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Greetings from My Hypothetical Life

I'm actually in Panama City as this post hits my blog, but I just finished a wonderful four week stay in New York City, the greatest city on earth. I popped back up to the United States from Latin America briefly for some breakfast burritos, LaCroix, and theater. What began with the purchase (seven months ago) of a ticket to see Hamilton on my birthday morphed into a four week extravaganza of all the culture New York City has to offer. It had been ten years - yes, an entire decade - since I was last in the Big Apple, so I was long overdue for a visit. 

And how fantastic that I'm in a position to spend a little time living here and can do more than just swing through on vacation. I got a great little AirBnB on the upper east side of Manhattan and jumped right into the action. I've gone to The Whitney, Arcadia Earth, ARTECHOUSE, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, St. Patrick's Catacombs, Polonsky Exhibition in the New York Public Library, and I've seen lots of cool free art around the city, such as the Brier Patch, Citrovia, The Girl Puzzle, and the Earth Room.  

I've been able to spend time with old high school friends, old college friends, friends who live nearby and were able to take the train the train into the city to hang out, writing instructors I've only known online, and people I've only recently met on my travels. It's been so much fun.

But the theater experience was really the reason I was there. Growing up in Buffalo, I always thought I'd live in New York City someday. Up until my freshman year of college, I wanted to be an actor, so of course living in the city would be part of that journey. I had all these grand ideas of who I would be. Then I lost interest in acting. Later, I lived in Moscow for years and got the big city need out of my system. I've spent time in many fabulous capital cities since when and always thought, "this is essentially New York." It's easy to think that until you are here. NYC is unparalleled. NYC is magical. I adore this city. 

I still don't want to be an actor because can't imagine spending the evenings working and sleeping through the best parts of the morning, and I don't want to live in New York full time because I'd miss my beloved mountains too much. I've loved running around Central Park a few times but I miss trails and isolation. Still, it was impossible not to think of the life I might have had if my interest in the theater had stuck. Every time I met up with old friends who did become New Yorkers and every time I went to a show and was dazzled (and slightly horrified) by the bright lights of Times Square, I couldn't help but wonder who I would have been in this version of myself.

American Buffalo

This is a classic theatrical drama with only three actors in a horseshoe shaped theater. While this is the type of drama that I used to love acting in, having been removed from it for over 20 years, I found it difficult to get into the artifice. Maybe it was because of the horseshoe shape that meant I could see the audience on the other side, or maybe because it's an old play and the style is different from what we are used to now. I loved seeing the famous actors Lawrence Fishburne (from one of my all-time favorite thrillers Event Horizon) and Sam Rockwell on stage instead of in the movies, and obviously they are highly talented actors, but it all felt too fake to me.

Drunk Shakespeare

If you Google this, you get the bland description "Quirky theater showcasing classic Shakespearean plays featuring one imbibed cast member." That's selling the experience really short. This is part improv, part impressions, part audience participation, and a tiny bit of Shakespeare. A ridiculously good time! I was in awe of the cast members' ability to think on the fly and work in so many random elements from recent pop culture and politics into the action. No, you don't need to know the plot of whatever Shakespeare play they happen to pick the night you go, even though they very loosely perform it. You'll easily follow the story and spend the entire night laughing. And yes, one cast member gets completely trashed during the performance.

Sleep No More

If I lived in New York, I'd be going to events at the McKittrick Hotel all the time, but attending a performance of Sleep No More has been on my must-do list almost since it opened more than a decade ago. This is an immersive performance of a 1920s noir version of Macbeth that takes place across several floors of the McKittrick. Attendees wear masquerade masks (the spooky effect of which was heightened by our mandatory KN95 masks) and are not allowed to talk, but they can explore freely throughout the three hours, not even following the actors at all if they don't want. The actors roam around, doing lots of different mini performances and dances in the various rooms, sometimes involving audience members. The cast members don't exactly talk either, but make sounds and grunts and half-screams meant to mimic speech. They act out Macbeth scenes, they dance a lot (there is a secondary staff that motions to audience members to get out of the way when necessary), and sometimes they move in slow motion, creating an eerie tableau vivant. The set is unbelievable. Every drawer, cabinet, and shelf has props in it that you can touch and read and examine as you wish. You can sit at a large writing desk and read one of the books for the entire three hours if that's what you want to do. If you don't follow the actors, you might never have access to some rooms, though. Some doors are shut behind them. I imagine you have to go at least three times to get the whole experience, to see each performance and explore every corner. I will say that I, even as someone who thoroughly enjoys this type of experience, was really uncomfortable for the first half hour. It's not a haunted house - no one is going to jump out and grab you - but it is really damn spooky in there, especially when you find yourself alone in the medical area or the forest or the cemetery or the ballroom or really anywhere. 

