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‘The Daughter-in-Law,’ by D.H. Lawrence is Superb! Theater Review

Tom Coiner, Amy Blackman in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

D.H. Lawrence is rarely known for his plays. However, British critics have noted that he was a master playwright, and if discovered as such earlier in his life, he would have been appreciated for his dramas, however maverick and forward-thinking. One such incredibly rich play is being presented by the always excellent Mint Theater Company, who enjoys bringing to life rare jewels in drama that have often been overlooked. The Daughter-in-Law is one of these gems.

(L to R): Tom Coiner, Ciaran Bowling in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

Directed by Martin Platt The Daughter in Law presents an amazing portrait of an independent woman, Minnie (Amy Blackman), a former governess married to a collier (coal miner), Luther Gascoyne (Tom Coiner). The couple live in a mining town near his mother’s (Mrs.Gascoyne-Sandra Shipley) home where his brother Joe (Ciaran Bowling), also a collier, works with him in East Midlands England.

(L to R): Tom Coiner, Ciaran Bowling in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

The setting is autobiographical and akin to where D.H. Lawrence’s father worked and where he and his siblings lived with their mother (reminiscent of Minnie), who had cultural aspirations for Lawrence, and who inspired him in his studies. Lawrence’s play evolves into conflicts among the characters. These are rich in thematic evolution that comes to some resolution by the end of the play after the colliers riot against scab workers during a strike. Interestingly, the themes involve gender roles, class, economic inequity and familial love. Also, Freudian tropes between mothers and sons, an issue that Lawrence often investigated, receives a hearing in this realistic and beautifully acted production that Platt has tautly directed, so it remains provocatively, emotionally, tense throughout.

(L to R): Polly McKie, Tom Coiner in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

To a fault, the actors have been schooled in the Midlands accent which provides realism and creates the audiences’ attentive stir to understand all that the characters communicate. At times, this takes getting used to. However, the actors portray the characters’ emotional feeling sincerely and authentically, so that one understands, even though one may not be able to translate word for word what the characters say.

Tom Coiner, Amy Blackman in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

Nevertheless, when Joe (the vibrant Ciaran Bowling), enters sporting an arm in a sling and his mom (the dynamic and authentic Sandra Shipley), fusses over him with his dinner and probes what happened with receiving a disability check, we understand their close relationship, and we also understand that mother and son mutually care for each other, living under the same roof, watching out for each other, while other family have gone on to make their own lives.

Amy Blackman, Tom Coiner in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

The hard conditions of the mines remind us of the corporate structure which Lawrence reveals has changed little over one hundred years later. The owners receive all the benefits, and the workers are given low wages and are subcontracted out to keep them hungry and off-balance, so they are unsure of where they stand in the company’s graces. Joe and his brother, like their father before them, were at the mercy of the owners; and their father died as a result of an accident we find out later in the play. This undercurrent of workers vs. owners is the driving undercurrent and reveals that the misery of need and want is what impacts the families who live and depend on coal mining for their survival.

During lively dinner conversation, Joe tells his mother that his attempt to receive a check for his broken arm has been rejected. His manager tells his version of “the acceptable truth” of what happened to Joe, so that it is Joe’s fault that he was injured, because he was “fooling around.” It was not that he was injured on the job because of some dereliction of another worker or the mine. Lawrence strikes at the inequality of the haves and have nots and the managers who make sure to protect their employers. Thus, we feel for Joe and his mother, who are not destitute, but who struggle economically. If any stress comes to either of them, they are a few steps away from the equivalent of the poorhouse. Such is their economic and class level.

(L to R): Amy Blackman, Sandra Shipley, Tom Coiner in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

Into the background of this economic insecurity and potential working class impoverishment comes Mrs. Purdy (the convincing and excellent Polly McKie), a neighbor who brings disturbing news. Her daughter, who she describes as rather a simple girl, is pregnant. And after avoiding the direct truth until Mrs. Gascoyne drags it out of her, Mrs. Purdy lays the blame at the feet of Luther, who married Minnie seven weeks before. Mrs. Gascoyne pushes Mrs. Purdy cleverly off on Luther and Minnie, especially Minnie since she has brought some money into the marriage and can afford to pay Mrs. Purdy and her daughter off for their silence and for Bertha’s upkeep with the baby. This suggestion is made after Joe and Mrs. Purdy verify that Luther was seeing Bertha Purdy, something that Mrs. Gascoyne didn’t realize because Luther kept it under the radar and wasn’t serious with her.

Assurances are made to Mrs. Purdy that she must see Luther and Minnie at their house, since Minnie has received an inheritance that Mrs. Gascoyne insists should be used to pay off Mrs. Purdy. This malevolent and resentful suggestion is disputed by Joe whose empathy for his brother and Minnie is greater than his mother’s. As Mrs. Gascoyne discusses Luther’s marriage to Minnie in demeaning terms, it is obvious that she resents the “high and mighty” Minnie ending up with her son. She tells Mrs. Purdy that it’s because he is the only one she could get.

Ciaran Bowling, Amy Blackman, Sandra Shipley in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

At this point not meeting Minnie, we wonder who this snotty woman is and side with Mrs. Gascoyne because we have gotten to know this nurturing, motherly type who obviously cares about her children. Based on Lawrence’s brilliant dialogue characterizing Minnie through the eyes of Mrs. Gascoyne, we believe that this snobby woman who thinks she’s “better” than the colliers and their families is pretentious. Also, we believe that she is so desperate, she doesn’t love Luther, but she just wants not to be an old maid.

Interestingly, Lawrence allows this portrait of Minnie to remain, until we see her relationship with the two brothers unfold. Gradually, her characterization is revealed and her strength, power, indomitable wisdom and love for Luther becomes apparent but with twists and turns, ups and downs by the the end of the play. But first, she must stand up and upend her mother-in-law’s presumptive discriminatory attitude against her, and then wait for the right moment to forgive her so that the two of them become closer.

Tom Coiner in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

Platt’s direction in keeping us wondering how Minnie will react when she discovers Luther has a child on the way is subtle and yet eventful, as Lawrence provides surprises and unusual events which keep us enthralled. Mrs. Purdy tells Luther about the child, but Joe manages to drive Minnie out of the house so that she leaves before Mrs. Purdy confronts her with the “truth.”

In an ironic twist it is Luther, who returns much later drunk, guilty and ready to be rejected. He picks a terrible fight with Minnie, then in humiliation covered over with bravado, he reveals that he has gotten Bertha with child. Interestingly, Minnie remains calm and collected, non judgmental and rational, presenting the idea that the child may not be Luther’s, but another man’s. Nevertheless, Luther becomes churlish and obnoxious, which prompts her to call him out for his meanness, especially when he suggests that Bertha was nicer to him than Minnie.

