Monday, February 28, 2011

Off Off Broadway: My Pal Izzy: The Early Life and Music of Irving Berlin

Frigid New York 2011 is presenting over 150 performances of 30 plays in three theatres on the Lower East Side of Manhattan over a period of 12 days. Many of these are just what you might expect from a fringe festival – experimental plays that push the envelope, plays with such titles as I Love You (We’re F*#ked), Saving Tania’s Privates, Year of the Slut, Fucking Girls and I’m Not Sure I Liked the Way You Licked Me! But there is at least one show in the festival – My Pal Izzy: The Early Life and Music of Irving Berlin - that, if nothing else, does provide a brief musical respite from all that. We got to see it yesterday and, while it's not great, it is entertaining and you could take your family to it.

Irving Berlin, one of the greatest songwriters in American musical history, wrote an estimated 1,500 songs over the course of his life, providing Melanie Gall, the playwright and star of My Pal Izzy, with ample material from which to select the dozen numbers she strings together in relating this very abbreviated story of Berlin’s life. Playing the role of Berlin’s childhood friend, Rebecca Rosenstein, a vaudeville singer, Gall uses her well-trained operatic voice to belt out number after number in a fashion designed to remind us of the relative innocence of America in the early 1900s.

Gall eschews such traditional Berlin classics as “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade.” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “God Bless America,” all of which you’ve probably heard so often that you wouldn’t care if you never heard them again, and opts instead for a number of his lesser but more humorous tunes that you may never have heard before, including “If You Don’t Want My Peaches, Don’t Shake the Tree,” Don’t Take Your Beau to the Seashore,” “If That’s Your Idea of a Wonderful Time,” and “Keep Away From the Fellow Who Owns an Automobile.” Her choices are good and, while risque by the standards of the early 1900s, they'd probably be rated PG by the standards of today. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Off Off Broadway: Fool For Love

Founded scarcely a year ago by Rich Ferraioli and Kirk Gostkowski, Variations Theatre Group (VTG) got off to a roaring start in 2010 with its first production, The Shape of Things, directed by Ferraioli and starring Gostkowski (see my review of that earlier play posted on August 1, 2010). And the dynamic duo hasn’t slowed down since.

For their first production of the 2011 season, they selected Fool For Love by Sam Shepard. Originally produced more than a quarter century ago, Fool For Love is somewhat typical of Shepard’s American West themed works. Here Eddie (Kirk Gostkowski), a rodeo cowboy and “Marlboro Man” wannabe, and May (Christina Elise Perry), whose relationship turns out to be much more complex than we might have expected, sustain an angry on-again-off-again, love-hate relationship that is not only interrupted, but accentuated, by the arrival of Martin (Collin Meath), the mild mannered man who May began to date in Eddie’s absence. The cast is rounded out by The Old Man (Charlie Moss) who appears at different times – but only in the imaginations of Eddie and May.

Fool for Love, despite having won an Obie award as best play when it was first produced and going on to become a major motion picture, is not really one of Shepard’s best plays. It mostly treads familiar ground, is hackneyed in spots, and isn’t as fully realized a work as might be expected of one of America’s premier playwrights. But even a relatively inferior Shepard play is better than most other playwrights’ best, especially when the play is well produced.

And here it certainly is well produced. (We saw the play at The Access Theatre yesterday and were quite impressed.)  Ferraioli directed and Gostkowski starred – just as they did in The Shape of Things – and much of the credit for the success of this production belongs to them. But Perry, Moss and Meath all turned in equally fine performances and also deserve commendation for their work.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Off Broadway: Nursing (Part 3 of The Hallway Trilogy)

If it can be said that I was relatively unprepared for what confronted me in Paraffin, after having seen Rose (see yesterday's post), then it must be admitted that I was totally unprepared for Nursing, after having seen both Rose and Paraffin. In Paraffin, Rapp pulled out all the stops, raised the stakes, and went all in (and, in my opinion, lost big as a result). But in Nursing, he completely jumped the shark.

Nursing is set in 2053 in a disease-free New York, by which time the tenement building has been converted into a museum where individuals in need of cash are injected with old-fashioned diseases to amuse the public. Lloyd (Logan Marshall-Green) has answered an advertisement to allow himself to be injected and to be exhibited to the public as a human exhibit in the “disease museum” so that they might follow the progress of the disease de jour as it ravages his body and brings him close to death. The plan is to allow the disease to advance not quite to the point of killing him, to cure him of it before he dies, to allow him to recover from its aftereffects, and then to start the process over again by injecting him with another disease in the series. Cholera. Black Plague. Whatever.

