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Review: The Figaro Plays at McCarter Theater

April 17, 2014
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The Barber of Seville

The Pierre Augustin-Beaumarchais farce The Barber of Seville was adapted and directed by Stephen Wadsworth, and will be playing at McCarter until Sunday, May 4.

Rosine has traveled around after the death of her parents. She has settled in Seville and become the ward of Dr. Bartolo, who keeps her under lock and key. His plan to marry her is jeopardized by Count Almaviva, who has met Rosine during her travels. The Jack-of-all-trades Figaro is hired to assist Almaviva win over the love of his life despite her being imprisoned by Bartolo.

The cast was brilliant! Adam Green played the mischievous Figaro to perfection, and Neal Bledsoe will have you rooting for Count Almavida. You’ll love to hate the dastardly Bartolo thanks to Derek Smith, Naomi O’Connell plays the sympathetic, yet calculating Rosine with ease, and Cameron Folmar’s portrayal of Bazile will certainly keep you laughing.

One of the gems of this performance was that the actors break the stage’s barrier, and interact with the audience. This engagement is refreshing and accentuates the comedy. It also makes the performance feel more organic.

Timing is everything when it comes to a good farce. Green, Bledsoe, O’Connell, Smith, and Folmar, as well as the supporting cast, excelled in the precision of their delivery. It was sheer poetry to hear the battle of the wits.

Another gem was Rosine’s voice which was pure magic during one scene. What a bonus to get a taste of the opera during the play. This was the cherry on top of their brilliant performances. A third gem would be the beautiful period costumes!

I feel like I laughed throughout the entire performance, and I was not alone. The roaring audience gave the cast a standing ovation. If you enjoy comedies, or need a good laugh, you should most certainly purchase a ticket.

The Barber of Seville can be paired with The Marriage of Figaro on the select Saturdays of April 12, 19, 26, and also on Sunday, May 4.

Run time is 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission in the Matthews Theatre. The Barber of Seville is definitely suitable for children over the age of 10, and possibly as young as 8. The rapid fire wit will lose younger children.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro continues in Almavida’s estate Aguas-Frescas, three years after we’ve left the gang in The Barber of Seville. It is another Pierre Beaumarchis play that has been adapted and directed by Stephen Wadsworth. Count Almavida has married Rosine, and Figaro has found his bride-to-be Suzanne. He served the Count, and she the Countess. Bartolo, Marceline, and Bazile are on hand from Barber, and the introduction of Count Almavida’s page, Magan Wiles, as the young girl-crazed boy Cherubin added to the romp.

All was well with Figaro and his soon-to-be wife Suzanne, until she tells him Almavida plans on keeping the tradition of sharing the wedding night with the Countess’ lady-in-waiting. Figaro, Suzanne, and Countess Rosine join forces to foil the Count’s plans. Meanwhile, Almavida is trying to convince Figaro to marry the aging Marceline, Bartolo’s housekeeper, to pay off his debt to her.

We were treated to Naomi O’Connell’s operatic voice in Barber, but in Marriage, we are bestowed the exuberant dance scene at the end, which was as joyous as Fezzwig’s party in A Christmas Carol. The actors fortunately continued interacting with the audience in this play, and the laugh-out-loud humor kept us all entertained.

There are many twists in the story to pique the audience’s interests, and the acting is superb. The soliloquies are shorter than in Barber, and there are many double entendres, which may not make it as suitable for kids under 14. However, some suggestive thoughts might go over the kids’ heads, so this play could be fine for kids 12 and over if you’re a liberal parent.

Adam Green (Figaro) is again the stand out, but Derek Smith (Bartolo) and Cameron Folmar (Bazile) also shine a little brighter than the rest in their comedic delivery. Bravo also to director Stephen Wadsworth for an outstanding production!

I loved both plays, but I slightly preferred the simpler plot of Barber, while a friend of mine leaned more towards Marriage. Both are fine and witty plays that are very appealing, and I suggest seeing both, perhaps paired on one day (April 12, 19, 26, and May 4) if you have the time. By the way, the costumes are sheer eye candy, made from different textures and bold colors, making the performances visually stunning!