Amy Blackman, Tom Coiner in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

The actors do an exceptional job in raising the stakes and increasing the argument and tension between Minnie and Luther, so that we don’t know whether or not they will break up, Minnie will leave, whether Luther will have to return to his mother or both of them will end up bloodied and bruised as they come to blows. In Lawrence’s characterizations of Minnie and Luther, their relationship becomes explosive and we aren’t sure whether it’s because of class differences, economic differences (she came from a bit more money than he and he may resent it) gender role assumptions (Minnie has worked for herself and made her own money) or something else. Interestingly, we don’t consider that they may love one another, feel hurt and pain that they might lose each other, or are emotionally trying to settle out their own feelings.

The actors are just exceptional in revealing this marvelous nuance and the director has shepherded them so that we are off balance in attempting to figure out how they really feel about each other. One of the high points of the play comes when Minnie confronts her mother-in-law and indicates that she has not allowed either of her sons to become men. Minnie points out that she has babied them so that they remain shells and are forced to rely on her emotionally and psychically which has destroyed them and made them weak. Interestingly, Joe agrees with Minnie. And he indicates this situation emotionally has debilitated him and at times has left him suicidal. Ciaran Bowling, Sandra Shipley and Amy Blackman are wonderful in this confrontation scene.

(L to R): Sandra Shipley, Amy Blackman in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

Amy Blackman as Minnie gives an amazing and powerful performance. She is stalwart and strong as she stands up to Sandra Shipley’s mother-in-law who manages to be infuriating and yet very human and poignant as a woman who is needy and relies on the ties amongst her and her sons. Tom Coiner as Luther is frightening and brutal as well as weak and sheep-like when he finally admits his love and dependence on Minnie.

Lawrence concludes the play surprisingly by revealing what has been at stake all along. It is a complicated and intricate conundrum that he presents and then the revelation clearly indicates that there was no mystery. This is how a couple is settling into themselves and separating from every other family member to cling to each other as they define themselves in the most important relationship of their lives.

Tom Coiner and Amy Blackman in The Daughter-in-Law presented by the Mint Theater Company (courtesy of Maria Baranova)

This wonderful production should be seen for many reasons, principally because D.H. Lawrence has written a great play with nuanced characters in striking relationships that are unfamiliar to us that the Mint Theater Company has presented in this superb revival. The intricate details of setting, the props, the coal stove that is the hearth, the set design, down to the food and plates that show Minnie’s aspirations to being middle class, manifest a reality that makes us identify with these individuals. Kudos to the tremendous effort on the part of Bill Clarke (sets), Holly Poe Durbin (costumes), Joshua Larrinaga-Yocom (props), Jeff Nellis (lights), Original Music & Sound (Lindsay Jones).

The Daughter-in-Law comes in at two and one-half hours and is at New York City Center, Stage II. For tickets and times go to their website: https://www.nycitycenter.org/pdps/2021-2022/the-daughter-in-law/

‘Prayer for the French Republic,’ Haunting, Current, Universal

Francis Benhamou, Jeff Seymour and Yair Ben Dor in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)
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Shifting in flashback between (2016-2017) and (1944-1946) set in two different Parisian apartments, Prayer for the French Republic (currently at Manhattan Theatre Club) by Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews), directed by David Cromer (The Band’s Visit), focuses on a Jewish family’s concerns about identity, safety and security in a country that they’ve called home for five generations. The backdrop of their apprehensions then and now is an uncertain world where humanity’s fears and needs turn increasingly predatorial. Capitalizing on such fears, political actors mine the unbalanced, raw emotions of deranged citizens, to create scapegoats which help grow their power and popularity. Whether left or right politically, oftentimes the scapegoats are religiously or ethnically engineered.

Such was the case in France during Hitler’s fascist occupation and the Vichy government’s cooperation with the roundup of French Jews that were murdered or sent off to concentration camps. Such is the case in France in recent years where attacks against Jewish citizens have multiplied, stirred up by opportunistic right-wing fascistic politicos ravenous for power.

Nancy Robinette, Kenneth Tigar in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

As an overseer, Patrick Salomon (Richard Topol), connects the ancestral ghosts from the past, his great grand parents, Irma and Adolph Salomon, grandfather Lucien and his father Pierre, still living, as a bridge from the past to the present. In the present are Patrick, his sister Marcelle Salomon Benhamon, husband Charles and their adult children, Daniel and Elodie. The play is Patrick’s meditation on five generations of family. Patrick redefines what being a Jew in France means, as he narrates the saga of their Parisian Jewish identity and magnifies it in light of the age-old conundrum Jews historically confront throughout the ages. To survive do they assimilate or do they risk the danger of standing apart as they embrace their religious beliefs?

As the play progresses, these questions expand and complicate against the current global crises (climate, socio-political, economic). What do Jews do in response to severe persecution? Do they embrace their identity, suffer and die valiantly resisting? In the name of living do they become invisible, marry out of their religion to avoid the turmoil, danger and abuse that comes with the trajectory of uncertain social unrest that Jews inevitably find themselves in the midst of? Do they emigrate to “certain” safety?

Interestingly, before the last generation of the Salomon family makes any final decisions, they confront their father Pierre and present him with their conundrum. Would he go with them, for example to a safer place with other Jews in Israel? Who better than their father, a survivor of the atrocities of Auschwitz, can ,advise them about their future? Indeed, he made his decision years ago, married a Christian woman and didn’t keep up Jewish tradition, intentionally. He remained safely in Paris raising Marcelle and Patrick without keeping ancient Jewish traditions. And until Marcelle married an Algerian Jewish emigre, they didn’t keep them either.

Richard Topol in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

Patrick (the superb Richard, Topol whose easy, relaxed persona is confidently relatable and empathetic), introduces the Salomon family to the audience and discusses their business operating a store where they attempt to sell beautiful pianos that are no longer viable in modern society. Patrick brings us into 2016 to view his closest relatives, sister Marcelle (Betsy Aidem), brother-in-law, Charles (Jeff Seymour), their bi-polar daughter Elodie (Francis Benhamou), and son Daniel (Yair Ben-Dor). The cross-section of their lives begins as Marcelle (Betsy Aidem in a fine, layered performance), becomes acquainted with her guest, Molly (the clear-eyed, authentic Molly Ranson), a non-practicing Jewish, distant cousin from NYC.

Their humorous exchange ends when Daniel comes in bleeding and an uproar begins in the household. He has been attacked in a hate crime where the young men who assaulted him yell out epithets because he has obviously distinguished his religious identity with a kippah. The arguments ensue and we discover that neither Marcelle nor Charles make an obvious show of their Judaism and that Daniel is the only Orthodox one in the family. Molly watches the scene unfold and learns as we do about family dynamics. Daniel recently became Orthodox. He doesn’t even want to go to the police to identify his beating as a hate crime. Though Marcelle insists, Daniel makes excuses that he didn’t see his attackers and the police won’t do anything about it. All land on the fact that it will only exacerbate matters in the society and spread more fear. The discussion is closed when Daniel insists Marcelle light Shabbat candles.

