Sunday, May 19, 2019

5 Great Day Trips from Brussels, Belgium

By Jacquelin Carnegie 
(photo: VisitBrussels)
Brussels is a lovely little city to explore with over 100 museums, plenty of wonderful restaurants, and the delightful Dansaert shopping district. Famous for its food and beer, comics and artists, you'll have a great time. But, Belgium is a small country—it doesn’t take more than an hour by train to visit most of the major highlights—so plan your trip to take advantage of all the country has to offer. It's easy to get around by train, bus or rental car.
Belgium has two regions: Wallonia, which is French-speaking, and Flanders where Flemish (like Dutch) is spoken. Don’t fret; many people also speak English.

Art in the Park
(photo: Folon Foundation)

Fondation Folon
Ferme du Château de La Hulpe, Drève de la Ramée 6 A, La Hulpe;
Jean-Michel Folon was a fabulous, 20th-century, Belgian painter, illustrator and sculptor. While not as well known as his compatriot, the surrealist painter René Magritte, both liked to paint men in hats. Folon's celebrated work--beautiful watercolors, posters on behalf of important causes, and whimsical sculptures--is displayed in Château de La Hulp’s ancient farmhouse in Solvay Park, about a half-hour from Brussels. After you’ve viewed the collection, enjoy lunch at the adjacent café, Taverne de L’Homme Bleu, and take a stroll through the magnificent park.
Getting There: TEC Bus: #366 from Ixelles: Etangs d'Ixelles on Ave. du General de Gaulle in Brussels to La Hulpe Etang Solvay, about an hour. (TEC Bus info only in French.) In the park, follow the path that leads to your left, signage to the Fondation is limited. I’m a firm believer in public transportation, but this trip is easier by car (about 30 minutes) and you could combine it with a visit to Waterloo, ten minutes away.

Living History: A Bad Day for Napoleon
Waterloo Battlefield
Route du Lion 315, Waterloo;
(photo: Waterloo Battlefield)
It’s always thrilling to be in a spot where world history was made. The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most important in European history. It marked the fall of Napoleon and paved the way for a new era of peace in Europe. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blücher and 350,000 soldiers met on this battlefield, which has been preserved in its original state. You can take a tour, see reenactments, and learn more about the events leading up to the battle. But, you don’t have to be a military history buff to enjoy a visit to this beautiful and fascinating sight.
Getting There: Train: From Brussels Midi train station to Braine L’Alleud about 20 minutes. Then, walk or taxi to the Waterloo Battlefield Visitors’ Center. TEC Bus: #365a or W outside Brussels Midi station to Route de Nivelles, not Waterloo stop, about 45 minutes. (This trip by car is about 30 minutes from Brussels.)

A Passion for Fashion
(photo: Dries van Norten)
Antwerp is a hidden gem. Known for diamonds, which are just dull stones until cut and polished, this city became famous for the "Antwerp cut," said to give diamonds more sparkle. Browse the diamond district near the beautifully-restored Central Station, but purchase only from a reputable shop in the Diamond Jewelers Association ( Antwerp is also a fashion center thanks to the now-famous “Antwerp Six,” a group of avant-garde fashion designers (Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee) who burst onto the scene about 30 years ago and put Antwerp on the fashion map. Shop-till-you-drop in the lovely Sint-Andries neighborhood. Even better, go with a personal shopper. You'll want to stay longer than a day.
Shops: Louis (Lombardenstraat 2) - The store that launched the Sixers’ careers; Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) - Dries van Noten’s flagship store; Coccodrillo (Schuttershofstraat 9A) - Sells the Antwerp designers’ hip footwear.
Personal Shopper: Go with style consultant Tanguy Ottomer (Beroepsbelg; Tel: +32(0)3 430 23 30;; half & full day rates)
Dine: Het Pomphuis (Siberiastraat z/n) - Delicious meals in a spectacular setting. De Lokeend (General Belliardstraat 11) - A unique dining experience for groups of 20+; diners in a fabulous, private home.
Stay: Lots of options from nice hotels to campsites. Park Inn (Koningin Astridplein 14) - Hip & conveniently-located.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Antwerp, about 30 minutes.