Lloyd’s motivations are somewhat unclear. He is a sometimes suicidal psychological casualty of the Afghan War (a tepid allusion, perhaps, to Lucas in Paraffin), who is visited by a journalist (Jeremy Strong), by his brother Joe (Robert Beitzel), and by Erin, his pregnant wife (Sarah Lemp). Lloyd’s relationship to his wife is never made completely clear but her pregnancy is perhaps intended to suggest some similarity to Margo’s plight and Margo’s relationship to her husband, Denny, in Paraffin). And his relationship to Joe does have some overtones of Lucas’ relationship to Denny and Margo in Paraffin (there is at least a suggestion of Lloyd’s having taken some interest in Joe’s wife).

Both of Lloyd’s nurses, Andy (Louis Cancelmi) and Joan (Maria Dizzia) are medically competent, but either or both may have hidden agendas of their own, of which we are at first unaware.

The other characters in the play are the museum guard (Stephen Tyrone Williams) and the Tour Guide (Sue Jean Kim). And it is Kim’s rendition of “Cholera Camp” by Rudyard Kipling that saved the day for me; I thought she was terrific and her recital was the only thing about this play that I truly enjoyed.

So what happens in the play. Well without going into gory details, there is a preposterous terrorist plot, lots of simulated sexual activity, too much nudity, and excessive violence. In short, take everything I didn’t like about Paraffin and double it. Now you’ve got it.

Nursing was directed by Trip Cullman who did as good a job as Rapp and Aukin did in directing Rose and Paraffin, respectively. I don’t think that the play’s failure was his fault at all. Nor do I think that the actors should be blamed for this: every member of the cast again turned in a first rate performance, most noteworthy among them this time being Sue Jean Kim as the Tour Guide. Beowulf Boritt also deserves credit for his effective conversion of his initial set to that of a museum display, while retaining the contours of his original tenement building.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Off Broadway: Paraffin (Part 2 of The Hallway Trilogy)

In Rose, Part 1 of The Hallway Trilogy, we were introduced to the residents of a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (and assorted other neighborhood characters) in 1953 on the day following the death of the playwright, Eugene O’Neill: Rose, who believed O’Neill to still be alive and in hiding; Richard B., her husband; Mary and her sister, Megan; the building superintendant, who shared the playwright’s name; Jerry, a Princeton graduate; Orest, a Russian immigrant and his enormously obese (unseen) mother; Marbles, a somersaulting busker-clown-henchman; and Louis Zap, a seeming Mafiosi. Basically, he play disclosed these characters’ personalities and the relationships among them, and the audience could chuckle at their antics or commiserate with them over their plights, while peeling away the layers of their personae in an attempt to better understand and interpret their psyches and the circumstances that brought them to their then-present states. And since the play was set in 1953, during the Eisenhower Years, at the beginning of the Cold War, back when the values of the Silent Generation prevailed, all of the characters on stage conducted themselves not only entertainingly but in a relatively genteel, congenial and civilized fashion.

Sex? Well, reference was made to Mary’s tryst with a “Spanish Mexican” which resulted in her broken engagement, and she did trade sexual favors with O’Neill in exchange for the rent (as evidenced by the cat hairs on the back of her sweater). But nothing occurred that would really steam up your glasses. Violence? A bit. Megan did slap Mary’s face when she realized how Mary had carried on with O’Neill and O’Neill did suffer a mild beating at the hands of Louis Zap for having attempted to hold out on the mob but O’Neill was packing for his Florida retirement within minutes after his beatdown, apparently suffering no serious aftereffects. Nudity? Yes, Mary did begin to unbutton her blouse as she entered O’Neill’s apartment. And that was it. In short, if this were a movie, it probably would have been rated PG.

All of which scarcely prepared me for what confronted me when I returned to the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater a few days later to attend a performance of Part 2 of The Hallway Trilogy: Paraffin. I had expected to see a play similar in style to Rose, only updated a bit to reflect some of the changes in technology and mores which had transpired in the 50 years between 2003 and 1953. But that was not to be.

In Paraffin, Rapp raises the stakes dramatically – indeed, I might say he goes all in – with a play that pulls no punches on sex, violence and nudity. If Rose were to be rated PG, Paraffin would be rated R or maybe even NC-17. In short, I wouldn’t take my kids to see this one and, if you’re somewhat squeamish yourself when it comes to scatological humor, sex, violence and nudity on the stage, maybe you’d best avoid it too.

