Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chelsea Rep Lab Playwriting Classes

My colleagues and I at Chelsea Rep Lab have been working on expanding our program. In the spring, we will offer a beginning class on Sunday afternoons, and an advanced class every other Monday night. We are quite excited about it. Because we're connected to an acting school (The Acting Studio), every student gets to go through the rehearsal process with actors and a director.
One of my former students, Gregory Cohan, has just written me about his experience in the beginning and advanced classes this year:
"When Anne came to one of the monthly Labs do to give a crash-course in playwriting it opened up a whole new perspective. I remember after doing some writing exercises to get our pens to the paper, Anne was running out of time and said something to the extent of, "If anything, taking a playwriting class will make you a stronger actor." I wanted to be a stronger actor, and it just turned out I really liked to write. One of my favorite components of Anne's class was our reading assignments. We were given plays to read, some one-acts and even some full lengths (depending on the class level) and we sat around and broke them down: protagonist v. antagonist, themes, dramatic images, rhythm, etc... It made you look at pieces of work differently. This carried over into our own work as playwrights. We would read our plays or scenes in class, and it was very similar to how an actor might approach a scene that they're given in a class: what does "A" want? What' does "C" want? "A" wants "B" in spite of "C". I'll never forget that formula. We would break down beats and the rhythm of writing, we would discuss the choices we made, why we made them, and how we can make them much more specific which in turn would result in a more interesting moment or scene to an audience. We would talk about how to make a scene build, how to make it arc, how to keep it moving forward. These are things one might hear in an acting class, from a director or an instructor, but approaching the material from the playwright's perspective definitely helped to crystalize it. This type of critical analysis and thought is something that has helped immensely in approaching new scenes and even audition sides. It's helped me to break down ambiguous material much more effectively and make choices that are clear and interesting."
So, if that isn't a good reason to teach, I don't know what is.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Soup & a Story

As part of Open Source Gallery’s fourth annual December Soup Kitchen, playwright Anne Phelan will serve soup and read from her play, Crèche Scenes, on Wednesday, December 21, 2011.

The soup will be Giuliano Hazan’s Pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato Bread Soup). Phelan will be reading the monologue “Pete’s Christmas Story,” about a thwarted office worker’s Christmas Eve theft of a statue of the Baby Jesus. She has had three plays produced at Open Source: Brooklyn Lighthouse (based on the paintings of Jacob Ouillette), Deconstruction (based on the paintings of Rachel Youens), and Mi Tigre, My Lover (based on the paintings of Naoe Suzuki). Phelan is currently at work on a full-length version of the latter, The Tiger Play, which will be read at the Gallery in September as part of 30 Plays Celebrate 30 Years, the 30th anniversary of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Open Source Gallery is a participant-driven art initiative in Brooklyn, NY that provides space, community and conceptual context for creative play and critical commentary. Founded by Monika Wuhrer and Gary Baldwin, it is a not-for-profit organization; all contributions are tax-deductible. The current show is Felipe Mujica’s fabric installation One Day This Will All Be Yours.

The soup kitchen is open most nights in December, 7-9 PM, and located at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th Street (corner of Sixth Avenue) in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Admission is free. For more information, info@open-source-gallery.org. The soup kitchen calendar is available at http://open-source-gallery.org.

Photo is of the new Open Source Gallery's opening night last June.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Student

My former student, Angelo Berkowitz, has just had his screenplay "Walt Whitman Never Paid for It" shot. He wrote the play for my playwriting class last year, and adapted it for the screen. He also plays the lead.
Go to YouTube, and search WALT WHITMAN NEVER PAID FOR IT.

Dead Composers

There was a wonderful article on Slate this week (with YouTube links) entitled "Famous Classical Composers: The Last Piece They Wrote Before They Died." It's not just the usual suspects (Bach, Mozart, etc.), but also Schubert (Der Winterreise), Brahms and Schoenberg. The link (as above) is: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2011/11/famous_classical_composers_the_last_piece_they_wrote_before_they_died_.html
The Mozart is disappointing. It's the Neville Marriner Requiem (sooo sloow), and does not include the last movement Mozart wrote (I believe), which is the Lacrimosa. And if that does not send shivers up your spine, nothing ever will.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

St. Mark's Bookstore Lives- the Cooper Union Response

My latest email from the president's office:

In response to your recent email to me regarding a request by Cooper Union's
subtenant, St. Mark's Bookshop, I am pleased to let you know that an
agreement was reached with the co-owners on November 2, 2011. The owners
had originally requested a $5,000 a month decrease in their current rental
rate for the premises at 31 Third Avenue in the East Village. The settlement
reached was to reduce the current rent by $2,500 per month for one year and to
forgive $7,500 of a prior loan The Cooper Union made to the bookstore. In
return, St. Mark's agreed to work with Cooper Union students to come up with a
viable and sustainable business plan that is not dependent on any further
subsidies. At a press conference convened by Manhattan Borough President Scott
Stringer on November 3, I remarked that both The Cooper Union and St. Mark's
Bookshop reflect the independent and tenacious spirit of the East Village and
that despite our own constraints, we believed it was important to help them
because of what their presence means to our community.

At this time, I would like to reiterate my thanks to Borough President Stringer
for playing a crucial role in crafting an agreement that provides the bookstore
with the opportunity to remain at its current location, and would like to
acknowledge the input of several elected officials in the area, State Assembly
Member Deborah Glick, City Council Member Rosie Mendez, State Senator Daniel
Squadron, members of Community Board 3 and the leadership of the Cooper Square
Committee. I also recommend that all of you stop by the store and buy more

Thank you for your passion and support.

