Guest Theatre Review: “Fish Men,” at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Features Washington Square Park Chess Area as Backdrop To “Riveting” Story and Performances

Fish Men

This is a guest post and theatre review by Linda Zises of the currently-running Chicago-based “Fish Men.”

Fish Men, the latest play by Cándido Tirado at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, is an ambitious venture inspired by New York City’s Washington Square Park Chess area in the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attack on the City.

Using eight characters, each one drawn from New York City’s ethnically rich melting pot, the play moves from one moment to another, one group to another, their allegiances ever changing, with an ease that only a veteran playwright can achieve. Clearly, Tirado is a master of the art.

Each character is a chess hustler — that’s why they are in the park, to make a living or a killing by playing chess. What unites them is their historical roots as holocaust survivors. The rage and revenge that plagues each character looks for relief in the “fish men.” The “fish” is the weak player, the one the others hope to make their prey. But the fish is ever changing.

As the intensity of the play heightens, the physical space designated for chess in Washington Square Park seems to contract, making a dramatic statement about the park, the City, and a game where there is always a loser, a fish.

The acting in Fish Men is superb. After a play or movie has ended, I often can’t remember which actor played which part. But the intensity of the actors, and the playwright’s ability to hear and recreate real people was so compelling that I had no such problem. Even now as I write, I remember them well.

The stage design with the recreated chess area placed in the center, surrounded by arena type seating, was perfect for this play. Although I sat in the front row at the level of the stage, I often felt as if I was looking down on the actors in a panoramic view of the action.

The wealth of information, facts on world politics that enriches the actors’ narrative was extraordinary and the passion conveyed was almost overwhelming. There is a thin line between being profound and being preachy in a play.  I think the first act was truly profound and incredibly clever. Riveting is my adjective of choice.

In the second act, this quality was compromised, due to, I think, the nature of the core material. It was so highly charged; watching the actors unravel, showing what inspired their fanaticism with a game of chess, that it bordered on the preachy side of the divide.

It takes trust of an audience to lower the passion level of the content enough to allow the audience to fill in much of what is presented in explicit terms. If the second act were condensed into less than an hour, this would have brought a more focused and intense experience of the material.

The ambitious Fish Men brings together world politics, Reuben Fine’s psychoanalytic interpretation of the game, the human need to be together – as opposed to playing with a machine – and what informs the fanatic player of chess. Most importantly, this is a play about our need to be together, to talk to one another, to be in the world rather than alone and lonely with only our fantasies to inform our life choices.

Fish Men should be seen by a variety of audiences. It’s perfect for school performances, park productions, perfect for the incarcerated many, and lends itself to a Circle in the Square-type production where people can feel as if they too can play chess, especially those who never have. Chess is, after all, a game, a game of life. And how we play it makes all the difference between life, death and the violent or pacifist-loving ways in which human nature ultimately comes to the fore.

*Reading the Goodman Playbill is an important part of the performance.  Without the Glossary much of the play’s depth is compromised.

– Linda Zises


** Fish Men at the Goodman Theater in Chicago opened April 7th with performances running through May 6th.

Note: I spoke with playwright Cándido Tirado last week about his experiences at the Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park which informs and motivated the creation of the play. That piece to follow! – cathryn

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe To Talk Privatization of City Parks Tuesday, August 9th at Museum of the City of New York

New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe will be a featured speaker next Tuesday, August 9th at 6:30 p.m. at a discussion “Whose Park is It? Financing and Administering New York’s New Parks” at the Museum of the City of New York.

Instead of spending city money wisely on maintenance and staff at parks, Commissioner Benepe, with the support of Mayor Bloomberg, continues to overspend, overly redesign our public spaces, and then naively act as if the city is left with no choice but to call in private entities to manage them. Clearly, this is not a model that’s working and not the model we need to ensure our parks remain public in every sense of the word.

This event is an opportunity for the Parks Commissioner to promote his platform of privatization of our public parks. Commissioner Benepe loves to help developers.

At Washington Square, the neighboring community and Community Board 2 have stated outright: “No Private Conservancy.”

EVENT: Whose Park Is It? Financing and Administering New York’s New Parks, Tuesday, August 9, 6:30 PM

In the past 20 years New York City has added over 20,000 acres of parkland to its acclaimed public park system. Recent additions, such as the Hudson River Park, the Highline, and Brooklyn Bridge Park represent a new generation of park design as well as financing and administration.

