OHNY: Brooklyn Lyceum

October 4, 2008

Today, this structure, which is almost entirely hidden by scaffolding, contains an enterprise known as the Brooklyn Lyceum. Located at the corner of 4th and President Streets, it offers patrons an unusual mixture of dining and entertainment, including a small cafe with Internet access, live music, dance and theater performances, open-mike nights, film screenings and “an occasional restaurant.”

But once upon a time, this building was New York City Public Bathhouse #7. When the bathhouse opened in 1908, many homes in the city lacked adequate indoor plumbing. Back then, residents of an entire tenement building would share a single backyard outhouse, mothers bathed their babies in washtubs, and children squatted in filthy, flooded gutters to cool off during the sweltering summer months. Vermin and disease, including cholera and typhoid epidemics, ravaged the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

New York’s municipal bathhouses were part of a public health effort to improve conditions for the poor, and provided the city’s most crowded quarters with much-needed sanitary facilities. The first such structure, the Baruch Bathhouse, opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1901. As they went up, the bathhouses became larger and more elaborate, some of them modeled on ancient Roman baths.

This building, #7, designed by Raymond F. Almirall, was the largest and the last bathhouse constructed. For three decades, it gave the 150,000 residents of this area, then known as South Brooklyn’s “Little Italy,” access to extensive, sparkling-clean bathing and dressing facilites, two gyms and a swimming pool. The city finally closed the bathhouse in 1937.

After a renovation effort during which the swimming pool was filled in and half the showers eliminated, the bathhouse reopened in 1942 as a city-run gymnasium. Closed once again in the early seventies, it was sold to a local businessman who used it as a warehouse for his nearby transmission repair business.

When he moved his business away, the building went through several more owners, none of whom used it. The former bathhouse stood unused and unmaintained for decades. Leaks were unrepaired, broken window panes unreplaced, holes opened in the roof and stonework chipped off. Eventually, the empty structure was vandalized and stripped of all of the original decorative elements. Even the tiles, pipes, water fountains and plasterwork were carried off or destroyed while the building crumbled.

In the late 1980s, the bathhouse reverted to city ownership and a local community group, which leased it for $1.00 a year, briefly used it as a recreation center before it closed again. By the early 1990s, the bathhouse was considered a neighborhood blight, and there were cries for it to be demolished. Instead, in 1994, the city held an auction where it was purchased by Eric Richmond, who had long wished for a theater space of his own.

Today, as part of Open House New York, Richmond greeted visitors, explained the history of the building and escorted them on a short tour of the space. He explained that not only are the original decorative elements gone, the city lost the original drawings and he has been unable to locate any photographs of the original interior. As visitors gazed at the bare brick walls and looked at the dance troupe rehearsing in the basement, music boomed from above, where the top floor had been rented out for a bar mitzvah party.

A bar mitzvah in a bathhouse? Only in Brooklyn.

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The view from the street

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One of the last original elements: the name

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The doorway

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Inside the cafe

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View from cafe to basement theater

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Basement performance space

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Basement restroom

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A peek at the bar mitzvah

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The owner

Brooklyn Lyceum
All About Jazz: Brooklyn Lyceum
The Brooklyn Paper: Lyceum Site Under Construction
Forgotten NY: A Lost Opportunity
NYC: Asser Levy Recreation Center
The Villager: Don’t Let LaGuardia Bathhouse Go Down the Drain


A Trip at the Whitney Museum

September 14, 2007

All summer long, I heard about the Summer of Love exhibit at the Whitney Museum.

Four decades after hippies gathered at a “Human-Be-In” in Golden Gate Park, the Grateful Dead released their first album and LSD was outlawed in the US, the Whitney Museum of American Art revisited this period of psychedellia, flower power and civil unrest, examined the creative and cultural explosion that took place in San Francisco, New York and London, and put it all into an historic context.

All summer long, I met former hippies and wannabees who assured me that the exhibit was “far-out, man,” and an authentic representation of their drug-soaked youth (at least, as far as they could remember).

And all summer long, I thought I’d eventually get around to making a trip to the Madison Avenue and seeing the show. Then, suddenly, I realized that this was the closing weekend.

I ran to the Whitney and spent the evening in psychedellic bliss, gazing at the intricately-drawn concert posters, watching the light shows, viewing “mind-blowing” experimental films, wearing goggles intended to create distorted visions, crawling through brightly-colored, sculpted environments, blinking at the strobe lights and spinning metal circles and listening to Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.

