Who Was Edgar Degas? The Musical ‘Degas in New Orleans’ Reveals Another Side of the Painter

Degas in a Green Jacket, Edgar Degas. Photo taken courtesy of the Wiki Art site.

Degas in a Green Jacket, Edgar Degas. Photo taken courtesy of the Wiki Art site.

Much of the background (setting 1872, New Orleans) ,of the Musical, Degas in New Orleans written by Rosary O’Neill, music composed by David Temple, is gathered from biographies written about Edgar Degas.

The World Premiere of Degas in New Orleans produced and directed by Deborah Temple with the Red Hook Performing Arts Club is being presented at The Bard Fisher Center. The dates are Thursday, December 18th and Friday, December 19th at 7:00 pm. It is being presented at Red Hook Central School District on Saturday, December 20th at 7:00 pm and Sunday, December 21st at 3:00 pm.

About Edgar Degas, the Background for Degas in New Orleans

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) has been regarded as a  founder of Impressionism because he was a key organizer of exhibitions of those painters who designated themselves as spontaneous and painted en plein air (in the open air). However, he disliked the categorization and preferred to be noted as a realist. He commented, “What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing.” (Armstrong, 1991, p. 22) His scenes of Parisian life, his experiments with form and color and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists, for example,  Mary Cassatt and Édouard Manet,  connect him intimately to the Impressionist movement (Roskill 1983, p.33), even if he denied it himself.

Pink Dancers, Before the Ballet, Edgar Degas (1884). Wiki site.

Pink Dancers, Before the Ballet, Edgar Degas (1884). Wiki Art site.

The eldest son of a wealthy banking family, Edgar’s artistic talent was recognized early by his father. Degas wanted to improve his artistic skill, so in his youth, as was done in Paris, he spent time copying the Italian masterpieces in the Louvre. Later, Edgar traveled to Italy in search of copying the greats: Michelangelo, Titian, and other Renaissance painters, visiting various churches to see the works on display. Not stuck in the past, Degas enjoyed studying modern artistic techniques, including photography and engraving. In searching about for his life’s work, he studied law to help with the family business as most sons did. But he decided against it and ended his law career in 1855 to pursue his early love of painting, sketching and drawing.

Degas had family in the US, his mom’s family, the Mussons. It was his Uncle Michel Musson and his daughters who lived in New Orleans on Esplanade Avenue in what is today known as “The Degas House.” After the Civil War broke out, and the conflict increased in intensity, the Musson sisters, Edgar’s cousins, were sent to France which is where Edgar first became acquainted with them. The youngest cousin, Estelle (Tell), lost her first husband during the War, while pregnant with their daughter.  Despite Edgar’s affections for Tell, it was Edgar’s youngest brother, René who married her and took her back to live in New Orleans. René amassed tremendous debts, ruined the business and eventually had to be bailed out by Degas, after Degas returned from his stay in New Orleans. It is his trip to New Orleans to visit his brother and the family when he discovers the family crisis and his brother’s negligence to the business and his own family.

Portrait of Estelle Musson Degas, Edgar Degas (1872). Courtesy of the NOMA site.

Portrait of Estelle Musson Degas, Edgar Degas (1872). Courtesy of the NOMA site.

Composer David Temple’s Observations Related to the Musical World Primere ‘Degas in New Orleans’

Degas joined the National Guard to fight for France during the Franco-Prussian War. During rifle training, his eyesight was found to be defective. And it was on his subsequent visit to New Orleans that he realized his right eye was permanently damaged: “What lovely things I could have done …if the bright daylight were less unbearable for me.  To go to Louisiana to open one’s eyes, I cannot do that.  And yet I kept them sufficiently half open to see my fill.”  In years to follow, he lost his ability to read and to identify colors, and he worked more and more in sculpture, a more tactile medium.  By 1891, he would write, “Ah! Sight! Sight! Sight!… the difficulty of seeing makes me feel numb.”

Edgar’s own failing eyesight most probably increased his empathy and affection for Tell who he discovered had gone blind after she returned to New Orleans with René. Edgar expressed his feelings in a letter to a friend: “My poor Estelle, Rene’s wife, is blind as you know.  She bears it in an incomparable manner; she needs scarcely any help about the house.  She remembers the rooms and the position of the furniture and hardly ever bumps into anything.  And there is no hope!”

Our attempt in this production is to elicit the artistic — and amorous — affections of the Musson – Degas clan, and to have a window into this beautiful yet tragic connection of the two who are losing their sight — yet perhaps truly “see” more clearly than anyone else — has been an exciting journey.  We so hope our work reaches the passion and artistic vision of each audience member.
Rosary O'Neill with Degas' The Dancer in Green exhibited at NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Playwright Rosary O’Neill with Degas’ The Dancer in Green exhibited at NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

PERFORMANCES AT BARD FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER

Tickets are selling fast. But you can call Bard Fisher Center’s Ticket Office to purchase tickets.

WHEN:  THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 845-758-7900/6822 and sold at the door. Click on the dates (December 18, December 19) in the calendar for tickets.

Deborah and David Temple, director and composer of 'Degas in New Orleans.' Photo courtesy of the Temples.

Deborah and David Temple, director and composer of ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Photo courtesy of the Temples.

PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

WHEN:  SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.

Sources

Armstrong, Carol (1991). Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago and London:      University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-02695-7
Roskill, Mark W. (1983). “Edgar Degas.” Collier’s Encyclopedia.
David Temple co-wrote the article.

Camille Claudel by Jeanne Fayard: Book Review

Jeanne Fayard is a French writer who is an expert on sculptors August Rodin and Camille Claudel. She has made an invaluable contribution to what we know and understand about Claudel’s early years in her book Camille Claudel.

When I was in Paris, I had the occasion to speak with Jeanne Fayard at length about Auguste Rodin’s one time mistress, who was a magnificent sculptress in her own right. Indeed, Camille Claudel who met Rodin when she was around 19 inspired some of Rodin’s finest work. Claudel has been the subject of two films (Camille Claudel, Camille Claudel 1915), because of her extraordinary life as a maverick artist and because of the dramatic response of her family to her individuality, autonomy and sheer genius all of which caused her mother great distress. Camille Claudel lived in a time when women were pawns; Catholicism crucified women who stood against the grain in how a woman was supposed to comport herself; morality for a woman was supposed to be above reproach.

'The Wave' by Camille Claudel. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille Claudel’s La Vague (1897), The Wave at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille’s father shielded and supported her throughout the first part of her career, despite her mother’s profound disapproval of her daughter. After her father died, Camille’s mother and brother, diplomat Paul Claudel, had Camille committed to an asylum in 1915 because of Camille’s alleged mental illness and outrageous behavior. Despite the implorement of doctors and others of renown who clinically deemed her eccentric but not insane, her mother and brother made sure Camille remained committed. It is certainly a tragedy for us and the art world that she spent the last thirty years of her life in confinement unable to work on any sculpture or art, an act which the family had forbidden.

Jeanne Fayard who initially intended to write a book about Rodin forty years ago and who had been researching and studying Rodin, ended up writing a book about Camille Claudel first because of an unusual series of events that happened. Jasques Cassar was an art lover who shared an interest with Fayard about Claudel and Rodin. After Cassar discovered Camille Claudel’s work (four sculptures), which Paul Claudel donated to the Musée Rodin in 1951, he became impassioned about Camille Claudel. He gained access to family files and continued his work in earnest, but was unable to finish his biography on Claudel before he died. Jeanne Fayard who had worked on a play about Camille Claudel was a friend of Jacques Cassar. She was privy to Cassar’s work and made sure the files were published posthumously, stating the work was authored by Jacques Cassar. Fayard wrote the Preface for what is known as Dossier Camille Claudel by Jacques Cassar.

Camille Claudel's The Age of Maturity (1899), a controversial and extraordinary work at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille Claudel’s The Age of Maturity (1899), a controversial and extraordinary work at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Fascinated by her subject and inspired by Jacques Cassar’s work and her love of Rodin, Jeanne Fayard continued her investigation of Camille Claudel. Through a process of viewing Camille Claudel’s amazing sculptures and comparing them with Rodin’s, Fayard realized that Claudel had launched out on her own led by a brilliance that could not be learned, that could not be instructed. Fayard understood that Claudel had a light, a divine provenance within her soul that fostered such incredible work. It was this light that struck Camille’s father to support his daughter. It was the same animating light that motivated teacher/sculptor Alfred Boucher to mentor Claudel for three years and then encourage Rodin to work with her. It was this same vitality that entranced Rodin into a tempestuous affair with her. And it was this stirring force of Camille’s vibrance that influenced Rodin’s work to new heights.

The realizations prompted Jeanne Fayard to search back into Camille Claudel’s early childhood. There she understood Claudel’s motivations, her early talents in drawing and art. In her investigation she discovered her personality, her determination, her influences, her inspirations. Fayard’s explorations revealed how Claudel’s early life shaped her psyche to develop what would become an incredible artist in her own right apart from Rodin. Indeed, these early beginnings molded Claudel like the clay she shaped into the figures that would eventually be cast into bronze or other materials and that are now housed at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

Camille Claudel's An Old Woman at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Camille Claudel’s Clotho (1893) at The Rodin Museum. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Fayard’s work is essential to understanding how Camille Claudel’s elements as a child, melted under the heat and pressure of her life with family — her mother, brother, father and sister. The early years, revealing her own innate artistic talent and acumen were the crucible which formed the woman who was a maverick for her time and one of the most striking and originally skillful women sculptors of all time. Certainly, she was a feminist if that word may be loosely applied to Camille Claudel’s bravery and mental fortitude to leave Rodin, destroy the work some of which she created during the period she was with him and move into the dark, uncharted waters of her own soul’s genius.

Jeanne Fayard’s work is in French, and if one has an average knowledge of the language it is easily understood. Certainly, for what it contributes to our knowledge of Camille Claudel, it should be translated in English to inspire those who adore Claudel’s work in this country and those future female artists who would gain inspiration from reading about Claudel’s early beginnings. For women Claudel’s entire life is a crucial read; it provides a revelation of the extent to which women are capable of coming into their own, and the extent that that remains a dangerous threat to other women who have the power to destroy them.

This Book Review first appeared on Blogcritics.

Roundtable Talk With Kevin Kline and Israel Horovitz About The Film, ‘My Old Lady’

Kristen Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline in 'My Old Lady.' Photo from the film.

Kristen Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline in ‘My Old Lady.’ Photo from the film.

Sitting at a roundtable with other journalists at the Cohen Media Group office (NYC) with Kevin Kline and Israel Horovitz to discuss their work on Horovitz’s directorial debut film, My Old Lady was a pleasure. I am familiar with Kline’s acting career from his work with John Houseman and Julliard’s The Acting Company in the early 1970s (Kline is a founding member), to the present. I am less familiar with Israel Horovitz’s plays, though I have seen some of the award winning films he has written and/or collaborated on. Both men who are close friends are superb masters of their craft in film and the theater arts. Kline has won a staggering number of awards, accolades and nominations for his stage performances (Tonys, Drama Desks, Obies, Outer Critics Circle, et. al.), and his film work (an Oscar, SAG award, Emmy and numerous other nominations). Israel Horovitz has been a globally celebrated, award winning playwright for decades, having written 70 plays which have been translated in over 30 languages; he is also an award winning screenwriter (The Strawberry Statement, Author, Author! Sunshine-collaboration, among others). Kline and Horovitz were delightful companions to us, generously offering a bit of time to discuss aspects of the film including its conception, the cast of My Old Lady, the working relationships and other interesting tidbits.

First, a few paragraphs about the film: this is not a spoiler alert, but a general thematic discussion. From start to finish My Old Lady is a ride of pleasure, pain, joy, irony, sadness, self-recriminations, forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation. The emotional ups and downs follow a storyline that cannot be anticipated or easily unraveled. Against the backdrop of beautiful Paris, Horovitz has created a masterpiece of storytelling that is real and visceral with a soupcon of madcap fun and poignant humor. The comedic is underlined with serious revelations about problematic aspects of human nature with which we may easily identify. Yet, the film is filled with hope that restores our faith in possibilities if there is the readiness to overcome the tragicomedy of a life lived in regret and stasis.

