Lipton lets the dilemma of whether he's going to go unfold over the course of a dozen old timey songs that fuse jazz, folk, and modern sensibilities together in an easy going and delightful manner. While Lipton brings up many pressing issues regarding unemployment in the country, the show is not a polemic but rather a musing where people can gather over drinks and say to each other, "isn't this absurd?"

I first heard Lipton and his "orchestra" -- Vito Dieterle (saxophone), Eben Levy (guitar), and Ian M. Riggs (bass) -- at Celebrate Brooklyn in 2007. They played a song about a man who left his wife and child and quit his job to run off with a Renaissance fair worker named Rowena. While No Place to Go doesn't have any songs that outrageous, the stories they paint are equally, if more somberly, vivid. Lipton doesn't employ a lot of theatrics, and basically stands in the same place on Joe's Pub's tiny stage for the entire 90 minutes, but his simple and honest delivery magnifies his message.

Tribes, a new play by British writer Nina Raine and directed with an electrifying precision by David Cromer, depicts a different kind of fading family dream. Commissioned and first produced by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in 2010, Tribes peers into the lives of a liberal, upper-middle class family headed by patriarch Christopher (Jeff Perry) and matriarch Beth (Mare Winningham) who (on the surface) get along quite well, sharing meals and spirited discussions with their grown children at home over long meals that stretch into the night.

Scratch that surface, though, and there's an ocean of isolation rooted in an overlooked disability. Their son, Billy (Russell Harvard), was born deaf but learned to read lips instead of sign to fit in with his family. It's not until he meets Sylvia (Susan Pourfar), a girl around his age who's going deaf, that he starts to feel the life that's he's missed until now. As he grows closer to Sylvia, his resentment towards his family builds. In one of the plays most powerful moments, he ferociously signs these frustrations to his parents as Sylvia translates while trying simultaneously to take in what he's saying. Raine builds the story in a classic Milleresque way, which proves immensely satisfying and puts the emphasis on a story of being deaf that we haven't heard before.

Over at New York Theatre Workshop, Denis O'Hare's bringing new life to a very old story, Homer's Iliad. Hare and co-writer Peterson have crafted a script that stays true to Homer's language while contextualizing it in the greater scope of humanity. There's a moment when Hare (he alternates performances with Stephen Spinella) rattles off a list of every war ever fought. It takes a good chunk of time to do and could seem unnecessary at the outset, but it proves on stage to be a strong moment of reflection for the audience as we contemplate the senselessness of war. An underscore by Mark Bennett, performed live by bassist Brian Ellingsen, dances nicely in counterpoint with Hare's passionate delivery of some very difficult words.

Downtown transsexual performer Bianca Leigh uses songs (written by Taylor Mac among others) to great effect in her autobiographical show, Busted, which takes its name from her arrest for prostitution in the '80s while working as a dominatrix. The story she tells is more nuanced than sensational headlines would allow yet she doesn't shy away from comedy even when making larger points about struggles with identity and the misconceptions people have about transsexuals. Ultimately, the show takes a playful tone and scores many laughs that easily carry it through 90 fast-paced minutes. The final performance is this coming Thursday.

Looking ahead, the Metropolitan Opera is opening a new staging of Jules Massenet's Manon, which while far from obscure, is more unfamiliar than the pack of usual suspects. Coming straight from the Royal Opera House, the production is helmed by Laurent Pelly who puts a modern touch on the story by asking why societies have been historically afraid of "free women" who assert themselves. The svelte yet deceptively girlish Anna Netrebko plays the tragic heroine in question and invites intrigue.