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Monday, 21 September 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

No one thinks of defending himself to a newspaper except an ass.

An Equation Grows in Brooklyn

I was going to write about Dyscalculia--the crippling and unnerving disability I have suffered from since girlhood. Until the other day, when M.O. and I looked it up, I called it Mathlexia (which, for someone who does not suffer much lexiconically speaking, should have been immediately apparent as incongruous). Others called it slow, boneheaded, nitwitted, challenged. But if I'd been armed with such a word as dyscalculia I might never have developed my exceptionally coordinated Counting-On-Hands maneuver, or played the game my parents still delightedly play with me wherein I am given some absurd multiplication task such as 8 x 12 while they await their inevitable victory over my feeble mind, or have avoided working in retail and most monies related work because I knew I could never count change. It's a real problem when I don't have exact change and the delivery person from Thai Lantern is minutes away.

I was going to write about Dyscalculia but as I walked down Montague Street this Sunday on a simple errand to the hardware store I was stopped by a performance in the blocked off street by the Martha Cordona Opera Theater. A soprano was singing a song we all know, her beautiful voice clearer than any ambient car or human sound--a little bit of extreme beauty offered for free in the middle of a Brooklyn street. I can sing. I can add. Her voice soars above city streets. My mind goes haywire when I try to subtract. And I thought, maybe I do know a little division afterall.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

All the virtues in the calendar, though they exist on each side, will not make a man and woman happy, unless there be sympathy.

Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances

Part of what made The Neighborhood Playhouse such a good fit for me was the old world charm of the institution--the little old ladies who greet you as Miss. Robinson when you walk in or out of the front door, the office correspondence that is all written on typewriters, the photographs that line the walls of second-year productions past, the fourth floor library, its wood bookshelves overflowing with the most wonderful musty scent of plays long forgotten.

Today, I made my way over to 340 East 54th Street for the first day of the annual book sale; in the few years since I graduated, I always found out about this event after it had taken place. Guess I missed the carbon copied announcements that must have been passed out by hand. This year, I happened to make a visit to the school a few days before the sale--the flyer advertises the special guest appearance by alum Marian Seldes on the second day of the sale and quotes her as saying "A grand annual event at my dear school." Two hours and seven dollars later, I left with a few treasures. When I brought my finds to the school librarian, David Semonin, he sat me down to look over what I had picked out--almost like, more than a sale, this was a chance for him to play his part, and for me to be a student once again.

1. Double Demon and Other One-Act Plays by A.P. Herbert, Sladen Smith, Beatrice Mayor, Helen Simpson from 1924. I took this book because on the library card pasted to the inside cover, under several students' names , was the name "Wynn"; I assume that this is Wynn Handman, a student of the NP, Meisner's protege, and one of my own teachers. David opened the book to the opening page, which bore, in a woman's hand "From the Library of Laura Elliot." "Oh," he exclaimed "she was one of our first teachers, she had a very brilliant career." I found a NYT article from 1916, when the NP was in its first home at the Henry Street Settlement, describing a "Suffragist's Roof Party" at the NP, where labor and women's suffrage songs were led by Mrs. Elliot. She and her teaching styles are also mentioned in a biography of Gregory Peck, whom she taught, and in a book about Martha Graham, who was also among the NP's first instructors. "Our acting teacher, Laura Elliot, was terrifying and temperamental, but often wildly stimulating." Guess she had her reasons for owning Double Demon.

2. Jason by Samson Raphaelson. Its library card bears the signature of alum "Syd Pollack," who took the play out on January 25th--I can't read the year.

3. The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth. David told me he had many friends who refused to appear in this play when it was on Broadway--the cover of the book announces that it's "the most controversial play of our time." I was mostly interested in Sanford Meisner's scrawl of a signature on November 2, 1964, as the first person to borrow this play.

4. I grabbed a few other things that were of general interest to me--a first edition of the play The Disenchanted, something I worked on in Wynn Handman's class with BL; The Man, a play bearing the name of its owner, Fred Kareman, who was a NP graduate and long-time studio mate of Wynn's at Carnegie Hall. I attended his memorial service a couple of years ago, and will give this book to his widow who now shares the new studio with Wynn; Winterset, a play I wrote about in this blog after admiring the sketch I saw of a set design for its premiere at The Morgan; a 1911 edition of a play called The Laughing Cure. Written inside in pencil is this :

Part--Mary Ellen Perry

Rehearsal--Wednesday-Friday at 7

It is signed Helen Clark. She's written in the names of the other actors next to their parts. It seemed too sweet and hopeful to leave behind. I also unearthed two records--an original cast recording of a Robert Lowell play that premiered at The American Place Theatre, founded and still run by Mr. Handman. Inside is a news release from Columbia records dated March 1965 describing the play and the American Place. I will give this to BL, who is a real champion of The American Place Theatre's past, present, and future.

5. Perhaps most lovely and magical was the one item I didn't find on my own: a playbill from the original Broadway production of Dial M for Murder that David Semonin gave to me as a gift when his assistant noticed it after hearing the two of us talking about the play.

Today, there was nothing better than sitting in the old dance studio where Martha Graham herself taught students before me, steadily rifling through the past and finding so much that continues to make its way onto the timeline of life.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

To the taste of any woman the enthusiasm of another woman is never very palatable.

Talk to Me Like Top Sirloin and Let Me Listen

In a recession, people stop buying steak. Walmart starts airing commercials featuring a nervous husband, who upon seeing the rare steak as his evening meal, assumes he must have forgotten a birthday or anniversary. Omaha Steaks starts offering deals to my father, who sends me steak and pork tenderloin. Packed amidst the dry ice are sets 10 and 11 of Omaha Steaks "Conversation Cards."

1. If you could clone yourself would you?

2. If someone had food stuck in their teeth would you tell them?

3. Can you name the 7 dwarfs from the movie Snow White?

4. Who was the bigger icon--Johnny Carson or Lawrence Welk?

5. Plastic surgery. . .would you or wouldn't you?

6. What three things would you want to take to a deserted island?

7. What grade did you enjoy the most in school?

8. What would you put in a time capsule?

9. Are you related to any famous people? If so, how?

10. What is the first thing you read in the newspaper?

11. Where were you when JFK was shot? When Apollo 13 landed on the moon?

12. Who is the most famous person you have ever talked to?

13. Tell about the time in your life that you laughed the hardest?

14. What is your favorite decade?

15. What is the best concert you have ever been to?

16. Name your favorite movie of all time. Why?

This proved invaluable to me and the 67 year old lady I met on the street and invited back to my place for steaks. While we seriously disagreed concerning Lawrence Welk, we were both of the same mind as to the Yo la Tengo concert a couple of years back.

Omaha Steaks. Bringing strangers together with every bite. Bridging the generation gap with every T-bone. Fighting recession blues with every question. Thanks, Omaha Steaks.