Saturday, October 28, 2006


MISCHIEF NIGHT, an evening of five play readings to benefit Animal Haven, will take place on Monday, October 30th at 7:30 at BPAC (Baruch Performing Arts Center), 55 Lexington Ave @ 25th Street (btwn Lex & 3rd Aves). Brian Fuqua, Laura Gillis, Nell Gwynne, Jonna McElrath, John Moss, and Dana Watkins will read plays by David Johnston, Griffin Miller, Clare Melley Smith, Judd Lear Silverman (that's me) and Sue Yocum (founder of Playwrights for Pets). Suggested donation is $10. For reservations, call 718-768-4213 or email (For more information on Playwrights for Pets, go to the website,


Build a Bridge, Audra McDonald, Nonesuch
As performing artists go today, they don't come much classier or with more talent than Audra McDonald, the beautiful lady who can sing and act with the best of them (as witnessed by four Tony Awards, an Emmy nomination, etc.). In interviews and on PBS pledge drives, she seems like a normal person and a mom, with a keen intelligence and extremely good taste. Best of all, she seems totally at peace with her gifts and comfortable in her own skin. Her albums thusfar have all been superbly produced with a rich selection of material, blending top composing talents from the theater, pop and folk with standards and classics around which Ms. McDonald can blend her velvety voice. (Check out, for example, what she can do with Jason Robert Brown's Stars and the Moon, a mini-play about misguided dreams and longing.) Her latest CD, Build a Bridge, is likewise a classy event, with songs by everyone from John Mayer to Randy Newman. Her voice remains an amazingly nuanced instrument and her diction and clarity are superb. Particularly wonderful are her simple, heartfelt versions of Newman's I Think it's Going to Rain Today, Joe Raposo's Kermit classic, Bein' Green, and Nellie McKay's whimsically satiric I Wanna Get Married. She also does well by the music of Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright, and the late Laura Nyro (especially on Tom Cat). Slightly more unusual this time around are a couple of misfires. God Give Me Strength, the Burt Bacharach/Elvis Costello ballad recorded by the likes of Bette Midler, Kristen Vigaard and Costello himself, should be a triumph for Ms. McDonald with its soaring melody and range of emotional colors, but it never seems to land in her voice or her key, disrupting a song of strong emotional build into a jumble of changes and a narrative mess. And Dividing Day, from Adam Guettel's wonderful musical, The Light in the Piazza, which should benefit from stark, simple reflection--something at which Audra McDonald excels--instead gets a little overdressed, and it shows. Still, these are excellent songs as befits her superb taste, and less than her best still is far superior than the average chanteuse, such that Build a Bridge makes another CD to add to your collection of class acts.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


DEXTER (Showtime, Sundays, 10 pm)
Michael C. Hall is no stranger to body parts, having spent five years as mortician David Fisher on the duly popular Six Feet Under on HBO. But while David was gay and highly repressed, on his new show Hall gets to be challenged by a character both more in denial and yet less inhibited. You see, Dexter is by day a charming and respected forensic spatter pattern expert (yes, that's blood spatter pattern!), while by night he is a serial killer (but never on the taxpayer's dime). But what makes Dexter a truly different serial killer is that he only murders those who are getting away with it and that the law has failed to convict. He's a vigilante serial killer, if you will. He knows he's abnormal and is only playing a regular guy for public consumption--his surviving foster sister, his co-workers, his slightly damaged girlfriend--but Dexter thinks he's fully detached and in total control of his behavior. Yet occasionally, certain passions and drives manage to slip out, much to his surprise. Thus, we can't fully trust Dexter and his controlled voiceover narrative--and that just adds an extra kick of suspense. The show is based on Jeff Lindsay's novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and is wonderfully shot on location in Miami. A splendid supporting cast (including Jennifer Carpenter, James Remar and David Zayas) makes it great fun to watch--when will these people realize the man they are dealing with is not who they think he is?! Meanwhile, the gifted Hall (brilliant as the Emcee on Broadway in Cabaret) gives us a completely different performance from his previous TV persona: a handsome charmer who only shares his chilling inner thoughts with us. (Lucky us!) The show actually manages to be fun despite the grizzly gore factor, and those whom Dexter dispatches are so clearly deserving that we actually enjoy watching them beg for mercy (that they clearly will not receive from this Angel of Death). It's like watching magicians Penn and Teller--they explain what they're doing dispassionately and fully, yet you're mesmerized when they actually do the deed. I'm not sure yet if I will subscribe to Showtime just to access to this show, but on the other hand, I'm glad Showtime gave the public a chance to sample it once for free, and I will probably find one way or another to watch it again. It's that intriguing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