Israel Horovitz, prolific and celebrated playwright and award winning screenwriter directed his first feature, 'My Old Lady.' Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Israel Horovitz, prolific and celebrated playwright and award winning screenwriter directed his first feature, ‘My Old Lady.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The tragic “clown”of this wonderful film who rides the emotional Ferris wheel in the City of Lights and comes out on top is New Yorker Mathias Gold. Mathias inherits a viager (French real estate which comes with intricate strings attached), from his estranged father. In Paris Mathias learns that his inheritance (a stately old house), which he badly needs to sell as he is financially bankrupt, cannot be sold until occupant Madame Girard (Dame Maggie Smith) dies. While Mathias attempts to resolve the situation and take what is “rightfully his by American laws,” his destitution forces him to stay with Madame Girard and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), because has no money and nowhere to go. Residing with them to work things out, he eventually confronts the pain and sorrow of his own failures while he wrangles with Madame Girard and Chloe about the viager (a symbol of more than a real estate agreement).  During this process he learns the hidden secrets of how his own life has been tied up with theirs.

The stunning revelations nearly drown him in misery and deep regrets. However, he is in the right place at the right time and the wheel changes direction moving upward in hope. The emotional torrent that would have killed him in any other place on earth with any other two women on earth,  is transformed. From the swirling emotions spring a fountain of life and love which refreshes and brings healing to Mathias’ parched soul. His transformation provides a satisfying and uplifting resolution for Madame Girard and Chloe and all are able to make a new way for themselves. The intricacy, humor, pathos and magic of how Horovitz and the cast brilliantly bring it all together to effect the stark beauty of life thematically defies description.

Kevin Kline stars in 'My Old Lady,' directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Kevin Kline stars in ‘My Old Lady,’ directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

 At the beginning of the Interviews:  (Someone commented and mispronounced Israel Horovitz’s name.)

Israel Horovitz: (with a smile) Can I just say that my name is pronounced HoroVitz not Horowitz.

Kevin Kline: Very well. He lived on my block.

Israel Horovitz: Did he really?

Kevin Kline: He did.

Horovitz:  I met Horowitz (the famous pianist Vladamir Horowitz) once in my life on a plane. They took me to his seat then they realized their mistake and took me out of his seat.  (Israel laughs)  The only time I met him and he’s staring at me like I did that on purpose. (laughs)

I note that Kevin Kline, deferring to Israel in a quietly spoken undercurrent half to himself and half to Israel comments humorously for Israel to hear. It is a way they have with each other.  It is obvious these two are very close, sometimes finishing one another’s thoughts. It’s fun to watch their ease and the great trust between them.

Maggie Smith in Israel Horovitz's 'My Old Lady' Kevin Kline is down right. Photo from the film.

Maggie Smith in Israel Horovitz’s ‘My Old Lady’ Kevin Kline is down right. Photo from the film.

Horovitz: The movie is based on a play of mine called My Old Lady. And Kevin may not know this but I was at a point in my life when I wanted to do something that would really scare me because I’ve done a lot of plays. So I thought directing a film would really scare me and it was a matter of choosing one. I was in Moscow seeing the play at the Moscow Art Theatre and as I don’t speak a word of Russian, I was daydreaming. It was in that moment that I thought…boy, Paris is really missing from this three character ,one room play. Is this the love letter to Paris that I set down to write when I wrote it?

I thought it should be a movie and I wrote the first draft of a screenplay based on the play. I won a prize (from a screenplay competition in 2008 that was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America and the Île de France Film Commission). Part of the prize was going to Paris for six weeks and living in a 16th century abbey outside of Paris. The prize was set up to award a screenplay that had French and American cultural exchange. Another part of the prize was that the Isle de France Film Commission took me location scouting every day for this first draft of the script. It was then that I started to really see the film. When I revised the script a little bit, my first thought was to include my “cousin” Kevin (they are very close friends). Kevin was famously known as Kevin “de-cline” But he said “yes,” right away…uncharacteristically, I’m told. Then I roped him in to readings of the play in my house. Then I brought on board Miss Maggie and the others.

(Israel Horovitz shares a story to illustrate an important point about what his concept and intentions were in making the film.)

The Pope once came to Paris. And people were very upset because they thought there should be a division between church and state by the government. They were holding a protest. He was a little, little old man, it was just before he died and when he arrived, the first thing he said was, “It’s a pleasure to arrive somewhere in this life as an unambitious guest.” People were so disarmed by this.

Making this film, I was an unambitious guest. I didn’t do this movie because I wanted to build a big movie career. I did this movie because I wanted to make a beautiful movie, period. And Kevin joined this and signed on to this. And I knew I wanted to get great actors. I was too old to do a movie that might come and go without anybody seeing it. And I wanted it to be really significant. So Kevin was my only choice and Maggie was my only choice and by God they said “Yes.”

I met with Maggie, the first time I went to London and had lunch with her after she said, “Yes.” It was then she told me, “I’ve had 25 scripts that have been sent to me. You want to know why I chose yours?”  I said that I wasn’t sure I wanted to know (laughs). Then I said, “OK, tell me why.” And she said, “Because I don’t have to die at the end of your movie.” I hope this is not spoiling it for your readers. And I can say simply that directing Kevin and Maggie and Kristin Scott Thomas and Dominique Pinon, is like telling the sun to give light. It kind of knows already (laughs) that it’s supposed to give light.

Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith in 'My Old Lady,' directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo from the film.

Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith in ‘My Old Lady,’ directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo from the film.

QUESTION: All of you had worked in theater. How did that inform your relationship? Theater is very alive and I saw that translation in the film. I loved the film.

Isreal Horovitz: I love hearing you say that. (we all laugh)

QUESTION: Did working in theater make it easier? Had you worked with Kevin before?

Horovitz: I don’t think so. Certainly, Kevin and I knew each other for a hundred years.

Kline commented about a long time ago in their past when they either knew each other at Julliard.

Horovitz: But that was kind of like the dark ages.

Kline: With theater actors, they are all trained for the stage, or “housebroken.” It’s a cliche that there is a shorthand for stage actors. There isn’t.

Question: But isn’t “moment to moment life” required onstage? (the implication is that you have the editor and the director controlling the shots)

Kline: It’s the same in film and keeping it together between takes and being ready for the next take…we have little time…for 2 or three.

Horovitz: The thing I noticed is that we all knew each other’s work from theater for so many years that establishing intimacy took about 12 seconds. We all had stories to share and friends… and we had this trust that everybody knew what they were doing. There was no movie star who happened to have had a role that matched up so perfectly that they couldn’t do anything else

Kevin Kline made a wry, ironic comment about Maggie Smith’s complaining about the catering (it was a joke…the last thing that Dame Maggie would do). With great good humor, Kline indicated that all the actors were a professional team supportive of the project and there was no necessity for “egos.”

QUESTION: As a first time film director, how involved were you with the editing process?

Horovitz: I was there every day all day. It was endless. I was very involved. I can tell you that Kevin Kline in particular as an actor gives you what you want as a director with the first take and then shows you five other things that come into his mind, so when you’re editing you’ve got all this material. We could have done a straight up comedy. We could have done a very dark drama but he really understood the kind of thing I love which is comic and tragic in the same work which is like life is.

QUESTION: What lenses did you use for interior scenes?

Kevin Kline: The great thing about having a first time director, though in broad strokes there are two types of first time directors. Those who just got out of film school who want to “direct” the actors and those directors who know how to let the actors do their work and do not interfere. These know when to interject when it’s appropriate, if you’ve gone astray and they need to “put you back on track” or they may inspire a variety of things. For example we were on the quay, on the set in the scene when the opera singer is singing. Israel says, “Why don’t you sing back to her.” And it was like, “Yeah, fine.” And the crew got the lyrics to the aria and I sang a mini duet with the singer. Whereas a filmmaker who is just out of film school in my experience is like, “Well, we have to stick to just what we’ve got here.” They are keen on telling the actors what their motivation is, you know, nonsense like that. They don’t have experience with directing the actors. It’s all about how to trust the cinematographer.

Kevin Kline in 'My Old Lady.' Photo from the film.

Kevin Kline in ‘My Old Lady.’ Photo from the film.

Horovitz: We had a great, great DP (Director of Photography), a guy named Michel Amathieu. I told him 18 months before we shot the movie, “You’re the guy.” And it was all about fitting the schedules of the three main actors and this guy. I knew his work and I knew him intimately and he knew that he was heading for this. I am glad I can’t tell you the number of the lens because I could tell him what I wanted, the look that I wanted, and he could translate it.

Kline: (speaking to Israel) And you saw it in the frame. Israel was right there on the set and he saw what the camera would see. Not like many directors who are in another room watching on a monitor. He was there with the actors and knew everything that was being framed.

Horovitz: This may interest you. I don’t like generally film adaptations of plays. They seem not to be plays and they seem not to be movies. They’re some weird thing in between. And I knew that I had to make a movie that was a movie. I knew that when I was writing the movie and certainly when I was directing the movie that Paris was a missing character in the play. That’s why I saw the movie as I saw it and this shaped how I was directing the movie.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline in 'My Old Lady.' Photo from the film.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline in ‘My Old Lady.’ Photo from the film.

Could you talk about working with Kristin Scott Thomas?

Kline: I remember one of the first days working with Kristin. I love it when the director doesn’t say cut because we’ll see what happens after the written scene. Maybe there’s some improvisation we may use (Kevin Kline laughs). I remember Kristin was done with her lines and I’m still talking. Kristen says, “Aren’t we finished?” (laughter) But then she adapted to that and said, “Oh, I see.” She hadn’t worked that way before, apparently. Maggie also…slightly different generation…

Horovitz: Yeah, it’s just a different training.

Kline: Yes, it’s the British school of acting. I found that when I worked with British stage actors they are very professional. There isn’t a lot of nonsense about the inner subtext. It’s like “let’s get on with it…and come on let’s go.” But I like that. I had British teachers growing up and there is a strong work ethic, there’s something about it.

Horovitz: But Kevin was an American in the film so he could be quite different from Maggie and Kristen who have played mother and daughter three times now.

QUESTION: Did anything surprise either of you about the final cut?

Kline: (to Horovitz) You saw it so many times.

Horovitz: Well I saw every infinitesimal moment of the film every day of my damn life for months and months and months. There were no surprises in the final cut unless it was a mistake, a technical mistake. But Kevin saw it pieced together pretty close to the end.

Kline: And I think I told you when I saw it near the final cut, it was like a ballet without the music…it was with the temporary music, but the music is very important. But when I first saw it, I think I told you how I’ll see this four or five more times but it was not what I expected. And I don’t think it’s what anyone can expect. There are so many loops and surprises and textual colorations of comedy and drama and romance that are all intertwined in a very unexpected way. I was just surprised and delighted and I think I told you, I have to see it again to see if I have the same feeling. I guess I will.

QUESTION: What question are you asking in the film?

Horovitz: I started out to write a love letter to Paris and not surprisingly midway through I had to say to myself well, isn’t it interesting where this is taking me, and I went with it. And I think the question in this film is why do people do that to their children? And in our lives we hear people who are 50, 60 years old talking about their parents. And one piece of your brain is saying, “Oh get over it. And another piece of your brain is saying, you can’t get over it. You know you can’t get over it. There’s such serious damage done. So I think it’s thrilling in this film with these two people…I always knew that with these two people, his character knew her pain like nobody else would know her pain, and her character knew his pain like nobody else would ever know his pain. And I think it’s a relief and thrilling when these two people get together. It’s more than just a love story, a romance. It’s really profound when they get together and whew, they can lighten up a little bit.

After the Roundtable With Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline is Mathias Gold in Israel Horovitz's 'My Old Lady. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Kevin Kline is Mathias Gold in Israel Horovitz’s ‘My Old Lady. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

After the Roundtable, I had the opportunity to tell Kevin Kline that the first time I had seen him perform was in The Knack and How to Get It at The Saratoga Performing Arts Center. This was  in the early 1970s when The Acting Company summered there and performed a variety of plays hosted by Artistic Director John Houseman. Kline is a founding member. Kevin Kline discussed an interesting fact about that particular production. It was with The Knack that cast members commented about his talent for comedy and his “being funny.” Prior to that role, he was only interested in performing serious dramatic parts. He never imagined himself in comedies. Their comments and his success in The Knack were a revelation.

That role (Kline was amazing, memorable, so vibrant, his actions fluidly natural), opened up another world of opportunity and opened his eyes and talents to new considerations. Of course, as he grew in repertory, this led him to develop his talents in comedic roles. Each experience in a comedic role led to gaining additional experience in another and that experience in another. He was stretching his talent and avoiding what Houseman often counseled against, falling into the typical Hollywood style  of allowing oneself to be typecast, getting “stuck” in the “same old parts.”