The scene deftly shits to the past, as we note that ancestry (the ghosts of time past), runs concurrently and influences the Salomons in the present. The spirits of their forebears come to life, and we watch the characters in their small Parisian apartment in 1944, having a conversation about their children and other family who escaped France rather than stay, which other family did. As Irma (Nancy Robinette), and Adolphe (Kenneth Tigar), wait safely in their apartment, away from the horrific persecution of Jews throughout the Third Reich occupied countries, of which France is one, they pray that Lucien and Young Pierre are safe in the mountains. This is what Adolphe encourages Irma to believe. As they pray that Lucien and Pierre will come home to their apartment in Paris, hope sustains them.

(L to R): Molly Ranson, Francis Benhamou in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

Patrick connects present and past during these moments. He ruminates about what his great grandparents, grandparents and father went through, touching upon the conversations they may have had, the rationing they went through. Furthermore, he reveals the family’s penchant for argument and debate before decisions are made. Adolphe humorously suggests that at the reunion when family is together, after ten minutes of peace there will be arguing and fighting and crying. We marvel that Irma and Adolphe can sit there and imagine what it will be like after liberation. We discover later that most of the family who didn’t escape to Cuba or elsewhere died. Adolphe’s fantasy is a manifestation of hope to uplift Irma. Their safety in Paris affords them this luxury of hope; meanwhile, Jews died in the millions.

How are they alive? Patrick relates that the superintendent of the building didn’t give Adolphe and Irma up to the Gestapo during a roundup. Thus, both escaped in that rarest of occasions; they were protected by other French people. However, at this point, they don’t know the fate of their son Lucien (Ari Brand) and their grandson Pierre (Peyton Lusk) who may have fallen into the hands of the Nazis and ended up gassed in a concentration camp. But Adolphe and Irma live in faith securely, waiting their return.

In the segue back to the present Molly and Daniel form an attachment. Daniel explains why he has become Orthodox when the family never was. He discusses the attacks at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the killing of four Jews at the Kosher Supermarket in Paris as proof that the hate crimes against Jews are increasing. On a hopeful note, he tells Molly that the peace marches against the violent attacks were massive and Prime Minister Manuel Valls stood with the Jews against Benjamin Netanyahu, who told them to leave France and come to Israel. Valls encouraged belief in the French Republic stating, “If 100,000 Jews left, there would be no more France; the Republic of France would be a failure. Daniel points out that Jews left, but only a tiny fraction; the rest stayed. He affirms that always it is a matter of choice. Jews stay in France because they love their nation and have faith in the French people.

Peyton Lusk in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

It is this concept of choice that carries through the rest of the play in the decision whether to escape persecution and hate crimes or stay and fight with courage and resistance. But slowly, this family because of the past losses, attenuates their faith in the French Republic.

First, it is Charles who rebels against staying in France after we hear the Prayer for the French Republic spoken in a voice over in French and English when Charles and Daniel go to the synagogue. The Jews loyally support the French Republic, though some, like Charles, feel it is a waste of time. As father and son walk home, Charles notices the stares of disdain and anger at Daniel’s assertion of his religion. Charles insists, “I can’t take it any more.” Once again the family is up in arms presenting arguments. Marcelle refuses to leave, decrying the beauty of their life in France. Fed up Charles wants to go to Israel. He remembers the persecution he experienced in Algeria where everyone got along when he was a child, but later socio-political forces disrupted the social fabric. Indeed, he has no allegiance to France. He doesn’t have the history, as Patrick puts it, that Jews have been in France for over 1000 years and have made a way for themselves there.

The discussion and wrangling back and forth between Aidem’s Marcelle and Jeff Seymour’s Charles is powerful and strident. We are riveted by the danger in Charles’ tone, of hidden subtext that is palpable and his fervor to believe there is safety in Israel, though that isn’t necessarily a rational conclusion because of the terrorism there as well.

(L to R): Molly Ranson, Jeff Seymour, Yair Ben Dor in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

The argument carries over when Molly and Elodie go to a Dive Bar. Francis Benhamou’s Elodie rant against Molly Ranson’s Molly is humorous and as powerfully strident as Charles’ argument with Marcelle. Elodie gives forth illustrating Molly’s hypocrisy when she argues against Israel’s Palestinian settlements. Elodie’s point drives deeper to human nature. There are the power-hungry and the occupiers; how does one resist not becoming power-hungry as a matter of security? Molly’s criticism belies historic U.S. colonialization and oppression of everyone but white males. Elodie indicates that finger pointing is useless, though eventually as Molly does convincingly, both manage to reach common ground on the human level. It is over Daniel who Elodie explains became Orthodox because of a girl. Revelation of his vulnerability opens the door to Molly’s and Daniel’s relationship. It also opens the door to Marcelle’s fury because she believes that Molly has taken advantage of her son’s vulnerability.

Nothing is resolved even after Charles and Daniel return from a trip to Israel to look at living arrangements and social culture. Charles gives in; he affirms wherever Marcelle is, he will stay with her and Daniel proclaims that he didn’t want to go to Israel, but just accompanied his distraught father. The playwright indicates the confusion and the stress that accompanies the hassle of confronting danger in one’s daily life as this family feels they are under siege since Daniel paraded his Jewishness. But it is understandable because the family has a history of loss and death at the hands of French fascism which fascists like Marine le Pen and her political group don’t readily disavow.

As the scene shifts to the past, Lucien and Young Pierre return from the camps bringing the horrific information that family was lost. Lucien is overcome in the telling of it. Ari Brand’s performance is appropriately drained, inwardly devastated but holding it together as best he can. It is Young Pierre who eventually expresses how his father’s hope saved him. Peyton Lusk gives an incredible portrayal of the PTSD of a young person returning from an unspeakable experience. But as Lusk explains how he survived, once again comes the affirmation that hope is how people survived the persecution, attacks and killing with community and family helping family. For Lucien always told Young Pierre that they would make it.

(L to R): Betsy Aidem, Richard Topol, Pierre Epstein, Francis Benhamou (turning away) Jeff Seymour (turning upstage) in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

But it is in the final act when the dam bursts with a traumatic episode for Marcelle, who by degrees has given up on her beloved Paris. It occurs at the symbolic Passover Seder, a remembrance of when God wrought miracles to help the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt. At the celebration when they arrive at the “opening of the door to let the angel in,” Marcelle becomes hysterical like Charles did weeks before. She, too, has a “can’t take it any more” moment and refuses to open the door, terrorized that a Marine le Pen engineered terrorist will enter and kill them. The scene is shocking. Betsy Aidem’s performance is riveting as are the other actors. Harmon establishes centuries old horror of death at the hands of haters. Though the idea seems ridiculous, recently a woman was burned alive in her apartment in Paris.