To be a playwright these days is tough--and certainly not at all lucrative. Many theater companies (by necessity) are prone to using tried-and-true authors and stories in order to get audiences to leave their comfortable homes. Thus, the competitive element sometimes rears its head as playwrights struggle to get their work produced. Yet, we also simultaneously root for our writing brothers and sisters to succeed. The fact is that we love the theater (why else write for it?) and we love good writing. (Also, the success of our fellow writers gives us hope for our own work!)

All parenthetical thoughts aside, there are several unsung playwrights I want people to know about and will write about in forthcoming blogs. (I recently mentioned Beau Willimon, whose writing you should get to know.) Today, however, I wanted to mention Daniel Damiano, a gifted writer (and also a talented actor) whose wonderful work I have encountered through the Gallery Players in Brooklyn and whose play, Dreams of Friendly Aliens, will be featured at Abingdon Theatre Company later this season. Two of his shorter pieces, The Dessert Cart and Bon Voyage, Mr. Phelps!, are among the wittiest, quirkiest and most thought-provoking I've seen in a long time, intellectually stimulating while also enormously entertaining.

At any rate, next Saturday, October 28th at 2 pm, one can catch a reading of Danny's new full-length play, Graphic Nature, at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn (199 14th St. Brooklyn, NY 11215 -- R train to 9th St. or F train to 4th Ave). A first-rate cast, under the highly capable direction of Heather Siobhan Curran, has been assembled, and the storyline sounds like great fun: "A mock-biography depicting the mid-life and times of Edmond de Capitiour, a once-anonymous executioner in 1913 France who, while shyly pursuing a young patisserie clerk in Versailles, struggles against his sudden notoriety." It should make for a tasty afternoon!

The suggested donation is $5.00. For reservations call (718)595-0547, ext. 6, or e-mail (put "October reading" in the subject line).

Friday, October 20, 2006


There's nothing quite like hearing an author read from their own work -- except perhaps listening to composers playing their own compositions! It's not that all writers are brilliant actors--some are quite into performing, while others are rather self-effacing and still others downright disappear when reading in public. But in hearing well-chosen words emanating directly from their original source, you get an emotional connection combined with a sense of the inspiration that brought the author (and you) to this very location, this point in time. It becomes a uniquely intimate moment -- not unlike the times when your folks would read you a bedtime story and you would share a common enjoyment of an image, a phrase, or maybe just a moment together.

Brooklyn Reading Works, curated by Louise Crawford (Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn), provides just such a pleasure. The series takes place on a regular basis at the Old Stone House on 5th Avenue, a charming historic landmark building which provides a cozy atmosphere for an intimate evening by the hearth. (The Old Stone House is located in JJ Byrne Park on Fifth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street in Park Slope. To learn more information, visit

Last night, the first reading of the season featured Richard Grayson, author of AND TO THINK THAT HE KISSED HIM ON LORIMER STREET, and Leora Skolkin-Smith, author of EDGES: O ISRAEL, O PALESTINE. Grayson, who has lived all over the country but is a Brooklyn native, read from his book about the dearly departed cinemas that once graced the borough--and his particular connection with each. It was a clever organization of nostalgia, cherishing the locations and experiences of movie-going as a way of tracking his own personal history. When reading from his work, Grayson was never flashy, but his shy asides and self-deprecating humor made for a gentle and amusing trip down the Brooklyn boulevard of time travel.

