On the Culture Front: The Food Film Festival, Old Times, Fool for Love, and More

10/30/2015 03:57 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2016

The heart of a Harold Pinter play beats between the finely crafted lines of dialogue in which characters obscure and contradict their desires. This makes watching one a bit of a verbal puzzle. The words dance together, fiercely syncopated, but their meaning lurks behind in the shadows of memory, doubt and longing. "Old Times," a lesser known one-act, packs a wallop of an emotional punch in 70 searing minutes. The love triangle mindbender is exquisitely brought to life in Douglas Hodge's nuanced and haunting production currently playing at the Roundabout. Hodge's credits include starring opposite the late great playwright in a 1993 production of "No Man's Land." The cast (Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly) has a caged chemistry that exists as much in our imaginations as it does onstage, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke has composed a score so atmospheric that it feels written in a key only the subconscious can hear.

The past looms large in Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love," a play that's as wildly funny and freewheeling as it is heartrending. Daniel Aukin, former artistic director of the intimate and adventurous Soho Rep, directs this MTC Broadway revival like he's in a 70-seat theater. Scenic designer Dane Laffrey walls off all but a tiny sliver of downstage for the claustrophobic and rundown motel room where estranged lovers Eddie (Sam Rockwell) and May (Nina Arianda) rumble through their impossible history. The gravitational pull of attraction is as tangible as the lasso that Rockwell wields onstage.

Sibyl Kempson's "Fondly, Collette Richland" is the kind of down-the-rabbit-hole wild ride that spins reality on its head in search of a greater truth. Directed by Elevator Repair Service John Collins, the play is a departure from the novel adaptations that the company has gained attention for in recent years. It's the kind of show where all the people around you may walk out at intermission, but by the end, you feel wise to have stayed. There's lots of music that flows through its three hours, but "Richland" is hardly a musical. It's a plead against complacency, a sly comment on the artifice of theater and our needs to suspend disbelieve, but ultimately it's a journey. Like any great trip I've been on, the first feeling is a wash of exhilaration. The second is, "did we really just do that?" That's when the memories begin to flood in. "Richland" captures this in spades with scenes that don't follow each other as much as bleed together, eliminating transitions in favor of a stream-of-consciousness fervor that builds with eye-popping momentum. I can't wait to see what Kempson does next.

Cesar Alvarez's "Futurity" in some ways feels like the downtown answer to "Hamilton" - transforming what a musical can be and connecting with an audience that might find the classic Broadway fare tired and out-of-touch. Borne out of a concept album, the music combines the sound of modern folk rock with the expansive and esoteric wonder of glam. The actors and Alvarez's band The Lisps make the Connelly stage feel like a living room, and director Sarah Benson plays the contrasts of an industrial backdrop (a wall of metal resembling a computer's motherboard), civil war soldiers, and a dream to create a machine that will end all war with aplomb. She once told me that the fact that we're all here and not "a gaseous ball flying through the universe" is a crazy thing, and "Futurity" wrestles with a lot of big idea questions without ever feeling pressure to have answers. My favorite song, "Every Egg Broke," opens act two with the absurd premise that the right song upon conception could break "every egg within a hundred miles." That there's a fabric woven between dimensions, seen and unseen, that can be tapped into and harnessed is a beautiful thought even if it can't be proved.

Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minaj has a rapid fire and engaging delivery in his one-man show, "Homecoming King." Originating as a Moth story about a traumatic prom experience, the show walks a line between stand-up and monologue and Minaj walks us through his childhood as an Indian immigrant growing up in California. He taps into the feeling of being the other, an outsider peering in, but what really sets the show apart is his fearlessness, or maybe more accurately, need to not gloss over his regrets. It's particularly moving when he talks about how he treated his sister. While there's some fat around the edges that could be trimmed, the power of the show is undeniable.

I first saw the story of "Therese Raquin" in the disaster that was the musical "Thou Shalt Not." This is something I remembered at intermission in horror. As overblown as that show was, Evan Cabnet's highly stylized production heightens the grotesque and tragic comedy of the doomed, particularly with the help of Gabriel Ebert as the world's most unappealing spouse. Darkness surrounds Beowulf Boritt's imposing and intricately constructed set, and Keira Knightley does an epic amount of pouting as the unhappiest housewife in the world. Helen Edmundson's characters (from Emile Zola's novel) are outsized archetypes existing at the furthest ends of the personality spectrum. What stuck with me the most though was how differently the story might have turned out if divorce was a viable option.

On the cocktail front, one of my favorite bars (The Dead Rabbit) launched their first book a couple weeks ago. A combination of recipes and history, the dark bound manual captures an endless array of drinks that make you think. The Spider uses absinthe as a suggestive ellipses rather than the standard exclamation mark, letting the gin and lemon shine through. Green tea rounds out the flavors and makes this one of the more quaffable concoctions of Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry.

This week the tropical mid-century-tinged escape (think Don Draper on vacation and armed with a time machine), The Happiest Hour, turned one and celebrated with a parade of drinks, including a few new ones for the fall. Belle of the Ball blends mezcal with heat while the Young Grasshopper is like finding your face submerged in a liquefied bowl of Andes mints. Not nearly as sweet as it sounds, this would make a whimsical digestif after The Happiest Burger. A high-class burger with a low-rent soul, it takes a soft bun reminiscent of In-N-Out and fills it with top-notch ingredients like confit onions. The happiest surprise of the evening was a new speakeasy-like addition called Slowly Shirley, which serves moody nightcaps like a mescal doused old fashioned. Accessed from a sliding door adjacent to the basement bathroom, the dimly lit bar with small tables scattered throughout feels like a secret.

The secret might be out at the Food Film Festival. Held this year at AMC on 42nd street, the theater for the Food Porn Party was packed. More filmic amuses than short films, the lineup awakened taste buds I didn't know existed. Watching "Ravioli Perfection," I got excited by the mere cutting of the dough. Then just as the image faded, ravioli appeared in front of me in a tiny bowl. This happened eight times during the screening...and then the ramen was served. It was from Cocolo in Berlin and was delicious. A mixed berry tart from Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus and a chocolate and onion tart from Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side were equally memorable and easier experiences to replicate in the near future.