Best of NYC®

Best Of 2011


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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Playwright

In the last scene of a recent Pulitzer Prize winner, a character says soothingly, "I think we can do better." We're not so sure about that. In Ruined, star scribe Lynn Nottage combined a compelling plot and assured characters with a certain sense of place, history, and politics. But that script was merely the culmination of an already remarkable career, ranging from the fervid comedy of Fabulation to the gentle tragedy of Intimate Apparel to the delicate poignancy of Crumbs From the Table of Joy. Nottage has the surest command of structure of any playwright working but a playful attitude toward it. Ruined offered an epic with a happy ending; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark traded pitch-perfect historical comedy for postmodern farce. A strain of satire runs through nearly all her plays, but it twines with a sturdy sense of compassion. Indeed, she has always had an eye toward tensions and polarities: comedy and tragedy, benefit and loss, independence and constraint. That she made her fortune with Ruined is just the sort of paradox she'd relish.

Best New York City Documentary

What could be more downtown than celebrating downtown's most notorious tourist trap? The fried dough sizzles in Mulberry St., Abel Ferrara's feature-length video doc. With the self-appointed celluloid King of New York extolling the heartburn charms of Little Italy's annual Feast of San Gennaro, Mulberry St. is an extended gloss on Ferrara–ego idol Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, especially the scene in which Harvey Keitel complains that "with that feast on, ya can't even move in your own neighborhood," to which De Niro makes the heartfelt reply, "I hate that feast with a passion!" You might, too, but Ferrara fucking loves it! Stocked with highly local celebs and garrulous performers from his previous films, not to mention the irrepressible Ferrara frequently schmoozing on camera, Mulberry St. is a festival of self-dramatization in which it is impossible to judge whether Scorsese captured or invented the essence of Little Italy street jive. In either case, Ferrara has preserved it. In 50 years, this warm, cheesy, sometimes rancid slice (of life) will be a holy relic.

Best Unauthorized Homage To A Rocker
Night of 1000 Stevies

This past May, when ex-Fleetwood Mac waif Stevie Nicks canceled her New York concert because of illness, there was plenty of consolation: Two days later at the Highline Ballroom, there was the 21st annual Night of 1000 Stevies, for which Stevie wannabes fly in on white wings from all over the world, aping her fringed ponchos and her gypsy-like, slightly witchy eccentricity, clearly created by 1970s California via a little touch of heaven. They lip-synch her songs (whether the ethereal "Rhiannon" or the defiant "Stand Back"), sing them live, and sometimes just interpret them with their essence. They're men, and they're women, and sometimes you're not sure. And after a few hours of their amazingly committed performances, you're convinced that not only are they all Stevie, but we are all Stevie. Jackie Factory producers Chi Chi Valenti, Johnny Dynell, and Hattie Hathaway make this into a flower-bearing happening every year, but this year, the night started with a special video by Stevie herself, promising that some day, she'll show up in such an amazing disguise that no one will know it's her until she sneaks onto the stage and sings "Edge of Seventeen." So it is authorized!

431 W. 16th St., New York, 10011
Best Outdoor Festival

Every year for three days in early June, the Howl! Festival takes over Tompkins Square Park and fills it with poetry, music, dance, and balloon art, all in celebration of Allen Ginsberg's raunchy but officially not obscene poem "Howl." The fest is family friendly: There's all sorts of face-painting and carnival games for kids in the afternoon. But grown-ups are the real target audience, especially with the fest's kickoff, a group reading of "Howl" that tends to put the James Franco movie to shame. The festival's most outstanding event is also the most daring—the Sunday-night "Low Life" variety revue of drag queens, go-go dancers, and Butoh performers, presented by the Jackie Factory, which is legendary for mixing high camp with serious dollops of history. Last time around, they gave a nod to clubs and festivals of the past, from the protest performance art of ACT UP to the outdoor drag festival Wigstock (which originated in the same park), all while serving two hours of subversive entertainment. It was obscenely good.

Best Public Artwork

The 10th anniversary of September 11 passed last month and, blessedly, so did the tidal wave of mawkishness. Really, was there ever a time when the citizenry and the media and our elected representatives tried so desperately to out-mourn one another about something? A remembrance of 9/11 is always more than necessary, but to smother the tragedy's anniversary under so much conspicuous grief does it no real honor. The glitz, the video flags, the parade of politicos—it all gets insufferable. Our favorite public artwork, though, is an elegant and silent rebuke to all that. It's noble in its simplicity, inspirational, and also, frankly, a bit spooky. Not to mention epic. Each year, we have been moved by the Tribute in Light, as its powerful white beams shoot up into the night sky from near the World Trade Center site. Originally meant to conclude with this past anniversary of 9/11, we're happy to hear that the project will be continuing into the future. Our thanks to all the folks who conceived of it and who have put it together in subsequent years. It has been the finest way to honor those lost on that day.

Best Art Festival

Governors Island is already one of our favorite places on earth: a playground of uncrowded pathways, colonial architecture, and pristine views unspoiled by out-of-control condo development—no one lives there. So we didn't think the Island could really get any better, until the massive Figment Festival moved in. The three-day participatory art fest this year featured 400 performances and interactive installations, including the return of Aqua Attack!!, a battle between good and evil soaking-wet stuffed animals. David Koren, executive producer, says the founders were inspired by the Burning Man ethos when they created this temporary haven of creativity specifically for this unique island in 2007. Since then, Figment has become one of the most exciting arts weekends within ferry distance of Manhattan. Every June.


Best Playwright: Lynn Nottage


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