Jamshed Bharucha, President,
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back

Early in my third decade, I became much more interested in finding out the "truth" about my family. I wrote a screenplay about someone searching for her uncle in Prague. I did research about a great uncle, and got very little information, thanks to the FBI. But these questions and others continue to take up parts (perhaps too much) of my brain.
Maria Sutton was dealing with much more concrete questions, and closer relatives, than I was. Sutton was born in a German dp camp, and immigrated to the US with her sister, mother and the man she thought was her father. Her mother was Julia Czeczerska, a Ukrainian (Galicia, since the borders change so frequently) arrested by the SS and sent to Dachau for forced labor. She was placed with a family outside of Munich who ran a biergarten. Her fellow laborer was a Polish man named Jozef Kurek. When she was 13, Sutton found out that Kurek was her father. It took years for Sutton to put together the pieces of her biological father's life, not the least of which was letting go of what she thought she knew about him. Sutton thought he was an officer in the Polish military, a graduate of the air force academy and an educated man. None of those things were true. Sutton wrestled with her feelings of abandonment ("if Dad's so great, why doesn't he want to know me?"), and was unprepared to deal with the animosity of his younger children. The younger Kureks didn't resent Sutton, they resented Kurek himself (even after he'd been dead for a decade). Her mother loved Kurek, but he did not treat her well at all. Eventually, Czeczerska admitted that Kurek had physically abused Sutton and her older sister.
Sutton was undeterred- she did not hide under the bed (I would've been tempted to).
Sutton went on to be successful in other searches; most notably, she was able to reunite her mother with her long lost brother, Wasyl Czeczerski (who'd lived in Bethlehem, PA for decades). This search went much faster, in part to Sutton employing an ex-KGB agent.
If you are at all interested in how even the close families can be dispersed, and in particular dispersed by that particular war, your time would be well spent with Sutton's memoir. It's available on Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: Maria Sutton supplied me with a review copy of her memoir.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

For years, I've told myself that I will get up in the middle of the night to watch the Radio City workers take the Christmas show camel on his walk down Sixth Avenue. I have yet to actually do that. However, I did see this year's Christmas Spectacular on Wednesday. I saw no poorly behaved children, though I can't say the same about the adults. All these people, after they were explicitly asked not to, taking flash photos with their phones. All the way through the performance.
The dancing was wonderful. I haven't seen so much good tapping in a long time. They did a great opening number (Rockettes as reindeer), a mini-Nutcracker (a bear in a pink tutu was the Sugar Plum Fairy), the Parade of Wooden Soldiers. Even the Christmas in New York number was pretty bearable (though I was itching to see the camel by then, I did appreciate the Central Park skaters). But the largely 3D video game, involving a trip to Santa's workshop and teaching a young mother the true meaning of Christmas? That was painful. And long. Ad made me think I could've written it better.
Finally, we got to the Baby Jesus and the camel! A lot of walking across the stage with shepherds and genuine, live sheep. Even more walking across the stage with the Magi and their entourages (I'd never really thought about them having entourages on a par with Shakespearean kings, but these three did- so much so I couldn't tell the kings from the staff). And through it all the lone camel chewed his cud, and swished his tail once in awhile. Then we got to the big moment: the Magi gesture to Mary and Joseph (who are kneeling on a big mesa); Mary and Joseph gesture back (these look suspiciously like water ballet arm movements). My eye wanders to the manger- it appear to be empty. Then, to the camel: lip-smacking and cud-chewing away, despite the gravity of the moment.
There were plenty of empty seats on Wed., so you can visit the camel, too.

Link above to the New York Times review. Photo by Ruth Fremson for the NY Times.

Donna Murphy

Two weeks ago, the League of Professional Theatre Women and the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts had an oral history event with Donna Murphy. She was interviewed by Rick McKay, the guy who made Broadway: The Golden Age (and is working on its sequel). The first time I saw Donna Murphy was in Song of Singapore, and I remember poking my friend Jeff Bieganek in the shoulder, multiple times, saying, "Isn't she great?"
There was a lot of talk (much more than I needed to know) about her time at NYU, studying with Stella Adler. But once she got past that, she talked about the workshop for Passion, and how they started with an unfinished book, and one (1) song. I know that Sondheim writes and rewrites a lot in rehearsal (me, too- so much that I can make some actors and directors crazy). I never think of him starting with quite that little. I like knowing that's the case.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jacob Ouillette Brushstroke Paintings

My friend Jacob Ouillette and I met when we were both Albee Fellows, several summers ago. He has his first solo show in Manhattan, from now until November 26th. It is at the Nancy Margolis Gallery (link above), 523 West 25th Street (between 11th and 12th Avenues).
This is one of the paintings in the show, Wit's End, 2011.

The Disapparation of James

Anne Ursu's The Disapparation of James was on my list of circus novels. A family takes their children to see a circus (more Big Apple than Ringling Brothers). The second-to-last act features a clown magician. He asks for a volunteer from the audience. Young James Woodrow is chosen, and the clown puts him in a chair. The clown lifts the chair over his head, and James disappears. And can't be found. The police are brought in, the clown is tracked down, no one can find James. A cop is placed in the Woodrow's home.
James' sister, Greta, decides to make drawings of her brother's adventures:
"he's in the jungle with lions and tigers and bears and dogs. He's under the sea with mermaids and funny fishes and otters and underwater dogs. He's in the sky with magic birds and flying dogs. He's on other planets with flying dogs and talking bears...."
Then she decides to make drawings of the things he loves:
"the stuff he likes and doesn't like and stuff. He likes peanut butter sandwiches a lot. He hates tomatoes because he thinks the seeds look like eyes. He likes otters because they are so cute and of course he likes puppies because everyone likes puppies."
Is that 7 year old girl or what?

Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America

I am reading a lot about Hungary (new character is Hungarian) and circuses. This weekend, I read Kati Marton's Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America. Marton's parents were journalists in Budapest in the 1950s who were arrested by AVO (the secret police), held and tried as enemies of the state. Link to New York Times Book review above. This was complicated by the fact that they had two little girls, Marton and her sister Juli. Once her mother was arrested, the girls were placed with a family they did not know, barely escaping being put in an orphanage. Once the parents were released, the entire family escaped after the counter-revolution in 1956.
When they got to Vienna, they stayed in the Hotel Atlanta, just outside the Ringstrasse, near the Allgemeines Krankenhaus. I know exactly where that pension is, because it's where my grandparents lived for a year in the 1920s.
The photo was taken after Dr. Marton's arrest (Mrs. Marton, Juli, Kati). Mrs. Marton was arrested for months later. Via the New York Times.

Friday, October 14, 2011

6 Months in Switzerland

Galapagos is sponsoring a six month residency in Switzerland for visual artist and performance art artists (not for playwrights, unfortunately) in New York City. Press release follows.
natural selection: artists in residence

a.i.r. switzerland

Galapagos has partnered with IAAB, the International Exchange and Studio Program of the Canton of Basel, Switzerland, to each year offer an artist from New York City the opportunity to spend six months near Basel, in the Swiss countryside town of Riehen. In turn, we’ll host a Swiss artist here.