That Harmon has conjoined Marcelle’s terror with the symbolic traditional night commemorating their escape from persecution and oppression is an apotheosis. In an irony of twisted emotion, Marcelle gives in to the terrorists who want Jews gone from “their” country, the most grievous insult of all. It is an incredible message because Marcelle’s fear destroys her ability to believe in God’s protection a basic fact of her religion. She believes it if she flees, like the Jews of ancient history. The hatred of others intellectually and representationally in various select acts of violence has overwhelmed Marcelle’s ability to feel secure in her own religion, her own apartment, her own country, her own identity. She must leave.

Of course it is a sardonic fact that her family’s escape will be to one the most dangerous countries on the planet. Of course Patrick raises the issue about the security question. Indeed, physical security must have as its precursor intellectual and philosophical security in the Golden Rule of “Do unto others” democratic values, an ideal that France attempts to follow and does with exceptions, better than other countries.

Harmon’s play is filled with thesis/antithesis arguments and this is a family that generationally loves a worthy argument with well supported logic and details. Patrick takes the position that the Republic of France will stand by its ideals and that there is nowhere safe globally, moment to moment; not Israel, not the United States, not Europe, the Middle East, Asia, etc. Human hearts are not safe. To counter his sister he correctly asserts that the fascistic government of Marine Le Pen will be voted down and the Republic will persist. Harmon’s point is well taken. There are those across the globe who value equanimity in greater numbers than those whose megalomania and craven hate seeks the death of others for power. However, his commentary falls on deaf hears; Marcelle has made up her mind to go to Israel where their Jewish identity may be expressed freely with little fear of reprisal by crazies. For her France has nullified the Jew.

(L to R): Nancy Robinette, Kenneth Tigar, Ari Brand, Pierre Epstein, Peyton Lusk, Richard Topol in Prayer for the French Republic (courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

Whether she will feel safe in Israel relies on hope and sacrifice. In Israel they have to start all over again. They will have sacrificed their careers, friends, culture, language, everything for the hope of a safety and security that is never guaranteed. If they are on a bus that terrorists decide to blow up in Tel Aviv, there is no way to stop that. But Marcelle is convinced, turning 180 degrees from her position at the play’s beginning. Fear possesses her soul and she makes decisions based on it.

In the final segment of the play the argument takes further flight with elderly father Pierre (Pierre Epstein is eloquent in this last speech to the family.) If they leave, it is their choice, but he will not go with them. Having the freedom to choose and not be compelled is vital. Ironically, by giving into their fear, they have compelled themselves. Pierre who has seen the worst of the camps and survived it, knows the difference of experiencing the worst. His children and grandchildren have not and they don’t want to. That is why Marcelle compels them to leave, though such an event happening again is a probability off the charts. But no one dares speak that to her, not even her own brother.

The performances are sterling and sensitive, at times funny, and always compelling. The canny direction by Cromer to “get it all down” and thrill the audience with ideas and concepts is just great. I particularly enjoyed the Set Design by Takeshi Kata that designated the differences between present and past efficiently and seamlessly. The Lighting Design by Amith Chandrashaker provided the ephemeral, soft, wistful tone of the past and stark contrast with bright light that magnifies the present. Kudos to the other creatives, Sound Design by Lee Kinney & Daniel Kluger, Original Music by Daniel Kluger.

Prayer for the French Republic is revelatory and insightful in questioning our arrogance to believe we, who are transient beings on this planet, have an identity and home, knowing mortality comes to all of us physically. He also twits our assumptions about safety and security, the difference between life’s enjoyments and living an existence permeated by psychological fear. Above all he designates in a Republic, there is the right to choose one’s destiny, free from personal harm because if applied, the rule of law secures it. But if it is not exercised, then what? Harmon asks the questions through lives, relationships and situations that embody them in seeing the Salomon family live past and present. If one delves deeply enough and contemplates like Topol’s Patrick does, one sees the answers can only be individual and personal. No one can answer for someone else.

This is a wonderful play dramatically rendered. It should be seen, especially if you enjoy thought-provoking plays that move swiftly on emotional power. For tickets and times go to their website https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/shows/2021-22-season/prayer-for-the-french-republic/

‘Chicken & Biscuits’: Delicious Farcical Fare @ Circle in the Square

The cast of ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

In this current time of COVID when our country faces daily crises of social disunity, dangerous political extremism, economic injustice and abdication of sound public health practices by craven Republican governors, Chicken & Biscuits written by Douglas Lyons, directed by Zhailon Levingston appears to lack currency on superficial inspection. Benign family squabbles, sibling rivalry, death and succession, a same-sex relationship, such subject matter at the heart of the play is quaint fare for a comedic entertainment that offends no one.

Except Chicken & Biscuits neither lacks currency nor is a quaint, “sitcom,” family comedy. Its levity and humor smacks of farce and satire with dead-on threads of truthfulness. However, if one is dreaming, much will slip past in the twinkling of an eye in this play about black culture, family and the foundations of faith that undergird the best hope for the black American experience in a racist culture that hovers invisibly and surfaces surreptitiously in Lyons’ one-liners.

(L to R): Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Michael Urie, Devere Rogers, Cleo King in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

The occasion is the funeral for the father of the Mabry family. He was the pastor of a Connecticut Pentecostal-type (there is a bit of dancing in the spirit) black church. Succeeding him in the position is Pastor Reginald (played with humor and oratorical fervor by Norm Lewis). The imposing, ambitious, dominant matriarch Baneatta (the funny Cleo King) whose resume would make any ignorant racist’s head spin, stands by his side in the church family.

Gathering with their parents are daughter and son: the accomplished Simone (Alana Raquel Bowers) and actor Kenny (Devere Rogers). Rounding out the family “going home” celebration are Baneatta’s hyper vivacious sister Beverly (the gloriously out there Ebony Marshall-Oliver) and Beverly’s enlightened, wise-cracking DJ daughter La ‘Trice Franklin (the buoyant Aigner Mizzelle). To spice up the explosive, sometimes irreverent proceedings are Kenny’s Jewish lover, Logan Leibowitz (the LOL Michael Urie) and mystery guest Brianna (sweet NaTasha Yvette Williams).

Alana Raquel Bowers, Devere Rogers in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

Before the guests arrive Reginald counsels Baneatta to relax and not become embroiled by family machinations. We note Baneatta’s stresses when she prays to God for patience in a humorous riff about her sister. During this preamble to the funeral service, others step in and out of the vestibule. They share their hysterical misgivings and woes about the family interactions to come.

