Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The way to begin healing the wounds of the world is to treasure the Infant Christ in us, to be not the castle but the cradle of Christ; and in rocking that cradle to the rhythm of love to swing the whole world back into the beat of the Music of Eternal Life."
-- Sisters of Baltimore Carmel

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


On the eve of hope, come, let us be
silent as joy, certain as change,
here before this Christmas tree.

Tassels of wind hang secretly
among berries and fruit and winter sun
that warmed the boughs of this tree.

Ghosts of butterflies delicately
shadow a branch, melt like snow
in the intimate dark of this tree.

A nest where robins were epiphany
clings to the flesh of the trunk
of this music and moon-gilded tree.

With carols and quiet let us be
reawakened to faith, purified,
giving us branches of this tree.

Circled about love’s mystery,
O for a moment fulfilled in light,
we are one in a word, a tree.

--Sr. Maura Eichner, S.S.N.D.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Poem

to be


O Come.”

to be


in Me.

-- Sr. Maura Eichner, S.S.N.D.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Alec Baldwin and Singers Forum are pleased to announce their partnership in the Alec Baldwin Fellowship at the Singers Forum, a program that will support playwrights in the development and advancement of original theatrical works. Singers Forum, 49 W. 24th St,, 4th Floor, is a non-profit organization committed to providing the highest quality vocal training in New York City. Baldwin is a New York-based actor who has received two Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and six Screen Actors Guild Awards for his work on “30 Rock.”

“In this age of digitized movie making, it is our duty to find a way to nurture the next generation of great theatrical storytellers, Baldwin says. “I'm excited to lend my support and guidance to the Fellowship at the Singers Forum as it seeks to stimulate the community through unique voices and groundbreaking ideas.”

Singers Forum's mission has always been to create opportunities for artists of every level, artistic director Don Rebic said.

“The Alec Baldwin Fellowship at the Singers Forum will create the opportunity for promising new theatrical projects to get personalized attention, while giving performers the invaluable opportunity to help in the development of an exciting new work,” he said. “It's the perfect marriage of writer and performer and we're thrilled to have Mr. Baldwin's support!"

At a time when the commercial viability of theater has superseded its artistic merit, The Alec Baldwin Fellowship at the Singers Forum will be a year program devoted to the development and advancement of groundbreaking and original theatrical works. With the assistance of Baldwin, Singers Forum will provide professional mentorship, fine-pointed dramaturgy, and a rigorous, individualized workshop process for each chosen project. Culminating in the Fellowship Festival, where each piece is presented in a highly staged backer's auditions, with the goal to create four pieces ready for production by the Summer of 2013.

Important Dates for the Alec Baldwin Fellowship:
Early Applications Due -- Feb. 1
Final Applications Due -- Feb. 29
Finalists Announced -- April 25
Fellows Announced -- May 23
Orientation -- June 6
Fellowship Festival -- June, 2013

About the Singers Forum:

Located in the historic Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan, Singers Forum, which was founded in 1978, is a non-profit musical oasis committed to providing the highest quality vocal training for New York City residents. Our continuing mission is to engage a diverse student body of singers in an situation dedicated to the development and appreciation of the vocal arts. With a strong emphasis on vocal technique, combined with numerous performance opportunities in a safe and supportive environment, Singers Forum strives to offer a full array of private instruction and group classes for both professional and personal growth. Utilizing a roster of dynamic and successful teaching artists who each have their own professional singing and musical backgrounds and successful careers in the arts, we have developed our students? performance skills in a wide variety of vocal styles and genres that range from opera to cabaret, musical theatre to jazz, folk to pop and all genres in between!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

James X

I wrote this feature for the Dec. 23, 2011 issue of National Catholic Reporter

The middle-aged man entering the waiting room with a bulging manila folder looks anxious. In his sage-colored pants and jacket, white shirt with no tie, he appears as bland as the room, which is empty but for a straight chair and a sign with an arrow pointing to the left. It is the words on that sign, though, that indicate any trace of blandness is only superficial. White letters on a blue background foreshadow the fire beneath the surface: Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

“I have to go into that courtroom soon, into my past,” the man known as James X says as he waits to be a witness before an Irish government tribunal’s inquiry into institutional child abuse. “Tell them what happened back then when I was 11, but I just want to run and run and run.”

In his one-man play, “James X,” Gerard Mannix Flynn reveals one harrowing incident after another of physical and sexual abuse in Ireland’s Catholic and State institutions. A popular and critical success when it premiered in Dublin in 2009, it is playing at Manhattan’s 45 Bleecker Street at least through Dec. 18. Given the subject and its high-profile backers, I can easily see it traveling to other American cities, Boston and Philadelphia to name two.

In the play’s foreword Flynn, who first introduced the character of James in his 1983 novel, Nothing to Say, holds agents of the Church and State accountable -- “a Church that profited from the forced manual labor of 150,000 children, and a State that supplied then with these child workers,” he writes. “This is not James’s story, it is the story of all the children that went through to rooms of hell and horror in institutions run by the congregations of religious Brothers and Nuns, under the license of the State. It is the story of those who suffered in these cruel places and those who were witness to that suffering. We all had a childhood. Let this be our common bond when we read “James X” or Nothing to Say.”

Flynn’s journey through the system began when he was 11 and sent to St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Lettefrack in the 1960s. James X’s travails begin similarly and lead to stints in reform school, prison, a mental institution and 20 years of alcoholism. He was beaten and molested by priests, nuns and most especially Christian Brothers.

Produced in New York by Irish-born actors Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne and Off-Broadway’s Culture Project, and directed by Byrne, “James X” is an intermissionless 80-minute journey into hell, a hell endured by countless Irish children, one of whom was Flynn, who spent 15 years writing this play.