The studio is situated in one of the old estate buildings on the “Berowergut,” just next door to the Beyeler Foundation. When the barns located on the “Berowergut” have been renovated and the Kunst Raum Riehen has been installed, the old coach house at the back was converted into a two-storey live-in studio.

This residency program is generously financed by private and public sponsors. The iaab offers a 700 square foot working and living space from January 1st to June 30th 2012, an allowance of $1,200 per month while in Switzerland to cover day to day living costs and a plane ticket to Switzerland with return to New York. In Switzerland the artist will also receive a ‘half tarif’ public transport card for all public transportation in Switzerland… and lots of chocolate!

More info about iaab: www.iaab.ch

who can apply to the iaab?

The exchange program is open to visual artists all disciplines and performance artists who originate from New York City or have participated regularly at regional exhibitions for more than two years, irrespective of their age and nationality.

application procedure for artists from new york

Galapagos Art Space begins taking applications online October 16th. The deadline for submissions is October 31st 2011. The Jury will study the applications and hold a meeting in the first week of November and will select artists for the second round. Interviews will take place on November 5th. Galapagos will announce the selected artist for 2012 by November 7th.

To apply for the artist residency, please email the following materials to residency@galapagosartspace.com

Completed application (download the Word doc)
Motivation letter
Project description (detailed concept for the project you would realize during your 6 month stay in Basel, 2 pages maximum)
Digital Portfolio that includes your works of the past 2 years (PDF, Letter size, small compression, max 3MB.) If you work with new media /video you can send us links (3 links maximum).
only electronic applications, please. do not call or drop off any materials.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Historian

I am doing research about Hungary for my latest play; perhaps it's more accurate to say I'm doing more research on Hungary for a different play. I assembled a list of novels set in Hungary, and I've just finished reading the first, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. It is the best vampire novel since Bram Stoker. Little, Brown published it in 2005, and somehow I missed it the first go round. It travels the world: the US, France, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands. It's a long read, but totally worth it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The White House has proclaimed October National Arts and Humanities Month. Via Americans for the Arts:
National Arts and Humanities Month (NAHM) is a coast-to-coast celebration of culture in America. Held every October and coordinated by Americans for the Arts, NAHM is the largest annual celebration of the arts and humanities in the nation. President Obama has issued a White House proclamation that recognizes the value of the arts and humanities and kicks off this month’s celebrations. Within the proclamation, President Obama states:

"Millions of Americans earn a living in the arts and humanities, and the non-profit and for-profit arts industries are important parts of both our cultural heritage and our economy...We must recognize the contributions of the arts and humanities not only by supporting the artists of today, but also by giving opportunities to the creative thinkers of tomorrow. Educators across our country are opening young minds, fostering innovation, and developing imaginations through arts education."

National Arts and Humanities Month Events Map: Learn more about the NAHM events happening nationwide this October. Use this Google Map to post information about your NAHM events and programs by clicking the "add event" link. You can also see what other activities are happening in your community!

Follow Americans for the Arts on Twitter (@Americans4Arts) during October to learn about Creative Conversations and featured events happening in your community and throughout the country.

We've made it easy for you to share this news with your social networks. Just visit our Arts Action Fund page and click on the icons for customizable language you can post directly to Facebook and Twitter!

Help us continue this important work by becoming an official member of the Arts Action Fund. If you are not already a member play your part by joining the Arts Action Fund today -- it's free and simple.

The Acting Studio

The Acting Studio, where I teach, has had two pieces of good news! The first is, alumna Julianna Margulies, won an Emmy in September. And the second is the short film PERRY STREET, directed by Antonio Padovan and starring Catherine Mary Stewart and James Price, aired on Manhattan Cable Channel 67 - Monday, October 10.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Die Dreigroschenoper

My whole life I've wanted to see the Berliner Ensemble. I have been in the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm (big statue of Brecht in the park in front of it- you can't miss it), but they were on vacation for the summer. I had waited many years to see the Moscow Art Theatre as well, and when I saw their Three Sisters at BAM ten year ago I was bitterly disappointed. It was so bad, if it hadn't been the Moscow Art Theatre, I would've left at intermission.
But Friday night I was not disappointed in the Berliner Ensemble's Threepenny Opera directed by Robert Wilson. I wish I'd known when I bought the tickets online that the translation of "partial view" was "you are sitting so far house left, you and your boyfriend will be able to seen none of the three supertitle screens." It wasn't such a big deal for me, but it was for Tom, at over 3 hours. He bore it very graciously.
Other than a weird costume choice for MacHeath (a 70s-like black lounge suit that sparkled) and a poor directorial choice in Act 3 (the scene in the whorehouse was truly endless and nothing happened), it was wonderful. Unlike the last Wilson-directed play I saw (Woyzeck), the design elements a music fed the action, they didn't stop it dead. It was not quickly paced- the first two acts were three hours, but it held together as a whole.
The actors were extraordinary- completely committed in every way. And it was so refreshing to see actors in a musical who looked like people, not models. Particularly good were Stefan Kurt as Macheath, Juergen Holtz and Traute Hoess as the Peachums, Stefanie Stappenback as Polly and Angela Winkler as Jenny (she played Oskar's mother in The Tin Drum).
The other astonishing thing about this production was the music. I know the score very well- I can sing Blitzstein's or Mannheim's translations (or both) of every single song. But somehow with these voices and the musical director of Hans-Joern Brandenburg and Stefan Rager, every song was like you'd never heard it before. Charles Isherwood's review didn't exaggerate at all.
The photos are by Sarah Krulwich for the New York Times. Link to Charles Isherwood's review above.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Franz Kafka Gets the Capra Treatment

About ten years ago, I saw "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time. It was an extra added onto a rented videocassette. It was so funny, I watched it multiple times before returning it to the video store (sadly gone now).
It's now on DVD ("Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life and other strange tales"), with three other comedic shorts, among them a strange two-hander written by Lewis Black, "The Deal". Peter Capaldi wrote and directed. Kafka (Richard E. Grant. looking unbelievably young) is struggling over his newest short story, in a rented room far above the streets of Prague. The set actually looks like one of Egon Schiele's paintings of Csesky Krumlov. But his landlady is having a loud party, the novelty store has delivered to the wrong apartment, and a weird scissors grinder who has lost his pet ("Jiminy, Jiminy Cockroach."). I can't think of anything that deserved an Oscar more.

