Friday, November 15, 2019
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On the Move: Manufacturers, CMA, and More

CMIC CMO Replaces Sun Pharmaceutical in Cranbury

CMIC CMO USA, a contract manufacturer serving the pharmaceutical industry, is leasing a 233,000-square-foot building at Matrix Development Group’s 270 Prospect Plains Road in Cranbury. Commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield orchestrated the long-term lease.

CMIC CMO USA, which specializes in the formulation development and commercial services for oral solid dosage products, will use the facility for office, research and development, production, packaging, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution of pharmaceutical and related products.

The complex transaction involved negotiating a lease termination with an existing tenant, Sun Pharmaceutical, and arranging for the purchase of in-place research and development infrastructure. CMIC CMO USA was represented by Cushman & Wakefield’s Shawn Straka and Chuck Fern, who headed the brokerage team with Todd Elfand, Jason Barton, Thomas D. Tucci, Stephen Shoemaker, Paul Giannone, Kevin Carton, Jaclyn Marques, Elizabeth Rouse, and Joseph Vacca. Matrix Development’s vice president of acquisitions, Gary Hans, represented the landlord in the transaction.

“The cooperation of three entities — Matrix, Sun Pharmaceutical, and CMIC CMO USA — was critical to the success of this transaction,” Fern said. “Ultimately we were pleased to support a win-win-win situation for all parties, and Gary did a phenomenal job of bringing this deal to the finish line.”

Management Moves

Patricia Gray

CMA, 191 Clarksville Road, Box 727, Princeton Junction 08550. 800-852-4269. Jeffrey E. Barnhart, founder and CEO. www.cmasolutions.com.

CMA, a communications, marketing and association management firm, has hired Patricia Gray as its web and app project manager. She is responsible for managing web and app projects, including timelines and budgets for CMA and its clients. In addition to the account team, Gray coordinates with developers. She has more than 12 years of experience in design, social media and digital marketing management. Gray earned a BFA in graphic design from Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

“CMA is excited to welcome Patricia to the team,” said Jeffrey Barnhart, CEO and founder of CMA. “She brings a great deal of experience, enthusiasm and potential to provide outstanding results and services to our clients.”

Firms Recognized for Hiring Veterans

The U.S Department of Labor has given two Route 1-corridor companies an award for recruiting, employing, and retaining veterans. The 2019 HIRE Vets Medallion was given to seven New Jersey companies.

“The recipients of the 2019 HIRE Vets Medallion Awards demonstrated a commitment to hiring veterans and helping them to develop meaningful, long-term careers,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “From small-town businesses to Fortune 500 companies, these employers understand that veterans are uniquely qualified and dedicated employees who make significant contributions in the workplace.”

Thermo Systems LLC of East Windsor and Joseph Jingoli & Son Inc., of Lawrenceville, were given gold-level awards.

Recipients of the 2019 HIRE Vets Medallion Awards attested to meeting the rigorous employment and veteran integration assistance criteria, including veteran hiring and retention percentages; availability of veteran-specific resources; leadership programming for veterans; dedicated human resource efforts; and/or compensation and tuition assistance programs for veterans.

Thermo Systems, 84 Twin Rivers Drive, East Windsor 08520. 609-371-3300. David J. Musto, principal. www.thermosystems.com

Joseph Jingoli & Son, Construction, 100 Lenox Drive, Suite 100, Lawrenceville 08648. 609-896-3111. Joseph Jingoli Jr., president. www.jingoli.com.

Deaths

Joseph J. Tomchik, 68, on November 7. He was regional sales manager for Crest Ultrasonics in Ewing.

Andrew Rocco Giancarli, 58, on November 6. He owned and operated Giancarli Construction Corporation for more than 20 years with his brother Marco.

Robert A. Marozsan, 75, on September 28. He spent his entire career in the field of data processing working at McGraw Hill, ETS, the state Department of Higher Education, and eventually starting his own business, GM/EDP, a data processing recruiting service.

The Perfect Company: The Perils of Prediction

Jeff Hawkins always felt that understanding the human brain would be his life’s work. After graduating from Cornell in 1979, he built and sold two mobile computing companies, PalmPilot and Handspring, and funded his own brain research institute called Redwood Neurosciences. In his 2004 book, “On Intelligence,” Hawkins laid out his main thesis that “Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence.”

Even as you read this sentence, your brain is predicting the next word. If you have ever held lyrics in your hands and sung the wrong words, your brain has chosen the words it predicted over the lyrics before you. When you catch a ball, your brain has predicted the arc and impact of the ball before you clutch it. If you buy an investment that succeeds, you may have had some particular insight about that company. Conversely, if your investment fails, you probably missed some critical fact.

Economically, the idea that predictive ability is the crucial mark of intelligence makes sense. If you had perfect predictive abilities you would reap unending economic rewards. You would know how people would behave and when they would buy and sell. You would always buy low and sell high. In a short while, you would own the world.

I once had a very bright college friend who said almost exactly that. “Glenn, if my models are correct, I will own the whole market in seven years.” I invested in his fund and our little investment club put some money in, too. We received monthly reports for a while, but, as values dropped, the reports came more sporadically. He called and asked if we would like our money back. “No,” I said, “You’ll figure it out.” One day, he sent the remains of our diminished accounts. Life went on, and I didn’t hear from my friend until I opened Forbes magazine one day and read that he was managing $3.5 billion.

Few people have invested their way to riches, but Warren Buffett springs to mind. One of his famous axioms is: “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.” Yet this same man saw a “durable competitive advantage” in Dexter Shoes that cost his shareholders $3.5 billion. Buffet also bought World Book Encyclopedia and Kraft Heinz; the first is hardly a growth company and the second lost $5 billion this year. Still, Buffet’s long-term shareholders celebrate their good fortune every year at his annual meeting. The daughter of one early investor, a professor named David L. Dodd, gave the George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, $128 million in 2007.

The good news for investors is that, unless you are selling short, you can only lose 100 percent of your investment. On the other hand, your upside can be many hundreds of percent and is theoretically unlimited. Peter Lynch, a famous fund manager, coined the term “ten bagger” in his book, “One Up on Wall Street,” for a sale that yields 10 times the investment. In this baseball analogy you hold onto the stock while it continues to round the bases. Lynch’s 29 percent annual returns — twice the S&P return during that time — were driven by his ten baggers, not by short-term trades.

In another baseball analogy, investing is an activity of losing: if you hit 30 percent of the time in baseball, you’re an excellent hitter. If your portfolio of 10 stocks has a few modest losses and winners, one or two wipe-outs, and one or two six- or ten-baggers, you are way ahead. You can lose most of the time and still beat the market percentages.

Most people hate to lose. As any financial advisor will tell you, clients only want to talk about their losers, so most advisors suggest funds or indexes. What can you say about a fund or index? There is only past performance, and you have been forewarned, “Past performance is not indicative of future results.” If a financial advisor recommends a stock it is usually a large company that everyone knows. Unfortunately, those companies are not likely to become ten-baggers that make a real difference to your life, so people who hate to lose tend to stay on second base.

