Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Laverne Cox Shops at JCPenney

NKU establishes itself 
on the map for LGBTQ issues

Laverne Cox at NKU
     As one audience member said, it was a historical moment at NKU when Laverne Cox presented.  She's been an Emmy nominated member of the Orange is the New Black cast.  She's also been a spokesperson for the transgender community on a number of talk shows, news programs, and news talk shows.  She's also produced cutting edge documentaries as well.  

     Cox was most compelling in her erudition and analysis of various writers that have focused on Feminism and Women, Post-Structuralist and Deconstructionist theory, and gender, racial/ethnic, and sexual orientation identity.  She's the compleat college speaker - appealing to a wide range of students and community members, an icon of the zeitgeist, and simultaneously funny and intelligent.  



     Thanks to Bonnie Meyer, Director of LGBTQ Programs and Services at NKU, as well as the leadership of Student Affairs and the university.  Students and faculty from UC, Xavier, Thomas More, U of L, and Berea joined the throngs from NKU for the sold-out occasion.  This brightens the future of NKU and was such a relief after the recent regurgitation of the Scott Eaton affair(s).  Please, Cincinnati media, let's call a moratorium on that pathetic story.  

    Oh yes, and Laverne still has the style and wit to admit to wearing a $29.99 dress from JCPenney!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meatball Kitchen

Simple Italian your way

The Simple Industrial Interior
     Dreary fall evenings call for comfort food so Eric and I dropped by Meatball Kitchen on Short Vine after a movie recently at the Esquire.  I'd been curious about this place since its opening earlier in the year…a build-your-own approach to Italian dining.  It was a quiet evening for dine-in, so we had the full attention of our server for a run through of the posted menu.  

Rigatoni with Spicy Pork Meatballs and Meat Sauce
      Both of us decided on pastas with the other choices being a sandwich or salad.  We added our pick of meatballs (Turkey and Spicy Pork) from others including Beef and Vegetarian.  A line up of 5 sauces tempted us with the Meat and Béchamel adding Provolone Cheese on top.  Wow—thatsa lotta meatball options!  

Turkey Meatballs
with Béchamel Sauce
     The outcome was quite desirable as shown.  Both were tasty, led by cinnamon, chili and clove in the spicy pork ball and spinach, feta and fennel in the turkey.  Below them were a 3 meat sauce with ricotta and red wine, while the béchamel was a creamy mixture of brie and parmesan with garlic bread crumbs all atop mezzo rigatoni that was nicely prepared.  I have a pet peeve about not having enough sauce to compensate for the pasta, but that was not a problem here.  
Seasonal Broccoli
and Side Salad
We chose to have a side salad and broccoli.  Both were unconventional with the side salad winning out.  The broccoli was just too overcooked.

Wine Pairing Wall
     Eric raved about the iced tea.  I thought it had a spicy after taste that was remarkable.  There's also a nice list of beers and wine with entrée pairings visually displayed on the wall.  A very nice touch that takes away thinking for the customer.  All they have to do is enjoy the food…and that's more than enough!

Meatball Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

PRIDE

A mess of vivid characters 
trying to save and change their world

     The economic downturn, which hasn’t exactly turned up yet, resulting in “the new normal,” may be the right context for Americans to connect with Pride.  Yes, it follows in a particular subgenre of working class (mainly) men losing their livelihood and being reawakened by something completely incongruous.  Because of this, there’s both pathos and hilarity.  The British movies The Full Monty (1997) and Billy Elliott (2000) have been regularly cited by other reviewers, but the American movies Invincible (2007) and even the lighter How to Beat the High Cost of Living (1980) share a number of these elements.  

The LGSM Group
     Pride ups the ante by taking a true double fish out of water story that had overwhelming stakes for both groups (striking Welsh coal miners facing potential starvation and London lesbians and gays facing both homophobia and AIDS in the pre-cocktail era), while also teasing out a strong feminist subtext.  Stephen Beresford’s script is multi-layered, authentically textured in the political and cultural era of the mid-1980s, and it genuinely earns the deeper emotions for which it pushes.  

     The strongest part of the movie is in its presentation of how disenfranchised groups confront power.  The Miners’ Union and the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) face as much strife in their membership about whether to directly confront their oppressors or try to work with the establishment or splinter away.  My only problem was that Beresford felt compelled to add Joe, a fictional character, who seems to be present for the straight audience to feel sad and then uplifted by an archetypal (or stereotypical for detractors) middlebrow coming-of-age/coming out story.