The Tiger Play

Ever since we closed "Mi Tigre, My Lover" at the end of June at Open Source Gallery, I have been doing two things: researching the full-length version, and hunting for money to produce it.
The new character in the play (now called "The Tiger Play"; Tom said to me at one point, "You know it's 'The Tiger Play.'" And there's nothing Spanish about it, so the title just seemed weird) is Louis Roth, Mabel's second or third husband. He was a Hungarian farm boy obsessed with the U.S., and his parents allowed him to come here at the age of 13.
Today, I finished reading his autobiography, Forty Years of Jungle Killers, at the Science & Business Library in the basement of the old B. Altman's building. And I have no more excuses left to not write.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Feast of Saint Francis

I recently changed churches, for many reasons, not the least of which was the commute. So I am no longer a member of the Church of the Holy Trinity on East 88th Street in Manhattan, I am now a member of Grace Church Brooklyn. I belonged to Grace Church in Manhattan for many years, and was married there, so I appreciate the irony that I now am at the church founded because Grace Church Manhattan was too difficult a commute once they moved up to Tenth Street.
Our schedules last Sunday were too difficult to get Augie to church to be blessed at the 5:00 PM service (and I think he could use it), but there's coverage on the Brooklyn Heights blog (link above).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

St. Mark's Bookstore

St. Mark's Bookstore (link above) is in trouble. Cooper Union is trying to raise their rent, and they need our help.
Michael Moore is coming tonight at 7 to sign copies of his autobiography, Here Comes Trouble. If you can't make that, please click on the link below and sign the petition (I did). And go to St. Mark's and buy more books! By the way, the sales table is pretty great these days.
Images via Google.

Safety First Update

Via the South Slope listserve and Safe Slope's Facebook page:
Via Safe Slope on Facebook:

From Safe Slope
We are piloting our volunteer-run Safe Walk program! Tonight, Friday night, and Saturday night from 8:00pm to 3:00am. There are a few ways to arrange a walk:
(1) You can call ahead of time (347-709-8852) to let us know when/where to pick you up (for example, meeting you at a subway station when you return from another neighborhood);
(2) You can call us (347-709-8852) if you are already in the area and you want a walk ASAP. For example, we can come meet you at a friend's house/restaurant/bar/etc. or you can call from a subway station and we will direct you to a safe meeting place;
(3) When possible, our volunteers will be providing direct outreach at subway stations. If you see us tonight, we can walk you home.

For more information, please see: http://safeslope.org/programs

Please remember that Safe Walk is available for women- and LGBTQ-identified people only and, at this time, we can only travel between 9th St and 30th St/3rd Ave and 8th Ave. We will try to accommodate as many people as possible.

Safety First

There have been 11 (!) sexual assaults (attempted or executed) on women in my South Brooklyn neighborhood since last March. The first one was a block away from my apartment. Many of the assaults have been in the vicinity of my subway stop at Prospect Avenue. The police's handling of these assaults has been absolutely shameful. They have arrested one possible suspect who was released because he had an airtight alibi.
There was a rally and march a few weeks ago, organized by Safe Slope, and the intermittent presence of the Guardian Angels.
Today's Brooklyn Based describes the initial Safe Slope initiative: Safe Walk. Safe Walk will escort women and/or LGTB people home in the neighborhood (9th to 30th Streets, between 2nd and 8th Aves.). If you need a walk, call 347-709-8852.

Brooklyn Bike Patrol is a second new safety service that has sprung up in the wake of the attacks. Its founder, Jay Ruiz, with the help volunteers, fields calls and emails from women who want a buddy to walk them home. The bike patrol operates every day of the week. Anyone who needs an accompanied walk home can call or email Sunday through Thursday 7:30pm to 11pm and Friday and Saturday from 8pm to 1am to arrange a meet-up. Contact BBP by phone, 718-744-7592, or email, rocket55j@aol.com.

Link to Brooklyn Based article (from which I've lifted much) above.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Le Petit Auberge Est Fini

As reported by Lost City (link above), Le Petit Auberge is closing its doors on October 8th. The owners want to retire.
When I first moved to New York, I reconnected with my oldest friend, Annie Hunter. We'd been friends as children in Cleveland. She moved here to work in magazine publishing, and I came for the theatre. One night her mother was in town, and Mrs. Hunter took us out for dinner to Le Petit Auberge, where she had gone when she was right of of college and working in publishing. Mrs. Hunter died a few weeks ago, so I've been thinking about her and that dinner a lot lately.
When I was older, I went to Le Petit Auberge for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, a few Christmas Eves. I've been going there my entire adult life. And I've never been able to replicate their Sauce Bernaise.

The Search for Eileen Sullivan

Back in May, I won Second Prize in the Irish Diaspora One-Act Playwriting Contest. The prize came with a check for $250, which immediately went into the budget for "My Tiger, My Love," and was much appreciated. The rest of the prize is a reading of "The Search for Eileen Sullivan" which happens on Friday. Tim Hine will be reading George P. Bancroft and Laura Mitchell will be reading Eileen Sullivan, aka Maura Rafferty. The reading is on Fridaty, September 23 at 7:00 in the auditorium at the historic Atwater Library, 1200 Atwater Avenue, Westmount, Montreal, Quebec. There will be light refreshments, and a q. and a. with the author (that would be me). This entire thing- the prize, the evening, etc.- is produced by Byron Toben. So should you find yourself in Montreal, please come.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Prisoner