Skolkin-Smith also dealt in the intermingling of location and personal history, reading a chapter from EDGES that recalled a trip with her Israeli-born mother to Jerusalem in 1963, when (under Jordanian rule) Jews were not welcome in the Holy City. Frightening, tantalizing and seductive, it was a beautiful piece of writing -- no doubt a pleasure to read on one's own, but the pleasure here was surely heightened by the sensitivity and emotional recall Skolkin-Smith brought to the evening. (It is the sign of a good reading that the moment you've heard a selection, you run out and buy a copy of the book!)

Crawford, who also served as the "Alistaire Cooke" of the evening, assured us that many more such excellent evenings lay ahead in the coming months, featuring such authors as Elissa Schappell, Ilene Starger, Darcy Steinke. (Light refreshments are served as part of the literary soiree. At $5, the evening is quite a bargain!)

For more information and a schedule of events, go to As for Richard Grayson and Leora Skolkin-Smith, visit their web sites to find out more about their writing. (Just click on their names here--or else look for their books on Amazon.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

For those in search of a good evening of theater on Monday, 7/16, you might wish to check this out:
Justify Full
A Free Reading of
By Beau Willimon
Directed by Michael Goldfried
Featuring Andre Holland, John Douglas Thompson and Chris Chalk

Monday, October 16th, 7 pm
Ars Nova
511 W 54th St. (between 10th and 11th Aves.)
The reading is free and approximately one hour long. Drinks are available.
To reserve seats, rsvp to: or call the reservation
line: 212-977-1700

Beau's a wonderful writer, ARS NOVA is an up-and-coming theater company, and it should make for a good evening. (I would be there myself, but I actually having a reading of seven plays of mine in a private workshop tomorrow night, so I can't attend. Still, having heard several of Beau's pieces, and since HIS is open to the public, I recommend you give it a try.)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Over two years ago, a friend of mine, Sue Yocum, decided she wanted a find a way to combine two of her passions -- playwriting and caring for animals -- into one activity that would advance both. Her solution: Playwrights for Pets, a group that sponsors three public readings a year of new plays, with all proceeds going to benefit animals in the city shelters who need our help. (The recipient of the proceeds is that wonderful "no-kill" organization, Animal Haven, who are just opening a new Manhattan facility in SoHo -- for more information, check out their site at Funds raised from these playreading evenings have helped with buying food, leashes, medical expenses--and even helped defray costs when Animal Haven went down to Louisiana to rescue pets after Hurricane Katrina.

On Monday, October 30th, Playwrights for Pets begins its third season of readings with an evening entitled MISCHIEF NIGHT. (According to Wikipedia, "the night before Halloween, known alternately as '“Devil'’s Night,'” '“Mizzie Night,'” '“Gate Night,'” 'Cabbage Night,'” '“Mat Night,'” or 'Goosie Night'” is often associated with pranks or destructive activities performed by adolescents.") Sue has curated an evening of five short plays, all of which in some way relate to a sense of prank or even darker mischief, although all of the characters in these pieces are adults -- and the pieces are for mature minds. (No matter how you put that, it sounds like the material is risque, but it's not, really.) Playwrights David Johnston, Griffin Miller, Clare Melley Smith, Ms. Yocum AND yours truly explore a broad range of topics and styles in an evening that should be highly entertaining. The cast (Brian Fuqua, Laura Gillis, Nell Gwynne, Jonna McElrath, John Moss, and Dana Watkins) is superb, and if that's not enough, there will also be a small reception immediately following the one-hour reading. The suggested donation is $10. The evening starts at 7:30 at BPAC (Baruch Performing Arts Center), 55 Lexington Ave @ 25th Street (btwn Lex & 3rd Aves). For reservations, call 718-768-4213 or email (For more information on Playwrights for Pets, go to the website,

This series is developing quite a following--come see what the buzz is all about! See you at MISCHIEF NIGHT!

Monday, October 09, 2006


Sentimentality use to be the sop of American popular entertainment. The good guys rode off happily into the sunset, while the bad guys got what they deserved. The extent of family dysfunction was limited to whether or not Junior would fess up over accidentally hitting a baseball through grumpy Mr. Wilson's window or whether fibbing to Mom to spare her feelings was the best course of action. The relationship of what we saw bore little resemblance to the reality of human behavior but was easily sponsored by Hallmark and Rexall.

