Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Many of you have been there as part of your tours of Israel, or perhaps Jordan. You may have taken a hike in the oasis of Ein Gedi, or made your way past the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. You may even have climbed the Snake Path to the top of Masada, where, in 73-74 CE, 960 Jews committed mass suicide to avoid being captured and enslaved by the advancing army of the Roman Empire.
You may also have marveled at the novelty of the Dead Sea, where, because of its chemical and mineral content, you could not sink – you were totally buoyant. It was as if you were lying back in a reclining beach chair. Even more enticing to many are the purported health benefits offered by theDead Sea’s mineral properties. There are few other places on earth where you will sit on a beach and watch most of the people there covered in black mud, slathered all over their bodies, in order to ease various ailments. But for the tens of thousands of people who didn’t visit the Dead Sea in person and still seeking its cosmetic and health benefits, manufacturers have obliged by creating creams and other products of the magical waters and selling them around the world.
At 31 miles long, 9 miles wide at its widest point, 997 feet deep at its deepest level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. It is more than 10 times saltier than ocean water. As a result, only bacteria grow in it. Because of its unique character, the Sea was recently under construction as one of the seven wonders of the world.
It sounds like one of the most exotic places on earth to visit. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea is in danger of dying. It is receding at an alarming rate. While there is not single reason for the damage being done to the Sea, it is believed that several factors are contributing to it, such as greater evaporation caused by global warming, the damming of the Jordan River upstream, refuse being dumped into the river and the Sea, and the extraction of minerals, etc., by industrial interests. And although nothing grows in the Dead Sea itself, there is much life in the surrounding desert that may suffer dire consequences as a result of the shrinking Sea. Only three years ago, Israel and Jordan signed an agreement to address the shrinking Dead Sea as part of a broader effort, but it appears that the cost of this effort and questions about whether it might cause more harm than good, has caused enough political opposition to stall, if not kill, the effort. Unless a solution to its problems can be found soon, many scientists fear that this great salt sea will be a mere puddle by 2050.
One person is trying to do something to save this world treasure. Israeli photojournalist Noam Bedein has made saving the Dead Sea his life’s ambition. I read about Noam’s efforts several months ago and contacted him before my wife, Niki, and I made our most recent visit to Israel last month. Noam arranged for us to join other photographers and interested parties on an exclusive boat expedition of the Dead Sea. We observed salt formations, caves, canyons, and sinkholes that looked as if they were on the surface of an alien planet.
While hauntingly beautiful, it was alarming to see Noam’s documentation of the Sea’s receding shores. Noam has complied thousands of photographs and uses them in lectures around the world in his effort to garner greater understanding of and support for actions to save this wonder of the world. Raising awareness of this tragedy in the making is the first of many steps required to ensure that the Dead Sea remains one of the wonders of the world and provides joy and benefits for generations to come.
You can read more about Noam’s Dead Sea story on his website.
The rest of my photos from our Dead Sea excursion can be viewed on my website.
Once again (for the 39th time) the ArtExpo has descended on New York City (at Pier 94 at the western foot of Manhattan’s 54th Street.) This is the biggest such gathering of juried artists in the U.S. – artists congregating from around the globe to promote their work to trade buyers—gallery owners and managers, art dealers, interior designers, architects, corporations and art & framing retailers. Again, the pleasure for me was to be able to talk to the artists. The art becomes more meaningful to me, and often more sensible.
Tzachi Nevo traveled from Israel for this, his first New York ArtExpo. He came out of an industrial design background and prepares his work in that mindset; his art is his business. He is widely represented on the Web (LinkedIn, FB, Etsy, Pinterest, etc.) Until two years ago, Nevo worked in marketing – having previously spent only the briefest time practicing his design craft. He is a genial fellow with none of the obvious eccentricities or pretensions of the cliché artist. The works Nevo displayed at the Expo are bold in color and design, reminiscent of Greek theater masks or African tribal art; primitive in their simplicity and readily accessible. They show a definite sense of whimsy. He has produced distinctly different series – masks of animals, large emojis, many of which were not displayed at the Expo but may be found on-line at Urban Masquerade.
