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Saturday, April 30, 2011

photos by Jessica Hill/Journal Inquirer

Take a walk on the High Line, a new park in NYC’s Chelsea section

NEW YORK — Smiling, relaxed, happy people are not the type of folks one usually thinks of when one thinks of New York City inhabitants.
But along the new High Line Park, 30 feet above the ground, locals as well as visitors in the vibrant Chelsea section revel in this world removed from the hubbub of the city below.
The High Line was a freight line originally built in the 1930s to move dangerous freight trains off of the street level, according to its website. It carried meat to the Meatpacking District, as well as other items, and was in operation until 1980.
This lovely new park might not have existed at all if it weren’t for some forward-thinking individuals. The rail lines were slated for demolition, when in 1999 “Friends of the High Line” a nonprofit group was formed by local residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond to preserve the historic site.
The city of New York works in conjunction with the “Friends of the High Line” to maintain and preserve the structure.
The first section of the park, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, opened in 2009 and is open year round, with extended summer hours from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Park a “must see”
Sarah and Alex Berry of Leeds, England, were sitting on a park bench enjoying the spring sunshine at the High Line Park on a recent Friday.
The couple were in New York City on their honeymoon, and had heard about the High Line Park from some friends who told them it was a “must see.”
“Being here is the only place in the city that literally lifts you up,” Alex Berry said. On the streets of New York, everyone seems so serious and in a hurry to get somewhere, he said, but on the High Line “no one looks very serious.”
It’s true. People were casually meandering about, taking photos of the early spring tulips and daffodils blooming and cherry and dogwood trees blossoming among the old rail line, eating cupcakes, talking, and laughing.
Sarah Berry commented on the buildings surrounding the park, saying that they aren’t as tall as the skyscrapers in mid-town, and are far more architecturally interesting.
World renown architect Frank Gehry’s amazing white curved building, the IAC headquarters, can be seen from one vantage point and the Empire State Building can be seen from another, thanks to the smaller buildings along with the heightened views from the park.
Chad Helmer and Ashley Robinson, who live in the city, were also sitting on a bench chatting on a recent Friday afternoon, soaking up some rays.
“It’s really cool what they did,” Helmer said. “I come here to relax. It’s a great place to get some sun.”
Robinson said she is a teacher and some of her fellow teachers use the park as a learning opportunity. They bring their students here on field trips to identify the plants growing in the park.

Art installations abound
This being New York, there are free art installations at various spots along the path. One is a viewing station by artist Richard Galpin that distorts the optical perspective when viewed through a metal cube, which emphasizes geometric forms, with nods to early 20th century Cubism and Futurism.
Another art installation, by Stephen Vitiello, is in the 14th Street passage. In this partially enclosed, acoustically resonant space, one of 59 city sounds goes off each minute. Sounds include the Aquaduct Race Track gate opening, and the Coney Island Dreamland Bell. Then at the top of each hour they all go off contemporaneously in a blare of sound that is oddly harmonic and unexpected.
A flat, long water feature traveling over concrete adds a lovely trickling ambiance and peaceful sound farther south along the High Line Park, with a stunning western view at the Hudson River and the setting sun.
Another viewing stage with benches situated like an auditorium is also a fun place to sit and watch the world go by. It has a glassed off partition, allowing people to stop, sit, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of traffic along 10th Avenue.
Climbing the metal staircases to get to the park is an aerobic workout all by itself, but they also have handicap-accessible elevators at the 14th and 16th Street entrances. Once at the park, the walk is relatively straight and flat.
There are tables and chairs in addition to the permanent benches in the park, and vendors and artisans sell their wears in booths along the way too.
Because of the delicate nature of the plants, no dogs, skates, skateboards, recreational scooters, or bicycles are allowed in the park.
At the southern end of the park New York City residents Jeanette Herrera and Manny Largo said they enjoyed being there because of the quiet and the view. Largo said especially at night it is lovely, and you can even see a few stars in the sky.
“The night view is really nice,” Largo said, adding that they sometimes offer in stargazing programs at the park.
The park is free and open daily from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., closing at 8 p.m. in the winter.
The second section beyond of 20th Street is scheduled to open any day now and will extend the park to 30th Street, with a third and final section to the Clinton section of town to follow. When completed it will be about 1 ½ miles long.