The Marriage of Figaro is playing until May 3, and the running time is 3 hours 15 minutes with one intermission.

As a bonus, I just spied an amazing offer! Now until April 18, you can buy a ticket to one performance and get one FREE for the following dates: April 18, 20, 26, May 2 & 3. Use the promo code BOGO. Enjoy!

 

 

Fences at McCarter Theatre

January 24, 2014
Fences at McCarter

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

August Wilson’s Fences is currently playing at McCarter Theatre under the direction of Tony Award-winner Phylicia Rashad. This powerful Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play tells the story of an African-American family living in Pittsburgh during the civil rights movement.

The plot goes beyond that. It is about a man’s dreams, his obligations to his family, a loyal friend, the love of a supportive wife, and a mid-life crisis.

The play opens with Troy Maxson (Esau Pritchett) discussing his aspirations of having the same opportunity as white workers with his sidekick Bono (Phil McGlaston). He also brings up how he could have been in the major leagues if it were not for the color of his skin, but Bono insists it was because he was too old. Troy’s rapid dialog and their colloquialisms quickly immerse the audience into their world. It feels like you are eavesdropping in on their conversations instead of being in the audience.

Fences at McCarter Portia and Esau Pritchett - photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Troy is loved by his faithful wife Rose (Portia). They met after he served time in prison, where he befriended his confidante Bono. Rose manages the household and keeps the peace in the family. Her laid back demeanor is a soothing contrast to her husband’s larger than life personality.

Their son Cory (Chris Myers), is trying to find his place in the world and get recognition from his father. When his father doesn’t get the respect he believes he deserves, he demands it. The high schooler complies, but as time passes, he finds the courage to challenge his father.

Rounding out the cast are his oldest son Lyons (Jared McNeill), who was born before his father’s stint in prison and raised by Troy’s ex-wife, his war-injured younger brother Gabriel (G. Alverez Reid), who he believes he is an Archangel, and the adorable Raynell (Taylor Dior).

Fences at McCarter Esau Pritchett. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

This is an extraordinary cast to back up an extraordinary piece of mid-century literature, and the directed by Rashad of equal strength. Essau Pritchett hits it out of the park, just like his character brags about, making this production is one of the most captivating to date. I HIGHLY recommend Fences!

Due to popular demand, the show has been extended through February 16th, so if you have not already purchased tickets, do it NOW before they sell out. Fences is playing in the Berlind Theatre of McCarter, which is more intimate, and really immerses you in the drama.

The run time is 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. I would not recommend this play for younger children.

Please note, construction continues around McCarter for Princeton University’s Arts & Transit project. This will have an impact on parking and traffic. Check here for parking updates.

The Terra Learning Kitchen

January 21, 2014

Terra Learning Kitchen

Terra Learning Kitchen (TLK) is a combination of a café, grab ‘n go/take out restaurant, and cooking school. Its mission is to provide wholesome foods and inform the community about the values of nutritious ingredients and how flavorful they are.

TLK is a collaboration of the Princeton Family YMCATerra Momo Restaurant Group, and The Suppers Program. It’s nestled inside the Y, which is conveniently located downtown, just a few minutes walk from Palmer Square.

General manager Tiffany Baldino greeted patrons and the curious during their week-long open house. She also shared ingredients of items offered as samples. Raoul Momo (Terra Momo Restaurant Group) and Dorothy Mullen (The Suppers Program) were present during the days of the open house. Momo was happy to tell me that Ms. Mullen will be featured in a series of television shows on our local station promoting healthy eating, filmed at the Terra Learning Kitchen.