Dominic West with Imelda Staunton
     Dominic West nails a big dance scene and there’s considerable charm provided especially by Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, and Jessica Gunning as some of the Welsh village residents.  Therefore, it’s already under consideration as a musical and I’m dreading that eventuality.  While I respected the touring production of Billy Elliott, I felt that the stage version neutralized both the despair and the buoyant joy of the movie by expecting a large, professional cast to behave as if they were singing Verdi.   Plus, Jamie Bell, Gary Lewis, and Julie Walters were irreplaceable from the movie..  

Ben Schnetzer as Activist Mark Ashton
     Director Matthew Warchus keeps a number of subplots bubbling along, but his smartest move was in casting a little known or used American actor in the most compelling role.  From the first shot of his face as he hears about the Miners’ Strike on TV, Ben Schnetzer plays Mark Ashton as a smart, passionate, unapologetic leader.  With his bovver boy boots and jeans, New Romantics haircut, and unassuming strut, I assumed he was a new English or Irish actor.  He neither overplays nor begs for sympathy and because of that, he creates a hero and proves his mettle as a potential star.  I hope he doesn’t sell out and get sucked into some jacked up superhero franchise for 12 year old boys and the emotionally simple-minded.  He’s already playing a superhero – a real one, who did change Britain.  

     To capture some sense of the movie’s breadth, a group of Welsh women go on a gay club crawl with their new lesbian sister comrades.  What could seem ‘cute’ actually plays as funny because of the sincere curiosity of the straight women.  However, it cuts to a brief scene between Mark running into an ex and the underlying ramifications are heartbreaking and frightening.  Are some of the most compelling leaders so energetic because they see the clock ticking?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Longhorn Steakhouse at Rookwood Pavilion

Think of it as a warm club, 
professionally run, with quality, affordable food

The Featured Steaks
     We don’t go to steakhouses very much and we usually avoid chain restaurants, but the Longhorn Steakhouse at Rookwood Pavilion changed our minds.  It was one of the first in the region and many of the staff members have worked there for more than a dozen years.  We visited there recently with some other bloggers and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The Interior at Longhorn Steakhouse Rookwood Pavilion
     The interior was spotless with different dining areas, which lends a sense of intimacy.  Wood paneling, Western prints, lower ceilings, and carpeting gave it a sense of a quiet club.  The service was friendly, informed, and willing to go the extra mile especially in terms of refilling drinks and boxing leftovers.  Yes, they knew we were going to visit and they smartly provided the best servers, but diners around the restaurant acted in a very satisfied manner.

Wild West Shrimp



     We liked the Brew Pub Pretzel Sticks and the Sweet Corn Fritters, though they were a little dense.  The Wild West Shrimp were generously portioned and lightly breaded.  There was a slight spice level along with yellow peppers and jalapeños.  
Spicy Chicken Bites



The Spicy Chicken Bites were extraordinary.  Supposedly, they were battered, but I didn’t taste it.  Instead, they were the freshest, most tender chicken pieces I’ve eaten in a long time with a glistening buffalo sauce.  Any restaurant from pub bar to grand establishment would be proud to list that dish on its menu.

Bleu Ridge Wedge Salad
     The Bleu Ridge Wedge Salad reminded me of Brio’s because it involved lettuce, blue cheese chunks, and diced tomato.  However, I preferred Longhorn’s because they make the dressing almost to order and the big difference was using romaine instead of iceberg.  It was a crisper salad with greater texture.

8 oz. Harvest Mushroom Filet
     We were offered a choice of steaks.  Neil ordered the 8 oz. Harvest Mushroom Filet, which was very tender, while I had the 8 oz. Renegade Sirloin, which tasted really good and is a very good value.  Both were cooked exactly to the specifications our server stated and were obviously quality pieces of meat.  Neither needed the homemade steak sauce with the touch of orange, but we enjoyed it with the second meal we had the next day with the leftovers.  The Mac & Cheese was excellent; I think they use gruyère because there was that rounded taste with an almost citrus-smoky touch.  I liked the Potato & Leek Au Gratin because the vegetables were sliced thin to retain their shape without being mushy.  (We’ve had salmon there in the past and it was also excellent).

Chocolate Stampede and
Pumpkin Spice Lava Cake
     Desserts were enormous and meant to be shared.  The Chocolate Stampede could have fed five people with its layers of cake and mousse.  It was rich and carefully presented.  I preferred the Pumpkin Spice Lava Cake, which is actually a smaller, warm Bundt cake with a gooey cream cheese frosting in the center hole.  Again, it was one to split up and enjoy as a group.  


Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread

Exploring the south and her roots – 
a lovely record, but magisterial in concert

Our Seats at Clowes Hall
     We were in Indianapolis last month and Neil happened to see that Rosanne Cash was going to perform at Butler University’s Clowes Memorial Hall.  Since we were able to get seats that guaranteed no one would be standing in front of us, we decided to go.  Cash’s The River and the Thread was released earlier this year and I really liked it.  The grandeur it attained in concert was only suggested on disc.  Part of the reason was that the instrumentation sounded more complex live and Cash’s singing was also stronger.  

Cash with Husband,
John Leventhal
     Cash and her producer/husband John Leventhal co-wrote a collection of songs that refer to the geographical American south, where Cash was born, and the larger, cultural signifiers of the South in country, blues, and gospel genres and styles as well as Sun Records in Memphis where Johnny Cash, her father, and Elvis, among others, first recorded, and the literary tradition exemplified in the oeuvres of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.  She mentioned each of these influences in passing as she briefly summed up the origin of each song in sequence, a practice she’d first experienced at a Lou Reed concert.  

     The personal country history of “The Sunken Lands” and “Etta’s Tune” move into the nouveau gospel of “Tell Heaven,” and the roots rockabilly of “50,000 Watts.”  “Night School” sounds like an eerie lullaby, though it’s more of a wish to be reunited, while “Money Road” connects the Tallahatchie River and all of its symbolism to the commercialization of what was a folk art.  The irony – not lost on her – is that Cash’s stepfamily, the Carters, were the origin of what became modern American Country music as an industry.

Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home
     The stand out track is “When the Master Calls the Roll,” written by Levanthal and Rodney Crowell for Emmylou Harris, but she hasn’t recorded it so Cash worked to reinterpret some of the music with her lyrics.  It takes off from Cash’s great-great grandparents marrying during the Civil War and refers to both a military roll call and the judgement of the dead.


     The band that Cash and Levanthal put together was unbeatable.  It really rocked, which I hadn’t expected.  Her presence was somehow elegant, bohemian, and regal.  She fully interacted with the band members and acted very much as a collaborator, rather than their leader.  She treated the audience with both the utmost respect and a sense of wry humor.  The second half of the concert was a compilation of both her ‘80s hits and the deeper, more personal work of the past decade as well as a couple of her father’s songs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Iliad at Ensemble

Unmissable





     For those that don’t have tickets yet for An Iliad, stop reading this review, and go online or call Ensemble Theatre immediately and purchase them.  For those that do, you have something to look forward to because this may prove to be the most memorable theatrical tour de force since Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, 2003) and feature the best local performance since Dale Hodges starred in Wit (1999) or Bruce Cromer played Prior Walter in the Angels in America diptych at Human Race (1997).  That isn’t to say there haven’t been wonderful productions and performances in the past decade locally, but there hasn’t been a gut punch (emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically) quite like this one.

Denis O'Hare
in the Title Role*







     Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare adapted from Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad.  O’Hare performed it Off-Broadway a couple of years ago.
Bruce Cromer**
Bruce Cromer becomes a graceful whirlwind as he invokes the theatrical gods and, inthe course of the story, the Classical Greek Gods to embody the conflict of the Trojan War and, not coincidentally, the root of all strife resulting in long-term historic destructions.  He performs in a variety of styles from casual, contemporary, and almost off-the-cuff to a performance studies storytelling set up of multiple character scenes to a grandly stylized oratorical mode.  He’s a virtuoso who never loses focus and always finds his light, even when it’s less than a foot in diameter.  Seeing his performance sweat pulled me further into the experience.  He’s amazing, though my one quibble is that his Helen wasn’t as surprising as the rest of his repertoire of characters.

Mehring's Set and Lutz's Propping**
     Michael Evan Haney’s paces the piece sharply and retains a number of metaphoric and meta-theatrical levels throughout.  Brian c. Mehring’s set and, especially, lighting are both quietly sensational.  Shannon Rae Lutz’s props are simultaneously unassuming and elegiac.  After a couple of audience members turned off their phones (really, turn them off before entering the theatre, not after the lights have dimmed), I could have heard a pin drop from the moment Cromer first spoke through the final blackout.

*Photo by Joan Marcus
**Photos from the ETC website
ensemblecincinnati.org


An Apropos Trompe L'oeil on
Central Parkway Near Ensemble Theatre

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Separate Peace & Snow

Two classics and both surprising

     One of my colleagues decided to teach John Knowles’ A Separate Peace this summer and I thought I’d read it as well.  Even though copies lay on various high school and college shelves, I’d never been assigned it and I sort of avoided it.  I developed a prejudice towards it for no good reason, i.e. I hadn’t read it.