Chocolates & Canals 
(photo: @mgdlnvlgr)
Famed for its medieval city center and canals, Bruges is now more popular than ever. The downside is hoards of tourists and local shops turned into tourist traps. To experience Bruges’ true beauty, rise early and/or stay up late to stroll the cobblestone streets free of the maddening crowds. But, nothing can spoil chocolate—there are some 40 shops to choose from. Start at the Chocolatier Van Oost (Wollestraat 11).
Dine: Cafedraal (Zilverstraat 38) - Delicious regional and seasonal dishes.
Stay: Plenty of lovely hotels and B&Bs to choose from. Pand Hotel (Pandreitje 16) - For a splurge, try this fashionably-decorated spot.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Bruges, about an hour.

Beauty Beyond Measure
(photo: Nataša Pavlović)
If you have time for only one day trip from Brussels, let it be this one. Ghent is the real deal. It has everything Bruges has--canals, unbelievable architecture--just on a slightly larger scale with fewer tourists. Take a boat ride on the canals. Admire the cityscape of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical architecture. Marvel at the magnificent, 13th- to 17th-century guildhalls along the banks of the canals. Wander around, then relax at any number of lovely, sidewalk cafés, taverns or brasseries. But, be sure to stay for nightfall when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated.
Dine: Mosquito Coast (Hoogpoort 28) - Inexpensive & in a great location overlooking the canal; Korenlei Twee (Korenlei 2 ) - A bit more stylish; Café Theatre (Schouwburgstraat 7) - Elegant, right next to the opera house; known for its Moëlleux, a cake with melted chocolate inside.
Stay: Several splendid places to choose from. Ghent Marriott (Korenlei 10) - An historic building with a hi-tech interior, right in the heart of it all.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Ghent (Sint-Pieters station), about 35 minutes. Then, Tram #1 into the center city, 7 mins.

Transportation Options in Belgium
Train/Bus: Brussels has three train stations (Brussels Centrale, Brussels Midi, Brussels Nord). The trains you’ll need for most of these trips leave from Brussels Centrale; the trains are frequent and inexpensive. Schedules & fares: SNCB or Rail Europe. The TEC Bus is also very convenient. Car Rental: All the major rental car companies are in the Arrivals Hall at Brussels Airport and, in the city center, at the Brussels Midi train station: Avis, Hertz, Europcar, etc. Travel in style: Hire a car and driver from Fun Cars or Modern Car
Magritte, La Décalcomanie
Making Your Trip Easier: City Cards give access to museums, public transport, special discounts, etc. They are useful if you plan to cram in a lot of sightseeing, but are less beneficial if you intend a more leisurely trip: BrusselsCard, Antwerp CityCardCityCard GhentBeroepsBelg - Offers all kinds of interesting tours in several Belgian cities.
Getting to Belgium: Brussels Airlines has just upgraded its fleet to offer more transatlantic comfort. 
Bon Voyage! 
[Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on]

Sunday, May 5, 2019

5 Artsy Day Trips an Hour from PARIS

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Monet, Train to Jeufosse

If you’re an art lover, this itinerary is for you. It was the development of train travel in the late 1800s in France that enabled artists to easily reach the Parisian outskirts to paint landscapes, giving rise to the en plein air ("in the open air") painting style. These treks into the countryside led artists to consider moving to the picturesque suburbs. Today, follow in their footsteps by hopping on a train. All of these lovely places are within an hour of Paris either by RER (light rail), SNCF (train) or TGV (fast train).

Fondation Claude Monet
84 Rue Claude Monet, Giverny; (Open: March-Nov) 

Monet, The Artist's Garden at Giverny
Monet noticed the village of Giverny while passing by on a train; in 1883, he moved his family here. His presence attracted other artists, from the famous to the unknown. (On Nov. 28, 1894, both Rodin and Cézanne visited!) It’s easy to visit Monet’s house and gardens without taking an overpriced bus tour. Get here on your own—by train, of course. Take an early one to arrive just as the gates open at the Claude Monet Foundation. The garden is beautiful, but smaller than imagined. And, the famed Japanese water garden is now on the other side of a busy main road. However, the house has been lovingly restored and the town is worth a visit. Have a meal or a look-see at the famed artists’ hangout, the restaurant Hôtel Baudy (open March-Nov), and don’t miss the Musée des Impressionnismes, just down the road.