Kline’s early successes and the development of his talent to constantly stretch his abilities eventually led to his stellar, award winning  comedic performances in film and on stage: an Oscar for Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, and Tonys for the pirate in The Pirates of Penzance and Falstaff in Henry IV, and On the Twentieth Century to name a few. Of course these are in addition to his having received Drama Desks, Outer Circle Critics awards a Lifetime Achievement Award and an induction to the Theatre Hall of Fame. And we haven’t even discussed his prolific body of Shakespearean performances and performances in other classics and a slew of film nominations. The man is exhausting to keep up with and indefinable…prodigious might be a descriptor. Maybe not…too limited.

Kline mentioned that he tells student actors to try everything and not pigeonhole (my word) themselves that they should only do one type of role or genre. He is passionate about actors opening up their talents and continually taking risks. Though he didn’t clarify, I would imagine Kline would think this especially so for actors in repertory or those who are part of a theater company. Truly, repertory seems to be the finest way an actor can grow, learn and stir up his or her abilities. Thankfully, there is Julliard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting at a roundtable with other journalists at the Cohen Media Group office (NYC) with Kevin Kline and Israel Horovitz to discuss their work on Horovitz’s directorial debut film, My Old Lady was a pleasure. I am familiar with Kline’s acting career from his work with John Houseman and Julliard’s The Acting Company in the early 1970s (Kline is a founding member) to the present. I am less familiar with Israel Horovitz’s plays, though I have seen some of the award winning films he has written and/or collaborated on. Both men who are close friends are superb masters of their craft in film and the theater arts. Kline has won a staggering number of awards, accolades and nominations for his stage performances (Tonys, Drama Desks, Obies, Outer Critics Circle et. al.), and his film work (an Oscar, SAG award, Emmy and numerous other nominations). Israel Horovitz has been a globally celebrated, award winning playwright for decades having written 70 plays which have been translated in over 30 languages; he is also an award winning screenwriter (The Strawberry Statement, Author, Author! Sunshine-collaboration, among others). Kline and Horovitz were delightful companions to us, generously offering a bit of time to discuss aspects of the film including its conception, the cast of My Old Lady, the working relationships and other interesting tidbits.

First, a few paragraphs about the film: this is not a spoiler alert, but a general thematic discussion. From start to finish My Old Lady is a ride of pleasure, pain, joy, irony, sadness, self-recrimination, self-forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation. The emotional ups and downs follow a storyline that cannot be anticipated or easily unraveled. Against the backdrop of beautiful Paris, Horovitz has created a masterpiece of screenwriting that is real and visceral with a soupcon of madcap fun and poignant humor. The comedic is underlined with serious revelations about our own worst aspects of human nature. Yet, the film is filled with hope that restores our faith in possibilities if there is the readiness to overcome the tragicomedy of a life lived in regret and stasis.

The tragic “clown”of this wonderful film who rides the emotional Ferris wheel in the City of Lights and comes out on top is emotionally and financially bereft New Yorker Mathias Gold. Mathias inherits a viager (French real estate which comes with intricate strings attached), from his estranged father. In Paris Mathias learns that his inheritance (a stately old house), which he badly needs to sell as he is financially bankrupt cannot be sold until occupant Madame Girard (Dame Maggie Smith) dies. While Mathias attempts to resolve the situation and take what is “rightfully his by American laws,” his destitution forces him to stay with Madame Girard and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas).  He has no money and nowhere to go. Residing with them to work things out, he eventually confronts the pain and sorrow of his own failures while he wrangles with Madame Girard and Chloe about the viager (a symbol of more than a real estate agreement).  During this process he learns the mysteries of his own life and theirs.

The stunning revelations leave him breathless and drowning. However, he is in the right place at the right time and the wheel changes direction upward toward hope. The emotional torrent that would have killed him in any other place on earth with any other two women on earth,  is transformed. Voila, it becomes a fountain of life. It is this fountain that refreshes and brings coolness and healing to Mathias’ parched soul. His transformation provides a satisfying and uplifting resolution for Madame Girard and Chloe and all are able to make a new way for themselves. The intricacy, humor, pathos and magic of how Horovitz and the cast brilliantly effect the stark beauty of life thematically revealed in the film defies description.

 At the beginning of the Interviews:  (Someone commented and mispronounced Israel Horovitz’s name.)

Israel Horovitz: (with a smile) Can I just say that my name is pronounced HoroVitz not Horowitz.

Kevin Kline: Very well. He lived on my block.

Israel Horovitz: Did he really?

Kevin Kline: He did.

Horovitz:  I met Horowitz (speaking of the famous pianist Vladamir Horowitz) once in my life on a plane. They took me to his seat then they realized their mistake and took me out of his seat.  (Israel laughs)  The only time I met him and he’s staring at me like I did that on purpose. (laughs)

I note that Kevin Kline, deferring to Israel in a quietly spoken undercurrent half to himself and half to Israel comments humorously for Israel to hear. It is a way they have with each other.  It is obvious these two are very close, sometimes finishing one another’s thoughts. It’s fun to watch their ease and the great trust between them.

Horovitz: The movie is based on a play of mine called My Old Lady. And Kevin may not know this but I was at a point in my life when I wanted to do something that would really scare me because I’ve done a lot of plays. So I thought directing a film would really scare me and it was a matter of choosing one. I was in Moscow seeing the play at the Moscow Art Theatre and as I don’t speak a word of Russian, I was daydreaming. It was in that moment that I thought…boy, Paris is really missing from this three character ,one room play. Is this the love letter to Paris that I set down to write when I wrote it?

I thought it should be a movie and I wrote the first draft of a screenplay based on the play. I won a prize (from a screenplay competition in 2008 that was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America and the Île de France Film Commission). Part of the prize was going to Paris for six weeks and living in a 16th century abbey outside of Paris. The prize was set up to award a screenplay that had French and American cultural exchange.  and it won a prize. Another part of the prize was that the Isle de France Film Commission took me location scouting every day for this first draft of the script. It was then that I started to really see the film. When I revised the script a little bit, my first thought was to include my “cousin” Kevin (they are very close friends). Kevin was famously known as Kevin “de-cline” But he said “yes,” right away…uncharacteristically, I’m told. Then I roped him in to readings of the play in my house. Then I brought on board Miss Maggie and the others.

(Israel Horovitz shares a story to illustrate an important point about what his concept and intentions were in making the film.)

The Pope once came to Paris. And people were very upset because they thought there should be a division between church and state by the government. They were holding a protest. He was a little, little old man, it was just before he died and when he arrived, the first thing he said was, “It’s a pleasure to arrive somewhere in this life as an unambitious guest.” People were so disarmed by this.

Making this film, I was an unambitious guest. I didn’t do this movie because I wanted to build a big movie career. I did this movie because I wanted to make a beautiful movie, period. And Kevin joined this and signed on to this. And I knew I wanted to get great actors. I was too old to do a movie that might come and go without anybody seeing it. And I wanted it to be really significant. So Kevin was my only choice and Maggie was my only choice and by God they said “Yes.”

I met with Maggie, the first time I went to London and had lunch with her after she said, “Yes.” It was then she told me, “I’ve had 25 scripts that have been sent to me. You want to know why I chose yours?”  I said that I wasn’t sure I wanted to know (laughs). Then I said, “OK, tell me why.” And she said, “Because I don’t have to die at the end of your movie.” I hope this is not spoiling it for your readers. And I can say simply that directing Kevin and Maggie and Kristin Scott Thomas and Dominique Pinon, is like telling the sun to give light. It kind of knows already (laughs) that it’s supposed to give light.

QUESTION: All of you had worked in theater. How did that inform your relationship? Theater is very alive and I saw that translation in the film. I loved the film.

Isreal Horovitz: I love hearing you say that. (we all laugh)

QUESTION: Did working in theater make it easier? Had you worked with Kevin before?

Horovitz: I don’t think so. Certainly, Kevin and I knew each other for a hundred years.

Kline commented about a long time ago in their past when they either knew each other at Julliard when Kevin was taking classes.

Horovitz: But that was kind of like the dark ages.

Kline: With theater actors, they are all trained for the stage, or “housebroken.” It’s a cliche that there is a shorthand for stage actors. There isn’t.

Question: But isn’t “moment to moment life” required onstage? (the implication is that you have the editor and the director controlling the shots)

Kline: It’s the same in film and keeping it together between takes and being ready for the next take…we have little time…for 2 or three.

Horovitz: The thing I noticed is that we all knew each other’s work from theater for so many years that establishing intimacy took about 12 seconds. We all had stories to share and friends… and we had this trust that everybody knew what they were doing. There was no movie star who happened to have had a role that matched up so perfectly that they couldn’t do anything else

Kevin Kline made a wry, ironic comment about Maggie Smith’s complaining about the catering (it was a joke…the last thing that Dame Maggie would do). With great good humor, Kline indicated that all the actors were a professional team supportive of the project and there was no necessity for “egos.”

QUESTION: As a first time film director, how involved were you with the editing process?

Horovitz: I was there every day all day. It was endless. I was very involved. I can tell you that Kevin Kline in particular as an actor gives you what you want as a director with the first take and then shows you five other things that come into his mind, so when you’re editing you’ve got all this material. We could have done a straight up comedy. We could have done a very dark drama but he really understood the kind of thing I love which is comic and tragic in the same work which is like life is.

QUESTION: What lenses did you use for interior scenes?

Kevin Kline: The great thing about having a first time director, though in broad strokes there are two types of first time directors. Those who just got out of film school who want to “direct” the actors and those directors who know how to let the actors do their work and do not interfere. These know when to interject when it’s appropriate, if you’ve gone astray and they need to “put you back on track” or they may inspire a variety of things. For example we were on the quay, on the set in the scene when the opera singer is singing. Israel says, “Why don’t you sing back to her.” And it was like, “Yeah, fine.” And the crew got the lyrics to the aria and I sang a mini duet with the singer. Whereas a filmmaker who is just out of film school in my experience is like, “Well, we have to stick to just what we’ve got here.” They are keen on telling the actors what their motivation is, you know, nonsense like that. They don’t have experience with directing the actors. It’s all about how to trust the cinematographer.

Horovitz: We had a great, great DP (Director of Photography), a guy named Michel Amathieu. I told him 18 months before we shot the movie, “You’re the guy.” And it was all about fitting the schedules of the three main actors and this guy. I knew his work and I knew him intimately and he knew that he was heading for this. I am glad I can’t tell you the number of the lens because I could tell him what I wanted, the look that I wanted, and he could translate it.

Kline: (speaking to Israel) And you saw it in the frame. Israel was right there on the set and he saw what the camera would see. Not like many directors who are in another room watching on a monitor. He was there with the actors and knew everything that was being framed.

Horovitz: This may interest you. I don’t like generally film adaptations of plays. They seem not to be plays and they seem not to be movies. They’re some weird thing in between. And I knew that I had to make a movie that was a movie. I knew that when I was writing the movie and certainly when I was directing the movie that Paris was a missing character in the play. That’s why I saw the movie as I saw it and this shaped how I was directing the movie.

Could you talk about working with Kristin Scott Thomas?

Kline: I remember one of the first days working with Kristin. I love it when the director doesn’t say cut because we’ll see what happens after the written scene. Maybe there’s some improvisation we may use (Kevin Kline laughs). I remember Kristin was done with her lines and I’m still talking. Kristen says, “Aren’t we finished?” (laughter) But then she adapted to that and said, “Oh, I see.” She hadn’t worked that way before apparently. Maggie also…slightly different generation…

Horovitz: Yeah, it’s just a different training.

Kline: Yes, it’s the British school of acting. I found that when I worked with British stage actors they are very professional. There isn’t a lot of nonsense about the inner subtext. It’s like “let’s get on with it…and come on let’s go.” But I like that. I had British teachers growing up and there is a strong work ethic, there’s something about it.

Horovitz: But Kevin was an American in the film so he could be quite different from Maggie and Kristen who have played mother and daughter three times now.

QUESTION: Did anything surprise either of you about the final cut?

Kline: (to Horovitz) You saw it so many times.

Horovitz: Well I saw every infinitesimal moment of the film every day of my damn life for months and months and months. There were no surprises in the final cut unless it was a mistake, a technical mistake. But Kevin saw it pieced together pretty close to the end.

