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

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]
(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.