Monday, May 27, 2013

How Great Is This Gatsby?

I went with my friend Georgette to the local cineplex to see the new Baz Lurmann version of The Great Gatsby. The movie had to show me a lot, as I am a fan of the book and was not a fan of the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

I carped about the casting: Leonardo DiCaprio, although a fine actor, didn't have the suggestion of a hidden past as say, a younger Jon Hamm or Johnny Depp might. Carey Mulligan wasn't pretty enough to be the decorative trophy Gatsby wanted and I required. Tobey Maguire was a little too eccentric to portray the bland narrator, Nick Carraway. My nephew, Will Friedwald, jazz columnist and popular music expert, had written a column outlining the very specific songs F. Scott Fitzgerald had woven into his book, and he objected to the anachronistic interpolation of new tunes and even Rhapsody in Blue (which was written years after The Great Gatsby takes place) into this story.

I expected the mishmash to be a repulsive mess. But then I recalled how much I had loved Lurmann's mishmash called Moulin Rouge years ago. I announced, "It won't be Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby, and it won't be my Gatsby, but maybe it's worth a look."

I loved everything about the movie. Well, maybe the parties were overlong and not that interesting unless I had been imbibing whatever the partygoers were--but that's a small thing in such a big picture.  The sets and costumes--although maybe not pinpointed to 1921, but more of a generic 1920's mode for effect--were dazzling and quaint at the same time. The 20's hadn't really begun to roar at that point, but the era was waking up. It makes a better movie if you push some of those things around a little, like the Rhapsody in Blue even if it had not yet been written. Such a rhapsody was swirling around Jay Gatsby, taunting him, spurring his aspirations.

DiCaprio showed me things about Gatsby I had not grasped before. I had seen him as a clueless climber, looking at Daisy through the rose-colored haze of a man in love with a face, a look, a semblance of the one thing he thought mattered: Money. DiCaprio's Gatsby was smitten with something more--his dream of the life he wanted, his fantasy of the woman who would make his hopes and dreams worthwhile. He loved her because he thought she was the key to happiness. He thought, because of the social position she was born into, that her love could transform him into his own dream of a man. And Leonardo DiCaprio accomplished this acting feat mostly by the way he looked at her--the yearning, the fear of missing the mark, the total inability to see how shallow and uninteresting she really was. He conveyed all of Gatsby's yearning and fear just with the look on his face.

Carey Mulligan was almost pretty enough, but she gave this Daisy something else instead. She was neurotic. I thought Daisy was a lightweight who had nothing going for her but looks, but at least Ms. Mulligan imbued her with a sense of conflict about what she was to do. Not a conscience, but an awareness that there might be something immoral going on here. Tobey Maguire is always engaging, and he was in this but he added an undercurrent of thwarted passion. Elizabeth Debicki was spot-on, a stunning Jordan Baker. The one wrong note in casting was Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. He had no old-money charm or indolence--in fact the actor might have done better as the service station guy. I would have thought he would have had to be at least good-looking to have landed Daisy. And why they cast Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfsheim I shall never understand.

But the principals carried the show. I admit I wasn't totally on board until the shirt scene, which I was waiting for with bated breath, certain they wouldn't get it right. They got it exactly right.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In a Beautiful Place

Let me say that basically I am an optimistic person. Not, I think, to the point of being unreasonably sanguine on every subject, but I tend to have a good time even when bad things are happening. I've had my share of tragedy and stress over the years, but somehow I remain upbeat.

That's why it isn't extraordinary that I love my new life in New Paltz. But something has come over me. I look around as I drive through the beautiful spring-green surroundings--from one event or meeting to the next, inhaling the fragrance of fresh-mown grass--and the realization hits me: I am happier than I have been in years.

My daughter persuaded me to make the move a few months ago. I  had finally accepted that the tiny apartment I had bought in Hoboken was inadequate for my life. Pretty and well-decked out with amenites, it was too small at 530 sq. feet to have more than one couple over at a time, a bit of an awkward location as I had to walk everywhere, and my arthritic knees were getting worse; and then there was Hurricane Sandy, which wiped out the summer clothes and the hot water heater I had in the basement. I was thinking about relocating in Hoboken to a bigger place--which would be a bigger monthly payout whether bought or rented. I was ready to do it.