While waiting to give testimony before Ireland’s High Court, James reads aloud the file, which he has just received, the case history that was compiled on him over the years by doctors, psychiatrists, welfare officers and others, reports filled with lies, inaccuracies and indifference, reports that sentenced him to a life of horrendous abuse. Realizing the irony of trying to expect justice from this same prejudicial system, James looks back over his life to find the truth, which Flynn tells and often acts, usually at manic pace, often with dark humor and occasionally in rhyme.

Born in Dublin in 1957, Flynn is a man of about 5’ 7” with balding gray hair who looks a decade older than his 54 years. After too many years of silence, his passion to uncork the memories of cruelty and inhumanity he and others suffered explode in a nonstop monologue that leaves him frequently mopping perspiration from his face with a handkerchief. Nothing stands between him and his character.

His 1983 novel, Nothing to Say, was the story of James O’Neill, later to be James X in the play, a child sent away by the courts to an industrial school in the West of Ireland. “Even at that time, these industrial schools and reform schools were places that sent a shudder of fear through Irish society,” he writes in the foreword to “James X.” “They were situated in the heart of Irish towns and villages and many people must have known what went on there, yet nobody openly talked about it. Nobody really talked about sex, never mind child sex abuse, and to level the accusation of abuse at the State and the Church and their religious congregations was an outrage.

“Twenty years on, Irish society is on the verge of moral bankruptcy. The Catholic Church and its congregation is breaking up upon is own rock, by its own hands and deeds, by its own lack of honesty. It is nothing more than floating debris and all that keeps it from sinking down into the darkness is the tissue of lies and the frightened faithful who cling to these lies. The issues brought up by Nothing to Say are still unfinished business, unhealed wounds.”

The play’s premiere in New York is timely. The Irish Times Times reported Dec. 8 that Dublin’s former archbishop, John Charles McQuaid, who was one of Ireland’s most powerful prelates before his death in 1973, was accused of serial child sexual abuse in a state-sponsored investigative report.

The performance is accompanied by “Impact,” an exhibit of Flynn’s work related to child abuse in Ireland’s institutions that takes viewers through James X's journey from age 6 to the present.  ”James X” and this exhibit are part of Imagine Ireland, Culture Ireland's yearlong initiative of Irish art in the United States.

My request for interviews with Flynn and Byrne was denied. Flynn, who besides being a playwright, actor and visual artist is also a former independent councilor for the South East Inner City area in Dublin, did speak with the Irish Examiner in 2010 to discuss the motivation behind his play and exhibition.

“The Irish are a triumphant people,” he said, “who have overcome dreadful events throughout our history and now we need to take ultimate and complete responsibility for what happened, move forward and let the trauma resolve itself.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yale Institute for Music Theatre accepting applications for development workshop

The Yale Institue for Music Theatre (Mark Brokaw, artistic director) will select up to three original music theatre works to be developed in an intensive lab setting in New Haven June 4-17. Submissions will be accepted Dec. 15 through Feb. 1. 
Established in 2009, YIMT is a program of the Yale School of Drama (James Bundy, Dean) that endeavors to bridge the gap between training and the professional world for emerging composers, playwrights, lyricists, and librettists. YIMT seeks distinctive and original music theatre works by emerging composers and writers to be developed in an intensive lab setting. During a two-week summer residency in New Haven, the Institute matches the authors of the selected works with collaborators, including professional directors and music directors, as well as a company of actors and singers that includes professionals from NYC and current Yale students. The residency culminates with open rehearsal readings of each project, presented as part of the 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas.
The Yale Institute for Music Theatre accepts applications for projects at various stages of development but focuses on work that is ready to be explored musically and dramatically with performers and directors. Submissions cannot have had a professional production.
Book musicals and other imaginative music theatre projects are welcome. Only composers, playwrights, lyricists, or librettists who are current graduate students; or  who have graduated from an accredited degree granting institution (undergraduate or graduate) within the past five years; or who are current Yale students (undergraduate or graduate) are eligible to apply.
Applicants may only submit one work for consideration. Composers and writers may apply as individuals or as part of a team.
Participants must be available for the full duration of the residency. Each member of the writing team will receive an honorarium of $1,000, as well as round-trip transportation and accommodation.
All submissions must include the following:
1-      three copies of a script with lyrics or a full libretto (no DVDs, videotapes, or photographs);
2-      three copies of a synopsis of no more than one page, with a list of characters and instrumentation;
3-      three copies of a CD (no audio tapes) of at least 20 minutes of music, including a minimum of five songs accompanied by the sheet music for those songs. Piano and vocals are sufficient, and a composer’s demo is acceptable though not preferred. Studio demos are not necessary. No midi recordings will be accepted. Songs must be in sequence on the CD and clearly noted in the script;
4-      three copies of a one-page biography or resume for each creative artist; 
5-      three copies of the history of the work’s development and a brief description of what the creative team hopes to achieve at the Institute; 
6-      a completed application form signed by all collaborators (book writer, composer, lyricist, librettist). If the proposed project is an adaptation of an existing work that is not in the public domain, proof of fully secured rights must accompany the submission.
Application forms are available at
Submissions should be addressed to:
Yale Institute for Music Theatre
c/o Yale School of Drama
P.O. Box 208244
New Haven, CT 06520-8244
For more information about the Yale Institute for Music Theatre or the application process, please email or call (203) 432-1591.
All applicants will be notified of selection by April 1.
For more information, visit

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Love is the sign through which the world should be convinced that we believe in Jesus."
-- School Sisters of Notre Dame

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Godspell's midlife crisis

I wrote this review for the Dec. 9, 2011 issue of National Catholic Reporter

Godspell is showing its age, at least as represented by director Daniel Goldstein’s production at New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre. This first Broadway revival of the beloved 1971 “rock musical” is like a middle-aged person trying to recapture youth. In people the result is sad to see, here it’s just boring.

