Archive for February, 2015

Theater Review – Three Little Pigs

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

I have to admit, it’s a powerful and charming concept. The director decided to use non-actors, people who had nothing to do with the theater at all, and stage the thing in a found space (in this case, a preschool in Queens). Once she had gone that far she went even farther, to her credit, and used 14 *actual four year olds* to stage the show.

But while it’s a charming idea, it didn’t quite work. First of all, there was no consideration for the fact that a show like this would almost certainly sell out, so there was very little room for the audience. I had to actually stand at the back. Secondly, there was no announcement about cell phones or recording, so virtually every single person had their phone out, making a video of the performance. The one saving grace is that they seemed to reach the non-theater audience that we’re always trying to find – very young, very racially diverse (many seemed to speak English as a second language) and deeply, deeply invested in the program. If the off-Broadway community could reach this audience, we would have nothing to worry about.

Apparently, from what I gathered before-hand, the cast was divided up and given theatrical assignments almost at random. Again, a powerful idea, as if the art of theater is really the art of a communal artistic statement made whole by the co-joining of disparate and often random voices. Overall, the idea worked without any of the cast really failing at their assignments.

Well… except perhaps the playwrights. I don’t want to give any spoilers in case there are any out there who *haven’t* read anything about the production and don’t know the source material, but there are a series of Jungian archetypes representing Sloth, Avarice, Charity and Wrath as embodied by three pigs and a wolf. It’s no surprise that pigs are known as “little” and the wolf is both “big” and “bad”, as it’s really the central struggle between Wrath and the other three that forms the spine of the book.

But it gets muddied in this production. There are various salesmen, selling straw and sticks, there are people who tend the fire in the brick house and there was not one but *two* narrators. I suppose the point could be to demonstrate how desperate theater people are for attention, how needy and how important it is to be actually *on stage*. The problem was, even with the tag team of narrators pushing the action, the piece still dragged.

And you could tell that different audience members were more invested in some characters than others. Pulling out their phones to record or photograph only specific characters and then largely sitting mute for the rest. It’s a testimony to the commitment of the director that everyone in the audience seemed to be transported, even when their favorite characters weren’t featured.

Honestly, I found myself suffering from the same problem. There was a young woman at the back – I suppose a girl, actually, as she is four years old – who had my attention the entire time. From what I understand she was in charge of the costumes (which could explain why almost every character was wearing pink) but that didn’t stop her from jumping up and down, smiling and making faces, and almost constantly waving at… well, at *me*, it seemed.

Although I know that the very best actors make you feel like you’re the center of their attention, I couldn’t help but be swept away by this girl’s enthusiasm and obvious joy that I was there, watching the show. And while I hate to dwell too much on appearances, especially with actresses just starting, I have to say – I was utterly captivated by her beauty. There was something about looking at her face, her simple plain joy at being with her friends, being with the audience and particularly knowing that I was there, that made me feel not just that I was in the perfect place at the perfect time in my life, but that it’s entirely possible that the world itself might be improved by the existence of this perfect little person…

That being said, most of the play was deeply boring. And the fact that I had to stand in the back while every single audience member held their phones (and in some cases *actual iPads*) in front of my face was incredibly frustrating. Once the piece was over, the cast mingled with the audience, doling out high-fives and hugs. However, I wasn’t surprised when one of the people there, a dark haired woman who seemed to be deeply invested in a dark haired girl that looked almost exactly like her, said, “It was *cute*?… but it wasn’t *the cutest*”

Unfortunately, this review is coming out just after the run ended. And I’m not sure I can recommend the production for anyone, unless you’re a fan of basically *any* kind of theater. But as I was leaving, I noticed a face in the window, that perfect little blonde girl, still smiling at me and I may be wrong but just before she went back to the dressing room with the rest of the cast, I saw her blow me a kiss. And suddenly, it was the greatest piece of theater I’ve ever seen.

Theater Review- My Dog

Friday, February 6th, 2015

The conceit of this piece may be tough at first, but if you’re willing to go along for the ride we believe it’s ultimately worth the investment.

This piece is done almost totally without dialogue – more on that in a moment – so technically it should be considered more of a ballet and a study of movement than anything else.

The dog, “Hildy”, remains motionless for what seems to be an interminable amount of time. At first, she seems to be a study in chocolate (a “chocolate lab”, if you will) but the longer you watch her, the more she looks like a rolling expanse of deeply fertile ground. Almost like Hills and the audience may be moved to consider her name as an initial clue about what the piece means.

Named after Hildegard Von Bingen, a mystic and polymath of twelfth century Germany, you might at first believe you’re experiencing something both disciplined and expansive – a deep and constant search for knowledge both wordly and supernatural. But then it dawns on you – her name was given to her by her “Owners”. Is it not actually an example of both tone-deaf hubris and pretension? Does it not lessen both The Saint and The Dog to share this name?

