Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Show of Smiles

John Thayer, singing. Behind him, Rachel Davis.

The show running at The Coach House this weekend took me by surprise. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, is a piece I was not familiar with (although I had heard the title--who could forget that?), and I'd never seen Kingston's Coach House Players in a musical. I had befriended the multitalented Rachel Davis, and she urged me to see the group's Variety Show fundraiser, but I missed it. I had seen (and reviewed here) two plays done by the group. One was a British farce-mystery and the other an old-fashioned romantic comedy about an aging couple.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is a different animal. A fast-paced musical review, pulled together by the thread of the old man/woman/love/marriage thing, it has much going for it. The Coach House Players squeezed every drop of comedy, charm, and even pathos out of the script and left the audience wanting more. The cast of talented actors and singers was matched perfectly to the material, and director Edward Kleinke kept up the pace and didn't miss a nuance in the script. As Musical Director, Rachel had the difficult job of coordinating and managing many tasks, and her efforts were seamlessly woven into the show.

The show featured interesting songs and excellent singers. There was a funny monologue that just about tore my heart out by Anna Susan Miressi; a beautiful love song quietly rendered by John Thayer, who has kind of a Jimmy Stewart quality onstage, and solid turns by everyone throughout. There were no glitches or missteps that I could see in this tightly crafted production.

I wish I could single out one performance from the show as outstanding, but in an ensemble group like this it would not only be hard to do, it would miss the point of the production in which every player was in top form. I wanted to have a picture to head my write-up, so I found an old one on Rachel's Facebook page (above) of John Thayer--who sings one of the show's best songs--in another production, with her looking on. The photo captures the spirit of the group itself.

Because of similar themes, I guess, but with a more upbeat attitude, I Love You, You're Perfect, put me in mind of another, albeit darker, show from years past that I know well and think of often. I hope I can be forgiven--I found myself singing the score from Company as I drove home.

The show opened Friday before last, and the run will be capped off at 2 P.M. this afternoon. The Coach house is at 12 Augusta Street in Kingston. There is still time to get a seat, but it would be wise to call in advance (845 331-2476) for a reservation because they've been selling out--and the word of mouth on this one is powerful!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Baked Custard

Two left

The other day I spent a lot of time thinking about custard. I love custard, but seldom have it. This day I was fairly yearning for it, and wonder of wonder, I had time, inclination, and ingredients to make it for myself.

When I was a bride I taught myself how to cook, and custards were among my first triumphs. I read about soft, stove top custards (called "Boiled Custard" in the South), baked custard, caramel cup custard (or crème caramel), even crème brulée. I had made them all except crème brulée, which I have yet to do, but shall one day. I've made custard pies and fresh fruit with custard sauce. I've made the packaged "puddings" since I was a child, but there are times when I hanker for plain old custard.

I have the basic recipe for custard in my head--two cups of whole milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, two egg yolks and one whole egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself mentally making a custard, but all this mental exercise wasn't getting me any creamy dessert. I could make a soft custard in a matter of minutes--but a baked custard would take about an hour in the oven. Never mind, it could be baked in my little glass custard cups and would be neatly portioned out for the future. I would forget about the burnt sugar topping (poured in the bottom of the cups, later inverted) and make the plain delicious stuff.

For company I usually do the caramel, and use some half-and-half in the mixture. But this spartan version would serve just as well for me. I measured the milk into a saucepan and brought it to the "scald" stage while I whisked the egg yolks, egg, and sugar in a bowl. I had to search through my pans for a big enough to hold the four cups plus hot water to keep the custard from overcooking. I added the warm milk to the eggs while water heated up and the oven heated up to 325° Fahrnheit. Baked the custards for an hour while I watched television.

