Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Skull Beneath the Skin

(Photo credit:  Wikipedia)

Tom Bovo has a solo photography show, Genius Loci, at 440 Gallery (440 Sixth Avenue, near Ninth Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn).  He commissioned me to write a play for it. 
Genius Loci is photographs of leaves.  After looking at the photographs, I decided that some of them reminded me of x-rays.  So I have written a ten minute play about Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of the x-ray.  It's called "The Skull Beneath the Skin," and it's directed by Christie Marie Clark.  Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum plays Roentgen, and Cotton Wright plays his long-suffering wife, Bertha.  The costumes are by Meganne George.

Performances are Saturday, November 16 at the gallery at 4:40 and 6 PM.  Admission is free.  Wine and seltzer provided.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Happy Birthday, Uncle Julie

It's late in the day, but I wanted to commemorate Julius Henry Marx's birthday.  Groucho would be 123.  Is there any movie moment so great as his "Captain Spaulding" dance?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Still Room in Advanced Playwriting

There are still places left in my Playwriting 2 class.  It meets every other Monday night, 7-10 PM, starting Monday, September 23rd.  Students are expected to complete a long one-act, or an act of a full-length play.  There are five sessions, and tuition is $200. 

All classes are at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th floor, in New York City.  For more information, contact Studio Manager Tish Brandt at 646.409.8033 or

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More Olmsted & Vaux

I'm tidying up the dramaturgy handout for the first show on Sat.  Here's a timeline of important dates for Olmsted and Vaux (pronounced "Vawks").
April 26, 1822           Frederick Law Olmsted born in Hartford, Connecticut to John and Charlotte Olmsted

December 22, 1824  Calvert Vaux born in London, England

August 1825              John Hull Olmsted (brother) born

February 28, 1826   Charlotte Olmsted dies, age 25, from an overdose of laudanum; speculation that it was suicide

1827                           John Olmsted marries Mary Ann Bull; they have six children

1840                           Olmsted moves to Brooklyn; goes to work for a silk importer at 53 Beaver Street in Manhattan

April 24, 1843           Olmsted sets sail on the Ronaldson to China as an apprentice sailor; at sea for 104 days

1846                           Olmsted enrolls at Yale College as a “special student”; then, decides to become a farmer

1847                           Father buys Olmsted a farm at Sachem’s Head, Connecticut, on Long Island Sound

1848                           Olmsted persuades father to buy him a farm on Staten Island

April 27, 1850           John & F.L. Olmsted travel to England; Olmsted fascinated by the landscape, and in Birkenhead Park,  first park built with public money

1851                           Vaux moves from London to Newburgh, New York to work for Andrew Jackson Downing; by 1852, Vaux & Downing are partners

1852                           Andrew Jackson Downing dies in the Henry Clay steamship explosion in the Hudson River near Yonkers at age 36
1853                           John Charles Olmsted born to Mary & John Hull Olmsted
                                   NY State Assembly passes bill creating the Central Park, from 59th to 106th Streets

1854                           Vaux marries Mary Swan McEntee

1855                           Charlotte Olmsted born to Mary & John Hull Olmsted

1856                           Vaux becomes US citizen; joins the National Academy of Design and the Century Club

1857                           Vaux is a founding member of the American Institute of Architects
                                    Olmsted & Vaux create and submit the “Greensward plan” for               Central Park
                                    Owen born to John Hull & Mary Olmsted

November 24, 1857 John Hull Olmsted dies of tuberculosis in Nice, France

1858                           Julia Vaux born

December 11, 1858  First part of Central Park, the Lake, opens for skating

June 3, 1859              Aunt Marie Olmsted (father’s sister) dies; she kept house for Olmsted

June 13, 1859            Olmsted marries his sister-in-law, Mary Olmsted, in Central Park; adopts her three children Charlotte, Owen & John Charles; together with the Vaux family, they move into Mount St. Vincent convent, in the Park at 109th Street

Summer 1859           The Ramble opens in Central Park

June 14, 1860            John Theodore Olmsted born, Mary & Frederick Olmsted’s first child

August 6, 1860          carriage accident, in which Olmsted breaks his leg and nearly dies; one leg is shorter than the other for the rest of his life

August 14, 1860       John Theodore Olmsted dies of cholera

June 20, 1861           Olmsted takes appointment as administrator of the US Sanitary Commission (forerunner of the US Red Cross)

1861                           Marion Olmsted born to Frederick Law & Mary Olmsted

1864                           Marion Vaux born

May 29, 1866             Olmsted & Vaux appointed landscape architects of Prospect  Park

November 24, 1866 Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. born; lives for 6 hours, dies

1870                           Charles Olmsted (called “Boy”) born to Frederick Law & Mary Olmsted; at age 6, he is renamed Frederick “Rick” Law Olmsted, Jr.