Norm Lewis, Cleo King in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

The staging at the Circle in the Square is finely employed; the flexible set design by Lawrence E. Moten III and clever rearrangement of furniture and props serve as a church basement, sanctuary, nave and more. The modern stained glass windows and wood paneling upstage center, flanked by paintings of a black Jesus and crosses on both sides, serve to create the atmosphere of a thriving church. The underlying symbolism is superb as is the assertion of freedom from the typical forms of bondage Christianity.

(L to R): Alana Raquel Bowers, Aigner Mizzelle in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

Each family member, an ironic stereotype of themselves, identifies the complications that will arise as emotional storm clouds threaten on the horizon of the funeral and aftermath. Kenny attempts to soothe Logan who has been disrespected and largely ignored by Baneatta and Simone who cannot brook Kenny’s being gay, nor his attraction to a Jewish white man. When we see them in action with Logan, we note their austerity of warmth with mincing words and behaviors. As they watch him founder in blackland Christendom with two strikes against him, his whiteness and his gay Jewishness, he crumples instead of standing to and giving it back for fear of offense. These scenes are just hysterical and we see beyond to the strength and character of the individuals and their weaknesses.

The cast of ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

As Logan, Urie’s ironic, humorous complaints to Kenny when they are alone, set up the tropes and jokes which follow as we watch how Baneatta and Simone treat him like a rare breed of exotic who must give obeisance. Hysterically, Kenny breezily abandons Logan to their clutches: it’s sink or swim time for Logan. Urie plays this to the hilt authentically, riotously with partners, King and Alana Raquel Bowers as the straight women who “bring it.” Watching this is both funny and upsetting. The women are intentionally clever. Their response is anything but Christian, loving and warm, but who is playing whom? We are reminded of the hypocrisy of evangelical churches to the LGBT community who engage in political Republican actions. Though this is a church in Connecticut and its members are most probably Democrats, the similar odor is clear. We wonder, can the situation evolve for the better? Can they achieve common ground?

(L to R): Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Michael Urie, Aigner Mizzelle in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

The only one who accepts Logan with Christ’s unconditional love and hugs is Pastor Reginald. And Logan longingly remembers that Reginald’s Dad (who we discover to be a waggish, wild pastor) showed the same love. For Logan it is no small comfort, but apparently this open behavior was typical of the deceased pastor’s liberalism and Christian equanimity.

Obvious is the clash between lifestyles and personalities of the sisters: the educated achievement-oriented Baneatta, and the wild, flashily dressed, divorced and “out-there” Beverly and her DJ, hip, savvy, “ready for her social media celebrity” La ‘Trice. Mother and daughter counsel each other to “shut it,” projecting widely but not seeing their own faults and outrageousness to care to change. They do it because they are funny and they laugh at themselves. Do they have anything better to do being who they are? Marshall-Oliver and Mizzelle make for a great mother-daughter team.

Truly, the women dominate this world as the service, the sermon and eulogies get underway. Their behaviors and actions are at various proportions of farcical and funny as are all these typical, atypically drawn individuals.

Norm Lewis and the cast of ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

Nevertheless, underlying the laughter and stealthy ridicule of each character being themselves, we get the importance of family and faith community. Despite the miry clay conflicts that emerge as part of the whirlwind of events that race through the play to the end revelation, these individuals have each other’s backs. And entry into the family, as Logan discovers, is not easily won. However, when it’s won, it’s forever.

The service is down-home (different from evangelical) with the hope of less hypocrisy via a more spiritual relationship with God. Thus, when the Pastor preaches in the spirit and dances a bit in the spirit, the audience even takes up the “Amens” in concordance. Indeed, the hope of a better way flows from Pastor Reginald’s fountain of faith. And by the conclusion of Chicken & Biscuits, a better way has been found in the dynamic of each of the family relationships, catalyzed by a mystery guest that Baneatta feared and kept secret for most of their lives.

(L to R): Cleo King, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, NaTasha Yvette Williams in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

Chicken & Biscuits serves on many levels. For those who enjoy a riotous comedy/farce with characters that tickle one’s funny bone continually, this is the perfect play. For those who enjoy being entertained, yet also enjoy the illumination that comes when thematic truths about life and people are cleverly revealed without preachy presentments, then this play surely delivers. For those who value the unity of family that never devolves to hatred, division, anger and bitter insult and rancor, the play is a portrait of a black family which resonates through the medium of satire and good will.

Michael Urie, Aigner Mizzelle in ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ (Emilio Madrid)

Kudos to Nikiya Mathis for her hair/wig and makeup designs: I loved her cool hair design for La ‘Trice, and Baneatta’s sober, contrasting hair and hat, to Beverly’s unsanctimonious hair and feathery headpiece. Simone’s hair design was just luscious. And additional kudos to Dede Ayite’s great, character revealing costume designs, Adam Honoré’s beautiful lighting design and Twi McCallum’s sound design. Their assistance was superb in making this a wonderful romp with circumspection if you divine it.

You need to see Chicken & Biscuits for the cast’s excellent ensemble work, Levingston’s direction and Lyons’ uproarious writing. In all its satiric humor about family “types,” the production took me away from divisive political rancor and stereotypes that follow. Chicken & Biscuits is a welcome joy. For tickets and times go to their website. https://chickenandbiscuitsbway.com/

New York Botanical Garden is Reopening The Outdoor Gardens and Collections to the General Public July 28

NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

Today, The New York Botanical Garden announced its schedule to reopen the outdoor gardens and collections of its 250-acre site to the general public on Tuesday, 28 July. The process has been a gradual one as New York City achieves New York Forward’s Phase Four which is projected to begin 20 July. The Garden’s reopening plan is mindful of protocols that pertain to businesses and cultural institutions. It follows CDC guidelines regarding protecting visitors from COVID-19 transmission. The Garden’s protocols involve safety measures that encompass State and City requirements and OSHA requirements.

NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Sunflower, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

As a part of Appreciation Week July 21-26 the New York Botanical Garden is welcoming Garden Members and Bronx Healthcare Heroes from the eight public and private hospitals in the borough. Also included are Bronx Neighbors with “first access” and complimentary tickets for free admission. This reopening including “Appreciation Week” is contingent upon Governor Cuomo designating New York City as fulfilling the requirements for the Phase Four opening.

NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

All visitors, including Members, must purchase or reserve timed-entry tickets in advance. All visitors must be wearing masks.

APPRECIATION WEEK REOPENING is from July 21, Tuesday – July 26, Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.  GET TICKETS BY CLICKING HERE

Perennial Garden, NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Perennial Garden, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

Through its Appreciation Week initiative, the Garden acknowledges its gratitude and recognizes the dedication, strength, and resilience of Bronx frontline health care workers and residents. These are the workers that residents remember daily around 7:00 pm with cheers, shouts and a clamor of pots and pans for their great sacrifice to help patients through the terrible journey of overcoming this virus which is still not understood. Complimentary admission for those groups will continue through September 13.

