January 9, 2019

By Stuart Mitchner

Thanks to an anonymous troll among the twittering wallflowers of the far-right who posted a video meant to shame the youngest member of the House, the first surge of joy and hope I felt in 2019 came from a four-minute video made by some frisky Boston University students doing Breakfast Club dance moves on a city rooftop. It’s hard to imagine a more gloriously apt expression for what happened in Washington on January 3 than the sight of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez edging into view around the corner of that transformative moment with a big soundless shout of a smile, arms raised, black hair flying, as she uncoils, twirling, whirling, spiraling, the irrepressible embodiment of force and freedom. She and her fellow students were dancing to the music of the French band Phoenix, a number from 2009 called “Lisztomania,” with lyrics that have a ring ten years later, “This is show time, this is show time, this show time/Time, time is your love, time is your love, yes time is your love.”

Back to the Future

As the old year ended and the new one began, my wife and I were binge-watching a show that was too outrageous and irreverent for the networks in the mid 1970s. While revellers partied the night away in rainy Times Square, we were time-traveling to a daymare of small-town midwestern America, the home of Mary Hartman, mass murder, and the Fernwood Flasher.

The brainchild of All in the Family creator Norman Lear, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman ran every weekday night between January 1976 and May 1977. Being first-time parents with an infant son at the time, we slipped comfortably into the chaos swirling around Mary (Louise Lasser) and her dysfunctional household. I doubt that we saw every episode, but we were definitely there when the Fernwood High basketball coach drowned, face down in a bowl of Mary’s chicken soup, an event that holds 97th place on TV Guide’s list of the 100 Greatest TV Moments.  more

Cross Pollination Gallery, an artist-owned gallery at 69 Bridge Street in Lambertville, invites the public to a painting demonstration on Saturday, January 12 from 2 to 4 p.m. SiriOm Singh, a landscapes and abstract painter, will demonstrate his unique layering technique — applying acrylic paint with pallet knives — and collages of various materials. He will also answer questions, and give advice to experienced and beginning artists. For more about Cross Pollination Gallery, visit them on Facebook.

TAPPING INTO SPRING: New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble is part of the spring 2019 Milk & Cookies series of music and storytelling programs for children, at the State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick starting in February.

State Theatre New Jersey has announced the return of the lively, interactive storytelling series Milk & Cookies, starting February 9 with the musician and storyteller Tahira.

The series holds three programs for children ages 3-8, and their families. Following Tahira, performances will be by New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble on March 2, and Sweetbeatz on April 6. Select performances are autism-friendly, allowing families with children on the autism spectrum or with other sensory sensitivities to experience live entertainment in a safe, welcoming, sensory-friendly environment. more

FIRST AMERICAN TOUR: Cellist Andrei Ionita is the soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra of Romania, coming to the State Theatre in New Brunswick Wednesday, January 16 as part of its first visit to the United States.

State Theatre New Jersey presents the National Symphony Orchestra of Romania with cello soloist Andrei Ioni on Wednesday, January 16, at 8 p.m. Conductor Cristian Macelaru leads the orchestra in their American tour debut. Tickets range from $17.50-$70.

The program includes Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major, Op. 11; Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191 with cello soloist Andrei Ionita; Strauss’s Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59; and Ravel’s Boléro. more

Trenton children who have been pursuing intensive string instrument study as part of the Trenton Music Makers Orchestra will give a free community concert in celebration of Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 21 at 5:30 p.m. The concert will take place at the Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall on the campus of The College of New Jersey in Ewing.

The concert, co-sponsored by Trenton Music Makers and The College of New Jersey, will celebrate the growing partnership between the two organizations and will feature performances by the 100 young people who have been meeting after school for up to three years, and their teaching artists. It will also mark the public debut of the second graders from Wilson Elementary School who have joined the program this year as its Pre-Orchestra students. more

“INTERIOR 1”: This oil and oil pastel painting is featured in “Catherine Suttle: Spaces and Structures,” on exhibit at the Hunterdon Art Museum January 13 through March 3. A reception and gallery talk by the artist are scheduled for Sunday, January 13 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Catherine Suttle’s paintings encourage audiences to appreciate the little things that are all around us, but oftentimes fail to notice.

“My paintings reflect my conviction that beyond the obvious, there are nuances and subtleties to be seen and appreciated,” Suttle said. “They give my paintings their character and their personality. I enjoy the unexpected and the awkward, and my paintings are experiments in seeing how I can figure out ways to incorporate those qualities into a satisfying whole.” more

OUT FOR VENGEANCE: Nicole Kidman plays against type and is almost unrecognizable as Erin Bell, a self-abusing LAPD veteran detective turned vigilante in the revenge thriller “Destroyer.” (Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is a veteran LAPD detective whose partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), died when his cover was blown during an undercover operation gone bad. Courtesy of flashbacks, we learn that he was murdered by Silas (Toby Kebbell), the leader of the gang of bank robbers the two had infiltrated.