What seemed fresh and light 40 years ago -- 20-something actors cavorting around in colorful ragtag costumes singing and acting out Jesus’ parables, with him leading and joining in the fun -- now seems like a church pageant aimed at getting the youth group more interested in religion. Nothing in this revival is of Broadway quality except the songs, which were adapted by composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz from the Episcopal hymnal and biblical passages from the Gospel of Matthew.

Even the songs suffer here because of choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s formulaic dance moves, which in the case of the show’s breakout hit, “Day by Day,” look more like a cardio class warm-up. I also thought of the gym during “We Beseech Thee,” which had cast members bouncing on mini trampolines. This is what we do at my health club in Urban Rebounding, a vigorous hour of working out while jumping on small individual trampolines. The performance was about as involving as watching someone else exercising. The one exception song-wise was “All Good Gifts,” nicely sung by Telly Leung and the company and presented simply.

The fitness center motif continued with Goldstein’s bizarre staging of the Last Supper with Jesus and the disciples gathered around a hot tub. For the life of me I don’t understand the significance of that. Maybe if they had all hopped in it might have made a point, if a bit of a kinky one, of communion and fellowship. As it was, they sat there passing around some pita bread and a chalice while the water bubbled and steamed in front of them.

Another major problem I had was the failure to use inclusive language. I understand that the songs are already set to King James, but the spoken scripture needed someone with a New Revised Standard Version. Attempts were made throughout to update the jokes, such as having the judge in the Good Samaritan parable hurry on by with the excuse of having to get to court for a Lindsay Lohan appearance “again,” but then all the scriptural references featured the “God and men,” “every man who humbles himself” and “nurses a grudge against his brother” viewpoint.

I had this same complaint when I reviewed the 30th anniversary Off-Broadway revival in 2000 for National Catholic Reporter. I mentioned this to Schwartz during a telephone interview then and he told me inclusive language “fails as art” and that he has always felt men represented everyone. I told I had never felt included in the word men. Why would I? I’m not a man. I suggested substitutes like neighbor or brothers and sisters and he said he liked the idea of using neighbor and would speak to the director, Shawn Rozsa. I didn’t revisit that production so I don’t know if the changes were made, but here we are in 2011 for the trumpeted first Broadway revival and the language is as exclusive as ever.

It’s a shame this production is so limp because Godspell meant a great deal to many people. It ran for five years Off-Broadway before transferring to the Great White Way in 1976 where it ran for another year. It has been produced widely throughout the world and its song "Long Live God" was used in Catholic liturgies until at least the late 1980s. “Day by Day,” based on a 13th century Catholic prayer, spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Godspell even had the distinction of breaking the color barrier in South Africa when, in 1974 at Schwartz’s insistence, it was performed with an integrated cast before an integrated audience.

The audience when I attended this revival was largely middle-aged, probably Boomers with great memories of the show. I had seen the original production Off-Broadway when I was in high school and admit I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of seeing it again, but figured I’d get into it once I was there. I like the songs and still listen occasionally on the original cast album, but the staging here is so bland that the songs would have been better served in concert form.

The revival’s marketers must be hoping to draw in young people rather than just depend on nostalgic Boomers because ads proclaim it as being by the author of Wicked, Schwartz’s 2003 musical still playing to large audiences at the theatre next to Godspell’s. I wonder, though, if today’s generation can be drawn in to this story about the teachings of Jesus after having cut their musical theatre teeth on the current comedy blockbuster The Book of Mormon, which features a song about female genital mutilation, and a hit from several years ago, Spring Awakening, in which the teenage characters were either talking about sex, having sex or masturbating.

Godspell was conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak who died in 1985 of a heart attack at the age of 35. He left his royalties to my church, the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where he was an Artist in Residence. Lisa Schubert, vice president for Cathedral events, marketing and communications, said that over the past decade the Cathedral has received royalties of between approximately $50,000. and $75,000 a year, which are applied to the general support of the Cathedral's arts activities.  With that in mind, long live Godspell!

Tickets are $125 for all performances except Saturday evenings, which are $135, and are available by calling at (212) 239-6200 or by visiting  For more information, visit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.Isaiah 26:3

"If your mind is filled with defeat thoughts, fear thoughts, resentment thoughts, you are bound to be in a state of mental unrest, even turmoil, and of course there can be no inner peace.
This passage advises you to practice thinking about God, to keep your mind 'stayed' or fixed, not upon your troubles but upon God.
Keep your mind on God for as many minutes during the day as possible. This may be difficult at first for you are unused to spiritual concentration. Practice will make it easier."
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees."
-- Victor Hugo

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

“Je me souviens…I remember…”

By Mary Sheeran

            Susan Tenny is remembering, and as she is a choreographer, she does it by giving other people dances, and the other people range in age from 9 to 67. That alone is marvelous.
Tenney, on the faculty of Princeton Ballet School, brought her work in progress, "Je me souviens…I remember…” to New York’s Florence Gould Hall about a week ago, and many of what might be called her smaller moments resonate with me still. She showed us a portion of the piece’s first part and most of its final section, hardly something on which to base a review. It must be said, though, that it was a lovely program. Part of its loveliness was that Tenney set the piece to the music by Georges Delerue, the composer of the music for Truffaut’s film,  ”Jules and Jim.”
            As the piece begins, a child (Cynthia Yank) romps, stops and pulls a cookie from a paper bag, a Proustian reference to how a small everyday object can bloom forth many memories. A man, adored by the women of his family, collapses. A woman grieves the loss of her baby, or did it spring forth free? The child grows into a young woman, remembering her mother showing her photographs of the romance with the father, the man who died. A grandmother shows her affection and care. The stage is filled with women of all ages remembering and all tell their stories simply and clearly in their dancing. Alexandra Fredas, Alexis Branagan and Anya Kalashnikova act as a chorus and appear to be what ballet dancers “look like,” as they flit through the scenes.
            In typical ballets, people with idealized shapes represent all of us, and we all take that leap of imagination when we sit in ballet audiences. It is not usual to see typical real people on the dance stage, however. When the “typical” ballerinas dance among the “real” people, though, they don’t look real. These dancers seemed uninteresting by comparison, superfluous and unreal. The “real” people were fascinating, charming and rich.
            Tenney’s piece conveys the power of the “small” moments that resonate in our memory – a young woman dancing, a mother smoothing her child’s hair. These only sound trivial on two-dimensional media. And yet, I wonder how such a delicate piece can stretch out to four whole sections, an evening. Yet, I hope I do see it all someday.  In the meantime, I will remember.
"Je ne souviens…I remember…" Choreographed and directed by Susan Tenney. Music composed by Georges Duberue. Lighting design by Joe Novak. Costume design by Dominique Daiela Pino-Santiago. Featuring: Alexis Branagan, Naoko Cojerian, Yoshie Driscoll, Gary Echternacht, Alexandra Fredas, Anya Kalashnikova, Samantha Guillace, Pam Fabri Pisani, Cynthia Yank.
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet, and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a musician discovering that her mother is a healing woman of the Washo tribe. Her CD, Through the Years, is available on CD Baby.

