Special Report

New York City

After three days in the Big Apple, the question I get repeatedly is "Did you see 'The Gates'"? "Did you like it?" The fact that so many people are aware of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's massive art project in Central Park means that the artists have succeeded, in large measure by attracting thousands of curious, amazed, perplexed people to their sixteen-day installation. You have to admire the grand vision of such a project, and the guts and determination that took them from 1979 to 2005 for the installation to be realized. At a symbolic level, it is the visual equivalent of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, a gesture of orange triumph over the dark forces of life. It is also a poignant reply to the disaster of 9/11: you may destroy some of our buildings, you may kill some of our people, but the spirit of freedom will still fly.

The Gates have also brought a spirit of community to the heart of New York City. Literally thousands of people, young and old, of every persuasion, are visiting the park to walk under and through the billowing orange fabric panels - talking, shouting, buying souvenirs, greeting friends and strangers alike. I can think of few other occurrences that have so drawn people together in harmony. The mood is one of gaiety, joy, fun, and community.

From afar, and even from across the street, the Gates are daunting. Against a backdrop of snow, leaden skies, and bare trees these panels present a startling river of color on a drab February day. They are like a joyous punctuation mark to a shivery winter statement, impossible to ignore, daring in their simplicity, simply fun to experience.

Unfortunately, the Gates are better from afar than close up. In spite of the P.R., the panels are not saffron but orange, and the fabric appears rather cheesy. I am reminded of the work of the French artist Sophie Calle, whose brilliant concepts were not always as splendid in their realization as in her descriptions.

For those who delight in numbers, here are a few to think about. The Gates include 7500 fabric panels strung along 23 miles of paths, spaced at roughly twelve feet apart. The installation was done by 699 workers in teams of eight. 5,290 tons of steel were used, 60 miles of vinyl tubing, 165,000 nuts and bolts, 116,389 miles of nylon thread, and 46 miles of hems. These figures alone make The Gates an awesome achievement.

"Avenue Q" has won its share of Grammy and Tony awards, and deservedly so. This is one of the most innovative shows to appear on Broadway in years. Think flat-panel TV, think the Internet, think life-style choices, think frank talk of racism, gender and politics, add whimsey and wit, and you will have a mini idea of what's happening at the Imperial Theater on West 45th Street. The music is infectious, the lyrics punchy, the actors' ability to project both themselves and their puppets simultaneously an incredible feat.All of the performers are excellent, but especially Barrett Foa in the lead (he was also in the original cast of "Mamma Mia"). There is little or nothing to fault in this performance, except to warn that it is not for children. (There are disclaimers everywhere from the Jim Hensen puppet folks). If you only see one play in New York, this has to be the one.

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" has had a long and successful lifespan in the theater. It was originally a 1964 film entitled "Bedtime Story" starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. More recently the film "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" appeared with Steve Martin and Michael Caine in the title roles. The play was in previews when I saw it and opens as you read this. Up front you have to admire the skill and artistry of John Lithgow and Norman Leo Butz as the two con men out to bamboozle wealthy American women on the French Riviera. Two finer comedians are hard to imagine. The gliding stage sets are beautifully done, particularly the moving panoramas behind train windows. But the story remains thin and unconvincing, the music is forgettable, and the premise weak. After seeing the magnificent dancing and choreography in "Chicago" earlier in the week, the dancers in "Scoundrels" seem amateurish by comparison. Perhaps the play should have been presented simply as a comedy, because the music seems at times superfluous and extraneous to the story. Spend your money and time, rather, at "Chicago", which after five years continues to offer an extraordinary evening at the theater. Incidentally, if you're looking for dinner in the theater district, you might try the elegant and sophisticated Sushi Zen, on West 44th Street between Avenue of the Americas and Broadway.

c.Corinne Whitaker 2005