October 18, 1872      Olmsted and Vaux dissolve their partnership; Olmsted’s first solo job is McLean Hospital

January 25, 1873      John Olmsted (father) dies at 81

March 14, 1874        Congress appropriates budget for Olmsted to landscape design US Capitol

October 15, 1878      Charlotte Olmsted marries Dr. John Bryant at Trinity Church in Boston; they have three boys, Olmsted’s first grandchildren

November 21, 1881 Owen Olmsted (stepson) dies of tuberculosis

1883                           Olmsted and Vaux landscape design Niagara Falls (NY)

August 1892              Mary Vaux dies in a carriage accident

November 19, 1895 Calvert Vaux drowns in Gravesend Bay; speculation that it was suicide, though his children deny it

September 1898       Olmsted committed to McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts

August 28, 1903       Olmsted dies at McLean Hospital

1908                          Charlotte Olmsted Bryant dies in an insane asylum in Norwood, Massachusetts

My New Best Imaginary Friend, Calvert Vaux

Since mid-May, I've been busy researching and writing a play about Frederick Law Olmsted.  It's a commission from Open Source Gallery to accompany the opening of their new installation, We Know Not Exactly Where or How, an Olmsted-inspired park put in the gallery itself. 

Here are the guys themselves.  The play is called "Olmsted in Autumn."  The wonderful Tamara Fisch is directing, Mitchell Stout plays Olmsted, Michael Raimondi plays Vaux, and Cotton Wright plays Charlotte Olmsted (his stepdaughter) and Charlotte Olmsted (his mother). Costume design by Sidney Shannon.

It will be performed August 24 and 27 at 7:30 and 8:30 PM at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th Street, Park Slope.   Admission is free. 

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were the landscape architects of Central Park, Prospect Park and Niagara Falls, among many other spaces. 

Olmsted in Autumn looks at Olmsted near the end of his life.  Because of his advancing senility, he has ceased working and his family has committed him to the McLean Hospital.  He is visited by three ghosts with whom he has unfinished business:  first, his stepdaughter/niece Charlotte, who’s incarcerated in a different Massachusetts mental hospital; next, his longtime partner Calvert Vaux, who drowned himself in Gravesend Bay two years earlier; and finally, his mother Charlotte, who died from an overdose of laudanum when Olmsted was a child.  

This is Anne Phelan and Dramahound’s fifth production at Open Source; previous plays include Brooklyn Lighthouse; Deconstruction (featuring Cotton Wright); Mi Tigre, My Lover (directed by Tamara Fisch, featuring Cotton Wright, costume design by Sidney Shannon); and a reading of The Tiger Play (directed by Tamara Fisch, featuring Michael Raimondi).

Open Source Gallery is a 501(c)3 owned and curated by Gary Baldwin and Monika Wuhrer.  Directions:  To reach Open Source, take the R train to Prospect Avenue.  306 17th Street, near Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn NY.  646.279.3969

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mister Softee

It's nearly summer.  Hopefully, it will stop raining, some day, and we'll all be ready for a Mister Softee! 

Below are the lyrics to the Mister Softee jingle (courtesy of the NY Daily News).  Get ready to sing along!
For a refreshing delight supreme, look for Mister Softee
My milkshakes and my sundaes and my cones are such a treat!
Listen for my store on wheels ding-a-ling down the street.
The creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream you get from Mister Softee.
For a refreshing delight supreme, look for Mister Softee
S-O-F-T double-E.  Mister Softee!

Advanced Playwriting Class

There's still room in the Playwriting II class for the summer at The Acting Studio.  Class meets every other Monday, 7-10, beginning Monday, June 24th.  Classes are held at Shetler Studios (244 West 54th, 12th floor). 
At each class session, we read a full-length play, discuss it, and students bring in new pages (5-20 pages) to read.  The class is taught as a workshop in a supportive, pre-professional environment, emphasizing how to make your play into the play you want it to be.  Students usually complete a long one-act or the first act of a full-length play.  
Students from this class have gone on to have work in the NYC Fringe Festival, Strawberry One-Act Festival, etc. 
Please contact Patrick Avella at, or go to  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

New Play

My friend Joe Musso is an excellent playwright.  If you are in Los Angeles any Saturday in the next few weeks, please check out his newest, Republic County, at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre.