Kline: And I think I told you when I saw it near the final cut, it was like a ballet without the music…it was with the temporary music, but the music is very important. But when I first saw it, I think I told you how I’ll see this four or five more times but it was not what I expected. And I don’t think it’s what anyone can expect. There are so many loops and surprises and textual colorations of comedy and drama and romance that are all intertwined in a very unexpected way. I was just surprised and delighted and I think I told you, I have to see it again to see if I have the same feeling. I guess I will.

QUESTION: What question are you asking in the film?

Horovitz: I started out to write a love letter to Paris and not surprisingly midway through I had to say to myself well, isn’t it interesting where this is taking me, and I went with it. And I think the question in this film is why do people do that to their children? And in our lives we hear people who are 50, 60 years old talking about their parents. And one piece of your brain is saying, “Oh get over it. And another piece of your brain is saying, you can’t get over it. You know you can’t get over it. There’s such serious damage done. So I think it’s thrilling in this film with these two people…I always knew that with these two people, his character knew her pain like nobody else would know her pain, and her character knew his pain like nobody else would ever know his pain. And I think it’s a relief and thrilling when these two people get together. It’s more than just a love story, a romance. It’s really profound when they get together and whew, they can lighten up a little bit.

After the Roundtable With Kevin Kline

After the Roundtable, I had the opportunity to tell Kevin Kline that the first time I had seen him perform was in The Knack and How to Get It at The Saratoga Performing Arts Center. This was  in the early 1970s when The Acting Company summered there and performed a variety of plays hosted by Artistic Director John Houseman. Kline is a founding member. Kevin Kline discussed an interesting fact about that particular production. It was with The Knack that cast members commented about his talent for comedy and his “being funny.” Prior to that role, he was only interested in and performing serious dramatic parts. He never imagined himself in comedies. Their comments and his success in The Knack were a revelation.

That role (Kline was amazing, memorable, so vibrant, his actions fluidly natural), opened up another world of opportunity and opened his eyes and talents to new considerations. Of course, as he grew in repertory, this led him to develop his talents in comedic roles. Each experience in a comedic role led to gaining additional experience in another and that experience in another. He was stretching his talent and avoiding what Houseman often counseled against, falling into the typical Hollywood style  of allowing oneself to be typecast, getting “stuck” in the “same old parts.”

Kline’s early successes and the development of his talent to constantly stretch his abilities eventually led to his stellar, award winning  comedic performances in film and on stage: an Oscar for Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, and Tonys for the pirate in The Pirates of Penzance and Falstaff in Henry IV, and On the Twentieth Century to name a few. Of course these are in addition to his having received Drama Desks, Outer Circle Critics awards a Lifetime Achievement Award and an induction to the Theatre Hall of Fame. And we haven’t even discussed his prolific body of Shakespearean performances and performances in other classics and slew of film nominations. The man is exhausting to keep up with and indefinable…prodigious might be a descriptor. Maybe not…too limited.

Kline mentioned that he tells student actors to try everything and not pigeonhole (my word) themselves that they should only do one type of role or genre. He is passionate about actors opening up their talents and continually taking risks. Though he didn’t clarify, I would imagine Kline would think this especially so for actors in repertory or those who are part of a theater company. Truly, repertory seems to be the finest way an actor can grow, learn and stir up his or her abilities. Thankfully, there is Julliard. Would there be more repertory companies to offer such opportunities!

 

 

excerpt:

What’s not to find joyous about roundtable interviews with award winning actor Kevin Kline and celebrated playwright Israel Horovitz who discussed their collaboration on Horovitz’s directorial debut of his brilliant film ‘My Old Lady?’ Not only did we learn interesting bits about the making of the film, we had the opportunity to watch these close knit friends (Horovitz refers to Kline as his cousin) in rare form. When “cousin” leaves off commenting, the “cousin” seamlessly picks up the anticipated rejoinder. They were loads of fun, but they were also deep folks, deep. If you blinked, you missed it.

 

 

 

 

Sitting at a roundtable with other journalists at the Cohen Media Group office (NYC) with Kevin Kline and Israel Horovitz to discuss their work on Horovitz’s directorial debut film, My Old Lady was a pleasure. I am familiar with Kline’s acting career from his work with John Houseman and Julliard’s The Acting Company in the early 1970s (Kline is a founding member) to the present. I am less familiar with Israel Horovitz’s plays, though I have seen some of the award winning films he has written and/or collaborated on. Both men who are close friends are superb masters of their craft in film and the theater arts. Kline has won a staggering number of awards, accolades and nominations for his stage performances (Tonys, Drama Desks, Obies, Outer Critics Circle et. al.), and his film work (an Oscar, SAG award, Emmy and numerous other nominations). Israel Horovitz has been a globally celebrated, award winning playwright for decades, having written 70 plays which have been translated in over 30 languages; he is also an award winning screenwriter (The Strawberry Statement, Author, Author! Sunshine-collaboration, among others). Kline and Horovitz were delightful companions to us, generously offering a bit of time to discuss aspects of the film including its conception, the cast of My Old Lady, the working relationships and other interesting tidbits.

First, a few paragraphs about the film: this is not a spoiler alert, but a general thematic discussion. From start to finish My Old Lady is a ride of pleasure, pain, joy, irony, sadness, self-recrimination, self-forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation. The emotional ups and downs follow a storyline that cannot be anticipated or easily unraveled. Against the backdrop of beautiful Paris, Horovitz has created a masterpiece of screenwriting that is real and visceral with a soupcon of madcap fun and poignant humor. The comedic is underlined with serious revelations about problematic aspects of human nature with which we may easily empathize. Yet, the film is filled with hope that restores our faith in possibilities if there is the readiness to overcome the tragicomedy of a life lived in regret and stasis.

The tragic “clown”of this wonderful film who rides the emotional Ferris wheel in the City of Lights and comes out on top is emotionally and financially bereft New Yorker Mathias Gold. Mathias inherits a viager (French real estate which comes with intricate strings attached), from his estranged father. In Paris Mathias learns that his inheritance (a stately old house), which he badly needs to sell as he is financially bankrupt, cannot be sold until occupant Madame Girard (Dame Maggie Smith) dies. While Mathias attempts to resolve the situation and take what is “rightfully his by American laws,” his destitution forces him to stay with Madame Girard and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas).  He has no money and nowhere to go. Residing with them to work things out, he eventually confronts the pain and sorrow of his own failures while he wrangles with Madame Girard and Chloe about the viager (a symbol of more than a real estate agreement).  During this process he learns the mysteries of his own life and theirs.

The stunning revelations leave him breathless and drowning. However, he is in the right place at the right time and the wheel changes direction upward toward hope. The emotional torrent that would have killed him in any other place on earth with any other two women on earth,  is transformed. Voila, it becomes a fountain of life. It is this fountain that refreshes and brings coolness and healing to Mathias’ parched soul. His transformation provides a satisfying and uplifting resolution for Madame Girard and Chloe and all are able to make a new way for themselves. The intricacy, humor, pathos and magic of how Horovitz and the cast brilliantly bring it all together to effect the stark beauty of life thematically defies description.

Kevin Kline stars in 'My Old Lady,' directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Kevin Kline stars in ‘My Old Lady,’ directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

 At the beginning of the Interviews:  (Someone commented and mispronounced Israel Horovitz’s name.)

Israel Horovitz: (with a smile) Can I just say that my name is pronounced HoroVitz not Horowitz.

Kevin Kline: Very well. He lived on my block.

Israel Horovitz: Did he really?

Kevin Kline: He did.

Horovitz:  I met Horowitz (speaking of the famous pianist Vladamir Horowitz) once in my life on a plane. They took me to his seat then they realized their mistake and took me out of his seat.  (Israel laughs)  The only time I met him and he’s staring at me like I did that on purpose. (laughs)

I note that Kevin Kline, deferring to Israel in a quietly spoken undercurrent half to himself and half to Israel comments humorously for Israel to hear. It is a way they have with each other.  It is obvious these two are very close, sometimes finishing one another’s thoughts. It’s fun to watch their ease and the great trust between them.

Maggie Smith in Israel Horovitz's 'My Old Lady' Kevin Kline is down right. Photo from the film.

Maggie Smith in Israel Horovitz’s ‘My Old Lady’ Kevin Kline is down right. Photo from the film.

Horovitz: The movie is based on a play of mine called My Old Lady. And Kevin may not know this but I was at a point in my life when I wanted to do something that would really scare me because I’ve done a lot of plays. So I thought directing a film would really scare me and it was a matter of choosing one. I was in Moscow seeing the play at the Moscow Art Theatre and as I don’t speak a word of Russian, I was daydreaming. It was in that moment that I thought…boy, Paris is really missing from this three character ,one room play. Is this the love letter to Paris that I set down to write when I wrote it?

I thought it should be a movie and I wrote the first draft of a screenplay based on the play. I won a prize (from a screenplay competition in 2008 that was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America and the Île de France Film Commission). Part of the prize was going to Paris for six weeks and living in a 16th century abbey outside of Paris. The prize was set up to award a screenplay that had French and American cultural exchange.  and it won a prize. Another part of the prize was that the Isle de France Film Commission took me location scouting every day for this first draft of the script. It was then that I started to really see the film. When I revised the script a little bit, my first thought was to include my “cousin” Kevin (they are very close friends). Kevin was famously known as Kevin “de-cline” But he said “yes,” right away…uncharacteristically, I’m told. Then I roped him in to readings of the play in my house. Then I brought on board Miss Maggie and the others.

(Israel Horovitz shares a story to illustrate an important point about what his concept and intentions were in making the film.)

The Pope once came to Paris. And people were very upset because they thought there should be a division between church and state by the government. They were holding a protest. He was a little, little old man, it was just before he died and when he arrived, the first thing he said was, “It’s a pleasure to arrive somewhere in this life as an unambitious guest.” People were so disarmed by this.

Making this film, I was an unambitious guest. I didn’t do this movie because I wanted to build a big movie career. I did this movie because I wanted to make a beautiful movie, period. And Kevin joined this and signed on to this. And I knew I wanted to get great actors. I was too old to do a movie that might come and go without anybody seeing it. And I wanted it to be really significant. So Kevin was my only choice and Maggie was my only choice and by God they said “Yes.”

I met with Maggie, the first time I went to London and had lunch with her after she said, “Yes.” It was then she told me, “I’ve had 25 scripts that have been sent to me. You want to know why I chose yours?”  I said that I wasn’t sure I wanted to know (laughs). Then I said, “OK, tell me why.” And she said, “Because I don’t have to die at the end of your movie.” I hope this is not spoiling it for your readers. And I can say simply that directing Kevin and Maggie and Kristin Scott Thomas and Dominique Pinon, is like telling the sun to give light. It kind of knows already (laughs) that it’s supposed to give light.

Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith in 'My Old Lady,' directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo from the film.

Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith in ‘My Old Lady,’ directed by Israel Horovitz. Photo from the film.

QUESTION: All of you had worked in theater. How did that inform your relationship? Theater is very alive and I saw that translation in the film. I loved the film.

Isreal Horovitz: I love hearing you say that. (we all laugh)

QUESTION: Did working in theater make it easier? Had you worked with Kevin before?

Horovitz: I don’t think so. Certainly, Kevin and I knew each other for a hundred years.

Kline commented about a long time ago in their past when they either knew each other at Julliard when Kevin was taking classes.

Horovitz: But that was kind of like the dark ages.

Kline: With theater actors, they are all trained for the stage, or “housebroken.” It’s a cliche that there is a shorthand for stage actors. There isn’t.

Question: But isn’t “moment to moment life” required onstage? (the implication is that you have the editor and the director controlling the shots)

Kline: It’s the same in film and keeping it together between takes and being ready for the next take…we have little time…for 2 or three.

Horovitz: The thing I noticed is that we all knew each other’s work from theater for so many years that establishing intimacy took about 12 seconds. We all had stories to share and friends… and we had this trust that everybody knew what they were doing. There was no movie star who happened to have had a role that matched up so perfectly that they couldn’t do anything else

Kevin Kline made a wry, ironic comment about Maggie Smith’s complaining about the catering (it was a joke…the last thing that Dame Maggie would do). With great good humor, Kline indicated that all the actors were a professional team supportive of the project and there was no necessity for “egos.”

QUESTION: As a first time film director, how involved were you with the editing process?

