Happy May, Brooklyn, and with the passing of another month, we find ourselves just a little bit closer to normal times around here. The positive vibes swirling around are downright palpable, and not just because the birds are chirping and the blooms are bursting…and De Blasio says the city will be 100-percent open by July! I’ve been out and about a lot more these days, thanks to comfortable temps and the daylight extending beyond my normal work hours, and I can’t help but feel like everyone I pass is exuding the kind of hope, optimism, and relief that none of us have had the luxury of experiencing for quite some time.
Another, perhaps more concrete, sign that things are looking up is the fact that many of the city’s cultural institutions are testing the waters on reopening and rescheduling, shaking off the cobwebs and peeking their heads out of the caves they’ve been forced to hibernate in for so long. We’re not totally there yet, but it felt nothing short of fantastic to suddenly have a surplus of events and offerings to choose from for this May Culture Calendar. We’ve rounded up some of the highlight for you below, so please have at this list and start making plans for what will hopefully be the best month we’ve all seen in a while!
1. Governors Island
There have been lots of reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the state of the pandemic lately, and one big sign that things are headed in the right direction is the grand reopening of Governors Island! Scenic bike rides, lush greenspaces, and fantastic city views will be just a short ferry ride away again this spring/summer. And there are myriad cultural and educational opportunities on the slate as well. Check out this guide to the things you can do and see this weekend and, including a brand new public art installation by Duke Riley, entitled Not for Nutten and pictured above. Please note that in order to allow for social distancing, visitors to Governors Island will be required to purchase ferry tickets in advance for the time being.
2. Fat Ham, streaming now
What does the Hamlet narrative look like if it’s queered, and if it’s infiltrated and taken over by people of color? That’s the intriguing question that inspired playwright James Ijames to create Fat Ham, a new play streaming on demand this month through the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, Fat Ham is being billed as a witty, smart take on Shakespeare’s classic tale of revenge, centered on Black, queer discovery of self, softness, and resilience, all set at a modern-day Southern cookout. Tickets are $37 and entitle the holder to one viewing of Fat Ham anytime between now and May 23.
3. Frieze New York, May 5–9
In another sign that the city’s cultural scene is slowly reemerging, the annual Frieze art fair is back this year, in person no less, in a new location at The Shed. Although tickets to attend the physical events are sold out, there is still an opportunity to see much of the exciting new work on display, which represents pieces from 60 leading galleries and 10 curated solo exhibitions, as well as panel discussions and the like, by registering for the fair’s free online viewing room.
4. Seth Rogen at Murmrr, May 11
Being funny, lovable, self-deprecating, and willing to share embarrassing stuff with the world has brought extreme multi-hyphenate Seth Rogen unfathomable fame and fortune. So, it seems weird that he hasn’t written a book of hilarious personal essays about his life until now. On May 11, that is exactly what we will get, in the form of Yearbook, a collection of true stories about Rogen’s summer camp adventures, grandparents, drug use, bar mitzvahs, and life in Los Angeles that is sure to bring a smile to your face. In collaboration with Community Bookstore and Murmrr Theatre, Rogen will read from and discuss his book in a live streamed presentation at 7:30pm. Tickets are $33 each, which includes a signed copy of Yearbook to be shipped to you at home.
5. The Underground Railroad, May 14
If you were mesmerized by novelist Colson Whitehead’s first Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Underground Railroad, and/or director Barry’s Jenkins’ Academy Award-winning Moonlight, you probably already have May 14 marked on your calendar. That’s because it’s the day the long-awaited new television adaptation of The Underground Railroad, starring Thuso Mbedu as Cora, debuts on Amazon Prime. The story and imagery of the novel is forever etched in my mind, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it translates to the small screen. This powerful trailer is a pretty good indication that this might be the must-watch event of the month.
6. Boardwalk at the Bell House, May 15
The last cultural event that I personally attended pre-lockdown was a sold out, March 2020 comedy show with Ramy Youssef at The Bell House. In the year-plus since then, I have often a) been utterly shocked and thankful that I didn’t catch Covid that night, and b) longed for the day that I’d have a chance to see live comedy again at that storied Gowanus venue. The good news is that The Bell House is open for business again this month (!), and has a handful of appealing events on the calendar, including May 15’s Boardwalk at the Bell House, an outdoor standup showcase hosted by Luke Mones and Tommy McNamara, and featuring Megan Gailey, Brittany Carney, Sean Patton, and JP Dade.
7. Slow Burn, streaming now
Slate’s perennially popular and well-reported podcast Slow Burn is back with a new host—former New York Magazine editorial director Noreen Malone—and a new topic: the United States’ unfortunate decision to wage war in Iraq in 2003, 18 months after the September 11 attacks that Iraq had nothing to do with. I haven’t yet listened to this installment of Slow Burn, mostly because I’m worried about how infuriating it will be. But it’s on my list for May, when I expect to be walking around outside a lot more with headphones.
8. Secret Mausoleum Music Club, May 26
I can’t stress enough how grateful I’ve been throughout this pandemic to have the breathtakingly beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery in my backyard—I try to take a walk through the serene grounds at least a few times a week. I’ve loved the views, the connection to nature, and the opportunity for peaceful reflection and solitude it’s afforded. So, I’m glad to report that the cemetery, like so many other institutions in the city, is adding some of its regular programming back to the calendar, including the opportunity to visit after-hours for intimate classical music and opera performances by Death of Classical on May 26 at 7:30pm. Tickets to Secret Mausoleum Music Club are $50, but you should also check out the full calendar of educational and cultural events at the cemetery, many of which are free.
9. High on the Hog, May 26
For those of us who desperately miss travel—and specifically food tourism—Netflix has a new show coming out at the end of the month that should scratch that itch, at least until it feels safe to gallivant around beyond the confines of one’s own immediate neighborhood again. Renowned food historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris has teamed up with writer/chef Stephen Satterfield for a limited docu-series called High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, which is scheduled to drop on May 26. The show offers a window into some incredible food—from West African stews to soul food to fine dining—but also an unvarnished and unflinching look into this country’s deep-rooted racism and history of slavery, and its impact on how we eat today.