Monday, May 27, 2013


I recently finished reading Kevin Baker's Dreamland.  I was hoping it had some information on Jack Bostock's Coney Island circus.  One of the characters in my play, The Tiger Play, apprenticed as an animal trainer with Bostock.  It had a few pages on Bostock, with the attitude that he was crazy to tame lions and tigers at all, once a lion had lost him his hand.  

The novel was okay, though I had a hard time getting into it at first (the Yiddish seemed really forced to me-  I can't actually describe why).  I haven't read the other two novels in this trilogy-  Paradise Alley (about the Draft Riots) and Strivers Row (about a young Malcolm X). 

My favorite part of the book was his historical notes at the end-  where things I've read about actually were in Coney island.  The house in Annie Hall, built under the rollercoaster? That was actually the Kensington Hotel, and the Thunderbolt roller coaster was built over it in 1926.  The roller coaster and house were demolished in 1983, and they stood on the empty lot next to the Cyclones' stadium.

Those incubator babies on the boardwalk in Atlantic City on Boardwalk Empire?  That practice originated at Coney Island-  showing the babies in the incubators for a small fee.  That way the parents didn't have to pay for the babies' care.  Supposedly, Cary Grant (back when he was still Archie Leach) was one of the Infantorium's barkers.

The "first enclosed amusement park" in the US was Sea Lion Park, on 12th Street (now apartment buildings).  Next to that was the wooden hotel built in the shape of a 150 foot high elephant.   

Luna Park (which even impressed Maxim Gorky)was where Astroland and Deno's Wonder Wheel are now.  Dreamland itself was where the Aquarium is now.  The Aquarium used to be in Castle Clinton in lower Manhattan, until Robert Moses shut it down and moved it to Brooklyn after World War II. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Department of Transport

(l to r) Nicole McLaughlin as Senior Officer, Amanda Lea Mason as Junior Officer, Caitlin Goldie as Sheila   

(l to r) Nicole McLaughlin as Senior Officer, Amanda Lea Mason as Junior Officer   

As you can see from the above, director Angelo Berkowitz and I have a cast-  I took these photos in rehearsal last night.  I have done more work on the play than I anticipated, thanks to Angelo and the actors.  Always helps to see the play differently with actual people, as opposed to the ones living in my head.  

We are getting close to the end of the process.  I froze the script last night, and the first tech is Monday.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Department of Transport

I teach playwriting at The Acting Studio, founded by my friend James Price.  Until last fall, I taught in the theatre part of the Studio, Chelsea Rep Lab, which John Grabowski runs.  Last spring was the height of the stop-and-frisk controversy, so John had all the students write one-act plays on that theme.  He or James (I don't remember which) suggested that I do, too.   I was somewhat at a loss.  I can always make things up, but what did I, a middle-aged white woman know about that first hand?

The closest I could muster was that in high school, I'd played Theresa Palancia, a shop lifter, in a video for the Cuyahoga County Criminal Justice System.  When we were shooting in the juvenile detention center, I had a frantic five minutes where I was mixed in with the general population, wearing the uniform.  I wasn't afraid of the other girls (maybe I should have been), I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get out.

And then I remembered that about ten years ago I was held for three hours in a British airport because they suspected me of being connected to the Irish Republican Army, or another Northern Ireland paramilitary group.  It was not a pleasant experience.  Considering the fact my father's family left Ireland during the worst famine in the 1840s, it was not terribly logical.  That didn't stop the Department of Transport.   

So I wrote about it.   The play is far from autobiography-  I had to do a fair amount of research, things are articulated that were not in my interview (I knew they were looking for plastic explosives in my suitcase-  I didn't need to ask).  There was a reading of Department of Transport at The Acting Studio last December, directed by Angelo Berkowitz.  He's also directing the production at Gallery Players that goes up next week.  Details to follow.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Nance

Cady Huffman as Sylvie

I saw The Nance a few weeks  ago (being in rehearsal and writing a commission do not lend themselves to much blogging time).  Primarily, I was going to see Cady Huffman, and Nathan Lane and Jack O'Brien couldn't hurt, right?  Lewis J. Stadlen I'd seen play Groucho Marx in Groucho:  A Life in Revue which my late, great friend Rusty Magee had musical directed.  I was not a big Douglas Carter Beane fan; I'd seen Advice from a Caterpillar and The Little Dog Laughed.  Not bad, but really not my cup of tea.  When I read Hilton Als' review in the New Yorker ("The Nance ... is a nearly perfect work of dramatic art"), I thought he's lost his mind.

