April 14, 2021

Mayor Mark Freda designated April 9 as Paul Robeson Day during the Memorial Wreath Laying ceremony at the bust of Robeson in front of the Arts Council of Princeton. The event was the culmination of the Robeson Week of Remembrance. Attendees share why it is important to commemorate Paul Robeson in this week’s Town Talk on page 6. (Photo by Weronika A. Plohn)

By Donald Gilpin

In accordance with Tuesday’s recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the state of New Jersey and the Princeton Health Department are pausing their administration of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.

The CDC and FDA are investigating potentially dangerous blood clots in six women that occurred in the days after they received the J&J vaccine. Approximately seven million people have had the vaccine, including about 300 vaccinated by the Princeton Health Department.

“This temporary pause in administering the J&J vaccination is to provide the FDA and CDC with necessary time to evaluate and further investigate these rare cases, and craft further recommendations,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser.

He noted that the Princeton Health Department, which currently has 100 doses of the J&J vaccine that are being stored at the proper temperature, will not administer additional J&J vaccines until the CDC and FDA provide clear guidance on the next steps.

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) also announced Tuesday that it is suspending J&J vaccinations pending further guidance from federal health officials. All New Jersey vaccination sites have been told to put J&J vaccinations on hold until further notice.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday urged the 235,000 New Jersey residents who have gotten the J&J vaccination not to worry. No adverse effects similar to those reported elsewhere from the J&J vaccination have been seen in New Jersey, he said. more

By Anne Levin

Princeton University is the home of a new branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, it was announced Tuesday, April 13. The sole focus will be on cancer metabolism and its promise for new and better ways to prevent and treat the disease, according to statements from the two institutions.

Princeton joins the Ludwig Institute’s locations at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the University of Oxford, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of Lausanne.

“The new branch offers us the chance to capitalize on multiple areas where Princeton is a world leader and has world-leading technologies that haven’t yet been applied to cancer,” said Joshua Rabinowitz, a professor of chemistry and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton. Rabinowitz, who specializes in cancer and metabolism, is the director of the branch. “We want to continue to push the frontiers of those technologies, because ultimately technologies drive biological understanding, which opens up new avenues for cancer treatment and prevention,” he said.

The clinical aspect of the program will be conducted in the tri-state area, including in partnership with RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only U.S. National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and a consortium cancer center between Rutgers and Princeton universities and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Among the questions to be addressed are: Since tumors feast on glucose, should cancer patients eat more sugary treats or fewer? When advanced cancer patients see their bodies wasting away, should they fight back with carb-loading or steak? How does cancer hijack a patient’s metabolism to grow and metastasize? more

WILD ANIMALS AND UNDISCOVERED PLANETS: Princeton University astrophysicist Gaspar Bakos has helped to discover more than 140 planets outside our solar system. Now he and his pandemic pastime of photographing animals in the woods near his house are the subject of “Observatory,” a short documentary film by Jared Flesher, premiering online this week in the Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

By Donald Gilpin

Last November Jared Flesher, part-time staff videographer in Princeton University’s Office of Sustainability and founder of his own video production company based in Ringoes, heard about an astrophysicist who had occupied himself and his three sons during the pandemic by taking photos of animals in the woods with a $40 motion-sensor camera.

“He’d been running around for a few months during the pandemic with a wildlife camera just to see what was out there, exploring around the lake to see what other life was there,” Flesher said. “During the pandemic a lot of people were feeling cooped up wondering what to do with themselves.”

Flesher, who describes himself as a storyteller with a passion for nature and for just looking around, wasted no time in following up on the doings of this astrophysicist, who turned out to be Hungarian-born Princeton University Professor Gaspar Bakos. Bakos lives next to a tiny patch of forest bordering on Lake Carnegie and is known for having helped discover more than 140 planets outside our
solar system.

The result of Flesher’s investigations is a short documentary film, Observatory, which premieres April 16 at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival. more

ZOOMING INTO HISTORY: This 19th century house at 2 Boudinot Street, likely the work of prolific builder/architect Charles Steadman, is among four on the Historical Society of Princeton’s 2021 House Tour.

By Anne Levin

The Historical Society of Princeton’s (HSP) spring house tour is a much-anticipated event that invites the curious to step inside some of the town’s most historic, architecturally distinctive homes.

