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,

Friday, May 13, 2011


Tonight, I saw Oliver! at the Gallery Players. The last time I saw it on stage was in the gym of a Catholic girls high school when I was a teenager. I remember it being endless. This production moved lightning fast, to the point where I suspect that Tams-Witmark has trimmed the book. I don't think musicals circa 1960 moved that fast. I grew up with the Broadway album, so I do know the songs well.
In the Gallery Players production, Neal J. Freeman's direction and Josie Bray's choreography were good and unobtrusive. The stand outs among the actors are Stacie Bono as Nancy (she's got a great belt, too), Greg Horton as Mr. Bumble (if you can imagine Paul Giamatti not being schticky and/or fussy) and Dominic Cuskern as Fagin (this Fagin loves his boys, but perhaps he loves his money a wee bit more; his rendition of "Reviewing the Situation" stopped the audience dead in their tracks).
And frankly it was refreshing to hear a pre-Webber, pre-Claude-Michel Schoenberg (guy who wrote Les Miz) musical. It's a great story. There are actual second verses. It was not amplified out of existence, and for the most part, the balance between the orchestra and the singers was okay. There are songs that drive the story and make sense for the characters to sing; none of it sounds like a rip-off of Puccini. And the comic songs are funny because they come out of character, not because they're clever (imagine!).
I grew up in a house where Dickens was revered (well, not by my mother but the rest of us felt that way). My father spent some evenings for a few years reading "A Christmas Carol" to us. You get a much better sense of the ghost story aspect of it when you read it or hear it read. When I was in college, I took a great English novel class at Amherst taught by a man named Bill Pemberton (no idea where he is these days). We read the first and final novels of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (who I developed an appreciation for), and Dickens. Dickens' first novel was Oliver Twist (unless you think the Pickwick Papers is a classic novel, and I agree with Pemberton on this, not so much). And I guess when I think of Oliver, I think of the novel (which is fairly short and very stark- nearly as stark as Hard Times) and the 1948 movie directed by David Lean. DIckens is relentless in his characterization of Fagin as "the Jew," to the point where he felt so guilty after the novel was published, Dickens never wrote another negative, stereotypical Jewish character. What's astonishing to me about the Lean film is Alec Guinness' characterization of Fagin. I love Guinness as an actor. The man was a genius. What he is able to do with Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (with not much screen time) is amazing. In Captain's Paradise (I keep waiting for someone to remake that), you still love his character, despite the fact that he's cheating on his wife with his mistress and visa versa. But Fagin (and I assume some of the credit for this goes to Lean) is the Jewish stereotype writ large: the gabardine, the stroking of the coins in his hands, the hooked nose, etc. And it's a shame, because the rest of the movie is wonderful. And from my perspective, not a little shocking a mere three years after the Nazi gas chambers were operating.

Book Signing

My friend Lisa Napoli (we went to Hampshire College together) has a new book out, Radio Shangri-La- What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth. With the book, comes a signing party this Sunday, 4-7 PM. It's at Idlewild Bookshop, 12 West 19th Street in Manhattan. I will be there, ready to get the author's autograph!

The Slynx

I have just finished Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx. She is Leo Tolstoy's great, great niece. An old friend of mine, who sadly is no with us, was the great grand daughter of Tolstoy's personal physician, so Ms. Tolstaya and I are practically related.
The Slynx is set in a creepy, detailed, post-nuclear holocaust Russia. Tolstaya's descriptions of how the denizens of this world look are remarkable not only for what they include, but also what they omit. The action centers around Benedikt, a scribe, who marries another scribe. She happens to be the daughter of the Saniturion, the man who eliminates undesirables; their entire family has claws (I imagined them as giant rooster claws) instead of feet. One fellow scribe who is sweet on Benedikt is described as having three red chicken combs on her head. You settle into the scenes and then Tolstaya throws in an offhand reference to the number of eyes or their location on a face, and as a reader you are reminded how like and unlike our world this uncanny (Goethe would have said "unheimlich") Russia is. And one cannot help but get attached to Benedikt, because he falls in love with books, which are contraband for ordinary folk.
The translation by Jamey Gambrell is so smooth that I kept forgetting that the novel's original language wasn't English. This is the best Russian novel I've read in years.