Moulin Rouge

I'll confess that I wasn't super excited about going to see this when my friend suggested it. I didn't remember much about the 2001 movie, but the "dying hooker with a heart of gold" trope is so not my thing. Well, I'm glad I went anyway. This was an extravaganza! The dancing, the costumes, the incredible set changes - I was in awe of the entire production. 

But best of all was the music. The medleys and mashups covered artists from Elvis to Lorde, from Joe Cocker to Outkast, from The Eurythmics to Rihanna, from Tina Turner to Fun, from A-ha to Adele, from David Bowie to Sia. You get the picture. And if you don't, you can listen to the playlist on Spotify or songs like Elephant Love Medley. Apparently the Baz Luhrman movie was like this too, but this Broadway version as lots of new songs from the last two decades. The creativity was astounding. Honestly, the plot didn't even matter. You go for the whole performance, and I'm glad I did!


If American Buffalo was the classic play experience, this was the classical musical experience with the entire show delivered through original songs. I don't need to talk up Hamilton to you. If you are alive, you've heard of it. And, no surprise, it was fantastic! I did have to get my musical listening ears on since I'm not used to taking in a plot through song, and despite basic knowledge of the history, I didn't really know the plot. But after about 15 minutes, I was into it. 

Unlike American Buffalo, which was meant to be so realistic that I couldn't get into it, a musical is its own thing, so I'm able to accept it for what it is and be bought-in completely to the experience. I loved the rapping, the diverse cast, the diverse use of the cast, and King George really made the whole show. What a great way to learn history. It was great to see school groups there. The whole plot made me a little sad, though, because it was such a good reminder of the ideals of our country at the beginning and just how far we've fallen and dystopian and corrupt we've become. 

One side note - there are plenty of allusions to Macbeth in Hamilton (the song lyrics are here), which meant this was the third play I saw that included Macbeth (that was the play chosen our Drunk Shakespeare night). Funny enough, Macbeth (starring Daniel Craig!) was also on Broadway while I was there. I would have gone, but tickets were too expensive.

POTUS (Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive)

One final night out on the town for me before it was time to go. This time, I got to attend not only an opening night performance, but the Broadway debut for the playwright, which was pretty cool. And good on her for getting such an amazing cast!

As with American Buffalo, this was a traditional style play with big name celebrities (Vanessa Williams, Lea DeLaria, Rachel Dratch, Julianne Hough, and more). Even though they will perform the play over and over, there's something so intimate about seeing actors like this in a theater. It feels like they are performing just for you, especially because on opening night the theater was less than one-third full. And I wasn't the only one who felt that way - when the second scene opened up to reveal Vanessa Williams and Rachel Dratch, the audience went wild with applause for at least a full minute. 

Unlike American Buffalo, this was a comedy, not a drama. I'm not a laugh-out-loud person, but I laughed so hard through this. Probably partly because the people behind me were dying and laughter is infectious, but I loved this play. The plot didn't go where I thought it would, based on the subtitle, and I loved it. There were some stereotypical characters and obvious foreshadowing or planting of props, but those felt like part of the comedy and Broadway show experience. And, once again, the set work blew my mind. I've been in total awe of the sets I've seen, with Moulin Rouge being the best, but this came in a close second. The people who put these together really do deserve all the awards. Hopefully this play sticks around so you get a chance to see it!