For more information, visit its website:

A social time at “Social Eatz” restaurant in New York City

The creation of “Top Chef” contestant and Connecticut native Angelo Sosa, “Social Eatz” is a new restaurant in New York City, with a healthy selection of Korean fusion casual meals.

Located at 232 53rd St., between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, this hip establishment offers exotic-sounding dishes that are a bit toned-down in flavor.

The laminated menus must make cleaning up a breeze, but the font on the menus should be much bigger and easier to read. The intimate space has the look of a chain restaurant, which might just be their long-term goal. I can see this type of restaurant, with the brown and gold color scheme and the easy-to-clean laminated tabletops, being marketed in malls across America.
We began our meals with two of their signature cocktails, including a Ginger Carrot Fizz with Stolichnaya orange-flavored vodka mixed with carrot juice, a touch of Canton liqueur, yuzu juice, and ginger beer for $11. We also tried the Coconut Curry Daiquiri with 8-year-old Bacardi rum, splashed with coconut water and fresh lime juice, then spiced with a spoonful of curry syrup ($12). They tasted a little light on alcohol and too sweet, and the curry flavor in the second drink was undetectable.

For New York City, or anywhere else, the prices were pretty reasonable, although the smoked rib appetizer for $9 seemed a little steep. The ribs were remarkably tender, whose pineapple barbecue sauce was a touch on the sweet side. The sauce was laced with laced with gochujang, an aged Korean pepper sauce, but again, it could have been more pronounced.
Our accommodating and helpful waiter have us heated towels after the messy ribs, which were welcome indeed.
We had the Bulgogi Burger, ($11), which is a Korean version of an American favorite. Bulgogi literally means fire meat in Korean, and in this burger, the ground beef is charred, (hence the name) but deliciously pink and moist inside. The burger was topped with a succulent sauce made of soy, sugar, scallion, garlic, and sesame oil then garnished with cooled cucumber kimchee, kewpee, and a Japanese mayonnaise. The result was juicy, but a bit bland.

The Kung Pow Chicken sandwich ($9) is made with organic chicken, soy-sesame marinated, then iron-seared with Thai chili, and finished with smooth roasted peanut spread. Chicken in sandwiches tends to be dried out and cardboard-like, but this chicken was perfectly flavorful and noticeably tender. There was too little of Thai chili, however, and I couldn’t taste the peanut flavor at all.

Our waiter recommended the Chili Kissed Tilapia taco, and it was the best meal of the night, and certainly the best value at $8. The light, white fish was brushed with Thai chili, and sautéed and garnished with fresh green tomato salsa and avocado, with two portions served on two flour tortillas. The portions of fish were large, and the salsa was crunch and full of flavor. The avocado was creamy and noticeable, but not overwhelming.

We had a side of Curried Cream Spinach, with blanched spinach melded with a creamy, cheesy, curry sauce that was served piping hot with lots of creamy cheese, but not so much curry.

The burger and the chicken came with as side of the Southeast Asian pickles. They were a colorful combination of thinly sliced cucumbers, cauliflower, and radishes marinated with turmeric and dill then pickled in a brine of Japanese vinegar and Asian spices. They were fresh, crunchy, with just the right amount of spice and heat.

The desserts were scruptuous, at $6 each, including the Double-rich Chocolate Brownies warmed and glazed with a sweet toffee topping, that was soft and fudgy. The brownie went well with the sweet Shik Hae, a warm Korean rice punch, served in a shot glass.

The best part of the meal was hands down the yummy, warm Yuzu Cream Puffs. Tasting more like donut holes, the four airy cakelike puffs were filled with a sweet, creamy yuzu curd made from the tart Japanese citrus fruit that tasted like key lime pie. They were out of this world.