Christian Torcal and Carol Routenaer
I spoke briefly, and haltingly (due to our mutual lack of bilingualism), with a charming young Spanish couple from Valencia – Carol Routenaer and Christian Torcal. Routenaer is a self-taught photographer with a romantic sensibility and an eye for the idealized beauty of young girls set off with bits of nature in ravishing colors. She occasionally dipped into surrealism – perhaps accidentally, but the works could be enjoyed simply for their lush and deep tonalities. This was also her first Expo. See Carol’s website.
I chatted at some length with Ed Pascoe of the Pascoe Galleries; Pascoe maintains a gallery in North Miami, but his Expo display was an expansive collection of captivating ceramic works by a collective of South African Zulu artists (Ardmore Studio) – with wonderful color, detail, energy and humor – simultaneously sophisticated and accessible, masterful and occasionally silly. You could not resist smiling at the work.
In 2009 Pasco first visited Ardmore in Kwazulu-Natal and met the founder and organizer of the collective, Fée Halsted. Pascoe now regularly visits the collective in South Africa, and Halstead reciprocates; they can be seen at the center of the (uncredited) photo of the collective. See the website for Pascoe Gallery.
I also had an engaging conversation with Kevin Grass and wife, both artists, but only Kevin’s work was displayed. He teaches academic art, she art history; they met while studying northern renaissance art at the University of Georgia. Grass hales from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, a modest French colonial town an hour south of St Louis – founded in 1735, and the oldest town in the state. (It gets a mention in the journals of Lewis & Clark.) The Grasses live and work in the Tampa Bay area. His relatively rustic background belies the stylistic classicism, and the philosophical and satiric sensibility of his paintings. (One iconic image is of a young couple, casually attired, in intimate embrace – each perusing his/her phone behind the back – and outside the peripheral vision – of the other. Another is a riff on Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding portrait – but this time around commemorating the legalization of gay marriage.) Grass paints on birch plywood and finishes his works with a varnish that enhances the depth and luster of the paint and suggests a more aged lineage. See the website for Kevin Grass.
I spoke with Kate Taylor, a vivacious Torontonian, who also works on birch ply – but in a less representational manner. She starts with a bold color wash and then attacks her “canvas” with a palette knife of many colors to build pointillist abstracts, and finishes the work with an epoxy resin, lightly torched to educe air bubbles, rendering the final product glossy and bright, and seemingly lacquered. The strike of the palette knife leaves bits of color with a hard lead and a softer, almost frayed trailing edge – as if having been ripped from the edge of a paper. See Kate Taylor Studio.
Peter Layton Glass Works
Glowing glass creations of the English master glass artist Peter Layton were also particularly striking. See more on his website.
The Expo brings together art and artists from around the globe, working in many media – some exceptional, some less so – but all receptive to conversation. If you are an artist, or enjoy the study, philosophy, technique or business of art, or if you are in the market for art, you should find wandering the aisles here a fascinating few hours. It is open today (4/22) and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. Each day includes various special events, talks and presentations – all of which can be found on the Art Expo New York website.
Jerry Herman’s first (1961) Broadway effort has Israeli flavor (including Hebrew) without awkwardness or polemic. Herman and book writer Don Appell were sent abroad by producer Gerard Oestreicher to immerse themselves in the pioneer state about to celebrate its 13th Anniversary (a Bar Mitzvah). They created a sympathetic sketch steeped in traditional settlement values whose moral compass is in no way exclusively Jewish. Milk and Honey is full of (appreciatively cliché) humor. Its warm, primary relationships eschew rose colored glasses.
We first meet the busload of touring American widows on the streets of Jerusalem. Mrs. Kessler (Marcy DeGonge Manfredi), Mrs. Perlman (Joy Hermalyn), Mrs. Segal (Joanne Lessner), and Mrs. Weiss- Clara (Alix Korey) “tell me everything, don’t leave out a word” have come as much to find husbands as to broaden their horizons. Mrs. Stein-Ruth (Anne Runolfsson) joined the group to break a pattern of hen parties and memories.