By 2003, all of the tenement’s residents and neighborhood characters who we met in Rose are long gone and forgotten; only Rose herself even merits a mention in Paraffin. O’Neill, the tenement’s superintendent in 1953 presumably has retired to Florida (or perhaps gone on to an even higher reward) and his apartment is now occupied by Marty (Guy Boyd) and Lucas (Jeremy Strong). Marty is a drag queen and Lucas a heterosexual, wheelchair-bound, military casualty of the war in Afghanistan who rents a room in Marty’s apartment. Lucas is also the brother of Denny (William Apps), a drug addicted loser who lives with his pregnant wife Margo (Julianne Nicholson). Denny and Mary live in the apartment on the hall that had been unoccupied in 1953.

Kevin (Danny Mastrogiorgio), the building’s new superintendent, lives in the apartment occupied by Orest and his mother 50 years earlier. Ido (Robert Beitzel) and Rahel (Maria Dizzia), a young, married Israeli couple, live on an upstairs floor, presumably in the apartment previously occupied by the two sisters, Megan and Mary, in 1953. The other three characters in the play, who don’t live in the building but appear on the scene, are: Dena (Sue Jean Kim), Megan’s Eurasian friend; Leshik (Nick Lawson), a Polish messenger and henchman for the mob; and Cory (Stephen Tyrone Williams), Marty’s black lover.

The set for Paraffin is little changed from the set for Rose: the public telephone on the wall in 1953 is gone, no longer required in the cell phone culture of 2003. The apartment that had been blocked and unoccupied in 1953 is now home to Margo and Denny while the apartment Jerry occupied in 1953 is now closed off. The superintendant has been relocated from one apartment to another. And, oh yes, an unconscious, half naked Denny is sprawled out on the floor in front of his apartment.

And as the play progresses, we realize anew that no one is all of a piece.

Denny’s condition is a result of his drug addiction, he passes out, soils himself, steals, lies, is in flight from the mob and, indeed, is so far gone that Margo won’t allow him in the house. Yet she remains so ambivalent in her feelings that she still can’t bring herself to change the locks on the apartment door in order to shut him out of her life entirely. Indeed, she even assists him in cleaning himself up in a sophomorically scatological nude scene which the audience did seem to enjoy.

Lucas is almost sociopathic in his combativeness as a result of his physical handicap and sexual frustration, insulting, propositioning, offending and taunting both Rahel and her husband. He has long been in love with Margo who he ultimately seduces in a gritty sex scene in the hall. And he professes no attachment, feelings or friendship whatsoever for Marty. Yet, in fact, he ultimately exhibits more concern for Marty’s well being than does anyone else.

When the lights go out all over the city in the 2003 blackout, Rahel is missing and Ido is searching for her; Marty is seizing the opportunity to pick up a new gay lover and ultimately returns home with Cory; Danny is being pursued by Leshik who seeks to torture him to death in a manner described in such exquisitely sadistic detail that it would cause Quentin Tarantino to blanch. And Kevin, Lucas, Margo and Dena are assembling over candles and marijuana in the hallway.

Dena proposes a game in which everyone tells what one thing they would change in their life right then and there if they could and the disclosures range from the banal to the startling. Predictably, Kevin would sleep with Dena. But Dena’s answer to her own question might come as a bit of a surprise. And so might Margo’s. The play’s denouement occurs while the four are in the dark, in their state of bliss or denial, shut off from the rest of the world and, when it comes, it is sudden, shocking and violently theatrical.

Paraffin was directed by Daniel Aukin who did as good a job as Adam Rapp, himself, did in directing Rose. As already noted in our earlier review of Rose, the set, which is basically the same as that in Rose, appears simple (although it really took quite some doing to construct) but it is quite effective and works well. Every member of the cast again turns in a first rate performance, most noteworthy among them being William Apps as the drugged out Denny; Julianne Nicholson as his pregnant wife, Margo; Nick Lawson as the sadistic henchman Leshik; Guy Boyd as the drag queen Marty; and Jeremy Strong as the wheelchair-bound Lucas.

I’ll post my review of Nursing, the final play in the trilogy, tomorrow.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Off Broadway: Rose (Part 1 of The Hallway Trilogy)

Rose, the first part of The Hallway Trilogy by Adam Rapp, now playing at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is set in 1953 in a rundown New York City tenement hallway where we meet the assorted denizens of the building as well as a couple of other somewhat questionable neighborhood characters. The tale revolves primarily around the title character (Katherine Waterston), a fading ingénue who almost snared the starring role in a Eugene O’Neill play. Failing to get the role she so desired may have tipped her over the edge and, by the time we meet her, on the day following O’Neill’s apparent death, she has embarked on an odd quest to find him, convinced that he is still alive and hiding out as part of some vague conspiracy, despite the fact that the newspapers reported his demise the night before.