Listening? Yes, this is the first major museum show I’ve seen where the audiotour included a complete soundtrack, with songs tied to most of the major works. For example, stand in front of the case full of underground magazines, push the number posted on the wall and you’d listen to Bob Dylan singing Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship / My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip / My toes too numb to step / Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin‘.

The program’s musical selections included:

* The 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
* The Beatles – All You Need Is Love
* The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
* The Beatles – Revolution No. 9
* Big Brother &Amp; The Holding Company: Piece Of My Heart
* Eric Burdon – San Franciscan Nights
* Butterfield Blues Band – East-West
* The Byrds – So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
* The Charlatans – Baby Won’t You Tell Me
* Chicago – Someday
* Country Joe & the Fish – Acid Commercial
* Country Joe & the Fish – Bass Strings
* Cream – Crossroads
* Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young – Ohio
* The Doors – Break On Through
* Bob Dylan – Mr. Tamourine Man
* Fleur Des Lys – Circles
* The Fugs – Kill For Peace
* Allen Ginsberg – Tonight Let’s All Make Love In London
* Grateful Dead – I Know You Rider
* Great Society – Somebody To Love
* Hapshash And The Coloured Coat – H-O-P-P Why
* Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (Live)
* Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady
* Iron Butterfly – In A Gadda Da Vida
* Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
* Jefferson Airplane – Won’t You Try Saturday Afternoon
* Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
* Janis Joplin – Raise Your Hand
* Moby Grape – Dark Magic
* David Peel – I Like Marijuana
* Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive
* Purple Gang – Granny Takes A Trip
* Quicksilver Messenger Service – Mona
* The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
* The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
* Santana – Samba Pa Ti
* Santana – Soul Sacrifice
* The Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs
* The Velvet Underground – What Goes On
* Frank Zappa & Mothers Of Invention – Willie The Pimp

I descended to the Museum’s lower level to catch a glimpse of one psychedellic masterpiece that didn’t fit into the main galleries: Janis Joplin’s painted Porsche, exhibited on the museum’s patio. As I passed through the gift shop to reach it, I happened upon workers busily setting up seats for a one-time-only performance of Hotel Cassiopeia: The Backstory.

Part of the museum’s “Whitney Live” series, the show, hosted by Anne Bogart and playwright Charles Mee, was based upon the life of artist Joseph Cornell. It included an excerpt from the play Hotel Cassiopeia and presentations by filmmaker Jeanne Liotta and Cornell’s former assistant, sculptor Harry Roseman.

I joined the audience for what proved to be the perfect end to the evening: as part of a small, curious company tucked away below Manhattan’s busy streets and engrossed in an hour of art, film, music, magic and love.

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Summer of Love brochure

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Men in dark gallery watching light show

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Janis Joplin’s Porsche (rear view)

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Janis Joplin’s Porsche (front view)

Whitney Museum
Whitney Museum: Summer of Love
Timothy Leary
Poets: Allen Ginsberg
Charles Mee
Brooklyn Academy of Music: Hotel Cassiopeia
Joseph Cornell
Jeanne Liotta
Vassar: Harry Roseman


A Midsummer Day’s Mess, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

August 8, 2007

Early today, while most of the city was still asleep, Brooklyn was hit by a tornado.

The storm was the most powerful to strike the borough since the National Weather Service began keeping reliable records. With wind speeds reaching 135 mph, the tornado tore through Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, downing power lines, ripping up trees, shattering windows, tearing roofs from buildings and crushing trucks and cars.

The storm dumped three inches of rain on the city in just about an hour, overwhelming the sewer system, flooding streets, tunnels and subways and disabling the subways, trains and busses.

As hundreds of thousands of people tried to go to work, a spokesman for the Transit Authority, interviewed on a local television station, said, “The entire subway system is virtually shut down. If you can stay home, do it.” Unfortunately, the people who most needed to hear that messsage were already en route. Outraged commuters were stranded, the transit authority’s Web site crashed and chaos ensued.

Fortunately, the worst of the tornado’s ferocity bypassed my neighborhood and by the end of the day, most of the city’s transportation system was running with limited service. It was definitely time for something light and entertaining.

==============

Shakespeare in the Park is a longstanding, beloved tradition in New York City. More than 50 years ago, Joseph Papp (who was subsequently accused of un-American activities), began to stage free productions of Shakespeare’s plays in at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.

Today, the shows are still free, but entrance to the famed open-air theater comes at a price.

Approximately 1,500 seats are available for each performance. Tickets are distributed on the day of the show on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to two per person. It is not unusual for people to camp out in the park overnight in order to obtain a pair, a feat that has been described by the New York Times as an “endurance test” requiring determination, patience and fortitude.

