Friday, October 30, 2009

Open Source

This December, I am going to participate in Open Source Gallery's Soup Kitchen. I wanted to last year, but with surgery, a new puppy and Christmas, it just didn't happen. I'll be doling out homemade soup (watercress, I think) on Thursday, December 3rd between 5 and 7, until the soup runs out.
One of the monologues from my play "Let Nothing You Dismay" is set in a soup kitchen, and that will be read as well (by an enterprising actress, I hope, and if not, me). It is loosely based on a true story- the Black Widow murders that took place in and around Vienna in the last 20 years of the 20th century.
Open Source is run by Gary Baldwin and Monika Wuhrer in Brooklyn on 17th Street, near Fifth Avenue. More information to come. The link to their website is above.

The Early 1950s

I am nearly done with the current phase of my research for a new musical that I'm writing the book for. This has involved skimming back issues of the New Yorker, via The Complete New Yorker on cds. The magazine is in some ways remarkably similar to how it is now, and in other ways, not so much.
In the 50s, the shopping feature (On the Avenue) was much more common. They also had semi-regular columns about horse-racing, boxing, and tennis (even court tennis). There were two or three pieces of fiction in every issue. (And, yes, S.J. Perelman is still funny!) Douglas Watt, who died recently, was the music critic.
I also discovered a wonderful feature writer named Joseph Wechsberg. A native of the Czech part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wechsberg served in World War II. He mainly writes about that part of the world- Berlin after the partition, the German-Czech border after 1948, a ride on the Orient Express- but also wrote a wonderful "Letter from Lebanon." Wechsberg died in Vienna in 1983. His website ( is mostly in German, but there are some of his magazine and newspaper articles for English-language publications. Wechsberg was one of those feature writers (as was the recently deceased Nan Robertson for the New York Times) who while not at all chummy, really opens a window onto a different world for his readers. You feel like you're there with him, and it's a fascinating place to be.

Our Man in Havana

Last night I finally got a chance to see Our Man in Havana. I've never seen the whole thing, only clips (mostly of Noel Coward). It was great. Carol Reed produced and directed, and Graham Greene wrote the screenplay. The cast includes Alec Guinness (I have never sen him be bad- though his Fagin is dicey, albeit plenty scary), Burl Ives as a German expatriate doctor, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Maureen O'Hara and Ernie Kovacs, as a scary police official. It's a funny (I never think of Graham Greene as funny), creepy Cold War spy story. Really wonderful.
So I started checking out about the movie and Carol Reed (I've seen The Third Man so many times I think I know every word). It seems that Carol Reed was one of six (!) illegitimate children sired by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (thought to be the best actor-manager of his day) with Beatrice Mae Pinney. Beerbohm Tree had two families, and moved back and forth between them. Those wacky Edwardians- who knew?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Tiger Lillies

My friend Cheryl Davis took me to see The Tiger Lillies concert at St. Ann's Warehouse last night. I was very familiar with "Shockheaded Peter" (I saw it at the Little Schubert, have the CD and have foisted the CD among others), but not their other work. The Tiger Lillies consists of Martyn Jacques, Adrian Huge (best percussionist I've ever seen) and Adrian Stout (who plays the bass, saw and Therimin!).
Their non-Shockheaded Peter songs are certainly related to it; in retrospect, Shockheaded Peter was the perfect vehicle for them. Their big themes and images are death (hanging, drowning), violence (particularly among criminals), and the sea and sailors (none of their sailors want to be at sea). Several of the songs are set in Marseilles.
Martyn Jacques is a truly gifted lyricist. He uses very few words to conjure up entire worlds. The songs sound very influenced by Berlin cabaret (not Viennese songs, which are much sweeter); certainly Kurt Weill but other German composers as well.
They were generous with encores, and wound up with one of my favorites, "Fidgety Phil." St. Ann's was packed.
Photo by Joshua Valocchi.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Fine Balance

My friend James was completing one of those lists on Facebook a month ago. One of his favorite books on the list was A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I finished it last week. It's really wonderful. If there is a modern Indian writer who resembles Dickens, it is Mistry. It's the story of India under Indira Ghandi, told through the eyes of four main characters: Dina Dalal, widowed at a young age; Ishvar and Om, untouchables trying to eke out a life in the big city; and Maneck, Dalal's college-aged boarder. It was so good it gave me insomnia.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bad Advice

I am fond of Judy McGuire's blog, Bad Advice. But my favorite of her postings is from August 21st of this year "Quit Hounding Me, You Shrimpy Little Jerk' (link above). The deluge of Bloomberg campaign mail is truly annoying, and perhaps Ms. McGuire's captioned photo says it best: I could feed five million hungry kids, but instead I'm sending you mail EVERY DAY."
Give the options in the mayoral race this year, I could consider Mr. Burns.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The 39 Steps

My friend Suzanne was in town this week, and on Wednesday night we saw The 39 Steps. It was absolutely delightful. Maria Aitken's direction of Patrick Barlow's adaptation of John Buchan's novel was fantastic. Sean Mahon plays Richard Hannay, Jill Paice plays the three women (Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret, and Jeffrey Kuhn and Arnie Burton play (brilliantly) everyone else. It is a relentlessly inventive and theatrical production- it never rests for a second. Despite the fact that I got around taking it myself, I wished that I was teaching a theatre history class so that I could show students how many traditions the director has pulled business from. My personal favorite moment was the shadow puppet chase scene, which features Hitchcock himself, and Sean Mahon's character riding the Loch Ness monster! Photos from the official website (link above) by Joan Marcus.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Estrogenius- Week One

Last week, I saw Week One (now closed) of Estrogenius at Manhatan Theatre Source. The range of plays, as always, interested me. I have seen other years of Estrogenius because my friend Cheryl Davis has had pieces in it several times. This year is its tenth anniversary.
The first play, Roar of the Crowd by Suzanne Lamberg, was very clever. It withheld just enough information to make its punch line pay off. It also reminded me of the endless arguments I've been in over what constitutes a ten-minute play versus a skit. This seemed pretty skit-like to me. Bette Siler's The Gift of the Maggie's is a take on O.Henry's The Gift of the Magi, but the adaptation does not match up on some pretty basic points of the original. It was certainly not a skit; it wasn't my brand of humor, but the audience laughed a lot. Junk Mail by Lynn Snyder was all over the place as a play, yet not clean enough to be a skit, but Anita Gonzalez's direction and the committed acting of Alana Jackler and Stephan Alan Wilson made it work. The last piece of the evening was Daniel Damiano's Enlightenment of Mrs. Cartwell, set during the Regency in Hyde Park. Conjures up Georgette Heyer novels, doesn't it? The plot of the play is Mrs. Cartwell overheard another woman say she had a big butt. Hilarity ensues.
My favorite, not surprisingly, was Elaine Romero's Revolutions. A play with genuine, deep emotion! That moved the audience! Set somewhere other than the contemporary US! I did wonder if it might be a longer play, since there's so much good stuff in it. I hesitate to give a complete plot summary (should you ever see it, I don't want to blow the ending), but it's about Pilar, a woman in a Latin American country, who goes to the General, looking for her missing son.