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Manhattan theatrical tour is one man’s stimulus plan

The economy is in shambles and the news is not good. What better time to take in a show or two and concentrate on the finer things of life? I hear that the movie business is better than ever, but if you really want a memorable experience, try the theater.

Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, my first wife and I spend a few days in February during Presidents’ Week at a midtown hotel, eat at some good restaurants, see some shows and generally make like tourists. Our goal is to spend some vacation money in our own city, doing a little stimulus of our own while having a good time. We may live in Queens, just 30 minutes on the LIRR to Manhattan, but there’s nothing like being there.

“The Cripple of Inishmaan,” by Martin McDonagh, was revived by the Atlantic Theater Company. What a great production – The Outrageous Fortune Company did it six years ago – and a lot of fun. I urge the local groups to give it a shot. By the way, Atlantic’s venue in Chelsea is one of the most pleasant and comfortable theaters around, the only drawback being the bathrooms located behind the stage — so if nature calls during a performance, you better know your lines.

Also on our agenda was “Becky Shaw,” a new comedy by Gina Gionfriddo, at Second Stage on West 43rd, about the kind of girl you wouldn’t want to date, and “Glimpses of the Moon,” a musical performed in the Oak Room at the Algonguin Hotel, proving that you can do a show in just about any space. Finally, there was “Billy Elliot” at the Imperial, a wonderfully staged musical, based on the film, and as my fellow tennis player Sheldon Grumet would say, it’s family−friendly. I even got tickets on the same day for this big hit; sure, it cost a couple of benjamins, but you may have heard that you can’t take it with you.

I’ll leave the restaurant reviews to Suzanne Parker, but if you want a Sunday brunch to die for, you have to go to Aquavit (East 55th Street) – it’s a Scandinavian smorgasbord with a great variety of herring and so much other good stuff that you won’t want to leave, or be able to.

Back home, with a few dollars left, I got a chance to see “Oleanna,” David Mamet’s sexual harassment drama, starring two fine actors, Frank Freeman and Lenna Parisyan, produced by the longest−running group in town, the Douglaston Community Theatre. The legendary Michael Wolf is now the DCT president, and helping out at the Zion Church Parish Hall was one of my favorite ex−stage wives, Sheila Sheffield, a great Long Island leading lady.

At The Bowne Street Community Church in downtown Flushing I saw “Arsenic and Old Lace,” one of the locals’ favorite plays, produced by — get this — Nanette Asher’s Queens Shakespeare Inc. I was unaware that Joseph Kesselring’s play was part of the Shakespearean canon. Clueing me in, Nan explained that her board of directors wanted to do “a classic American comedy to bring in audiences that generally are afraid of Shakespeare,” hoping that they’ll come back to see the real thing. That, coming in June, will be a reprise of their production of “Twelfth Night,” to be performed this time at the Flea Theater in Tribeca. But in the fall, Queens will have another opportunity to take on the Bard at Bowne Street.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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