Horovitz: I was there every day all day. It was endless. I was very involved. I can tell you that Kevin Kline in particular as an actor gives you what you want as a director with the first take and then shows you five other things that come into his mind, so when you’re editing you’ve got all this material. We could have done a straight up comedy. We could have done a very dark drama but he really understood the kind of thing I love which is comic and tragic in the same work which is like life is.

QUESTION: What lenses did you use for interior scenes?

Kevin Kline: The great thing about having a first time director, though in broad strokes there are two types of first time directors. Those who just got out of film school who want to “direct” the actors and those directors who know how to let the actors do their work and do not interfere. These know when to interject when it’s appropriate, if you’ve gone astray and they need to “put you back on track” or they may inspire a variety of things. For example we were on the quay, on the set in the scene when the opera singer is singing. Israel says, “Why don’t you sing back to her.” And it was like, “Yeah, fine.” And the crew got the lyrics to the aria and I sang a mini duet with the singer. Whereas a filmmaker who is just out of film school in my experience is like, “Well, we have to stick to just what we’ve got here.” They are keen on telling the actors what their motivation is, you know, nonsense like that. They don’t have experience with directing the actors. It’s all about how to trust the cinematographer.

Kevin Kline in 'My Old Lady.' Photo from the film.

Kevin Kline in ‘My Old Lady.’ Photo from the film.

Horovitz: We had a great, great DP (Director of Photography), a guy named Michel Amathieu. I told him 18 months before we shot the movie, “You’re the guy.” And it was all about fitting the schedules of the three main actors and this guy. I knew his work and I knew him intimately and he knew that he was heading for this. I am glad I can’t tell you the number of the lens because I could tell him what I wanted, the look that I wanted, and he could translate it.

Kline: (speaking to Israel) And you saw it in the frame. Israel was right there on the set and he saw what the camera would see. Not like many directors who are in another room watching on a monitor. He was there with the actors and knew everything that was being framed.

Horovitz: This may interest you. I don’t like generally film adaptations of plays. They seem not to be plays and they seem not to be movies. They’re some weird thing in between. And I knew that I had to make a movie that was a movie. I knew that when I was writing the movie and certainly when I was directing the movie that Paris was a missing character in the play. That’s why I saw the movie as I saw it and this shaped how I was directing the movie.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline in 'My Old Lady.' Photo from the film.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Kevin Kline in ‘My Old Lady.’ Photo from the film.

Could you talk about working with Kristin Scott Thomas?

Kline: I remember one of the first days working with Kristin. I love it when the director doesn’t say cut because we’ll see what happens after the written scene. Maybe there’s some improvisation we may use (Kevin Kline laughs). I remember Kristin was done with her lines and I’m still talking. Kristen says, “Aren’t we finished?” (laughter) But then she adapted to that and said, “Oh, I see.” She hadn’t worked that way before apparently. Maggie also…slightly different generation…

Horovitz: Yeah, it’s just a different training.

Kline: Yes, it’s the British school of acting. I found that when I worked with British stage actors they are very professional. There isn’t a lot of nonsense about the inner subtext. It’s like “let’s get on with it…and come on let’s go.” But I like that. I had British teachers growing up and there is a strong work ethic, there’s something about it.

Horovitz: But Kevin was an American in the film so he could be quite different from Maggie and Kristen who have played mother and daughter three times now.

QUESTION: Did anything surprise either of you about the final cut?

Kline: (to Horovitz) You saw it so many times.

Horovitz: Well I saw every infinitesimal moment of the film every day of my damn life for months and months and months. There were no surprises in the final cut unless it was a mistake, a technical mistake. But Kevin saw it pieced together pretty close to the end.

Kline: And I think I told you when I saw it near the final cut, it was like a ballet without the music…it was with the temporary music, but the music is very important. But when I first saw it, I think I told you how I’ll see this four or five more times but it was not what I expected. And I don’t think it’s what anyone can expect. There are so many loops and surprises and textual colorations of comedy and drama and romance that are all intertwined in a very unexpected way. I was just surprised and delighted and I think I told you, I have to see it again to see if I have the same feeling. I guess I will.

QUESTION: What question are you asking in the film?

Horovitz: I started out to write a love letter to Paris and not surprisingly midway through I had to say to myself well, isn’t it interesting where this is taking me, and I went with it. And I think the question in this film is why do people do that to their children? And in our lives we hear people who are 50, 60 years old talking about their parents. And one piece of your brain is saying, “Oh get over it. And another piece of your brain is saying, you can’t get over it. You know you can’t get over it. There’s such serious damage done. So I think it’s thrilling in this film with these two people…I always knew that with these two people, his character knew her pain like nobody else would know her pain, and her character knew his pain like nobody else would ever know his pain. And I think it’s a relief and thrilling when these two people get together. It’s more than just a love story, a romance. It’s really profound when they get together and whew, they can lighten up a little bit.

After the Roundtable With Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline is Mathias Gold in Israel Horovitz's 'My Old Lady. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Kevin Kline is Mathias Gold in Israel Horovitz’s ‘My Old Lady. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

After the Roundtable, I had the opportunity to tell Kevin Kline that the first time I had seen him perform was in The Knack and How to Get It at The Saratoga Performing Arts Center. This was  in the early 1970s when The Acting Company summered there and performed a variety of plays hosted by Artistic Director John Houseman. Kline is a founding member. Kevin Kline discussed an interesting fact about that particular production. It was with The Knack that cast members commented about his talent for comedy and his “being funny.” Prior to that role, he was only interested in and performing serious dramatic parts. He never imagined himself in comedies. Their comments and his success in The Knack were a revelation.

That role (Kline was amazing, memorable, so vibrant, his actions fluidly natural), opened up another world of opportunity and opened his eyes and talents to new considerations. Of course, as he grew in repertory, this led him to develop his talents in comedic roles. Each experience in a comedic role led to gaining additional experience in another and that experience in another. He was stretching his talent and avoiding what Houseman often counseled against, falling into the typical Hollywood style  of allowing oneself to be typecast, getting “stuck” in the “same old parts.”

Kline’s early successes and the development of his talent to constantly stretch his abilities eventually led to his stellar, award winning  comedic performances in film and on stage: an Oscar for Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, and Tonys for the pirate in The Pirates of Penzance and Falstaff in Henry IV, and On the Twentieth Century to name a few. Of course these are in addition to his having received Drama Desks, Outer Circle Critics awards a Lifetime Achievement Award and an induction to the Theatre Hall of Fame. And we haven’t even discussed his prolific body of Shakespearean performances and performances in other classics and slew of film nominations. The man is exhausting to keep up with and indefinable…prodigious might be a descriptor. Maybe not…too limited.

Kline mentioned that he tells student actors to try everything and not pigeonhole (my word) themselves that they should only do one type of role or genre. He is passionate about actors opening up their talents and continually taking risks. Though he didn’t clarify, I would imagine Kline would think this especially so for actors in repertory or those who are part of a theater company. Truly, repertory seems to be the finest way an actor can grow, learn and stir up his or her abilities. Thankfully, there is Julliard. Would there be more repertory companies to offer such opportunities!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Degas in New Orleans, a Musical World Premiere, Opening Thursday at Bard’s Fisher Center

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Edward Degas’ dancers. Courtesy of the website, Old Art. 

The year 2017 will mark the centennial of Edward Degas‘ death when the renown French Impressionist died in Paris, quite alone and nearly blind. Events celebrating Degas’s life and work are already gearing up. Playwright Rosary O’Neill, and the husband wife team, composer and solo guitarist David Temple and producer/director Deborah Temple are in the forefront celebrating the beloved artist in the World Premiere of the musical Degas in New Orleans which is opening Thursday, December 18th at Bard’s Fisher Center.

Degas is most famous for his paintings, prints, and drawings, and is closely identified with the subject of dance, since more than half of his works depict dancers. He has been associated with Impression, though he preferred to characterize himself as a realist. What many Americans do not realize about Edgar Degas was that he spent a period of his life in New Orleans, Louisiana, with his brother Rene and his family, staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, on Esplanade Avenue. This dramatic period of his life is the setting of the new musical Degas in New Orleans, written by Rosary O’Neill, with music composed by David Temple. The production, which is beautifully conceived and directed by Deborah Temple, has the honor of being presented by a select group of students in the Red Hook Central School District.

Rosary O'Neill with Degas the green dancer in NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Rosary O’Neill with Degas the green dancer in NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Degas in New Orleans is about Edgar Degas’ visit to his family who were in a state of crisis after the Civil War and struggling to survive. Degas is swept up in the events of family, the political currents and the cultural changes that are upending the city of New Orleans. He  attempts to give his moral and financial support, but finds the circumstances there more and more troubling as he becomes entranced with Estelle and other family members. He gains solace through painting family; notably there is a niece who loves to practice her dance. As the conflicts grow more desperate in his life with them, he discovers secrets about his sister-in-law, Estelle and his brother Rene. The circumstances spin beyond his control ultimately break his heart. The production of Degas in New Orleans is in its final rehearsal stages. As you can see from the production photos, it looks to be one more amazing achievement in the careers of the husband and wife team David and Deborah Temple and Rosary O’Neill.

About the composer, playwright, director/producer

David Temple at a solo event. Photo courtesy of David Temple.

David Temple at a solo event. Photo courtesy of David Temple.

David Temple is a noted composer, classical guitarist and faculty member of The Bard College Conservatory of Music. Temple collaborated with Rosary O’Neill and Deborah Temple on the production Broadway or Bust, which was also presented at the Bard Fisher Center a year ago and for which he originated all of its music. Temple is a solo and instrumental composer who has performed globally and whose works are being used for film and television. His CDs may be found online along with his performance schedule and videos of his performance events.

Rosary O’Neill is a noted playwright, whose works have been produced at The Southern Rep, a theatre she founded in New Orleans. Her plays have been published by Samuel French. Some of them have been compiled in three anthologies whose subject is one of the loves of her life, her native New Orleans. She  has written novels and screenplays and has also authored texts on the theater, acting and the dramatic arts. Her most recent published work is non fiction. It is a subject close to her heart and on which she is an expert, New Orleans Mardi Gras which has its roots steeped in the occult and mystical Carnival celebrations of Europe.

Deborah and David Temple, director/producer and composer of 'Degas in New Orleans.' Photo courtesy of the Temples.

Deborah and David Temple, director/producer, and composer of ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Photo courtesy of the Temples.

Deborah Temple has years of experience producing and directing musical theatre and is well known in upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley circles. For over a decade her dedication and tireless efforts directing and producing talented students in the Red Hook Performing Arts Club with the assistance of friends and community members have garnered the support of all those in the Red Hook Central School District and beyond. Her reputation for high standards in producing quality productions precedes her.  As a long time Red Hook Central School District employee and Performing Art’s Club adviser, she is thrilled to be an integral part of the community. And whether she is aware of this or not, in producing exceptional high school productions she has become an important vehicle for sustaining regional theater in upstate New York, especially in a time when it is increasingly difficult to mount and/or innovate theater productions without incurring massive debts (the budget of a minimalist production could feed 2 families with children for a year).

 Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

Tom Bloxham and Mickey Lynch in ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

The Cast of Red Hook Performing Arts Club is a group of select, highly talented students whose energy and creativity have inspired them to collaborate with composer David Temple and director Deborah Temple. Together this group of artists have evolved the songs for Degas in New Orleans in “real time,” honing the words and the musical lines to perfection. It is a process all composers use when innovating the musical scores for both opera and regular musical productions. Their dedication to this amazing project is truly remarkable and speaks to their professionalism, work ethic and love of performance.

The cast of the Red Hook Performing Arts Club in rehearsal for Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

The cast of the Red Hook Perform(L to R) Lucy Makebish, Elizabeth Lococo and Natalie LeBossier in  ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple, producer/director.

The production photos indicate the quality of the scenic design, the staging and the sheer beauty of the dramatic rendering thus far created by the director’s artistry and skill. The period costumes and set pieces were generously supplied by Montgomery Place, the Center for Performing Arts Center at Rhinebeck, Bard College, and other local sources.  The Pit Orchestra is made up of Red Hook Central students and teachers.  Production staff, technical support, and set construction staff are a combination of professionals, students, parents, and Red Hook alumni.

 

PERFORMANCES AT BARD FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER

Tickets are selling fast. But you can call Bard Fisher Center’s Ticket Office to purchase tickets.