Alix Korey, who plays Clara, a role originated by Molly Picon, is flat out terrific. Not only does the respected veteran remind us once again of vocal skill, but comic timing is impeccable, accent pitch perfect, and the actress segues to more serious moments with utter finesse. There are many reasons to enjoy this production, but Korey is a prime one. Her “Hymn to Hymie” (Clara’s deceased husband) is wonderful.
When a shepherd (Ari Axelrod in one of several roles) tries to drive his flock on a main thoroughfare (music stands tied together, each with a printed sign that says: SHEEP), American Phil Arkin (Mark Delevan) calms the crowd. Ruth asks him to translate. They connect. A retired businessman, Phil has skeptically come to visit his daughter Barbara (Jessica Fontana) and meet her new husband David, a Sabra. (A Jew born on Israeli territory.) The young people live in the Negev. “Give your daughter a European education and she brings home a farmer.”
Perry Sherman, Jessica Fontana (David and Barbara)
Phil impulsively asks Ruth to join Barbara and him touring the city. They have a wonderful day. She’s then invited to the desert. Putting aside a lifetime of reservations, she goes, seamlessly pitching in and fitting in. The middle aged couple credibly fall in love, for the first time seeing options both thought were unavailable. Unfortunately Phil still has a much estranged, eventually revealed wife.
Jacob Heimer, Abby Goldfarb (Adi & Zipporah)
Secondarily, we watch Barbara and her husband David (Peter Sherman- warm presence, good accent, fine voice) deal with her adjustment from upper middle class city life to agronomy, and malcontent farmer Adi (Jacob Heimer- good accent, solid acting and vocal) negotiate pregnancy and marriage (in that order) with girlfriend Zipporah (Abby Goldfarb- ably spirited.)
Milk and Honey is about second chances, integrity, courage, and partnerships.
Joy Hermalyn, Alix Korey, John Little (Mrs. Perlman, Clara, Mr. Horowitz)
Anne Runolfsson has a strong, mid range soprano. The actress grows into her role before our eyes, at first less than natural, but gradually troubled and infectiously moved as a compelling Ruth Stein. Opera singer Mark Delavan lends not only deep, resonant vocals, but thoughtful rendering of dialogue (which gives us time to watch the character consider) and tenderness that makes Phil Arkin always believable. The two voices blend beautifully.
Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson
Director Michael Unger does a splendid job with both lively and touching numbers. His actors have a good sense of where and when they are. Intimacy is well played. Pacing is just right. Visuals appeal. Only a parenthesis where the widows involve audience members feels uncomfortable.
Choreography by Yehuda Hyman is cute (not cloying) and appropriately ethnic.
Also featuring: John Little
This is the land of Milk and Honey/ This is the land of sun and song and /
This is the world of good and plenty /Humble and proud and young and strong
Photos by Ben Strothmann Opening: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, Alix Korey (Phil, Ruth, Clara)
The York Theatre Company Musicals in Mufti! Milk and Honey Book-Don Appell; Music & Lyrics- Jerry Herman Directed by Michael Unger Music Direction- Jeffrey Saver Through February 5, 2017 The York Theatre at St. Clements 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street NEXT: February 11-19: Berlin to Broadway
“Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”
What appears at first glance to be a slight ripple in history sometimes affects those present in profoundly unexpected ways. This gem of a musical, whose fine book buoys grounded lyrics, embraces what we have in common rather than becoming yet another platform for political social/division. That it does so with limpid delicacy eschewing Hollywood outcomes makes the piece as refreshing as it is sympathetic.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been invited to open an Arab Cultural Center in Pet Hatikva, Israel. Overseen with utmost decorum “We are here to represent our country!” by their conductor, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Tony Shaloub), the small troop appear somewhat dazed. Crisp, powder blue military uniforms stand out against sand and cracked cement as if landed from another planet. In fact, they are strangers in a strange land.
