As these beastly hot days of summer arrive, some residents have decided to walk away– for now, or forever. Rent a U-Haul and drag it all behind. Others have sought out counselors from Project Hope. Many of us talk incessantly about our storm experiences until we (or our listeners) are bored, or exhausted. Or we try to bury the pain with food, drink, sex, or drugs. I always try to follow the advice of the immortal Mark Twain whenever possible: “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”
Some of the best healing through the arts is around, in the next few weeks, here in our own community. Stop by a Queens park (yes, even one here in Rockaway) and enjoy a free performance of one of William Shakespeare’s great plays, presented by Hip to Hip Theatre Company. Or get yourself a ticket to the Rockaway Theatre Company’s new production at the Post Theater in Fort Tilden, which is worth far more than the $15-20 you pay at the box office. And for just $1 extra, you get a home-made cookie baked by distinguished pastry chef Cynthia Peithman, as well. Take that, Kew Gardens Theatre!
I am greatly anticipating the opening of Hip to Hip’s summer season at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow Park this Wednesday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m., with the premiere of The Tempest. Nothing like enjoying a great theatrical performance in the shadow of an iconic city sculpture silhouetted against the night sky. I always inform audiences that these are traditional, richly costumed shows—not modernized or “hip hop” versions. Saturday evening the same show will come to O’Donohue Park on Seagirt Avenue at Beach 17 Street in Far Rockaway, with its picturesque, rolling, hillside seating. If you are a Shakespeare junkie like I am, you will want to see the shows more than once. If you have never been to the much-heralded, new incarnation of O’Donohue Park, what are you waiting for? It seems to me that the park made it through the storm with only minor damage. If you have young children, be sure to arrive at least a half-hour early, as the company is adding a pre-show segment for the youngsters this season, called “Kids and the Classics,” which includes theater games and an introduction to the play.
The two plays chosen by Hip to Hip for their first post-Sandy season are inspired: many audience members will no doubt relate to the storm-tossed shipwreck, magic, intrigue, and romance of The Tempest. The sheer silliness of the second play to be performed, Love’s Labor’s Lost, will appeal to others of the view that laughter is the best medicine. Although only the first of the two plays will come to a Rockaway venue this year, the latter will be premiered at nearby St. Alban’s Park on Wednesday July 31 at 7:30 p.m.
But if you live by the lyrics of The King and I, and choose to “whistle a happy tune” to conquer your fears, then you should also proceed directly to the RTC hotline for your reservations to the Rockaway Café—can’t find a better selection of nostalgic, evocative musical selections to set you on the road to recovery than this one!
As in shows past, a large cast and crew of over 80 of our talented neighbors have been laboring for weeks to polish this song and dance revue, which bursts out of the opening curtain with a huge ensemble belting the ever-popular Ramones’ hit, Rock-Rock Rockaway Beach. The selections continue, representing diverse musical genres and eras. The opening of Act I—The Darkness, features a video montage of morning-after-Sandy destruction accompanied by the classic 60’s quartet The Lettermen, harmonizing on Smile (Though Your Heart is Aching). The opening of Act II—The Light, was a slow video trek along the sidewalk on the west side of Beach 116 Street after storm recovery efforts had begun to flower, set to Barbara Streisand’s incomparable version of Happy Days Are Here Again. The juxtaposition of Streisand’s sublime voice with the everyday scenes of our downtown business strip was arresting. Simple, yet surprisingly moving. I found myself choking back emotions on many occasions throughout the show, experiencing mixed feelings of hurt, pride, disappointment and hope for the future.
There are over 40 numbers in the show, and each audience member will have their favorites. Gems of the highest order in my estimation include the show-stopper, It’s Raining Men (famously recorded by The Weather Girls), an acoustic Carole King medley dating to the 1970’s that really pushes the nostalgia button, and the full-out gospel choir in robes for Let the River Run (remembered as the opening theme accompanying shots of commuters on a Staten Island ferry at the start of the 1988 film, Working Girl). I also appreciated the good taste and chutzpah of the show’s creators, who capped off the show by pairing Home (the Mumford & Sons sound-alike ballad that helped Philip Phillips win the American Idol competition a year ago) with Let the Sun Shine In (a fine, 45-year-old monster hit from the musical, Hair).
Forget the 12/12/12 rock concert with its big-arena stars, and the relief groups and government agencies sporting hundreds of thousands in grant money. We must be heroes of our own lives. Our friends and neighbors who endured the past year’s experiences with us are the best candidates to understand and interpret our pain and pride with such passion. RTC is our top-notch, Broadway-calibre community theatre company, here in the trenches for over 15 years. I am proud to be a supporter.
Rockaway Café—The Comeback, will be presented on Thursday July 25, Friday July 26, Saturday July 27, Friday August 2, and Saturday August 3 (all at 8 p.m.), as well as Sunday July 28 and Sunday August 4 (matinees at 3 p.m.). Tickets can be reserved via the phone hotline, 718.374.6400, or online at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org.
Hip to Hip’s production of The Tempest premieres in the shadow of the Unisphere at Flushing Meadow Park, on Wednesday July 24 at 7:30 p.m., and the second performance is at O’Donohue Park in Far Rockaway on Saturday July 27 at 7:00 p.m. The full schedule of additional performance dates and venues for the summer season can be found at www.hiptohip.org.
Promotional photo courtesy Hip to Hip Theatre Company. Text copyright 2013 Vivian R. Carter, photos (including header photo) copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.