It was a first run-through for the dessert in my new kitchen, and for that, the outcome was perfect. The little custards were nice, plain--and perfect comfort food. I must do them again sometime soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Little By Little

Why do we expect it all to happen at once? Is it human nature? Or is it the decorating shows on television? After all, they have somebody show up in a home that desperately needs work, and in an hour's time--sometimes a half hour--it's "REVEAL" time! The homeowner is brought in, eyes closed to the interior of his/her disaster of a house, and there it is! New furniture, walls painted, pots of silk flowers and little sculptures all about. The old place looks like a model home. And indeed it is.

I've redecorated a number of old houses--six or seven, I think--and know better. But this time I was ready for the private rooms to get finished. And I wanted it to happen all at once. I almost forgot, it doesn't usually happen that way. In the past I've had contractors who had a team of guys, and the work still took weeks and weeks. This time around my main contractor/carpenter has finished his work and my electrician/plumber/handyman and his son the painter are finishing tasks for me as they have time. I still believed I'd have the upstairs bedrooms and the floor of the stairs finished at the end of the weekend.

First stall was when my painter emailed me Saturday morning that he'd missed his bus. He's based in the city now and can only come to me when he has a break. I expected him at ten; he and his father showed up just after noon. That was okay, all he had to do was paint the stairs while his father checked out the washer and dryer in the basement and set them to working again.
The entrance hall was angry.

There was something rather depressing about the color of the balustrade and newell post. It gave the entrance hall an angry look, at least to me. The stairs were the same unimaginative tan. I wanted the stairs steps white and planned to have a beige textured runner installed when the painting was done. Obviously that couldn't happen in a weekend, but I had contacted the flooring store to come by today, Wednesday, to measure and give me a quote.

I chose a creamy beige for the newell post and balustrade, while the spindles and floor would be white. A primer coat had to go on everything. This turned out to be not only tedious for my bright young painter, but also much more time consuming than I expected. In the meantime, his father added some lights to the basement, updated the electrical, and got a new hose for the washing machine. He changed out a cheap looking sconce in the bedroom for the slightly more upscale one I'd picked up. They worked like beavers for the better part of two days, and wound up Sunday night. I went to bed discouraged--or at least disappointed--that I didn't have my bedrooms all shiny and new.

But I woke up to the reality that it takes time. And we've gotten off to a wonderful start! They are both solid workmen, good at what they do. It looks so tasteful, so serene. Ready for a carpet runner and maybe another party to celebrate. When I think of what it's come from, where we have yet to go seems insignificant. The bedrooms will be ready for guests (and I have one coming next week, and two more the following week). And little by little the house is coming to life.
The hall is inviting guests to come.
Now it seems downright happy!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Old Movies

It started simply enough. I was on the fund-raising committee at the Rosendale Theatre Cooperative and we began to hatch plans for a gala event at the Bell Tower, a converted church next to the theatre, now serving as an event venue.

We would have a live band, get local restaurants to contribute refreshments, hold a silent auction, and invite the guests to come in costumes depicting characters from their favorite movies. It was a natural; an upscale party bound to gain traction in the community and maybe become an annual event. The committee was dynamic. Professional, intelligent, committed, and clearly competent to get the job done. I was still a fish out of water, not having any contacts in the area or the get-up-and-go of my youth. Maybe I wouldn't even go to the gala. I'm not much for costumes and don't have one. I sulked. I thought maybe I should just send in a donation.

The event evolved from "come-as-your-favorite-movie-character" to "...or just dress up in your best Hollywood glam..." which intimidated me even more. All my glam had been tossed out years ago in one of my many moves. But I got to thinking about movies that would be simple to emulate in costume. The Bride of Frankenstein? The right wig and a caftan would cover that. The older I get, the more I look like Elsa Lanchester anyway.

I found a great costume shop in Kingston and checked out their Bride of Frankenstein wigs. While I was mulling that over, another movie came to my mind.

La Strada.