Cast of the Red Hook Performing Arts Club in rehearsal for Degas in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Deborah Temple.

Trevor Kowalsky as Degas in ‘Degas in New Orleans.’ Production photo courtesy of Deborah Temple.

WHEN:  THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 845-758-7900/6822 and sold at the door. Click on the dates (December 18, December 19) in the calendar for tickets.

PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

WHEN:  SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.

 

‘The Brightness of Heaven’ by Acclaimed Author Laura Pedersen

Paula Ewin, Kendall Rileigh and James Michael Lambert in 'The Brightness of Heaven,' by Laura Pedersen. Photo by John Quilty.

(L to R) Paula Ewin, Kendall Rileigh and James Michael Lambert in ‘The Brightness of Heaven,’ by Laura Pedersen. Photo by John Quilty.

The brighter heaven shines, the greater the darkness created. If shadows metaphorically apply to guilt, depression and constriction, then surely the Kilgannon and Jablonski families who have experienced the brilliance of  heavenly scriptures and folkways via the culture of the Catholic Church and St. Aloysius school have also been shadowed in darkness. This thematic point-counterpoint prevails throughout character interactions and behaviors in Laura Pedersen’s intriguing and incisive comedic-dramatic play The Brightness of Heaven, exceptionally directed by the always on-point Ludovica Villar-Hauser. The production is currently at The Cherry Lane Theatre.

What can mitigate the glare of burning church doctrine and the traditional cliches that bring little personal happiness yet bond the Kilgannons and Jablonskis in strangleholds of deceit? There is the soft light of love and forgiveness created by the family’s individual colors. However ironic, however subtly truthful, all blend. The rainbow created strikes at the heart of how the Jablonskis and the Kilgannons are able to find their way along life-paths, sometimes bending to compromise, other times forging out alone and in silence. Nevertheless, they do come back to stand with each other, whether in shade or in a pale reflection of the heavenly light that continues to bathe them, in the hope of creating a new understanding about each other and themselves.

Kate Kearney-Patch, Paula Ewin and Mark Banik in 'The Brightness of Heaven,' directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

(L to R) Kate Kearney-Patch, Paula Ewin and Mark Banik in ‘The Brightness of Heaven,’ directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

The play begins as Ed Kilgannon’s sister Mary Jablonski’s, and Ed’s wife Joyce Kilgannon prepare for the evening’s special occasion bringing all the Jablonskis and Kilgannons together for their “family act.” This will be performed at St. Aloysius school. Pedersen has set the action in Buffalo, NY, 1974. With humor she anchors the backdrop of this family’s strict religious culture, the narrow attitudes, the adherence to the social life of the church and St. Aloysius through the discourse of these velvet matriarchs. There are religious statues in the kitchen, and Pedersen and Villar-Hauser have clarified the importance of Catholicism to these women who have been raised in a Catholic community and who have rigidly brought up their children in the tenets of the Church.

The beauty of Pedersen’s writing and Villar-Hauser’s direction is that Mary (Paula Ewin), and Joyce (Kate Kearney-Patch), are thoroughly delightful, folksy and funny seen through the lens of our trending 21st century viewpoints. They are not scary “religious” right, hard-nosed fanatics, though on another level they could be. But this is a subtlety that we are lured away from considering outright. One reason is that Pedersen guides us through the exposition cleverly. The characterizations appear to be human and well rounded. The setting and staging are comfortable, homey and warm. Another reason is that Villar-Hauser’s fine direction and the talented actors Ewin and Kearney-Patch remain amazingly empathetic and likable. We understand that their beliefs are borne out of love and faith, not political didacticism. We are with them back in 1974 as we listen to them gossip with each other and take care of homely chores.

(L to R) Mark Banik and Bill Coyne in 'The Brightness of Heaven,' by Laura Pedersen. Photo by John Quilty.

(L to R) Mark Banik and Bill Coyne in ‘The Brightness of Heaven,’ by Laura Pedersen. Photo by John Quilty.

The worm turns, however, when the adult children show up for dinner and prepare for the family event. As the children and parents interact, we begin to see the effects of the stultifying, religious upbringing. We hear the dark undercurrents and the verbal swipes of irony and sarcasm in their conversation. We also note other behavioral clues the playwright, actors and director have developed for us. For example Grace (wonderfully played by Emily Batsford), whips her caustic humor like a rapier. She ironically quips about losing friends during softball because her mom shouted at her on the baseline, “Thou shall not steal.” Grace stands with a crooked, caved in posture. It is a clever detail signifying how rigidity not only can have a negative mental influence, but a physical one as well. The scripture which is supposed to “make the crooked straight” has failed; Grace’s self-perceived “weirdness” manifests in her body. Pedersen’s characterization reveals that her conflict of attempting to “live in grace” has ironically had a warping effect on the character. Grace has not yet “found her way of salvation” in life, as she struggles with the religious notion that the afterlife, not the present life, is where one wants to be as a Catholic.

Emily Batsford in 'The Brightness of Heaven,' directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

(L to R) Kendall Rileigh, Emily Batsford in ‘The Brightness of Heaven,’ directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

For each of the adult children, religion has made an impact bringing light and dark. The conflict between these forces has caused them to live a life of duality. They put on “righteousness” masks with their mothers and with the community so they will not be a “disappointment.” But they flout religious traditions behind their backs. However, living a life of deception in conflict with the truth is hell. The Kilgannon and Jablonski children are suffering. They have learned to lie to Joyce and Mary at a great cost to their own personal happiness and dignity. Whether they are honest or deceptive, someone will get hurt. There is no easy or smooth road ahead.

Peter Cormican and Kate Kearney-Patch in 'Brightness of Heaven,' by Laura Pedersen , directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser, at The Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo form the website.

Peter Cormican and Kate Kearney-Patch in ‘The Brightness of Heaven,’ by Laura Pedersen,  directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser, at The Cherry Lane Theatre. Photo from the website.

Pedersen draws the characterizations profoundly. We see that each of the children yearn for acceptance and understanding. They don’t realize that they may have it, for the “religion” they fight against has at its foundation love and forgiveness. The question is, do Mary and Joyce follow the religion after the spirit (grace, love)? Or do they follow it after the law (looking righteous to please the church community)? During the first part of the evening, the children don’t challenge their parents. It takes strength to confront Mary and Joyce. Since they do not muster the courage to reveal their own hypocrisy of living in the shadows, the secrets remain hidden. Pedersen hints at their dualities and the aspects of light and dark in the characters’ interactions.

(L to R) Peter Cormican, James Michael Lambert, Kate Kearney-Patch in 'The Brightness of Heaven,' by Laura Pederson, directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

(L to R) Peter Cormican, James Michael Lambert, Kate Kearney-Patch, Paula Ewin in ‘The Brightness of Heaven,’ by Laura Pedersen, directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

Some of the light comes in the form of song interludes where various family members sing out of a love of the family’s togetherness. The cast are magical as they integrate the music seamlessly and skillfully with the play’s dialogue. The light also comes in the form of humorous comments to the matriarchs; even Dad Ed (the talented Peter Cormican), chimes in with jokes to shift focus away from uncomfortable topics. The levity (a specialty of Pedersen), is organic, arising from each character’s individual struggles. It indicates the extent they are trying to resolve hypocrisy or self-deception. The jokes also help them defuse the tenets of Mary’s and Joyce’s interpretations of sin and right behavior. Mary and Joyce are good-natured and well meaning, though religiously inflexible and indirectly condemning. So the benign ridicule is an effective counterpoint to the characters’ underlying guilt, the “gift that keeps on giving.” notes Grace.

The light also manifests when the adult children are out of earshot of their mothers; it is then that they can be honest with one another. For example before Brendan (a fine Bill Coyne), enters the house, he speaks with his brother Dennis (Mark Banik portrays him with rectitude). They argue about how religion impacts them. Dennis (who appears righteous to his mom but is deceiving her), criticizes Brendan for drinking and not living a “proper” life. Brendan tells Dennis, pointing to his head, that “one can make heaven out of hell and hell out of heaven,” a comment Brendan wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to his mom or aunt. Like Grace’s caved in posture and “weirdness,” Brendan’s drinking reflects his inner conflicts, disappointments, deceit and perhaps his inability to completely reconcile his religious beliefs. In each instance, Pedersen reveals that all of the children are learning how to be themselves within a narrow framework as they try to establish a life away from their parent’s traditions. All are struggling to break free so that eventually, they can reveal themselves to those they most desire acceptance from, despite the risk censure that may follow.

(L to R) Mark Banik, Kendall Rileigh and James Michael Lambert in 'The Brightness of Heaven.' Photo by John Quilty.

(L to R) Mark Banik, Kendall Rileigh and James Michael Lambert in ‘The Brightness of Heaven.’ Photo by John Quilty.

It is not a coincidence that Pedersen has the youngest daughter risk speaking the truth about her life, and has Mary’s son do the same. Both have committed mortal sins in the “eyes” of the church. Kathleen Kilgannon (an excellent performance by Kendall Rileigh), and Jimmy Jablonski (James Michael Lambert in an equally fine portrayal), can no longer pretend to be holy while living in self-deception and misery. The confrontation scene takes place at the dinner table; Pedersen deftly escalates the strains of dark and light, anger and humor until they erupt and boil over from undercurrents that had remained below the surface.

The pleasant dinner turns into an unruly communion. Some of the family get up from the table in avoidance, but there is no turning back and the truth explodes brilliantly as the Kilgannons and the Jablonskis stare heavily at its brightness. Now there is the freedom to speak. The children dredge up their secret sins and throw them on the table for everyone to see. With this roll of the dice, they have taken a chance on being real, hoping to satisfy their own personal integrity and gain peace, though it may mean turning their back on the church. For Mary and Joyce who have made safe wagers all their lives, the dice rolls snake eyes. Now it is their turn to reveal what they are made of and who they are. Should they follow the spirit of grace in love and forgiveness? Or should they strictly follow the church and condemn what their children have done?

Pedersen’s powerful resolution crafted by the actors and the director’s fine tuning is symbolic, believable and real. The actors’ ensemble work and the life they and the director effect moment to moment are always refreshing and organic. This  thought provoking production is too good to miss.

The Brightness of Heaven will be at The Cherry Lane Theatre until December 14th.

The review first appeared on Blogcritics.

 

 

 

Degas in New Orleans: A Musical World Premiere Presented at Bard’s Fisher Center

Rosary O'Neill with Degas the green dancer in NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Rosary O’Neill with Degas’ Dancer in Green in NOMA (New Orleans). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Producer and director Deborah Temple and the Red Hook Performing Arts Club are presenting a world premiere of the new musical, Degas in New Orleans.  The play is written by New Orleans native Rosary Hartel O’Neill. It has been set to music by local composer David Temple.

Degas in New Orleans, tells the story of the French painter Edgar Degas’ five-month stay with his family in the Crescent City shortly after the Civil War.  It reveals much about the post-war South, political and ethnic strife unique to Louisiana, the dynamics of a family in its social descent — as well as the passions of unrequited love, and the struggling vision of a great artist at a crossroads in his life and career.

The historic marker which indicates the house where Degas' family lived and where he visited in New Orleans. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The historic marker which indicates the house where Degas’ family lived and where he visited in New Orleans. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

A select group of students in the Red Hook Central School District have embraced an extraordinary artistic challenge: to transform a drama based on a life-changing time in a famous painter’s life into an original musical and make it performance ready for a state-of-the-art stage at the incomparable Fisher Center. The project was initiated by long time Red Hook Central School District employee and the Performing Art’s Club adviser, Deborah Temple. Deborah Temple has worked alongside playwright Rosary Hartel O’Neill at Omega Institute during summer writing seminars for a number of seasons and their collaboration at Omega inspired their working together on two of O’Neill’s plays: Broadway or Bust and Degas in New Orleans.

Neither O’Neill nor Deborah Temple are new to the theater. Temple has almost two decades of experience in direction and production. O’Neill ran her own theater, Southern Rep, in New Orleans. She has authored over twenty-two plays, twenty of which are published by Samuel French. And her plays may be found in three anthologies. She has written textbooks on the dramatic arts, as well as novels and screenplays. Her book about New Orleans Mardi Gras has been receiving notices as a fascinating account of the secrets of  Mardi Gras Carnival Krewes. O’Neill, who now resides in Rhinecliff, proposed to have Degas in New Orleans transformed into a musical, knowing of David Temple’s extensive musical gifts. The Performing Arts Club has stepped up with its energy and talent to make the project a reality.

