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

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.