Tonight’s loosey goosey iteration of In Your Face New York is like a sorority talent show – genial, under-rehearsed, sometimes incredibly funny, at other times, not so much. It doesn’t help that sound design is dreadful. Excellent musicians are so poorly balanced, music emerges as an assault, vocalists can barely be heard. (I’ve been at Merkin before; it’s not the hall.)
Nellie McKay, known for seeming to be somewhat unglued while actually a politically savvy singer/songwriter and able performer, is host in name only – unless you consider “I’m supposed to do a little talky-talk here” and an awkward, improvised riff including the Alabama abortion ruling and the state of Venezuelan politics an opening monologue. Performed numbers include both her own quirky material and a splendid Lennon/McCartney “Blackbird.”
The evening’s centerpiece is conversation and cartoons by friends/ collaborators Roz Chast and Patricia Marx who have known one another since their twenties when Chast illustrated Marx’s first published writing. Mrs. Marx telephoned her daughter, “I read your piece. The illustration is great.” She suggested the girls might have a lot in common and should be in touch. In fact, they appear to be two peas from the same pod.
Polish/American author Czeslaw Milosz is quoted: When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished. The ladies joyfully bounce off one another. This is followed by a deadpan ukulele duet about parking. (They’re called The Ukulear Meltdown.)
“Patty’s mother is hysterical,” Chast tells us. Many of the inspired lines from their current book originated with her. We’re treated to a cartoon sampling out of the very funny Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? replete with sidebar comments.
Writer Sybil Sage delivers a wry, particularly urbane piece about being popular because she and her husband are the only couple in their crowd without a country home, thus potential guests to empty-nest houses. “If it were so wonderful in the country, the roaches and the rats would be there,” she quips.
Harpist Bridget Kibbey is a revelation. Offering a marvelously transcribed Bach piece (“it was a bet”) and later accompaniment to McKay’s purposely shudder-worthy “I Wanna to Get Married,” the musician’s finesse, clarity and phrasing is a pleasure.
Rita McMahon, patron saint of bird rescue and director of The Wild Bird Fund of New York City, is granted platform to inform us of the frightening number of New York’s 350 species of birds that are killed every year by the glass and steel canyons of the city. Evidently a bill has been introduced for bird safe glass. “Let’s do what we can to make New York a safe harbor,” the impassioned advocate implores.
Also featuring: Christina Cote in the audience with a microphone; Nancy Giles reading from Notes of a Negro Neurotic; Meghan Daum’s Chapter VIII in an ostensibly serialized novel of In Your Face New York, which describes the angst of a college sophomore who’s considered certifiably crazy by her analyst for wanting to move to Los Angeles; Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsy’s skit about competing mothers; and, J. Hope Stein’s dystopian poem about a plastic island where people breastfeed to survive (no kidding). Most of these artists have bona fides better than this evening indicates.
Photos by Sarah Blesener. Opening: Roz Chast and Patricia Marx
In Your Face New York
In Your Face New York
Created by Martin Sage
Host- Nellie McKay
Jay Leonhart- Musical Director/Bass
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
May 16, 2019