Getting There: From Paris' Gare St. Lazare station, take a SNCF train to Vernon-Giverny. At Vernon, the train is met by a shuttle bus to the Claude Monet Foundation. Taxis and bikes are also available.

Van Gogh,

Auvers-sur-Oise is a really charming town where Vincent van Gogh sadly spent the last months of his life. He moved here in May 1890 and did some eighty paintings, including the only one sold during his lifetime, Portrait of Dr. Gachet. Markers throughout the town indicate Van Gogh-related points of interest and the sites he painted such as the church Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption and the City Hall. At the Château d'Auvers (the kitschiest museum you’ll ever visit), experience French life at the time of the Impressionists. Pay homage to Van Gogh at the room he occupied in the Auberge Ravoux. At the cemetery, weep over his grave and the sad irony of the penniless painter, now considered the most popular artist in the world.
Getting There: From Paris' Gare du Nord station, take the RER or SNCF train in the direction of Pontoise or Valmondois, with a transfer to Auvers-sur-Oise. (On Saturdays & Sundays, April to November, there’s a direct train, H line.)

Musée Rodin - Meudon
Villa des Brillants
19 Avenue Auguste Rodin, Meudon;
Rodin, The Thinker

The sculptor Auguste Rodin moved to Meudon Val Fleury in 1893. While he continued to go to his Parisian studio, he did a lot of creative work here. The museum is actually the villa where he lived and the studio where he worked, set in a beautiful park. Today, only a few rooms in the villa are open to the public, but the atelier is filled with spectacular casts of important pieces such as The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell. Out front, The Thinker fittingly presides over Rodin’s tomb. This lovely spot, perched on a hill overlooking the Parc de St. Cloud and the Seine, is the perfect setting for a picnic on a nice day.
Getting There: From Paris, take RER (C) in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche to Meudon Val Fleury. Then, from the station, take bus #169 (Paul Bert stop). It’s a walk uphill from there.

Musée Camille Claudel
10 rue Gustave Flaubert, Nogent-sur-Seine

Claudel, Femme Accroupie
This recently opened museum is the first in France to be dedicated to a woman artist. Recognition a long time in coming for an artist who spent most of her career trying to assert her own creativity and independence from Rodin. Certainly in the 19th-century, Camille Claudel was regarded more for being Rodin's student, studio assistant, collaborator, muse, model, and mistress--rather than a sculptor in her own right. But, it was in Nogent-sur-Seine as a young girl that her talent was first recognized and encouraged by the well-known sculptor Alfred Boucher. Boucher then asked Rodin to take her on as a student and the rest is history. As to the museum, works by other 19th-century sculptors who taught or influenced Claudel are displayed in the large first floor galleries in the modern section of the building. Oddly enough, Claudel's own works are relegated to the 2nd floor in the old section that was once the Claudels' family home.
Flaubert Fans: Flaubert's father's family was from Nogent-sur-Seine. His novel L'Éducation Sentimentale (Sentimental Education) is set here. At the tourist office (5 rue Saint Epoing)
, pick up a brochure with a map of highlights, "Sur Les Pas de Flaubert." 
Getting There: From Paris' Gare de l’Est station, take a SNCF train to Nogent-sur-Seine (about an hour). The museum is a 10-minute walk from the station.

Château du Clos Lucé
2 Rue du Clos Lucé, Amboise, Val de Loire
Da Vinci model at Clos Lucé
Long before any artist hopped on a train, the master of them all--Leonardo da Vinci--loaded his painting supplies and a few canvases onto a mule for the journey from Italy to France. Da Vinci came to the château at Amboise in the Loire Valley on the invitation of King François 1, a major fan. The king told Da Vinci he was "free to think, dream, and work." (It's the reason the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre.) You can visit the rooms where Da Vinci worked the last years of his life and view maquettes of his ingenious machines. The château is surrounded by a magnificent park with life-size models of many of Da Vinci's futuristic inventions that only became realities some 400 years later.
Getting There: From Paris' Gare Montparnasse station, take the TGV train to St Pierre des Corps. (An hour, plus a 20-minute taxi ride or local train connection to Amboise.) Or, take a 2-hour train, direct to Amboise from Paris' Gare Austerlitz.