Tony Shaloub, Alok Tewari, Ari’el Stachel
When trumpet player/ladies man Haled (Ari’el Stachel) mistakenly arranges passage to neighboring Bat Hatikva (B not P), the men find themselves in a one horse desert town without the horse. Locals pass by means of a stage floor turntable. They’re all “Waiting”, but is it for something special or just “Looking off out into the distance/even though you know the view is never gonna change…”
Café owner Dina (Katrina Lenk), affable Itzik (John Cariani), and hapless young Papi (Daniel David Stewart) sing “Welcome to Nowhere.” As the next bus doesn’t come through till tomorrow and the settlement has no hotel, Dina agrees to put up Tewfiq and Haled. Itzik takes home clarinetist Simon (Alok Tewari) and violinist Camal (George Abud.) Others will bunk in the café.
John Cariani, Katrina Lenk, Daniel David Stewart
David Yazbeck’s infectious music embraces Middle Eastern influences with estimable skill, maintaining an atmosphere of “other” one rarely finds in musical theater. Orchestra members without speaking parts supplement hidden musicians creating inclusiveness. Stachel actually plays trumpet, Tewari, clarinet, Abud, violin. Several cast members speak fluent Arabic while others deliver dialogue in Hebrew. There isn’t a single weak link in acting or vocals. Casting (Tara Rubin) must’ve been like scaling a glass mountain.
The play evolves over a single afternoon and evening with four integrated chapters. In Avrum’s home (Andrew Polk as Iris’s father), we observe Itzak’s unemployment and a new baby strain his marriage to Iris (Kristin Sieh). Polk tells Avrum’s love story with palpable warmth. A pleasing “Beat of Your Heart” elicits memories: Love starts when the tune is sweet/And you lift your feet/to the beat of your heart…Simon unwittingly affects dynamics.
Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari, Andrew Polk, George Abud
At a well staged roller rink, Papi panics around girls. Description of his state “Papi Hears the Ocean” is priceless. Haled instills the boy with confidence in a charming scene.
Curious about and drawn to her guest, the attractive Dina literally lets her hair down and engineers private time with Tewfiq. It seems she’s familiar with Egyptian film and the music of female vocalist Umm Kulthum. “Omar Sharif” is wistful and original: From the West from the South/Honey in my ears/Spice in my mouth…Dina gets the guarded conductor to begin to open up. He sings in a capella Arabic (with immense feeling), but is it about love, she wonders, or fishing? Still, this man is compelling. They understand one another on a deeper level. It’s “Something Different.”
Tony Shaloub, Katrina Lenk
The fourth chapter, an embodiment of hopeful perseverance, is played out with the Telephone Guy (Erik Liberman, good vocal) who has stood outside a phone booth every night for a month waiting for a promised call from his girl. Then it’s time for the orchestra to move on. We last see them – performing – in Pet Hatikva. It’s extremely difficult not to get up and dance. A completely satisfying experience.
Ari’el Stachel imbues Haled with gentleness that would appeal to the girls with whom his character continually flirts, yet masculinity is ever present. His paternal attitude toward Papi is lovely. And he sings. Daniel David Stewart is pitch perfect as awkward, earnest Papi.
Katrina Lenk and Tony Shaloub are a match made in heaven. Lenk’s earthy, sensual, smart portrayal make Dina a real and formidable woman. Rarely have the practical and passionate been so believable in tandem. And she has a superb voice.
Shaloub’s performance is layered and nuanced. Fastidiousness is unmistakable. Revealing his painful past, Tewfiq maintains perspective, yet at one point, we hear his breath catch. His song communicates lost illusions – I didn’t understand a word. The couple’s parting couldn’t be more convincingly manifest.
Director David Cromer has both a soulful character touch and the kind of comprehensive staging vision that never makes a false move. The turntable is wonderfully utilized. Live musicians are meticulously integrated.
