Hillary, Alec, and Bruce
Pear Trees line the streets of Manhattan. 1:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Beautiful early Spring days and nights. It was warm over the weekend and the blossoms were out on the pear trees throughout the city. Whoever had the idea of planting those trees twenty or twenty-five years ago, bestowed a very great gift on the citizens of New York and all of her visitors too.

Hillary, Alec and Bruce. Last Friday night Paul Beirne held a cocktail party for Senator Hillary Clinton. I was an invited guest who did not contribute. I read somewhere last year that I gave $4,000 to Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign. It certainly sounds impressive although I’ve never had four thousand dollars to give to anybody for anything, let alone a politician campaigning for the Senate.

Paul Beirne is a young man of great influence in the city of New York. He hails from Alaska, went to college in California (I think) and has been in New York for the last twenty or so years. He works for Sanford Bernstein & Company, the private investment advisory firm, and I would guess (never been told) that he’s a rainmaker for the firm because he’s one of those fellows who knows a lot of people in all walks of life and who often entertains them graciously. He is prominent on a lot of philanthropic committees, especially having to do with the arts and culture. He also has, at different times, raised money for both the Republicans and the Democrats. He’s one of those people who treats everyone with equanimity; a profound addition to the community.

I’ve been to several Hillary fundraisers over the past few years, always at houses of wealthy and/or influential New Yorkers. I first met her at a party Alice Mason gave for her when she was first campaigning for the Senate.

I’m one of those people who’s always liked Hillary Clinton – first of all because she’s an intelligent, hard working woman. I like intelligent hard working women – they are often more dependable than their male counterparts. She’s also very well informed which means she reads constantly – a trait growing rarer by the day in almost everybody on the planet. Secondly, I admired her for withstanding with such grace the abusive criticism and ridicule that has been heaped on her over the years. I don’t mind the “accusation” that she’s “power-hungry” or “ambitious.” My mother was ambitious too, although unfortunately for her, without the opportunities that Hillary has had. And my father wasn’t. Had my mother not been ambitious, I wouldn’t have made it through childhood and adolescence (we’ll leave adulthood to another time).

Senator Hillary Clinton

Her public speechmaking is adequate but not moving or inspiring like her husband. She’s definitely best in a one-to-one. I probably would have passed Algebra in college if she had been my professor. Because she is very good at explaining the complexities of a situation, without talking down to you, so that it can be grasped and considered. Like a very good teacher. That is my kind of power, baby. That’s what she did at Paul Beirne’s on Friday night.

But first of all – the party. Paul has a small but spacious apartment on Central Park West, on a high floor, overlooking the Park and Central Park South. At 6 o’clock at night in early Springtime when the lights are first beginning to beam in the dusk, it’s very beautiful; the city below is lusciously alluring and magical.

There were about 80 present (I tried counting heads), many of them people in the Arts or Cultural life. The ceiling of the living room was covered with blue and yellow balloons – the colors of the State of New York, in case you’re wondering why. A bar had been set up against one wall in the center. Most of the guests were congregated in this room.

Paul’s bedroom had been cleared out (the bed removed) and set it up for a reception line at which everyone could have their picture taken with the senator. I’ve done that before – three or four times, maybe five, so I’ve got enough pictures of me standing next to Hillary.

In a reception line, the senator engages you immediately. Her charm is that she’s polite and gracious and in a homey way. In the past pictures of me and her I’m always leaning in because I feel ridiculously tall next to her. So I decided not to bother with the reception line this time, or even to say hello. I wanted to watch and observe.

The last time I saw her here in New York, we had a brief conversation although frankly, what difference does it really make under the circumstances. It’s certainly not going to be substantive, and I don’t have any particular issue that I’m burning to discuss so that I might affect her point of view. At that last meeting, at someone’s home on Fifth Avenue, during the question and answer session after her little talk, I did ask her where she stood on Iraq. Her response was, for me, equivocal and disappointing. There are very few national politicians who seem to want to openly disagree with the President’s having waged the war in the first place and she has not proven herself to be an exception.

After the reception line and photo session, she moved to the step leading down into the living room. Sharon Patrick, the former Martha Stewart CEO introduced her by first reporting on the various state mascots/figures. The colors, blue and yellow; the state animal is the beaver – which Ms. Patrick pointed out is the only animal besides the human who can physically affect and even transform the environment. The state cupcake is the apple muffin. The state fish is the trout. And one of the state’s senators is: Hillary Clinton. Applause applause, from the congregated.

She is very good in a small room full of people. Not very tall, she has to stand on a step or a platform to be seen. She is always dressed smartly in a pants well tailored pants suit – black this time. She’d accessorized it with a small jeweled brooch on her right shoulder, light pink shirt open at the collar, a strand of pearls, and smart looking black pumps with a short heel on her feet.

She looks very good these days. Her energy, her aura, is bright and upbeat. She spoke about issues having to do with the state, many of which are economic; many of which affect the country and the world because of New York’s position in the world.

She never refers to specific opponents, as if keeping above the fray, preferring to couch everything in terms of how she sees something, how she’d approach it, solve it, etc., as compared to how it’s being done at the moment. Her references to President Bush – whom she always refers to as “the President,” or “this President” demonstrate absolutely no sign of hostility or affection, although there is clearly a strong sense of disagreement.

She has a professorial quality when she speaks, tending to describe and explain issues so that you can get your head around the matter. Her well of knowledge and information is impressive but also because so many people in contemporary society are so under-informed about practically everything (although never without strong opinions to express their beliefs).

Clockwise from above: Laura Zeckendorf, Paul Beirne, and Will Zeckendorf; The mascot for the night; Alice Mason and friend.

She was asked about the criticism from supporters about her dealing with members across the political aisle, such as Newt Gingrich. She said that she believed the only way anything would ever get done was through both parties working together – that that was the priority to moving things along.

She was not asked about Iraq or whether she was running for President. She clearly enjoys her job; she loves the challenge. And she’s succeeded, at least in that she has no real opposition to her re-election to the Senate. I don’t wonder what it’s like to work for her. I’m sure a lot is expected, but somehow I get the feeling she’s surrounded by “busy little beavers” like herself.

Betsy Gotbaum told us about a very prominent and wealthy upstate businessman who told her that he had not liked Hillary and never voted for her but that she was doing a helluva job as Senator and therefore she had his approval. I could only think that’s what we should expect from her.

The last question she was asked was about what it was like to be Senator. Her instant reply was: “it’s a learning experience and I’m learning everyday.” And fascinating.

I’ve known or met a few very smart people in my life. Not a great number of them, but then I’m picky about my requirements. Wealth, for example, is no guarantor in my book. I’ve known too many dumb rich people (most of whom think they’re very smart) to think otherwise. They are exactly the same as the dumb not-rich or dumb poor people. Lots of curiosity is a major requirement, and often missing in the general intellect. Empathy is another. Also very smart people usually have a certainty about their “smarts,” but also an awareness of their limitations – which is why they know they must continue learning. But they like learning; they live for it. I like to think that Hillary Clinton is this kind of person. That’s my impression anyway, which like an opinion is purely personal.

Patrick McMullan, Candace Carpenter, and Hang Feng

The living room covered with blue and yellow balloons
Hillary checking in with Paul Beirne and Sharon Patrick
Betsy Gotbaum

Bash Dibra and Tessa Dahl

Peter Kostmayer and Beth DeWoody

Tom Barr and Diane Coffey
Meryl Unger and Beverly Jacoby

Saturday night JH and I went down to a little theatre in an art gallery on Grand Street between West Broadway and Wooster to see a play called The Cookie Cutters Club by Alec Coiro.

We know Alec because he briefly worked for me as an assistant. He’s a very nice fellow, in his late 20s (I think); unassuming in his manner and dress (crumply preppy) – although that may be my misconception – the unassuming part. He was, is?, what some people would call painfully shy. Although he is forthright in speech; when you ask a question, for example, you get a clear, direct answer. He is not, in my experience, what you’d call talkative. I think he majored in medieval poetry in college, okay? However, he did his work, efficiently and was out of here.