Seasonal Walk, NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Seasonal Walk, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

New Yorkers will be coming from all the boroughs to seek respite and renewal at NYBG. They have gone through a hellacious time (characterized by Governor Cuomo) these past months sacrificing under quarantine. Together, all New Yorkers were united, disciplined, smart, tough and loving as they confronted an unprecedented crises in their lifetimes and brought the highest COVID infection rate in the world to one of the lowest in the nation.

Home Gardening Center, NYBG,New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Home Gardening Center, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

The Garden is the place to be in July. It is one of the most gorgeous, historic and extensive botanical gardens in the world. Not only is it an urban oasis, it is a cultural, living artifact which has become a moral imperative, a haven for every season, and a New York City treasure anchored in the Bronx. Currently the Garden landscape features vibrant daylilies, hydrangeas, water lilies, and lotuses among its one million plants. Walking paths and trails crisscross the Garden providing opportunities for discovery through encounters with nature.

Thain Family Forest, NYBG, NYBG,New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Thain Family Forest, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

FOR YOUR SAFETY

The Garden has a TIMED ENTRY.  FACE COVERINGS ARE REQUIRED.  There is SOCIAL DISTANCING.

There is CONTINUAL CLEANING AND DISINFECTINGThere are DAILY STAFF HEALTH CHECKS.

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week

New York Botanical Garden, Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

Know Before You Go

  • Reduced Garden capacity and amenities. For the safety of visitors and staff, NYBG closed indoor spaces and any collections where social distancing is not possible. Water fountains and bottle refill stations are deactivated. Please bring your own water, or purchase water at the Pine Tree Café.
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices. Garden staff are sanitizing surfaces such as tables, handrails, and door handles regularly.
  • Sanitization stations. Hand sanitizer has been placed throughout the Garden. All visitors and staff must practice proper hand washing procedures.
  • 250 acres to explore. Enjoy seasonal highlights in the Chilton Azalea Garden, Native Plant Garden, Perennial Garden, Conservatory Courtyards, Rockefeller Rose Garden, and most other outdoor collections and trails. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoe

Lotus and Water Lilies, NYBG, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week, Public Opening 28 July

New York Botanical Garden, Water Lilies and Lotus, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

  • Grab-and-go food service only. Limited food and refreshments are offered for carry-out at the Pine Tree Café. Outdoor seating is available.
  • NYBG Shop is open. The Garden has adjusted shopping and checkout processes to provide the safest possible experience.
  • Mobility considerations. Wheelchair loans and the Tram Tour are suspended. If you require a mobility device, we ask that you bring your own.

 NYBG, Water Lilies and Lotus Pond, New York Forward Phase Four, Governor Cuomo, Appreciation Week, Public Opening 28 July

New York Botanical Garden, Water Lilies and Lotus Pond, Reopening New York Forward Phase Four (NYGB)

An inherent risk of exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19) exists in any public space where people are present. People visiting The New York Botanical Garden do so at their own risk as to such exposure as well as other risks inherent to outdoor public spaces. We will continue to monitor state and city guidelines to inform the Garden’s operations.

For more information about the NYBG and the 28th JULY PUBLIC OPENING, CLICK HERE.

 

‘Parity Productions Champions Women and Transgender Artists’

 

Parity Productions, Gramercy Park

Through the window onto a new reality. Parity Productions launch was hosted by Janos Aranyi and Theresa Llorente in their beautiful home overlooking Gramercy Park. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

 

Criticism of women advocating for equal pay, equal voice and equal command over their destiny has been easily dismissed by men and their willing women sycophants who have slimed women with the “F” word as “feminist” ideologues. Any momentum to provide women with the opportunity to excel has always been demeaned as “unnecessary” and has been met with resistance.

That is as it should be. Resistance is more productive than hypocritical co-optation which lulls individuals into believing they have made progress when actually they have been running the perimeters of zero.

In the arts, in live theater and in film there has been tremendous resistance to hire women behind the scenes as directors, playwrights, designers, technicians, et. al. And gender inequality is rife in front of the camera as well, with male dominated film subjects, lead characters, stories and well funded blockbusters taking all of the pie and male dominated companies reaping heavy proceeds leaving the crumbs to women lackeys lining up at the back of the bus. (Jennifer Lawrence is in a minority of one with few female colleagues even nearing her status)

A recent Variety article identified gender inequality is not only a plague in the US film and entertainment industry but it is as endemic in Europe as well.  If we don’t understand why and how this has happened, we stand the chance of never equalizing gender roles in the arts.

Parity Productions launch, Ludovica Villar-Hauser

There was a cocktail hour where guests mingled and were welcomed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser and her team of collaborators at Parity Productions.

Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters), who was honored at the 6th Annual Athena Film Festival  with their “Leading Man Award” because of his outspoken stance and support for women, spoke about the under-representation of women in the arts. He labeled it as the “banality of evil.” In other words this has not been an overtly “wicked” and intentional act on the part of men in power.

Feig implied that gender inequity has been borne out of negligence, out of a lack of attention to necessity…the necessity to recognize and reward women for their incredible talents and contributions. That banality is part of the continuance of gender dominance and the comfort of the “young/old boy’s network,” which speaks a “common language” as it comfortably objectifies women. It is these issues and others that have spurred on an unconscious dismissal of women and the passing over of those who are not ready gender cronies.

As for those who have an active mentor or help-meet to give them the 10 legs up they need to begin to compete? There are vastly too few men willing to act as mentors. Women are the ones who must mentor each other as has been occurring with conferences like Women in the World.

Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Parity Productions

Opening remarks by Founder and Artistic Director of Parity Productions, Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo Carole Di Tosti

 

Indeed, the government is taking notice. There has been a call to investigate gender discrimination against women directors in the film industry which hopefully will be carried over into theater and the entertainment arts, though the recent cry has been that things have been getting better for women in the theater. Really?

Thanks to the resistance in the entertainment industry, whether intentional or not, women are joining advocacy groups and creating their own teams to combat the gender inequality in the entertainment arts like never before.

We Do It Together is an example of a global non-profit which has been created to finance and produce films centered around women and dedicated to the empowerment of women.

Others groups like Parity Productions are NYC based with a global reach. They are organizing and strengthening themselves with unity and coherence of purpose by establishing their own opportunities increasing women and transgender representation in the arts so that gender equality is the rule, not the exception.

Ludovica Villar=Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, Antoinette LeVecchia, Village Stories, Parity Productions launch

(L to R): Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, actress Elizabeth Jasicki, getting ready to present from her one woman tour-de-force ‘Village Stories’ at the Parity Productions launch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The launch of Parity Productions on Monday May 16, 2016, is noteworthy because it is one of the more accessible ventures in a city known for being difficult to break into at all levels of the entertainment matrix. Parity Productions according to its Founder and Artistic Director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser is the “first organization to combine the art of theater with advocacy for women and transgender artists.” The company mission looks to produce new works and has pledged to hire at least 50% women and transgender artists on every production as well as supporting other productions that have pledged to do the same.

Parity Productions has been blessed that the estate of Sylvia Sleigh has made a donation of 25 rare works of art in the name of Sylvia Sleigh who was a progressive, Welsh-American artist. Sleigh represented equality of subject and treatment of men and women in her art. Her works are being offered for sale as part of the fund raising initiative and can be purchased through the Parity Store (click here).

Shows that Parity Productions will be presenting for the 2016 season are the delightful Village Stories in the summer and the historical Household Words in the fall. Both represent an intriguing and complex look into the place of women striving against paternalism  in the past and how that perspective has ramifications for both men and women in the present. To get a heads up on ticket sales, click HERE.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

‘This Will All Be Yours’ Book by Laura Pedersen, Music and Lyrics by Charles Bloom

In 1970  factory farms, big pharma, corporate land devastation and the deleterious effects of pesticides, herbicides and chemicals in our food and water supply were subterranean issues not publicized in the mainstream media.  Small family  farms dotted the landscape and the obsession with making profits in the face of human harm was only whispered about behind closed doors. By the 1980s-1990s there had been a paradigm shift. A bucolic, stress-free way of life , nutritious and delicious produce, nightly home cooked meals, mom and dad closely supervising their children, and a pastoral landscape had transmuted into a pressure cooker existence of traffic jams, subdivisions, less vacation time, processed convenience foods, parents working two jobs, and suburban over development in the wake of urban blight.

L to R: Josh Powell as Adam Price, Trevor St. John-Glibert as Jackson Webb in This Will All Be Yours by Laura Pedersen, Music and Lyrics by Charles Bloom at TBG Theatre. Photo by John Quilty.

L to R: Josh Powell as Adam Price, Trevor St. John-Glibert as Jackson Webb in ;This Will All Be Yours’ by Laura Pedersen, Music and Lyrics by Charles Bloom at TBG Theatre. Photo by John Quilty.

This Will All Be Yours is a vibrant musical production directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser that highlights the beginning of this transitional time. It turns a brilliant, focused spotlight on the Price family farm in 1979 western New York, representative of many such family farms during a time of upheaval which is still happening today in different parts of the country.  Through an excellent musical score by Charles Bloom and pithy, rich book by Laura Pedersen,  we share the family’s personal triumphs and let-downs, as the two sons and the daughter are caught up in the swirling currents of social change which force the entire family to make hard choices. Should they transition into progress or risk falling into the doldrums of debt and a destruction of all that they and three generations of ancestors have worked hard to build up? Should they keep the farm?

L to R: Daniel Rowan, Trevor St. John Gilbert, Josh Powell, Amy Griffin, Jenny Rose Baker, Matt Farcher in This Will All Be Yours, directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

L to R: Daniel Rowan, Trevor St. John-Gilbert, Josh Powell, Amy Griffin, Jenny Rose Baker, Matt Farcher in ‘This Will All Be Yours,’ directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo by John Quilty.

Much of the story exemplifies themes that have become mainstay issues in our current society and indicate deeper problems with our cultural folkways. By implication these problems run deep even to encompassing the way we have accepted a lifestyle manipulated by corporations, industrial farming practices and the fast food and processed food industries.

Never brow beating us, Pedersen touches upon these ideas cleverly in whispers of truth that float like gossamer in the conversations of the family as they complete their various chores. For example, mom, Paula Price (a wonderful Amy Griffin), enjoys bragging about her recipe using the orchard’s delectable, fresh peaches, and subsequently there are follow up comments about the bland, no taste peaches in grocery stores that have been picked green to ripen in a truck. Of course, this lust for fruit and vegetables out of season, over the years has escalated to a negative chain of events from increasing our carbon footprint in food production, transportation costs and pollution, to all the woes concentrated around agri-business and its lobbyists fighting against GMO labeling, use of pesticides and herbicides, etc.  In the consumer desire for variety has come a lack of quality, nutrition and taste with the attendant environmental impact. Though all of this is unspoken by the characters because they cannot know the future, we do; we are living it and we understand how that folkway has perpetuated a negative result. Pedersen is subtle, but if one has eyes to see, the message is clear in what we are “planting” for our children.

The cast, composer, director and playwright of "The Will All Be Yours,' with the stage crew and orchestra. Photo by John Quigley.

The cast, composer, director and playwright of “The Will All Be Yours,’ with the stage crew and orchestra. Photo by John Quilty.

Another example  of threading themes occurs when father Adam (a dynamic Josh Powell) discusses how watermelons and peaches have to be made to please consumers. Watermelons must have few or no seeds-no one likes the seeds, and peaches must have “no fuzz.”  With these concepts Pedersen gently infers that in food production, the natural world has been modified to our liking. Ultimately, agri-business and industrial food production have accommodated suburbanites and mallsters, but at what expense to our own health, and to the health of the environment?

Though farmers dealt with these questions decades ago, recently we have begun to see the error of our ways. In a line that runs deep, Adam Price asks, “What comes of a nation that doesn’t want peach fuzz?”  Pedersen has beautifully revealed that all elements of a society are networked together starting with the land and how food is produced. Inherent is a love of the land and its spiritual value which those who have worked on it for generations truly comprehend and venerate. When the land, its creatures and natural crops are mowed down, tweaked, disdained and not properly respected, then what indeed are we creating for ourselves and our posterity?

Amy Griffin  with (back ground right), Josh Powell, Jenny Rose Baker, Matt Farcher. Background left: Trevor St. John-Gilbert. Photo by John Quilty.

Amy Griffin with (back ground right), Josh Powell, Jenny Rose Baker, Matt Farcher. Background left: Trevor St. John-Gilbert. Photo by John Quilty.

The production design, staging and the acting reflect a craft and ingenuity that is enhanced by the music and dialogue with energetic vitality. Through the director’s clever use of an economy of space, the actors brilliantly create the lives of their characters with fitting props that are incorporated into the musical numbers. The talented actors (Jenny Rose Baker, Matt Farcher, Daniel Rowan, Trevor St. John-Gilbert, Josh Powell and Amy Griffin), and their singing are spot on, exceptional. Theirs is a liveliness and enthusiasm not often found in musical productions where sometimes the direction pales, the actors tend to “park and bark,” and where there doesn’t appear to be much inner life or conflict. It is thanks to Ludovica Villar-Hauser’s thoughtful and attentive direction, the actors’ portrayals, and Pedersen’s succinct book that the storyline never becomes bogged down in the maudlin.