The Degas home on Esplanade Avenue, now converted into a noted Bed and Breakfast. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The Degas home on Esplanade Avenue, now converted into a noted Bed and Breakfast. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Composer and classical guitarist David Temple is renown as a solo performer and instrumental composer. His works are played internationally for film and television. He composed music for O’Neill’s Broadway or Bust which premiered in November 2013, also at the Fisher Center. Having collaborated with O’Neill he was excited about this new project. Songs for Degas in New Orleans were created in “real time.” Sketches of the new pieces were originated during the actual rehearsals of scenes, designed not only for specific characters, but for the vocal capabilities of the actors. This is one of the finest ways to originate and compose musical works by collaborating with the singers/actors. Douglas Moore in his operatic composition, Ballad of Baby Doe created the music and worked with singers to test out the musical waters and vocal ranges elaborating and changing the score and enhancing it.

Likewise, with the Temples these student/actors have been refining their character portrayals, running lines and learning original songs in an ongoing developmental process that has been organic and alive.  The final result is a celebration of the creative process. Their effort and dedication to a project that has demanded ingenuity, acting craft, brilliance and flexibility is nothing short of astonishing. To say that these highly talented students have embraced a professional work ethic wholeheartedly is an understatement.

Period costumes and set pieces were generously supplied by Montgomery Place, the Center for Performing Arts Center at Rhinebeck, Bard College, and other local sources.  The Pit Orchestra is made up of Red Hook Central students and teachers.  Production staff, technical support, and set construction staff are a combination of professionals, students, parents, and Red Hook alumni.

David Temple with his guitar. Photo taken from the David Temple website.

David Temple with his guitar. Photo taken from the David Temple website.

Click links below for more information.

PERFORMANCES AT BARD COLLEGE FISHER CENTER BLACK-BOX THEATER

WHEN:  THURSDAY, December 18 and FRIDAY, December 19 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors available in advance for Thursday and Friday night performances at the Fisher Center Box Office, 758-7900 and sold at the door.

PERFORMANCES AT RED HOOK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

WHEN:  SATURDAY, December 20 at 7:00 p.m. and SUNDAY, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. at Red Hook Central High School.

Tickets are $10.00/$8.00 students and seniors. Tickets for the Saturday and Sunday performances will be available at the door at Red Hook High School.

Bard Fisher Center Website

The Faulkner Society’s BIG READ Events at Words and Music, NOLA

St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square in New Orleans, near the world famous Cafe du Monde. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square in New Orleans, near the world famous Cafe du Monde. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit one of my most favorite cities on earth, New Orleans, Louisiana. The occasion was cover the 2014 Words and Music, a Literary Feast which is sponsored by The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and organized by the Society’s Co-Founder, Rosemary James. The Faulkner Society is a nationally recognized non-profit arts organization. As such it is a literary and educational institution. It receives grant donations, membership contributions, and contributions to their fundraisers all of which are fully tax deductible.

As I sat in on Master Classes and Workshops, networked with Editors and Publishers and Presenters, I noted in the catalog for Words and Music many events listed as a “BIG READ EVENT.” I knew that The Faulkner Society created and supported outreach programs for high school and college students and literacy projects for at-risk teenagers. As I networked with individuals at the Words and Music “literary feast,” I became apprised about how BIG READ projects funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts were integrated seamlessly in Words and Music. I further learned how The Faulkner Society embraces the BIG READ in its mission and integrates BIG READ projects in its endeavors.

Joseph J. DeSalvo, Jr. (owner of Faulkner House Books) and  Rosemary James, Co-Founder of The Faulkner Society, organizer of Words and Music. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Joseph J. DeSalvo, Jr. (owner of Faulkner House Books and on the board of The Faulkner Society) and Rosemary James, Co-Founder of The Faulkner Society, organizer of Words and Music. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

What is the BIG READ?

The National Endowment for the ARTS (NEA) identified the tremendous need in our modern technological culture that reading in part had fallen by the wayside. Indeed, Gore Vidal had mentioned in numerous interviews before he died in 2012 that “Americans don’t read.” The BIG READ is a program created by NEA to bring back reading to the center of American culture. This program provides competitive grants to support innovative reading programs in designated communities.

A typical street in New Orleans' French Quarter where the Hotel Monteleone is located toward Canal Street. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

A typical street in New Orleans’ French Quarter where the Hotel Monteleone is located toward Canal Street. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

As a former English teacher and professor I saw students struggle through reading literature. I worked tirelessly for 33 years attempting to improve students’ reading and appreciation of literature from 9-12, from Special Ed students to college level English and Advanced Placement Literature students. I taught in a district on Long Island where over half of the students were on reduced or free lunch. They often did not grow up in a reading household as I did; their parents often worked two jobs to put food on the table, if there were two parents. Sometimes parents or single parents did not encourage reading because their own reading skills were limited and it was painful to read. This situation happens nationally in many districts and certainly in New Orleans. So I was doubly thrilled to learn that wonderful literacy programs are alive and well. I felt a complete synchronicity as a former educator and professor and current writer and journalist when I discovered that a mission for The Faulkner Society’s was literacy and that they had exciting BIG READ projects encouraging literacy and appreciation of literature.

I became familiar with BIG READ during Words and Music and I must say I am impressed. Every day during Words and Music, there were a number of BIG READ events. Each of them was integrated into highlighting and revisiting the themes and experiences of the characters in the 2014 BIG READ focus book, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. Some of the events were on site at the Hotel Monteleone in the Queen Anne Ballroom. One example was the session that featured successful screenwriters and novelists, Carleton Eastlake and Loraine Despres. The workshop was on Creating Compelling Characters for Books, TV, and Film. Participants in the workshop were to have read Mengestu’s book. Eastlake’s and Despres’ discussion centered around how Mengestu created memorable characters and distinguished them through specific details, for example, their will to power, their conflicts with others, their backgrounds, their desires and goals.

The Words and Music catalog featuring the schedule of events, many BIG READ events. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The Words and Music catalog featuring the schedule of events, many BIG READ events. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Some BIG READ events occurred off site of Hotel Monteleone. One was held at Loyola University, Dana Hall. This was a BIG READ and PAN AMERICAN connections event. The title of the session was Immigration: It’s Human Toll and Its Inspiration for the Arts and Cultural Enrichment. The event was free and open to the public. This session was a joint venture with Loyola’s Center for Latin American Studies and Caribbean Studies directed by Uriel Quesada, Ph.D. The session featured Luis Alberto Urrea, Mexican-born American poet and bestselling author of the non-fiction book The Devil’s Highway and other works. The former Louisiana Poet Laureat Darrell Bourque open and closed the program with poems related to the migration of Acadians from Nova Scotia to Louisiana and how that migration greatly impacted Louisiana and enriched the culture.

Words and Music 2014 included many other BIG READ events which can be seen online at The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society website. There you will be able to browse through the Faulkner Society, note its mission and endeavors and gain an understanding of how innovation should be at the heart of literacy. It is vital that we who adore the written word and find reading an easy facility encourage this skill especially for those at-risk, young and old and not just those who are uneducated, but those who have an education and who do not read longer works but read short bursts online.

We live in an age that requires we read extensively and widely if we are to keep our vision of a democratic society viable and manifest in our political system. As part of this reading we need to be able to read critically and hone our critical thinking skills to differentiate the unsupported blather and straw man arguments from those works that are well supported with rational argument and facts. Worthy literature and non fiction are what inspire us to live and get through to the next day. It is paramount that BIG READ continue and that organizations like The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society continue to make magic for others.

If you are interested in reading more about the annual endeavors of The Faulkner Society in New Orleans, then check out their website linked in the first part of this sentence. Or contact Faulkhouse@aol.com to ask questions and learn more.

 

The Homesman’ Starring Hillary Swank in a Dynamic Performance

Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank in 'The Homesman.' Photo taken from the film website.

Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank in ‘The Homesman.’ Photo taken from the film website.

The film adaptation of the award winning novel The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout, directed by Tommy Lee Jones presents a a bleak, ironic and desolate view of the Nebraska Territory in the 1830s in an atypical Western that strikes against genre in a refreshing way. In his fourth foray into directing, Jones has created a surprising, unusual and always fascinating film narrative about the nature of survival and the inner fortitude it takes to hold on to one’s center amidst trying circumstances and inner conflicts. The Homesman made its East Coast premiere at the 22nd Hamptons International Film Festival and was the festival’s Sunday centerpiece film.

At the fulcrum of this quirky, complex film is Jones’ stark portrait of a pious, single, 31-year-old, Mary Bee Cuddy (in a role thoughtfully and exceptionally acted by Hillary Swank). Cuddy is the forerunner of the “modern woman,” and the amazing characterization touches upon the stresses women confront when they dare to transcend the typical feminine projection of the simpering, helpless, dependent little girl in their interactions with men. Thanks to Swank’s portrayal and Jones’ direction and adaption, Mary Bee Cuddy’s depiction is a thrilling one to watch as this singular women develops along an arc throughout the film even to the conclusion. Though Cuddy is not present at the end, the audience is forced to consider her impact, her strength and what she stands for in the nature of who she is and why she makes the choices she does.

Hillary Swank in 'The Homesman.' Photo taken from the film website.

Hillary Swank in ‘The Homesman.’ Photo taken from the film website.

We are introduced to Mary Bee as a homesteader in the Nebraska Territory replete with all of the hazards of the times before the Civil War with slavery and the Indian troubles active; the land is undeveloped, harsh and unyielding.  Jones’ cinematic choices are spot on in revealing the stark beauty and cold harshness of the landscape, a coldness inherent and  malevolent, one which the characters must confront and overcome as much as they must till the soil and tease out a productive harvest to sustain themselves. As Jones emphasizes, such terrain and hard scrabble life punishes everyone; some are able to survive better than others if they have resilience, inner strength and dogged determination. For women it is especially a brutal and unforgiving existence which chews them up and spits them out into a wilderness beyond the worth of living. Without love, compassion and tenderness such an existence in such a territory can alienate, drive one mad or murderous.

Mary Bee works diligently and steadfastly to farm her land which she and her community (headed up by her pastor played by John Lithgow), have obtained sacrificing the pleasures of living in the developed East to possibly increase their prosperity. Mary Bee keeps some livestock and is sustained emotionally by the religious community to which she belongs.  She is an archetypal woman of clever resourcefulness and power, but in developing these qualities to mastery because she had to, she has sacrificed abilities in the softer graces, having thrown off womanly deceitfulness to “get a man.” We understand this early on in the film when Mary Bee invites a potential suitor (though he is beneath her in his talents, unattractiveness and loutish manner), for a delicious dinner. She proposes they marry as a viable economic arrangement toward continual prosperity. It is a sound and well thought out proposition, though an unromantic one as there is no talk of love. It should be alluring to any man considering that he would have access to all of her resources, including her excellent homemaking skills. As direct as she is with him, the “intended” is direct with her, but to the point of insult.  The audience sees he is holding out for romance, illusion and sex; he will never marry her because he says, “she’s as plain as a pail and she’s bossy.”

Hillary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy in 'The Homesman.' Photo taken from the film trailer.

Hillary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy in ‘The Homesman.’ Photo taken from the film trailer.

The humor of his response is priceless. Swank is hardly plain, so we realize her “plainness” is not the problem, her independence, dominance and resourcefulness is. So is her inability to strike up an illusion of femininity that could seduce him. She is his obvious superior and without guile. In marriage her intelligence would dominate his dullness and there would be no “apparent” softness, flattery or deceit to mitigate it. Rather than be “oppressed” by her brilliance, something his ego could not tolerate, he is going to remain “happily” in his present state until a “real woman” comes along who fits the type. Mary Bee takes it all in, but we understand as the film progresses that rather than accept the wisdom of being alone and prospering on her own without having to shore up the excess baggage of a lout who would be a tremendous liability, the rejection gnaws at her. Most probably his offensive insult to her feminity contributes to spurring her to take on an unsound project whose odds of success are haphazard.

When her pastor discusses with his congregation that three wives have gone insane from horrific traumas during their time in the territory, he asks for volunteers to bring the women back East where they will be taken care of by others. No man will step up for the trip; the husbands won’t help their wives taking them out of the bleak environment and the hardness of their lives which has driven them into the abyss. It is as if the husbands could care less about restoring them to sanity and a happier condition; they just want them removed, for they have become more trouble than the chattel they are worth. In flashback scenes we are led to understand what drove each of the women to derangement. Mary Bee is in direct contrast to these three who were looking for a better life with a man, but whose disappointment and horror of their circumstances (in some instances exacerbated by the men), destroyed their minds.