At the time, Erin and Chris were also lovers, and she was pregnant with his baby. Fast forward 16 years and we find the single mom doing a miserable job of raising their rebellious daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who is presently under the spell of a surly slacker (Beau Knapp) already in his 20s. more

January 2, 2019

By Anne Levin

Lidia Matticchio
Bastianich

To her legions of fans, public television personality Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is the smiling face and comforting voice of regional Italian cooking. Watching the energetic grandmother on her show Lidia’s Kitchen; visiting her restaurants in New York City, Kansas City, Mo., and Pittsburgh, Pa.; the Eataly markets in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles in which she is a partner; or reading one of her seven books, it would seem that Bastianich has been a connoisseur of fine food her entire life.

But there are Drake’s cakes, Jello, and Duncan Hines cake mixes in her past. “I loved all of that stuff when we first came to this country,” said Bastianich, who will make an appearance at Princeton’s Dorothea’s House on Sunday, February 24. “I thought it was wonderful. But then of course, I began to revert back to my culture and the Italian cooking that I knew from childhood.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

Movies and Times Square is the combination I usually go for when I toss the dice for a New Year’s subject. Right now I’m thinking of the January 4, 2012 column, “A Times Square Fantasia With Harpo Marx, Charlie Parker, and the 1911 Club,” which features an image of Harpo swinging on the neon pendulum of the animated Gruen watch sign, a still from the 1950 film Love Happy. I still hold with my unprovable claim that the majority of first-run movies made between 1920 and 1950 are set in New York City, and that more than half of them open with a shot of Times Square at night.

The 1911 club refers to some 26 centenary celebrities who were all packed into a Times Square night spot called the Royal Roost on December 31, 1948 watching Charlie Parker and his All Stars. The challenge for me was to do cameos of everyone, all age 37 that night, from Big Joe Turner and Hank Greenberg to Roy Rogers and Gypsy Rose Lee. The column ends at the stroke of midnight with Charlie Parker shouting “If music be the food of love, play on!” while Mahalia Jackson leads everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne.” more

Philadelphia Orchestra Concertmaster David Kim will perform Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor by Max Bruch with the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey (YOCJ) on Sunday, January 20, at 2:30 p.m. in Kendall Hall at The College of New Jersey.

Kim’s performance is the featured event of the annual YOCJ winter concerts. The afternoon concert will also include YOCJ’s Saxophone Choir, which will perform Gran Partita, commissioned by YOCJ and written by noted composer David Noon. A later concert, at 7:30 p.m., will include the String Preparatory Orchestra, Pro Arte Orchestra, and Wind Symphony. All tickets are good for both concerts. more

“NO. 48”: This screenprint by Robert Rauschenberg is part of “Surface Series from Currents,” which will be on view in the exhibition “Time Capsule 1970: Rauschenberg’s Currents,” running January 19 through February 10 at the Princeton University Art Museum.

In early 1970, groundbreaking American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) collaged newspaper clippings of the day, photographed the collages, and ultimately silkscreened them to create three seminal print series. Considered Rauschenberg’s first expressly activist work of art, these series powerfully evoke the escalating turbulence and concerns of the times – from violent social unrest and the ongoing war in Vietnam, to economic pessimism and political assassinations. One of these portfolios of 18 large-scale screenprints, Surface Series from Currents, will be shown in its entirety for the first time since 1970, affording a rare opportunity to reevaluate the work of one of the most important American artists of the past half century. more

POWER COUPLE: Amy Adams and Christian Bale star as Lynne and Dick Cheney in “Vice.” The seriocomic film marks the third film collaboration for Adams and Bale, who thoroughly disappears into his role. (Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

By Kam Williams

Who is the real Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and how did he become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history? Those are the fundamental questions explored by Vice, an alternately hilarious and sobering biopic written and directed by Adam McKay.

McKay won an Oscar in 2016 for his brilliant adaptation of The Big Short, the Michael Lewis best-seller chronicling the complicated series of events leading to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Nevertheless, he probably remains better known for having previously directed a string of sophomoric comedies starring Will Ferrell including Anchorman 1 and 2, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys.  more

December 26, 2018

By Stuart Mitchner

This being my 15th year at Town Topics, and given how often anniversaries set the stage for my columns, the time feels right for a backward look. On this date in 2007, I began with an ode to Christmas and cats: “There are lots of nice moments this time of year, but maybe the nicest is when the cats first notice the tree in the living room. This is their fifth tree, so they seem perhaps a little less bowled over than in previous years, but no less appreciative. Brother and sister tuxedo look at the Fraser fir with big googly Felix the Cat eyes and then they cock their heads toward their benefactors as if to say ‘All for us?’ This is above and beyond the call of duty. Water in the stand, just for them. Nice packages to lie on, just for them. And how thoughtful, to hang all those glittery things on the branches, even though they know by now they aren’t supposed to use them for punching bags — except for the sister, who always has to knock off an ornament or two, in case her human slaves think she’s getting less crazed in her middle age.”