This is a production which should find additional venues because of its salient themes and overriding message about our accountability to ourselves and others in our culture, in what we allow, often mindlessly and with a lack of vision. The beauty of this production is that Pedersen’s message always remains hopeful and does not hit the audience over the head with cant and/or the rhetoric that we should “eat organic” and “buy local.” She achieves this with simplicity by telling the story of the Price family and how they are forced into an untenable position with their beloved farm because of a combination of factors, some ill some good. We are left with questions: Should this be? Doesn’t this impact all of us in the long term?

The title says it all: “This Will All be Yours.” The message gives us pause for indeed, what are we leaving for our grandchildren if we continue our current actions and policies? Hopefully, we are creating innovative ways to keep the best of what our forebears gave us, jettisoning all that is unfruitful; most importantly, recognizing the difference.

This Will All be Yours runs until August 7th.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics at this link.

LPTW Annual Awards With Tamara Tunie, Audra McDonald, Tyne Daly, Zoe Caldwell

L to R: Tyne Daley, Tamara Tunie, Zoe Caldwell at the LPTW Awards Ceremony and Big Mingle. (Photo by Carole Di Tosti)

L to R: Tyne Daly, Tamara Tunie, Zoe Caldwell at the LPTW Awards Ceremony and Big Mingle. (Photo by Carole Di Tosti)

The old adage replicated in the song, New York, New York, is “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.” The city can be a tough, competitive town for theater folks who are not a part of the Yale Mafia or children of celebrities. That is why a not-for-profit organization like The League of Professional Theatre Women can provide a much needed support network for aspiring actors, directors, producers, costume designers and other women professionals in the industry. Annually the LPTW, gives awards to outstanding women whose dynamic efforts have proved to be an inspiration to league members. This year the LPTW Awards Ceremony and Big Mingle reception was held on March 10th at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Signature Theater. The ceremony, hosted by Tamara Tunie, (Law and Order’s Medical Examiner, Linda Warner), gave me the opportunity to learn about these accomplished, amazing artists and celebrate afterward with league members.

Award recipients included Meiyin Wang:  (The Josephine Abady Award) presented by Susan Feldman (founding Artistic Director of St. Ann’s Warehouse).  Katherine Kovner received The LPTW Lucille Lortel Award  presented by Leigh Silverman. Gregory Boyd presented The Ruth Morley Design Award to Judith Dolan.   Ambassador Cynthia P. Schneider presented The Lee Reynolds Award to Joanna Sherman who shared her uplifting work in conflict areas of Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar and Lebanon and how theater is being used to inspire women and bring them toward restoration after cultural upheaval.  Another interesting recipient of a special award presented by Mary Miko was Sondra Gorney. Sondra Gorney is 96 years young, looks wonderful, had a career in the performing arts and is a dedicated, active member of the LPTW.

L to R: Zoe Caldwell, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner (4 times Tony Winner) and Audra McDowell, (5 time Tony Award Winner) at the LPTW Awards Ceremony and Big Mingle. (Photo by Carole Di Tosti).

L to R: Zoe Caldwell, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner (4 times Tony Winner), and Audra McDonald, (5 time Tony Award Winner), at the LPTW Awards Ceremony and Big Mingle. (Photo by Carole Di Tosti).

Tyne Daly, (six Emmy Awards and one Tony award) a member of LPTW who is currently on Broadway in Mothers and Sons came out to join in the festivities with her colleagues. She was happy to give recognition to one of the finest theater actors to have graced Broadway and Off Broadway stages over the last decades: the inimitable and indomitable four time Tony Award winner, Zoe Caldwell.

Audra McDonald, friend and mentee of Zoe Caldwell presented her with the LPTW Lifetime Achievement Award. To say the award is deserving is a vast understatement. Zoe Caldwell who is from Australia is still acting; her career began when she was nine years old, which is an incredible testament to the beauty, industry and artistry her spirit embodies.

Before giving Zoe Caldwell the award, the exceptional Audra McDonald (five time Tony Award winner) who will be seen on Broadway in Lady Day (about Billie Holliday’s struggle through a performance in the last year of her life) spoke with great affection about her mentor. Audra McDonald who has named her daughter after Zoe. shared a heartfelt story about when they were in a production together in the 1990s. Audra McDonald had lost confidence when a celebrity had come backstage to visit Zoe Caldwell and treated Audra McDonald rudely. Audra McDonald was deferential and humble which fed the arrogance and superciliousness of the celebrity. After the individual left, Caldwell told McDonald something to the effect that though the woman may not have appreciated who Audra McDonald was, Audra should not give up her power to her. She, Audra McDonald, must be herself and act with her own natural confidence.

Years later, Audra McDonald, award winner, superlative Broadway star, has revealed what Zoe Caldwell knew her to be all along. Zoe Caldwell’s “lesson” in giving up power to those who would steal it if we allow them to is a lesson for all women and certainly for all time.

LPTW AUCTION CO-CHAIRS, Pat Addiss and Mari Lyn Henry, did a yeoman’s job arranging, organizing and setting up the LPTW online auction.

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Pat Addiss (here receiving the TRU Spirit of Theater Award: http://worksbywomen.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/pat-addiss-receives-tru-spirit-of-theater-award/) is very active with the LPTW. She is the producer of such award-winning shows as Vonya & Sonia & Masha & Spike; Buyer & Cellar and A Christmas Story, The Musical, returning in Nov. 2014.  She also produced the film Sex, Death and Bowling (dist. 2014).

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Mari Lyn Henry is the Dean of Students, Tom Todoroff Conservatory. You will find information about her at the website: http://howtobeaworkingactor.com/

The online auction is designed to raise money for theLPTW foundation. The Celebrity Chair of the auction was Tyne Daly who worked with the co-chairs. There were 100 items auctioned which included a beautiful Ruth Morely one-of-a-kind costume sketch, Broadway Tickets, Backstage Tours & Meet the Stars, Off and Off Off Broadway Tickets, Restaurant Deals, Consultations and Coaching Sessions and Getaway Packages to name a few. Auction donors included private individuals, organizations and associations.

Award winners and presenters. LPRW Awards Celebration & Big Mingle. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Award winners and presenters. LPRW Awards Celebration & Big Mingle. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The LPTW remains an extremely active educational and networking association during the years. Events that are upcoming for the LPTW include the LPTW Gilder/Coigney International Theatre Award which will be given to Patricia Ariza, Colombia, South America. The award is given to an exceptional woman theatre artist working outside the U.S.

There are “Networking Mondays Quarterly,” Julia’s Reading Room from September through June: a program that provides opportunities to League playwrights, librettists, directors, actors, and producers to for works in progress to be read. There are special programs, panels and lectures that are educational opportunities offered to members and the community which highlight women theater professionals past and present. The LPTW also publishes a magazine, “Women in Theatre Magazine and of course, has an online site. The association is constantly striving for its members and is the place where women in theatre need to be to share, network and dip into the fountain to replenish themselves

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