I can see the sign for Kentile Floors (well, actually, "Floors" is hidden by the F train bridge) from my living room window. But I knew nothing about the company until Friday. McBrooklyn (link above) has a fascinating post about the decline and fall of Kentile Floors. They went of of business in 1992. A lot of it seems to have had to do with asbestos- some of their tiles had as much as 25% in them. I despaired at taking a good photograph. This one is by Ranjit Bhanagar, via Flickr.
I was interested to see the article in today's New York Times ("Rethinking Gender Bias in Theatre," http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/theater/24play.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper), and the item in this week's New York Magazine's Vulture column (link above) about the prejudices against plays by female writers. The studies may all be true, but I've certainly got questions. Like, how can you determine that women are less prolific playwrights than men, using the Dramatist Guild and doollee.com? Neither the Guild nor doollee (and I'm very loyal to both) keep track of unproduced plays, only produced plays. The tests of sending out plays by women under male and female pseudonyms is an interesting experiment, but surely it wasn't large enough to be statistically significant. I don't doubt that there are women artistic directors and literary managers who don't hold women playwrights in high esteem; several come to mind. But I expect there's a whole lot more going on there. What I had expected (and didn't see) was a semi-replication of the NYSCA study of several years ago, which looked at regional theatre productions (as opposed to Broadway) of plays by women. It also found that it was the same women (the usual suspects we all know and love) getting productions in these theatres. The new studies also assert that there are fewer women playwrights than men (certainly true), but also that one can draw the conclusion that there are fewer good plays by women than there are by men, and that's why fewer women's plays are produced? I simply don't believe it. I know too many women with good, unproduced plays. I've also heard Marsha Norman say (to me and a hundred other people) that her male students from Juilliard consistently have agents when they graduate, and her female students consistently don't. Is it because she and Christopher Durang can't tell the difference between good and bad writers? I doubt that. I think that great kudos should be given to Julia Jordan, for laying out these questions as she did at the first town hall meeting about this at New Dramatists last fall. But I think these studies have raised at least as many questions as they've answered.
My boyfriend was cleaning out his garage on Sunday, and among the books he was getting rid of was "Lucy & Desi: The Legendary Love Story of Television's Most Famous Couple" by Warren G. Harris. I had a pretty good idea of the story already, but I still learned some things. First, there is an amazing amount of sexual activity in the book. Lucy was busy, Desi was busy; then they got married, and Desi was still busy. When Lucy was a contract player at MGM, she sought out comedy master Buster Keaton. He was on the lot working as a poorly paid gag writer for Abbot and Costello, and Red Skelton. Lucy became friends with him, and got him to teach her about slapstick. The cinematographer on "I Love Lucy" was Karl Freund, who had photographed "Dracula," "Key Largo," and one of my favorites, F.W. Murnau's "The Last Laugh." In September 1953, Lucy was called before a closed session of the House Un-American Activities because she was registered to vote as a member of the Party in the 1930s. Lucy said that she'd done this to pacify her grandfather, as did her brother and mother. She worried, understandably, that she and Desi would lose everything they'd worked for. "I Love Lucy" was already a hit. Then Walter Winchell picked up the story, and Lucy's anxiety grew worse. Desi loved going to the racetrack, particularly the Del Mar. One of his fellow racing enthusiasts was J. Edgar Hoover. Desi called Hoover, Hoover told Desi that the FBI had no evidence against Lucy, and that was the end of that. The link above is to the Lucy and Desi Museum in Lucy's hometown of Jamestown, New York.
My pal Joannna Erskine and I met at LaMama's Playwright Retreat last summer. She's very talented, and writes wonderful plays that are actually about something (my criteria for good playwrights). We haven't seen each other since because she lives in Australia, and that's pretty far away. Jo has come up with a wonderful new interactive blog for playwrights. It's at http://www.joannaerskine.com/cluster/. Check it out!
An update on my friend Dr. Larry Myers, who is performing his show about homelessness throughout the US this summer. We were in Southern California at the same time, but didn't run into each other. He played San Diego, Santa Barbara and Hollywood. Larry also interviewed Bill Pullman backstage at the Mark Taper Forum. Rock on!
My nice brother and his lovely wife took me to a workshop of a new play at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice this weekend. It was "Wild Boy" by Oliver Goldstick. From the poster, I assumed it was about Kaspar Hauser, but I was wrong. It was about a different German wild boy a hundred years earlier, who was taken up by George I of England (German to the core himself). That story was the frame for a contemporary tale (based on a book by Paul Collins called "Not Even Wrong") about a couple and their autistic child in Portland, Oregon. The parallels between the boys were neatly drawn by having the same actor play both boys. But the playwright trusted the audience to draw the lines connecting the stories other than that (I love it when playwrights do that!). Goldstick, who also directed the play, has written many TV series ("Lipstick Jungle," "Ugly Betty," and "Coach," among others) but this was genuine theatrical theatre. It was a workshop, and there are kinks to get out of it. But I'm still thinking about it four days later so I'm certain there are wonderful things in it.
I had seen the movie of Charlotte Gray a few years ago, and hadn't been wild about it (though I'd wanted to be). In the past week, I read the Sebastian Faulks' novel, which I enjoyed immensely. It's one of those few period novels where there are no false notes, and you can crawl into the book and live there with the characters. Ostensibly it's about a young Scottish woman who falls in love with an RAF pilot, and is a courier from London to occupied France. That sounds like a potentially dopey plot, but it is not. You believe what she goes through, passing as a Frenchwoman whose husband in in a German p.o.w. camp, and the people she meets in France who change her life. I really enjoyed it.
A few years ago, my sister-in-law Joan Rater told me that she was going to participate in "Afterbirth," which runs some Sunday nights in Los Angeles. She was going to read a piece she'd written about adopting her second child. Joan told me about the piece, which sounded great. Then six months ago, she told me that hers and other pieces from the show were being published by St. Martin's Press in a collection called "Afterbirth." It's edited by Dani Klein Modisett, who created and directed the stage show. I have now read it. Of course I like Joan's piece best. The book does feature a wide array of writers (Rick Cleveland, Matthew Weiner, among others) and actors (Caroline Aaron, Mo Gaffney, Peter Horton, among others). It's all a foreign land to me, since I don't have any children. There are a very wide range of voices in the 36 pieces, and it is very refreshing in that the essays don't pull any punches. If you're looking for warm and fuzzy parenting tips, this ain't it. It is a broad consideration of what it means to be a parent now.