All tickets are for reserved seats and are non-exchangeable. If a performance is rained out, the ticketholder is simply out of luck. The well-heeled, of course, avoid the long queues by either hiring others to wait for them (the going rate is about $100) or by donating money to Shakespeare in the Park (a $150 donation earns one reserved seat).

When a friend offered me the opportunity to attend a run-through of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the show will officially open on August 23), I headed straight for the soggy subways.

Thanks to the storm, it took me about two hours longer than usual to reach Central Park, but it was well worth the trip. Those who braved the muddy fields and branch-strewn paths were transported from the chaotic, storm-torn city and treated to a calm, clear night, a first-rate company and more than a little much-needed magic on a midsummer night.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
— A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 2

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Daily News: Brooklyn becomes Tornado Alley!
Newsday: Tornado, storm wreaks havoc in NYC
Gothamist: Wild Wednesday Weather
NY Times: Free Theater, But the Lines? Unspeakable
NY Times: It’s Free Theater, but With a Price
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Public Theatre: Shakespeare in the Park
Public Theatre: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Central Park Conservancy: Delacorte Theater
CentralPark.com: Delacorte Theater
NYC Department of Parks & Recreation: Central Park


More Broadway in Bryant Park

August 2, 2007

Another sunny summer Thursday, another free lunchtime performance in the Broadway in Bryant Park series.

Once again, the concert featured excerpts from current shows and I was able to catch some of the best moments from Hairspray, Mary Poppins and Stomp.

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Hairspray

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Hairspray

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Hairspray

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Ashley Brown & Devynn Pedell from Mary Poppins signing autographs

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Ashley Brown as the title character in Mary Poppins

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Jacob Levine, Ashley Brown and Devynn Pedell in Mary Poppins

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Jacob Levine and Gavin Lee singing Let’s Go Fly a Kite

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Singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins

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Broom dance from Stomp

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Dancing with brooms from Stomp

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Cast dancing with poles from Stomp

Hairspray
Mary Poppins
Devynn Pedell
Stomp
New York 106.7 FM: Broadway in Bryant Park
Bryant Park: Broadway in Bryant Park
Bryant Park
New York City Department of Parks: Broadway in Bryant Park
Broadway.Com


Whose Broads Stripes

July 27, 2007

One of the most imposing buildings on Wall Street, Federal Hall was the original home of the United States Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. It was here that George Washington first took the oath of office.

Today, while Wall Streeters despaired over a slump in the stock market, the steps of the Federal Hall were the site of Lawrence Goldhuber’s Whose Broads Stripes.

No signs, announcements or explanations preceded the performance, so the tourists who crowded around the building, snapping each other’s photos, were shocked when guitarist Geoff Gersh launched into Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner and two showgirls dressed in red and white sequined gowns began to dance with feathered fans.

After a few minutes of shimmying in the sunlight, they went back up the steps and held aloft protest signs. The music changed to a recording of Pink Floyd’s Money, the dancers dropped the signs, descended and flung phoney $50 bills into the air. 

As the audience dove to grab the funny money, the glamour girls seemed to notice a middle-aged businessman sitting on the steps with the rest of the lunchtime crowd. They pulled the laughingly protesting man to his feet, and he awkwardly, gamely attempted to join them in their dance.

Then, suddenly, they covered him with their fans. From behind the feathers, the man’s jacket flew into the air. Then his tie. And then … when the women lowered the fluffy white fans, the stuffy businessman was gone, replaced by a dancing, strutting superhero.

Geoff Gersh
Geoff Gersh in front of Federal Hall

Geoff Gersh
Geoff Gersh & his guitar

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The showgirls appear

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Dancing on the steps

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Displaying signs asking for peace and love

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Throwing fake $50 bills to the crowd

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Spotting a businessman beneath the statue of Washington

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The businessman awkwardly joins in the dance

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They hide the businessman behind their fans

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He emerges as a superhero

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The superhero & showgirls shake & shimmy together

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The end!

Lawrence Goldhuber/BIGMANARTS
Geoff Gersh
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: Sitelines
River to River Festival
Pink Floyd
Jimi Hendrix
Federal Hall National Memorial


Broadway in Bryant Park

July 26, 2007

Now in its sixth year, Broadway in Bryant Park is a series of Thursday lunchtime performances held in the park behind the main branch of the New York Public Library. Cast members from leading Broadway musicals usually perform two or three songs from each show.

