01/30/2013 06:10 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

On the Culture Front: Let's Get Old Fashioned

Stepping into the Dead Rabbit, the soon-to-open mid-19th-century-styled bar situated on a lonely stretch of Water Street, is like stepping through a wormhole into the days of Boss Tweed. The bar takes its name from the gang that used to rule over the area though those folks would probably have to take a shower before entering these pristine digs. Rich, dark wood and exposed beams dominate the downstairs taproom while elegantly painted light green panels frame a more formal atmosphere in the upstairs parlor. On both floors, the cocktail list is extensive, divided into countless categories from "Sours and Fizzes" to "Juleps and Smashes." It's a bit intimidating to take in at once, but the friendly bartenders and servers are happy to make recommendations. The "A La Taylor" from the "Communal Punch" menu features a Redbreast 12-year cask strength, while the "Spider" is doused with an ever-drinkable green tea-infused Tanqueray. The spirit list includes an extensive collection of single-malt scotches and bourbons, including several of the hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle varieties. The food menu isn't an afterthought either, with fall-off-the-bone lamb chops, impossibly tender veal meat balls and the classic scotch eggs fried to gooey perfection.

On the theater front, I caught revivals of a couple of my favorite plays from the grand old era of the three-act structure. Sam Gold's staging of Picnic is surprisingly traditional given his tendency to reinvent but nonetheless pleasurable. His cast, led by Maggie Grace (Madge Owens) in her Broadway debut, savor William Inge's grand language and the story of a small-town community struggling to better themselves resonates. Grace strikes a spot-on balance between ingénue and seductress as Madge tries to process her conflicting desires, and Elizabeth Marvel (Rosemary Sydney) strikes a chilling chord of desperation as an unmarried aging schoolteacher who sees her life slipping away from her. The stakes are undoubtedly high as they are in Golden Boy, an early Clifford Odets play recently given a superbly focused revival by Lincoln Center and director Bartlett Sher. On the surface the plays are radically different, but both are rooted in an ever-illusive search for the American dream. In Golden Boy it drives gifted violinist Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numerich) to give up music and step into the ring.

Maggie the Cat (Scarlett Johansson) isn't wearing gloves for her own fight for the American dream in Tennessee Williams' lyrical Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She's married to an alcoholic who can't come to terms with his sexuality yet she still dreams of a white picket-fence future. Johannson can say a lot with a glance or a simple bat of the eyes, and her quieter moments on stage are deeply affecting. Her Southern accent though seems forced and she often shouts when she should be purring. Under the direction of Rob Ashford, Williams' poetically charged dialogue turns into a shrill screaming match. The nuance is lost and though Ciarán Hinds wields some power as big daddy, the magic of the play quickly evaporates into the thick southern air.