Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Unless you're seven feet tall, equipped with X-ray vision, or willing to elbow several dozen seedy Lower East Side types in the face in pursuit of a front-row spot, there's no way you'd be able to see anything happening on the so-low-it's-not-even-technically-a-stage stage if not for the TV above the bar at Cake Shop, a vintage black-and-white model offering a feed from a camera pointed directly onstage, showing in all probability the only unobstructed view of whatever ragtag crew of LES rockers happens to be on the bill that particular evening. (The music is generally fast, cheap, and out of control—fellow Best Of recipients Fang Island were a summer 2010 highlight.) If you're facing the band, the bar and lifesaving TV sit along the wall to your left, which allows for the wonderfully bizarre visual of a bunch of kids at a raucous rock show in a cramped basement who are all facing in the wrong direction. It's the stadium JumboTron principle writ as small as possible, and we couldn't be more grateful for it.
Naming someone "Best Young Playwright" is tricky in a city so full of ascribing scribblers. We suspect that the best young playwright in New York never even gets producedthat he or she is a genius that no one understands, and so he or she doesn't get staged. Of the talented under-30s whom we are lucky enough to hear from, though, there's one we've especially fallen for, a writer whose plays have a quiet, hypnotic charm, a grace and humor that have won over audiences the past few seasons. She's able to take ordinary, low-key situationsa small-town acting class, guys wasting time in an alley behind a cafeand fill them with gentle comedy, generosity of spirit, and an eye (and ear) for the foibles that make us all so hopelessly human. Can a writer be a titan of modesty? If so, Annie Baker might be well on her way. Last season, she won a dual Obie for her plays Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens. We doubt very much taht'll be her last trip up to an awards podium.
It's a profoundly odd place, Brooklyn Bowl, "posh bowling alley" being on the face of it a bizarre combination of words. And yet the Williamsburg spot is a beguiling mixture of low and slightly higher culture. Throw down on one of their 16 bowling lanes or just gawk at the enormous big-screen TVs looming above them; nonchalantly down a couple beers or luxuriate in a Blue Ribbon–provided full dinner menu including, allegedly, the most stupendous fried chicken ever fried. Oh, and, yes, there's music, too—a 600-capacity in-house venue booked by local powerhouse Bowery Presents that offers a fascinating mix of up-and-comers (rapper Yelawolf, indie rockers Real Estate), hip-hop celebs (Big Boi, Snoop Dogg, myriad ?uestlove DJ sets), and jam-band mainstays (Blues Traveler!). Embrace the absurdity and it's a great place to see a concert, actually, with plenty of distractions should you need any, and plenty of adventurous shows on the calendar.
Glance in passing at this high, tapering, steel-and-glass tower in Midtown and you'll think conference rooms, suits, and lobby art. What you wouldn't expect to find is a show like "Under Pain of Death," which, in 2008, presented Manfred Erjautz's life-size electric chair constructed entirely from Legos. The Austrian Cultural Forum offers a full slate of free concerts, readings, and film screenings, in addition to the always intriguing exhibitions mounted in its sleek, multi-tiered galleries. "NineteenEightyFour," a lively group show from this past spring, featured art from the U.S. and Europe, including Paul Laffoley's Cosmogenesis to Christogenesis, a concoction of vinyl type, collage, and ink that brought together the Shroud of Turin, spiral galaxies, and the "Atomic Nun." Here is a secret refuge for any diligent but income-challenged culture vulture.
It's yet another dismaying frigid January weekend, with no one with an ounce of good sense daring to stray more than 10 feet from the warming light of his or her flat-screen TV, and yet a small pocket of the Village is teeming with enthusiastic live-music fans, shuffling briskly but happily from (le) poisson rouge to Kenny's Castaways to Sullivan Hall to Zinc Bar and back again, all in the name of . . . jazz? Yes, this year's Winter Jazzfest was a smashing success. The six-year-old institution (begun at the old Knitting Factory) broke out in a big way in 2010, parading several dozen adventurous downtown-jazz luminaries (Darcy James Argue, Vijay Iyer, Mary Halvorson) over two nights in front of a couple thousand (!) adventurous fans, new and old. Aided mightily by ambitious promoter cabals like Search & Restore and Revive Da Live, the two-day fete has now inspired spin-offs like June's similarly packed Undead Jazzfest, but, hell, anyone can draw a crowd then. Nothing warms the heart quite like a winter-coat-bearing capacity crowd at Kenny's Castaways ready for a challenge, defying the odds simply by being there, listening.
Remember that kid you were always teasing in high school? That nerd, that spazz, that total and utter dork? Well, he's back. And fully weaponized. A drama group for that persecuted, comics-reading dweeb in us all, Vampire Cowboys has been cutting a swath through downtown for a couple of years now. What their plays lack in character development and philosophical nuance, they more than make up for in broadswords and throwing stars. Ten years ago, Ohio University students Qui Nguyen and Robert Ross Parker dreamed of a theater that would reflect their goober sensibilities. A decade later, it's a fake-blood-soaked reality. Their repertoire includes riffs on the classics, such as Living Dead in Denmark and Alice in Slasherland, as well as more unapologetically plotless pieces, such as Fight Girl Battle World. They also develop new violent works in their Saturday Night Saloon. With an Obie Award, laudatory reviews, and a rabid fan base, these nerds are getting all the revenge they need.