Sunday, July 22, 2012

Travelogue, Part II

I set my alarm for 8:30 so I could go downstairs around 9:30, when the nail salon next door opened.  I'd submitted an appointment request via their website for 9:30, but never heard back from them to confirm.  Whatever.  Anyway, I did get down there around 9:30, and buzzed the bell (it's on the second floor, and the door to the stairs is locked but has a buzzer.  No response.  I checked that the sign says they open at 9:30 on Sundays.  I called them.  No answer.  So I gave up.  I considered stopping into one of the many other nail salons I saw, but decided not to bother with the time and expense.  I'll buy some nail polish remover to strip my toes, and just go bare.

I headed towards Times Square.  There is a TKTS booth there, but one other show I want to see, Book of Mormon, doesn't sell through them.  Instead, you go to the theater, and can be in a drawing to get tickets on the day of a show.  When I got to the TKTS booth, it was about a half hour until they started selling tickets, and the line looked horrendous (and directly in the sun).  So I looked up the address to the theater Book of Mormon was playing in, and it wasn't too far to walk, so I headed that direction.  I found the theater without any trouble, but it was still too early to bother getting in line.  There were people camped out with chairs and everything, which I thought was pretty ridiculous.  To me, the fact that it's a lottery means it's not first-come-first-served, so I don't know what their strategy was, but decided it wasn't going to be my strategy.  I explored a bit, wandered into both the M&M store (huge!) and the Hershey store (tiny!), swung back past the theater a few times, but there still wasn't much of a line.  The sign on the doors clearly said it was a lottery.  You could put your name in at 2 1/2 hours prior to the show, (12:30), and the drawing was at 2 hours prior to the show (1:00).  It really sounded like getting there sooner wouldn't do you any good, but it still made me worry that there were people ensuring their place in line.  It was still only around 11, so I wanted to kill some MORE time.  I found an Italian restaurant that was open.  I wasn't very hungry, but I wanted to sit somewhere with air conditioning, so I went ahead and ordered a tomato and mozarella salad.  The waitress asked if I wanted some bread, so I said sure.  Well, it turns out my very simple meal cost like $20, because apparently the bread alone was $7.  Ridiculous!  Whatever...

I went back to the theater, and the line was getting longer, so I went ahead and stood in it.  What if they limit the number of people who can enter the drawing or something?  I stood there a while, when a theater employee came by and said that the line was for standing room only tickets, and there were only 25, so those of us who were there for the lottery, or simply didn't think we were going to be getting a SRO ticket if that's what we were there for, were free to leave, and that those of us doing the lottery should come back right at 12:30, since it was pointless to be there sooner.  Well, I'd had enough of killing time, so I just wandered down the street a bit until I found a ledge to sit on.

Sure enough, at 12:30, a guy came out and used a bullhorn to explain how it works.  You must be present at the time of the drawing, you can only fill out one slip per person (and they check through them after the drawing, and if one of the winners had multiple entries, their tickets are taken away when they come back for the show).  You have to have ID on you.  You can only buy either one or two seats per "win."  So anyway, I got a slip, wrote my name and info on it, and wandered back to my little ledge to wait for the drawing.

They called the names, and people standing all around me won, but not me.  Oh well.  I'll try again another couple nights.  If you win the lottery, you get tickets for $32 (or is it $37?) each, instead of like $155.  So I can't really afford to pay full price.  But I'll keep trying in the evenings--I should be able to just make it up to the theater in time for the drawing.

I wandered back toward where I'd come from, and saw the TKTS booth.  The line was more reasonable now, and the reader board showed both War Horse and Avenue Q, both of which I wanted to see.  So I got in line, and sure enough, both shows were still available.  I asked the ticket guy which one was more likely to also be sold out later, in case I wanted to come back and see the other one later.  He recommended I see War Horse now.  So I bought a ticket to it, and it was only about an hour from starting, and quite a few blocks north.  My handy-dandy iPhone app showed me where to go to get on the subway and which stop to get off at, so I was in business.

I showed up at Lincoln Center with plenty of time to spare, so I popped into a Mexican restaurant to get a cool refreshing drink.  Once again, I wasn't hungry, but didn't want to just take up space, so I ordered a quesadilla.  It hit the spot even though I thought I wasn't hungry.

