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‘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

‘Ernest and Celestine’ at The New York International Children’s Film Festival

Ernest & Celestine with Forest Whitaker, McKenzie Foy, William H. Macy, Lauren Bacall, Jeffrey Wright and Paul Giamatti

Ernest & Celestine with Forest Whitaker, Mckenzie Foy, William H. Macy, Lauren Bacall, Jeffrey Wright, and Paul Giamatti

The New York International Children’s Film Festival is offering screenings of top films for kids and adults. Many are popular and the tickets to official screenings and after party events have been sold out. However, tickets are being offered at venues throughout the city, so it is not too late to see beautiful, groundbreaking, thought-provoking films from around the world for ages 3-18. In the case of Ernest and Celestine directed by Stephane Aubier, Benjamin Renner and Vincent Patar which still has tickets available, even adults will enjoy the deeper issues and technical expertise which made this an award winning animated feature from France.

Daniel Pennac based his screenplay for this ethereally artistic and dreamy animation on the characters of Ernest and Celestine by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent. Vincent (1928 -2000) added to her initial concept of Ernest and Celestine by creating an entire Ernest & Celestine collection. She wrote and illustrated a total of thirty-eight books which encompass the pairs’ various adventures. Each has subtle lessons for children to assimilate as they enjoy the mouse-bear struggles and find solutions in the bonds of friendship. Adapting to themes of their unlikely companionship, Pennac has written a tale of how these two delicious and beautifully rendered characters met, bonded, and began their very first adventure together. In effect the feature serves as a prerequisite to the classic series of Ernest and Celestine books that readers around the world delight in.

The Ernest & Celestine animated feature has all of the elements of an adorable yet meaningful romp through a fantasy land of two disparate animal social cultures. The mice live below ground and control their terrain and society using a hierarchical pecking order fueled by mythologies and mores which promulgate an intense fear of alternate animal societies. Every child is indoctrinated with a horror of the ursine society which lives above ground. Profit motives and survival motives exploit this fear which trends throughout the mice generations. One reason for the antipathy between the two cultures is suggested. The mice/rats depend upon bear teeth when theirs fall out or they will become unproductive and perish. The bears don’t willingly give up old teeth; the mice must surreptitiously steal them. Thus, the mice employ corrupt means to exploit the “alien” culture.

Ernest & Celestine at the New York International Children's Film Festival

Ernest & Celestine at the New York International Children’s Film Festival

For their part the bears abhor the creatures below ground. Theirs is a community of quaint, charming storybook houses out of Bruges, Belgium, minus the canals. The seemingly sweet dwellings are paintbrush animated in light, watercolors, simplistically drawn. The pastels tend toward pinkish, cream, fade-washed shades. However, all is not fairy tale “nice” in the ursine society. The profit motive also drives the bear population, and we see one example with the candy store entrepreneur. He sells delicious sweets of all stripes and colors to lure the bear children and adults into overindulgence. To gain his profits on the back end, his wife sells bear teeth for the children and adults who will lose theirs eating his sweets. He is without compunction or morals supported by an oblivious social structure equally as corrupt as the mice society.

Both cultures above and below ground are Philistine in nature and represent some of the worst human social characteristics; they are greedy, selfish, exploitative, without empathy, fear-mongering and manipulative. Our two friend heroes do not fit in; they are artists: Ernest is a musician and Celestine loves to draw. Both are not appreciated for their talents and Ernest lives alone in his ramshackle house while Celestine, an orphan, must steal bear teeth to survive. Through a “random” series of events in which Ernest nearly eats Celestine, the two strike a spark of empathy, love, and understanding. This lifts both beyond the fear and death-embracing, indoctrinating cultures that attempted to brainwash them in the name of sustaining an unfortunate paradigm of existence. With their artistic sensibilities they appreciate each other’s gifts and find a peaceful and pleasant “way of being.” These experiences allow them to tap into a reservoir of hope, love, and loyalty so that they might overcome the horrors of what threatens to destroy them when each is caught and imprisoned by the “enemy” side.

Ernest & Celestine, directed by Stephane Aubiere, Benjamin Renner and    at the

Ernest & Celestine, directed by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner.