Today the audience saw “showstopping” numbers from four hits: Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Lion King, Curtains and Xanadu. No costumes, no makeup, few props, just a stage full of some of the best singing and dancing in the world, all for free.

Spamalot
Lewis Cleale & Marin Mazzie from Monty Python’s Spamalot

Spamalot
Lewis Cleale & Marin Mazzie sing The Song That Goes Like This from Monty Python’s Spamalot

Lion King
Cornelius Jones Jr. from The Lion King

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Sophia N. Stephens & Cornelius Jones Jr. sing Can You Feel The Love Tonight from The Lion King

Curtains
Michael McCormick sings What Kind of Man? from Curtains

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Debra Monk sings It’s a Business from Curtains

Xanadu
Kerry Butler & Curtis Holbrook from Xanadu

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Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa sing Witchy Woman from Xanadu

Broadway in Bryant Park audience
The audience in Bryant Park

New York 106.7 FM: Broadway in Bryant Park
Bryant Park: Broadway in Bryant Park
Monty Python’s Spamalot
The Lion King
Curtains
Xanadu
Bryant Park
Broadway.Com


Looking Back

April 23, 2007

In the mid-1950s, a struggling young director with a failing production company staged the work of an unsuccessful young playwright and — overnight — changed British theater.

The producers were the English Stage Company, the director was Tony Richardson, the playwright was John Osborne and the play was Look Back in Anger. Based on the battles and ultimate breakup of Osborne’s explosive first marriage, it catapulted its author, the prototypical “angry young man,” to fame, fortune and widespread acclaim.

Osborne was an immensely talented writer, a loyal and amusing friend, a cruel son, a horrible husband and an absolutely vile father. Following Look Back in Anger, he turned out a long string of hits while breaking the heart of nearly every woman who played an important role in his life.

This evening the New York Public Library brought Osborne and his work back to life with Looking Back on John Osborne, a performance in the intimate (200 seat) Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts.

The program featured Michael Sheen and Natasha Richardson reading from Osborne’s plays, letters and journals. Sheen, who recently portrayed Tony Blair in The Queen, is currently starring on Broadway as David Frost in Frost/Nixon. Richardson, recipient of a Tony Award for her work in a Broadway revival of Cabaret, had a personal connection to Osborne. Her father, Tony, directed Osborne’s first successful play and the men were close friends to the end of their lives. 

Introduction and commentary was provided by John Heilpern, author of John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man. He discussed the man and his work, emphasizing both Osborne’s brilliance and his wretched treatment of his family.

Heilpern noted that Osborne despised his mother and drove one of his wives to suicide, but “the worst thing he ever did” was writing “an abusive, unforgivable letter” to his only child, his daughter Nolan, when she was 16 years old.

The audience audibly gasped as Heilpern went on to explain why he believes that the fact “she survived at all” is “a miracle.” At the age of 12, Nolan was sent to live with Osborne when her mother, who had been his third wife, descended into alcoholism and madness.

Four years after she moved in, Osborne left a letter for the girl to find when she came home from school. In it, he ordered her to remove her things from his home immediately and find a new place to live. He also stated that he was no longer willing to pay for her schooling, calling it “a waste.” 

Osborne’s missive compared the teenager, whose only crime was normal adolescent moodiness, to one of King Lear’s daughters and said “your heart — such as that is — is irretrievably elsewhere, a place without spirit, imagination or honour … banality, safety, mediocrity and meanness of spirit is what you are set on.”

The day Nolan found the letter, she obeyed Osborne’s commands, packed a few things and fled. A classmate’s family took her in; the father and daughter never spoke again. Now a middle-aged woman living in England, on the rare occasions that she refers to the man who tossed her out and abandoned her, she never uses the word “father.”

Among those listening to the program was Vanessa Redgrave, who was once married to Osborne’s great friend, Tony Richardson, and is now on Broadway in The Year of Magical Thinking. It was a particular pleasure to observe the much-honored actress sitting in the second row, smiling and nodding, as she watched her oldest daughter read onstage.

John Osborne by John Heilpern
Originally uploaded by annulla.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Calendar of Programs
Borzoi Books: Q&A With John Heilpern
The Guardian: Stage-Boor Johnny
Philadelphia Inquirer: A Life of Torment, Given and Received
David Hare on John Osborne
The Guardian: John Heilpern on “The Entertainer”
IMDB: Natasha Richardson
Michael Sheen
BBC: Michael Sheen
Broadway.com: Vanessa Redgrave Returns to Broadway
Internet Broadway Database: Look Back in Anger
Arvon Foundation


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