Okay, so War Horse.  I haven't seen the movie.  I'd seen snippets of the play on TV or online or somewhere, and had seen the amazing puppetry.  And it WAS amazing.  The first horse we meet is the main horse, but as a foal.  There were three puppeteers, and since he was a foal, they didn't fit inside like they did with the older horses, so there was one puppeteer who controlled the hind legs, one who controlled the front legs and also the horse's breathing (he kind of heaved up and down), and a third puppeteer to control the head, including realistic ears.  The horse grazed, and the actors made chewing noises.  He snuffled, and the actors made the noises.  He whinnied, and the actors made the noises.  In fact, at least two of them made each of the noises, so they could be as complex as the noises an actual horse makes.  In that first scene, they show the unbroke foal being wary, then eventually checking the boy out, and it was amazing how realistic it was.  He stuck his neck out as far as possible to check things out, not committing his feet (the foal puppet had stiff legs, but his movements still seemed pretty realistic).  The actors worked in sync to even make realistic gaits--walking, trotting, and even cantering was true to form, best I could tell (though he did canter on the "wrong" lead, but then, it's a foal).  The horse sniffed at the boy, then scampered away.  So cute!  It really was pretty easy to forget about the puppeteers and just focus on the horse.

Then the grown-up horse (and later, a second horse just as elaborate as the main one) made his appearance.  I literally had tears well up.  He was HUGE (about 18 hands, probably, unless the actors were shorter than I pegged them at), and realistic without being realistic.  I mean, it was VERY clearly not a real horse, all tube frame and fabric mane and tail and such, but the movements were SO realistic.  The director and actors must have spent a ton of time studying real horses.  Again, realistic gaits, though these larger horses had fully articulating legs.  Realistic horse mannerisms, including ears.  Just amazing.  I do have to admit that sometimes the puppeteer of the head (who always had to stand near the head, and often had a hand on the cheek of the horse, presumably to help support the weight--they must have been HEAVY!) was a bit distracting--it seemed as if he (or she--the head puppeteer of the second horse was a woman) was an actor, holding the horse by the bridle or something.  The only other times that the puppeteers were a little more obvious was when the horse reared or kicked--you could obviously still see the front or hind puppeteers legs remaining on the ground while the horse's legs were airborne, so it was slightly distracting.  But there were long periods of time where it felt like I was watching a horse.  In fact, there were a couple times (gun fire) where I wondered how they got a horse that wouldn't spook at stuff like that, until I remembered it wasn't actually a horse.  :-)  My heart was also in my throat when the horse got caught in barbed wire, though of course it wouldn't really hurt the puppet even if the wire had been real.  The limping he did sure seemed real, though.

There were a few more minor horses with only one human--the framework was just the shoulder, back, and very top of the rump of the horse, plus a fully operational neck/head similar to the other puppets.  But one person supported the entire framework from the shoulder area, their legs represented the horse's front legs, and they also worked the head and neck from inside the horse.  Complicated, and HEAVY!  Less realistic, to be sure, but they were mostly in the background.

The story itself was predictable, especially having heard some of the hype about the movie.  But the acting/directing was fun and had comic relief.  The horses weren't the only puppets.  The show started with birds flying (on long slender poles), there was a goose who chased people around (on one wheel, but its neck was articulated by the puppeteer, who also voiced it and rolled it around as appropriate), and some crows.  The play is set during WW1, and they used accents (and uniforms for the soldiers, but there were civilians as characters, too) to show which country they each were from.  So the actors all spoke English, but in an English, German, or French accent.  And pretended not to understand each other's "language" as part of the story, showing that within the world of the play, they were actually speaking those foreign languages, but we only understood them because the director wanted us to.

The main horse was supposed to have been a thoroughbred / draft cross, and I thought it was funny that when they were trying to harness break him to pull, and he was freaking out at the harness, the guy said "I need to you show me your calm stable draft side, not your thoroughbred side right now." 

Anyway, amazing show, and totally deserved the standing ovation it got.  I'm not sure if I'm just overly emotional (again), or if it really was that amazing, but I totally cried (and not really at the story, just at the awesomeness of it all).

