Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Studio Roanoke

My one-act play, "Knock," is going to be part of Studio Roanoke's Lunch Box Play Reading Series on Wednesday, December 8th at 12:15. Studio Roanoke (link above) is at 30 Campbell Avenue SW in Roanoke, Virginia. It will be directed by Studio Roanoke Associate Artistic Direct Don LaPlant. We had a very productive phone conversation about the play yesterday, and I am only sorry that I won't be able to attend. It turns out that Don and I met in Valdez in 2003 at the Last Frontier Playwrights Conference.
Many years ago, I wrote an unproduced screenplay about an Italian family living in Cleveland in the 1940s. Both the parents and one child were Italian citizens who wound up being transported to camps in the US for enemy aliens during World War II.
I didn't think much about the screenplay until the reports about secret detention camps to thwart the war on terrorism came out in 2007. I'd recently been living in Yorkville, which was a very German neighborhood in the 1940s. So I decided to write a play set there about a family, the Schmidts, who'd immigrated to the US from Munich in 1939.
Set in 1942, “Knock” is about the Schmidt family, refugees from Nazi Germany who have relocated to New York City. The previous evening, Maria’s husband was arrested by the FBI, on suspicion of aiding the Nazis. FBI Agent Schaeffer returns to the Schmidt apartment to find out how much the family knows. He uses coercion and threatens to send the family to a camp for enemy aliens. His questioning shakes Maria’s faith in her husband, but it isn’t until Schaeffer leaves that her son Gustav spills the beans about his father. At the end of the play, her marriage destroyed, Maria begins to pull herself together to look after her son.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Free Man of Color

We went to see A Free Man of Color on Wednesday night. I had been warned off of it, both by Ben Brantley's Times review and an old friend ("I am not going to sit through another show George Wolfe messed up!").
John Guare is a messy playwright, which is something I have always admired about his work. He is a genius at juxtaposing elements that on the surface seem completely disparate, and wind up being unified when you least expect it. I have read several other review since we saw the play: Elizabeth Vincentelli in the Post (In 'A Free Man of Color,' all's well that ends well in overstuffed play - NYPOST.com); David Cole in TimeOutNewYork; and Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. In this case, my experience was much closer to Vincentelli and Cole's. A Free Man of Color is not a perfect play; there are places in the first act where it meanders towards boring.
That said, it is big, ambitious and about something important- race in America. It looks gorgeous, thanks to Ann Hould Ward's costumes and David Rockwell's sets. It features 26 (!) wonderful actors, like Veanne Cox (in three roles, including a madam and Robert Livingston);Paul Dano as an affecting Merriwether Lewis; Joseph Marcell as Cornet's ally, Dr. Toubib; John McMartin(Thomas Jefferson); Justina Machado, late of Six Feet Under; Reg Rogers (actually acting, for a change). The lion's share of the play is carried on the shoulders of Jeffrey Wright (Jacques Cornet), who never makes a false step and is rarely if ever off stage, and Mos (formerly Mos Def) as his slave Murmur. I can't imagine other actors in those two roles. The only character that I had trouble with (and it is in the writing and the direction, I believe) is Cornet's wife, played by Sara Gettelfinger. A pretty much thankless, one-note role.
In much of the play, Guare ransacks the plays of Wycherly, Jonson, Congreve, Etheredge and da Ponte (though it's been a long time since I read Jonson or Etheredge) to build his Restoration comedy world, mostly set in the Crescent City, with visits to Washington, France, Spain and San Domnique, during Toussaint Louverture's revolution. The final half hour of the play ventures out into other parts of the North American continent.
It is impossible (and I assume Guare's intent) to watch the play and not think of the present-day effects of colonialism in Haiti, and slavery there and in the US, and the still unique character of the city of New Orleans. I wouldn't have missed it.
Photo credit: Sara Krulwich, New York Times

Monday, November 8, 2010

Boardwalk Empire

Did anyone see last night's episode of Boardwalk Empire, "Hold Me in Paradise," on HBO? Fantastic! Kudos to staff writer Meg Jackson who wrote it. I had not heard of her before, but I'm sure we all will in the future.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Ruby's

If you're on Facebook, click on the link above and sign the petition to save Ruby's. It also includes a list of other people to contact. They have over 2,000 signatures now, but are going for 10,000.