It’s been a year since I started writing this column, which is about companies, not portfolio management, but here is how I manage my portfolio. I invest for two years or more. I keep companies that I continue to believe in, and I sell when a company stops growing, when something about the company has changed, or when I am clearly wrong.

I have a 16 percent loss in Immersion (IMMR) but am holding it because it has a simple strategy to license a core technology, and because sometimes a small group of intelligent people with a focused strategy can achieve outstanding results. It happened for Qualcomm and Universal Display — both tech licensing companies. We cannot know exactly what is happening within Immersion, but we will find out when it tanks or skyrockets one day — perhaps it will be acquired by a larger licensing company.

I bought Nordic Semiconductor (NDCVF) because it makes the chips for the Internet of Things. Its price fell as soon as I bought it on November 21, 2018, because of China fears and the general semiconductor market. Nothing had changed at the company as far as I could tell, so I held it. A year later, NDCVF is up 44 percent, and the Economist has featured the Internet of Things on its cover.

With Kirkland’s home stores, I was wrong. The numbers looked good, and I thought I had found a company that could counter the retail trend. As is often the case in disasters, KIRK went from bad to worse. Kirkland’s investor relations department no longer responds to inquiries. Sales are up slightly, cash is down, and the company is barely profitable. Worse, when I visited the Amazon warehouse in Robbinsville, I looked inside the steamroller that is crushing retail stores. Between Amazon and Wayfair, home stores are consigned to subsistence earnings — if they survive at all. KIRK dropped from $5.06 to $1.54, a 70 percent loss.

I recommended Universal Display (OLED) on January 23, 2019, at $94.96. Today it is $200.09, a 111 percent gain. I liked OLED so much that I also bought the January, 2021, $140 Call Options on February 6, which are up 218 percent. OLED went as high as $224. About that time, insiders cashed in, and the stock fell to $160. If you were skittish, you sold then, but OLED crushed earnings, and the stock jumped $25 in after-hours trading on October 30. I bought an LG OLED TV this year. The color is exquisite. OLED is a long-term play in screens and lighting.

I also bought a TREX deck this year. I wrote about the company TREX on February 6. The price that day was $71.62; TREX today is at $87.88, a 23 percent gain.

Public interest in marijuana was so fierce that I wrote two columns on the “industry” and concluded that, while marijuana is a good substitution for deathly opiates, it’s a bad business. I struggled to find one stock that might be the best of the worst: MedMen (MMNFF) has fallen 62 percent to $1.08. Businessweek recently noted “the rout on marijuana stocks.”

My UBER January, 2022, $25 Puts are up 17 percent in three weeks. A put option is a bet against the current value by giving the buyer the option of, one hopes, buying the stock at a lower price in the future. According to Marketwatch, Uber’s high-yield debt is “notches away from being designated ‘imminent’ default risk.” It looks like a car wreck to me.

Sometimes you have a peculiar insight about a company. A programmer once recommended that we push a number-crunching problem through the graphics processor instead of the CPU; a few years later, when NVDA began selling its graphics processors (GPUs) for pattern recognition, I recalled that suggestion. I bought at $21.71 in 2015 and it’s up 862 percent. Since I wrote about NVDA here on March 20, it’s up another 20 percent.

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it,” noted Maurice Switzer in 1906. Such is the risk of writing publicly about specific situations. Yet, as a group, we spend most of our time trying to fathom the entire economy, which we can hardly comprehend.

A fine restaurant in Princeton called Agricola inspired me to take down a book called “The Agricola and The Germania.” Its author, Tacitus, describes an ancient method of divining predictions that reminds me of today’s scrutinizing of the interviews of CNBC guests, the whisperings of Fed chairmen, and the tweets of presidents. “Although the familiar method of seeking information from the cries and the flight of birds is known to the Germans, they have also a special method of their own — to try to obtain omens and warnings from horses. These horses are kept at the public expense in the sacred woods and groves that I have mentioned; they are pure white and undefiled by any toil in the service of man.”

“The priest and the king, or the chief of the state, yoke them to a sacred chariot and walk beside them, taking note of their neighs and snorts.” Compare to Bloomberg Businessweek, October 30: “In a press conference after the Fed cut interest rates for the third time in 2019, [Fed Chairman Jerome Powell] repeatedly said that the stance of policy was now ‘appropriate’ to keep the economy growing moderately, the jobs market strong and inflation near the central bank’s 2 percent goal.”

Tacitus continues: “No kind of omen inspires greater trust, not only among the common people, but even among the nobles and priests, who think that they themselves are but servants of the gods, whereas the horses are privy to the gods’ counsels.” Two thousand years on, we are still hanging on neighs and snorts to predict our collective future.

Send feedback to gpaul@perfectcompany.com. Investment recommendations are solely those of the columnists, and are presented for discussion purposes. Columnists may own shares in recommendations. Investors are advised to conduct their own research and that past stock performance is no guarantee of future price.

Princeton Profs Get Into the Innovation Business

Rodney Priestley will become Princeton’s first vice dean for innovation in February.

Princeton University professors winning Nobel prizes for their research is a fairly regular occurrence, and researchers publish papers in peer reviewed journals all year round, advancing knowledge on all fronts. But in the last few years, the university has been encouraging a different kind of work: the kind that can be patented and make its way out of the lab and into the marketplace on a time scale faster than decades.

Rodney Priestley, a professor of chemical and biological engineering and, beginning in February, 2020, Princeton’s first vice dean for innovation, says the efforts to encourage technology commercialization have been having the intended effect. Over the last few years, faculty-led spinout companies have gone from one or two a year to eight to 10, he said. Recent developments such as the creation of the Princeton Biolabs on College Road East are intended to further accelerate this trend.

The university is hosting an event to show off some of these innovations on Thursday, November 14, at 5 p.m. at the Frick Chemistry Lab Atrium. For more information, visit innovation.princeton.edu/event.

For the first eight years of its existence, this annual showcase was called “Celebrate Princeton Invention.” But two years ago the invention turned to “innovation” to match the business world’s use of the latter term to refer to marketable inventions. “It reflects a growing emphasis on the university not only being good at fundamental research and invention, but also to be good at translating those inventions to practical use,” Priestley said. “The projects the university is seeking to highlight are those that are rooted in fundamental science but which are not 30 years away from having an impact: they are going to have an immediate impact that can be seen.”

Some of these inventions are being turned into companies.

One such invention came out of the lab of life sciences professor Thomas Shenk and molecular biology professor Ileana Cristea, who discovered a new way of fighting viruses using a protein called a sirtuin. In 2013 Shenk’s wife, Lillian Chiang, turned that discovery into a company called Evrys Bio, which is dedicated to turning that lab discovery into therapies that can be used to cure all kinds of viral diseases.

The nine-person company is located in a tech incubator in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Chiang says product development has reached the point where it is being tested on animals, the last step before trying it out on human subjects.