The 20-something crowd on a recent Friday night dominated the restaurant and there was a line out the door by the time we left. The hypnotic club music was on the loud side, but the diners seemed to feel right a home. All in all, the restaurant is perfect for palates that like the idea of exotic foods, but in reality prefer the blander, safer American flavors.

(photos by Jessica Hill)

Monday, April 18, 2011

“Urinetown the Musical” at CRT goes with the flow

Four Stars
4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

Location: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Jorgensen Road, Storrs.

Production: Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann. Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Directed by Paul Mullins. Choreography by Gerry McIntyre. Music direction by Ken Clark. Scenic design by Marija Plavsic. Costume design by Maureen FitzGerald. Lighting design by Calvin Anderson. Sound design by Jack Nardi. Puppet design by Miron Gusso. Projection designer Michelle Ashley Mann.

Running time: About 2 hours and 10 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

Show Times: Wednesday April 27 and Thursday April 28 at 7:30 p.m., Friday April 29 and Saturday and April 30 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. There are no shows Easter weekend.

Tickets: Range in price from $6 to $35. Call 860-486-4266 of visit their website at

Andrea McArdle … Penelope Pennywise
Ken Clark … Bobby Strong
Robert Thompson Jr. … Officer Lockstock
Alexandra Perlwitz … Little Sally
Alison Barton … Hope Cladwell
Bob Walton … Caldwell B. Cladwell
Ryan Guess … Mr. McQueen
Brian Patrick Williams … Sen. Fipp
Phil Korth … Old Man Strong/The Kid
James MK Turner … Hot Blades Harry
Mischa Goodman … Little Becky Two Shoes
Jack Fellows … Tiny Tom
Brooks Brantly … Robby the Stockfish/Ezekiel
Arron Lloyd … Billy Boy Bill
Krystal Sobaskie … Hidalgo Jane
Molly Martinez … Soupy Sue/Cassandra
Gretchen Goode … Josephine Strong
Kevin Coubal … Officer Barrel
Christina Greer ... Mrs. Millenium
Philip AJ Smithey … Dr. Billeaux
Seth Koproski … Ricky Billions/Sammy the Cheat
Laura A. Zabbo …Cladwell’s secretary, Vanessa

STORRS-“Urinetown the Musical” performed by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut is difficult to pin down, but enjoyable to experience.

It states right off the bat it is a musical, complete with the show’s narrator, police officer Lockstock, played by Robert Thompson Jr.

The show is set in a fictional future town, where everyone has to pay to use public facilities due to a 20-year drought, it pits the extremely rich few against the very poor masses.

Sometimes characters who state that they are in a play bust up the suspension of disbelief and take away some of the fun of the show, but here, Mark Hollman, who did the music and together with Greg Kotis, who wrote the book, wrote the lyrics, it really works. This show sings.

As is usual with CRT, they have their cast of graduate students along with some undergraduates, and bring in a few professional actors. In this production they have Andrea McArdle of “Annie” fame playing the character Penelope Pennywise. Musicals are clearly her milieu, and here she brings a real star presence to the show as the gal who oversees one of the town’s restrooms and has a secret too.

Her assistant Bobby Strong, is played by professional actor Ken Clark, who does a good turn as the man trying to follow his heart. On retrospect though, that youthful character could easily have been played by one of the school’s very talented students.

Bob Walton does a fun and credible turn as the corporate greedy man, Caldwell B. Cladwell, who heads up Urine Good Company, which holds a monopoly on all the pay toilets in the city. He tears it up with the hilarious “Don’t be the Bunny” song. "Good bye bunny-boo, hello rabbit stew," he sings.

Alexandra Perlwitz plays Little Sally with just the right amount of doe-eyed wonder and discernment that makes her sweet and funny.

I particularly love Alison Barton as Cladwell’s innocent daughter, Hope, whose canorous voice is lovely to hear, particularly when she sings the gospel tune “I See a River.”

The music in this show is really top-notch and would satisfy anyone who loves musical theater. There are also nods to other great musicals, including Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera,” “Les Miserable,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The set, which changes from outside one of the many dirty public rest rooms to the corporate headquarters, has a second level of ramps and stairs that are well used, thanks to fine direction by Paul Mullins and precise and energetic choreography by Gerry McIntyre. Set design by Marija Plavsic.

