Living Theater

Saw a remarkable performance this weekend past. A young playwright, Krystal Banzon, performed her own short work at The Living Theater, 21 Clinton Street. Lower East Side. Her protagonist plays an applicant seeking a job at a high-powered corporation (of unspecified purpose or function.) She does her high-stakes song and dance while fighting down a panic attack. Very effective portrayal of a young person who is hyper-educated, accomplished at everything, yet broke and desperate.

The Living Theater is a wonderful place for fledglings to try out their wings under tutelage of the legendary actress, director, producer Judith Malina. Judith also happens to be a gifted diarist with some of best-observed entries in my anthology. I refer you to her description of the Rosenbergs in their caskets (June 21, 1953) and the performance of an aging thespian who fights to keep his theater open in the face of financial ruin. (June 23, 1948.)

The Living Theater is currently presenting 30 days of plays by women through April 7. Check out

The Greatest Grid

If you love maps, this exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York is pure catnip. The Grid, of course, refers to our inexorable succession of parallel streets that city commissioners (read, developers) imposed upon Manhattan in 1811.

The message the exhibit sends is somewhat mixed. On one hand, we are asked to admire, as the introductory inscription suggests, the “human intervention and vigilant enforcement” that allowed the city to escape the fate of Lower Manhattan — meandering streets and, incidentally, a quaint and definable character. Inscribed on another wall, however, is a quote from a rueful Clement C. Moore, himself a developer, who described the task of leveling of the island.

“Nothing” he wrote, “is to be left unmolested that does not coincide with the Street Commissioners’ plummet and level. These are men who…would have cut [through] the seven hills of Rome.”

Although the planners envisioned the city running a rigorous east to west – all north/south traffic to be borne by the rivers – they were bested by the actual needs of a human population. Manhattanites lived uptown and went to work downtown, necessitating a widening of the vertical avenues. This had the happy effect of opening up the island’s interior, and the avenues — Broadway, Park, Madison, etc. — became far more famous than their numerical cross streets.

The exhibit’s run has been extended to July 5. Be sure to go mid-afternoon on weekdays. On weekends, it’s jammed.

I’ll Take Mid-Manhattan

An intriguing Q&A at Mid-Manhattan reading last night. Maybe questions so sharp because book has been out long enough for many of the audience to have to read it. One question I’d never gotten before. “Was there anyone who kept a diary with the express intent that someone special would find it and read it?” Actually, yes. The artist/illustrator John Sloan kept a diary for the benefit of his wife, Dolly. She suffered from alcoholism and low esteem. He wanted her to read his entries so that she would know how much she meant to him. They had reputedly met in a house of prostitution. Good marriages come from the strangest unions.

Beautiful As Collage

Source: – Photos: Moore: Rosenbach Museum and Library; Lerman: Stephen Pascal; Delaplaine: New York Public Library; British officer: New York Historical Society

Pages from the diaries of Marianne Moore, modernist poet; Leo Lerman, Condé Nast editor; an anonymous British officer serving during the Revolutionary War; and Joshua Delaplaine, a Quaker cabinetmaker in the 1700s.

Read more:


A Tale of Two Talks

Two lecture series are on the radar of most New Yorkophiles, but even those with a more casual interest should take note.

One was held at The 92nd Street Y in Tribeca. A fine theatre with flawless acoustics. And, that most delightful of all things; an audience of regulars with a good sense of humor. One woman told of having kept diaries as a girl and, after reaching young womanhood, burned them. This drew gasps from the rest — and there was subsequent group analysis of the lighter sort. Someone pointed out that those line-a-day diaries all come with locks. But when did those ever thwart a determined mother with a hair pin?

The other venue, pictured below, is the venerable Lower East Side Tenement Museum (Tenement Talks) Visitor Center in its new location, directly across the street from the old at Orchard and Delancey. By 6:00 p.m. on lecture nights, the place is packed. During my talk on January 23rd, there was a free-ranging discussion of diary-hunting methodology to cultivating a precise sense of place. Who hasn’t described a landmark as being “in the vicinity of the Starbucks.” (Mea culpa.) Consensus; New Yorkers should do better—give us the pin on The Grid!


Here’s the BBC segment on NYD. A first-rate job of photo research and editing!

Videographer David Botti, totes a backpack that might crush a Marine.  Fortunately, he was a Marine.

Islamic Art

I checked out the Met’s new Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands. Five-point stars, six-point stars, eight-and twelve-point stars – every conceivable geometrical interlace — wrought in rosewood, ivory and tile. Splendid!

Regarding the Met, see diary entry June 3, 1873 by George Templeton Strong. Here in part.

Visited this aft[ernoon] the “Metropolitan Museum of Art” in the late Mrs. Douglas Cruger’s palazzo [on] West 14th St[reet]. The Cesnola collection of antiquities from Cyprus is interesting and large. Some of the glass vessels are exquisitely colored with iridescence from partial decomposition or disintegration of the surface….Some of these things are costly and curious… This collection promises very well indeed. Twenty years hence it will probably have grown into a really instructive museum.

(New York Diaries 1609-2009, p. 177.)

Sir Cecil

Quick trip to the Museum of the City of New York to catch Cecil Beaton: The New York Years. That Sir Cecil’s work as photographer, costume designer and portraitist could be captured in a single room is amazing. But here it is, in an exhibit that is both rich and spare. Of particular interest; the shots of Wallis Simpson. Any man who could bring out the softer side of the Duchess of Windsor clearly understood difficult personalities. And Katherine Hepburn? I think he adored her celebrity but personally hated her. His gouache of her in the late Thirties makes her appear arch and prematurely old. Three decades later, when he photographed her to promote her Broadway appearance in Coco (the high point of which seems to be his own fabulous red and black dresses) she appeared, as he complained to his diary, “Far too young” to play Chanel, deeming her performance “without any magic, her timing as erratic as ever…”

(See fuller treatment of Beaton’s trials with “K.H.” running through New York Diaries: 1609-2009.)

The exhibit ends February 20. Worth seeing if only for the costumes for the Metropolitan Opera’s performances of La Traviata and Turandot. No fudging here. They’re lush and perfect to the last stitch. Overall, evocative of pastry. On the trip home I bought a cupcake with buttercream icing and ate it before dinner.