In an era of budget cuts and declining revenues, how is the city paying for its new parks? How does new park administration differ from the past? What role does private funding play in the administration of the city’s parks? What makes a successful park in today’s New York?

Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe; Alexander Garvin, professor of urban planning, Yale University; and Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of the City Parks Alliance, discuss the past, present, and future of New York’s public parks.

Co-sponsors: Central Park Conservancy, the City Parks Foundation, Civitas, Friends of the Hudson River Park, Friends of the Upper East Side, Hudson River Park and the Prospect Park Alliance.

Tickets and more information at the Museum of the City of New York web site.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED: $12 Non-Members, $8 Seniors and Students, $6 Museum Members, A two dollar surcharge applies for unreserved, walk-in participants.

Getting to Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street:
By subway: #2, 3 or 6 trains get you there — #6 Lexington Avenue train to 103rd Street; #2/3 train to Central Park North/110th Street.
Additional background:

See WSP Blog piece on privatization and the High Line.
Also, A Walk in the Park Blog on the Brooklyn Bridge Park housing “deal” reported in the news yesterday.

Tulips on Hudson Street

West Village, Outside Bleecker Playground (subject of an upcoming post!).

L.A. “Ready to Roll” for Earthquake. Is NYC? Seismometer To Be Placed Under Washington Square Park to Measure “Potential Damage”

Banner Along Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills

Los Angeles has designated April Earthquake Preparedness Month and the city recently unveiled new banners that certainly, uh, get your attention. Planted in Beverly Hills, they read: “When it rocks, are you ready to roll?The New York Times has the story.

Is New York City prepared for an earthquake? Concern seems warranted as it appears we may be 17 years overdue.

NYU daily Washington Square News spoke to experts on the matter and reports that Columbia University will install a seismometer under Washington Square Park this summer to “assess the potential damage caused if a big earthquake were to hit New York.”

“New York is much less well-prepared for earthquakes than Japan,” John Armbrust, a Columbia seismology professor, said, comparing the potential consequences of a quake in the city with the challenges Japan faced after it was hit by a 9.0 earthquake in March.

In a study published in 2008, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory warned that New York City should expect an earthquake every 100 years. The most recent major earthquake hit in 1884.

They might want to measure activity under the Washington Square Fountain. The relatively new structure, installed during Phase I Redesign in 2009, is already looking a little shaky. Could that be due to tremors or more likely faulty construction?

Books, Coffee, Democracy: Now Shuttered Coffee Shop & Political/Community Space Vox Pop at LUMA Blog

Read about now defunct – and much missed – Ditmas Park coffee shop and political/community gathering space, Vox Pop, over at LUMA Blog.

Last Day for Freddy’s Bar, in path of Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn

A really nice note from the manager of Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn about their closing … “Freddy’s is not merely a building on a street corner, it is a grand idea. Freddy’s Bar has been the culmination of everything I am and everything I’ve ever wanted this bar to be.” Freddy’s was in the way of the Atlantic Yards project, in the “footprint,” and would have been claimed by “eminent domain abuse” if they hadn’t agreed to go (they felt “condemnation” would have been worse).

They are throwing “a Victory Party on Friday, April 30th – the last day/night they will be open – “to celebrate the little guys who’ve been fighting a land-grabbing billionaire and the corrupt New York government agencies that he greatly influences.” They expect to open in a new location, most likely near Union Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Help protect NYC’s water supply from upstate hydraulic gas drilling. Support NYH2O – Fundraiser Thursday, September 24th

Help protect New York City’s water supply! I received an email from Alicia Mehl, the vice chairperson of NYH20, about her group and a fundraiser to support their work happening this Thursday, September 24th. She writes:

Our organization is puting up a small but mighty fight to inform all New Yorkers about the imminent effect hydraulic gas drilling upstate will have on our water supply, and working toward getting legislation sponsored that would keep us from being tethered to bottled water permanently.

We were privileged to be welcomed by over 20 community boards in NYC, all of whom have adopted resolutions asking for either a complete ban on hydraulic gas drilling in New York State, or at the very least, in and around our watersheds. CB2 was one of the first, and certainly the most vocal and supportive regarding the issue.

The Fundraiser for NYH2O is Thursday, September 24th on the Frying Pan, that famous barge at Pier 66, 26th Street and Hudson River Park (formerly considered – the Hudson River), from 6-10 p.m. The event is to raise funds to help them continue their work to protect New York’s drinking water from the imminent threat of natural gas drilling.  Tickets are $65 and include one hour of open beer and wine bar from 6:30-7:30 p.m.  (After that, cash bar!)