 Terra Learning Kitchen gluten-free granola Terra Learning Kitchen crustless quiche

 Terra Learning Kitchen  gluten-free flatbread Terra Learning Kitchen

Fresh juices, crustless quiche, gluten-free flatbreads and pasta with sauces plus more were given out as samples during the open house. The offerings were delicious. I especially liked the gluten-free banana muffin, tomato & mozzarella and the ricotta, kale, and roasted onion with fig balsamic reduction flatbreads. Their beet, carrot, apple, and ginger juice was so tasty, I couldn’t stop sipping on it.

Seating is adequate, and good for a quick for breakfast, lunch or snack with your family or some friends. The open kitchen is great for cooking lessons for both kids and adults.

You can register for classes through the YMCA, and you can pre-order dinners online.

APParent Entertainment For Traveling

December 22, 2013

AAA estimates that 94.5 million people will be on highways traveling to loved ones, ski resorts, the Florida sunshine, or some other destination during the holiday season. This number does not even include flights or rail travel. There will definitely be traffic and delays, so it will be a good idea to bring entertainment along.

With portable electronic devices on the rise, more and more people are using smart phones and tables to while away the hours. Apps are the bridge that help bring books, newspapers, magazines, games, music, and video to us in a small package so we do not have to lug hardcover copies of best sellers, travel board games, or crossword puzzles.

Below are some apps to keep you busy while traveling via bus, train, plane, or automobile.

  • Blio - The Princeton Public Library provides ebooks to read with app.
  • Zinio – The library also offers magazines that can be viewed using this app.
  • Super Stickman Golf, Hangman, or Cut the Rope - Multiplayer, two-player, and single player games.
  • Spotify - You can stream holiday music. Random music within categories is free, but if you pay $9.99/month you can play any song, and download music to listen to offline.
  • Netflix  - They have a nice collection of holiday movies for kids and adults, and you can create personalized profiles for everyone in the family, so each one can have quick access to their watch list. Enjoy movies from Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

A Christmas Carol – 2013 at McCarter

December 19, 2013
Graeme Malcolm as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The David Thompson adaptation of A Christmas Carol  at McCarter Theatre directed by Michael Unger is spellbinding. Year after year it never disappoints. This is partially due to Unger’s decision to have mostly new cast members every year to make each year’s production a bit different for the last 16 years, but there are other factors that keep audiences coming back.

Adikesh s. Nathan, Baylen Thomas, and Adam Le Compte in A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

This year’s cast is the most diversified I’ve seen, and beautifully reflects the Princeton community. It’s a modern twist of the traditional tale, and is a catalyst to wonderful conversations after the show. An example of the mélange of actors is Indonesian-American, Julyana Soelistyo plays Mrs. Dilber. By the way, she’s also Tony nominated.

While the cast is mostly new, there are some familiar faces on stage. Graeme Malcolm returns as Scrooge, and as always does a phenomenal job. Michael Unger’s decision to keep him on board for four years is rightfully justified.  He is a brilliant actor, and cements the cast. Malcolm must be the best Scrooge to have graced the McCarter stage thus far.

James Ludwig returns as Fred/the Schoolmaster/the Undertaker. In the latter role, he gets the kids to react in disgust, but in a funny way, and steals the scene without having to say much. Ludwig manages to incorporate different nuances to his characters annually.

The Ghost of Christmas past is again played by Ronica Reddick. Her character’s peppy personality nicely contrasts Malcolm’s stern portrayal of Scrooge. She too tries to bring subtle changes to her role on a yearly basis.

The sets are another reason to see this production, whether it’s your first or tenth time at McCarter. This is like a Broadway show right here in Princeton. Scrooge & Marley, Ebenizer’s home, Fezziwig’s, the Cratchit’s home, the school yard, and graveyard are all designed with such details, and transition into each other so smoothly that you forget you’re sitting in a suburban theatre.

The effects are magical! Scrooge’s door knocker coming to life, Marley’s ghost going through the wall, Ebenezer flying through the air, and the monstrous Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come have audiences in awe with every performance.

Ensemble from A Christmas Carol at the McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

A Christmas Carol is playing at McCarter Theatre until December 29th. It is the perfect holiday show for every generation in your family. If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to purchase tickets now, before they sell out!