It is that quest which has brought her to a building whose superintendant bears the playwright’s name, a man who may (or may not) be the playwright himself (assuming, of course, that the playwright is not, in fact, already dead). This, of course, is one of the play’s several conceits suggestive, in a way, of the influence of Tom Stoppard: in Stoppard’s Jumpers, one of the principal characters was a philosophy professor named G. E. Moore but, as it turned out, not the famous Cambridge philosopher G. E. Moore, but just another second rate professor who bore the same name. Here it appears likely that the building superintendant, Eugene O’Neill (Guy Boyd), a sleazy, sloppy individual of highly questionable integrity, is no more the playwright than the Stoppard character was the famous philosopher.

The play is rife with other plots and sub-plots and a whole menagerie of characters, all immensely entertaining. One apartment in the building is shared by Mary (Julianne Nicholson), a young promiscuous socialite, agreeable to providing superintendant O’Neill with sexual favors in exchange for the rent, and her sister Megan (Sarah Lemp), a much more proper English teacher. Another apartment is occupied by Orest (William Apps) a Russian immigrant and his enormously obese mother. Jerry (Louis Cancelmi), a Princeton graduate, resides two doors down from Orest, providing the audience with a striking allusion to yet another of Stoppard’s plays, Hapgood.

Hapgood is a very intricately constructed play in which spies, secret agents and double agents appear, disappear, and re-appear in different places, all of it intended to serve as a metaphor for the paradoxes of quantum physics in which things are not necessarily what they seem, in which two things might be in the same place at the same time, and in which something might travel from Point A to Point B without traversing any of the space between the two. In Hapgood, one can never be sure who is on which side nor how an agent might enter one changing room and emerge from another.

Well, as it turns out in Rose, (set, remember, in 1953, at the height of the McCarthy witch hunts), Orest, the Russian, is an enthusiastic advocate for the “American way of life” while Jerry, the Princeton graduate, is an active member of a Communist cell. Or are they really what they seem? And what, if anything, does it mean when Orest emerges from Jerry’s locked apartment without ever having been seen to enter it?

Meanwhile, Marbles (Nick Lawson), a somewhat mysterious busker-clown (who might well have served as an opening act for “The Jumpers,” the acrobatic troupe in the Stoppard play of the same name), somersaults his way onstage, appears, disappears, reappears, loses his marbles, vaults railings, vanishes through an open window and down a fire escape, and generally infuses the play with yet one more level of sinister and antic uncertainty. And when Louis Zap (Danny Mastrogiorgio), a dapper Mafiosi arrives on the scene, the plot thickens further. It is evident that he has some financial interest in the building, some relationship to the building superintendent, and some relationship to Marbles as well. But how does it all fit together?

This first (and best) play in the trilogy concludes with the arrival of Richard B (Logan Marshall-Green) who, in searching for Rose, provides a logically consistent, albeit highly implausible, explanation of the events we have witnessed. It worked for me and the net result, I must say, is that it left me thoroughly satisfied with the play I’d just seen.

In sum, Rose is intricately, creatively and intelligently structured and extremely well written. Rapp may take justifiable pride in having written it – as well as having directed it (it is, incidentally, the only one of the three plays that constitute The Hallway Trilogy that he chose to direct himself). The set appears to be very simple (although it actually took some doing to construct) and, although it is just one long hallway bounded by the door leading into the superintendant’s apartment at one end and a window leading to a fire escape at the other (with the doors to three other apartments and a stairway leading to the other floors in the building in between), it is effective and works well. Every member of the cast turns in a first rate performance, most noteworthy among them being Katherine Waterston as Rose, whose acting talent and emotive expression extend across an extraordinary range; Julianne Nicholson as Mary, who captures the essence of her character as a 1950s socialite floozie; and Guy Boyd (as O’Neill), William Apps (as Orest) and Nick Lawson (as Marbles) all of whom contribute major whimsical comedic touches to the production.

I’ll post my review of Paraffin, the second play in the trilogy, tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Off Broadway: The Hallway Trilogy

We saw Rose, the first of the three plays in Adam Rapp’s The Hallway Trilogy at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre just two days after returning from our Caribbean cruise and enjoyed it so much that we immediately purchased tickets to see the other two plays in the trilogy, Paraffin and Nursing. That was a big mistake. As it turned out, not only was Rose far and away the best play of the three but, even more disturbing, it’s tenor was in no way even remotely similar to that of the other two. Win some, lose some, I guess.