A few months ago my boyfriend Tom was raving about what a great TV series Secret Agent Man was, and before I knew it, he had ordered DVDs of Secret Agent Man (including its initial episodes, known as Danger Man) and its sequel (well, kind of), The Prisoner. I vaguely remember watching The Prisoner when WNET used to run it late on Sunday nights in the '90s. That probably had more to do with the fact that it was late and I was tired.
Many hours later, we have watched the entire thing- all three series. And Secret Agent Man is fascinating in some ways. It's the beginning (ca. mid-1960s) of the spy genre, and you can watch the writers try things out, discard some and keep others. It also is a look into where England saw itself in its largely post-colonial days. They may have been technically out of Africa, but there are many episodes set somewhere that look a lot like Kenya and/or Nigeria, sending in John Drake (Patrick McGoohan), master spy, to help the former colonists.
There are things about The Prisoner that are confusing, silly, seemingly arbitrary. It takes place on this island (off the coast of Lithuania or Spain, depending upon the episode) where England has sent its untrustworthy former MI6 agents. One of these is Number Six, played by Patrick McGoohan. He is relentless in his efforts to escape, but at the end of each episode, he's still there. McGoohan developed the series himself, starred in each episode, and wrote and directed many of them.
Wednesday night we saw the penultimate episode, #16: Once Upon a Time. It is Patrick McGoohan, Leo McKern (playing Number Two) and Angelo Muscat playing the butler. McGoohan directed and wrote the episode. I loved it so much, I watched it a second time that night.
The unseen Number One tells McKern he has a week to break Number 6, in a procedure they call "degree absolute." McGoohan's script puts both of them in a bunker, most of which is set up to look like an abandoned nursery room: swing, seesaw blackboard, rocking horse. There are allusions in the score to nursery rhymes (Humpty Dumpty, Pop! Goes the Weasel, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). Jacques' "The seven ages of man" is quoted. And then comes the best hour of television acting and writing I have ever seen. It's truly amazing. I will bore all of my friends to death talking about it. McKern tries to get McGoohan to say why he resigned from MI6. That's the whole premise. At one point he tells him: "The lone wolf belongs to the wilderness. It is my duty to see that you a not a lone wolf. You must conform."
I must not be the only playwright who feels like the McGoohan character. I would write Mr. McGoohan a fan letter if he hadn't died a few years ago. It's certainly too bad that he didn't write more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Habermann's Mill

Last week, I went to the movies during the day (something I rarely do) to see a Czech/German/Austrian production, Habermann's Mill, about the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the Sudetanland after World War II. I think the subject is fascinating, and it's rarely written about. Unfortunately, the NY Times review was correct. The screenplay is all over the place in terms of story (not only in so far as who's story is it, but why is this story important). I had really hoped that it would be better. It's based on a novel of the same name by Czech writer Josef Urban (not to be confused with Josef Urban the set designer, whose archive is up at Columbia). This Josef Urban says that his novel is based on a true story. I have not been to find the novel in English.

The Second Son

Last year, my brother gave me Rosa and Shadow and Light for my birthday, two wonderful novels by Jonathan Rabb, set in Berlin between the wars. In one of multiple trips to the Strand last month (I'm spending too much time and money there, and I don't mean on the candy counter) I ran across the third book of the trilogy, The Second Son. The books are all about Nicolai Hoffner, an inspector on Berlin's police force. The Olympics are in town, but things cannot be good for a half-Jewish government employee. And they're not- they descend to hellish remarkably quickly, though not in a way you would expect. Hoffner loses his job, which is his life, only to go to Spain in the midst of the Civil War to try to find one of his sons who has disappeared there. I inhaled the book, and have since sent it to my brother so he can finish the trilogy.
It was sad saying good-bye to Nicolai. He's so lifelike on these pages, to close the last book made me feel as if I'd lost an uncle. I am hoping that perhaps the trilogy could grow to a quarter- it worked for Lawrence Durrell.
Link above to Rabb's page on Macmillan's site.

Playwriting Class Update

For the past month, I have been busy getting ready for my Fall class at Chelsea Repertory Lab, which begins Sunday, September 11th. I have finished my lesson plans and figured out which one-acts we'll be reading (Cheryl L. Davis, Alexander Pushkin and John Millington Synge, among other writers). We've already enrolled some new students, and I'm interviewing another on Thursday afternoon. There's a description of the class on this blog, and in the ad section on Playbill.com. If you are interested in learning more or signing up, email chelseareplab-at-yahoo.com.
The students from the Spring's Advanced class are showing their work this week in our Emerging Artists One-Act Play Festival at Shetler Studios, which runs Wednesday through Sunday. There are two bills of short plays being produced, and two bills of longer plays being read. Contact chelseareplab-at-yahoo.com for reservations.

The Coolest Video Ever

Gothamist had this video posted last week, which it picked up from Laughing Squid. I think I've overdosed on cute animal videos, but this is really something. Someone had their wedding at the Mystic Aquarium, and they hired Connecticut Mariachi to play it. After the wedding, they serenaded Juno the Beluga whale in her tank, and she (seriously) danced for them. Gothamist describes it as 1:45 of pure happiness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZS_6-IwMPjM
Link to Gothamist in title.

Friday, July 29, 2011

New Class

I am teaching a new Beginning Playwriting class at Chelsea Rep Lab (Shelter Studios), beginning Sept. 11th. Here is the info:

The class runs for ten weeks, taught by award-winning playwright Anne Phelan, at Shetler Studios. Each class is on Sunday, 1-4 PM, beginning Sept. 11th (no class Sept. 25th, Oct. 9th, or Nov. 27th) until Dec. 4th. It will consist of in-class writing exercises, reading and discussing each others’ work, script analysis, learning Samuel French style (the professional standard), and reading and discussing a one-act play each week. Students are expected to work on plays they begin in class outside of class (plan on 5 hours per week of writing time). By the last class, you will have started at least nine one-act plays, and have completed a minimum of two.

The class will conclude with public readings of the students’ work by student actors from The Acting Studio, including the opportunity to go through the rehearsal process with a professional director.