With the pandemic still a presence, the decision was made to keep this season’s tour virtual. But there is a silver lining of sorts. The digital format allows for some closer looks, and special details that a traditional event would not. It also makes the houses available for a whole month, from May 15-June 15.

“Obviously, for everyone’s safety, this is a necessary shift,” said HSP Director Izzy Kasdin. “But I also think it’s a really exciting evolution of what is a beloved event. We don’t really see it as a substitute for what would have been in person. We see it as a totally different experience. We’re not just walking through a house on Zoom. This is an in-depth, detailed look at four very special houses.”

That means special content, including interviews with architects and designers, will be woven into the tours of 2 Boudinot Street and 20 Boudinot Street in the Western Section of town; 8 Evelyn Place, which was home to the late Mayor Barbara Sigmund; and 600 Pretty Brook Road, known as “The Bouwerie.”

Architect Max Hayden did restorations and renovations at three of the properties — the houses on Boudinot Street and the home on Evelyn Place.

Of 2 Boudinot Street, he said, “I view myself as a kind of plastic surgeon to turn the clock back and make things right. This one was stuck in 1976.” Prolific Princeton builder-architect Charles Steadman likely built the Federal/Italianate-style house in the 1850s. It was originally located at the corner of Nassau Street and University Place, and moved twice before landing at its current location, according to the HSP.  more

By Anne Levin

At a meeting Monday evening, Princeton Council voted in favor of several resolutions, introduced two ordinances, and approved three others including one allowing the municipality to establish a “CAP Bank.”

Interim administrator Bob Bruschi said the CAP Bank does not affect this year’s budget, but would allow Council flexibility next year in case there is a major budget issue that needs to be addressed.

With one of the resolutions, the governing body officially approved the temporary employment of Bruschi, who was administrator of the former Princeton Borough and consolidated Princeton until his retirement in 2014. He has been back in the post since mid-March, replacing retiring administrator Marc Dashield while the search for a permanent administrator was finalized with the hiring of Bernard Hvozdovic Jr., who will take over early next month. Council also passed a resolution to make that hiring official.

Council members delivered updates on various issues. Councilwoman Eve Niedergang reported that a sewer manager has been hired to help address problems and vacancies in that department. Councilman David Cohen said that the Vision Zero Task Force, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities, held a kickoff meeting and established five subcommittees. Any members of the public who would like to serve on any of those committees should get in touch with him through the municipal website (princetonnj.gov).

Councilwoman Mia Sacks reported that she, Cohen, and Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros have been meeting with the town’s Planning Department, the Fair Share Housing Center, and attorneys regarding recent revelations that a 20 percent set aside of affordable housing units was not part of a development planned for the former Griggs Corner site. more

By Stuart Mitchner

I travel in worlds you can’t even imagine! You can’t conceive what I’m capable of!  I’m so far beyond you, I’m like a god in human clothing! Lightning bolts shoot from my fingertips!

—from Better Call Saul, Season 5

Better Call Zeus is more like it. In fact that passionate utterance comes from the owner of a Suzuki Esteem named Jimmy (“S’all good, man!”) McGill, who is at a transformative breaking point not unlike the Shazam moment where Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel.

So, you may be thinking Saul Goodman of the lightning bolts is either a Shakespearean actor in rehearsal or a deranged black comedy superhero out of the Marvel comics universe, surely not a shyster lawyer with a University of American Samoa law degree (by mail) driving a vehicular alter ego of a color somewhere between a “yellow matter custard I-am-the-Walrus” shade of yellow and the Crime and Punishment yellow symbolic of corruption, dilapidation, decay, and soulsick decadence. And don’t forget the slightly unhinged strip of chrome on the passenger side, just down from the blood-red rear door that suggests the work of a body shop mechanic with delusions of abstract expressionist grandeur.

Every time Jimmy speeds off on another mission, the camera makes sure you get a clear view of the word ESTEEM to the right of the New Mexico Land of Enchantment license plate. And every time you see that word you’re reminded of how brilliantly far the show’s creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, have gone — the proverbial extra mile — to put their hero behind the wheel of the perfect car for a driver on his way to the far side of “esteem” as Saul Goodman, a Friend of the Cartel.