Forest Whitaker (Ernest), Mackenzie Foy (Celestine), Lauren Bacall (The Grey One-mouse), Paul Giamatti (Rat Judge), William H. Macy (Mouse Dentist), Jeffrey Wright (Grizzly Judge) do a fine job with their characterizations. Whitaker is grumpy, yawny, sleepy, kind with humorous grunts and groans. Foy is delicate, sweet, and serenely heroic as one would hope Celestine would be. The animations pair beautifully with the selected actors’ portrayals. Lauren Bacall is practically unrecognizable and scary as are Wright and Giamatti. I did love Macy’s removed and “matter-of-fact” explanation of why the bear teeth are of paramount importance to mice survival, and his transformation into bully as he threatens Celestine not to come back until she achieves her bear teeth quota.

If you have not seen the film yet, take your kids or grandchildren who will appreciate it. Do not pass up the opportunity to see it. You will appreciate the underlying themes and animation, music, and screenplay artistry that blend to form a perfect and satisfying whole.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

‘Take Me Back’ by Emily Schwindt, A Play About the Heartland of America.

James Kautz in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

James Kautz in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Thomas Wolf said in Look Homeward Angel, that one can never really go home again. This is particularly true for those who have established themselves in careers and have become successful. Not only have they picked themselves up and replanted roots in an environment where they can flourish, they are often loath to associate with their origins especially if the memories are unhappy ones. But what happens to those who have no where else to go? Home isn’t always the place where they have to take you in.

Emily Schwend in Take Me Back, directed by Jay Stull, explores the scenario of a young man who has returned home in desperation. As the play opens, we note that Bill (James Kautz) has served time in jail for theft. Unable to start elsewhere with no education, few prospects, no money or other place to live, he has moved in with his diabetic mom (a fine performance by Charlotte Booker). He attempts to take care of her. He tries to control her eating habits and get her to take her blood sugar in the morning and during the day. Above all he monitors her like a security guard to make sure she stays off the sweets. The exchanges between mother and son are humorous, and Sue’s furtive stashing of candies and goodies brings knowing chuckles from the audience. Kautz and Charlotte Booker have established a rapport that feels right as this mother and son attempt to adjust to circumstances where each are dependent on the other, though it is not necessarily a dependence that is desired or appreciated.

L to R: James Kautz and Charlotte Booker in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

L to R: James Kautz and Charlotte Booker in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Frustrated that he has mucked up his life and upset that his mom is not listening to his adjurations about her diabetes, Bill resorts back to his old thieving ways. What opportunities are open to him in Oklahoma except to work in a Walmart and make the minimum wage? He can only see a series of unrewarding empty decades ahead. For him that is not better than nothing. The exciting allure of his old life beckons with the promise of a quick buck and an easy inside job. It is only when former girlfriend Julie shows up that he begins to believe that he might be able to get along in this desolate environment. When she reciprocates in an affectionate way and says she will come back and see him, he realizes that perhaps there is the hope that they can be together. He has correctly surmised she does not love her husband and is unhappy in her marriage.

L to R: Boo Killebrew and James Kautz in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

L to R: Boo Killebrew and James Kautz in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Schwend has established themes that will resonate with all who have lived in this country during the last twenty years. There is the issue that the children will have to care for their aging parents who are starting on the road to dementia and who have multiple physical problems, including type two diabetes. There is also the issue of few employment opportunities away from larger coastal cities if one doesn’t have an advanced college degree, technical skills, or show entrepreneurial promise in creating one’s own opportunities. Another issue is the sad fact that children after divorce or other major life changes have moved back in with parents to share economic burdens. Worse, some have found it nearly impossible to leave home because they can’t afford living alone or sharing rent.

L to R: Jay Eisenberg and James Kautz in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

L to R: Jay Eisenberg and James Kautz in Take Me Back by Emily Schwend, directed by Jay Stull at Walkerspace. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Sub rosa issues weaving throughout the play point to a shrinking middle class, increasing economic hardship, and no employment opportunities. These have created a declining social community. Meanwhile, the prison population of which Bill had been a part has continued to soar. Underlying all these themes is that the humdrum, boring every day existence of work at a “dead end” job is no existence. Anything that can prompt one to escape (excessive entertainment, drugs, alcohol, addictions, the seduction of petty crime) is what a young people will seek out to release themselves from the boredom of “life” that is not living. Only family can get folks through. But what hope is there if the family is a parent in decline? There is the possibility of love and a relationship with someone to share one’s existence with, perhaps.