The playful and art deco asymmetrical costumes fit the somber mood of the show, by Maureen FitzGerald. The lighting also worked well (designed by Calvin Anderson), and is amusing when the spots highlighted Cladwell and Pennywise, along with the telling music, with musical direction by Ken Clark.

All and all, it’s a delightful and entertaining show that will likely put a smile on your face, despite or perhaps because of its unique theme.

( Photo by Gerry Goodstein)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kidcity Children's Museum in Middletown a labyrinth of imagination

Step into a world where children guide adults through labyrinths of the imagination and playfulness at Kidcity Children’s Museum in Middletown.

“Any age that enjoys pretend play is going to have a good time here,” museum founder Jennifer Alexander says.

Alexander opened Kidcity in 1998 with an eye on helping revitalize downtown Middletown and making the museum a destination location.

Today, with more than 100,000 people a year visiting Kidcity, and 90 percent of them coming from out of town, it appears that her grand plan is working.

Since children naturally play no matter where they are, Alexander said, this museum is designed to encourage parents to connect with their children.

“It’s a special intimate time,” Alexander said. “The kids lead the grownups.”

There are a myriad of theme rooms of various shapes and sizes in the two-building complex.

One of the newer exhibits that took 18 months to complete is the “Space Age Roadtrip,” with a bubble family car, “Rocko’s Used Spacecraft,” the dark and spooky “Kaleidoscope Motel,” along with interactive “O’Ryan’s Tool Belt and Rocket Repair,” and “Alien Annie’s Howdy-ville.”

Here, children get to experiment with scientific phenomena such as gravity and physics, just by doing, Alexander said.

What children really enjoy is mimicking activities they see adults do, she said, such as sitting behind a wheel of a car and pretending to drive, or serving pretend food to their parents at a make-believe diner modeled after Middletown’s O’Rourke’s Diner.

Alexander, with children of her own, said the museum’s secret ingredient is the artwork.

She hired local artisans, including Scott Kessel and Matt Niland, to bring the whimsical, detailed, and extremely durable and safe exhibits to life.

“We design our exhibits by remembering how we liked to play when we were kids and by watching our own children,” Alexander said. “It’s about suspension of disbelief and it’s about play.”

From the beaming smiles on the faces of all the children and adults at the facility on a recent visit, it seems the museum is a resounding success.

“Our mission is really about the adult-child relationship,” Alexander said.

Lindsay Hillemeir, 4, of Farmington, loved the “Musical Planet” room, a playscape of seesaws, slides, and monkey bars that also is a tribute to world music.

She also enjoyed the industrious activity at “The Fishery” — a fish-processing plant where colorful rubber fish with magnetic mouths are “processed” by children through intricate conveyor belt systems.

“This is a fun place,” Lindsay said to her mother, Tina Hillemeir, who agreed, adding that what she really appreciates about the museum is that it is “unplugged,” with no video games in sight.

There isn’t a video game or computer game in the whole museum, and that is by design, Alexander said. It’s all about interacting with others and moving, rather than being isolated and alone.

Tina Hillemeir also said she appreciated the family restrooms, which are equipped with changing stations, extra diapers, and even extra clothes for those occasional accidents that children sometimes have.

Vandana Basu of Groton said her family has passes for several children’s museums in New England, but Kidcity is by far their favorite.

Nicole Rucki drove an hour from Massachusetts with her children, Olivia, 4, and Lauren, 2, along with her mother, Nancy Santos, to visit the museum for the first time.

“My daughter Olivia said that she didn’t want to ever leave,” Rucki said.

“They should have one like this for all towns,” Santos said, remarking about the interactive and artistic nature of the museum.

Kidcity Children’s Museum is open Sunday through Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and children, free for infants under 12 months.

On the third Thursday of each month Kidcity offers free admission from 5 to 7 p.m.

