February 25, 2008
It was just about perfect. When I picked Elias up at the Port Authority we had time to walk around Times Square a half an hour or so, and I showed him where the Camel cigarette sign with the man blowing smoke rings used to be. He said, "That sounds so cool! Why would they take that down?" This is while we are surrounded by electronic signs, glittering lights, barreling traffic and thousands of pedestrians fighting to cross the crowded streets. We are experiencing the real heart of bustling New York City and a grandmother is telling a teenager what it used to be like in this very spot.
We grabbed lunch at Junior's before the show. I chose this place hoping to introduce him to the most famous cheesecake in the world, but as it turned out he was just as interested in the atmosphere of the restaurant, the families eating their sandwiches and fish sticks (made of real fish) with an assortment of pickles, the waitpersons in black and white -- I told him they are almost all actors and actresses waiting for their first big break -- and his own order of a roast beef sandwich on white bread and a side order of macaroni and cheese. Eating and talking didn't give us time for dessert, and he would have preferred rice pudding anyway. He asked what a Dr. Brown's Cream Soda was and settled for Black Cherry. Then we had to rush, as it was time for the play.
The Farnworth Invention is a wonderful show which will close next Sunday. I knew about Philo T. Farnsworth from a PBS documentary years ago, but this excellent dramatization pitted the inventor against David Sarnoff, the powerful founder of the National Broadcasting Company. I told Elias that the critics had been lukewarm about he play, saying it was like a dry and talky history lecture. What we saw instead was a very theatrical piece, with inventive use of levels and lights, and a gripping story of a young scientist trying to outwit the corporations. The story spans the early 20th Century, beginning just as radio is getting started, with the protaganist a man who was so far ahead of his time he was already devising a way to create television.
At the act break, Elias said to me, "How could anybody think this is boring? This is an epic!" and we spoke about the time frame of the play, beginning when cars were new and unreliable, (young Philo has to repair someone's auto), and moving on through the advent of radio and the early debate about the commercialism of broadcasting.
I was delighted with the production. Not only did Hank Azaria, a favorite actor of mine, lend dignity and poise to his portrayal of Sarnoff (and Elias knew him as the voice of Homer Simpson), but Jimmi Simpson, unknown to me before now, did an outstanding job as the lost genius Farnsworth.
In short, we loved the play, and it gave us much to talk about all weekend. After seeing it, we boarded the bus to Hoboken where we got soup from The Soup Man and ate it at home. We checked the facts about Farnsworth on Wikipedia, and read more reviews of the play. We stayed up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live, but I turned in after the opening, which I found pretty lame, and Elias channel-surfed until he crashed at midnight.
I made him pancakes for breakfast and served them with maple syrup I had bought at the upscale grocery emporium in Hoboken.
"Hey, this maple syrup is imported from Canada!" the observant lad noted. "I never saw anything imported from Canada before. What else comes from Canada?"
I couldn't think of a thing.
We explored Hoboken the rest of the day, spending about an hour in Barnes & Noble, and then had lunch at the Karma Kafé, because we both love Indian food.
Then we took the bus to Manhattan and waited for the bus to Kingston to take him home. This was the first of many weekends to come, in which I'll show him around the Museum of Natural History. Lincoln Center, and who knows? Maybe a play or two.