Her hope is that within five to eight years, sirtuin-based treatments for viruses could be approved for human use. If it proves successful, the technology could save thousands of lives per year.

The product farthest along is for organ transplant patients. Because anti-rejection drugs suppress the immune system, there is a serious risk of viral infection, and about 40 percent of transplant patients end up suffering from it. Chiang’s team used human chimeric mice (mice with human cells transplanted into them) to test out their drug-like molecule against the very common cytomegalovirus, and found it was effective.

At the same time, Evrys is collaborating with researchers at other institutions to test it against influenza and the Marburg virus, a disease similar to Ebola that is usually fatal. Chiang speculates that it might also be effective against rabies, which is nearly always fatal if the victim doesn’t get a vaccine in time.

Chiang, who grew up in New Jersey with an engineer mother and professor father, earned her doctorate at MIT and an MBA at Wharton. She previously worked at two other biotech startups. Evrys is her first collaboration with her husband, whose lab has been responsible for numerous spinoffs since the 1980s.

“It’s always a long haul to get an idea off the bench and into the clinic,” Chiang says. “You run into all kinds of barriers: scientific risk, clinical risk, product risk, and ultimately, financing. For me the company represents a chance to take something from the bench to the clinic.”

The first major obstacle Evrys had to overcome was skepticism about its technology. Unlike most other antiviral drugs in development, Evrys’ product targeted the host cells rather than the virus itself. But the success of immunotherapy against cancer served as a proof of concept that using drugs to turn the body itself against a disease could be an effective strategy.

Chiang says the company will enter clinical development next year, and after that human trials can begin. But success is not guaranteed. “Things always take twice as long and twice as many dollars as you initially think,” she says.

Victor Charpentier and Sigrid Adriaenssens have invented shades that change shape to follow the sun.

Another innovation on display is intended to save energy rather than lives. Civil and environmental engineering professor Sigrid Adriaenssens and post-doctoral research associate Victor Charpentier were inspired by the way certain plants move to follow the sun throughout the day and created a system of “smart shades” that can be attached to windows and automatically provide the optimal amount of light and shade while blocking glare and allowing maximum visibility for the room’s occupants.

“Nature is very resourceful in using very little material and very little energy,” Adriaenssens said. “We use very little energy to power the device.”

She said she and Charpentier were inspired by one particular plant that had an interesting mechanism to move around. The resulting invention uses two wires, one which twists the sheet, and the other that bends, which can be combined to move in any direction.

The shades consist of flexible plastic sheets that are bent by shape-memory alloy wires. An advanced algorithm allows the sheets to always bend to follow the sun at any location on the planet, for a window facing any direction on any day of the year and at any time of day.

Adriaenssens says they have even created a way to manufacture the system cheaply.

There are still decisions to be made: for example, would the shades be on the outside of the building? Or would they be on the inside, like conventional blinds, and able to be rolled up when they aren’t wanted? They are also considering placing them between two panes of glass on double-sided windows.

The potential energy savings from using the smart shades are enormous. Most of the time people leave their shades in one position or very seldom change it. This means that rooms are sometimes shaded in the winter, making the heating system work harder to keep up, or let too much sun in during the summer, causing the air conditioning to kick in to keep a comfortable temperature.

Adriaenssens notes that 40 percent of all the world’s energy use is from buildings, and she says that smart shades could make a building use 50 percent less energy for heating and cooling. She is working with the university’s office of technology transfer to find a company to license the invention.

“This device coupled together with the algorithm could be part of the smart home revolution,” she said.

“All of the innovations that are coming from inventors at Princeton are rooted in pure and applied fundamental research,” Priestley says. He says the push to get more of that research out into the real world has not affected the university’s research priorities. “I think it has added energy to existing priorities now that we can foresee direct impact from some of the work they are doing,” he says. “We have always wanted our research to have an impact. We’re doing more to make sure that it has an impact.”

A sampling of the many other innovations on display at the event include:

A. James Link: Lasso-shaped antibiotic for the treatment of lung infections. A new antibiotic compound with an unusual shape is on track to treat deadly drug-resistant lung infections that are commonly associated with cystic fibrosis. The antibiotic is a type of “lasso peptide,” a short protein segment named for its resemblance to a loop of rope. The newly developed antibiotic, dubbed ubonodin, selectively kills bacteria of the genus Burkholderia, which includes many members that are resistant to conventional antibiotics.

Developed by chemical and biological engineering professor A. James Link and graduate student Wai Ling Cheung-Lee, ubodonin’s distinctive shape makes it highly stable in both dissolved and dry forms across a range of temperatures. The molecule targets Burkholderia by stopping cell replication through the inhibition of the enzyme RNA polymerase. The molecule is highly specific against Burkholderia strains, which is advantageous because the molecule does not kill off beneficial bacteria.

The team has demonstrated the ability to produce ubonodin by introducing a novel DNA sequence into E. coli. Having shown that the molecule can kill Burkholderia cepacia, which causes lung infection, the team is now working on ways to engineer the molecule to target other pathogenic Burkholderia strains.

Jeffrey Schwartz and Jean Schwarzbauer: Nerve damage repair using a patterned extracellular matrix. A new recipe for patterning cells on a surface holds promise for the repair of damaged nerve tissue. Researchers Jeffrey Schwartz, a chemistry professor, and Jean Schwarzbauer, a molecular biology professor, have developed a technique for adhering and aligning cells on a soft and flexible material, known as hydrogel, with the goal of creating a scaffold on which to grow neurons and provide guidance for the cells to extend the long thin projections, or axons, that serve as the transmission lines of the nervous system.

A key challenge was to find ways to make cells stick to hydrogel, a material that consists of a watery synthetic or natural polymer that resembles not-yet-set gelatin. To overcome this challenge, the researchers engineered a method for applying a cell-adhesive layer atop the hydrogel. By initially masking parts of the hydrogel surface, the researchers can create precisely defined sticky regions, enabling cells to be patterned, and to assemble a patterned extracellular matrix in arrangements that are useful to neural repair.

Yiguang Ju: HiT Nano Inc. makes high-performance batteries affordable. A new method for making high-nickel and cobalt-free lithium-ion battery materials promises to increase performance for markets such as electric vehicles and grid energy storage while increasing battery density and battery life, all at lower cost. To develop the technology, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Yiguang Ju and his team founded the startup HiT Nano Inc. in 2018.

HiT Nano uses a novel, patented mechanism invented in Ju’s lab at Princeton called micro-aerosol controlled high temperature (MACHT) synthesis to generate nickel-cobalt-magnesium and other high-nickel nanoparticles for battery cathodes, the positively charged side of the battery that supplies current.

Today’s commercial cathode manufacturing methods produce particles using a long, multi-step co-precipitation process. In contrast, MACHT is a single-step flame synthesis process. The resulting higher yield, lower cost, and improved performance have the potential to lead to dramatic boosts in battery storage capacity and reductions in recharging times.

Minjie Chen: Technology to boost energy efficiency in data centers. Electrical engineering professor Minjie Chen and his team are building a family of devices to dramatically reduce power consumption at the gigantic data centers that serve as the backbone of internet services and cloud computing. These centers, each holding racks of computer servers, consume 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year in the U.S.