For more information, visit its website at:

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ a delicious concoction

SOMERS — There’s nothing like a little elderberry wine to make an evening complete, especially when it starts with dinner at the Joanna’s Café and Banquet facilities and ends with “Arsenic and Old Lace” by the Village Players, who are celebrating their 40th year.

Their spring production of a story born in Windsor is a perennial favorite in Connecticut, and for good reason.

It has a couple of zany and lovable old aunts, Abby and Martha, who live in an old cavernous home where they perform what they consider acts of charity — they poison lonely old men with wine laced with a lethal dose of arsenic..

Wendy Peterson and Shirley E. Warner play Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha with good cheer.

As the play opens in 1940s Brooklyn, Abby has just performed one of her acts of charity on a gentleman whom she couldn’t get into the basement by herself before visitors arrive.

She stashes the “Methodist” in a window seat until later when her nephew, Teddy Brewster, can take him down to the unfinished basement and give him a proper burial.

John Lepore plays the deluded Teddy who is convinced that he is President Theodore Roosevelt. When asked why the aunts don’t disabuse Teddy of his delusion, they say that they tried once but he hid under the bed and wouldn’t come out.

Better to have him think he is somebody he isn’t, than be nobody at all, they say. Crazy logic, but then, it’s a pretty crazy household.

Teddy digs locks in the basement floor, which doubles as the Panama Canal, and where he buries the “yellow fever victims.”

Their other nephew, Mortimer Brewster, played by Doug Stoyer, is a newspaperman with the odious job of being a theater critic, much to his own disgust.

Playwright Joseph Kesselring pokes some fun here at theater critics, when Aunt Abby says to Rev. Dr. Harper (John McKone) that Mortimer hates the theater, but assures his aunts that the theater will be finished “in a year or two.”

Kesselring based his play on the real-life serial murderer, Amy Archer-Gilligan, who ran a boarding house for the elderly right here in Connecticut, in Windsor, in the early 1900s, allegedly poisoning 60 old men who lived there. She was eventually convicted of one count of murder.

Moritmer’s other brother, the criminal psychopath Jonathan Brewster, (played with menace by Al Mulvey) slinks into the household of his youth with his accomplice, the plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, a sympathetic David Crowell.

The two decide to set up shop at the old homestead and bring a dead body along with them, just for good measure.

Lots of mayhem ensues when Mortimer finds out about his aunts’ appalling “charity” and has to deal with his maniac older brother to boot.

Mortimer tells his aunts that their behavior has “turned into a very bad habit.”

Mortimer also just got engaged to the girl next door, Elaine Harper (Regina Erpenbeck), and then decides he can’t marry her because he doesn’t want to perpetuate the crazy Brewster genes.

Various characters add to the commotion, including police officers O’Hara (Tim Lavery) and Klein (Tyler J. Anderson), Lt. Rooney (Justin Martin), and another unsuspecting gentleman, Mr. Gibbs, played by Malcolm Chadbourne.

The black-and-white period costumes worked well, and I really like the black-and-white motif of the single set of the Brewster household. Costumes by Michelle Tyler and set design and décor by Franc Aguas.

Director Gus Rousseau keeps the pace of this play on the move, but there are occasional pauses between the actors’ lines that feel unnatural.

I like Rousseau’s extra touches too, such as when Dr. Einstein takes a body from the living room and we hear him tumbling down the stairs into an unseen basement.

Written in 1939, this play continues to endure through the generations, making mincemeat of Mortimer’s prediction that the theater will go away in a couple of years.

It’s a strange and wacky world of murder and affection that make “Arsenic and Old Lace” a fun and entertaining night at the dinner theater.

Stage review

3 stars

Arsenic and Od Lace

Theater: The Village Players.

Location: Joanne’s Café and Banquet House, 145 Main St., Somers.

Production: Written by Joseph Kesselring. Directed by Gus Rousseau. Produced by Diane Preble. Associate producer Betty Domer. Technical director Justin Martin. Set design by Franc Aguas. Lighting and sound by Ben Bugden. Stage manager Sherry Samborski. Props and stage manager Sue Moak. Costumes by Michelle Tyler.