Paris has six train stations, each serving specific regions. (There’s a rhyme and reason to it, but it often seems completely arbitrary!) However, you can do itinerary and timetable searches for all these trips before leaving the comfort of your home on Transilien or Rail Europe. Most of these lovely places, and 5 other artsy spots, are best visited in the spring and summer (some are only open from March to November), so book your flights to Paris now! 
Getting There: Norwegian Air - This low-cost carrier has several routes to Paris from the US: New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), & Ft. Lauderdale, FL (FLL), etc.
[Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on]

Friday, February 22, 2019

5 Great Reasons To Visit Heidelberg, Germany (Mark Twain Slept Here!)

By Jacquelin Carnegie
The picture-perfect town of Heidelberg sits on the banks of the Neckar River, about an hour from Frankfurt. With its' Baroque architecture, red gabled roofs, cobblestone streets, and stunning castle ruins, it's downright charming. Once the royal seat of power for German prince electors, the town dates back to 1196. While steeped in history, Heidelberg is not stuck in the past. As a university town, it’s bustling with activity. Hauptstrasse, the pedestrian-only, main shopping street, is lined with historic pubs and trendy boutiques. This blend of ancient and modern adds to Heidelberg's charm. There are many reasons to visit but, for anyone who loves literature, this one's at the top of the list--Mark Twain lived here!
Mark Twain traveled a lot. Partly, for his own amusement, but mostly to earn a living—doing research for books or on
extensive lecture tours. In 1878, he spent several months in Heidelberg, Germany. His exploits here--real and imagined--are recounted with glee in A Tramp Abroad. No one is entirely sure why he chose Heidelberg: perhaps because its' university is the oldest in Germany (founded in 1386); maybe because the name comes from the German word "huckleberry mountain" and Twain was struggling to finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; or, possibly because it’s just such a pretty place.
Follow in Twain's Footsteps - Go On a Walking Tour
Since little has changed in Heidelberg, it’s easy to follow in Twain's footsteps in the vain hope that his wit and way-with-words will miraculously rub off. Retrace Twain’s sojourn here on your own or with a tour, “In the Footsteps of Mark Twain” (
Heidelberg Castle
Mark Twain Slept Here
Twain first stayed at the Hotel Schrieder, now a Crowne Plaza (Kurfürstenanlage 1). He looked out on a fancier hotel that is, today, the police headquarters. During the heat of summer, Twain moved to the Schloss Hotel (now a luxury condo) on the hill near the castle.
Mark Twain Hiked Here

The castle at the top of the hill has Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements. It was started in 1400 and burned by the French in 1689. Twain enjoyed hiking up to the ruins and watching the Castle Illuminations.
Now, you can ride the funicular up to the castle for a visit and stroll in the gardens. The Illuminations take place three times a year (June, July, September) with a concert beforehand in the Heiliggeistkirche
Heidelberg's largest and most important church (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played here)!
Mark Twain Hung Out Here
Student Jail (photo: J.Carnegie)
Twain liked to sit in on lectures at the university and got a kick out of visiting the student jail Studentenkarzer (Augustinergasse 2) in operation from 1778 to 1914. The students weren’t jailed for getting poor grades, but for pulling pranks on the locals. 
HeidelbergCard - With the card, you can check out the jail and the university in the Alstadt (old town), along with countless other attractions.
Mark Twain Was Inspired Here
In A Tramp Abroad, Twain recounts a fictional raft trip down the Neckar (the inspiration for Huck Finn’s later ride). Today, you can cruise the lovely river on the Neckarsonne, a solar-powered boat.
Mark Twain Eat Here

You can still eat some traditional German fare at places where Twain chowed down: Zum Roten Ochsen (Hauptstrasse 217; - The Red Ox has been a pub since 1703. Zum Güldenen Schaf (Hauptstrasse 115; - The Golden Sheep has been a restaurant since 1749.
Other Literati
Mark Twain isn’t the only writer to have enjoyed a stay in Heidelberg. There was Goethe, Victor Hugo, and Hemingway to name a few. Imagine a conversation between them, sipping a cold one at Hemingway's (Fahrtgasse 1). They’d certainly agree that, while the world has changed, Heidelberg’s charm prevails.
Neckar river (photo: J.Carnegie)
What's New: Visiting Heidelberg today, you can also enjoy plenty of year-round cultural events ranging from a Vampire Ball to music, art, and literary festivals.
Where To Stay: Hip-Hotel ( - Hip, indeed! Each room is decorated as a different country. (The Kischka family also owns the Zum Güldenen Schaf restaurant, right next door.)
Getting There: Fly into nearby Frankfurt then, directly from the airport, take a shuttle, bus, or train to Heidelberg.
[A version of this article first appeared on]