Photo © Julie Lemberger 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"We now have an opportunity to exchange the wish to control life for a willingness to engage in living."
-- Zen priest Joan Halifax

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible."
-- Corrie Ten Boom

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Faith is putting all your eggs in God's basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch."
-Ramona C. Carrol

Friday, October 21, 2011

You Don't Have to Look Like Your Friends

The Best of Times -- the Music of Jerry Herman

Members of The Philhallmonic Society sang more than two dozen songs from the showbiz great at a free concert Sunday at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium. Founder and artistic director Phil Hall directed the uplifting concert representing seven Jerry Herman classics.

The line to get in ran down Amsterdam Avenue for at least a block and many, many people were turned away. Lucky for me Phil had saved me a seat. The Philhallmonic Society is my favorite non-religious choral group. (Cabaret superstar KT Sullivan described them as “Sex and the City” meets “Glee.”) They radiate with the joy of singing and reminded me once again that even rough times can be the best of times with show music to boost our spirits.

Check their web site for future performances.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The ways to God are many. They appear when we are ready for them and when our faithfulness has shown we can live with the consequences of further growth."
-- John Punshon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Still true today

“One of the great liabilities of history is all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and face the challenge of change.”
-- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Midtown International Theatre Festival Seeks Submissions

The Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF) seeks submissions for its 13th season, running from July 8 - Aug.5, 2012. The deadline for submissions is Monday, Jan. 20, 2012.
The Festival accepts submissions in all genres - any sort of stage play, musical or otherwise, new or revived, mainstream or focused on an ethnic or cultural niche. To be eligible, each show must have a producer and production team attached to the project. In addition, the MITF will include a Short Subjects division, with the same deadlines as the rest of the MITF.
"Last year was our best year ever," said John Chatterton, executive producer of the MITF. "Maybe not in size, but in the efficiency with which we got the job done. We're starting a month earlier this year, and in this business a month means a lot! I'm also expecting to add a week to the schedule and have enough plays to fill it."
Applications for the Midtown International Theatre Festival are available online at Completed applications, scripts, production materials and a non-refundable reading fee of $30 (no reading fee for Short Subjects) must be mailed to: The Midtown International Theatre Festival, 2578 Broadway #145, New York, NY 10025. (Submissions for the Short Subjects must be sent by E-mail, to

Monday, October 10, 2011

Slowing Down, Going Deeper

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart are the same state of being. . .
and now you want to to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three dimensional space.

-- Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation"

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Way

I was happy to see that Emilio Estevez’s new film, “The Way,” got such a good review in today’s NYT. I saw it last night at a private, prerelease screening in Kips Bay and thoroughly enjoyed it. The acting, with Martin Sheen in the lead, was strong, the story and characters involving, and the scenery gorgeous. For more details and to see a trailer, click here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Christine Andreas and Robert Kimball open the new Dutch Treat Club season

Singing a few lyrics from “Autumn in New York,” cabaret star KT Sullivan opened the 107th season of Dutch Treat Club luncheons Tuesday at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park. The Club, whose members make their living primarily in the arts, meets every Tuesday from October to May, hosted by Sullivan, its president, and offers a performance by a popular singer, wisdom from a noted speaker, good food and great company. I’ve been a member since 1996.

This week’s entertainer was singer/actress Christine Andreas (a member since 1997), who most recently starred as Jacqueline in the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles (and who in the 1990s played a schizophrenic, homicidal psychiatrist on my favorite soap, “Another World.”) She sang several songs from her upcoming show “Two for the Road,” which she’ll perform with her husband, composer Martin Silvestri (in photo with Andreas), at 3 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Irvington (NY) Town Hall Theater. All proceeds will go to Ability Beyond Disability, an organization that benefits children with special needs. Andreas has a personal interest in this charity -- her son Mac is 24 “but will always be 4,” she said.

Accompanied by her husband on piano, she opened with her show’s title song, then shared some stories. Six years ago when she was asked to play the mother in a national tour of The Light in the Piazza, she hesitated, not just because she hadn’t toured in ages, but also because it would mean leaving Mac for more than a year.

“There I was playing a special needs mother letting go and that’s just what I was,” she said, adding that she made the decision to do the tour because she had already placed the then 18-year-old Mac in a group home where he was happy.

In remembrance of visiting so many states on tour, she and Silvestri sang “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” -- you know that fun song by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz with its listing of different geographical specialties -- “the camp chair in New Hampshire,” “pencils come from Pennsylvania,” ”vests from West Virginia” and from our neighbor, “New Jersey gives us glue.” A cute song, delightfully done.

She also sang a lovely number called “Is This the Way It Feels to Love?” from a new musical called The Countess of Storyville, which features music by Silvestri and lyrics by Joel Higgins that will have a reading at The Players Theatre later this month. She closed with “Fly Me to the Moon.”

