THE BLOG
12/17/2013 12:42 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2014

On the Culture Front: Marina Abramovic, an Evening With Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, Ibsen Reimagined and More

Amanda Palmer is one of the most dramatically energetic and exciting performers around. I first saw her at a Dresden Dolls concert where she rang in the new year with cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right." Her Town Hall show a few weeks back with her husband Neil Gaiman was decidedly more low-key. The couple opened with a sly duet of "Makin' Whoopee," followed with Gaiman and Palmer taking turns reading stories and playing songs. There was even a Q&A where they answered pre-written questions from the audience. It was the closest thing to having a living room concert though I wished Palmer would have played some songs from her Dolls days. "Shores of California" in particular.

The Head and the Heart had no problem giving the crowd what they wanted when they walked on stage at Webster Hall earlier this month with a more self-assured gait and a long musical intro. The 90-minute set split time pretty equally between their self-titled debut and their almost-as-impressive-follow-up Let's Be Still. There's an honesty about the band that comes out effortlessly in their songs, giving the concert a cathartic experience.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about TR Warszawa's missfire adaptation of Nosferatu at BAM. The usually excellent company (images from their production of Krum are still burned in my mind) fails to convey the passion of this classic vampire tale. Better was another Next Wave offering, the Schaubuhne's chilling production of An Enemy of the People helmed by Thomas Ostermeier. Set in a dystopian hipster hell, it's a vivid portrait of how easily fascism can insinuate itself in a society not unlike ours. There's a section in the middle that opens the play up to a political discourse among the audience. This diminishes Ibsen's act climax though it's hard to argue much with a play so alive. It's the kind of show you could talk about for days.

This is also true of Sean Mathias' astute revival of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land. Unlike Waiting for Godot (playing in repertory at the Cort theater) which is too cute for its own good, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen play perfectly off each other in an eerie world of faded dreams and blurred memories where it's better to close the curtains than see the sun disappear into the ever thickening clouds.

Death is all about in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, starring a superb Jefferson Mays as many members of the D'Ysquith who are being knocked off at an ever-increasing rate as an estranged relative (Monty Navarro played by promising up-and-comer Bryce Pinkham) vies to be the sole heir to the family fortune. It's like Macbeth meets Monty Python except it all feels too derivative. The music while tuneful is ultimately forgettable in the way Sondheimesque new scores are. Technically its well-made but missing the heart of originality.

There's no one quite as original as Marina Abramovic, an artist who defies categorization and pushes the limits of what art can be and what the audience and performer can both endure. I saw her speak at the New Yorker Festival and was captured by her radiance. She began the talk with a a simple breathing exercise that done by someone else could seem mundane but her delivery was utterly calm yet vitally alive at the same time. During the talk she confessed that when she dies she wants her funeral to take place in different cities across the world so no one knows where her body will actually lie. For the next week, she will be performing in a theater/opera piece conceived by Robert Wilson and titled The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic. It traces her life and work from her childhood in former Yugoslavia and stars Willem Dafoe and musician Antony opposite the enigmatic artist.

On the food front, there are a couple places worth mentioning. Apt. 13, tucked away in a nondescript building on Avenue C is making top-notch punches that go down dangerously smooth Don't miss the Millenium punch made with Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP Cognac and Dales pimento bitters. Also of note is Hector Sanz' Mediterranean joint Melibea that fuses Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Morroccan and Turkish cuisine into deliciousness like banyuls glazed fois gras terrine, open-faced ravioli with crab meat and shrimp and a standout tajine of veal cheek.