Running time: 2 hours plus one intermission.

Show times: Friday and Saturday, through April 16. Social hour starting at 6 p.m. Dinner at 7 p.m. Show at 8:15 p.m.

Tickets: $35, including dinner, with cash bar. Call 860-749-0245 for reservations. Visit their website

Wendy Peterson …................. Abby Brewster
Shirley E. Warner …............ Martha Brewster
John Lepore .......................… Teddy Brewster
Doug Stoyer ................… Mortimer Brewster
Al Mulvey .....................… Jonathan Brewster
David Crowell …............................ Dr. Einstein
Regina Erpenbeck …................ Elaine Harper
Tim Lavery ............................… Officer O’Hara
Tyler J. Anderson ....................… Officer Klein
Justin Martin …............................... Lt. Rooney
John McKone .....................… Rev. Dr. Harper
Mr. Witherspoon
Malcolm Chadbourne ................… Mr. Gibbs

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

Comedy of Errors’ at Playhouse
on Park is daffy triage theater

WEST HARTFORD — Mistaken identities, two sets of separated twins, a cheating husband, a condemned merchant, and many other characters all played by four actors, create a wild and wonderful world of farcical fantasy at the Playhouse on Park in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.”

Directed by Will Ditterline, these four terrific actors lead by Brad Del-

planche as Dromio, along with Brendan Norton as Antipholus, Jesse Graham as Adriana, and Vanessa Morosco as her sister, Luciana, play all the other characters as well. They make this infrequently performed play buzz with energy and sing with joy.

Set in Ancient Greece, the plot is explained by Delplanche as Egeon, a Syracusan merchant and the father of Antipholus, along with an exceedingly helpful Powerpoint presentation.

Delphanche has the precise comic timing and expressions reminiscent of actor Nathan Lane.

Egeon and his wife were separated at sea, he explains, each with one of their infant twin boys, and each with one of the twin servant boys. They grow up apart until his son, Antipholus of Syracuse, and the servant boy, Dromio of Syracuse, go in search of the other two.

That’s where the comedy ensues, when Antipholus of Syracuse is mistaken for his twin in Ephesus, and the servants are mistaken for each other. But explaining the story line doesn’t explain half of the goings on in this wacky and wild production.

There is an inner ring of audience members who sit around the intimate stage with some being recruited to hold onto the myriad of hats, scarves, ties, and other accouterments that delineate one character from the other.

Although they aren’t required to speak, the inner circle audience members all get swept up in the spirit of the action, as does the rest of the audience.

And what’s not to love? Often the complaint about Shakespeare, and not altogether undeserved, is that the language is so different than the way we speak today, it’s difficult to follow. But all these actors invest their physical actions and expressive motions that bring the meaning of those words to life.

They differentiate their characters by speaking with southern accents for the Syracusans and Italian Mafioso accents for those from the land of Ephesus. Personally, I would prefer the Syracusans to have English accents, since that is the accent we expect to hear when we think of Shakespeare. Then when the Italian kicks in, it would sound that much funnier.

This troupe of four really gets the physicality and sexual innuendo of Shakespeare at his bawdy best and they play it to the hilt, with slow motion kung-fu fighting that is accompanied (as the show is throughout) with sound effects that would have made the Three Stooges darned proud.

Pratfalls, slapstick comedy, kicks to the groin, slaps to the face, and all around running, jumping, and seemingly endless energy and character changes on the fly, make this a feat of daring triage theater.

Stage review

4 stars

the comedy of errors

Theater: Playhouse on Park

Location: Wallace244 Park Road, West Hartford.

Production: Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Will Ditterline. Costume design by Katie Chihaby. Lighting design by Tim Hache. Production stage manager Ryan Bell. Property master Dawn Loveland.

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. through April 17.

Tickets: $20 to $32.50. Call the box office at 860-523-5900 ext. 10, or visit the website:


Brad Delplanche …......... Dromio and others

Vanessa Morosco ......… Luciana and others

Jesse Graham …............. Adriana and others

Brendan Norton ….... Antipholus and others

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor