SEPTEMBER 27-29, 2002

We woke up early and cabbed down to the East Village and went out for brunch at Virage, a neighborhood bistro with a good, cheap brunch, including Bloodies and coffee for $9.95. We sat outdoors, and Josie delighted in greeting the passersby with "Hi!" and "Bye." She also identifies a "Taxi" and a "Bus" with utter ecstasy. She's less than a year old and can yell "Taxi!" loud enough to hail any cab."

We went up to the Upper East Side to visit Vivie and David, who both look good. Sorry, Vivie, you'll have to get used to it. Take it from one who knows: once you have a serious illness, people ask you the same questions for the rest of your life: "How are you feeeeeeeling?" offered with a solicitious frown. "Are you back to work yet?" "Are you working full time?" And, of course, "You look mahhvelous!!"

Then back to the hovel for a little snack of takeout from Zabar's, and across the street to Loew's 84th to see Signs, with Mel Gibson. All right, it was I who wanted to see this movie. I like Mel Gibson as Braveheart and I think he's very funny, too, when he wants to be. Unfortunately, in this movie, by M. Night Shyamalan, he is funny when he doesn't want to be. And he's a big chicken, to boot. It's his brother, a failed minor league baseball player played by Joaquin Phoenix, whose sniveling sneer in Gladiator turns out to be the result of a repaired hairlip, when seen in closeup in this movie. It's not scary, it's not funny, it's not clever. It gets two Farklempt stars. No! Why two? One, because Mel Gibson cries nicely. No, none, because it has a Culkin in it.

We returned to the hovel for a short nap and took the subway to Lincoln Center to see Dead Man Walking, the new opera with music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Terrence McNally, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean. You've all seen the movie. You know the story. The opera is not primarily about capital punishment, but more about the grander themes of good and evil, forgiveness and atonement, love and hate, faith, trust, deceit and deception. This is a wonderful opera, much better than some of the critics thought. There are no singable tunes that you walk away with--modern opera is not like that, but the music is easy to listen to and understand, however dissonant the harmonies or surprising the intervals. It's hard to sing, I think. The cast was superb, absolutely superb. The lyric baritone who sang Joseph de Rocher looked the part, short, tough, punky, wispy moustache, goatee, muscular, tattooed. When the singer, John Packard, introduced himself to Sister Helen while the opera was in preparation, she thought he was a convict. The staging and lighting and direction were brilliant. The ensemble singing was complex, but every one of the eight parts could be heard and came together in a brilliant climax. The conductor, a boychik named Gerald Steichen, who looked like a college sophomore, held it all together beautifully. This is an opera that makes you listen, that makes you think. You work hard, and it's worth it.

We came home and read the Times in bed, always a great way to end a Saturday night in New York.

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