While we may all embrace something slightly more astringent these days, the fact remains that for a good story, we need an interesting conflict and characters that are people we can identify with, at least to some degree. We need to care. Lately, on screens big and small, style and flash abound, but not folks we really care about too much. More and more, shows feature self-indulgent narcissists, whose actions are hardly laudable and whose interests are limited.

HELP ME HELP YOU (Tuesdays, 9:30, ABC)
Ted Danson has always been a wonderful talent, perhaps first noticed as a ballroom dancing attorney/sidekick to William Hurt in the movie, Body Heat. As Sam Malone on Cheers, we knew that underneath his cad-like exterior was a heart of gold. Becker was tougher to swallow, but as the psychologist on Help Me Help You, he is brash, abrasive, self-involved and, worst of all, not terribly funny. Nor are the loser patients, all looking for easy solutions to their problems and all too eager rest their rehabilitation on the bad doctor's rather unsound advice. The show is about bruised and bruising egos, without an honest bone (or word) in its vocabulary. It's a cheap snooze.

STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP (Mondays, 10 pm, NBC) The creative team behind The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, brings their considerable writing and directing talent, along with a highly recognizable and likeable cast, to the small screen with great professionalism. But while the Presidency and the people behind the scenes of decisions that effect us all are naturally of interest, the actions of some showbiz types running an SNL-like TV show and making scads of money hold less appeal. Certainly, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Tim Busfield bring a certain built-in good will, but are their character's problems really all that interesting? A recent episode about accidental plagiarism is a topic, a faux pas, but not really something to get all that worked up about for an hour.

UGLY BETTY (Thursdays, 8 pm, ABC) at least has the sense to put a well-intentioned, if supposedly homely young woman at the center of a fable about the evil in the fashion world. They further give her a boss whose playboy behavior is tempered with the possibility of redemption--because he respects the homely young woman despite the temptations of the high veneer world in which he works. America Ferrara, whose natural attractiveness still successfully burst through the braces, horned-rims and horrible hair, plays it straight without commenting on the character, Vanessa Williams and Michael Urie make unapologetically funny villains, and the show is told with great visual flair. Most importantly, it seems to work so far because they spin a fast-paced, dramatically interesting story. Conflicts are clear, if stylized, and its fun to watch. Covering similar territory to the bloated and ultimately timid movie of The Devil Wore Prada, the creative team knows that you can't satirize a world and yet treat the clothes and the people who make them with undisguised reverence. Ugly Betty scores for now--but will we care about this paper thin world for an entire season and beyond?

BROTHERS & SISTERS (Sundays, 10 pm, ABC) continues to be about a family in a California food manufacturing business (yawn) who are in legal and financial trouble (boo-hoo) and are still re-coiling from the death of a father who was not the idyllic sweetheart they all supposed him to be. (Tom Skerritt is missed, not only by the family, but by the viewers--he was an interesting and believable, if flawed character.) The brothers and sisters of the title are all highly attractive, with the sisters played by two of the best actresses of a certain age, Kristin Griffith and Calista Flockhart. But all we really see from this generation of the family is a lot of hand-wringing and political/sexual/ethical confusion, portrayed one note at a time. It is the "older folk" on the show who actually engage us. Patricia Wettig and Ron Rifkin have yet to fully cut lose--or rather, their storylines are evolving slowly, carefully--but we believe they have lives going on between the moments when the camera catches them in their behavior. But if there really is a reason to become addicted to this show, it is the opportunity to watch Sally Field work her magic. Yes, we watched her grow up on TV, yadayadayada; yes, she's won two Oscars for plucky heroines, and played an inspiring mom to Forrest Gump; and yes, she's gone bi-polar and beyond in TV movies like Sybil and guest shots on ER. But on B&S, she's been given a real woman to play, and she plays her warts, heart and all. You see a humiliated woman lash out with mean glee, a loving mother trying to win over children whom she wants to control and can't, a strong-willed person of strong opinions who vacillates between optimism and pessimism and yet refuses to let herself give in to despair. Without soft camera shots to hide the aging face of a woman in her mature years, Field is natural, real and incredibly beautiful. She is a triumph of television acting at its best. One hopes that the "youngsters" on the show are taking copious notes, for they've got a rich mentorship here.