For more information about her benefit show, billed as “a personal scrapbook of musical souvenirs and memories,” visit

Our opening day speaker was musical theatre historian and DTC member since 1976 Robert Kimball who reflected on his recent three-year stint as a Tony Award nominator. Interestingly, Kimball had an indirect connection to the Dutch Treat Club long before he was a member. As an orphan living in a school dorm, he used to listen to newscaster Lowell Thomas on the radio; Thomas was president of the DTC from 1978-81.

Kimball, who is known in part for his comprehensive books on the lyrics of American Songbook writers, joked that Zero Mostel threatened to send him a bill because those weighty books kept breaking Mostel’s coffee tables.

Sounding much like Richard Maltby Jr. did in his theatre talk at last month’s 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, Kimball remembered the Great While Way of the 1940s, with its 70-some theatres where more than 200 new shows opened annually. Now, with fewer than 40 theatres left, the Broadway League talks excitedly about creating a record if 40 shows open in a year.

“The only new record being set is for ticket prices,” he said.

When asked if the American musical of today is a reflection of our culture, he replied sadly, “I’m afraid so. There are not a lot of great songs being written for the theatre now.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rule, Britannia! --  Ocean’s Kingdom and Union Jack

By Mary Sheeran
Back when I was growing up in Washington, NJ, my friends and I played that we were The Beatles. We strummed badminton rackets and lip synched to our favorite Fav Four. So, when last February, New York City Ballet announced that it had commissioned a ballet score from Paul McCartney, I was pretty excited. McCartney’s ventures into classical music have not thrilled too many, but they are always interesting, for his music from the mid-1960s and beyond have always leaned on classical and even medieval motifs.
Then, in the next sentence, the company announced that its artistic director, Peter Martins, would do the choreography, and that let any air out of any balloons that might have started up. The company continued to generate excitement with press releases about Paul’s daughter, Stella McCartney, designing the costumes and some stories about how Peter and Paul (sounds almost Biblical) were working together, with Paul doing little step hops to suggest choreography and sketching out the libretto, and Peter waxing about their collaboration. Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time.
Unfortunately, no one outside the walls of the theater expected much except a ballyhooed red carpet, and that is pretty much what we got. Since the mid 1980s, when he succeeded the late George Balanchine, Martins’ dances have refused to catch fire. Some of us keep hoping, alas. Why he chose to create a dance for McCartney’s music is puzzling when there are more talented people around and when real opportunism would be not to lose the opportunity to do something wonderful.
I was flummoxed by Martins’ schizo/cynicism in admitting in advance that the collaboration would produce sold-out houses for Ocean’s Kingdom (that would be the ballet’s title) because of Paul, not because of the ballet, and then following that idea with his expressing the hope that more people would be drawn to the ballet as a result of seeing it.
Well, then, why did he phone in the steps? Did he think no one would notice? (NYCB’s Facebook page ignored the ballet completely with its gushing excitement about laying down the red carpet for the arrival of celebrities at its premiere and preparing for the ball afterwards. Or maybe they think that’s what we really care about.)
Everyone else worked on Ocean’s Kingdom – the McCartneys, the designers, the orchestra, and the dancers. Why couldn’t Martins?