The rest of that column was about Hector Berlioz, whose music we still play when we’re trimming the tree. This year it’s a small, beautifully red-green-blue-and-gold lighted and decorated Eastern white pine that we managed to fit into the stand with a minimum of domestic fuss, not so much as a raised voice, in fact. The downside is that only one cat is still with us, and Nora, who once performed Nijnsky leaps and had a habit of sliding down the banister, is no longer willing to risk so much as a trip down the stairs to see the tree.  more

CLASHING ON RACE: Jordan Boatman and Lisa Banes star in “The Niceties,” at McCarter Theatre January 11-February 10. For tickets, visit www.mccarter.org. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

After sparking countless conversations about race, history, and power in Boston and New York, the world-premiere production of Eleanor Burgess’ The Niceties will run at McCarter Theatre Center from January 11 through February 10.

Directed by Kimberly Senior (Disgraced on Broadway), The Niceties features Lisa Banes and Jordan Boatman as a white professor and a black student involved in a polite clash of perspectives which quickly explodes into an urgent and dangerous debate threatening to ruin both their lives.

After a workshop at the Contemporary American Theater Festival and a developmental production at Portland Stage in 2017 and early 2018 respectively, Eleanor Burgess’ play began to exhibit a cross-cultural impact with the playwright fielding calls and emails from congresspersons, religions leaders, educators, and nonprofit organizations across the country. Now, McCarter audiences can join in the conversation. more

CERAMICS FOR A CAUSE: The Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Visual Arts Club and Hospitality Club teamed up for a fundraiser to benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). With the contribution of about 150 bowls and mugs created by MCCC ceramicists, along with soup and hot chocolate from the Hospitality Club, the project raised more than $500 for TASK. Shown from left are MCCC Visual Arts Club President Anna Kaster, culinary instructor Frank Benowitz, and customer Lorena Abad, a student in the Health Professions Division.

The Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Visual Arts Club and Hospitality Club recently teamed up for a fundraiser to benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). Approximately 20 ceramicists worked throughout the fall to produce close to 150 bowls and mugs in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. On the day of the fundraiser, culinary students joined in, preparing two kinds of soup (Mulligatawny and butternut squash) to fill the bowls and hot chocolate (made with three types of chocolate) to fill the mugs. more

“ALL THAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND”: A collaborative, multimedia exhibition featuring the work of textile artist Diana Weymar and photographer Nelson Hancock will be on view January 5 through March 16 at the Arts Council of Princeton. A gallery talk and opening reception will take place on January 5 from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Arts Council’s Taplin Gallery.

The Arts Council of Princeton will present “All That You Leave Behind,” a collaborative multi-media exhibition with textile artist Diana Weymar and photographer Nelson Hancock, in the Taplin Gallery January 5 through March 16. All are welcome to the gallery talk on Saturday, January 5, 2-3 p.m., immediately followed by an opening reception from 3 to 5 p.m.  more

STAR-CROSSED LOVERS: Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and her fiancé Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) face seemingly unsurmountable obstacles in the coming-of-age story “If Beale Street Could Talk,” adapted from the classic novel by James Baldwin. (Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

By Kam Williams

In 1974, James Baldwin published If Beale Street Could Talk, a love story set in Harlem about a beleaguered black couple’s pursuit of the elusive American Dream. Many critics consider the heartrending novel Baldwin’s best work, perhaps because of the way in which it humanizes an array of African American characters ordinarily marginalized and relegated to the shadows of society. more

December 19, 2018

‘GURU OF NATURAL GARDENING’ AND FRIEND: Friends of Princeton Open Space and The Garden Club of Princeton will host An Evening with Ken Druse at the Friend Center, Princeton University, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), a nonprofit devoted to preservation and stewardship of land in Princeton, and The Garden Club of Princeton, a charter member of The Garden Club of America, will host An Evening with Ken Druse, at the Friend Center, Princeton University, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. Writing in The New York Times, Anne Raver called Druse “the guru of natural gardening.”

A lecturer, award-winning writer, photographer and author of 19 garden books, Druse will discuss his 2015 book, The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change. According to Druse, “The low-stress environment of shade (cooler temperatures, fewer water demands, carbon sequestration) is extremely beneficial for our plants, our planet, and us.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

When I started on Crosby, I was inclined to believe a lot of the terrible things I had read about him,” Gary Giddins admits in a recent interview on jerryjazzmusician.com. “My proposal focused on a performer who personifies warmth to his public but is cold to his intimates. I started to do interviews and got a different sense of him….Crosby was not a saint, and I never wanted to write about a saint. He was a good and valuable man and I enjoyed the time I spent with him. He wasn’t a perfect artist, but when he rose to the occasion, he was a great one.”