Finally, for real heart-pounding, will-they-won't-they thrills, combined with great music, movement and human interest, it doesn't get better than . . . dare I say it? A reality show? . . . DANCING WITH THE STARS (Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 pm, ABC). Hosted with genuine wit and panache by Tom Bergeron, we watch as celebrities we know from other venues are working with professional dance partners in a week-to-week ballroom competition, with a couple being eliminated each week. No, it's not as torturous as They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and they're not gonna dance till they drop. But the passion, commitment, and learning that happens both behind the scenes and on the dance floor is fascinating. The judges are opinionated but genuinely appreciative of the efforts put out there, which means that they in no way try to be the stars of the show. The "behind the scenes" rehearsal sequences are marvelously done, perfectly capturing the developing relationships of these mutually dependent partners and their desire to really develop both the technique and beauty of this art form. They literally are dancing their butts off, and each time when a couple is sent home in the elimination, you feel both their disappointment and their joy at having attempted something new in their lives, with a result that has changed them forever. Unlike American Idol or most of the other so-called reality shows, this is the a splendid ride, one that you don't want to miss for one minute. (Predictions: hard, since it's surprising who's gone home so far and who has survived, but look to see Mario Lopez and Joey Lawrence in the final three. And are Willa and Max actually falling in love before our eyes?)

And on the big screen . . .

Michael Gondry, whose visual flair and fascination with how the mind works (and doesn't work) made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a treat (and managed to bring the usually out-of-control Jim Carrey into balance with the gifted Kate Winslett and the always enjoyable Tom Wilkinson) here attempts again to play with our psyches. In The Science of Sleep, he explores the tale of Stephane, a young man who has apparently always had a difficult time differentiating between his dream life and his reality, and Stephanie, the lonely woman who moves in across the hall. Are they meant for each other or are they an impossible match? Unfortunately, this time around, the story gets so overwhelmed by special effects and, yes, we don't learn enough to care about these self-indulgent characters, so that the story becomes incomprehensible. That international hottie, Gael Garcia Bernal, brings as much charm as he can muster to the role of Stephan, and Charlotte Gainsbourg makes a plaintive plain Jane, but they don't really have much chemistry together and we're not really sure they should end up together, so where does that leave us at the end? (I won't describe the ending, not only because I shouldn't, but also because I'm not so sure that I can!) Some stunning visuals don't compensate for the feeling that we've all been stuck in a truly confusing dream, one we're not likely to be able to interpret once we awaken--and that we probably will go ahead and forget after the first cup of coffee.

Monday, October 02, 2006


On this Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, it is interesting to me how smart the ancients were, how "New Age." After all, they were saying that as a New Year began, one should reflect on the past, go over one's mistakes, repent, and begin a process of forgiveness and healing--in short, "turning the page" and starting a New Year fresh. (They even talk of being inscribed in a Book of Life, so this concept of "turning the page" is as old, if not older, than the hills themselves!) They understood that the psychic burden of nursing grudges hurt the bearer far worse than those who supposedly inflicted the injuries, and that by releasing and letting go, one can start a process of healing, which in turn will lead to a better year. Human nature gives us knowledge of our actions, and with that knowledge, we continually browbeat ourselves. (Well, especially if you are a Jewish writer type!) Positive energy helps us build, while nursing old grievances only destroys. The only chance of breaking such a negative cycle is absolution--creating a tabula rasa, a clean slate. By asking for and by granting forgiveness, we are redeemed. Energy that would be wasted in pointless grudge matches is released for positive usage. And in forgiving others, we also learn to forgive ourselves. (It is often the harms we have done to ourselves that are cruelest and most in need of forgiveness.) So as "old-fashioned" as the holiday may be, it is also at once cutting edge. Redemption allows for re-building and progress, and redemption can only come from forgiveness. So at this time, let us all forgive (if not forget) each other and ourselves, and build a stronger future.

It sounds basic and simple--but it is oh-so-hard to do!