From Hart Crane and Walt Whitman to Frederico García Lorca and Nikki Giovanni, countless poets have distilled the clatter and clamor of New York City into meter and rhyme—none more succinctly than Ogden Nash, who authored “The Bronx?/No thonx!” Theatrical experimentalists Mabou Mines have again taken up this thematic mantle with Song for New York: What Women Do While Men Sit Knitting. What Mabou Mines does while audiences sit watching is to place an orchestra and 11 performers on a barge just off Long Island City and offer a poem or song celebrating each borough.
A sweeter intent couldn’t be imagined, nor a lovelier setting—the sunset, the twinkling lights, the bridges, the breeze. But the poems themselves prove markedly mediocre. The authors of the Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan songs have tried to cram every aspect of their boroughs into a single ode. Staten Island receives an oddly accented poem about husband-killing. Only Queens receives proper tribute, courtesy of a simple, jazzy number written by Karen Kandel and performed by La Tanya Hall. But that piece came late in the evening, by which time lots of the audience had fled. No thonx, indeed.