Because he didn’t have to. He was right. The house sold out, and Paul McCartney got a standing ovation because, well, he’s Paul McCartney, but will those “new” people come back to see more? Wasn’t that audience worth working for?
This sloppy, cynical way of doing business irritated me as I watched those hard workers put through their paces. The slickness of the publicity, the opportunism of it all, the “let’s pretend we’re doing something important” as they toss us junk jewelry is disheartening and discouraging in a company that has such a heritage as the repertories of New York City Ballet’s founder George Balanchine and of his co-ballet master Jerome Robbins.
All the reviewers focused their stern gazes on Ocean’s Kingdom, and I’ll get to that eventually, although I guess you have an idea of my opinion. But first things first, and for this performance, Balanchine comes first.
Fortunately, Ocean’s Kingdom was presented on a bill with Union Jack, George Balanchine’s bicentennial tribute to the United Kingdom. It’s one of his crowd pleasers and brings the whole company dressed in colorful kilts stepping out on stage to a steady drumbeat. As the dancers keep processing out from a sort of London Bridge-type gate, they fill the stage with color and life. It’s simple but magnificent stagecraft, and a gasp-inducing sequence.
Once the clans break rank, they dance to various folk songs like the “Keel Row” or “Colonel Bogey’s March.” The audience, already floored, is easily captivated by the variations and then wrought up again with Wendy Whelan and her Amazons in the McDonald of Sleat section. It’s another drum-only sequence, with the women kicking up their legs and stabbing the floor with their toes. It’s a showstopper, the sort of thing that encourages cheers and happy hoots.
Balanchine drew on a mighty library of the history he was part of – Russian ballet, Diaghilev, Hollywood, Broadway, Stravinsky, westerns, a passion for Tchaikovskian melody, and a capacity for both minimalism and DeMille type showmanship. If I once thought that his more popular ballets like Union Jack were distilled through a Russian sensibility, this past Tuesday, I thought how much more “American” the dances looked than I remembered. After almost 30 years, Balanchine ballets have come home to American bodies. They’re us now.
The exception to this in Union Jack is the Costermonger Pas de Deux. Most of us haven’t the foggiest notion of what a costermonger is, and the vaudeville-like style is foreign to everyone in the room, including Tuesday’s cast of Andrew Veyette and Megan Fairchild. These two were just swell, but they weren’t aware of all the jokes they could sell. Balanchine knew costermongers well enough and the humor of the British music hall.  I would know that just by remembering the dancers performing this when he was still alive. Back in the day, children, this was Patricia McBride’s role, and she sold the thing to Row K in the Fourth Ring, where I used to sit. She showed me what a costermonger was. And along with her partner Jean Pierre Bonnefous and later Mikhail Baryshnikov, the section was laugh aloud funny and devilishly sly. On Tuesday, Veyette and Fairchild danced the steps and had fun with them, and so did we, but the reason for this segment’s existence, being the slot in the program where the company is changing clothes, was more obvious than it needed to be. The Costermonger Pas de Deux should be more than a utilitarian section.
I could (tactlessly) say the same of Wendy Whelan’s turn in the marvelous McDonald of Sleat segment. Children, when Karin von Aroldingen led her Amazons through the drum roll, it was with noncommitatal expressions that added to the women’s power and sent chills down our backs. They were Balanchine’s female army – the ones you see in Symphony in Three Movements or his Tchaikovsky Suite #3. On Tuesday, I was startled to see some of those Amazons smiling. The steps are there, and the power is still there, but not the understanding behind them.
It’s not just that “they don’t dance the way they used to” – they’re not supposed to. But if you subtract something from the equation, you should add something, and while the actual dance is done brilliantly, the motivation is missing. If they don’t know why they’re there except for steps, why is the audience there? Yes, the dances have become “American,” and we feel at home in them, but they still require the original motivation to make them resonate.
Oh, why am I so picky? It’s Union Jack! What’s wrong with me? It was lovely to see Maria Kowroski saucily leading the WRENS and the RCAF. I got to give a little more applause to the retiring Charles Askegard. And it’s always a breath catching moment when the company signals “God save the Queen” in semaphore code as the orchestra plays “Rule, Brittania!,” the cannon blasts, and the curtain comes down. Union Jack is just so much fun.
As for Ocean’s Kingdom, that was well danced, too, but it was disheartening to watch. There wasn’t any choreography, just steps here and steps there, none of which related to much of the music or story, except for what the music and the talents of the dancers could contribute. Yes, indeed, Peter Martins phoned in the steps after barely skimming through the score. His failure hampers the music, some glorious scenery by Perry Silvey and projections by S. Katy Tucker, and the imaginative, intelligent costumes by Stella McCartney. The piece was helped by the quality of the dancers Martins selected to get his ballet through (for him, apparently) this cynically viewed media event (the dancers being the glorious Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, and Georgina Pazcoguin, who created dimensional characters with little to go on. Daniel Ulbricht could have been given more to do.)
McCartney’s music is pretty and, if two-dimensional, enjoyable enough. It certainly told the story. When dancers enter, the music tells you who they are, and if you close your eyes, you can imagine more than you can see in the steps. His libretto admittedly lacked logic, but this is, after all, a medium where swans turn into maidens and nutcrackers battle mice. Even so, the names of the characters alone could make you giggle. Warring families and star crossed lovers wander all over the arts, but this plot was a sad imitation. You see, there were these two kingdoms, one underwater and one of earth. King Terra of the earthly kingdom (I’ll bet you guessed that) arrives in the underwater kingdom (there is no underwater equipment in the ballet and no, I don’t know how people moved from one kingdom to another, but they did). Prince Stone, Terra’s younger brother, falls in love with King Ocean’s daughter, Princess Honorata, but their love is threatened by Terra’s own desire for her. With the help of one of Honorata’s handmaidens, Scala, the princess is abducted by Terra and his henchmen.
Even allowing for the triteness of some ballet and opera stories, this one had many holes were not as easily discerned when NYCB’s excellent dancers took to it. I don’t know what motivated Scala to keep changing her mind, but you could overlook that with Pazcoguin’s strong performance, and what was the point of kidnapping Honorata (the wonderful Sara Mearns)? Why not send her some water lilies? If you secretly desire a princess, why do you put her in prison? But Mearns' performance in the prison (a glorious projection of blue pillars by the way) was breathtaking. The dancers deserved better, though, than a story that resembles a Popeye cartoon with Bluto and Popeye fighting over Olive Oyl. But the dancers found  genuine feeling to be danced, and there was genuine feeling in the music, and from the musicians in the orchestra (conducted by the impish Clotilde Otranto).
Martins is an ideal classroom choreographer, creative about steps but not about what to do with them and completely unconcerned about what he shows an audience.  Those days he had promise were the days when he was campaigning for Balanchine’s favor and Balanchine’s job. It’s time we all stopped pretending to take him seriously.
Ocean’s Kingdom. Music and libretto by Paul McCartney; Orchestrated by Andrew Cottee; Choreographed by Peter Martins; Costumes by Stella McCartney; Video & projection design by S. Katy Tucker; Lighting by Mark Stanley; Scenery by Perry Silvey. Featuring: Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, Georgiina Pazcoguin, Christian Tworzyanski, Daniel Ulbricht. Premiere: Sept. 22, 2011. Union Jack. Music by Hershy Kay, adapted from traditional British music; Choreographed by George Balanchine; Scenery and costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian; Original lighting by Ronald Bates; Lighting by Mark Stanley. Featuring: Joaquin de Luz, Charles Askegard, Abi Stafford, Jared Angle, Janie Taylor, Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Andrew Veyette, Megan Fairchild, Adam Hendrickson, Sean Suozzi. Premiere: May 13, 1976.
New York City Ballet’s fall season runs through Oct. 9 at Lincoln Center. For information and tickets, go to
Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet, and Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a musician discovering that her mother is a healing woman of the Washo tribe. Her CD, Through the Years, is available on CD Baby.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."
-William Faulkner

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

May you always find a friend.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"We shake with joy,
We shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body."
-- Mary Oliver

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"I have a cause. We need those, don't we? Otherwise the darkness and the cold get in and everything starts to ache. My soul has a purpose, it is to love; if I do not fulfill my heart's vocation, I suffer."
-- St. Thomas Aquinas

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dale’s the Name, Jim Dale

And should this sunlit world, grow dark one day, the colors of my life, will leave a shining light, to show the way...”*

The son of a foundry worker and shoe factory employee from the tiny English town of Rothwell roamed the stage of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild’s attic-like performance space last night sharing stories, jokes, songs and dances with a standing-room-only crowd. In his new one-man show, “Just Jim Dale,” the Tony-winning star recalled his childhood start in British music halls, his days as a teenaged comic, then pop singer and songwriter turned Academy Award-nominated lyricist (“Georgy Girl”) and his recent gig as audio-book reader of the Harry Potter series. The colors of his life have, indeed, been bountiful and bold.