To purchase a ticket, click here.

To learn more about NYH2O’s work and to get involved, go here.

Brooklyn Book Festival Held Sunday on Brooklyn Borough Hall Plaza

Brooklyn Borough Hall

Brooklyn Borough Hall

book fair-10-1

International Stage

International Stage

book fair-100-1

Parks Department Logos Abound!

Parks Department Logos Abound!

A free public event, the annual Brooklyn Book Festival was held yesterday, Sunday, September 13th, honoring writing and publishing with focus on a wide range of literary stars but also emerging authors.  You can find information about new authors, books and indie publishing companies at the many booths and there is a day long program of talks and panels, all mostly outdoors.  There’s a very open, electric – and very Brooklyn! – feeling to the event and it is worth checking out.

All the Brooklyn ‘stars’ come out (Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Ames, Paul Auster, Amy Sohn, etc.) and Haitian-born, Brooklyn-raised novelist Edwidge Danticat was honored with a “Best of Brooklyn” award.  Other appearances:  Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Pete Hamill, Lewis Lapham, and many more! The event is held once a year on the Brooklyn Borough Hall Plaza and apparently the New York City Parks Department is proud to be a sponsor (note: excessive signage)!  But, nonetheless, I applaud this over some of their other ventures.

Photo #1: Tom_Hoboken

Photo #2: Jon Nalley

Photo #3: minicloud

Photo #4: Jon Nalley

Photo #5: Cat

Updated: Today’s Los Angeles Times reports back on the Brooklyn Book Festival here.

The ‘New’ Times Square: Public Space as Suburban Mall and Now Also For Rent

New Times Square 1New Times Square 2Seriously, I think I felt more comfortable with how Times Square was before with all the traffic (and even before that when it was really, uh, gritty…) … this is totally geared to tourists. It feels antithetical to what New York is (and can be). Now it is reported that the Bloomberg Administration is selling off the rights to use this “public space,” a definite pattern, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times:

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced plans in February to close stretches of Broadway to traffic to create pedestrian plazas, it was billed as a way to ease congestion and create oases for walkers, people watchers, idlers (chairs and tables were provided) and cyclists. Since the car-free zones were opened in May, they have been home to predictable urban vignettes: tourists resting with their shopping bags, New Yorkers pausing with their cellphones as buses go by a few feet away.

But the plazas can also make money for the city.

Fred Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, is quoted about the risks involved:  

“If it’s a public event, then that’s O.K., but what can happen very quickly is they can be privatized and limit public use and public access,” Mr. Kent said. He cited the Bryant Park fashion shows as an example of the latter, calling them “the most egregious private use of public space anywhere in the world.”

These “pedestrian plazas” are located: “on Broadway at Times Square from 47th to 42nd Street, at Herald Square from 35th to 33rd Street, and where Broadway and Fifth Avenue meet between 22nd and 25th Streets. Smaller plazas, called Broadway Boulevard, take up one lane of Broadway between 42nd Street and Herald Square.”

Photos:  Cat

Will Joe Jr.’s, Village Institution for 35 years, close Sunday?

I went in Joe Jr.’s restaurant about four months ago, inspired I think by Vanishing New York’s previous coverage of this Village institution (same location for 35 years).  It’s a real old school New York place located at Sixth Avenue and 12th Street.  I sat at a booth.  It was really comfortable.  I ordered something diner-y, like a grilled cheese and unsweetened iced tea.  They couldn’t have been nicer.  It wasn’t expensive.  Sort of a throw back to how things can be, and were, in NYC.  It’s not glitzy by any means and you’re not going to get the best gourmet meal but not everything has to be about shiny glass buildings and chi chi wine bars and Duane Reade’s on every corner and Wall Street myopia in New York City.  The ‘other’ is what makes New York complete and unique and what it’s renowned for … art and politics and community and grit and controversy and being on the f**king cutting edge … not wiping out all of its past and its future.  It’s something people like Mike Bloomberg say they understand (at least in campaign ads – where he’s all about the ‘average’ New Yorker and supporting small businesses) but so don’t.  After all, actions speak louder than words.  And it is Mike Bloomberg’s actions that are making the ‘other’ New York, places like Joe Jr’s, capsize and disappear.

Read Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York Blog piece today to hear the latest on Joe Jr.’s. It’s another story of a landlord, greed, a lost lease.  There’s a petition in the restaurant… perhaps venture by to sign it.

Note:  Joe Jr.’s did indeed close that Sunday.