Monday, March 26, 2012

Is this The Best Comedy Song Ever?

Above is an link to an excerpt from "New Faces of 1952," which includes the "Boston Beguine." My parents had this record when I was a little girl. It may be the best comedy song ever.

La Mama Umbria

Here is my friend David Diamond's information about La Mama Umbria this summer. I understand that it's expensive, but it is a magical place. I had an amazing time there a few years ago at the playwrights' intensive.

"La MaMa Umbria Announces Artists for International Theatre Workshops in Italy"

Directors, Actors, Playwrights, Composers and Theatre-Makers from Iraq, Japan, Italy and the United States offer personal insights into theatre-making at La MaMa Umbria in July / August, 2012. This year’s emphasis is on Collaboration amongst artists in the theatre and other disciplines.

Among the renowned theatre practitioners who will participate are: Elizabeth Swados, Neil LaBute, Mac Wellman, Yoji Sakate, Stephan Koplowitz, Kwesi Johnson, Melanie Joseph, John Moran among many others.

Workshops range from Site-Specific Performance, Meyerhold Technique, Using Noh with Modern Texts and The Actor/Playwright Collaboration to Creating Theatre Through Music, Pataphysics of Performance and The Tempest and the Sea.

All participants live and work at La MaMa Umbria International, Founder Ellen Stewart’s 15th century arts complex in the Umbrian hills near Spoleto. La MaMa Umbria includes a rehearsal studio, an outdoor stage, gallery space, a cafĂ© and other unique spaces. Fresh, delicious food comes from the garden and many meals are cooked in a 500 year-old stone oven.

La MaMa Umbria offers 4 distinct programs in 2012 including International Symposium for Directors/Theatre-makers, Playwright Retreat, Master Acting Workshops and Residencies. Most workshops include visits to areas of local culture including Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto or other ancient towns and performances at summer festivals and community events.

The deadline for Registration/Application for the various programs is May 15, 2012 (except Residencies). Detailed information and Registration/Application Forms can be found at For more information, call (212) 620-0703 or (212) 254-6468."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

100 Best NYC Songs

In Time Out New York's March 8th issue, they assembled their list of the 100 Best Songs about New York. I agreed with some of the choices, but definitely not the order.
Years ago I was working on a play about New York, and when I had to identify my favorite song (I was trying to make the ending work, it was 2 AM, and bourbon had been consumed) it had to be Cole Porter's "I Happen to Like New York." It's not just a song, more like a call to arms. In a more narrative vein, Kristy McColl and the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York is right up there with me. The TONY list has too much Springsteen, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" (must you? Really?). It's never been my favorite Kander & Ebb song, and Sinatra got the lyrics wrong. The only bad thing about the Yankees winning the World Series is the incessant playing of that song. Steely Dan in on for "Daddy Don't Live in that New York City No More," but not "Bad Sneakers." There are a couple of original cast albums ("On the Town," but not "West Side Story"), and "Rent," God help us all. The Stones are on for "Shattered," but not "Miss You." Ella Fitzgerald singing "Manhattan" (from the Verve series) and Billie Holiday for "Autumn in New York." Much Simon & Garfunkel, and Lou Reed, including "Walk on the Wild Side." Joni Mitchell, not "Big Yellow Taxi" but "Chelsea Morning." And the great George Benson, "On Broadway."
So I didn't agree with a lot of it, but it did make me think.

World Theatre Day

In 1961, the International Theatre Institute (ITI) established World Theatre Day, to be celebrated each March 27th (link above).
I cribbed this from my friend Cheryl's posting in the League of Professional Theatre Women's newsletter yesterday.
So do something theatrical on Tuesday- see a play, read a play, write a play.

The Fear In Yesterday's Rings

I'm still doing research on American circuses in the first half of the 20th century, and on rural Hungary circa 1880 for my tiger play. Last week I read a mystery, The Search for Yesterday's Rings, by George Chesbro. I had never heard of the novel or Chesbro (he died in 2008).
Chesbro's detective is a dwarf whose stage name is Mongo (from his days as an acrobat). Mongo and his brother run a detective agency in New York City. In an attempt to restore the Statler Brothers Circus to his former boss, Phil Statler, Mongo uncovers quite a circus. It's now run by two evil Swiss Germans, the Zelezians, interested in creating assassins for foreign governments. But these assassins have four legs- a recreation of an extinct canine, the lobox. These wolf dogs are deadly and scary, and Chesbro's plotting, if not always his prose, is excellent. It's a fast, creepy, interesting novel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Isn't that cover photograph great- the little boy and the big elephant, next to each other, hanging out.
My friend Martha lent me her copy of Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer, which I devoured in a few days. It took me awhile to catch on that it was a novel (well, when you want it to be true, my mind does that). Regardless, it's a wonderful, compelling story. My first clue was John Ringling North showing up in the Black Forest in I believe the 1920s, when he should have been in school at Yale. I've done so much research about circuses in the past year and a half, I know things like that. The Hartford circus fire was during World War II, and it was worse than it should have been because the tent wasn't flame retardant (all that was commandeered by the government for the war effort). John Ringling North was not with the circus then, for that very reason.
Finally, the haven where Modoc lives out his last years must have been Jungle Land (where Mabel Stark worked the big cats), where the Thousand Oaks civic center is now. But surely that was more of a theme park than an animal sanctuary? It probably helps to know less of the history in the case of this particular novel.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

You Knew It Had to Come

I hate to linger on who and what have vanished from New York, but in this case, I'll make an exception. Manganaro's, the great Italian grosseria where you could eat in the back, has closed its doors. There were a bunch of groceries like that in that neighborhood as recently as ten years ago, and poof! Not anymore.
Vanishing New York has the gory details:
I swiped their photo, too. I always loved that blue sign.

New Story

My friend MT Cozzola (we were at La Mama Umbria together) has her own story blog,, where she posts a new story every day. But recently, one of her stories, Third Waterfall, got picked up by Hippocampus Magazine: Isn't that a fantastic name for a literary magazine? The story is about friendship and where it may take us. Shout out to MT!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife has been out for awhile, but I avoided it for two reasons. Her first novel Prep had been hyped to the skies, and when I got round to reading it, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. I thought it was workmanlike, but certainly not exceptional. The other reason I avoided American Wife is that it's a fantasia on who former First Lady Laura Bush might be. I was so glad to have that administration gone, I had no desire to revisit it.
But two weeks ago I broke down and read American Wife and it's very good. Sittenfeld moves the main action from Texas to Wisconsin; the political family is big in meat processing, not oil. She deftly handles her characters, so that it sees imminently plausible that Alice (an only child from a small town, who becomes a children's librarian) is not only attracted to Charlie, but falls in loved with him. After they marry, they struggle with Charlie's alcoholism and his being born again, as he ascends the political ladder.
What distressed me about the book was the last section, set in Washington. I almost wished that Sittenfeld had ended it at the Presidential election. The novel, out of necesity, descends into a Joe Klein's Primary Colors type of scenario, and I found myself going, "If that's Cheney, is the other guy Rumsfeld?" trains of thought. It was distracting. Still, Sittenfeld tells a wonderful story.