In Bing Crosby: Swinging On a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946 (Little Brown), the occasions Crosby rose to were immense. Until he sang “White Christmas,” still the best-selling single in history, the holiday was for all purposes the emotional province of Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. At the same time, World War II was so seismically historic you could say that the occasion rose to Crosby, lifted him up, transforming an entertainer into “living folklore.” more

PDS STEAM EXHIBIT: Digital and physical displays of student-created shoes are one of many STEAM projects on display at the Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery at Princeton Day School now through January 11.

An exhibit of STEAM-based student innovations is featured at Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery through January 11. The Gallery is open to the public and all are welcome to explore the exhibit during school hours on days when classes are in session.

User-centered design thinking is at the heart of the innovations on display, which were developed to solve real-world challenges and user needs in multiple STEAM courses offered at PDS (along with a few independent projects submitted by students). The School’s STEAM faculty team has developed a curricular approach that relies on facilitating students to empathize with end-users and their challenges, desires, and needs, then ideate possible methods and solutions, prototype ideas into physical or digital form, and test their designs to observe, collect feedback, and refine their efforts. more

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra returned to Richardson Auditorium last Friday night for its annual presentation of George Frideric Handel’s immortal holiday classic Messiah. Led by conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley, 35 members of New Jersey Symphony, along with four vocal soloists and the Montclair State University Singers, presented an interpretation of Handel’s complex work which, although numbers were cut here and there, still conveyed the story well.   

With so few instrumentalists, expertly supported by harpsichordist Aya Hamada and portatif organist John Miller as continuo players, the performance was consistently light and precise. A vocal quartet comprised of soprano Margot Rood, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Steven Soph, and bass Charles Wesley Evans provided much of the work’s drama through arias and recitatives, with Quigley’s tempi moving the music along quickly.  more

The Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium has announced a new partnership with the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University for the Black Maria Film Festival’s 38th annual Festival tour in 2019.  This new partnership will include the premiere screening at Princeton University on February 9, support for the tour of the festival, and multiple opportunities for students to engage with the festival and its filmmakers.

Black Maria Film Festival attracts and nationally showcases the work of independent film and video makers. The festival is a project of the Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium, an independent nonprofit organization. The festival was founded in 1981 as a tribute to Thomas Edison’s development of the motion picture at his laboratory, dubbed the “Black Maria” film studio, the first in the world, in West Orange, New Jersey. more

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Holly (Julia Roberts) welcomes her son Ben (Lucas Hedges) home with open arms on Christmas Eve, even though he left a drug rehab facility without permission. She soon comes to regret that decision in the harrowing family drama Ben Is Back. (Photo Courtesy of Black Bear Pictures)

Holly (Julia Roberts) and Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are raising a family in a quaint country home in upstate New York, ostensibly far removed from the sort of woes that plague the inner city. It’s Christmas Eve, and we meet Holly in church where she’s patiently watching three of her four kids practicing for the Christmas pageant.

However, looks can be deceiving, since missing from the idyllic picture is her eldest child, Ben (Lucas Hedges). The troubled 19-year-old has been living at a drug rehab center, where he’s managed to keep clean for the past 77 days.  more

December 12, 2018

By Stuart Mitchner

The first thing you see when you walk into Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment at the Princeton University Art Museum could be called an act of war. Or you could downgrade it to a metaphor for climate change like the one recently used by scientists comparing greenhouse gas emissions to “a speeding freight train.” However you frame the dynamic, it happens as your eyes move from the majesty of Albert Bierstadt’s Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite (ca. 1871-73) to Valerie Hegarty’s travesty Fallen Bierstadt (2007). According to an online video narrated by Hegarty, she painted her own version of the Bierstadt and then, in effect, blew it up, leaving a hole in the bottom half, the remains scattered in a pile of papier-mâché debris on the gallery floor that museum aides have to occasionally rearrange. The artist says her intention was to simulate “acts of entropy, as if maybe the painting went over the falls and was left to decay.”

 more


“A CHRISTMAS CAROL”: Performances are underway for “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by Adam Immerwahr, the play runs through December 29 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Bob Cratchit (Jon Norman Schneider, second from left) and Mrs. Cratchit (Sharin Martin, back right) celebrate with their children, played by members of the young ensemble (from left): Alexander Perez, Ethan Chang, Romy Johnson, and Alicianna Rodriguez. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

A Christmas Carol has returned to McCarter Theatre. To fully experience this annual production, audiences should arrive well before curtain time. Dressed in costumes that evoke Dickensian London, adult members of the community ensemble circulate the lobby. They are eager to discuss a model of the set, or to serenade anyone who will join them in a spirited rendition of “Jingle Bells.” more