The team’s technology restructures the way power is converted from the 480-volt alternating current of the electricity grid down to the 5-volt-or-lower direct current needed for central processing units and hard drives. In today’s data centers, this process happens at each computer, sapping about 40 percent of the original energy. Chen and his team are building a new energy processor that reduces the voltage in a central unit, then simultaneously supplies power to a large number of computing devices.

Instead of lots of cascaded power conversion stages, they aggregate power conversion into one unit, and then distribute that power. They estimate they can increase the energy efficiency of the power-delivery system from about 60 percent to 88 percent. The technology also works with solar farms and battery storage systems.

Esteban Engel: Novel gene-delivery technology for treatment of disease. A newly developed system for turning on the therapeutic activity of genes could benefit the treatment of a broad range of genetic diseases. Princeton Neuroscience Institute researcher Esteban Engel and his team have developed gene promoters, which act like switches to turn on gene expression, to enable the creation of a wide range of gene therapies with long-lasting therapeutic effects.

The team has engineered three new promoters that are inserted into the adeno-associated virus (AAV), which is widely used to deliver therapeutic genes into cells. These promoters occupy far less space than the promoters in use today, allowing the viral vector to carry larger genes. These novel promoters are also less prone to repression or inactivation than most common promoters, so they sustain gene expression for long periods of time.

Mala Murthy and Joshua Shaevitz: AI-based motion-capture system for lab animals. A new system that uses artificial intelligence to track animal movements is poised to aid a wide range of studies, from exploring new drugs that affect behavior to ecological research. The approach can be used with laboratory animals such as fruit flies and mice as well as larger animals.

The technology, developed by Mala Murthy of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, physics professor Joshua Shaevitz, graduate student Talmo Pereira, and Diego Aldarondo of the Class of 2018, accurately detects the location of each body part — legs, head, nose and other points — in millions of frames of video.

A human experimenter records video of a moving animal then directs the system’s software to identify a small number of images in which to define body part positions. The system then uses this dataset to train a neural network to calculate the location of the points in subsequent frames.

Amit Singer: Software for near-atomic resolution using cryo-electron microscopy. A software package aims to aid drug design and biomedical research by making it easy to construct 3D images of proteins and other molecules using one of the world’s most powerful microscopes. Amit Singer and his team are developing a package they call Algorithms for Single Particle Reconstruction, or ASPIRE, that takes in 2D images captured by cryo-electron microscopy and produces reliable 3D structures without significant human intervention.

The package will offer fully automated and faster data processing, producing highly accurate images. Whereas existing software packages require human input on which images to include in analysis, ASPIRE needs little user modification, reducing the potential for bias. The team’s long-term goal is to develop a commercial software package that will make biomolecular structures more readily available for drug discovery and research.

Museum Serves Up Vision of the Ancient Art of Banqueting

Detail of a palace banquet from the Song dynasty.

“The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century,” on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through February 16, reflects several traditions.

The first is the museum’s tradition of collecting Asian art. As museum director James Steward says in the accompanying catalog, the exhibition “continues the proud tradition of scholarly investigation of Chinese art at the Princeton University Art Museum — a tradition that traces its roots to the joint establishment of the present-day museum and what is now the Department of Art and Archaeology in 1882.”

Noting that nearly half of the exhibition comes from the university’s collection (the other pieces are on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harvard University Art Museum, the Cotsen Collection, and others), Steward writes that the museum’s initial group of Chinese and Japanese ceramics provided “an early signal that the study of Asian art would be valued at Princeton. This proved to be the case when, in 1927, George Rowley, graduate school class of 1926, was appointed the museum’s first curator of far eastern art — a remarkable fact given that many larger institutions did not take up the formal study of Asian art until decades later.”

The collection now boasts more than 6,000 works from China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast and Southwest Asia, many on view or available on the art museum’s website.

Two other traditions are intermingled. The obvious one is that feasting is a purposeful social tradition designed for specific outcomes beyond the event. The less obvious is that the practices used by one culture distant in place and time seem to demonstrate that contemporary practices share the same roots and social traditions.

Museum assistant curator of Asian art and exhibition curator Zoe Song-Yi Kwok’s examination of this past culture in many ways can also reflect contemporary American society’s use of feasts.

As she notes, “‘Feast’ is used here is an overarching term to encompass a range of gatherings where food and drink are served, from the informal to the formal, and a group of participants that may include just a few guests or a number in the thousands. The most formal feasts may be classified as ‘banquets,’ a word that bespeaks events involving a higher order of ritual or ceremony.

“At the other end of the spectrum are simple parties accompanied by food and drink. These more casual and socially relaxed occasions might not require participants to adhere to any rigid protocols, but as with all social gatherings certain conventions of behavior would always pertain.”

Kwok notes that in China “the convening of a feast represented a break from everyday routine, yet the functions of feast varied widely. Feasts and banquets could serve to forge, strengthen, and commemorate relationships and alliances, institutional or personal, and engage a range of different communities of varying levels of exclusivity. Alternately, or in conjunction, they could mark a host of specific, significant milestones: political, religious, calendrical, and social. Whatever the goal of a particular feast, however, the outcome depended on the actions of both parties to the event — host and guest — whose interests could align or conflict.”

The curator also points to another outcome of ancient feasts consistent with current practices: the involvement and support of artists.

“China’s early banqueting culture also had significant repercussions for the development of calligraphy and painting, alongside music, dance, and theater,” notes Kwok.

As visual art examples, Kwok notes that pleasing inscriptions on ritual bronzes inspired innovations in calligraphy, and innovations used by lacquerware painters began to influence pictorial art. And that “calligraphy and painting on silk and paper gradually became the prestige art forms of China, practiced by members of the social elite — not only by professional artists and scribes. By the 10th century, calligraphy and painting came to function in a manner akin to performance art, with the creation of works by host and guests alike.”

Regarding the performing arts Kwok adds, “Music’s fundamental role in the political and cosmological rituals of Bronze Age China evolved in part from its prominence as a form of entertainment for state banquets. As the culture of feasting expanded, these formal occasions afforded musicians with venues at which to demonstrate their skills; they also made up the patronage structure for the creation of sophisticated musical instruments and the extensive training needed to master them. Although the earliest evidence is less plentiful, dancing was also an integral component of the entertainment for feasts and banquets, occasions that likewise provided an important impetus for patrons to support the professionalization of the art form.”

Overall, Kwok notes, feasts “commemorated major life events, served as political theater, and satisfied religious obligations. These occasions, in turn, were critical in upholding and reordering the hierarchies — familial, religious, and political — around which society was organized. As such, tremendous artistic and financial resources were spent in supplying the necessary accoutrements for the feasts.”

A coffin box panel of an outdoor banquet from the Liao dynasty.

Yet, getting to the soul of the exhibition, Kwok then argues that “perhaps the most important feature of the Bronze Age culture of feasting was the long-lasting association with ancestor worship and funerary rituals, which were at the core of early Chinese religious thought.”