Jimmy’s 1998 Esteem takes a hit almost as soon as he puts it in motion in the series pilot when an insurance-scamming skateboarder tumbles accidentally on purpose over the hood and smashes the window. Amazingly, the Little Yellow Car That Could almost makes it to the end of Season 5 (spoiler alert) as Jimmy/Saul drives it to the Mexican border. You could say that when the Esteem goes literally over the edge — it’s goodbye Jimmy, hello Saul. more

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s digital series, “Buskaid — A Musical Miracle,” which showcases South Africa’s Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, presents guest harpist Jude Harpstar and violinist Mzwandile Twala in “Curious Creatures and a Heavenly Harp,” available Friday-Sunday, April 30-May 1. Works by Carlo Farina, Claude Debussy, Felix Mendelssohn, and Fritz Kreisler are on the program. Access is $5. Visit princetonsymphony.org.

“SIDE ORDER”: This work by Larry Mitnick is featured in “Imagining Space,” his dual exhibition with Heather Barros, on view through May 2 at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville.

Heather Barros and Larry Mitnick’s joint exhibition, “Imagining Space,” is on view at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville through May 2.

According to the artists, Imagining space is different from imagining spaces. Barros and Mitnick understand that “spaces” are constrained by boundaries. A meadow may be circumscribed by a row of trees, and a room by its walls. In imagining “space” these two artists seek to invert the perspective. Both ponder space independent of the space’s periphery. They use forms we understand to prescribe a space we may not. That space can be vast. That space can be twisted; it can be atmospheric. So, for these artists and in very different ways, the path through space leads to abstraction.

Barros imagines space in paintings of interiors and landscapes. She understands that spatial orientation requires an anchor point. She seemingly provides these for viewers, but upon close inspection her anchors are often unmoored. She may offer a window through which one can see, but the view is empty. If not bare canvas, the paint has been wiped to near-translucency. Detail is sacrificed, information is lost, but volume survives. Other times it is unclear if one is looking at or through water, through fog, or at sheer emptiness.  more

“THREE BOYS. THREE STORIES”: Artist Mary Ann McKay will discuss her work in “Silent Voices: Art of the Children of the Mines” on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. online via Zoom. The presentation is part of Artsbridge’s Distinguished Artists’ Series.

Artsbridge’s Distinguished Artists’ Series will feature Mary Ann McKay in “Silent Voices: Art of the Children of the Mines” on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. online via Zoom.

McKay’s mixed media art feels like it comes through her DNA, as she bears witness to the plight of child laborers her coal miner grandfather saw and worked with in Pennsylvania. Using images taken around 1911 by Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, she combines her painting and digital skills with glass, metal, cold wax, oil and film to create extraordinary works that bring color and life back to children’s lives lost to child labor during the industrial age.  more

WHAT A SHOT: This high school student and member of Inner Drive Hoops basketball center is practicing shooting at the special training facility. “He is using one of our technology-enhanced shooting stations to practice, where he took 350 shots during the workout,” explains CEO Rob Kron, one of the founders and owners of the center. “Our approach to skills training is process-based workouts that produce optimum results. We want players to focus on the present in order to get everything they can out of each session. Our cutting-edge technology gives players the ability to see improvement in real time.”

By Jean Stratton

Basketball has always been my favorite sport. At Inner Drive Hoops, my colleagues and I love the game because it is a perfect harmony of individual skill and team play, quickness and patience, power and finesse. The best teams are those where each player has developed his or her individual skills and personality to a level that their passion and play elevate those around them. When five players find that sense of togetherness, basketball is the most beautiful thing in the world!

“This is what we want to impart to our members of all ages, who come to train at our center.”

Rob Kron, CEO, owner, and founder of Inner Drive Hoops, is enthusiastic about the basketball training center and its unique, sophisticated technology-enhanced program.

Opened in July 2020 at 113 North Gold Drive in Robbinsville, the center was launched by Kron and co-founders and owners Ben Stirt and Sally George. more

TRIAL BY FIRE: Princeton University wrestler Lenny Merkin gets pumped up with Sebby the Sloth, a mascot that he created, in the Utah Salt Flats. Earlier this month, Merkin competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 67-kilogram Greco-Roman event. Senior Merkin fell 9-0 to Benjamin Peak in the first round and then lost 12-4 to Calvin Germinaro in a consolation match in his debut appearance at the event. (Photo provided courtesy of provided by Lenny Merkin)

By Justin Feil

Lenny Merkin culminated a rocky year by making his debut at the United States Olympic Trials in Greco Roman style wrestling.

The Princeton University senior was disappointed with an early exit after two matches at the Trials on April 2 held in Fort Worth, Texas, but is using it to fuel his desire to go for a spot in the next Olympics.