Friday, January 18, 2019

New York: THEATER BUZZ, Winter/Spring 2019

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (New York, NY) 
In New York City, great theater is the best pick-me-up. Friendly Reminder: Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows have limited runs, so get tickets right away. 
THE PUBLIC THEATER - The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.)
WHITE NOISE - Anspacher Theater, Until May 5, 2019
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks; Directed by Oskar Eustis; Starring: Daveed Diggs (Leo), Sheria Irving (Misha), Thomas Sadoski (Ralph), Zoë Winters (Dawn)
(photo: Joan Marcus)
WHITE NOISE is another tour de force by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks with a fantastic ensemble cast. In her brilliant TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, two brothers go toe-to-toe. Here, four friends since college--two white, two black--have always had each other's backs. But when Leo (the mesmerizing Daveed Diggs) is traumatized by a racially-motivated incident with the cops, his outré scheme to get back his sense of safety and self tests the friendships to the core. This is an intensely-powerful piece pushing the characters to the breaking point, then bringing them crashing back down to earth. Brace yourself for a phenomenal evening of theater--and life. But, do not miss this show!

Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St;; Until May 19, 2019
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Written & Composed by Marc Blitzstein; Directed by John Doyle; Starring: Ken Barnett, Eddie Cooper, Benjamin Eakeley, David Garrison, Ian Lowe, Kara Mikula, Lara Pulver, Sally Ann Triplett, Rema Webb, and Tony Yazbeck
Sometimes you need to see a play because of its importance in the history of theater. Developed in the WPA's Federal Theatre Project during the Great Depression, THE CRADLE WILL ROCK is part of theater lore because its 1937 premiere—directed by Orson Welles—was shut down just before opening night (a thinly-veiled critique of the play’s pro-labor stance). Since "the show must go on," producers John Houseman and Orson Welles hurriedly rented another venue. That night, playwright Blitzstein played the piano, while the actors performed the "play in music" from amongst the audience (so they wouldn't be blamed for performing "on stage" without official approval). Today, while somewhat dated, the play--about the corrupting power of money--is also frighteningly relevant. Once again, the Classic Stage Company delivers a memorable evening in the theater with a terrific ensemble cast.

Editor's Note: Check out several, cool post-show events such as 5/14 - Post-show "Classic Perspectives" conversation with special guests (included with show ticket). 5/19 - Benefit performance & post-show "Classic Conversation" includes champagne, a chat with the director & show tunes by the cast ($125, show + event or $80 just for the event.)

Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St; Until May 12, 2019
Written by Halley Feiffer; Directed by Trip Cullman; Starring: Halley Feiffer, Hamish Linklater, Vanessa Kai
Feiffer & Linklater (photo: Joan Marcus)
Masochism is a many-splendored thing: People like people who are bad for them. "Bad boys" hold such appeal. People covet other people's husbands. Then, add Lyme disease. One good reason to see this quirky, modern romance is the splendid Hamish Linklater as the resident bad boy. Like Adam Driver and John Malkovich, Linklater always gives a pitch-perfect performance and is just so much fun to watch. Plus, lovely set design by Mark Wendland.


Editor's Note: If you missed it at The Public Theater, SEA WALL/A LIFE moves to Broadway's Hudson Theatre this summer. Previews begin July 26; Opening Aug 8.
The Public Theater, Until 3/31/19
Both Shows Directed by Carrie Cracknell; Sea Wall: Written by Simon Stephens; Starring: Tom Sturridge; A Life: Written by Nick Payne; Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal (photo: Joan Marcus)

It's to their credit, in this time of irresponsible discourse, that two young, prominent actors should choose to do such mature material. In SEA WALL/A LIFE, Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver two separate-but-equal, powerfully-moving monologues about love and loss. While you're probably familiar with Gyllenhaal's film work, this bona fide movie star is also a gifted stage performer. You may be less familiar with Tom Sturridge, but this dazzlingly-gifted British actor works his craft to perfection. (Sturridge was beyond brilliant in the Orphans' revival.) The SEA WALL/A LIFE monologues take you for an emotional ride, but Sturridge and Gyllenhaal know how to deliver the goods.