Richard Basehart, Guilietta Masina
I never knew a movie could be a masterpiece until I saw La Strada in 1960, as a sheltered 20-year-old with a new husband and a plan for a life in the theatre.  Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, and Richard Basehart showed me what acting really was. At the same time I was transported to a time and place in which one was in the company of destiny—joining three apparent losers on the road of life, without means or even hope. Yet they are in a circus. Zampano is brutish strong man, Gelsomina his assistant, and the acrobat and beguiling clown (Basehart) zigs and zags through the scenes making mischief as he performs his high-wire act. They are jostled against each other, reacting and avoiding, needing and rejecting. The road they face is harsh. The landscape of Italy has been strafed by war; their life is as black and white as the film of it.

First, and central to all, is the girl, Gelsomina. I identified with her totally. Masini’s naïf was the kind of character I had always thought of myself as—like Leslie Caron in Lili and The Glass Slipper, but this film towered above such Hollywood creations. Masina and her mentor, her husband and director of the film Federico Fellini, filled the character of Gelsomina out with a rough authenticity born in poverty and pain. With her clumsy, lost looks, she is the essence of a sweet spirit, impervious yet senstive to the jolts and shocks of her own life. Growing up on a beach somewhere, a sister of hers has been sold off to an itinerant street performer whose act is based on his physical strength. The sister dies—and we never are to learn how. The strong man, Zampano, buys Gelsomina for what we learn is the equivalent of $10, to use her in his act.

We laugh at Gelsomina’s attempts at performing, yet her inherent charm and tenderness win us over as well as the crowds who gather to see Zampano’s rather unpleasant self-aggrandizing turn.
Wherever she is, little children are amused by her and are drawn to her as one of them. She is a grownup who is truly childlike. At the time I first viewed the film I felt I was a child being allowed to play with the grownups.

I was awash with tears throughout the movie the first time I saw it. I saw Gelsomina as me, taken to about the 10th magnitude--an innocent in an untenable life, at the mercy of men who did not understand. The playful “fool” of the movie did not offer Gelsomina escape from Zampano, but he was sensitive enough to suggest a way she could learn to accept her life with the dark strongman. As it turned out, I would ultimately divorce my husband (who was in actuality more like the clown persona than the heartless Zampano), but I never forgot the movie. I was haunted on some subconscious level by its images and the raw grandeur of its theme, story, and message.

And suddenly I thought of my favorite movie role, a costume for the Gala: I came as Gelsomina.  When she performs with Zampano she wears raggedy polo shirts and baggy pants and a clown face that emphasizes her own outlandish features. I found similar articles at the Salvation Army--and a Rod Stewart wig, clown makeup, and a derby at the costume shop. The thought of playing Gelsomina, even for a few hours, was invigorating, rejuvenating, and just plain exciting for me.

I didn't find a trumpet, or a snare drum, but I practiced the makeup for days. The first time I saw the white clown face on myself I was elated. It was magical. I watched the movie three times, listened to what Martin Scorsese said about it, and studied the commentary by a cinema professor. I was able to put La Strada into the context of its time, and of my time. I became a bit of a La Strada expert. And I was glad that I saw more meaning to it with every viewing. I wrote a review of it for IMDb.

When I walked into the gala, I saw that most people had opted for evening wear. Somebody thought I was Charlie Chaplin, but never mind. Some people think Masina was doing a Chaplin turn, but that doesn't come over to me. She is a baggy pants comic and a heartwrenching innocent. She is unique. And I got to be her for an evening.

The party was festive. Most of the costumes were formalwear--evening gowns, glitter, tuxedos. A few assumed I was simply a mime, others recalled the Fellini classic film. I didn't feel a bit out of place, in fact, my inner child was in the forefront. I had a great evening.

And as I process the event in my mind, I'm taken back to the cinema palace where the 20-year-old girl was indoctrinated into the art of the movies. At the moment, La Strada showed me a dark road ahead, called life--but in doing so it revealed the magnificence of the medium of the movies. I was in the presence of greatness. The path of the theatre, acting, directing, and just being in the audience, being moved beyond tears to something near enlightenment, was to last me for at least the next 50 years. And it is something I am proud to love with all my heart.

Me as Gelsomina, 11/1/14