The real difference was that it was my daughter who wanted me. She really wanted me nearer, and as long as I was sure I would move, it was enormously appealing to move where I was wanted. Hoboken had been pleasant. I had met some very congenial, interesting people--but the town hadn't put its arms around me. Alison and her family, my wonderful grandsons, her new partner and his wonderful 20-year-old son, honestly wanted me nearby. I liked the area and had always admired New Paltz out the bus window when I visited them in Kingston. It was reason enough to make the move.

So I packed up and moved December 1. After being here a couple of months Alison, knowing my fondness for Buster Keaton, urged me to attend a matinee of The Cameraman at the Rosendale Theatre one Saturday. She said she loved attending movies at The Rosendale, and that it was run by volunteers who seemed to be my type of people.  My experience at that event was so heartwarming that I wrote a blogpost about it.

If you scroll through this blog at the posts since then you'll see how important The Rosendale has become in my life. I've been to meetings, joined committees, had lunches--and even helped a virtuoso actor a little with his one-man show. And I'm on a team producing a fund-raising festival of one-act plays next month.

I'm back in love--this time with a place, with a mood, with a raft of projects. Spring came, and with its melted snow, a happy feeling of anticipation. My grandsons are big, strapping boys with plans and hopes, Alison is conquering her own world, and I wake up feeling better than I have in years.

I'm adding years to my life, too. Just ask my doctor. My knees are improved (not so much pounding of the pavement, more hours at the gym), and I've reduced my intake of cookies and cake. Who needs them? I'm feasting on well-being.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Getting Back in Show Business

I'm looking for audition pieces. Just to keep my hand in, I think I'll audition for the Short Play Festival to be held in New Paltz the weekend after July 4. So.

That means I must find a meaty monologue and work on it. I have unopened cartons of books in a closet, and at least two of them are play scripts. Lots of good parts for women there, some roles I've done in the past--surely there is something appropriate for an audition at this point.

I find a script of a play I wanted to do about a year before I left Fairhope. The play was Gertrude Stein and a Companion, and I was interested in playing Gertrude. Hard to face the fact that, with my added years and girth, it would be a role for me--but I liked the play and found a "companion," an actress who really loved Stein and Alice B. Toklas, her longtime "wife." We toyed with the script, found a director, started to have meetings about finding a base from which to operate. It was not the kind of thing done by the local amateur group, but I had put together a number of such groups in different places, and I was excited about getting back in the theatre. To make a long story short, the production never happened, but I ended up with a lot of Gertrude Stein material and a couple of copies of the script.

For the Short Play Festival audition I started working on a Gertrude Stein monologue but it was harder to learn than usual. Besides, it didn't quite showcase me in the way I wanted. I thought the character was too limited for an audition piece unless I was auditioning for the role of Gertrude Stein or somebody just like her. Maybe I could add another monologue, for instance, Amanda's "gentleman caller" speech from The Glass Menagerie. I played that role in a summer production in college--yes, I was 18 years old--and I felt so haunted by the role I thought it would be easy to relearn it. But to do two monologues? Neither of which really applies, either to me or to the upcoming production? Just didn't feel right.

I remembered The Gingerbread Lady. I played in that one twice.
As Evy in The Gingerbread Lady, Geneva, 1984
Once, when I was in my late 40s and again some ten years later. This is 20 years after that--and I'm quite long in the tooth for the role. But I think there's a lot of Evy still in me and I'm sure I can capture it. So I scrounged through the cartons and found an old scarred and yellowed copy of the script, with highlighting of many colors. In the battered script I came upon a doozy of a monologue with humor, pathos, and Neil Simon's deft hand clearly showing.

I'll enjoy getting back on a stage at this point. The same stage, by the way, that my friend Doug Motel (scroll down the blog for my post about him) will appear on as 11 different people on Friday and Saturday nights of this week. The little Rosendale Theatre will take its place in theatrical history. The place for an unforgettable one-man show May 17 and 18. And the comeback of me, however brief it may be on June 1. If I get a role in one of the Short Plays, it may be the start of something big. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Vision of a Theater

It's wonderful to live in a place with a vision nearby, especially if it's your kind of vision and your kind of place.