Thanksgiving Recipes With a Twist

November 16, 2013

Thanksgiving Demo

Recently, Nirit Yadin demonstrated cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a twist at a private event. Adding more flavors, textures, and colors made this a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Yadin even created variations of a dish, and used  local, all-natural condiments from the company HerbsNZest in one.

Yadin is a culinary educator and food blogger amongst other things. She is a co-leader of Slow Food Central Jersey. She has worked with Cherry Grove Farm, Whole Foods, Terra Momo Restaurant Group, and the Suppers Program. Nirit enjoys teaching cooking classes, and is a healthy eating coach. You can certainly hire her for either service in your own home would be a great gift for the foodie in your life!

Below is the menu. You can easily prepare these dishes to amaze your family and friends. Recipes courtesy of Nirit Yadin.

  • Turkey Breast Stuffed Under the Skin
  • Bread Salad (Dressing)
  • Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • Brussels Sprouts with Figs and Bacon
  • Tarte Tatin

Turkey Breasts over Bread Salad

Turkey Stuffed Under the Skin 

The turkey breast was roasted with a compound butter under its skin, which made it crispier. The skin was removed and julienned. The breast was spilt, sliced, and placed on top of the bread salad, topped with the cracklings of turkey skin.

Compound Butter:

  • Makes about 1/2 cup (equivalent of 1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped mixed herbs (such as thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram or rosemary)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well until herbs are distributed evenly. Dump onto a piece of waxed paper, parchment or plastic wrap, shape into a cylinder or disk, and seal ends by twisting, or pack into a ramekin (however you prefer to store and serve it) and cover with plastic. Chill in refrigerator until firm, at least an hour.

Stuff under the skin:

Rinse the turkey  and pat very dry inside and out. Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin. Using your finger, shove butter into each of the 4 pockets. Season the turkey liberally all over with salt and pepper {we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of turkey}. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.  Roast for 20 minutes, then lower to 325 F and continue roasting until internal temp at the thickest part of the breast is 160 F (be sure the thermometer does not touch the bone). Time depends on the size of the turkey but start checking after an hour or so. Let rest for about 20 minutes before carving.

Bread Salad

Bread Salad

Serves 8

  • 2 tablespoon dried cranberries
  • 4 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 pound stale Italian-style bread, cut into large chunks
  • 4 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons HerbNZest Chipotle Cranberry Orange relish (option)
  • 1 cup plus 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 8 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 8 cups lightly packed small arugula leaves

Preheat the oven to 450°. In a small bowl, soak the cranberries in the water and until plumped, 10 minutes. Drain. In the meantime, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool, then tear the bread into bite-size pieces.

Make dressing: In another small bowl, combine the Champagne vinegar with the 2 tablespoon HerbNZest relish 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper. In a bowl, toss the bread with three-quarters of the dressing and let stand for 10 minutes. In a skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add the scallions and garlic and cook over moderate heat until, about 2 minutes; transfer to a large bowl. Add the cranberries, bread, pine nuts and the remaining Champagne vinaigrette and toss.

Spoon the bread salad into a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for a few minutes longer to dry out the top and brown the bottom.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

  • 10 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 2 tablespoons HerbNZest Curry Pumpkin Pesto
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Add the potatoes to a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer or until the potatoes are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes, drain well. Return the potatoes to the Dutch oven and add the butter, honey, cinnamon or pesto, and salt. Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot.

With Marshmallows: Preheat the oven temperature to 400°.

In a medium bowl, toss the marshmallows with the five-spice powder until coated. Spread in a lightly buttered baking pan pan bake for about 10 minutes until the marshmallows are golden and lightly puffed.