     I always thought it was a prep school book and I thought, so what?  (It’s the same reason that I wasn’t as thrilled about Harry Potter as many others were.  It seemed like Enid Blyton filtered through Roald Dahl, though very well written, and a little reactionary since Hermione was the smartest character, but Harry always competed and won).  A Separate Peace, like The Go-Between, actually re-examines the past and how those who came of age in a specific era were either undone by or thrived.  In this case, the era is the early ‘40s.  It undercuts the idealized popular notion of  ‘The Greatest Generation’ by showing a variety of responses to the abstract and then actual threats of a world war.  

     It’s a subtle work that lends itself to multiple interpretations.  My colleague approached it from the standpoint that Gene and Finn were doppelgangers of one another.  In coming to terms with one another, one survives by destroying the other.  I saw it as the future wiping away the past in order to establish a new order.  It ‘s elegant, understated, and quietly fascinating.

     I’ve wanted to read Snow by Orhan Pamuk ever since it was released a decade ago in the U.S.  It was written at the turn of the century (the dates are listed at the back and the only book that worked for was Ulysses), but I had to check out Wikipedia to figure when it was taking place and I still couldn’t locate it.  Maybe it was some time in the early or mid-‘90s.  The last military coup was 1997, but that seemed late.  

     I wanted to find out more about Turkey and Snow sort of did that.  The main national conflict seems to be whether the country should be a democracy or a theocracy and the role Islam should play in its culture.  Is the U.S. really that different?  Substitute Christianity for Islam in the preceding statement and I’d argue that is the root of the “culture wars” of the past half century here.  Pamuk sets the story in Kars, an outlying city, during a weekend where all hell breaks out politically centering on exiled poet Ka, returning after many years.  He investigates the young women who wish to remain wearing their headscarves even though it has been outlawed and are prepared to commit suicide to do so.


     However, Ka is far more interested in making it with his former friend’s divorced wife.  He goes on and on about it for pages and pages.  It’s no coincidence that John Updike thought this “a major work” and “(Turkey’s) most likely candidate for the Nobel Prize” in The New Yorker since most of his major male characters were most interested in whether they’d make it with some hot female.  I prefer Updike’s style to Pamuk’s, though this was translated.   After Ka finally gets it on with Ipek, there’s a flash forward and we find out he’s dead.  (Sex = Death?)  Then we flash back (ugh!) to figure out why he was killed four years later.  I wouldn’t and didn’t give up, but I kept asking myself why?  Oh yes, and Pamuk did win the Nobel Prize, even though I’d rather read Updike.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lindner Family Café at Taft Museum of Art

Artful dining with a theme and views

The Inside Café
     We've walked through the café several times on our way to the museum, pausing at the diner's fare and views into the gardens beyond. We actually tried to dine in the garden area for a free concert series once a couple of years ago. It turned into an awkward situation that we tossed aside to the time of day and a staff shift change. Those things happen.  This time we were there to see Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray and decided to sample the menu designed expressly for the exhibit.

Superb Soups
     Chef Luke Radkey has taken his cue from a Parisian restaurant, La Poule au Pot.  He's chosen classic dishes inspired from the place where the artists dined and conversed.  We started with soups that were not particularly rooted in French cuisine, but none-the-less magnifique.  Eric's was a Chicken with Homemade Dumplings and mine was Shrimp and Corn Chowder.  The soup selection changes daily, but if these are any examples of the usual quality, then I would highly recommend them. 

Salade Pommes Anna
Eric chose Salade Pommes Anna of mixed greens, cubed butternut squash, thinly sliced radishes, and potato straws.  All were positioned over Pommes Anna—finely sliced and fried potatoes and served with a creamy balsamic dressing.  A beautiful autumn mix with clever taste combinations. 
Croque Monsieur
My Croque Monsieur was presented cut diagonally, which showed off the ham and Emmenthaler cheese inside.  A classic croque would have been grilled, but this was on toasted bread.  It didn't make a bit of difference.  I enjoyed it through and through.  My only critique would be that the Mornay Sauce could have been a bit creamier.  


      I'm not sure if the café uses the museum's exhibits to elevate their menu all of the time, but it's something they should consider.  It certainly added to the whole experience as did our service, which we found to be attentive and professional.

Lindner Family Café at the Taft Museum of Art on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 10, 2014

Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Rey…

to Neil.  Or so Eric says

     We wanted to see the Kehinde Wiley show at the Taft Museum of Art before it left.  It just so happened that there was a major exhibit of early 20th century photography in its premiere week there also.  Paris, during that time, has always been a fascination for me.  So much so that it was an influence for some of our home decorating.  Several years ago, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company did a reading of Paris Tables, based around the fictional conversations at a Parisian cafe between the likes of Picasso, Stein, Hemingway, and more.  We've often wondered what happened to that intriguing play as it still resounds in our memories.  This exhibit takes the major photo journalists and heavy hitters around that same time period and presents their best images of the day (and night).

Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Anna la Pradvina with Chichi and Gogo
     The turning point in photography at the time was the introduction of the Leica camera in 1925.  At only 5 inches wide, it allowed photographers to easily and quickly take "snapshots".  Their journals of the City of Light allowed them to capture images as they were happening, and that is the crux of this exhibition. 

Ilse Bing, Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower (detail)
     I asked Eric if he was planning on doing a review of the exhibit and he said, "Why should I? Your Paris photos are better than any of them."  "Thank you, Eric."  What else could I say?  I'm flattered, but I have to say I had a similar thought when going through the 8 rooms at the Taft recently.  
Eugène Atget, Corsets
Many of the subjects had the same, or similar, themes as some of my photos from our visit in 2006.  Of course, those photographers all had the inspiration of hundreds of creative talents from all walks of the art world surrounding them 24/7.  I took my creative energy from the city and its people, not to mention being in the middle of the trip of a lifetime.  I'm positive we all appreciated everyday life in Paris and the beauty of our surroundings.


Neil's Paris

Madame Ile de la 'Cité with Coco
Night Sky
from the Eiffel Tower
Givenchy
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––


Kehinde Wiley: Memling at the Taft
     It's a shame the museum didn't do a better job of promoting Kehinde Wiley: Memling.  He's one of the hottest modern American painters so it's hard to imagine that someone of that caliber wouldn't elicit a huge draw to the Taft.  The premise of the exhibit was juxtaposing eight 15th century Hans Memling paintings against similar settings of young African-American males.  Although these paintings were smaller than the typical canvases by Wiley, they none-the-less packed a huge punch.  We thought the curator's notes were a bit of a yawn and perhaps missed the point of the collection all together.  Wiley's gig is taking street-wise guys and reinterpreting them in a
After Memling's
Portrait of Saint Benedict
setting from a classic painting.  In so doing, he also conveys the message of who and what his subjects are in their lives.  He does that through their choice of clothing, interaction with the viewer, and body language.  What appears to be all good is sometimes deceptive as in the one painting in this exhibit with the subject subtly giving the viewer "the finger".  We hope you had the chance to see these great works.

Paris Night & Day runs through January 11, 2015.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Skeleton Twins

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader deliver 
great performances in a grim family comedy

     Thinking that The Skeleton Twins would be a comedy was a mistake.  From classic comedic structure, a new order progresses from one that is not a whole lot different. In this case, a relationship that was very close survives strife and a lot of teasing over twenty years before being more strongly re-established. Plus, there’s a somewhat happy ending.  It’s not a laugh riot, but Bill Hader as Milo and Kristen Wiig as Maggie mine emotional depths that are only hinted at in the screenplay.

     Part of the reason their performances are devastating is because audiences will presume that they’ll suddenly cut away into a funny, superficial reaction.  They had to work like that on SNL to make any type of impression (and overcome generally shoddy writing).  That doesn’t happen here.  Much
Lip Syncing For His Emotional Life
has been made of a scene where siblings Milo and Maggie lip sync (almost literally for their emotional lives, which would make RuPaul proud), but it’s not some campy, chirpy bit.  Instead, in context, it’s about whether she’ll overcome some of their history to connect with him.  

Kristen Wiig with Luke Wilson







     Luke Wilson plays Maggie’s husband Lance as a sincere nice guy, who’s out of his depth and Ty Burrell plays a very ambivalent character that’s nothing like his work on Modern Family
Ty Burrell
Joanna Gleason registers strongly in one scene as their mother, who is pretty monstrous when their family history is more fully rewound after the movie ends.  Both provide strong support, but this is Hader’s and Wiig’s show.  Though it has the ‘I’ve got a secret’ revelation structure that Scribe introduced in the early 19th century with the ‘well-made play,’ it mixes things up.  The problem for me was that I couldn’t quite get the chronology of what had happened in the siblings’ shared past (they came of age in the ‘90s, but their pop references seemed to be for those from the ‘80s or earlier) and Neil couldn’t understand why they hadn’t spoken for ten years.

Morano's Cinematography
     The cinematography by Reed Morano is clear and gorgeous – realism that’s been kicked up a notch.  It reminded me of some of Laszlo Kovacs’ lighting and palette from Five Easy Pieces (1970).  We’re in an era of some wonderful acting and cinematography.