Best Reason to Hate One-Person Shows: The Fringe Festival
Ask any professional theater critic about the Fringe Fest, and you’re bound to get an eye-roll or a heavy sigh. The sprawling annual theater festival is increasingly a tedious exercise in public masturbation for its performers, most of which isn’t even titillating. The one-person shows are usually pretty dreary, but that’s not to say that shows with casts of two and up are much better. With some of the most reasonably priced tickets in Manhattan (and plenty of press every year), it’s no wonder that theatergoing dilettantes whose only exposure to theater is the Fringe don’t see more shows.
Best Contemporary Art Show: Anne Collier
New York-based artist Anne Collier lands this year’s best gallery show, hands down, for her eponymous exhibition this January at Anton Kern. The show was comprised mostly of photography, with books opened to pages with sunsets lining the gallery. There was also a black-and-white photo of an eye, with a frame resembling a tear duct and an image of a paper cutter slicing that eye. The show is a little aggressive in its demand that the gallery-goer contemplates the act of looking, but it’s an attribute we like. Looking at art shouldn’t always be easy.
Best Off-Off-Broadway Show: Now Circa Then
A comedy about historical re-enactors at the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum, Carly Mensch’s two-hander is as close to theatrical perfection as you’re likely to find. The production at Ars Nova sparkled, from Jason Eagan’s direction to Lauren Halpern’s densely detailed set design to the hilarious and poignant performances from Stephen Plunkett and Maureen Sebastian. With even Off-Broadway shows increasingly overblown, what a pleasure it was to sit down and find the focus shifted from high concepts to just telling a great tale.
Best Usher: Jack Donoghue at Theatre Row
He’s there almost every night, taking tickets and directing you to your floor, and if you attend shows at Theatre Row with any frequency, chances are Jack Donoghue will remember you. His friendliness is never more welcome than shortly after being forced to interact with the bored and impatient ushers of Broadway theaters—particularly that nasty one at The Schoenfeld.
Best Indie Movie Theater: IFC Center
323 6th Ave., at W. 3rd St., 212-924-7771
Just over five years into its existence, the IFC Center continues to offer some of the best new art house releases along with an ever-expanding schedule of events. The latest addition to its repertoire is a full-on film festival: DOC NYC, a documentary showcase co-founded by Thom Powers, the documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival whose other duties at the IFC Center include its Stranger than Fiction series. Also coming up: The 330-minute Special Roadshow Edition of Olivier Assayas’s terrorist chronicle Carlos and famed director Claude Chabrol’s final film, Inspector Bellamy.
Best Rescue Work: So Help Me God!
Whether Maurine Dallas Watkins’ lost 1920s play So Help Me God! is actually a great play or star Kristen Johnston elevated it to higher heights is beside the point: Few plays last year were as vicious, tart and unrelentingly cynical than The Mint’s production of this show about a bitchy theatrical diva and the up-and-comer who threatens to usurp her. With so many Off-Broadway plays enjoying unnecessary transfers to Broadway, this is the one that got lost in the shuffle. Again.
Best Museum Show: John Baldessari
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave., at E. 82nd St., 212-535-7710
This show just opened at The Met last week, but having seen it already at the Tate Modern last year in London, we think this is an easy call. John Baldessari spent a lifetime establishing rules for his own art-making practice, and making art that followed those guidelines. In a time when the criteria for what constitutes good contemporary art seems increasingly vague, this show couldn’t offer a more timely antidote.
Best Venue For Parties: The Hudson Hotel
The era of the great disco dance palaces is long gone. Lately, some of the best parties have taken up residence at the Hudson Hotel. With the sprawling Good Units down in the bowels of the place, a monthly party like Susanne Bartsch’s Bloody Mary can pack in a huge crowd. Upstairs, there are regular weekly parties in the Hudson Library and the Hudson Bar, on the other side of the hotel. The Private Park is in the courtyard of the lobby and the setting for many a private party during the summer, and even better is the rooftop Sky Terrace on the 15th floor, complete with glittering views of the city. The security staff at the Hudson is over-zealous and even thuggish, but then again, a lot of drunks are wandering the hallways looking for a party.
Best Non-Profit Art Initiative: Triple Candie
500 W. 148th St., at Amsterdam Ave., 212-368-3333
Harlem’s Triple Candie offers perhaps the city’s most direct push back to the dominating force of the art market: Not only does the gallery refuse to sell art, it also no longer exhibits work. Owners Shelley Bancroft and Peter Nesbet focus instead on engaging a lower-income-class community typically located outside of fine art circles. A unique and laudable outgrowth of New York’s vibrant non-profit art scene.
Best Comedy Series: Lasers In The Jungle
Producers Carol Hartsell and Sean Crespo and host Dan Wilbur have certainly outdone themselves with Lasers in the Jungle, their weekly comedy series on Thursday nights at Luca Lounge. Where else can you see SNL’s John Mulaney try out new material, Community’s Donald Glover do a last-minute drop-in set or The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac do 15 minutes of comedy in an audience member’s lap? All for free, no less.
Best NYC-Based Film Festival: New York Film Festival
After last year’s firestorm of criticism for offering up an insular program only accessible to diehard cinephiles, NYFF bounced back in style with a healthy blend of high profile premieres (The Social Network, The Tempest, Hereafter) and small-scale discoveries from the festival circuit. It’s still Lincoln Center, which means the prestige factor remains firmly in place with the latest offerings from Jean Luc-Godard and Abbas Kiarostami, but they now share the stage with the likes of Clint Eastwood and Jesse Eisenberg—a healthy cinematic diversity that should help sustain an image for the festival that’s aiming to feel both literate and contemporary.
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