June 25, 2017

NYC DIARY

Last week I returned from 9 days in NYC and in a few days I’ll be going back for over a month. I’ve sublet an apartment on the Upper West Side and I’ll be filling in for Alex Bennett on Sirius Left, channel 127. More on that as it approaches. I hope I get to see a lot of you over the holidays but if I don’t be certain that you have my best wishes for a Merry Christmas…Kyle is an enthusiastic Harry Potter fan (he re-watched EVERY movie episode in chronological order when he was with me last summer!) so he was excited when I got tickets to see Daniel Radcliffe in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on Broadway. After the curtain call Radcliffe and John Laraquette came back onstage to raise money for ‘Broadway Cares’, the yearly fundraiser for AIDS. The cast had autographed posters and playbills for sale but Radcliffe anxiously announced they were going to try something new that night. He had worn an electric blue bow tie throughout the performance, untied it from his neck and autographed it along with Laraquette. “Would anyone start bidding for it at $50?” Kyle looked at me pleading: “Come on! Its only $50!” Before I could even think about it the auction raced forward to $400. Kyle, I am NOT going to pay 400 bucks for a bow tie! Forget it…” Shortly, the bidding jumped to $1000…and there was a pause. Kyle stared back and forth between me and the stage. “Will anyone in audience go to 1100?” Radcliffe asked. There was another silence. “ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” shouted Kyle as my hand flew out to cover his mouth. A smattering of applause for this outrageous bid was overtaken by a wave of laughter as all heads turned to see us sitting on the aisle in the orchestra, my hand stifling Kyle from saying another word. When it faded a bit Daniel Radcliffe looked down at Kyle and said: “I think we’ll pass on the million dollar bid for the moment…” The bidding resumed and finished with a $5000 offer for the bow tie! I’m just grateful Kyle didn’t choose a more reasonable amount or I’d now own the most expensive neckwear on my tie rack!…I also saw ‘Seminar’ with Alan Rickman which was in previews. It was impressively acted (especially Lilly Rabe), wittily and cleverly written for the most part. The dramatic contrivance of evaluating an entire book from a minute’s perusal is too much to ask of an audience even with the suspension of disbelief and the play fell apart in the last scene; characters inexplicably reversed behavior, loose ends were tied in neat bows and arch dialogue melted into sentiment. But it was a fun evening and more fun to tell Kyle that after seeing Harry Potter a block away I saw Professor Severus Snape…I counted 8 different languages on my walk home from 45th Street to 55th Street. And two more I couldn’t identify! Is there any other city in the world where that would happen?…One night I was invited to a fundraiser for Primary Stages saluting past Pulitzer Prize winners in Drama. Marsha Norman (Night Mother), Frank Gilroy (The Subject Was Roses), Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park) and others were sitting at tables right next to ours. I met Wendy Wasserstein’s sister as we both signed in for the event. Her manner and speech patterns were so reminiscent of Wendy’s I choked up with emotion while I described how classmates loved and missed her sister. Edward Albee, who is in his eighties I’m sure, made a memorable speech from the stage. He’d received the Pulitzer three times (A Delicate Balance, Seascape, Three Tall Women) but informed the audience he thought he was missing a prize. In 1963 “Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolff’ was selected by the Prize Committee but the Trustees had found it ‘obscene or offensive…or something…If you look in your programs you will see there was no prize awarded for that year. So let me ask all of you here tonight: ‘Do you think I won three Pultizer Prizes?” After pausing for effect he sighed: “Or do you think I won four?” Supported by his cane, he shuffled back to his seat through the affirmation of resounding applause. As impressive as that was it wasn’t the highlight of the night for me! In 1977, when I was an actor at the Yale Rep, I used to eat alone, studying me script and memorizing lines over dinner. One night at the Howard Johnson’s over by the Long Wharf I spotted a guy at the next table poring over his script in a similar manner. “Sorry to bother you but are you working at the Long Wharf Theater?” I asked. He said he was and mentioned that he was a writer. I asked his name and he replied, “Harnick”. The way he pronounced it sounded funny to me so I quipped, “Harnick from the planet Ork? Like Mork?” (Yeah, this WAS the seventies…) No. He was Sheldon Harnick who had written “Fiddler on the Roof” and one of my favorite musicals “Fiorello”. As a kid I must have listened to the cast album of “Fiorello” a thousand times. I knew the lyrics to every song by heart and still do. Mr. Harnick was incredibly gracious (especially after my lame joke) and we talked throughout dinner getting very little script work done. Well, Sheldon Harnick, now eighty-seven was here this night. He’d won a Pulitzer for writing the lyrics to “Fiorello” and though he did have a complaint it wasn’t about NOT winning the Pulitzer for ‘Fiddler’. There was a short chorus sung in the show called ‘Home Again” celebrating the return of Laguardia and other doughboys to the US after WW I. Originally a much longer song and most of it was cut from the show before opening. The melody for his lyrics can still be heard in the overture. Well ‘Harnick’, for the first time performed the entire song. He was terrific. Robust, on key, inspiring. I sang along with the chorus. Thank you Mr. Harnick for once again making my night! And thanks to my good friend and former classmate Jeremy Smith for inviting me to this unforgettable evening…Things I learned picking up Kyle from school: 1. 75% of (white) boys these days have Justin Beiber haircuts. 2. ‘Mad’ is the new fad adjective, as in “OMG, I had me some mad detention today!” 3. Kids EXPLODE out of school with the energy of a bomb. Why do workers slink from the office enervated, completely drained? 4. Young girls hug each other constantly. I don’t remember girls doing this when I was a kid. They hug with the intensity family members show to newly released kidnap victims…I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and caught the latest exhibit on caricature and political cartoons: Infinite Jest
Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine

The 19th century cartoons of Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Daumier are amusing and historically interesting but there was little 19th century American work and almost no Nast. British Napoleonic cartoons are colorful and spitefully funny but I could have done with a little more Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and less Bonaparte. There were, however, a few 20th century cartoons from Oliphant, Herblock, Levine and others that were more powerfully artistic in original sketch form than they seem in newsprint. Inexplicably, most of these are some distance down the hallway leading to the main exhibition rooms so make sure not to miss them if you go: a frightening Nixon with V-shaped fingers rising from forboding black void, a frail Clinton rebuilding his image on a flimsy scaffold after Monica, an Eisenhower who is all elephantine ears. And there is an entire wall of Hirschfeld’s that are fun to decipher. The last cartoon in the exhibit is called ‘The Headache’ modeled after a 19th century George Cruickshank cartoon, this version has Obama bedeviled by little devils with pitchforks. Despite it’s deficiencies it is certainly worth seeing and I may return for the guided tour the museum is offering on December 15th…I saw ‘Tower Heist’ with Kyle, which despite my apprehension going in, was enjoyable and well done. I am not a Ben Stiller fan and Eddie Murphy seems so perfectly buff and pampered these days that I can’t even accept him playing any facsimile of an actual human being anymore, let alone one who is struggling and downtrodden, but Murphy is funny here. Yes, there is something disconcerting about multi-millionaire movie stars playing proletariat class warriors from Queens and yes director Brett Rattner seems to be a pig…but go, if you haven’t already. You’ll have a good time. Finally, I saw ‘Anonymous’ with an old friend and former Shakespearian castmate. Ugh. ‘Anonymous’ is awful and offensive in the worst way something can be awful and offensive: it was boring. The movie makers obviously see themselves as clever and daring but the film is puerile, like watching a High School kid sniggering at obscenities he’s scrawled across the cover of his Signet Macbeth. And about as entertaining. With Derek Jacobi(a complete waste. Olivier‘s Polaroid commercials were compelling in comparison.)and Vanessa Redgrave (who despite everything creates a vivid acting doodle of Elizabeth in her dotage), I was anxious to see it and had anxiety before seeing ‘Tower Heist’. Just goes to show ya; ‘Ya can’t tell a movie by its trailer.’ (Well, some of the time you can’t!)…See ya back in NYC.