Young Jimmy Smith was 6 when he was seized by the showbiz call while watching a local variety show. The following year his father took him to London to see Me and My Girl and he declared that’s what he wanted to do. And as we know, he did exactly that, starring in a revival of that show decades later in New York.

But let’s not jump ahead -- back to childhood. His father, with amazing understanding for a laboring man, told him if musical theatre work was what he wanted, “you have to learn how to move.” So Jimmy was enrolled in tap, ballroom and “the dreaded ballet” lessons. “I was the Billy Elliot of our town.”

In the blown-up black and white photos of himself he held up, the lad in black pants and white dress shirt was a dark-haired, chubbier version of the lean, gray-haired 76-year-old man he is today. And he proved he not only learned to move back then, he also developed impeccable timing for story and joke telling and, of course, cultivated that golden voice.

A Jim Dale show would not seem complete without songs from his hit Broadway shows, Me and My Girl and Barnum, and he did not disappoint. His gift to us of the title song from the first show was enchanting, as was his “The Lambeth Walk.”

From Barnum, he not only sang “The Colors of My Life” as a tribute to his wife, Julie Schafler, and “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute,” but also gave us a breakdown of all the thrills his carnival-promoting P.T. Barnum had to offer in “Museum Song”. First he had pianist/musical arranger Mark York play the music slowly so we could hear each enticement, a few of which are: “Armadillas, clever caterpillas, reproductions of the Cyclops' ret'na, crystal blowing, automatic sewing, Venus on a shell and other works of art.” Then he let them fly RAPIDLY, just the way they sound on my 1980 cast album. Whew! What a joy.

He is certainly a giving man. This is the second benefit he’s done in two years for the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, an organization that provides same-day relief for actors in need. And he didn’t just do the show, which was directed by Broadway producer, director and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., with musical direction/arranging by Aaron Gandy, he hung around at the reception to the bitter end, chatting with audience members.

No quiet browns and grays for this performer. He’s taken his days and filled them till they over flow, with rose and cherry reds . . .

*The Colors of My Life
from Barnum
Lyrics by Michael Stewart
Music by Cy Coleman

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kristin Chenoweth -- Some Lessons Learned

Musical theatre and TV darling Kristin Chenoweth digs deep into her Oklahoma roots for her latest CD, Some Lessons Learned, a lively mix of the usual country fare -- cheating lovers and broken hearts, sung with a swagger worthy of the best Nashville singer.

Kristin proves once again what a multileveled talent she is. Well-known for her comic acting, which has made her one of the biggest draws on Broadway and earned her a Tony and an Emmy, and also as a classically trained coloratura soprano, with this CD Kristin proves she’s a skilled songwriter as well, having penned two of the recording’s 13 selections, "Mine to Love" and the hilarious "What Would Dolly Do?" (or "WW Double D").

Despite her opera training, she sounds right at home in the world of country music, which shouldn’t be surprising given her southern background and a summer of her college years spent singing at Opryland.

In her tribute song to one of her childhood heroes, Dolly Parton, she proclaims she’s “got a lot of Dolly in me” and tells her two-timing man just what he can do: “Take your truck and shove it/ I know how much you love it/ And it’s a good thing ‘cause that’s where you’re moving to./ I’m gonna pull that wig down off the shelf. / Go high heel up with someone else/ ‘Cause I asked myself/ What would Dolly do?”

Another funny song is “I Didn’t” about a couple who seemed to disagree about everything -- he wanted the covers pulled own, but she didn’t; he thought she should gain a few pounds, but she didn’t. What finally drove them apart, though, was a matter of religion: “He thought he was God/ But I didn’t.”

I also like “God and Me”: “If God and me sat down for tea/ I would ask him why he made a heart/ that could break so easily./ If God had time, would it be crime/ If I said I saw one tiny flaw in his grand design?” And I really like "Bitch About," which was released this past summer as a music video. She wants somebody who will love her and bug her and who she can bitch about and not live without. I haven’t seen the video but I would like to because she does a rousing turn on the CD.

My favorite, though, is the inspirational “I Was Here.” “I wanna do somethin’ that matters, say somethin’ different/ Somethin’ that sets the whole world on its ear./ I wanna do somethin’ better with the time I was given/ I wanna try/ to touch a few hearts in this life/ leave nothing less than somethin’ that says/ ‘I was here.’”

All but one of the songs are original compositions, all backed by an excellent group of musicians. Most of the music was recorded in Nashville.

This is Kristin’s fourth CD on the Sony Masterworks label. The first, Let Yourself Go, consists largely of American Songbook and Broadway numbers, reflecting the life she’s been living since moving to New York to pursue a theatre career. As I Am, which I especially love, features mostly Christian music, springing from her Southern Baptist upbringing, and A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas is the favorite of all my holiday music.

Luckily her contract with Sony calls for six more recordings. I’m betting the next will be of opera music. With her master’s in opera performance, that was the career Kristin was headed for before she helped a friend move to New York and while here auditioned for a musical comedy. She got the part and that was the end of her opera career, although she now makes occasional guest appearances with opera companies around the country.

Kristin will be back on TV this season in a new show, “Good Christian Bitches,” (the clip I saw of it doesn’t look too promising) and in the not too distant future back on the Great White Way in a revival of the musical On the Twentieth Century. I have higher hopes for that. And I look forward to those next six CDs!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

May your day be filled with wonder!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Richard Maltby, Jr. Speaks at 15th Broadway Blessing

Richard Maltby, Jr.