Whether it is a matter that Mary Bee is destined to involve herself in because of her inner coldness and loneliness in this harsh land, the rejection by her marriage candidate, or whether she is the only one capable of doing such an act of charity, bravery and mental strength, Mary agrees to take on the project alone. Even though many feel she is “as good as a man” in her skills and talents, Jones has set up an interesting parallel between the men and women of that time, threading themes that are very present for us today. The overriding questions about her actions foment interest and create suspense keeping us alert to the next bend in the river of action.

'The Homesman,' starring Hillary Swank and directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Photo taken from the film trailer.

‘The Homesman,’ starring Hillary Swank and directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Photo taken from the film trailer.

Mary Bee begins her journey with the women (Grace Gummer, Mirando Otto, Sonja Richter), who are “apparently” so demented they must be locked in the covered wagon, one tied up because she is violent. Now we understand that this five week journey in the wilderness against potential attacks by Indians, the winter, male marauders and violating trouble makers is an undertaking that is life threatening for all of them. In a bit of a contrived plot device, Mary Bee runs into George Biggs (Jones is a natural for this part and slides into its nuances and modulations with his easy acting craft and intelligence), who is at the point of death, sitting on his skittish horse under a tree, hands tied behind his back with a noose around his neck ready to hang if the horse coughs. Wisely, Mary Bee realizes this man is a rapscallion thief or near-do-well, and she bargains with him;  in exchange for his life, he must accompany her to Iowa; she neglects telling him the particulars. Desperate, he agrees, but later, when Biggs finds out about the insane women and tries to back out, Mary Bee sweetens the pot with a promise of money once they’ve delivered their charges.

These two are polar opposites, and it is only because of the money that the “street smart,” conniving and blunt Biggs stays with this domineering but logically clever and admirable Mary Bee who gets under his skin. For her part Mary Bee is not thrilled with Biggs, but like much of her life, she tolerates him, makes do and with her intelligence gets around his personality to the point where they are able to successfully progress along the journey with the demented, who at times attempt to kill each other, at times attempt to escape. There are obstacles along the route and Mary Bee appears to be holding her own; Biggs, encouraged by the nature of this do-gooding act and Cuddy’s acceptance appears to be getting kinder.

Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones in 'The Homesman,' directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Photo taken from the film trailer.

Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones in ‘The Homesman,’ directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Photo taken from the film trailer.

At length, the two form a weird relationship and the audience prepares itself for the possibility that perhaps Mary Bee has found a gent she can encourage who might fill her lonely nights, even though he is rough around the edges, though not without humor. It is around this time that Jones throws several boulders into what we anticipated was a fairly still pond; the biggest boulder flips around Mary Bee’s well being and fortitude and sends her plunging into a downward spiral from which she must save herself. She manages to recoup, but the ordeal has rattled her and we understand that the spirit of derangement on the women has perhaps engulfed her as well. It is at this point that Mary Bee proposes to Biggs in the same way that she proposed to the other cowboy at the film’s beginning. This scene comes out of nowhere; on the other hand, there is enough depth in both characterizations for us to understand the how and why of the events that follow.

This is no spoiler alert. You will have to see the film to discover his response and afterwards, hers. The result is poignant, alarming and unforgettable. The women eventually do end up in Iowa, however, there has been tribulation, sacrifice, callous inhospitality by an outrageous, wealthy developer (James Spader is particularly loathsome), rage, violence and a completely unpredictable conclusion that is unexpected like much of the twists and shocks of the film.

Jones has collided the past with our present in The Homesman which appears to be a Western because of all the accountrements, the plot, the sets, the costumes, but whose characterizations, themes and concepts are very modern. Jones reveals that what it takes to survive and thrive are completely different. The survivors make it through by any means possible but there is an inner loss that remains elusive as each successive battle to keep death at bay weathers and hardens the soul. For those who appear to thrive and prosper because of their particular gifts and talents, one never knows their inner weather, storms or conflicts and where these will drive them. Certainly, The Homesman will leave you haunted in its pathos and the irony that come what may, life does go on with or without our approval.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sholem Aleichem and Saul Reichlin, It’s a Perfect Match in ‘Roots…Shmoots!’

Saul in a dramatization of Sholem Aleichem.

A character from Sholem Aleichem’s stories adapted by Saul Reichlin. Photo taken from Saul Reichlin’s website.

Ever since Saul Reichlin who currently makes his home in England began touring his one man shows based on his adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s stories, Saul recognized he had found a global niche. Audiences love to laugh at human foibles. They appreciate peasant ironies. Both are abundantly represented in Sholem Aleichem’s works. Saul realized that the simple and rich story telling by characters universally identifiable resonated with audiences whether they were Jewish or not, whether his shows were in the UK, Spain, South Africa or in the US.

Saul Reichlin has enjoyed bringing Sholem Aleichem’s characters to life in 35 cities and in 8 countries, initially with Sholem Aleichem…Now You’re Talking. In the last few years he has energized the Jewish storyteller’s works into a new adaptation, Roots…Shmoots! It would appear that Sholem Aleichem and Saul Reichlin go together like bagels, cream cheese and lox.  It is just like the matchmaker (a beloved character in Sholem Aleichems’s stories), Yenta  (Fiddler On the Roof), says, referring to a couple she wants to bring together, “It’s a perfect match!”

I was fortunate to see Saul Reichlin’s facility with portraying a myriad of Aleichem’s characters in his funny and poignant one man show Roots… Shmoots! which played at the Corneilia Street Cafe in September of 2014. The downstairs theater was packed and the audience received Reichlin’s portrayals with guffaws of laughter and hearty applause. Reichlin’s one man show most probably would have continued past its slated run if Saul didn’t have an engagement in Chicago. As it was, the Cornelia Street Cafe squeezed in a date for an additional performance since the demand warranted it; Roots… Shmoots! which was supposed to run only one night ran a second night to an enthusiastic crowd.

British actor Saul Reichlin. Photo from his website.

Saul Reichlin as himself. Photo from his website.

The testament of why Reichlin’s productions which have won awards are popular is clear. Audiences need to laugh at a time when entertainment has become ridiculously pricey. Oftentimes, funny, heartfelt shows are hard to recognize amongst a smattering of trending questionable productions whose humor lacks originality and duplicates sitcoms and situational comedy “funniness”which is tiresome and predictable. Sholem Aleichem’s humor is refreshing with subterranean twists erupting with wisdom, irony and wit. It is stimulating and its vibrance engages the audience. Saul’s adaptation as the narrator who spins off the representative characters to tell their stories and interact with the narrator/observer, never fails to amuse. This is largely due to Saul’s relaxed and comfortable manner fluidly switching from one character to the next playing all the roles.

One person shows are tricky. Nevertheless, Saul has mastered the form because of his extensive acting experience. There is one more element that makes for his rousing success. He has perhaps channeled and bonded with the author known as the Jewish Mark Twain. He presents the very real characters authentically so that we are able to visualize them and recognize elements the characters demonstrate as ones inherent in ourselves. The setting may be tiny rural towns in the Ukraine, but the situations and the human factor are parallel to our time. That Reichlin recognized the beauty and coherence of the past as current in Aleichem’s characters and work so that he is able to make them be felt and touched in our hearts is a gift of love from Reichlin translated from Aleichem to us.

You can keep up with Saul Reichlin’s work at his link: Saul Reichlin.

If you’d like to read more about this man who has fostered the knack of connecting us with the depth of human wisdom and folly manifested through Sholem Aleichem’s characters, see this link on Blogcritics. Saul is currently working on setting a performance schedule for The Good and The True, a production about the uplifting true life story of Milos Dobry and Hana Pravda, two Holocaust survivors. Saul performed the role of Milos Dobry this summer at the DR2 Theatre.

Saul Reichlin as Milos Dobry in 'The Good and the True. Photo taken from the program.

From the production ‘The Good and The True’ at the DR2 Theatre this summer. Saul Reichlin as Milos Dobry. Photo taken from the production program.

For my review of The Good and The True, click this link.

 

 

Wheelchair Tennis at Its Best at the 2014 US Open Tennis Tournament

Enthusiastic crowd at the 2014 US Tennis Open

Enthusiastic crowd at the 2014 US Tennis Open, Court 11, September 7

I have been a huge tennis fan since the 1970s and 1980s when Chris Everett, Jimmy Connor, Johnny Mac and Andre Agassi hit the global stage and brought the game of tennis into the middle class and inspired generations of Americans to pick up the racquet. Since then I have followed the game, played and gone to the US  Tennis Open most years in August. How much I “fiene” for the sport? When you mention “US Open,” I NEVER THINK OF GOLF. There is only one US Open for me and that is tennis. Despite my great love for this international and inter-age sport, I never was really aware of the complete dynamics of the game until I saw wheelchair tennis played and began to speak with some of the athletes who dominate wheelchair tennis.

Me with Andy Lapthorne the winner of the Men's Wheelchair Quad Singles.

Me with Andy Lapthorne (UK) the winner of the Men’s Wheelchair Quad Singles 7-5, 6-2 against David Wagner (US)

Andy Lapthorne 2014 Winner of the Men's Wheelchair Quad Singles. THIS AMAZING PHOTO WAS TAKING THE DAY BEFORE ANDY WON. A bit prescient, don't you think?

Andy Lapthorne 2014 Winner of the Men’s Wheelchair Quad Singles. THIS AMAZING PHOTO WAS TAKEN THE DAY BEFORE ANDY WON. A bit prescient, don’t you think?

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Yumi Kamiji (Japan) won the championship Women’s Wheelchair Singles and Anek Van Koot (Netherlanders) was the Runner-up in a great match.

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I can’t speak highly enough about these incredible athletes who in many ways require more endurance, sang froid and all around good humor than the occasional Club tournament player like me or even the mobile professional players on the tour. How does one view the wheelchair tennis players if one is a trained athlete or a player with full mobility? According to Dan James, National Manager of Wheelchair Tennis, YOU LOOK AT THE PLAYERS AS “INCREDIBLE ATHLETES AND LOOK BEYOND THE WHEELCHAIR.” I would add that the wheelchair is actually one more “tool that has to be mastered,” along with a well placed serve, great backhand and forehand, superb eye-hand coordination and ball anticipation and all around games-person-ship that ARE REQUIRED for this world class sport which Wheelchair Tennis has become.

Women's Wheelchair Doubles Champtions in action. They won the 2014 Championship.

Women’s Wheelchair Doubles Champions in action. They won the 2014 Championship: Y. Kamiji and J. Whiley

S. Kuneida from Japan with a dynamite serve. 2014 Men's Singles Wheelchair Tennis Finals

S. Kuneida from Japan with a dynamite serve. 2014 Men’s Singles Wheelchair Tennis Finals. Click for the results of the win.

Gustavo just won a point against S. Kunieda at the 2014 Men's Singles Wheelchair Tennis Finals.

Gustavo just won a point against S. Kunieda at the 2014 Men’s Singles Wheelchair Tennis Finals.

The 2014 US Open Wheelchair Championships occur during the last four days of the US Open Tennis Tournament. This year I was able to see most of the Semis and the Finals matches. One of my pet peeves about the tournament is that some of it is held during the 2014 Men’s Semi Finals and Women’s Finals Matches. Having a seat at Ashe and running back and forth to see the progress of the matches can spin one’s head like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. However it is doable. I am praying that one day…these events do not run simultaneously but are either before in Ashe or are in the new stadiums where the old Louis Armstrong and Grandstand will have been. Here are some more of the pictures and some of the players. Their matches were fun, amazing and enjoyable. And they were challenging for the players and exciting for the spectators. You need to be there to understand.

2014 Men's Wheelchair Tennis Doubles Final...the winning points for this team are being accrued: Hudet and Kunieda.

2014 Men’s Wheelchair Doubles Final...the winning points for this team are being accrued: S. Houdet and S. Kunieda.

 

 

 

G. Reid and M. Scheffers in a tight match vs. Houdet and Kunieda. Men's Wheelchair Doubles Finals.

G. Reid and M. Scheffers in a tight match vs. Houdet and Kunieda. Men’s Wheelchair Doubles Finals. Click for results of the win.

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