There is so much that appeals to me about my new home. One of the most wonderful ones is the little old theater in the picture, revamped and upgraded but still oozing old-fashioned charm and redolent of popcorn and memories. I've written about it here before, but have not yet become jaded--if anything, I'm even more enchanted the better I get to know it.

I'll be involved in the Short Play Festival, helping choose the plays, directing one or two, and maybe even acting in one if there's a suitable role. We're accepting submissions now, but hurry, The deadline for submissions is tomorrow. All nine plays selected will be ten minutes long, and all will be about the movies, and they must come from someone with a residence, full- or part-time, in Ulster County, NY. I love the project and have great respect for my fellow judges/directors. Can't wait to read all the submissions--I've read eight and can tell you the quality is excellent and it's not going to be easy to choose. I'll get my next batch by next Monday and then we shall meet to select the nine best and most appropriate to our guidelines, hold auditions the weekend of June 1, and present the program the weekend after July 4. It's wonderful fun.

The theater is undergoing a major renovation to bring it up to code while retaining its old-timey charm. One of its big needs is a wheelchair life and we are raising funds to have that installed as soon as we can. You can vote for funds to help that happen here, and then we'll move on to other more glamorous renovation projects.

Next weekend will be the performance (Shiva Arms) I wrote about in my most recent post (advance tickets already on sale) and then comes the Short Play Festival. This is just the way I wanted to spend my retirement. Oh, and there's a beautiful movie playing tonight, Leonie, with Emily Mortimuer playing Isamu Noguchi's extraordinary mother. See you at the show!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

No Business Like It

Six weeks ago I never heard of the guy. I had an appointment to work on my web page, in order to update, and as they say, "optimize" it to build traffic and interest would-be buyers of my books. I knew the name of the company because I had been to a meeting in its office on Main Street in Rosendale, but the meeting was about fund-raising for the impressive Rosendale Theatre Collective.

I didn't even know how to pronounce his name, Doug Motel. ("Mottle"? "Moedle"? Surely not "Motel," like the Holiday Inn.) We spent an hour getting to know each other, with him learning my website and struggling with its host (which, I already knew from other tech experts, is extremely user-UNfriendly), and with me learning even more than I wanted to know about HTML, buttons, clicks, and Google Analytics. At the end of the session I had a grasp of what needed to be done, and was ready to do some more. He mentioned that he was going to do a show as part of the fund-raising for the Theatre Collective.

I thought, "Well, that's nice," but still didn't think of him as an actor. He's very bright, exudes what we now call positive energy, and I looked forward to one more session with him to work out the technical glitches in the website. I got an email from the Theatre Collective informing me that he needed people to cue him on lines for his upcoming fund-raising show. That sounded like a not-bad gig, so I signed up for the first session and the last on his schedule.

This rehearsal session was designed simply to refresh him on lines. He was holding the book and did the show with me as a one-person audience.

His performance, even with him reading most of it, knocked me out. He plays ten people--all of whom are confronting him with stories of a recent tragic incident at the Shiva Arms, a seedy Hollywood apartment-hotel, as he, Doug Motel (and it is pronounced the same as the Holiday Inn) is starting a job there. Motel the actor has a gift for accents and that rare ability to transform himself in an instant, from, say, a snobbish English lady to an Armenian father in an apartment crowded with people and a noisy dog. I swear he was even the noisy dog, even without lines. Each of the characters is three-dimensional and moving as well as fall-off-the-chair funny. There are a lot of them, and there is a point in which all of them are onstage at once.

Those of you who know me from my theatre days know this is right down my alley. It's an original, and Doug Motel is a virtuoso actor with more than his share of charisma and charm. It's going to be a hit in Rosendale and I'm going to be right there in the audience laughing it up with the rest. You'll hear more about the show, which will be May 17-18 at the Rosendale Theatre, here as we get close to the date. If you're thinking about coming, I'd suggest you buy tickets in advance for $15. They'll be $18 at the door.