“Now that I got my foot in the door, I’m really optimistic about 2024,” said Merkin.

“I’ve seen the stage. I’ve competed with the best guys in the weight class. The guy who’s on the Olympic team, I had a really close match with the last time I wrestled him. He’s beaten me every time, but I think I’m finally starting to understand how to wrestle Greco on the senior level. Now is the perfect time for me to start working on the things that I’m missing. I think not qualifying is going to be my driving force for the following Olympics.”

Merkin is the only Tiger wrestler to qualify for this year’s Trials. Princeton University assistant coach Nate Jackson also qualified and competed at the Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, without winning an Olympic berth.

“It’s an important step in our process,” said Princeton University wrestling head coach Chris Ayres.

“It affirmed to me more than ever we need to get an Olympic gold medal to Princeton. That’s my goal. To have this step where we had two guys at the Trials, it made me more motivated to say we can do this thing.” more

TRIPLE CROWN: Princeton High wrestler Chloe Ayres, top, battles a foe in a 2018 bout. Last Saturday, senior standout Ayres took first at 114 pounds at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) girls’ state wrestling championships. It was the third straight state crown for Ayres at the competition, which started in 2019. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden and Justin Feil

Due to COVID-19 concerns, some key changes were made to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) girls’ state wrestling championships this year.

The finals were switched to April from March and the site of the event was moved to Phillipsburg High from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

But in the third year of the competition of the event, one thing remained constant — Princeton High star Chloe Ayres emerged as a state champ. The senior standout earned her third straight state title, prevailing at 114 pounds.

Capping her PHS career, Ayres dominated the competition last Saturday, pinning Emily Popek of Kittatinny in the quarterfinal round at 3:13 of the bout, pinning Gianna DeDreaux of Brick Township in the semis at 2:00, and then pinning Riley Lerner of Cedar Creek at 4:40 of the final.

“I went out and accomplished what I wanted to accomplish; I hope it was fun to watch, I wanted to put on a show,” said Ayres afterward as quoted on the NJ.com website. more

STICKING WITH IT: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Drew McConaughy controls the ball in a 2019 game. Senior McConaughy is looking to have a big final campaign for PDS. The Panthers open their 2021 campaign by hosting the Hun School on April 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team doesn’t boast strength in numbers in terms of a large roster, it is bringing a lot of emotion into the 2021 season.

“The consistent feeling across the board is that we are happy to be together,” said PDS head coach Joe Moore, reflecting on the mood around the squad as it returns to the field after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic.

“We have a pretty strong senior class that was really disappointed last year. Seeing what the seniors went through last year has definitely lit a fire under us but also has made us really just appreciate being back together. From a performance standpoint, we have some holes to fill so we are just trying to learn as much about one another as quickly as we can here.”

The heartbreak triggered by the passing away of beloved longtime coach Pete Higgins last June at age 57 is adding more fire to the Panthers on a daily basis. 

“His loss is still fresh in the PDS community and for all of the kids that are in our program right now,” said Moore.

“We are playing with him on our hearts. We will be doing some things to recognize him with the shooting shirt under our jerseys and stickers on our helmets.” more

YOUNG AT HEART: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Jordan Young looks to pass the ball in a 2019 game. Last Monday, senior Young contributed three assists as PDS defeated the Pennington School 14-6 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Panthers play at Pingry School on April 14 and at Stuart Country Day on April 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After dealing with the disappointment of having the 2020 season canceled due to the pandemic, it didn’t take long this spring for Jill Thomas to get fired up about her Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team.

“It has been great, I couldn’t even tell you how much, walking up that hill the first time to the field was wonderful,” said PDS head coach Thomas.

“There is an amazing vibe out there, it is all about opportunity. I guess when something is taken away from you and you get it back, it is amazing. That is how the girls feel and how Tracy [assistant coach Tracy Young] and I feel. We haven’t had that vibe in a long, long time.”

The squad’s veterans have played a big role in creating that positive vibe.

“We are loaded at the top, we have eight seniors,” said Thomas, whose Class of 2021 includes Vanessa Devin, Anna Ellwood, Alex Hollander, Ella McIntyre, Caroline Topping, Hailey Wexler, Rachel Richter, and Jordan Young.

“We have a ton of juniors too and we have some newcomers that are going to wow people for the next four years. We have got good leadership all the way around and just a wonderful bond.”