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St.; Until June 23, 2019
Miller & Carvel (photo: Joan Marcus)
Written by James Graham; Directed by Rupert Goold; Starring: Bertie Carvel (Rupert Murdoch) & Jonny Lee Miller (Larry Lamb)
You don't have to care about the newspaper business or Rupert Murdoch to see INK; all you have to be interested in is great theater. Now at Manhattan Theater Club, this production originated at the Almeida Theatre in London, proving that Brits really do know how to put on a show. The acting is terrific, the set is imaginative, and the storyline sizzles. 
In London, in 1969, Murdoch (played by Bertie Carvel with brilliant devilish glee) buys a failing paper, then dangles a golden carrot in front of a talented editor with a chip-on-his shoulder--it's all yours to turn around. At first, you empathize with Murdoch's desire to stick the whole stuck-up British establishment in the eye. You agree that the stuffy, ruling-class broadsheet newspapers could use a run for their money. You think adding some fun to the papers would indeed be fun. But, no true Machiavellian character ever stops at fun. Now that you’re on board, he's coming for your soul. Of course, with Murdochian goading, the hard-nosed Larry Lamb (Jonny Lee Miller) turns it into a tabloid that appeals to the basest, prurient, human interests. From then on, it's a race to the bottom as the sensationalist rag sells like hotcakes. Scariest of all, you can clearly see a direct line leading from that paper's noxious populism to a dunce standing on The White House lawn today. This show is a great evening in the theater.

GARY: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus: I love Nathan Lane, but he must have had temporary insanity to agree to do this dreadful show. It's also hard to believe that the beyond-talented George C. Wolfe would agree to direct this mess. But, if fart jokes are your type of humor, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, save your money.
HILARY AND CLINTON: This is a touchingly-wistful, bittersweet look at Hillary (Laurie Metcalf) fighting for, longing for, and loosing the 2008 Presidential election. Adding in what we know about 2016, only heightens the woeful emotions. While it doesn't pack a punch like Peter Morgan's fabulous FROST/NIXON, who can pass up the opportunity to see the always-magnificent John Lithgow (Bill Clinton)?
NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE: They're calling this John Guare's "new" play, but I saw it at the McCarter Theater a few years ago when it was called "Are You There, McPhee"--it was not one of his best then or now! (Although John Larroquette is terrific.)

Mabou Mines Theater, 150 First Ave;; Until April 14, 2019

(photo: Richard Termine)
 Adapted by Matthew Maguire from Goethe’s Faust; Directed by Sharon Ann Fogarty; Featuring: Benton Greene (Faust) & Paul Kandel (Mephistopheles) and 23 others on tape. 
The good news is that Mabou Mines, the wonderfully-experimental theater company, has a nice new theater space at the recently-renovated 122 Community Center in the East Village. In 2020, the company celebrates its 50th anniversary! Right now, it's staging FAUST 2.0, a re-imagined Part II of Goethe’s masterwork, which finds the poor sap cruising-for-a-bruising with Mephistopheles and Helen of Troy and a host of other characters brought to you via video tape. If you are a fan of multimedia productions, you'll enjoy this. But, if you go to the theater to see live actors and to the movies if you want to see actors on tape, you'll be less pleased. But, Benton Greene does a great Dr. Faust--in the flesh.

Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd St;;
Until April 5, 2019
Written by Tori Sampson; Directed by Leah C. Gardiner; Choreography by Raja Feather Kelly; Starring: Rotimi Agbabiaka (Chorus), Maechi Aharanwa (Ma), Jason Bowen (Dad), Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Massassi), Leland Fowler (Kasim), Níke Uche Kadri (Akim), Mirirai Sithole (Adama), Phumzile Sitole (Kaya) & Carla R. Stewart (the Voice of the River)