As soon as we begin to question these things, the play springs into action. A sound, unheard by the audience, alerts the dog that something is happening outside the theater. And the shift is stunning. This rolling mass of pure relaxation becomes a bristling, guttural spring-coil of alarm. Without moving a muscle, every audience member’s heart begins to race.

It’s astonishing. We know there’s something out there, something we can’t see or hear, something that she is both terrified of and bravely stands in opposition to. And it occurs to each of us – this has been happening to us, to the audience, for some thirty thousand years. There has been one wolf who sits by the fire and, for some reason, warns us that other wolves are approaching and warns them not to come any closer.

When it occurs to us that it’s a neighbor receiving delivery Shwarmania, (and we realize it long before The Dog does), we feel duped and angry – our sympathetic nervous system activated for no reason – and we do what every audience member (now clearly defined as Dog Owner) does. We yell at Hildy shut the hell up.

It’s remarkable how quickly she does, and the next action makes up the third and final state that she delivers to us. Wordlessly, but with what definitely feels like dialogue, she comes up to the audience and simply looks. But we can tell, the wagging tail, the perked up ears, the eyebrows arched, we can tell that all she wants is for us to tell her she’s done well.

And this is the true magic of the piece. When she approaches the audience, we find ourselves scratching her chest and telling her not just that she’s a “Good Dog”, but that she’s the very best dog that has ever been a dog. This pattern is repeated throughout the performance and on occasion, audience members have been reduced to baby talk and the kind of heightened praise usually reserved for perfect spelling tests of young children.

Up to this point, we’ve seen the three acts of the performance. 1) The Dog At Rest, (which may seem to be static but actually contains innumerable shifts and contortions), 2) The Dog On Guard, (a quick, unsettling explosion of activity that unnerves more than the best horror plays) and 3) The Dog Who Begs (which should be annoying, but thanks to the incredible talents of The Dog is actually adorable).

And then we come to the strange payment method for the production. There are no tickets, no seats, no program but at two different times during the 24-hr performance, The Dog comes to the audience with Act Three, and we are compelled to fill her dish with food. Ten minutes after that, we have to walk the dog to the park, let her shit and then pick up her shit with a bag.

(I can see how that might be a deal breaker for other theater goers. Especially in bad weather.)

While technically this is an audience participation piece, you can give as much or as little as you want. We spent most of the performance sitting on our laptop, watching TV, working on grant proposals and new scripts, really almost anything other than watching The Dog.

But this is a good thing. It’s a deeply relaxing and reassuring piece. As opposed to The Cat (playing elsewhere in the neighborhood) the production contains no ambivalence, the character is very simply played and the motivations are crystal clear. The Dog loves you, wants to protect you and every once in a while, wants to be fed and petted. This reviewer enjoys The Dog FAR MORE than The Cat in almost every regard. Other theatergoes are not wrong when they say The Cat is an asshole.

Ultimately, it’s a deeply satisfying production in every possible way. Perhaps the only real downside is the knowledge that it’s a limited run, due to genetics, and when the show closes after a dozen or so years it will simply break your heart into a million pieces.

Diapers and Spirals

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Growing up, in movies and TV shows where Parenting was either mythologized (with moms) or used as character-building shorthand (for dads), I always heard these cliches…

“I mean, I don’t even know how to change a diaper…”

“I want to be there when he takes his first steps…”

“I wonder what her first word will be…”

“I can’t wait to teach them how to ride a bike, how to throw a spiral, to play catch in the yard…”

Now, I don’t know if the world is different significantly now or if none of this was ever true. Or maybe it’s just that I live in New York or have weird kids or… I suppose it’s possible that I’ve just been doing it wrong. But *none* of this has been applicable to having babies for me. Taken one at a time…


There was a time when you had a ripped off sheet of muslin and a hand grab of sheep’s wool to diaper your baby, but that was 800 years ago. For the last four or five generations of Americans, there have been people (often scientists) (YEAH! SCIENTISTS!) who have been cutting out specially shaped pieces of fabric that will fit your baby perfectly.

I don’t care if you’re going single-use-disposable-landfill-clogging diapers or reusable-waterwasting-fecesleaking diapers (I genuinely don’t care, there’s no good solution for getting rid of poop before people are flushing it, so do your thing and *don’t get judgey*), either way, you won’t have any trouble figuring out how they work. They’re idiot proof. And by day eight, you’ll have changed at least 40. Even if you’re an idiot, you’ll know how to do it by week two.

And seriously – if you *don’t*? If you can’t figure out diapers? Here’s what happens. You get covered in poop. Your baby pees right into your face. But guess what! Even if you’re a diaper GENIUS, your baby is gonna shit on you at some point. Not even at some point – at a bunch of points.

It’s summer? You’re gonna be hot. It’s winter? You’re gonna be cold. You’re having a baby? You’re gonna get shat on.