Those rituals included feasts for both the living and those entering the afterlife — with many of the exhibition’s feast-related objects originally buried in tombs to support the deceased with nourishment and “uphold their social rank in perpetuity.”

But eventually, notes Kwok, the importance of funerary feast scenes began to decline, and paintings made for the living began to explore new social and political dimensions and artistry.

One example is the early 12th-century painting “Palace Banquet.” Set in the inner quarters of a palatial compound, the rare image of ladies banqueting draws on both the older approach to figural painting and the more recent innovations in architectural painting. The temperament of the time also allowed the artist to use “the banquet setting to depart from the typical conventions of the court-lady painting genre” and create a “fundamentally nostalgic image” with “plump figures styled in the fashion of Tang court ladies, with elaborate coiffures and long-flowing robes.”

Overall, as the exhibition points out, the objects “ranging from sumptuous textiles that clothed participants and furnished spaces to the sublime ceramic, lacquer, and metal vessels that delivered food and drink” bring focus to this specific tradition — one that also provokes a viewer to see all related traditions anew.

The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton. Through February 16, 2020. Free. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. 609-258-3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu.

Portrait of a New Jersey Arts Community

Louis Kahn’s ‘Idealized School.’

“Roosevelt has been home to many prominent artists, including Ben Shahn, who painted a mural in the elementary school depicting scenes of Jewish immigration to America, the garment industry, the labor movement, and the organization of Jersey Homesteads as a planned community for working people.”

So the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation sign tells visitors traveling to the historic village in rural Monmouth County.

But for the next several months those wanting to experience Roosevelt won’t have to make the trek, thanks to Morven Museum & Garden’s exhibition “Dreaming of Utopia: Roosevelt, New Jersey” opening with a reception on Thursday, November 14, and continuing through May 10, 2020.

Arguably one of New Jersey’s most singular communities, Roosevelt was a New Deal-era planned community.

Originally called Jersey Homesteads, its name was changed in 1946 in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose administration initiated the project that created it.

While the nature of its creation is a historic distinction in itself, several other factors contribute to 1.92-square-mile planned community’s legacy:

Its design used two modernist and progressive approaches. The English Garden City design attempted to mix urban living with a nature environment. And architects Alfred Kastner and Louis Kahn used the modern or international style developed by the innovative Bauhaus in Germany.

Its initial population consisted of mainly New York-based Jewish garment workers who came to build a community supported by a cooperative industry — a clothing factory that employed 100 — and farming.

It was supported by prominent international, national, and state figures, including Albert Einstein.

And, as the above mentioned sign notes, its population became — and continues to be — a community of artists.

No wonder that the entire town of 900 is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“Dreaming of Utopia” curator Ilene Dube says that “for a variety of reasons, the Homesteads factory failed within two years of its 1936 opening and the dream for this New Jersey utopia was quickly abandoned. What remained from the $3.4 million experiment were 200 modern homes, a factory building, a school, and a community determined to stay.”

The town then took on new life after the New York City-based Shahn (1898 to 1969) arrived in 1937 to create a federally commissioned mural in the town’s public school.

Born in Lithuania, Shahn came to the U.S. in 1906 and began as a lithographer in Brooklyn. Shahn was a Lithuania-born American artist committed to realism and social issues but was celebrated for using cutting-edge abstract and modern art techniques to do so.

Shahn had been also been involved with new movements. That includes working with innovative and controversial Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera on the politically wrought Rockefeller Center mural, “Man at the Crossroads.” He also created murals for the federal government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) and served as a photographer for the Farm Security Program.

After Shahn and his wife, fellow WPA artist Bernarda Bryson, decided to stay in Jersey Homesteads, other New York City and nationally known artists took note of the community’s close proximity to New York (55 miles) and also relocated.

That includes painter, illustrator, and chair of the Pratt Institute’s fine arts department Jacob Landau; New York City-born artist, illustrator, and McDowell Colony director Gregorio Prestopino; WPA artist and later Princeton University photography instructor Sol Libsohn; and noted married documentary photographers Edwin and Louise Rosskam.

Mel Leipzig’s portrait of Bernarda Bryson Shahn in her Roosevelt studio.

A second generation of artists includes those born in Roosevelt: the late graphic artist Stefen Martin (1936-1994), son of artist David Stone Martin; accomplished sculptor and creator of the town’s Roosevelt Memorial, Jonathan Shahn, son of Bernarda and Ben Shahn; painter and architectural artist Ani Rosskam; and others.

Dube — a regular contributor to U.S. 1 — says she became fascinated with Roosevelt when as the former editor of the Princeton Packet’s Time Off section she visited an artist’s studio there to conduct an interview.

That led to the creation of her short 2017 documentary, “Generations of Artists: Roosevelt, NJ,” shown at the New Jersey Film Festival and at the West Windsor Arts Council.

In a previous interview, Dube calls Roosevelt “an alternate universe where everyone got along, the streets were rural and pleasant, and the arts and architecture made it rich.”

She says she was also attracted by something personal. “I’ve always been interested in utopias. Also, my paternal grandfather lived on a farm in New Jersey. I never was able to get much information about it — he died before I was born — but I imagined he lived in a farming community like Roosevelt, one with Jewish immigrants who weren’t especially good farmers.”

But according to Ben Shahn in a 1968 interview, it wasn’t just the farmers. “The factory particularly was a disaster. Cooperative meant that everybody had a share in running it and too much time was wasted in those discussions, and there were questions of union and so on and so forth,” he said.

The problem was because “the reality became a different thing, you see, from the various ideas they had of distributing their product and everything else.”

That may also have been true of the federal government, whose involvement shifted from supportive optimism to walking away from the project. As Shahn said, “The rents were very, very low. So that I could come out here and have to think very little about rent. I was paying $16 a month for a house then. I was paying $100 a month in New York.

“It was totally government. And then after the war around 1946 the government wanted to pull out of the whole situation. There were a hundred such towns around the country, you know.

“And they gave us six months in which to make up our minds whether we wanted to buy the house or get out. They sold the houses very, very inexpensively. It was fantastic. But the government wanted out. You know the whole philosophy of the government sociology or socially had changed, you know, during the war and then they went off in a different direction.”

To tell and show the Roosevelt story Dube has assembled more than 100 objects from 25 collections and art works that constitute a Who’s Who of Roosevelt-related artists. That includes Ben Shahn, Bernarda Bryson Shahn, Jonathan Shahn, Abby Shahn, Jacob Landau, Gregorio Prestopino, Liz Dauber, Rex Goreleigh, Louise and Edwin Rosskam, Sol Libsohn, David Stone Martin, Stefan Martin, Louis Kahn, and others, including Trenton artist Mel Leipzig, whose painting of Bernarda Bryson Shahn in her studio is on view.