Phumzile Sitole, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Mirirai Sithole
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Here are two truisms: 1) It's always wonderful to see terrific actors of color on stage; 2) Women have been dogged for centuries by the concept of beauty and the unwarranted privileges that come with it. In If Pretty Hurts, three teenage girls in a mythical African location are rabidly jealous of a beautiful classmate. The three girls are wonderfully portrayed by Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Phumzile Sitole, and Mirirai Sithole. Also superb are Maechi Aharanwa and Jason Bowen, the pretty girl's parents, along with Carla R. Stewart who has a fantastic voice. But, while If Pretty Hurts has joyous elements--great acting, upbeat music and awesome choreography--it's overly long and very short on plot. Plus, the American actors slip in and out of the African accent. So, a dramaturge and an accent coach would help. While millennials will probably get a kick out of the show, it's hard to believe that Playwrights Horizons--presenters of significant, beautifully-crafted works such as Driving Miss Daisy, I Am My Own Wife, Clybourne Park, Violet, etc.--would put this piece (still in much need of shaping and editing) on their Main Stage.

Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th St.);
Until March 20, 2019

Coco, Gad Elmaleh

The documentaries, and occasional movie & TV series, in this festival will introduce you to the fascinating world of the Sephardim--Jews kicked out of Spain/the Iberian Peninsula during the 15th century who relocated mainly to North Africa and the Middle East. Hence, the films illuminate life in such places as Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Yemeni and, of course, Israel. At this 22nd annual NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, there is also a focus on a Sephardi subset the Pieds-Noirs--who were forced to leave North Africa at the end of French rule in the early 1960s and mostly resettled in France. Film fans will be pleasantly surprised by all the interesting offerings including Q&As with the filmmakers, concerts, after parties, and master classes. You don't have to be Jewish or part of the Sephardim to thoroughly enjoy this festival!

136 East 13th Street (2 Shows, Until March 10, 2019)   
Adapted from Strindberg's Miss Julie by Yaël Farber; Directed by Shariffa Ali; Starring: Elise Kibler (Julie), James Udom (John), Patrice Johnson Chevannes (Christine) & Vinie Burrows (Ukhokho)
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Yaël Farber's brilliant adaptation of August Strindberg's play--about class struggle and sexual tension--relocates it from staid, late 19th-century Sweden to volatile, post-Apartheid South Africa adding race--another layer to the toxic, emotional mix. James Udom's tour de force performance as John is so electrifying it's as if he commands lighting down on stage to strike Julie in her reckless self-absorption, destroying lives--animal and human. In this not-to-be-missed version, the cook Christine is John's mother with her feet firmly planted in the past as his make a break for the future. [Mies Julie's "dance of death" is playing in repertory with Strindberg's other The Dance of Death.]
New Version of Strindberg's play by Conor McPherson; Directed by Victoria Clark; Starring: Cassie Beck (Alice), Richard Topol (Edgar) & Christopher Innvar (Kurt) - Written in 1900, this may be the first in a long line of tragic-comedies in which the featured couple loves to loath each other. Conor McPherson's contemporary adaptation takes this train wreck of a relationship and spins it on its axis with humor. Cassie Beck as Alice, the verbal dart-throwing wife, and Richard Topol as Edgar, the henpecked yet harassing husband, throw their punches with brio.
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Classic Stage Company presents larger-than-life productions in a small, intimate space. Theater fans, if you’re unfamiliar with CSC's work, it’s time to discover them!

FOR LOVE OF THE BARD - Calling All Teens, Tweens & Millennials
The Sheen Center (Black Box Theater, 18 Bleecker St;; Until March 17, 2019
(photo: Maria Baranova)
Somehow, in our time, Shakespeare's plays have come to represent highbrow entertainment. But, in the early 1600s when the works were performed at the open-air, Globe Theater in London, everyday folk thrilled to the joy, drama, and excitement of his plays. The Frog and Peach Theater's goal is to infuse that former level of enthusiasm and accessibility back into the works so the productions--while appealing to aficionados--will also attract those who've never given The Bard a chance--such as teens, tweens, and Millennials. Their latest offering, Twelfth Night, is such rollicking, good fun that even the most recalcitrant is likely to become a Shakespeare fan. (For those not in the know, "The Frog and Peach" was a funny bit by the late, great British comedians Peter Cook & Dudley Moore.)
(nysx.org3/2 & 3/9, 2019)
(photo: Martin Harris)
The ShakesBEER Pub Crawl is another great way to interest Millennials in the works of The Bard. Along with a libation (beer/wine/cocktail), the crowd is treated to scenes from such Shakespearean classics as The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It. The scenes take place in four different pubs and "sober" tickets are also available for those who love The Bard but not the ale. (New York Shakespeare Exchange also does an annual production in an actual theater, runs The Sonnet Project, the Freestyle Labs, and offers Shakespearean communal experiences.)
Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th St.; 
Extended to March 10, 2019 (with Pope as lead till Feb. 24)
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney; Directed by Trip Cullman; Starring: Jeremy Pope, John Clay III, J. Quinton Johnson, Nicholas L. Ashe, Chuck Cooper, Caleb Eberhardt, Austin Pendleton, Daniel Bellomy, Jonathan Burke, Gerald Caesar, Marcus Gladney
(photo: Matthew Murphy)