The Panthers boast some very good offensive firepower with such skilled performers as junior Elle Anhut, senior Young, freshman Tessa Caputo, sophomore Sophie Jaffe, sophomore Paige Gardner, and junior Maggie Zarish-Yasunas. more

ABBY ROAD: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Abby O’Brien, right, heads upfield last Friday against a Blair Academy defender. Freshman attacker O’Brien tallied six goals in the contest but it wasn’t enough as the Raiders fell 14-10. In upcoming action, Hun, who moved to 1-1 with the defeat, plays at the Pennington School on April 14 and at the Blair Academy on April 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Abby O’Brien came out firing as the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team hosted Blair Academy last Friday afternoon.

Sophomore attacker O’Brien tallied three goals in the first eight minutes of the contest to help Hun jump out to a 3-1 lead.

“I was very excited; I think it is all about the timing and noticing when you have that opportunity to take the shot,” said O’Brien in assessing her hot start.

Having transferred to Hun from Montgomery High, where she never got to see the field last spring as the season was canceled due to the pandemic, O’Brien is making up for lost time.

“This is my first year of playing high school, it is my second game,” said O’Brien, who tallied four goals in her debut as Hun defeated Peddie 12-6 in its season opener on April 6.

“It is just so fun being out here with my teammates. The athletic office and the administration worked so hard for us to be able to get out here.”

Against Blair, Hun worked hard, leading 6-4 and then trailing 7-6 at halftime before the Buccaneers pulled away to a 14-10 win.

“I think there are some adjustments that we need to make on both sides,” said O’Brien, reflecting on the setback.

“We definitely fought until the end, we will be excited to get back into practice.”

O’Brien has adjusted well in making the move to Hun.

“I have a lot of family that came here, my dad came here,” said O’Brien. “It is such a great community.” more

April 7, 2021

The Duck Race was one of many kid-friendly activities featured at the annual Bunny Chase Spring Celebration last weekend at Terhune Orchards on Cold Soil Road. Attendees share their favorite spring activities in this week’s Town Talk on page 6. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Health Department reported on Monday, April 5 that there had been 11 new positive COVID cases in Princeton in the previous 7 days for a daily average of 1.57, and 24 in the previous 14 days, a daily average of 1.71.

The average age of individuals with recent new cases in Princeton is 26 years old. “Not surprisingly, new infections are being spread amongst those ineligible or not previously vaccinated,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser. “The good news is that hospitalizations are not increasing due to the less severe health complications associated with younger people. With that said, we are still working to vaccinate those that are at high risk of severe COVID-19.”

The push to vaccinate most of the state’s adult population in the coming months is gaining momentum. On Monday, April 5, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that all New Jerseyans age 16 and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning on April 19, two weeks earlier than the state had originally planned.

“Never forget, the power to end this pandemic rests on our collective shoulders — all nine million of us,” said Murphy in his Monday COVID briefing. “The decisions each of you make as individuals — to get vaccinated, to properly wear a mask, to stay home when not feeling well, to cooperate with contact tracers — these individual decisions protect you, your family, and our community.”

As of Tuesday morning, 1,845,335 New Jersey residents had been fully vaccinated, with 3,065,644 having received at least one dose and a total of 4,794,010 doses administered so far by New Jersey health facilities and vaccine centers. The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population, about 4.7 million people, by June 30. more

By Donald Gilpin

As colleges and universities across the country struggle to educate their students safely and effectively in the second year of COVID-19, Princeton University, which welcomed back to campus about 2,800 undergraduates at the end of January, is carrying out its multi-faceted response to the pandemic with considerable success.

An asymptomatic testing program for all regularly on campus, symptomatic testing for students, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation, along with a mandatory social contract for students which outlines expectations for their adherence to COVID safety protocols, are all essential elements of the University’s effort to move forward safely.

So far, Princeton University, which publishes information on COVID testing results daily on its COVID website, has avoided the kinds of outbreaks that have disrupted a number of other campuses throughout the country.  With contact tracing, conducted in close coordination with the municipal public health office, the University can pursue the identification of any potential case clusters.

The Princeton University COVID-19 Dashboard for April 6 at covid.princeton.edu shows a positivity rate of just .09 percent for asymptomatic testing during the previous week. That’s 11 positive cases, 1.57 per day, out of 12,426 tests, well below the rate for Mercer County and New Jersey as a whole.