Seeing the three plays has given me a lot to write about, however, so what I intend to do is just comment on the overall production, The Hallway Trilogy, in this post and then review each of its three components, Rose, Paraffin and Nursing, individually over the next few days.

To my mind, a theatrical trilogy is more than just three different plays, shown sequentially in repertory, and called a “trilogy.” Some sort of unifying theme is required. Or, as defines it, a “trilogy” is “a series or group of three plays, novels, operas, etc., that, although individually complete, are closely related in theme, sequence, or the like.” I’ll go along with that.

The relationship among the works in a trilogy may be spatial and character-dependent - as in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests, in which the same six characters are seen from different perspectives on the same weekend in different parts of a house. Or it may be temporal - as in Tom Stoppard’s monumental The Coast of Utopia, in which 44 actors play 70 different roles and the trilogy spans more than three decades in pre-revolutionary Russia (with side excursions to London and Paris). Indeed, a true theatrical trilogy might even be constructed out of three plays that have no temporal or spatial relationship at all - if they share some unifying theme: a playwright might, for instance, construct a trilogy from three plays all dealing with the subject of racial discrimination or marital infidelity or battlefield valor, even though each of the plays in his trilogy was set in a different time and place with different characters - if the subject matter itself provided sufficient unifying force. But there must be something more to a trilogy than just counting to three. Writing three fundamentally unrelated plays, having them performed in repertory, and calling it a “trilogy” just isn’t enough. But, disappointingly, that’s what Rapp seems to have done.

To be sure, Rapp did set all three of his plays in the same tenement building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (in 1953, 2003 and 2053) but that didn’t provide anywhere near the unifying force that a true trilogy requires: if each of the plays had been set in a different building, instead of all in the same one, nothing would have been lost as a result of the transition. And underscoring the lack of unification among the three plays is the fact that none of the characters in any one of them appeared in any of the others; indeed, except for a brief passing allusion to the title character of Rose in Paraffin, there is no evident relationship between the characters in one play and those in another.

It might be argued that there really are at least some unifying themes among the three plays: threats (or worse) of retaliation for debts owed the mob occur in both Rose and Paraffin, physical and/or psychological casualties of the Afghan War play important roles in both Paraffin and Nursing, sexual tensions involving two brothers and the wife of one of them play out in both Paraffin and Nursing, the ambivalent feelings experienced by spouses when confronted by extraordinary behavior on the parts of their partners is touched upon in all three plays, and so on. But I found these reeds to be too slender to support the edifice of a genuine trilogy deserving of the name.

Finally, it might be argued that, in a transcendental or existential sense, the real unifying theme tying the three plays together was something almost cosmic like the redemptive value of all human suffering – whatever that might happen to mean. But does that kind of philosophical babble really have any substantive meaning at all? Maybe to Kierkegaard or Dostoyevsky. Unfortunately, not to me.

The first part of The Hallway Trilogy, Rose, is set in the hallway of a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1953, on the day following the reported death of the playwright, Eugene O’Neill. This is the most successful of the three plays, employing a clever and original primary plot device, and it is the least dependent upon such theatrical crutches as nudity, sex, scatological humor or violence to retain its audience’s interest. This one is definitely worth seeing.

The second, Paraffin, takes place 50 years later in the same hallway of the same building on the first night of the 2003 New York City blackout. There is one mention in passing of the title character in Rose, and that not even by name. Other than that, it’s difficult to see what the two plays have in common. In terms of sex, nudity, violence and scatological humor, this play has it all – not to its advantage, I’m sorry to say. I wouldn’t take my kids to this one and, if you’re at all squeamish yourself, I’d suggest you skip it too.

The third play, Nursing, is set in 2053 in a disease-free New York, by which time the tenement building has been converted into a museum where individuals in need of cash are injected with old-fashioned diseases to amuse the public. It is, in my opinion, notoriously difficult to write a good science fiction play about some future dystopia – and Rapp doesn’t succeed with this one. He does pull out all the stops when it comes to sex, nudity, violence and scatological humor and I’d not recommend this one either.

A note on the set and on the performances: Construction of the set took quite some doing, requiring a complete realignment of the stage and the seats but it was worth it. Beowulf Boritt can take justifiable pride in the superficially simple, yet actually quite complex, set he designed. And as for the performances, they were first rate across the board. More’s the pity that the second and third parts of the trilogy were so disappointing.