Arts the Day After

After the election on Tuesday, Americans for the Arts sent out their latest press release. There's nothing glamorous about arts advocacy, but I do think it's essential. And the press release reminds us that it's not only Democrats who know that the arts are an essential part of American life. The link above is to AFA's website. The press release is reproduced below.
"Statement by Americans for the Arts on the 2010 Election
The Arts Are Part of the Economic Recovery Solution
WASHINGTON, DC — November 3, 2010 — Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch gave the following statement on the Election Day results:
“Frustration with the nation’s lack of economic recovery is clearly top of mind among voters and candidates. Likewise, nonprofit arts organizations have also felt the sting of the recession with state and local government arts funding dropping as much as 16 percent, and private charitable gifts to the arts declining $1.2 billion in just two years. Additionally, individual artists have been experiencing unemployment at twice the rate of other educated, professional workers.
As our newly-elected leaders at the federal, state, and local levels focus on creating jobs and growing the economy, it is imperative that they understand the profound role the arts play in spurring economic growth and job creation. The nation’s 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations are part of the small business sector, and the nation’s 2.2 million professional artists are among the millions of business entrepreneurs fueling the economy. It is also important that our newly-elected leaders appreciate the connection between arts education training and the development of creative and innovative workforce skills, which are essential to future workers to compete effectively in the 21st Century global economy.
For the past four years, the House of Representatives initiated several hearings to spotlight the role of the arts in both the economy and in workforce development, yielding more than $100 million in new public investments in the arts and culture. Americans for the Arts looks forward to working with the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus and Senate Cultural Caucus on Capitol Hill to continue educating freshman members on how the arts fuel our nation’s economy. We want to congratulate three of the four Caucus members who were up for re-election on their convincing win last night and look forward to working closely with them in the 112th Congress. They are Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Representative Todd Platts (R-PA), and Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY). We also look forward to working with Representative Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), both already champions of the arts in the House, as they move into their newly elected Senate seats.
At the state government level, several arts champions— based on their record in other public offices or platform statements—have been elected as Governor. They include Governors-elect Jerry Brown (D-CA), Dan Malloy (D-CT), Tom Corbett (R-PA), Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Lincoln Chaffee (I-RI), Mark Dalton (D-MN), John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Rick Snyder (R-MI).
Locally, there were 232 Mayoral elections in cities with a population of over 30,000. Among the many new promising arts champions, Providence, RI Mayor-Elect Angel Taveras and Louisville, KY Mayor-elect Greg Fischer identified the arts as a way to harness local talent and creative energy to power the economy.
Americans for the Arts will soon begin conducting the next installment of national research to document the size, impact, and trends of the nonprofit arts industry for its Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study. The previous study demonstrated that the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion of economic activity annually, which supports 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs.”
Next Steps:
Americans for the Arts will be undertaking a number of comprehensive initiatives to welcome and educate new members of Congress, but we can’t do this without you! Starting today and in the next few months, we ask you to:
Send a letter of congratulations to each elected leader representing your community (federal, state, and local levels) and identify yourself or your organization as a resource on arts policy issues.
Ask all freshman members of Congress to begin thinking about joining the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus or Senate Cultural Caucus. We will be sending more information about this in the coming weeks.
Work with your state and local arts advocacy organizations to develop a unified message to your newly-elected state and local leaders.
Save the dates of April 4-5, 2011 to come to Washington, DC for National Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. We especially need grassroots advocates representing the districts and states of newly elected Congressional members.
Become an official member of Americans for the Arts Action Fund, it’s free and it helps you stay connected to all the latest political breaking news impacting the arts."

Joseph Stein

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview librettist Joseph Stein for a newsletter. We spent four to six hours on the phone, and I have never interviewed a more open, thoughtful subject. (Link above is to the Guardian obituary, which I thought was the best). Stein was in his mid-90s when we spoke (and did not want my emphasizing that fact in the interview), and still sharp, funny and dedicated to his work. I admit to being fascinated with librettists, and how the good ones are able to work their alchemy and co-create musicals that are so seamless, you can't always tell where one collaborator ends and the other begins.
Stein was a fantastic enthusiast- for the theatre in general, for his fellow collaborators and for the source material of his adaptations. I asked him how he knew what a good project was, and he assured me that good source material "sings." Now, I've read "Tevye and His Daughters," and it didn't sing to me, but it did to Stein. The things I remember him being the most enthusiastic about was his work ("I work very hard, every day," he told me multiple times); the show he was working on at the time (a musical version of "Our Town," "All About Us," which was in rehearsal at Goodspeed); the screenplay for "Fiddler" (the studio wasn't allowed to change a word); and meeting Sean O'Casey ("Juno" was a musicalization of "Juno and the Paycock").
What a great, talented man. And I kick myself for never meeting him for coffee as he'd asked.
I could not locate a free, later photo; I believe this is his headshot from the 1960s.

A Sad Day for Coney

Many of my favorite Coney Island businesses got eviction notices this week. They need to vacate their premises by November 15th. Shoot the Freak!? Gone. Rudy's Old Thyme Bar (best bar on the boardwalk) and Beer Island (home of the Friday night fireworks)? Also gone. Developer Joe Stitt (supply your own hissing) is looking for new tenants, more in line with his "vision" of Coney Island. So far as I can tell, this vision resembles the Staten Island Mall. I blame Mayor Bloomberg; this is what happens when the richest guy in town is elected mayor three times. And the Democratic Party, for not being able to come up with better candidates (Mark Green? C'mon!).
Ruby's is open today, I fear for the last time, and they're planning a rally (link above).
Here's a link to the Times' article, from Tuesday's paper: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/nyregion/02coney.html?emc=eta1. And the Daily News', from Monday: http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_localnyc/iconic-coney-island-disappears-new-landlord-boots-shoot-the-freak-courts-chain-joint-atomic-wings

Photo credit: Squid Ink's Flickr, via Gothamist