Schwend’s play is filled with pathos. There are a few surprising twists. The ensemble brings it all together under the competent direction of Jay Stull. The underlying questions Schwend asks will be confronting the U.S. in the next decades. How can we create more employment in decent, interesting jobs that pay well? How can we shore up the heartland with opportunities to stabilize the social community and strengthen it? Will resolving these problems be enough to keep men and women out of jail? The questions are important ones. Schwend has brought them to the fore without indicating political answers. With her homely characterizations, dynamic relationships, and important themes, she has given us much to contemplate.

The New York City premiere of Take Me Back will be performed at Walkerspace through March 22nd.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

 

London Wall by John Van Druten, Prescient and Trending.

The renowned playwright John Van Druten (Bell, Book and Candle, I Am a Camera which inspired Cabaret) stated in a 1951 interview that “I have never been a man for messages.” After viewing London Wall directed by Davis McCallum and currently at the Mint Theater, I would disagree.

L to R: Elise Kibler, Alex Trow, Katie Gibson, Matthew Gumley in London Wall by John Van Druten. Photo by Richard Termine.

L to R: Elise Kibler, Alex Trow, Katie Gibson, Matthew Gumley in London Wall by John Van Druten. Photo by Richard Termine.

In writing about the nature of relationships between men and women in the work environment, Van Druten has loaded his play with vital themes against the trending political backdrop where many women feel that “the war on women” is real. Though he is not didactic and always remains entertaining, humorous and prescient, Van Druten’s play steers us to “the handwriting on the London Wall.” And on that wall, if we follow what he has written, we must not ignore or diminish the timeless reminder that encourages us to define our own happiness and not allow the social culture to delineate it for us.

L to R: Elise Kibler and Christopher Sears in London Wall by John Van Druten at the Mint Theater. Photo by Richard Termine

L to R: Elise Kibler and Christopher Sears in London Wall by John Van Druten at the Mint Theater. Photo by Richard Termine

In London Wall, Van Druten reveals that as women enter the workforce and establish themselves in an environment where they compete with men, the fireworks will fly. He suggests that there will be repercussions that must be dealt with in temperance, or the setting will become larded with sexual harassment and political grandstanding. Unless the potential for abuse is recognized and standards of behavior are clarified, the working environment will be predatory and nullifying. In such a negative, despairing workplace, employees will be like automatons, and their efficiency and effectiveness will be greatly impaired.

The play dissects the human interactions in a solicitor’s office. There are the usual suspects: the secretaries, clerks and counsel. Though the technology has changed from press-copiers to faxes and computers, the pecking order back then was similar to today’s. The men are in the very top positions and the women are feeding them their materials and smoothing their operations. The ages of the women vary. Miss Janus (a fine Julia Coffey), who has been there the longest and holds sway over the younger women, is in a long-term relationship and intends to get married. Younger women Miss Hooper (Alex Trow), Miss Bufton (Katie Gibson), and the youngest, Pat Milligan (Elise Kibler), have boyfriends. All the women look to the security of a husband and marriage, and office gossip revolves around this. Marriage is the culturally accepted route to happiness, so one does not end up frightfully and horribly alone like Miss Willesden (Laurie Kennedy).

L to R: Julia Coffey, Stephen Plunkett in London Wall, directed by Davis McCallum at the Mint Theater. Photo by Richard Termine

L to R: Julia Coffey, Stephen Plunkett in London Wall, directed by Davis McCallum at the Mint Theater. Photo by Richard Termine

The villain comes in the form of a handsome solicitor, though not yet a partner in the firm, a Mr. Brewer (a smarmy, slick Stephen Plunkett). Mr. Brewer knows he is “a catch” and every woman in her right mind wants him. The culture has prompted him to believe this and because of his looks, position and standing women have not discouraged him. In real life the Van Druten scenario has played out too many times to imagine, and though women should be more sensible, and most are nowadays, there are those who encourage such men out of desperation. The play is loaded with such male-female situations and Van Druten points up the hazards related to such socially designated “male” and “female” roles/interactions in bringing great unhappiness.

Van Druten’s characters have defined themselves according to cultural stereotypes. Each is at a different point on the learning curve of discovering his or her identity separate and apart from what the culture assumes it should be. All are looking for a happiness that society implies should be theirs. But they are following traditional patterns. For men it is to have many women. For women it is to be married.

Whether these characters will find happiness in such roles is unclear, and Van Druten suggests that they may be blowing smoke rings around themselves. Nevertheless, they enact their parts with hope. Brewer, the single man, the “cock of the rock,” is in the midst of “hens.” It is the capstone of the culture that he pursue the youngest, naivest, pretty “chick” who is slower to catch on than the other experienced “fowl” who recognize a predator rooster when they see him. Van Druten has created his perfect cultural barnyard and set the character of Brewer loose in it to muck around with the “birds.” What occurs is an evolving imbroglio which would be unavoidable under the best work conditions where behavior standards between men and women have been established and spelled out. They have not in the office of Walker, Windermere & Co. The result is humorous, telling and explosive, and how the playwright spools the action is insightful and clever.

BloL to R: Jonathan Hogan and Elise Kibler in London Wall by John Van Druten at the Mint Theater until April 13th. Photo by Richard Termine

L to R: Jonathan Hogan and Elise Kibler in London Wall by John Van Druten at the Mint Theater until April 13th. Photo by Richard Termine

Van Druten understands the timelessness of human nature and society. The play reveals that stereotypical cultural roles are dangerous. In playing their “designated” parts out of fear, individuals deny themselves the right to establish their own definitions of happiness and contentment. If they define themselves and decide what they want and it turns out they are different or seek another way, they are forced to wear cultural shame. The more institutional and hierarchical the setting, oftentimes, the worse it is. In selecting this solicitor’s office, the playwright has revealed the societal norms and mores in microcosm and revealed the larger scale of damaging impact these mores have on individuals.

However, the play ends on very hopeful notes because of the empathy of Miss Willesden (an excellent Laurie Kennedy) and the forcefulness of Mr. Walker, senior partner at the law firm (a superb and moment-to-moment acting turn by the marvelous Jonathan Hogan). As appropriate, Van Druten shows there is enlightenment and growth for some characters. For others, the blindness continues.

The director and ensemble have delivered the meaningful currency of this wonderful playwright who is undergoing a resurgence, as well he should. London Wall is being performed at the Mint Theater through April 13.

Cast: Matthew Gumley, Stephen Plunkett, Alex Trow, Julia Coffey, Elise Kibler, Laurie Kennedy, Christopher Sears, Katie Gibson, Jonathan Hogan

This post first appeared on Blogcritics.

‘Daylight Precision’ by Douglas Lackey. A Play About US Bombing Tactics During WWII

L to R: Pat Dwyer, Max Zener and TJ Clark in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

L to R: Pat Dwyer, Maxwell Zener and TJ Clark in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey and directed by Alexander Harrington presents an elucidating historical perspective of the events surrounding the creation of the U.S. Air Force prompted by our involvement in WWII. Based on real accounts and the true-to-life inspired characterizations of influential people from that time, Lackey explores the controversies about warfare that trend for us today. One of the issues he deals with is the extent we dupe ourselves into believing that war is just and ethical, despite the massive number of innocents mowed down as casualties of conflict. Though it is not directly confronted, a sub theme Lackey posits is that perhaps no war is justifiable. And it certainly is not if the pro war “Rah, rah, get ‘em boys” protection propaganda we often cling to masks barbarism and wanton bloodletting in the name of power, domination, and wealth.

To present this philosophical construct beautifully, Lackey uses as his unappreciated and very human hero, General Heywood Hansell (an expert performance by Pat Dwyer). An initial advocate of strategic bombing, General Hansell helped establish the plans for daylight precision bombing and helped create the command formation for an independent Air Force separate from the other military branches. Daylight Precision focuses on General Heywood Hansell’s career as it cross sections General Curtis LeMay’s (a hard-nosed Joel Stigliano). Both men were engaged in air command and specifically strategic bombing. Le May advocated area bombing of cities and “Bombing the enemy back to the stone age.” Hansell advocated bombing military targets. With growing fervor he presaged the logical rationale for avoiding the bombing of cities which were largely populated by civilians: women, children, the disabled, and elderly. Lackey brings these two positions front and center and shows how LeMay and Hansell struggled with the problems surrounding both.

