It seems like only yesterday…. or maybe the day before? What day is it anyway? As one week glides into the next I’ve found that I’m not reading for pleasure as much as I normally do. I started a book some time ago, and find it strange that I can’t get past the mid-point. And I know it’s not the book, it’s me. It’s not that I don’t have the sustained concentration — I seem to have that in plenty when it comes to watching a 10 part murder mystery investigation. Perhaps, in searching for escape from our reality, I lean towards passive engagement (watching) than active avoidance (reading). So instead of reading, I find myself watching theatrical plays and dance performances, and music shows all from my couch — something that I rarely did B.C. (before Coronavirus).
So what do I recommend? I highly recommend the 2014 stage adaptation of Moss Hart’s autobiography “Act One” written and directed by James Lapine starring Tony Shalhoub and featuring a terrific Andrea Martin. It’vs available on YouTube from Lincoln Center at Home — but only until July 3. Moss Hart was a playwright (You Can’t Take It With You) and screenwriter (Gentleman’s Agreement) whose rise from an impoverished immigrant family in The Bronx to a Broadway success is affectionately chronicled in the play.
I continue to enjoy anything from The National Theater online at home (NT Live) also available through YouTube. They release a performance each Thursday for a week. I saw a very good staging of “Streetcar Named Desire” With Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster . This week they are offering the Bridge Theater production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” directed by Nicholas Hytner.
Speaking of the Bard, I seem to be watching more Shakespeare than ever before — perhaps seeking solace in all that is unchanged in human behavior, for better or worse, in the last 500 years. From the National Theater, I saw an incredible “Antony and Cleopatra” with Rafe Fiennes and Sophie Okenebo, and a powerful “Corialanus” with Tom Hiddelston, a good-not-great “Twelfth Night” and the afore-mentioned “Midsummer’s Night” which so far so good. — True confession: one of the joys of watching plays online is you don’t need to see them in one sitting, which suits me just fine. I go for about an hour and then switch to something else and come back the next night or later in the week.
I am a big fan of free but am occasionally tempted to pay for a streaming service. If your passion is Opera, ballet, and Shakespeare, you may be tempted to pay for Marquee TV (subscription is $5 for a week, $9 for a month, and $90 a year with a first year for $62), where you can watch offerings from The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal Opera and Glyndebourne.
What has surprised me, and in this I am late in joining the bandwagon, but I find myself spending more time on YouTube. YouTube is where I access in NT Live, Live From Lincoln Center, Live from Carnegie Hall (where you can find an amazing (and at times almost academic) presentation on the minstrel music by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi), and my latest joy: NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. On The Tiny Desk series I have watched a joyous Alicia Keys, a brilliant Jon Batiste, and an enthralling performance by The Lumineers.
I have also gotten in to the habit of watching ballet late at night (Gummies may or may be involved but a nice glass of bourbon, or scotch or cognac works too). Several years ago, when I first went to a movie theater to see a HD performance of the Bolshoi Ballet performing in Moscow, I thought ballet not well-suited to 2D filmed presentation: Ballets are often about making the incredibly hard and physically demanding seem effortless and elegant, and the leaps and turns which boggle the mind in person seemed less incredible on a screen where we are used to seeing superheroes fly across the sky. But much like the constant improvements to filming live sports (smaller, better digital cameras, that can capture more and better angles combined with improved home TVs (higher resolution delivering more dimensionality and crisper images), the filming of dance performances has greatly improved. Now the camera goes where the eye might with closeups or wide shots as needed.
Beyond the NYCB (New York City Ballet) whose summer program released performances every Tuesday and Friday evening that could be seen for the following 72 Hours, I’ve enjoyed all the dancers who are performing, explaining roles, or leading workouts from the homes or outdoors. There are some incredible Paris Opera Ballet Stars doing small performances. Lincoln Center at Home on YouTube has shown several performances by the Alvin Ailey troupe, including a mind-blowing “Chroma” and the always show-stopping “Revelations.” I’ve also watched performances of the Mark Morris Dance Company, Bill . Jones and Arnie Zane, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham Troupes.
And so, in this strange time, I’ve seen more theater, dance, and more intimate music performances than I would have if there were no quarantine.