Several live Roosevelt-related events are also part of the project. They start on Sunday, November 17, at 2 p.m., with the Roosevelt String Band’s presentation of “The Pete Seeger Songbook.” The band features guitarist and vocalist David Brahinsky, bassist Joe Pepitone, vocalist Nancy Wilson, and the Roosevelt vocalist and string musician Paul Prestopino. Tickets are $10.

The schedule continues as follows:

Wednesday, January 22: “‘The Prophetic Quest’: Stained Glass Art of Jacob Landau,” a lecture by David Herrstrom, Roosevelt-based poet and president of the Jacob Landau Institute.

Wednesday, March 18: “Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden,” a talk featuring New Jersey-based writer Perdita Buchan, author of a book on Roosevelt, “Utopia, New Jersey”;

Sunday, April 5: “Walking Roosevelt: Architecture, Murals, and More” an on-site tour with Roosevelt resident and urban planner Alan Mallach.

Dreaming of Utopia: Roosevelt, New Jersey, Morven Museum, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Opening reception Thursday, November 14, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. On view through May 10. Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $8 to $10. 609-924-8144 or www.morven.org.

Cosmic Space and Art in the Age of Einstein

Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Project for Wood and Strings, Trezion II,’ 1959.

The early 20th century was a time of tremendous innovation in physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Responding to this, a group of influential artists that included Sonia Delauney, Robert Delauney, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hans Arp, and Alexander Calder added their names to the Dimensionist Manifesto. That was Hungarian poet Charles Sirato’s 1936 screed calling for an artistic response to groundbreaking scientific discoveries that changed human understanding of the universe.

“Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein,” on view at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick through January 5, traces the influence of early 20th-century scientific discoveries on some of the era’s most celebrated artists.

Organized at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College the nationally touring exhibition includes 75 works in painting, sculpture, prints, and photographs, along with poetry and ephemera, by more than 36 artists. Zimmerli director Thomas Sokolowski sees the exhibition as an opportunity for the right and left sides of the brains to overlap.

“The influence of science on some of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century has been largely overlooked,” says curator Vanja Malloy. “While much has been written about the impact of social and political movements on artists, especially in the tumultuous period between the two World Wars, this exhibition is an important opportunity to reconsider art and artists we think we know in a fresh historical framework. When we see their art through the lens of the scientific discoveries that were reshaping popular understanding of the universe around them, their visual interests and impulses can take on a different meaning.”

By the 1930s developments in astronomy indicated that cosmic space was much more vast than previously believed. Science fiction authors explored this in books illustrated with cosmic imagery showing the vastness of outer space, in turn becoming a source of inspiration for artists.

One of the scientific discoveries to inspire artists was Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, first published in 1915 and partially confirmed by an astronomically significant solar eclipse in 1919, which allowed Einstein and his colleagues to measure the “bending” of light around the sun.

Just as our understanding of the universe was expanding with the theory of relativity, Sirato’s Manifesto argued that art, too, must expand. Space and time were no longer separate categories, according to Einstein’s theory, nor should they be in art.

“Dimensionism is a general movement of the arts,” the manifesto begins. “Its unconscious origins reaching back to cubism and futurism, it has been continuously elaborated and developed since then by all the peoples of Western civilization. Today the essence and theory of this great movement bursts with absolute self-evidence…The absolute need to evolve, an irreducible instinct, has sent the avant-garde on their way toward the unknown, leaving dead forms and exhausted essences as prey for less demanding artists.” (Copies of the entire manifesto are available at the Zimmerli.)

Curator Malloy became interested in Dimensionism when writing her dissertation, “Rethinking Alexander Calder: Astronomy, Relativity, and Psychology.” She is a scholar of science as well as art. Malloy, formerly curator of American art at Amherst’s Mead Art Museum, is now director and chief curator of Syracuse University Art Galleries.

“Imagine a place in which time is not constant, cosmic space is warped (or non-Euclidean), and it’s infinitely expanding,” Malloy writes in the exhibition catalog. This is “not the fictional backdrop to an immersive science fiction novel, but the realities of our universe as we learned them in the early 20th century.” She sets out to situate modern art in this context.

The exhibition begins with a work by Joseph Cornell, known for his “Cornell boxes” made with celestial orbs. His collage here has circles suggestive of planets and lines that suggest sightlines for viewing the heavenly orbs. Cornell included footage of the 1919 solar eclipse in his 1936 film “Rose Hobart” (not on view here, though it can be seen online).

A self-taught artist, Cornell lived in the basement of his family’s home in Queens, New York, and never traveled outside the city, but his imagination extended to the heavens. Cornell was an avid viewer and collector of films, and his homage to the actress Rose Hobart was his first attempt at making a film. The artist cut apart the 1931 B-movie “East of Borneo,” in which Hobart stars as a woman searching for her alcoholic husband in a remote jungle. Cornell edited clips featuring Hobart along with other films, including footage of people watching the eclipse and the eclipse itself, and a slow-motion view of a sphere falling into a pool of water and setting off ripples.

Marcel Duchamp’s “Rotoreliefs” (optical discs), from 1935, look like record players with optical illusions spinning. These off-center spiral designs, also responding to the eclipse, can throw off a viewer’s equilibrium. “While his Rotoreliefs satisfy the Manifesto’s desire for kinetic artwork, and allude to Einstein’s relativity through the title ‘Eclipse Totale’ for one of the discs, they also draw on Duchamp’s fourth dimension,” according to the exhibition label.

In geometric abstractions, Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delauney — the first living female artist to have an exhibition at the Louvre, in 1964 — conveys her view of another dimension. With her husband Robert, whom she called a poet who wrote with color, she developed the concept of “Simultane” (Orphism), noted for its use of strong colors and geometric shapes. They were interested in how light can dissolve form and create the impression of color in motion.

The Delauneys were also interested in electricity in the form of vibrating electromagnetic waves, as well as an unseen realm revealed through science and technology. (Special note: Sonia Delauney is lovingly portrayed, surrounded by her work, in a large color lithograph, “Lost and Found” by noted feminist artist Miriam Schapiro, in the Zimmerli’s upstairs exhibition “Home is Where . . .” — a compelling companion to Delauney’s work in “Dimensionism.”)

When dada-ist and surrealist Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky) was living in Ridgefield, New Jersey, with his first wife, Belgian-born Adon Lacroix, the two collaborated on a series of visual poems. One here describes the sad end of a passionate love affair and corresponds to their divorce. Lacroix served as subject for some of his early paintings, before Man Ray moved to Paris and joined Marcel Duchamp in making readymades and kinetic art, and became a pioneering photographer. (Incidentally, Man Ray was the uncle of the late Princeton-based photographer Naomi Savage and an influence on her.)

Sonia Delaunay’s ‘Disque,’ 1915.

Inspired by Francis Picabia’s work from the dada period that combined images and words, Sirato sought the creation of a new art form, “cosmic art,” which he defined as “the vaporization of sculpture: ‘matter music.’” Isamu Noguchi’s “Lunar Infant” (1944) moves into this category. It is suspended in crisscrossing black metal rectangles, lit from within and creating an interesting shadow, and suggests an object not restricted by traditional modes of representation.