In addition to some beautiful voices, this show delivers heart and soul. Adolescence is never easy, but when you're young, black, talented--and gay--life can throw you some extra-special curve balls. In the Manhattan Theatre Club's lovely presentation of CHOIR BOY, Jeremy Pope (Pharus), with the voice of an angel, is bedeviled by his classmates with their own set of issues. The tensions come to a boil in the "hothouse" setting of an exclusive boarding school--a prep school--for on-the-rise black boys. Pharus strives to become a man, his own person, and the leader of this extraordinary choir. J. Quinton Johnson (Bobby) is his tormented torturer, Caleb Eberhardt (David) his conflicted secret admirer, and John Clay III (AJ) the wise roomie who sets him "straight." A joyous night in the theater. Plus, the singing will knock your socks off.

For Tweens, Teens & Adults
If you missed this incredible presentation at The New Victory theater last year, luckily you have a second chance to see it. A reprise takes place at La Mama (Jan 24-Feb 3, 2019). Since it's such a short run, don't delay, get tickets now! 
LaMama (66 East 4th St); Until Feb. 3, 2019; For ages 12 & up
Conceived by Ping Chong; Written & directed by Sara Zatz & Kirya Traber in collaboration with the cast. Cast: Edwin Aguila, Monica Victoria Tatacoya Castañeda, Andrea "Syl" Egerton, Mohammad Murtaza, De-Andra Pryce, Porscha Polkahantis Rippy & Rafael Rosario

Ping Chong + Company's extraordinary presentation will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you care.
For GENERATION NYZ is a celebration of humanity's diversity and how we are all more similar than different. It is the story of seven amazing young adults who could have easily fallen through the cracks of life. Born into poverty, hopelessness, neglect, and confusion, each one of them--through a combination of personal perseverance, the kindness of strangers (teachers and mentors), and a splash of luck--saw a vision of what could be for themselves and forged ahead to actualize that dream. The cast represents the “gorgeous mosaic" of New York, celebrating their heritage--Black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, South Asian, and European--and the neighborhoods they grew up in: the South Bronx, West Harlem, Far Rockaway, Queens, and East New York, Brooklyn. This show is so dope, woke and cool, it should be extended. And, hopefully, filmed to be shown in every school and college across the country to give all kids who are dazed-and-confused an infusion of hope.

For Adults & Sophisticated Teens
The same goes for this mind-blowing show. If you missed it at The Public Theater about ten years ago, here's your chance to experience some extraordinary theater. It's a short run at NYU Skirball (Jan 23-Feb3, 2019), so get tickets today!

NYU Skirball (566 LaGuardia Place); Until Feb. 3, 2019
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Directed by John Collins; Performed by ERS' ensemble with Scott Shepherd as Nick.

The theater company, Elevator Repair Service, pays homage to the written word--often to those of great American novelists--in fascinating and brilliantly-innovative productions. GATZ is ERS' acclaimed, not-to-be-missed, word-for-word enactment of The Great Gatsby. That's right--six hours of performance, worth every second, with its' committed ensemble of terrific actors. No more to be said, because part of the thrill of this show is experiencing the way it unfolds and sucks you in. Soon you are no longer listening to a novel being read, you are there on Long Island in West and East Egg with the beautiful, careless people.
Practical: It lasts about 8 hours (the show, plus 2 intermissions & a dinner break). Bring a seat cushion, a back-support pillow, and believe in the green light!