I have a video of my son walking from two weeks before Thanksgiving. He was born in the middle of December, so I have video evidence that he was walking at roughly eleven months. Why, then, do I usually say he was 14 months when he started walking?

Because there are no first steps. He had probably taken steps before that video and he probably didn’t take steps again for two or three weeks after it. That wasn’t the first time he walked, and it didn’t even really count as “walking”. (He didn’t, like, go to the deli and get me a sandwich or anything, so I don’t really count it as “walking” anyway.)

Ugh, it’s the most frustrating thing about having kids. You want it to be a mountain your baby climbs, where she puts a hand up, pulls herself to the top and there she is, at the summit. But that’s not what happens, it’s just this long amble up a hill. You won’t know how far you’ve come until you look back and see how far down the starting point was.

There aren’t first steps, there’s no first word.

What’s really fun, once your kids are out of the toddler phase, is watching videos of them before they could talk and realize they were talking the whole time. You know their voice now, you didn’t then, and you can even make out words and thoughts, you know what songs they’re singing at 13 or 14 months.

People used to think there were first steps and first words. That’s because parents used to put kids in playpens and ignore them for hours, only paying attention when something non-simian happened. It wasn’t until one of the kids clearly said, “make mine a double” that they realized the baby was copying their language.


This will be where most people will say I’m full of shit, but I honestly believe that you can’t teach anyone anything. Not even your kids. You can show them how you do something, you can insist that what you’re showing them is the right way, but it’s up to them to learn it.

You can do a thing 500 times in front of someone, they still won’t know how to do it. Don’t believe me? How many times have you watched your favorite sport? Do you think you can actually play it?

You can even stand next to someone while they do something and re-direct them so they do it right. Sure, that’ll work, but only that one time. You line up a shot in pool, take your time, focus and then hit the ball in… BUT if you don’t go get the ball out of the pocket and line up everything exactly the same way again, you’ll never actually *learn* that shot.

Musicians know this, it’s why we sit and play scales forever, even once we’re good. Why do basketball players still practice their jump shots, even when they’ve made it to the NBA? Because nobody *taught* them a jumpshot, they have to keep *learning it* every single day.

Nobody can teach you anything. It’s up to you to learn it. And if you think you’re gonna spend a lot of time teaching your kids? You aren’t gonna be ready for what parenting actually is. It’s mostly watching them, desperately trying to stop yourself from a) yelling at them to do it how you showed them or b) just yanking whatever-it-is out of their hands and doing it yourself.


One day, your baby will be sitting up. They’ll lose their balance and start to tilt back, but they’ll move their hands forward slightly and not fall back. This will happen a few times.

This will be the most important thing that happens during the first 9 months.

Before this happens, you will spend every single second either holding the baby or sitting within a foot of your kid with your hand at the ready so you can catch their head when they fall backwards. Or the baby will be on his back, about to start bitching. Or on his stomach, about to start bitching. Sitting up, they’re happy. Right up until they fall backwards, hitting that soft monkey-brain hemisphere on the tile and lowering their SATs by 40 points every time they do it.

Once they can sit safely on their own and not brain themselves falling backwards, your radius around the kid moves from zero feet to twelve feet. If she starts crawling towards an extension chord or puts a xanax she found on the floor in her mouth, you can get to her before she’s done any harm.. But finally, after however-many-months, you will have a baby in the room who’s awake, content and sitting on the floor. You’ll stand up, hands on your hips stretching and cracking your back and you’ll notice, for the first time in months, that your upper shelves desperately need dusting.

This will be the first real freedom you’ll feel. The next time you feel this way is when you drop off your youngest at their first full-time day of school. For me, the gap between the first and second glimpses of freedom was from May of 2007 to September of 2014.

That was another thing that I was not ready for.



Monday, February 2nd, 2015

I wasn’t ready for kids. AT ALL. And I was old, I’d been around kids, all my friends were doing this together and I had a ton of support. But MAN… I was not ready.

In a stunning development, absolutely nothing is the same now as it was when we were babies so there’s no point in checking in with our own parents or grandparents. We don’t make baby books, we don’t bronze shoes, we don’t shoot 6 minutes of silent grainy video on a second birthday and later, we don’t make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, let them watch TV for three hours a night and then start worrying about school in seventh grade.

We have different things we’re supposed to worry about now, and in general we have a lot *more* things to worry about. I’ve taken two kids through the first four years, two VERY different kids, and I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about stuff and maybe too much? Maybe not enough? I’m not sure.

I’m gonna spend the next couple of weeks looking at these things – not because they’re interesting to you, my half dozen dear readers – but because I’m about to forget all of it. My oldest is eight and is half way through third grade, so that’s as far as I’m going to go, but I hope to get down as much insight as possible before it’s all gone from my mind.

Because I wasn’t ready before I had kids. But now that I’m in my forties and we’re all done having kids, I’m ready. Maybe if I write some of this stuff down, it’ll ease my frustration about being such a slow learner.