As scientists developed more powerful lenses for telescopes and microscopes, new vistas of planetary, cellular, and aquatic life became visible, launching a spate of photographs of these realms appearing in books, newspapers, and magazines. Artists such as Arp and Kandinsky, thus inspired, envisioned the tiniest of life forms and connected them to the stars and the planets, creating their magnificent biomorphic works. Their paintings evoke the microscopic realm while also suggesting the cosmos.

In her 1944 self-portrait Helen Lundeberg depicts herself at work painting a cosmic landscape. She seems to hold a planet that appears in the two-dimensional painting as a three-dimensional object in her hand, as if questioning dimensions in space. The painting may be familiar to Zimmerli visitors; donated to the museum by the Lorser Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg Feitelson Foundation in 1982, it returned after nearly a year on tour.

Lundeberg was among the few women painters in the United States to combine surrealism and science in her paintings during the 1930s and 1940s. She was a co-founder of post-surrealism, whose goal was to guide the viewer through the artwork using a system of codes that revealed an underlying deeper meaning. Her “Biological Fantasy” is another intriguing work, conflating biomorphic forms with interplanetary figures.

Noguchi’s sculpture — and there is a generous helping of it here — also suggests a cosmic realm into which biomorphic forms are fixed into spatial relations with one another through string. He learned about the theory of general relativity through his friend, architect/inventor/science enthusiast Buckminster Fuller. In 1936 when Noguchi needed clarification about the meaning behind Einstein’s equation E=MC2, Fuller telegraphed an elaborate explanation.

And speaking of friends and neighbors, noted surrealist Yves Tanguy (featured in the exhibition) was the latter to Calder — the two Connecticut residents shared an interest in backyard astronomy. Calder responded to the concept of a universe in constant motion by creating artwork in motion, an important transition in his career. Also featured are works by Henry Moore, Picasso, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Joan Miro, and others.

There is a work by surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning, from what she termed her “Insomniacs,” created in an automatic manner by painting directly on the canvas without preparatory sketches, in which recognizable faces and shapes suggest body parts in this dreamlike creation. Tanning has become recognized as one of the most original and provocative painters of the 20th century, whose renown was often eclipsed by that of her famous husband, Max Ernst. Tanning was also a novelist, film collaborator, and theater designer finally getting her due, with a major retrospective last year at the Reina Sofia in Madrid.

The Zimmerli’s Donna Gustafson, curator of American Art, has selected works by Jean Arp, Peter Busa, Robert Delauney, Adeline Kent, Gerome Kamrowski, and Man Ray from the museum’s own collection to augment the traveling exhibition. And an auxiliary exhibition of Hungarian modernist works highlights the Manifesto’s Sirato, his roots in the Hungarian avant-garde, and his evolution from a poet to a theorist who embraced all the arts and envisioned a radical new coalition of creative thinkers. All labels have been printed in English and Spanish, and bilingual tours are available.

Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein, Zimmerli Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. On view through January 5. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Tuesdays of the month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free. zimmerli.rutgers.edu

Saturday, November 16, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., “Light Fantastic,” workshop, led by artist and educator Wes Sherman, explores light as a subject and a material for making art. $45. Register at bit.ly/zamfall19 or call 848-932-6787.

Bucks County Playhouse Review: ‘Once’

Matt DeAngelis as Guy and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy as Girl.

The second act of the Bucks County Playhouse production of “Once” contains a special moment when a crucial, emotion-fraught recording session ends, and the heroine, simply called Girl (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy), and the male lead, called Guy (Matt DeAngelis), exchange deep, meaningful looks accompanied by words of endearment in his native English and her native Czech.

The moment is profound in all it reveals about a couple who meet by kismet, bond via mutual joshing, and build a relationship so troubled with obstacles that it seems doomed despite being so real and so right. Now they finally share a much-awaited nod of understanding and an instant in which each declares his or her love for the other.

Lesser-Roy and DeAngelis play the scene beautifully. Intensity and warmth pervade the Playhouse stage. Expectations of disappointed romance fade as genuine affection blooms palpably and exquisitely, even though Girl and Guy never touch but only glance and speak niceties.

The moment is special because it is one of a kind. “Once” director Travis Greisler clearly and competently conveys Enda Walsh’s story of a melancholy Irish musician, pining after his ex who has moved to New York City, and the dynamic Czech woman who recognizes his talent and encourages him in several important directions, including making a demo tape of his plaintive, romance-laden songs.

Greisler’s production neatly captures a milieu in which a close-knit Dublin community includes a household of Czechs, their cultures meshing and clashing in ways the director keeps colorful and interesting.

With the abundant help of choreographer Misha Shields and a company whose individual and choral voices are angelic, Greisler creates marvelous musical sequences in which Shields’ geometric patterning is often as exciting as the singing is lovely or spirited in proper turns. He knows how to give performers their due, allowing “Once” to be at times completely presentational.

There is much good and entertaining that Greisler provides, and his “Once” rates attention, but only in the moment lauded above does it coalesce into being arrestingly moving and commandingly bittersweet.

Before and after that moment, the production is content to relate Walsh’s plot in a way that registers and engages but remains admirable from a distance.

All is plain. Guy rues his girlfriend’s leaving and, in a quandary about what to do, threatens to stop singing his compositions and nurse his wounds living dully as an assistant in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop. Girl, a whirlwind of energy and activity, hears Guy’s music and romantic plight and recommends he pursue both a career and the ex by making a tape and peddling it in New York.

Complications ensue. Guy is attracted to Girl and forgets his ex when in her presence. Girl has a daughter and reveals she is married to the girl’s father, who plans to join them in Dublin.

But the couple’s rush to make the demo in five non-stop days forges a close, friendly business partnership, even as many around them, and the audience, see love in embryo.

Enough is gleaned and understood to instill hope Girl and Guy will overcome circumstances and come together, but such feelings remain more intellectual than emotional because Lesser-Roy and DeAngelis make few outward signs of their love.

Then comes the big moment when they can pretend no more, a scene more marked because Greisler’s “Once” played so aloof.

The sudden difference in mood and tone make that scene more poignant, especially after the short, spoken passage that contains the inner calamity of Guy not knowing what Girl says in Czech and Girl refusing to translate her cathartic expression of love into English.

“Aloof” is not to be misconstrued for “dull.” “Once” is a musical that provides ample opportunity for liveliness and uplift.

Before the show formally begins, the cast is on stage, instruments in hand, feet skittering and leaping in abandon, in a rousing ceili that shows off some glorious voices and makes one eager to see the ensemble dance in earnest.

“Once” is chocked with songs by Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova, who played Guy and Girl in the 2007 John Carney film on which the musical is based.

In addition to Lesser-Roy and DeAngelis, performers Seth Eliser, Jacob Brandt, Tina Stafford, Brandon Ellis, Andy Paterson, Elizabeth Flanagan, Lauren Wright, Jenn Chandler, Joseph Valle-Hoag, Ryan Halsaver, and Olivia Pirrone accompany themselves on instruments ranging from guitar and violin to mandolin and bouzouki. They are as nimble on the keys and strings as they are on their feet.

