Spent two days in Manhattan this week and highly recommend these highlights. First up was a walk from the train to the Morgan Library (225 Madison Avenue), a treasure-trove of art and the written word, in which lots is always going on. This visit was to see the special exhibit “Lincoln Speaks: Words that Transformed a Nation,” which includes many original documents Lincoln wrote, with helpful context. Take the docent tour.
This exhibit is on view only through June 7, but afterward the library will be putting on “Alice: 150 years of Wonderland” (June 26-October 11). For the first time in 30 years, the British Library will send the original Alice in Wonderland manuscript to New York, and its display will be augmented by original drawings, letters, and other material. Another good reason to visit the Morgan—a terrific café! Order the duck confit salad. I had a Gilded Age Manhattan, which had flakes of gold floating on its surface—irresistible in that fabulous mansion—and needed an afternoon nap.
In the evening, thrilled beyond words, we saw Helen Mirren in The Audience, where she reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth II. Each week, the monarch has a half-hour private audience with the current Prime Minister, to learn what the government has been up to for the past week and what’s ahead. Mirren’s portrayal of the Queen over the years—from the time of her accession at age 25 to age 89 today—is completely believable. The Queen always backs the government, but that has not always been easy or comfortable. And the government hasn’t always served her well, in terms of candor or protecting her principal leadership interest, the health of the Commonwealth.
If you know or remember anything at all about the dozen political leaders who have served her—from Winston Churchill up through a prickly Margaret Thatcher to today’s David Cameron—you will enjoy these different portrayals. Sets and costumes were perfect. We may think of the Queen is being a bit bland of affect and possibly not as full of terrific one-liners that playwright Peter Morgan gives her (in the first scene, PM John Major confesses, “I only ever wanted to be ordinary,” and the Queen sympathizes: “And in which way do you consider you’ve failed in that ambition?”). But Mirren brings her to well-rounded life, and Morgan even gives her a rationalization for this persona, writing that a monarch’s very ordinariness is what makes for success. Mirren’s line is something like “if we were tremendously creative or brilliant, we’d be tempted to meddle, and that would cause no end of trouble.”
Wednesday morning, out for a stroll, we found St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the throes of a monumental restoration effort. The exterior where the work has been completed must appear as it did when it was first constructed, with all the grime cleared away from stones and stained glass, and, more important, but invisibly, many structural repairs made. Absolutely beautiful.
Inside, the work continues as well, and the altar is obscured by a mare’s nest of scaffolding. A bit cacophanous, but the completed parts are truly spectacular.
Lunch at my favorite NYC spot, where I’ve eaten so many times, Osteria al Doge at 142 W. 44th Street, a half-block from Times Square. Lovely food and service.
As if we hadn’t had enough excitement already, off to the Winter Garden Theatre for Part Two of Wolf Hall (Part One reviewed here). I suppose it isn’t too great a spoiler to say that Anne and Cardinal Wolsey’s antagonists get their comeuppance. Though Mark Ryland’s portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in the tv version seems perfect, Ben Miles is mighty fine in the play, too (a comparison). I enjoyed Hilary Mantel’s books, on which these dramatizations are based, and like both versions. Again, I was struck by the efficiency of the stage play, with its stark set and minimal props, which has a powerful focusing effect.
See The Audience and both parts of Wolf Hall, if you have the chance! But soon. Limited engagements.