Language and Dialect Coach Mouna R’miki deserves a standing ovation. Scott Pask’s flexible set evokes the desolate environment while maintaining a sense of community with flow.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster Opening: Ari’el Stachel, David Garo Yellin, George Abud, Tony Shalloub, Harvey Valdes, Sam Sadigursky, Alok Tewari
Atlantic Theater Company presents The Band’s Visit Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Itamar Moses Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin Music Director: Andrea Grody; Orchestrations: Jamishied Sharifi Directed by David Cromer Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20 Street Through January 1, 2017
Aristotle posited that a perfect story is one whose entire action, the protagonist’s personal evolution as well as their physical journey, takes place in the space of one day. By that account, Leah Kaminsky would do the Greek mind proud. Her story, The Waiting Room, now the recipient of the Australia’s 2016 Voss Literary Prize for best novel, is a short but powerful work. Reading it feels a little like holding your breath after you’ve heard a strange noise, just waiting for it to happen again. It’s a tense and smart telling of one day in one woman’s life as she struggles with her family—past and present—and her work, all while under the nebulous threat of a possible terror attack in her adopted city, Haifa.
Haifa has been a place under threat in recent weeks, much of it evacuated after arsonists set fire to the fields and forests that surround it, and going back several years now it was the site of many bus bombings and other such terror attacks. But there was a time when Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, was also its most peaceful. With incredibly diverse ethnic and religious populations coexisting between the Mediterranean and the Carmel hills, Haifa was seemingly exempt from the strife that plagued other parts of the country. It is in this climate that The Waiting Room exists, back in the 1990s, when what she’s experiencing is only the beginning of something different and ominous.
The Waiting Room is a short but powerful read. The ending is broadcast from the first page, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic—even if it does seem somewhat unlikely. Take it as an analogy for Dina’s psyche, the realization of premonitions too frightening to acknowledge head-on and internal monologues too upsetting to divulge, and it paints a pitiful but spot-on picture of how destructive angst can be. The collective memory of the Holocaust and the current heightened political climate are a fearful combination, one that I’m sure many can feel starting to wear away at their nerves. When you don’t know who to fear, only what, it’s easy to create monsters out of your imagination and mask them with the strange faces you pass on the street. Do it too much, however, and you become the monster.
We follow Dina, a doctor and daughter of Holocaust survivors, from her breakfast table, through the streets of town, and into the wanderings of her mind as she tries to deal with circumstances both ordinary and extraordinary. She’s heavily pregnant, misses her childhood home in Australia, has been fighting with her husband, has a young son she’s worried about… Things are not comfortable. And to top it off, she has her mother—long dead to the rest of the world but very much alive in Dina’s mind—criticizing her every thought, her every move. She’s incredibly stressed and feels like the world is quickly becoming a much scarier, much darker place (and through the lens of current events some might say we are well on our way). That no one else seems to see it makes it all that much worse.
Kaminsky’s writing is natural and clear, even when the situations she presents are not. She does an excellent job of describing Dina’s neurosis, her anxiety, and her stoic attempts to brush them aside and get on with her ‘normal’ life. But Dina’s life isn’t what many of us would call normal. She lives with generational trauma and family secrets that throw off her perception of people’s motives and the world around her while also living in a country filled with individuals who must live each day with a somewhat fatalist edge, knowing that at any time there could be a bombing or a stabbing that would bring their existence to a close but that can’t let them stop doing what they need to do.
The question for Dina is whether or not to pay attention to her apprehensions, to keep calm and carry on or trust her instincts when things feel wrong. How is she to know when these choices could have life-or-death consequences? It’s a question many people face on a daily basis, and one that others think they face. Then there are other questions: When does caution border on mistrust border on bigotry and xenophobia? How do we make sense of senseless violence? How do we know when our perceptions are ‘correct’ and when they’re lies we tell ourselves to make it through another day?
It’s a lot of weighty philosophy packed into one slim, light book, but doing the emotional heavy lifting can be a gratifying experience indeed.