One day he told me he was going to Toronto for the weekend. I asked him what he was going to be doing up there. A one man show, he answered. I was agog. “You mean you get up on a stage and perform?” Yes. “Like what?” I couldn’t imagine this very taciturn, diffident fellow performing. He told me he sang songs he wrote and told stories, etc.

You see; you never know about people. This was a couple of years ago. A couple of months ago, I heard, or JH heard that Alec had a new show he was doing downtown and that he’d like us to see it. JH was as curious as I as to how it worked. Although one female admirer of Alec’s told JH that Alec is a “genius.” Hmmm.

I don’t get to see much theatre of any kind very often. And the rare times I do, it’s a Broadway show or a very close to Broadway off-Broadway show. I forget that the city is full of people creating theatre, and it’s very exciting. I learned on Saturday night that there are a lot of people going to that theatre too. Mainly younger people – people in their 20s and 30s; sometimes older.

I’m not a theatre critic. It’s difficult enough for me to convey my impressions of a show. I approach everything I see with the admiration for those who’ve put it up on there on stage for us to see. That’s a huge undertaking requiring a kind of blind faith in the fates. Secondly, actors have monumental challenges. Everything about their profession screams: NO, Go Home! Any actor who can keep himself or herself working is to be commended and encouraged to keep it up.

Scenes from Alec Coiro's Cookie Cutters Club

Alec Coiro’s Cookie Cutters Club had a very young audience on Saturday night. I’m sure I was one of the oldest people in the audience (there were about eight-five of us). I could tell not only by observation but because the plays iconic references had a lot to do with television and popular culture, some of which went right over my head (and fell on the floor).

Alec who wrote the play, had a pivotal although small onstage part playing a woman named Ms. Griffin. Was he got up in drag? No. He had a dress on, and some lipstick and his hair is long enough so that it could pass for a woman’s coif. It didn’t matter because you knew from the moment the music came up (oh, it’s a musical play) that it was a spoof. Or a goof. Or both. Most interesting for me at the start was Alec’s very outgoing stage personality. Did I say shy? Or was it merely “quiet?”

The gist of the play is that Ms. Griffin, a spinster-ish lady has a cat that is so fat she is repulsed just watching him eat, (“fatcats are disgusting”) so she invites three pre-teen young girls (the Cookie Cutters Club) to feed the cat for her. They turn her down. Through a series of scenes – all the characters are pre-teeners (although played by adults) except for Wolfpack, a circus barker played by the author’s brother Rhys Coiro. Rhys, incidentally, is known to television viewers for his recurring role in Entourage. Wolfpack is a really evil guy and he abducts the fat cat to be the freak in his freak show (you had to be there). Eventually he gets himself into deeper trouble when he abducts one of the Cookie Cutters Club girls – and finally all three of them and threatens to slit their throats and “gut” them. (Uh-huh.) In the end, however, the girls are rescued by the Queen of Unicornia who is dressed like a downtown version of Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Wizard of Oz, kids). Like magic.

There is something so other-worldly zany about Alec’s show that I wasn’t sure how to evaluate it as theatre. I thought of all my older friends who go to the theatre all the time. They’d never tolerate the looseness of the direction or the childishly banal references to emotional situations. Unless they saw it for what it was: camp; and because of that they might not be persuaded to even give it a try. But the audience on Saturday night loved the show. In fact this was its second or third week of performances (weekends) and it was sold out. Eighty-five seats is a lot of seats to sell off-off-Broadway.

It was somewhat puzzling to my theatrical sensibility but it was also fresh and unconcerned with my interest in being entertained. As a matter of fact I was entertained – as was JH – although he pointed out that there were parts of the show where I was continually laughing and nobody else in the audience was. Alec Coiro’s onstage role was limited almost entirely to the beginning and the end although because of it, he’s shy no more, at least not in my book.