Brandt, Wright, Chandler, Stafford, and Ellis also provide fine dramatic and comic moments, although I wish Greisler and Chandler had been subtler and less bombastic in presenting a song that is intended to be sung badly.

The composers could not ask for better than Matt DeAngelis as a lead singer. DeAngelis makes you believe he is indeed the Guy who wrote the honest, heartfelt, yearning, or celebrating songs about love in all its vagaries. DeAngelis’ range is delightfully and powerfully astounding. His words come from Guy’s gut and are all the more effective because they seem so genuine.

Mackenzie Lesser-Roy dominates the stage with her likably fiery portrayal of Girl, whose spunk, acumen, and Czech seriousness make her seem certain to be a success. Lesser-Roy makes Girl’s story the one you care most about.

Nate Bertone’s set is functional, leaving lots of room for dance, but doesn’t approach the mood of a Dublin pub. Travis McHale’s lighting helps define individual spaces and adds texture to scenes. Bart Fasbender and Sam Kuznetz blessedly create a sound design that allows lyrics to be intelligible.

Once, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope, PA, Through November 30, Tuesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, at 2 p.m. $65 to $70. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.

Let’s Try . . . Roots Ocean Prime

The iconic stone building on University Place across from McCarter Theatre, once the freight storage facility for the Dinky railroad line, has a new lease on life. Formerly known as Cargot, a French-themed bistro, the space has been completely renovated and is now Roots Ocean Prime. The focus is on aged prime cuts of beef and other robust entrees.

Earlier this year Jim Nawn of the Fenwick Hopsitality Group, which owned Cargot, the nearby Dinky Bar, and Agricola on Witherspoon Street, sold his catering business and restaurants to Harvest Restaurant Group. Owned by Chip and Cheryl Grabowski, this company has restaurants in Berkeley Heights, Summit, Basking Ridge, Morristown, and several other northern New Jersey locations. It had been considering Princeton for expansion.

Greeting diners as they enter is a long, elegant wooden bar, showcasing a wide variety of whiskeys brightly backlit for display. Lux leather, highbacked banquettes line the now-mullioned windows for couples dining in the bar area. These tables offer cozy privacy and the chance to have a quiet conversation. The night my friend and I were there the background music was subdued, classic Sinatra and oldies, pleasantly noticeable only during the infrequent lulls in the conversation. More importantly, at dinner there were no distracting TVs, flickering away. The diners at the bar were actually talking to each other. A joy to behold.

The smaller dining room is still there as is the larger main dining room with its inviting fireplace crowned by an impressive copper insert. The main dining room has curved banquette seating, lending an air of intimacy even to tables of six or more.

The decor throughout is decidedly masculine. The rich wood and leather are reminiscent of men’s clubs of the early 20th century and the tone is reinforced by framed pictures of men’s haberdashery advertisements of that period. The Homberg hats and plus four trousers look positively Edwardian. My friend and I both felt a cognac and cigar after our meal would only be natural.

This masculine tone carries though to the food and drinks menu. The display of whiskey and bourbons lured both of us to cocktails we remembered our fathers drinking: a shot of Whistlepig rye for her ($19.95) and a Sidecar for me ($13.95).

Service was courteous but a bit slow to start. Our cocktails did seem to take a noticeable while to arrive, odd because it was a Monday night and dining was light. A nice surprise was cheesy-peppery popovers in place of the usual bread or rolls.

The menu reflects steak houses of the mid-20th century. Come hungry or treat yourself to a next day meal. Spicy Barbeque Baby Back Pork Ribs ($14.95), Spicy Crispy Lobster in a tempura batter ($15.95), Seared Sesame Crusted Rare Tuna ($15.95), and Applewood Smoked Slab Bacon ($12.95) are some of the appetizer offerings. For the table there is also a Chilled Seafood and Shellfish Platter ($46.95) with lump crab, tuna tartare, shrimp cocktail, oysters, and lobster tail and claw, and for the pure lobster lover, the Lobster Cocktail ($23.95) featuring a whole 1 1/4 pound lobster. I was told the lobsters were from Maine.

Salads are generous and the choice varied. The retro iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing is $11.95, arugula or baby greens are both $10.95.

But the steaks and chops take center stage. The 48-ounce Prime Porthouse for two is $85.95 and the 16-ounce Prime NY Strip is $43.95. For smaller plates, if you can call it that, there is the 8-ounce petite filet mignon for $35.95 or three Kobe sliders for $19.95. Other cuts of beef are also available, all within the 14 to 20 ounce range. Frenched pork chops and chicken breast from Goffle Farms in Wyckoff, ($29.95 and $27.95 respectively) round out the meat selection.

Fish is also well represented on the menu, including red snapper ($28.95), Barnegat sea scallops ($30.95), and a 9-ounce South African lobster tail at market price. The vegetarian options looked very tempting. A creative shepherd’s pie with eggplant and truffled mashed potatoes, and the roasted cauliflower steak are both $21.95.

An array of side dishes ranges from $7.95 to $9.95 but one can always add lobster to their macaroni and cheese for $16.95. Who would not?

I ordered two appetizers, the French onion soup ($8.95) and the chopped salad ($14.95), a combination that was just right. My friend opted for the halibut ($30.95) served over mashed potatoes with greens. We did succumb to the pumpkin buttercake, a special addition to the menu ($14.95). It was rich enough to share and we each still took some home for later.

Roots Ocean Prime would be a good choice for a dinner party where everyone brings their appetite or for a business dinner. As a fine dining venue, it is an elegant date night venue. The bar does provide the option of a more casual bite. The overall tone is not child friendly, however. It appears that they will continue to cater to the pre-theatre crowd. Until the service settles into a smoother, more streamlined mode, I would suggest giving ample time before curtain. The maitre d’ indicated that they will maintain the outdoor dining in good weather, always a plus.

One word of advice if you wish to find the website. Remember to type in the full name, Roots Ocean Prime. “Ocean Prime” by itself takes you to another restaurant site entirely.

Bon appetit!

Roots Ocean Prime, 98 University Place, Princeton. Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. 609-772-4934 or www.rootssteakhouse.com.

Up Next at Passage Theatre

Miss Angelina

Passage Theatre’s new season continues with “Sorta Rican.” A comedy with music written and performed by rapper/actress Miss Angelina, it is a hip-hopping and salsa accented journey of a totally Americanized Puerto Rican/Italian woman coming to terms with her Latina identity.

Inspired by the suburban New Jersey-raised Angelina’s own experiences, the four-year-old show has been touring nationally and presented at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City, Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival, Broadway Comedy Club, Fort Lauderdale Fringe Festival, Montclair State University, and more.

It arrives in Trenton as one of Passage Theater’s signature Solo Flight productions, original works written and performed by a solo performer.

Sorta Rican, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Friday and Saturday, November 15 and 16, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 17, 3 p.m. $13 to $27. 609-392-0766 or www.passagetheatre.org.