“Countless hours of careful planning and hard work went into preparations so we could invite all undergraduates to return to campus for the spring semester,” said Deputy University Spokesman Michael Hotchkiss. more

By Anne Levin

At a meeting of the Princeton Merchants Association last week, the organization’s president Jack Morrison reported that all but one of the 90 $5,000 grants made available by the Princeton Small Business Resiliency Fund (PSBRF) over the past year had been issued.

In two separate rounds, the funds have gone to independently owned shops, restaurants, hair salons, and other businesses to help them weather the pandemic. Most have survived; some have not.

“A handful of them aren’t there anymore,” said John Goedecke of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, who with Peter Dawson oversaw management of the application process and distribution of the funds. “Some on Chambers Street, where the [Graduate] hotel is going in, have had to move. We haven’t asked them to follow up with us, but through the Chamber relationship, we have stayed in touch.”

Last week, Christine Curnan, the Chamber’s vice president for membership and business development, heard back from several business owners asked how the grants had affected them. Jacqui Arce of Pure Barre on Hulfish wrote that her grant went toward renovation of the HVAC system to include an air purifier, which cost about $7,000. Lisa Ruddy of Princeton Soup & Sandwich Company on Palmer Square East said the grant helped bring back staff, buy heat lamps and cushions for outdoor dining, and offset fees associated with online ordering.

Paul Shu of Holsome Teas and Herbs on Witherspoon Street wrote that the $5,000 enabled him to create a new website. “We are now on the way to recovery and the future looks promising,” he said. “If there is anything I can contribute to the Foundation, let me know.” more

RECONNECTING THROUGH ENTERTAINMENT: The StreetBeat Brass Band is the opening act for McCarter Theatre Center’s series of Sunday afternoon concerts in Palmer Square on April 25.

By Anne Levin

While no firm date is set for when McCarter Theatre Center will offer drama, dance, or music on its two stages again, the administration is not sitting by as they wait for guidelines and executive orders about reopening.

McCarter plans to reconnect with past audiences and welcome new ones with a series of Sunday afternoon concerts in Palmer Square. Starting April 25 from 4-6 p.m. with the brass-based StreetBeat Brass Band, the family-friendly events run through June 20.

“After this tough year, we are eager to celebrate the return of spring in Palmer Square with our communities,” wrote McCarter’s Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson, in an email. “While we cannot be indoors yet, we do know that art can happen anywhere, and what a beautiful way to celebrate spring and the warmer weather with our neighbors than this outdoor concert series. It’s a wonderful chance for all of us to meet again and to celebrate new artists.”

Each of the nine musical acts are making their McCarter debuts. The idea was to present a wide, inclusive range of established musicians from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The styles include Latin, R&B, pop, jazz, swing, reggae, and country music. more

By Donald Gilpin

Providing behind-the-scenes stories on the campaigns, the primaries, and the twists and turns of the 2020 election, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes discussed their just-published book, Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, in an April 1 Zoom webinar sponsored by Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and Labyrinth Books.

In addition to describing the Biden campaign itself, “lucky,” Allen noted, also means that the Democrats were lucky that they nominated Biden, the only candidate who, he thinks, could have beaten Trump, and the nation was lucky that its system of government withstood the onslaught. 

“We’re lucky that the Republic held,” said Allen, a senior national political reporter with NBC News Digital. Biden was able to capitalize on the breaks that went his way, and it was lucky for the Republic that our system held. People up and down the line in terms of judges and election officials did the right thing, and we were only one adverse decision away from the Republic crumbling.”

Also co-authors of HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton (2014) and Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017), Allen and Parnes, who is senior correspondent for The Hill, talked with Princeton University Historian and CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer.

“Everyone knows what happened in the last election, but they don’t really know,” said Parnes. “So we kind of give you the ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ version of what went on behind the scenes. The Democrats tried to rebuild themselves after the 2016 election. They tried to learn their lessons from 2016. We talk about how Joe Biden barely got through the primaries and how he was barely able to win in the general election.”

Working almost entirely remotely, Allen and Parnes started by putting together a list of people to talk to. “There were so many candidates,” said Parnes, “25 at one point. So we started talking to people, writing the story in real time. The reporting guided us and almost told the story for us. Jon and I have a very good partnership. Jon is very good at analysis. I’m good at the detail and putting readers in the room.” more

By Anne Levin

Michael Mechanic

Who hasn’t entertained a fantasy of winning the lottery? Among those who fall significantly below the one percent, the prospect of sudden, immense wealth can seem like entry into a perfect world — no worries about rent, mortgages, college tuition, and just putting food on the table, not to mention sports cars in the garage and trips to exotic locales.