The purpose of this class is to get you into the habit of writing, and to help you find your voice as a writer. Even playwrights who are not beginners can get a lot out of it. It will also give you playwriting tools (working from visual art, music, news articles, etc.; the ability to think critically as a playwright about your and others’ work) that you can use in the future.
Tuition is $250, payable in full in cash at the first class on Sept. 11th.
For more information, contact anne@annephelan.com.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stage Door

George S. Kaufman wrote a lot of plays, with several collaborators, Moss Hart and Edna Ferber among them. Other than The Royal Family and The Man Who Came to Dinner, they are rarely revived, I assume because the casts are so large.
But this August, you get a chance to see one of Kaufman and Ferber's less revived plays, Stage Door. I have never seen it produced; I've only seen the movie (with an incredibly young Eve Arden cracking wise), though many years ago I used a monologue from it for auditions. Chelsea Repertory Company (I teach playwriting in their Lab) is reviving Stage Door at Shetler Studios' Theatre 54. Directed by John Grabowski, it runs August 4-6 and 11-13 at 8, August 6 and 13 at 2, August 7 at 3 and August 10 at 7. Tickets are $20 at the Door (I already have mine), or $18 through Smarttix (link above). It features a cast of 31 (!- when was the last time you saw 31 actors on stage in a straight play?), among them my playwriting student Gregory Cohan.
Here's the plot summary: The Footlights Club in New York City provides a home for the struggling stage actresses who meet the challenges of surviving the Depression and the ups and downs of the Broadway theater with charm and grit. Terry Randall, a headstrong and witty girl from the Midwest, is determined to become a leading actress on the Great White Way. While pursuing her career, she becomes involved with two completely different bachelors - the left-wing arrogant playwright Keith Burgess and David Kingsley, a well-groomed elegant film producer. Also residing at the Footlights Club is Jean Maitland, who lands the Holy Grail - a seven-year film contract; Kaye Hamilton, whose lack of stage success leads to suicide; Pat Devine, a nightclub dancer; and Linda Shaw, a society girl who shocks her mother by having an affair with a wealthy married man. Terry sticks to her guns and wins both the leading role in a Broadway play and the affections and respect of the man she loves.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Yesterday, I finally saw Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem (which a friend of mine assured me was robbed of the Tony for Best Play, because who's not going to vote for a play about a boy and his horse with puppets?). I really enjoyed it, but I was disappointed because there were three cast substitutions, and that impacted on the shape of the play. These three actors were perfectly talented men, but there were pacing problems in Act 2, to the point where I didn't actually fall dead asleep, but I completely zoned out and closed my eyes twice. Jay Sullivan was fine as Lee (covering for John Gallagher, Jr.). Mark Rylance did a tremendous job as Rooster (I expected no less), as did Mackenzie Crook as Ginger and Danny Kirrane as Davy. Butterworth's play takes you to interesting places in the human psyche, places where you don't expect to go, ably abetted by Ian Rickson's direction. I think that Geraldine Hughes as Dawn had a hard row to hoe (two acts of Rooster's particular brand of insanity, and in Act 3 she shows up as the ex-girlfriend with their young son), but I believed that she still loved him, despite the fact she accepted that would come to nothing.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I first tasted porchetta when I was in Italy three summers ago, and I despaired at ever getting the real thing again. A few months later, Sara Jenkins opened her Porchetta at 110 East Seventh Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A. I had a meeting canceled at the last minute on Friday, so I decided to take myself there for a porchetta sandwich. Unbelievable! It tastes exactly the same as in Italy, and comes on this perfectly sized ciabatta to boot. The restaurant is quite small, and not fancy, but the food is fantastic.

The Last of the Photos

Photo #11: The couple with a whip.
Photo #12: The end of the play.
Photo #13: Tamer and tiger at rest.

More Photos

Photo #6: Rajah contemplates life without Stark.
Photo #7: Jacob and Tamara brainstorming.
Photo #8: Stark and Rajah at a standoff.
Photo #9: Stark contemplates her tiger, in front of the art installation (evoking a circus tent).
Photo #10: The dangerous dance that ends the play.
All photos copyright 2011 by Tom Bovo.

The Photos Have Arrived!

Here are the best of the production photos that Tom Bovo took during the dress rehearsal of "Mi Tigre, My Lover" at Open Source Gallery,back in June. Tom shoot over 200, he narrowed it down and then I chose my favorite 13.
Photo #1: Mabel Stark, Cotton Wright, has just told Rajah, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum, she got a job offer from Chipperfield's Circus in England, and he can't come with her.
Photo #2: Stark has crossed Rajah, and he doesn't like it.
Photo #3: Stark and Rajah, as he looks for new places on her back to put a scar from his claws.
Photo #4: Tiger tamer Mabel Stark, in a moment of contemplation.
Photo #5: Director Tamara Fisch resets the pedestal (actually, a borrowed piano stool) as Jacob asks a question and Cotton looks on.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marco Calvani Is the Best

My friend Marco Calvani just won the SIAE (Italian Society of Authors and Editors) Award for Best Italian Playwright at a ceremony at Teatro Caio Melisso during the Spoleto Festival last Friday. It could not have happened to a nicer, more talented guy. Here he is pictured with actress, author and director Franca Valeri.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Lions' Birthday

On Monday. my friend Daniela and went to Celebrating 100 Years at the New York Public Library. I've spent many hours of the life in the Main Reading Room there, doing research and waiting for books and microfiche to come up from the stacks.
The exhibit has some books, but also a lot of stuff (ephemera, I guess you'd say). Malcolm X's diaries from his journey to Mecca, Katherine Cornell's make up box from 1947 (the base looks quite disgusting), a first edition of poems by Phillis Wheatley, a Gutenberg Bible, a 15th century Dante's Inferno, some of Jack Kerouac's notes, Virginia Woolf's walking stick, Pound's annotated manuscript of "The Wasteland," a whole bunch of dance video clips (I saw a Katherine Dunham piece from the '50s or '60s), unfortunately the audio part of the Performing Arts Library presentation wasn't working when I was there.
But by far the strangest thing there is Charles Dickens' letter opener. It consists of an ivory shaft, and a taxidermied cat's paw that originally belonged to his pet, Bob. The accompanying quote is something like "What is so great as the love of a cat?" I would say the love of a dog!
Photo lifted from www.neatorama.com.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The House on 92nd Street

My parents always used to say the the best movie about Nazi spies in the US was The House on 92nd Street. But I was never able to watch it until a few weeks ago. It's interesting for a couple of reasons. It was produced by Louis de Rochmont, who produced the March of Time (and it certainly has that feel to it). He utilized incredible access to the FBI in DC and Quantico- there's actual footage of the real places in the movie. The FBI lent the production one of their surveillance trucks, and it makes use of their then new invention, two-way mirrors. To give the film a documentary-like feel, Rochemont uses real surveillance footage of the German Embassy from the late 1930s, and much of it was shot on location in NY (I always wondered what the Grand Central Palace, the predecessor of the Pan Am Building, looked like, and now I know).
German American college grad William Dietrich (William Eythe, pinch-hitting for Tyrone Power at 20th Century Fox during World War II) is recruited by German Intelligence as an agent, but goes to the FBI and becomes a double agent. He studies at spy school in Hamburg, and comes to New York as an operative. He works under Elsa Gebhardt (Swedish actress Signe Hasso), who lives in a house on 92nd Street (though the house in the movie was at Madison and 93rd Street- it no longer stands- I went hunting for it myself). Scientist Charles Ogden Roper (Gene Lockhart) is stealing secrets from the A bomb project, which the agents refer to as Process 97. Dietrich brings down the whole house of cards. Lloyd Nolan plays his FBI handler, and an unbelievably young E.G. Marshall plays a morgue attendant. The last shots of the film is real footage of the actual spies walking into the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.
I have cribbed heavily from the movie's commentary by Eddie Miller. Link above is to imdb.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tiger's Wife

Brooklyn Based picked us up on their Tip Sheet. Link above.