Pat Dwyer as General Haywood Hansell in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey at Theater for the New City. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Pat Dwyer as General Haywood Hansell in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey at Theater for the New City. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The playwright creates scenarios which bring to light how Hansell arrives at his decision that destroying military targets will weaken the enemy and bombing cities only strengthens the citizens’ resolve to fight with resilience to the death. Lackey soundly shows Hansell coming to this conclusion in an evolving process through discussions with others, rumination, and dream sequences. Lackey solidifies Hansell’s resolve not to bomb any more cities after Hamburg  is destroyed (45,000 perished in a night raid firestorm). He illustrates the decision through an effecting scene between Hansell and a well known pacifist at the time, Vera Brittain ( Danielle Delgado). Though Hansell and Brittain never met, her views were well known and supported by many of the most erudite in the U.S. who opposed civilian aerial  bombing. Hansell’s views mirrored theirs. The scene evokes how Hansell might have been driven to that perspective by those whose views he respected.

Hansell’s career accelerated as one of the most influential generals to have effectively organized the allies’ air strategy against Hitler. LeMay reports to him. However, Hansell must continually justify his philosophy and position because military targets are dangerous whereas civilian targets, the bombing of women and children appear to result in fewer airmen deaths. The effects of killing civilians is brutal, immediate, and quantifiable. These are visible results: numerous enemy deaths. The effect of bombing military targets does not show immediate results. Buildings, terminals, and factories are destroyed to what effect? A moral one? Of what need is morality in war? The Germans quickly move for reconstruction. Then what? Eventually, Hansell is overshadowed; the politics change: area bombing of cities is embraced. Dresden and Leipzig are cut down in great brutality to the justified tune of “War is hell!”

L to R: Danielle Delgado and Pat Dwyer in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey, directed by Alexander Harrington. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

L to R: Danielle Delgado and Pat Dwyer in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey, directed by Alexander Harrington. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Lackey brilliantly evolves the action of the play to show how the shift occurred from setting military bombing targets (materials factories, ball bearings factories, railroads, steel mills) to civilian bombing targets of entire cities. As Hansell’s views are shuttered and shouted down, LeMay’s views about bombing cities, the more populous the better, are lifted up. The war hawk, whose simplistic barbarism is easily rationalized by those in power, takes over.

LeMay’s career rises; Hansell’s falls. Hansell is shuffled to the Pacific front in the war effort. Eventually, disputing tactical maneuverings in air command and insisting that precision bombing of targets is the most effective and moral of strategies, he is relieved of his duties. Somewhere in the crosscurrents, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are bombed back to the stone age.

Joel Stigliano in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey, directed by Alexander Harrington at Theater for the New City. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Joel Stigliano in Daylight Precision by Douglas Lackey, directed by Alexander Harrington at Theater for the New City. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Hanesell’s personality and character are greatly humanized by Lackey (and Pat Dwyer’s talents) in brief scenes where he reveals Hansell’s appreciation of the arts, Shakespeare, and poetry. Because Lackey reveals this philosophical sensitivity and sensibility, we are not surprised at Hansell’s moral views. Nor are we surprised that he uses his brilliance to initiate tactical maneuvers which in the long run were highly effective in shortening the war in Europe. Years later Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, claimed that by bombing ball bearings factories (Hansell’s plan) the course of the war was irrevocably changed and would have been different if these factories had been left in tact. After Hansell was dismissed, the Air Force moved toward a strategy of bombing civilian populations. This encouraged a dependence on the more potentially devastating and inflexible doctrine of nuclear warfare and nuclear weapons escalation and stockpiling that lasted for decades.

How has history viewed these two generals? Lackey’s Daylight Precision sheds new light on the careers of both men. Hansell’s overlooked brilliance and acumen trumped Le May in every aspect including morality and ethics. He is an understated hero whose philosophies ring true for every age, especially ours in light of our current strategies in the Middle East. Lackey’s play and the direction by Alexander Harrington and fine work by the ensemble cast allow Hansell to soar back in command as we appreciate his efforts and are reminded that bombing women and children serves no rational military purpose.

Cast: Pat Dwyer, Joel Stigliano, Kyle Masteller, Joseph J. Menino, Eric Purcell, Maxwell Zener, TJ Clark, Danielle Delgado

Daylight Precision will be performed at Theater for the New City through March 16th.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.