When the show ended, I headed north (the wrong way) to the next stop, rather than the one right next to Lincoln Center, because the express train stops both there and Times Square, where I was heading.  Not sure if that made any sense, since it took me a while to walk.  Whatever.  At least I was only in the cramped train for one stop instead of three?  Found my next destination easily--the theater where Silence! The Musical was playing.  (It's a comedy musical based on Silence of the Lambs. ... I know!)  However, I was a little nervous about actually getting tickets.  The building that advertised the play didn't actually allow entrance.  Instead, you had to pass the neighboring adult "bookstore" (do they actually sell BOOKS?), and go to "Times Scare," a haunted house / restaurant / club / bar / apparently theater--you buy the tickets there, plus have to enter the theater through the establishment, though you only pass through one of the multiple bars, not the restaurant or the haunted house.  Weird.  But anyway, they had "rush" tickets for $25.  I'm pretty sure you're supposed to be a student to get them, and I was looking for my student ID, but they didn't actually ask for it.  Woo!  (I did find it, though, so I'll have to keep that in mind for other shows.)

I once again found myself with a bit of time to kill, and thirsty but not hungry.  I had vowed not to go to chain restaurants (other than Starbucks; sue me), but popped into a Chevys.  I wanted someplace that would be quick, and also less likely to mind me having yet another "light" meal.  I ordered a side of guac and a drink in addition to an ice water (which I needed seconds on--the water, not the drink or the guac), and successfully killed 30-45 minutes or so.

After the "grand" entrance to the theater for Silence!, and then seeing the interior of the theater and the stage, which seemed very much like a small community theater, I didn't have high hopes for the show, and was worried I'd wasted $25.  But it was AWESOME.  The book was my favorite as a teenager, and I read it over and over, plus have seen the movie a couple times.  Clarice wasn't much of a look-alike, but a hideous wig that they made fun of, and overdoing the voice of Clarice/Jodie Foster added some comedy.  Hannibal, however, was spot on.  He was thinner than Anthony Hopkins, but had the same hair, and had the voice down EXACTLY.  Totally awesome.

But yes, it was a comedy, and a musical.  It began with a musical number with five or six "lambs," explaining the back story and the characters, then got right into the story.  Okay, I don't want to offend people here, but if you've read/seen it, and remember what "Multiple Miggs" says to Clarice when she comes to see Hannibal, you've got to know that there's an entire musical number based around that phrase, and how Hannibal wishes HE could have smelled...what Miggs said he could smell.  Anyway, totally inappropriate, but absolutely hilarious.  There was also a musical number sung by the killer, who was a cross-dresser.  He was wearing a silky robe, just like the character in the book/movie, and showed off his nipple ring as part of the song, and talked about how he had to tuck his junk in order to look more feminine.  But then, as the finale to that song, he actually opened the robe WIDE open, and he had, indeed, actually tucked his junk.  Wow.  Anyway, I absolutely couldn't picture a musical comedy about that book/movie, but they really did it.  It was true to the actual story, yet musical and hilarious.  Not high-falutin' theater in any way, but totally worth the $25 and trip through the Times Scare place.

I headed back to my hotel, passing through Bryant Park again, taking slow-shutter photos of traffic, and going through Grand Central again, too.

And then I wrote up these two blog posts and am now heading to bed.  My computer says it's 9:13 at home, but I'm plenty exhausted.  More importantly, it's after midnight, and I have to be downstairs for my training class (the ACTUAL reason I'm here in New York) at 8:30 a.m.  Tomorrow, I have to have a quick dinner than come back to my room for a Skype call with my work team, so I won't be able to get out and have much fun--probably just head down the street, maybe the other direction or something.  I think I've already hit most of the touristy stuff in this neighborhood, though.  So yeah, I feel bad I haven't really hit any more touristy sites today, and that my time until War Horse at 3:00 was mostly wasted, but hey, I saw TWO shows today, so that's pretty good.  And while you can't see the Brooklyn Bridge or Statue of Liberty just anywhere, you CAN see bridges and statues in any old town, but you can't see shows like these just anywhere, so I'm kind of prioritizing seeing them.  I'll try and make it to at least some other sights by the time I go home on Sunday morning, though.

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