I’ll be posting my review of Rose tomorrow.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our Caribbean Cruise: San Juan, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Martin and Tortola

We’ve just returned from a ten days cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ (NCL’s) Norwegian Gem, sailing out of and returning to Manhattan, with stops along the way in San Juan, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Martin and Tortola. The Norwegian Gem is a 965 foot, 93,000 ton, 2,380 passenger super-vessel with a crew of more than 1,100, ten restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, three swimming pools, six hot tubs, a theatre, a casino, a rock climbing wall, a bowling alley, shuffleboard courts, a jogging track, an internet café, a spa and fitness club, an art gallery, a card room, a library, duty free shopping (I could go on and on but you get the idea) - and both the ship itself and its ports of call ostensibly have been designed to satisfy the needs and wants of the most hedonistic of travelers. And, I might add, at a most affordable cost of less than $100 a day per passenger, to boot.

And it basically works. Our outside cabin was comfortably furnished with a double bed, a desk, a table, two chairs, a stall shower and perfectly adequate bathroom facilities, a television set, and a mini-bar - unfortunately tempting us to spend much too much time relaxing therein. We were provided with much too much to eat as well and, while the kitchen’s efforts never did soar to gastronomic heights, our overall dining experience was completely satisfactory. On board entertainment was not overly exciting or creative, but an improvisation performance by a Second City troupe was a lot of fun and the time we spent walking or lounging around the deck and the pool was thoroughly relaxing.

Our first three days were spent on the open sea in relatively cold and dreary weather as we traveled south from New York to the Caribbean but, by the fourth day, we had arrived at our first destination, San Juan, and the contrast was striking. We spent our time in our first port of call wandering around the cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan, and stopped in one of its many bars for a short drink (a somewhat nostalgic experience since that’s where we spent our honeymoon nearly a half century ago). On the next day, we arrived at our second port of call, St. Thomas, where we rode the St. Thomas Skyride, a tram that carried us to Paradise Peak where we enjoyed extraordinary unobstructed views of the island, before continuing on to the duty free shopping of Charlotte Amalie.

On the next day, Sunday, we arrived with high hopes in Antigua which, unlike San Juan and St. Thomas, was a place we had never visited before, but unfortunately, there really wasn’t much to see. Apparently, the Antiguans are a relatively religious lot and most shops were closed for the day, their proprietors in church. Our next day in St. Martin (another island we had not been to before) was much more successful: we actually enjoyed shopping in this duty free port even more than we had in St. Thomas and we had a delightful lunch in a beachfront restaurant on the island en route. Our final Caribbean port of call, Tortola (another new one for us) was, unfortunately, another mild disappointment: the island is small and sparsely populated and there really wasn’t much to see.

That afternoon we began our return voyage to New York, switching back from shorts and tee shirts to jeans and sweaters, and arriving back in Manhattan just ten days after we had first embarked.

When we first planned this trip, our objectives were relatively simple. First and foremost, we sought some relief from one of the worst New York winters I can recall (in terms of cold, snow and ice) and an opportunity to unwind and relax – to wit, an unpressured excursion to a warmer clime, and this trip certainly fit the bill on that score. Second, we sought a trip that would not require a flight out of the city – a smart decision on our part, as it turned out, since all the New York airports were, in fact, closed on the day we sailed. Additionally, we wanted to go somewhere we had not been before – and Antigua, St. Martin and Tortola met that requirement. Finally, we hoped to accomplish all this relatively inexpensively and, indeed, we did: all told the trip cost us just a little over $2,100.

So all things considered, I must say that the trip was a success. We achieved the respite from the New York winter (albeit short lived) and the relaxation we sought. We avoided the airports. We visited three islands we had not visited before (although, admittedly, two of the three had little to offer). And we accomplished it all most economically.

But while this was a successful trip, was it really a memorable one? Unfortunately, no. Surely it was not in a class with the trip we made to Egypt last year (which included a much more enjoyable cruise down the Nile). Nor was it in a class with the trip we made to China the year before that (which included a terrific cruise down the Yangtze). Nor our cruise to Alaska several years ago. Nor the cruise we took on the Mediterranean Sea even longer ago, a cruise on which we visited Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Mykonos and Greece – and all in a matter of days.

And there’s the bottom line: We enjoyed our cruise on the Norwegian Gem and we’re glad we went. But it wasn’t one of our best vacations and we don’t plan to do it again anytime soon