Mi Tigre, My Lover

June 25th - July 9th, 2011
at 306 17th St. (between 5th and 6th Ave), South Slope, Brooklyn

Opening Reception: June 25th, 7-10PM
Play by Dramahound Productions: June 25th, 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM

Open Source is proud to announce its first show in our new space. Mi Tigre, My Lover, is a multi-media installation by Naoe Suzuki, originating from a series of Naoe’s paintings, with the related play by Anne Phelan of Dramahound Productions. Phelan’s play, of the same name as Suzuki’s paintings, was inspired by the paintings and uses them as a backdrop for her production. This is the third play at Open Source Gallery by Dramahound Productions and we are very excited to host the fusion of painting and live theater by these two talented artists.

Suzuki’s paintings were inspired by “The Final Confession of Mabel Stark” by Robert Hough, a novel based on a true story of a renowned female tiger trainer in the early 1900s, the golden age of the circus.

Mabel’s life was certainly a tumultuous one. In 1909, Hough writes, she joined the circus as a sideshow dancer, leaving her short career as a nurse. She then married a rich man from Texas only to leave him a few months later to join the Cosmopolitan Amusement Company as a cooch dancer. It was not long before she had her own cat act, with a pair of both lions and tigers, with the Al G. Barnes Circus.

By the early twenties, Mabel’s wrestling tiger act became the best-known cat act in the American Circus. In the novel she also raised a tiger cub into adulthood–her favorite tiger, Rajah. She bottled-fed Rajah and let him sleep with her in her bed. Although having been mauled several times during her career, Mabel kept returning to the tigers’ cage time and time again.

In her artist’s statement Suzuki states:
“It was this ‘love affairs’ aspect of her relationships with tigers that fascinated me, as well as her wild career and private life. In Mi Tigre, My Lover, there’s a complex play of love/power relationship between a woman and her tiger. Obsession, control, submission, passion, tension and love filled the space between them.”

Mabel Stark committed suicide on April 21, 1968. According to a show-business newspaper, she died of a heart attack at the age of seventy-nine. Having always lied about her age, Hough says, Mabel’s true age at the time of her death was actually unknown.

Despite having five husbands and surviving many severe maulings by her tigers, Mabel seemed to have preferred her tigers over her men. Mabel’s relationships with both tigers and men were no doubt complex, and it is this idiosyncrasy of Mabel’s life that fascinates Suzuki.

Dramahound Productions is thrilled to produce the first play in Open Source Gallery’s new space entitled My Tiger, My Lover, written by Anne Phelan as inspired by Naoe Suzuki’s paintings. The cast includes Cotton Wright as Mabel Stark and Jacob Grigolia- Rosenbaum as Rajah the tiger, both featured in last year’s “Deconstruction.” It will be directed by Tamara Fisch, with costumes by Sidney Shannon. Jacob has graciously volunteered to choreograph the whip violence, so we hope it will be a feast for both your eyes and ears.

The play My Tiger, My Lover will be presented on June 25th at 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM as part of the reception for Naoe Suzuki. Admission is free.

Open Source Gallery
306 17th St. Brooklyn, NY 11215

Wed/Thurs: 11am-3pm; Sat 3pm-7pm

info [at] open-source-gallery.org
(646) 279-3969; (718) 207-9235
©2011 Open Source | 257 17th street | Brooklyn, NY 11215 |

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Knock

So we're one day away from "Knock" opening as part of Short Plays Program 2 in the Gallery Players 14th Annual Black Box New Play Festival. It runs this Thurs. and Fri. at 8, and Sat. and Sun. at 5 at the Gallery Players, 199 14th Street (between 4th & 5th Avenues), Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Here are some photos that I took in rehearsal on Saturday. Heather Lee Harper plays Maria Schmidt, Colin Sutherland plays Gustav Schmidt and Brian Gildea plays FBI Agent Schaeffer. All expertly directed by Liz Thaler, with whom I hope to work again soon.

Friday, June 10, 2011

More Circus

This week I finished watching Maro Chermayeff and Jeffrey Dupre's documentary series Circus, which aired on PBS last year. It's specifically six hours on the Big Apple Circus the year before co-founder Paul Binder retired. It's pretty much all fascinating. I never appreciated the fact that making a living in the circus is even more difficult than making a living in the theatre.
I also watched a DVD of animal acts from the Moscow Circus, which has the oldest circus school in the world (since 1926). They definitely had some interesting acts (ice skating chickens, bears riding velocipedes),but the wildest was the big cat act. There was only one cat act, and it was leopards. But unlike any cat act I've ever seen, they weren't in a cage. There were three trainers, each with a leopard on a leash! It was very scary. They did all the typical lion-type moves- the walking erect, rolling over, jumping hurdles, but not in a cage.
Toby Tyler (1960) was a Disney movie I'd heard about (two friends of mine told me it made them go into the theatre). It's pretty sweet, though the adult actors are good.
Last, I saw a TV movie about PT Barnum that Hallmark produced in 1999. It was pretty good, and Beau Bridges played Barnum.

