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January, 2005

New York, New York

by George Takei

LOS ANGELES - What other city would name itself after the state that it is in so that its name is repeated twice? New York, New York is the only city I know. Only a brash, self-assertive metropolis like New York City has such chutzpah. But, that repetition can also become the chill-induced shiver that comes from chattering teeth trying to say New York in bitter cold. I went to New York, New York in the middle of a deep freeze to catch up on a few plays. A huge blizzard had been predicted but I went anyway. New York in a winter snowstorm was both beautiful and nasty.

Looking out the hotel window and watching the sky fill up with dancing soft flakes that look like tiny bits of torn-up tissue paper was nature's poetry. Watching Central Park transform itself into a frosted winter wonderland was magical. The nasty part was when I went outside and tried to get to Central Park. The frozen sidewalks became treacherous ice sheets. The slushy street crossings turned people into clumsy ballet dancers attempting great leaps that rarely reached their mark. And, I am a southern Californian. We are like exotic hothouse plants suddenly plunged into frigid winter air. We don't take well to it. I froze.

The theaters of New York, however, fill my body with joy and warm my soul. The hottest drama I saw was one I had once seen as a teenager on the fabled television series, Playhouse 90 - "Twelve Angry Men" by Reginald Rose. This courtroom drama moved me decades ago on television and it was even more powerful on stage. Philip Bosco was a standout in a large cast of fine actors. Its run has been extended, so if you should be in New York, New York, do try to catch it. You're in for a great evening of drama.

Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" is one of my favorite musicals and it was enjoying a revival on Broadway. What made this current production special for me was that I had actor friends performing in it plus the fact that I had performed in a concert reading of it in Dayton, Ohio. I knew the play well. The role I played, the Reciter, was being played by the gifted actor, B.D. Wong. Years before he won a Tony Award for his stunning turn on Broadway in "M. Butterfly," he was cast as my son in an episode of the television series, "Black's Magic." And now, here was my "son" on Broadway reciting the words I had spoken in Dayton, Ohio, a few years back. As I watched his engaging performance, I glowed with paternal pride. Friends from East West Players in Los Angeles, Sab Shimono and Michael Lee, were brilliant in principal roles. Good friend, Alvin Ing, was sheer delight as the murderous mother of the Shogun who poisons him with her chrysanthemum tea. Alan Muraoka, who was with me in the Dayton production, was his wonderful self as a councilor and a merchant. I would love to recommend this production of "Pacific Overtures" to you but, alas, I saw it near the end of its run and it is no longer playing. However, a captivating and more than a bit naughty puppet musical - of all things - titled "Avenue Q," is a big hit and should be around for a long time. I loved it.

A gripping drama from Britain's National Theater, "Democracy" by Michael Frayn, was another impressive play. It is about a spy in the inner circle of German Chancellor Willy Brandt's office before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Richard Thomas, who you might remember as "John Boy" from the television series, "The Waltons," was superb as the mole, as was Michael Cumpsty as his handler. There is rich fare on Broadway this year. My only disappointment was the over-hyped musical, "Wicked." Perhaps it was because we didn't see it with the original award-winning cast, but I thought it was hackneyed, mechanical, and an extravagant waste of talent, labor, and money.

The repetitive New York, New York also became a repeated reality for me this month because no sooner had I returned to Los Angeles but I was called back to New York for a quick meeting. Within a week, I was on a plane headed back to frozen New York City. On arrival, however, I learned that the trip was unnecessary. The meeting had to be cancelled. Rather than disappointment, this was for me another serendipitous turn of events - few more days to whoopee in New York, New York. Now the repeated New York, New York took on a happy, celebratory rhythm.

I decided to celebrate with a day at the newly redesigned Museum of Modern Art. I loved the old building and especially the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. I wondered what had been done to it. Might we have lost something we were fond of? A bit apprehensively, I entered the redesigned building. I was stunned. The new Museum was spectacular. The building had been transformed into an architectural sculpture. The building itself had now become the largest art piece at MOMA. Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, had taken space and shaped it as an elegant minimalist walk through sculpture. The space flowed; it stretched horizontally, it eddied into intimate galleries, most dramatically, the space soared vertically. This is Manhattan; the most vertical urban statement in the world and the architecture captured that New York spirit of reaching for the sky. This verticality is most elegantly expressed in the central gallery, a shaft about four stories high and in it stands a single piece of sculpture, Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman. The vertical space gives soaring context to the sculpture and the perpendicular inverted obelisk perched on a pyramid inhabits and elegantly compliments the gallery space. Space and the art in it becomes one. There is a comprehensive display of the many museums throughout Japan designed by Yoshio Taniguchi in the special exhibits gallery.

The unexpected and subsequently cancelled meeting in New York made this month a genuinely double New York, New York beginning of this year. It was a cold but wonderful beginning.

I returned home to Los Angeles, however, to learn that there was to be an ending as well. The long run of Star Trek on television was to come to a close. "Star Trek: Enterprise" had been cancelled. Immediately, I thought of how the actors on the show must be feeling now. I know the sadness and the feeling of disappointment they must be experiencing. I suffered those same emotions so long ago. I remembered how we hoped against hope that we would be picked up. I remembered the anticipation and anxiety. I remembered the disappointment and hurt. Those actors on "Star Trek: Enterprise" were now going to be between engagements," "at leisure" - they were unemployed! Then I thought of the fans that had trekked along with us now for generations. Some had been with us from the very beginning in September of 1966, from the original series on through four spin-offs series. They, the fans, are the ones who really created the phenomenon of Star Trek. They are the real pillars of the series. I know how hurt they must be feeling. But I also know the history of Star Trek. Back in 1969, we thought we were done with Star Trek. The series, the journey, had ended - except for the reruns. Little did I know then. I think I've learned something from history since. As Spock once said, "There are always possibilities." As it turned out - there were.

 

 



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