One of the benefits of marrying Kristine twelve years ago (July 15 was our anniversary) is that I acquired, with no effort, six grandchildren. Four of them visited us this past week. Whenever you host visitors, you can’t help but experience your town through their eyes. This visit had the added aspect of urging us out of the isolation that the pandemic imposed on us. Coming up with things for the kids to do meant we had to re-engage the city.
Monday, we went to Operation Escape: End of Days. We were locked into a room and told that the fate of the earth somehow depended on our solving the puzzles necessary to escape the room. We had one hour. A throbbingly ominous soundtrack began. I joined my mostly younger teammates to do my part. They took off and left me in the dust. I couldn’t figure out one damn thing in the room. They saw patterns and correlations and, with shouts of discovery, went from challenge to challenge with a speed that dazzled. Forty-five minutes later, they placed the last prop in its proper place, completing some kind of magnetic circuit that caused a lock to unlock, and the door sprang open. The attendant told us that 45 minutes was an unusually fast time. Kristine and I had contributed nothing. But watching four teenagers work enthusiastically towards a common goal made our hearts light.
Tuesday, we went to Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience located on a pier on the lower east side by the East River. Imagine that Van Gogh’s canvases are eggs. Imagine that someone continuously cracks the eggs to serve them over easy. Imagine that more and more eggs are cracked, so that images from different paintings appear, melt, transform, disappear and are replaced by more images. All this accompanied by passages culled from the popular end of classical music. (Inevitably, one passage sampled was from Mussorgsky/Ravel’s Pictures at an Exhibition.) It didn’t much matter in which of the three rooms one sat, the same images were splashed across all the walls. I don’t know what one gains by blowing them up rather than, say, seeing the program on a nice big monitor, but the time passed pleasantly enough, and my eye was constantly delighted. It couldn’t help but remind me of the episode of Doctor Who in which Van Gogh was whisked via the Tardis to a modern exhibit of his work to enjoy the knowledge that eventually he will be appreciated and celebrated.
Wednesday, we hopped the Staten Island Ferry to a space in the new-to-me Empire Outlet mall by the St. George terminal to see Eyes on New York. It was a pleasure to be a member of an audience again (though it was a sharp contrast to the last show I saw before the pandemic, Lauren Yee’s harrowing exploration of art and genocide, Cambodian Rock Band). Eyes is presented by the same folks who offered The Ride, a bus ride tricked out with video and soundtrack to accompany a tour of a chunk of Manhattan. Eyes’s most responsive audience I think would also be people visiting the city. (It has little dialogue, so those not fluent in English wouldn’t miss much.) There is a slight premise – an out-of-towner (a clown with a red bow tie carrying a suitcase that won’t stay closed) wants to familiarize himself with the city and meets a few New Yorkers who try to be useful. Is he a tourist or is he here to start a new life? I couldn’t tell. But, aside from references to the subway, Central Park and a bit involving a rat dragging a giant piece of pizza, the show had little to say about New York.
Never mind. The project has pulled together a company with long resumes to sing, dance, contort, and defy gravity. I’m guessing that this project is offering the first chance in a long time for this eclectic group of artists to perform in front of live audiences, and I was delighted to be there to see them return to a public stage. An added pleasure was that the intimacy of the venue gave me a chance to enjoy subtleties of their acts more than I would at a normal circus. I was especially taken by Randy Kato’s mastery of the Cyr Wheel, sometimes bracing himself against the edges of a large hoop with hands and feet as it swooped in circles around the stage (looking like Michaelangelo’s Vitruvian Man, but with clothes on), sometimes dancing in counterpoint to the hoop’s revolutions. A veteran of the Eliot Feld troupe, Kyla Ernst-Alper brought elegance to her aerial routine, and Samantha Greenlund, a veteran of the Moulin Rouge (the Paris club, not the Broadway show), danced with sinuous precision. The grands? They enjoyed it a lot, and then they prowled the outlet mall.
Thursday, we trooped down to SoHo to the Museum of Ice Cream. Silly me, I was expecting to learn something serious about, yes, ice cream. Maybe step into a kitchen where I might be able to put a few different elements together and invent my own new flavor? Instead, it was a tromp up and downstairs to different rooms mostly painted pink, fitted out with different props and backgrounds offering opportunities for people to photograph each other. Every now and then we got a little taste of ice cream. No, I didn’t get the point. Why call something a museum if it isn’t one? I was the grinch in the gang. The kids had fun, snapping photos and goofing around.
And then the kids went back home to Rochester. They seemed to have a good time. I had a good time watching them have a good time.