Everyone's Gone to the Movies

My latest play is set in an American circus in the 1920s. It's called My Tiger, My Lover, which is based on a series of paintings by Naoe Suzuki (more to come about this), based on the life of tiger tamer Mabel Stark. So I've been reading, watching animal acts on Youtube and watching movies about circuses. I keep running into the technology problem- there are all these movies on VHS, but not yet available streaming or on DVD. That said, I've seen a lot of movies in the past few months.
At the Circus (1939) was much better than I remember. I used to group it in the sad, the-brothers-are-old-and-tired, post-A Night at the Opera movies. And while it's not as good as that, it's pretty good. And Groucho sings the original lyrics to Lydia the Tattooed Lady, not "When she stands the world gets littler,/When she sits, she sits on Hitler."
First, I saw The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). It's quite plodding, though the train wreck is pretty exciting. Todd Browning's Freaks (1932) never fails to impress. I first saw it in college and I must've seen it four or five times since then. And this version had special features! It turns out that Olga Baclanova, who plays Cleopatra, had been at the Moscow Art Theatre. And after that piece of work, Todd Browning didn't work much anymore. What a waste!
I hadn't seen Chaplin's The Circus (1928), a lovely movie, as good as his best. I'm not sure why it's not more popular. Nor had I seen Poppy (1936), which started as a stage vehicle for W.C. Fields (not actual circus, but a carnival). Barnum! is a film of the London production of the musical starring a very young and athletic Michael Crawford. It was directed by Joe Layton (George M!, etc.). It is remarkably dated- I was kind of stunned at how much. Or we've all absorbed and moved beyond Trevor Nunn's directing aesthetic.
The real research find for me (and I never would have known it if I hadn't watched the Special Features) was Charlie Chan at the Circus. Dreadful movie- boring and racist all at the same time. But it was shot at the winter quarters of the Al G. Barnes Circus (which by then had been bought by Ringling) in 1936, the last year that Mabel Stark was with that circus. Several of the sideshow attractions (like the giant) are on screen.
The other find was Mae West's She Done Him Wrong, which I think was Cary Grant's first leading role. West plays a lion tamer, and in the cage with the lions is her stunt double, Mabel Stark. They look somewhat similar, though Stark was slimmer and not a real blonde.

Dramahound Wins a Prize

That is me, the Dramahound, not the Glamorous Life of the Theatre. I recently won second prize (and a nice check, which went into the coffers of Dramahound Productions) in the Irish Diaspora One-Act Playwriting Contest. The criteria was the play had to run an hour, and had to be called "The Search for Eileen Sullivan." I don't think I've ever written that many pages so quickly in my life. I took a character from an old play, Maura and Katinka, and transformed her into Eileen Sullivan. The play is set in Boston in the summer of 1900. She's been sent on a mission by her employer to pick up an envelope from the administrator of a trust company, George P. Bancroft. That name is my little joke- Bancroft was a famous nineteenth century US historian. Eileen ran away from her former job, where she worked with her sister. It seems that her brother-in-law was harassing her, and rather than create tension in the marriage, she disappeared. By the end of the play, she has learned that Bancroft is not intrinsically evil because he's a wealthy, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and she's taught him something about the famine-ravaged Ireland that she escaped. The prize was awarded by Byron Toben of Montreal, where there will be a reading of the play in the future.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sixth Annual Blogfest

This year, I actually made it to Blogfest instead of just thinking about it. It was at the Bell House- a cool venue that I'd never been to before, and I assume that a little of the coolness rubbed off on me. The founder of Blogfest is Louise Crawford, the author of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, who has kindly run features on two shows of mine : "Did You Hear the One About the Carp Who Hailed a Taxi?" at 440 Gallery and "Brooklyn Lighthouse" at Open Source Gallery.
It only lasted about an hour and a half, but there was a heated disagreement about whether or not blogs should accept advertising. I obviously have no problem with advertising, but there were adults bickering behind me- "Shut up!" "No, you shut up!" "You can't be pure and accept advertising!"
The keynote speaker was Jeff Jarvis, a former editor and journalist who teaches at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism. Very interesting guy. I also saw Kevin Walsh, who devotes so much time to one of my favorite blogs, Forgotten New York.
There's a link to the Brooklyn Eagle feature about the evening above.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Knock Is Coming

My play, "Knock," is part of this year's Black Box New Play Festival at the Gallery Players. It is part of the second week of short plays. Link above to buy tickets. "Knock" is directed by Liz Thaler, and features Heather Lee Harper as Maria, Brian Gildea as FBI Agent Schaeffer and Colin Sutherland as Maria's teenaged son, Gustav. The play was read at Chelsea Rep last summer, and had a staged reading as part of the Lunchtime Series at Studio Roanoke in December.
It will be performed Thurs., June 16 and Fri., June 17 at 8PM, and Sat., June 18 and Sun., June 19 at 4PM. Tickets are $18. The Gallery Players is at 199 14th Street (between Fourth and Fifth Avenues) in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The play is about Maria Schmidt, a German refugee living in Yorkville in 1943. The night before, the FBI arrested her husband for spying for the German High Command. The agent in charge of the case has come back to the Schmidt apartment to determine how much Maria knows about her husband's espionage activities.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Wilder Life

Last week, I read Amy Pitt's review of The Wilder Life in Time Out NY (link above). It was not the biggest rave ever, but the book's subject matter resonated with me. Chicago writer Wendy McClure spent a year intermittently tracing the various homes of the Charles Ingalls' family, immortalized in his daughter's Little House books. Little House in the Big Woods is the first chapter book that I remember reading. It was also one of the few Little House books that I actually owned- most of them I read via the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.
As an adult, whenever I thought of the Little House books it was in reference to my nieces- where they of the right age and temperament for the books as gifts. Then several years ago, I found myself in southeastern Kansas, doing a residency at the William Inge Center (which was quite an experience; I don't think I've ever gotten so many ideas for plays in such a short period of time). The nearest town to the Little House on the Prairie is Independence, where William Inge was born. I didn't have a car, and long-suffering Inge Center Associate Bruce Peterson drove me to the Ingalls' house. I hadn't seen any of the houses before. I saw the log cabin (a reproduction, but what a small space for that many people!), the well that Pa dug, a school and, of course, the gift shop (I admit, I went a little crazy. My excuse was I was documenting my trip for my eldest niece).
Wendy McClure has done what I've thought about ever since. She's visited all the Little House sites (even Almanzo's boyhood home upstate), and recorded her emotional responses to the books, the history and the death of her mother which sent her off in this direction. I picked up the book at the Strand on Friday and finished it last night. If I hadn't been so busy, it wouldn't have taken that long.
Images courtesy of McClure's website, http://www.wendymcclure.net/2011/03/announcing-the-wilder-life-wagon-trail/