Well, I was wrong.  I loved it.  I loved the script, and the fact that within the first 20 minutes there are references to both Singer's Midgets and Julian Eltinge, and the Lyceum is the perfect theatre for it.  I'm not sure I would have visualized Cady as a Communist striper, but I believe her every moment.  She and Lane are both touching and hilarious.  John Lee Beatty's turntable set is fantastic, Ann Roth's costumes are perfect (she is Ann Roth, I realize, but that baby doll nightgown that Cady wears with the hands on the tits is simply hilarious), the acting is across the board good (best thing I've ever see Stadlen do-  he and Lane even perform the "Niagara Falls" routine), the direction is just right.  Beane and Glen Kelly wrote new period-appropriate songs for the burlesque numbers. So good, in fact, my friend composer John Prestianni and I thought they might have been actual burlesque songs we weren't familiar with.   

Nathan Lane as Chauncey and Lewis J. Stadlen as Efram

 The Nance was extended through August 11th, and I'm going again.

Lincoln Center Theatre photos by Joan Marcus.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sidewalk Closed - Use Other Side

My boyfriend, Tom Bovo, has a new solo show opening this Friday which runs until Sunday, June 2nd.  It's called Sidewalk Closed - Use Other Side, and features his photographs of Brooklyn landscapes, mostly around Red Hook.  There are some color photos, though most are in black and white.

The show is at a new gallery-  Peninsula Art Space, 352 Van Brunt Street (near Sullivan Street).  The opening reception is Friday, May 10, 6-9.  Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday, noon to 7. 

For more information,

Above, Canal, by Tom Bovo.  Featured in Sidewalk Closed - Use Other Side.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Parade's End

I have just finished reading all four books of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End.  The Vintage Classics edition is 906 pages long.  I started losing steam when went off on the tangent of Tietjens' brother and his French mistress in the last book, The Last Post.  But up to then, I simply loved it.  I have read many American and British novels about World War I, even some of the poetry.  In fact, I've read so many I'm not certain how I missed this.   It's better than Siegfried Sassoon's trilogy, or Robert Graves' Good-bye to All That.  Having seen the HBO miniseries, I have renewed respect for Tom Stoppard's adaptation.  Amazingly good, of a totally nonlinear, multiple streams-of-consciousness work.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Accidental Autobiography

I've spent the last ten days reading Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's autobiography, written in 1996.  I read her book about Italy, Italian Days, a few years ago.  There is a lot of truly terrific writing in it.  A wonderful section on women and their perception of their bodies.  An appreciation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Another of Red Barber.  Fascinating descriptions of places she'd lived (India, Tripoli).  Her terrifying Brooklyn childhood (her mother was deeply crazy, and her father sexually abused her for years).

But the descriptions of the love of Harrison's life, who she calls "Jazzman," really made me wonder about her own sanity.  I am well aware that a. love makes people do stupid things (and I have done many); and b. I've become  more empathetic as I'm aged.  So to read that this intelligent, experienced, articulate woman, well past 50, is doing things like calling Jazzman's wife and harassing her, really pulled me up short.  I was embarrassed for her.  It made me uncomfortable.  And the rest of my experience of reading the book was not only trying to justify her behavior, but trying to match up that Harrison with the Harrison that the rest of the book implied, the Harrison who could write like this.

Harrison bought a carved monkey with a hole in its center in Bali.  "When I kept my monkey on a table surface, it used occasionally, in the night, to change position, and I would see it in the morning staring in a direction opposite the one I had last seen it in.  I am fully aware of the fact there are no inanimate objects.  Tired of the monkey's willfulness, I hung it on a wall, where now it seems content to be."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, GCT

It may not be my favorite public space in Manhattan, but it's way up there.  Grand Central has turned 100 years old.  It has its own website:  There were multiple articles in the New York Times about it. 