Brussels Sprouts with HerbsNZest

Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Figs (adapted from Mark Bittman)

Serves 8

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 to 12 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 2 pound Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed
  • 2 cups dried figs, stemmed and quartered
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
  • HerbNZest Caramelized Apple Champagne Mustard (optional)

Put a large skillet over medium heat and add oil, then bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the sprouts with a sharp knife or through feed tube of a food processor equipped with a slicing attachment. Add sprouts, figs and 1/4 cup water to pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until sprouts and figs are nearly tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Turn heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until any remaining water evaporates, another 5 to 10 minutes. Add vinegar, taste, adjust seasoning and serve with a dollop of HerbNZest Caramelized Apple Champagne Mustard.

For a vegetarian version, replace the bacon with 1 chopped onion, cook in 2 tablespoons butter and one tablespoon oil until brown and caramelized (about 10 minutes). Stir in 2 tablespoon of HerbNZest Caramelized Apple Champagne Mustard. Continue cooking as described. Serve with more mustard on the side.

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin (adapted from Fine Cooking)

  • 5 to 6 pounds tart apples, such as Braeburn, Jonathan, Honeycrisp or Fuji.
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • a pinch kosher salt
  • Store-bought high quality puff pastry, defrosted for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Peel, halve, and core the apples. Make the caramel: In a heavy ovenproof 10-inch skillet melt the butter, add the sugar and salt. Stir gently with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the sugar begins to melt around the edges. After the sugar has melted completely, let the mixture cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it reaches a deep mahogany-colored caramel; if using a dark pan, occasionally lift some caramel out with a spoon to check the color. As soon as the caramel is the right color, take the pan off the heat.

Arrange the apple halves in the pan in concentric circles, packing them in as tightly as possible (they’ll shrink as they cook). Return the pan to medium heat, increasing to medium high as the apple juices begin to flow and the liquid bubbles gently. The apples should release enough liquid to prevent the caramel from burning, but if you start to smell burnt sugar, immediately turn down the heat. At this point, there should be a lot of juice in the pan. Carefully take the pan from the heat and, holding the apples back with a spatula, pour off some of the caramel and juice into a small saucepan. Return the skillet to the heat and continue cooking the apples in the skillet until they’re tender and thoroughly caramelized. Be patient, cooking time can take 20-30 minutes.

Take the skillet off the heat and let cool to room temperature. If there’s more than about 1/2 inch of liquid remaining in the pan, carefully pour off the excess into the small saucepan. Heat the oven to 375°F. Roll the chilled puff pastry into a round about 1 inch larger than the pan; Roll the round of dough onto the rolling pin and transfer it to the skillet, gently draping the dough over the apples. Tuck and fold the edge of the dough under to make a rim. Put the skillet in the middle of the oven. Bake until the crust is a rich brown and looks crisp, about 25 minutes.

Take the tarte out of the oven and let it cool for about 15 minutes. If more juice accumulates, carefully pour off most of it into the saucepan and then invert a large plate on top of the pan, flip the pan and plate over in one quick move, and lift off the pan. And what about all those yummy pan juices? Simmer them until thick and syrupy and then spoon them over the finished tarte or serve alongside.

From Books to Film

November 12, 2013

20131112-094837.jpgThere have been many popular books that have been brought to the silver screen. They range from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Newbery Medal-winning book Bridge to Terabithia in the children’s category, to The DaVinci Code to the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech for adults.

The Princeton Public Library is featuring The Silver Linings Playbook in their Princeton Reads series and has a Story Slam scheduled for Tuesday, November 11th at 7 PM in the Community Room. Author Matthew Quick will be at the J.W. Middle School auditorium on Friday, November 15th, 7 – 9 PM to discuss the Playbook, as well as his novel Forgive me, Leonard Peacock for young adults.

Family Film Hugo

Courtesy of Netflix

The library has a large selection of the books and their DVD counterparts to borrow. If you’re more into streaming video, check out Netflix‘s collection of movies adapted from bestsellers. Refresh your memory of The Hunger Games before Catching Fire is released, watch something more gentile with your pre-schooler, like The Velveteen Rabbit or The Little Engine Who Could, or check out Hugo or the classic Charlotte’s Web with older kids.

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