Not so fast, says Michael Mechanic, author of the book Jackpot, due for release by Simon & Schuster on April 13. The lively non-fiction account of American wealth and its consequences will be discussed by the author, a 1983 graduate of Princeton High School, at a Zoom event sponsored by Labyrinth Books on April 20 at 6 p.m.

“I first had the idea for this probably 25 years ago,” Mechanic said in a telephone interview last week. “I was going to write about the fascination with people like lottery winners, who come into wealth suddenly. We’ve all heard the stories about them imploding.”

But Mechanic soon realized that the idea wouldn’t work. “They won’t talk to you,” he said. “They have been so barraged, by everyone from friends they haven’t seen in 20 years to sleazy money managers. These are often simple people who work for a living and have a family. It really messes up families and work life, so what do you do?” more

By Stuart Mitchner

The greatest art never loses its mystery. The better we know hers, the more dreamlike and sensational it seems.

—Gary Giddins on Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

It’s Opening Day at the Great American Ballpark. So begins a fresh, new, hopefully complete season after the travesty of 2020. At first glance there was a touch of poetry in that combination, the idea of a sports venue that hadn’t been branded by a corporation; alas, the home field of the Cincinnati Reds bears the name of The Great American Insurance Company.

But then the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, the team I’ve followed almost all my life, play their home games on the site of a slave market in a stadium built and named for a beer baron.    

I’m not complaining, not after watching Major League baseball played with real people in the stands. Never mind that the crowd amounts to only 20 percent of capacity, these living breathing yelling drinking eating fans are a joy to behold after last year’s cardboard facsimiles, with crowd noise Muzak piped in at peak moments in the action.

I’d like to think the upside of that surreal season was that it refreshed our appreciation of the game, the moral being “You don’t know what you’ve got until you almost lose it.”   

The same story was played out at the same time when America almost lost itself; now democracy is starting a new season, with the MLB commissioner pulling this year’s All Star Game out of Atlanta as a rebuke to Georgia’s recently passed voter suppression bill. Remember the way the Republican secretary of state stood fast against the gangster tactics of an unhinged president? Remember the 1919 Black Sox scandal?  It’s as if a right-handed reliever named Raffensperger refused to throw the game, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth, thus validating the playing-by-the-rules ideal shared by baseball fans bound by a love of the game, whatever their team or party. Except that fans of the Great Lie booed, threw things, and stormed the field of broken dreams screaming “Kill the umpire!”  more

“SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY”: Passage Theatre has presented an online production of “Surely Goodness and Mercy.” Written by Chisa Hutchinson and directed by marcus d. harvey, the play depicts Tino (above, left) and a classmate, who try to help an irascible but caring school cafeteria worker. (Painting by Leon Rainbow, courtesy of Passage Theatre)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre has presented Surely Goodness and Mercy. Playwright Chisa Hutchinson’s inspirational coming-of-age drama follows Tino, an intelligent and caring 12-year-old boy. Tino and a classmate form an unlikely friendship with a school cafeteria worker, and seek a way to help her out of a crisis.

This online production was presented March 25-28; the run was extended for a second week (April 1-4). Surely Goodness and Mercy has been part of Passage’s Theatre for Families and Young Audiences series — which, according to the company’s website, is “geared towards students in elementary or middle school and focus on themes that affect the youth in our area.”

Hutchinson’s play is uplifting, but it also is grittily realistic. Set in Newark, Surely Goodness and Mercy attacks poverty (specifically the inability to afford health care), racism, and child abuse. Hutchinson also explores faith and its ability to empower people to change situations.

Tino (serenely portrayed by Layton E. Dickson) lives with his embittered aunt, Alneesa (played by Tamara Anderson, whose performance is characterized by bored, haughty glares and barbed line readings). When Tino tries to engage Alneesa in conversation, she pointedly fast-forwards through a commercial to avoid him.

Alneesa approves of Tino’s classmates teasing him for reading the Bible at school. She also rants about his generation when she learns that he discovered his church via Yelp. She tasks him with dusting, before abruptly reassigning him to scrubbing the bathtub. Later we learn that Tino’s mother died to save him from a gunshot. Alneesa’s resentment stems from the fact that she did not want children, but has been tasked with raising her late sister’s child. more