There was also a very cool "10 Things You Didn't Know" piece in Time Out New York by Nadia Chaudhury.  My personal favorite trivia bit is that Track 34 (because unlike the other tracks, it doesn't have columns) was the location of Fred Astare's dance up the ramp in The Bandwagon. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Alec Guinness

I lifted this off of Richard Toscan's recent LinkedIn post: 

Alec Guinness said, "There are three ways, I suggest to deal with critics. The first, most sensational, slightly dangerous but highly successful if carried out with sincerity, is to hit them." 

Sounds just like him.

Brecht in America

I have spent the last few days skimming Bertolt Brecht's FBI file.  Some parts have been redacted, but there is still plenty to read.  It's about 300 pages long, and covers 1941 to 1947.  The FBI was quite exhaustive in their surveillance, both visually and electronically.  

The link to part one is here:

There are plenty of people that you've heard of mentioned in the file:  Brecht; his wife; his mistress; his musical collaborator Hans Eisler; his children, Barbara and Stefan; Peter Lorre; Heinrich Mann; Charles Laughton; Elsa Lancaster; Elisabeth Bergner; etc.  I think the only one of them still alive is Eric Bentley. 

I'm not sure why the FBI chose Brecht's file to highlight.  Most of the informants' names are blacked out-  the only one that I recognized was Mrs. Robert Siodmak (we'd watched "The Killers" a few nights before). 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Swann's Way

The past few weeks I've been reading Swann's Way (Lydia Davis' 2002 translation).  I felt like not having read Proust was a gap in my education.  I'm not that well-read in French fiction, that's for certain, aside from Flaubert, Hugo and Balzac. 

So I finished reading Swann's Way.  I have no great desire to read the rest of In Search of Lost Time.  I really enjoyed Part I:  Combray, and the following two (Swann in Love and Place Names:  The Name) less and less.  A few years ago I knew a playwright who was trying to dramatize Swann in Love, and that still makes no sense to me.

Here's a quotation from the first part of Combray:
"I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in some inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison.  Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken.  Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Trip to Kansas

Back in October and November, I did a residency at the William Inge Theatre Festival (Peter Ellenstein, Artistic Director) in Independence, Kansas.  I shared Inge's birthplace with Adam Szymkowicz, who was working on a new musical about pan-sexual female pirates.  Adam was an excellent housemate!

Peter  took the beautiful photograph of the combined casts and creators of "My Dark and Scurvy Heart" (Matt Sherwin, lyricist, is sitting next to me; and Adam Szymkowicz is behind Forrest Attaway's head) and my play, "The Benders," which is set in southeastern Kansas.  Our shared actors were the wonderful Joe Gomez (the man with the mustache) as Johnny; Hannah Joyce-Hoven (next to Joe) was Actress #1 (who was so good I wrote more for her); Forrest Attaway (next to Hannah) was Actor #1; the lady in green was our beloved director Tamara Fisch; I'm in between her and Matt Sherwin; Sean McDermott (so funny, and so much menace, played Pa); Cady Huffman (yea!) played Ma, and Nellie McKay played Kate.

There is a zoo in Independence which I did not get to on my previous trip.  But Tamara and I made an effort to visit it this time.  It is, as Cady Huffman describes it, "a zoo with a door."  It is free.  There are monkeys on an island.  There are burros who tried to follow me.  And there were some pretty fine looking swans (this is my artistic photograph of the swan and its reflection

Winter Classes Start Tomorrow!

The Acting Studio winter term playwriting classes begun tomorrow night.  There is still room in each class.
The Advanced class meets every other Monday evening for ten weeks, 7-10 PM.  We are reading a full-length play for each class (tomorrow is Sophocles' Antigone; the next play is Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder), discuss it and then hear each others' work.  Students must have taken Beginning Playwriting or its equivalent.  Class is at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th floor.  Tuition is $200, payable at the first class.  We have a diverse group of students this time around-  different ages and backgrounds.  I'm looking forward to teaching it.
The Beginning class meets every Wednesday evening for ten weeks, 7-10 PM, starting January 30th.  There is no prerequisite other than a desire to write.  For each class, we will discuss a short play, and do in-class writing exercises.  Homework consists of reading a short play, and rewriting work begun in class.
For more information, contact Acting Studio manager Angelo Berkowitz at, or leave a message at 212.580.6600, and he'll get back to you.  For a full list of classes and faculty, see