There were also some interesting performances including Rhys Coiro who commands all the attention when onstage, and Erin Krause who plays a very funny whiny little pre-teenager whose hormones have begun to check in for raging, and Nim Ben-Reuven who plays a jerky, very funny pre-teener love interest of Darcy. Just thinking about their performances at this writing makes me laugh. Then there were the three Princesses of Unicornia (corny-huh?) – Willow Tree (played by Erica Habarta), Butterfly (played by Alex Kress), and Rainbow (played by Leja Kress). You had to be there. But it was well worth it.

The Cookie Cutters Club's curtain call

Two weeks ago, on the night we were returning from Europe, our friend Bruce Levingston was giving a concert for the Premiere Commission Gala at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, performing works by, among others, Philip Glass, as well as with Philip Glass, along with a reading by Ethan Hawke. Levingston and Glass performed a four hand work from Glass’s music for Jean Cocteau’s Orphee.

Ethan Hawke got involved through his friendship with Bruce Levingston who is a neighbor of his in the Chelsea Hotel. One day they’d been talking about Philip Glass. Hawke had heard Glass perform once with Allen Ginsberg. Bruce told Hawke that he actually had that score. They decided it would be fun to do on the program.

The program included works by Bach, Chopin, Debussy; and of course Glass, and others including the world premiere of Lisa Bielawa’sThe Lay of the Love and Death. They also performed Glass’ masterpiece Einstein on the Beach, with Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Cunningham performing with the ensemble. Guest musicians included Colin Jacobsen, violinist, Jesse Blumberg, baritone; Alexandra Montano, mezzo-soprano.

The Premiere Commission is a non-profit foundation that commissions and premieres works by some of today's most talented composers. It was started by Bruce Levingston and has either commissioned or performed 30 scores by a varied group of composers that includes Philip Glass, William Bolcom, Chen Yi, John Corigliano, and Sebastian Currier.

"Knee Play No. 5" from Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach performed by author Michael Cunningham, actor Ethan Hawke, pianist Bruce Levingston, composer Philip Glass, mezzo-soprano Alexandra Montano, composer/soprano Lisa Bielawa, and violinist Colin Jacobsen. Photo by Nan Melville.
The final bow: Michael Cunningham, Ethan Hawke, Bruce Levingston, Philip Glass, Alexandra Montano, Lisa Bielawa, and Colin Jacobsen. Photo by Nan Melville.
From the New York Times:

Mr. Levingston, who had given a graceful account of Chopin's Nocturne in B flat minor (Op. 9, No. 1) before Ms. Bielawa's piece, reclaimed the piano for two excerpts from Mr. Glass's "Hydrogen Jukebox."

In the first, "Wichita Vortex Sutra," the actor Ethan Hawke read Allen Ginsberg's text in a cadence similar to Ginsberg's own. The second, "Cabin in the Rockies," is a vocal setting, sung eloquently by Alexandra Montano, with Mr. Jacobsen playing a violin obbligato. Mr. Levingston, Ms. Montano and Mr. Jacobsen moved smoothly from the Glass into a sweetly turned reading of Bach's "Erbarme Dich" from the St. Matthew Passion.

Except for the "Louange à la Immortalité" movement from Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," in a hauntingly serene performance by Mr. Levingston and Mr. Jacobsen, the rest of the concert was devoted to Mr. Glass's music, starting with Mr. Levingston's supple account of the Chuck Close excerpt.

Mr. Glass himself played a pair of thick-textured études meant to foster endurance, with a touch of hand-crossing in the bargain, and Mr. Levingston joined him for a version of "The Chase" from "Orphée" that sounded quaint and salonlike in its piano duo reduction. So did "Knee Play No. 5" from "Einstein on the Beach," shorn of its rasping electronic keyboard textures but performed spiritedly by Ms. Bielawa, Mr. Levingston, Mr. Glass, Mr. Jacobsen, Ms. Montano, Mr. Hawke and the novelist Michael Cunningham, appearing as a narrator.
Bruce Levingston and Philip Glass perform and embrace.

Alexandra Montano and Bruce Levingston

Ethan Hawke and Michael Cunningham
Katie Ford and Michael Stipe

April 3, 2006, Volume VI, Number 55
Photographs by DPC & Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com


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