By Lauren Yarger
Those who are in the theater business are blessed, because they have an opportunity to discover what they have been put on the earth to do.

That was the message Monday from Broadway director/lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. who spoke at the 15th annual Broadway Blessing held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He encouraged those in the arts to take risks -- "it's the invention that it's all about," he said. "If you are not taking a chance, you're not doing anything worth doing."

The award-winning Broadway veteran of Fosse, Miss Saigon and Ain't Misbehavin' among others, defined theater as "the human spirit reacting to life and creating a story," and urged those who are in the business to realize that they are living in a golden age.

The inter-faith service also featured Natalie Toro, (above, recently of A Tale of Two Cities) singing "Where is it Written?" from Yentl, backed by the Broadway Blessing Choir, which also performed a medley of Broadway songs under the musical direction of Daniel Beckwith, assisting organist at St. John the Divine.

Project Dance performed to "Amazing Grace" by Bel Air Presbyterian Worship Team with choreography by Amanda Brewster and Tony Haris performed "I'll Carry You" by Phil Hall (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Matthew Passion), a song he wrote to commemorate the Blessing's 15th anniversary.
Rabbi Jill Hausman of the Actors' Temple sang "If I Can Stop My Heart from Breaking" (by Richard Hagemen with words by Emily Dickinson). She, the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean of the cathedral, and The Rev. Canon Thomas Miller, canon for liturgy and the arts at the cathedral, officiated at the service.

Retta Blaney, producer of the event, also received a 2011 The Lights are Bright on Broadway Award, presented by Masterwork Productions., Inc. A reception featuring a variety of mouthwatering refreshments provided by the cathedral's Trustees and Society of Regents Members followed.
Retta Blaney and Lauren Yarger, executive director of Masterwork Productions, Inc.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Enjoying the light

Monday night was a glorious evening for me not just because it was the 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, the interfaith service of song, dance and story I started and have been producing all these years to bring the theatre community together every September to ask God’s blessing on the new season. I also had the honor of receiving one of this year’s two The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Awards given by Masterwork Productions and presented to me by executive director Lauren Yarger (right in photo with me.)

“Masterwork Productions is a non profit Christian Performing arts organization,” Yarger said during the event at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. “Our mission, through a variety of ministries, is to equip, support and serve Christians using the arts as a tool for outreach in their communities. Several years ago we began presenting The Lights Are Bright on Broadway Awards to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through their faith. I am thrilled to be here to present one of our 2011 awards to Broadway Blessing producer Retta Blaney because she has been an encourager and mentor to me and has become a close friend. Part of the reason that she is receiving this award is because I suspect that most of you here this evening can say the same thing. It's my pleasure to present The Lights are Bright on Broadway Award to Retta Blaney, for her work exploring the intersection of religion and theater, for being a support and inspiration for artists of faith and for uniting persons of faith through the annual Broadway Blessing.”

I haven’t put the award on a bookshelf in the hall with my other awards yet because I want to look at it frequently. It sits on my coffee table facing my wing back chair and whenever I look up from my book or newspaper, there it is, a joyous reminder of many years of hard work that made my dream of uniting theatre people in pray come true.

Thank you Lauren and thanks to all those who supported my vision -- clergy members, the actors, singers and dancers who have come every year to perform for free, the wonderful volunteer Broadway Blessing Choir and everyone at the Cathedral for their enthusiastic embrace of this unusual little service.

Here’s to the next 15 years!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tony Award winner Richard Maltby Jr. to speak at Broadway Blessing

Producer, director and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. will deliver a theatre reflection at the 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Cathedral Church of St. the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street.

Currently serving as creative consultant for the Off-Broadway musical play The Magdalene, Maltby holds the distinction of having conceived and directed the only two musical revues to ever win the Tony Award for Best Musical: Ain't Misbehavin' (1978, also Tony Award for Best Director) and Fosse (1999:). He was director/co-lyricist for the American version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, starring Bernadette Peters, and was co-lyricist for Miss Saigon.

In a partnership that began when they were students at Yale, Maltby and composer David Shire have collaborated many times over the years. Their first Broadway credit was in 1968, when their song "The Girl of the Minute" was used in the revue New Faces of 1968. In 1977 the Manhattan Theatre Club produced a review of their earlier songs, written for other works, titled Starting Here, Starting Now.

With Shire as composer, Maltby directed and was lyricist for Baby and the lyricist for Big. Also with Shire, he conceived and wrote the lyrics for Take Flight, which had its world premiere in July 2007 at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.

He also conceived and directed Ring Of Fire, The Johnny Cash Musical Show and was co-bookwriter/lyricist for The Pirate Queen. He was most recently represented on Broadway as the director of the new, original musical The Story of My Life by composer/lyricist Neil Bartram. That musical had a brief run at the Booth Theatre in February 2009 and received a 2009 Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding production of a musical.

Maltby will be joined by Broadway singer/actress Natalie Toro who will sing the Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman song “Where Is It Written,” backed by the Broadway Blessing Choir, and Tony Haris will perform a new song by composer/playwright Phil Hall written in honor of the anniversary.

Following a tradition established at the 10th anniversary celebration, Project Dance will perform and Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors’ Temple and the Rev. Canon Tom Miller, the Cathedral’s canon for liturgy and the arts, will lead the annual candle lighting ceremony.

As with all announced guests, Maltby’s availability is subject to change. Broadway Blessing is the free interfaith service of song, dance and story that has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997 to ask God’s blessing on the new season. Reservations are not necessary.

Broadway Blessing was founded and is produced by journalist and author Retta Blaney.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An autumn blessing

"May this fall season reconnect us to the ever-changing aspects of our lives: color, complexity, beauty and mortality."
-- Kenny Moore, The C.E.O. and the Monk

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

“Put you ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”
-- Anne Sexton

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Prayer to Achieve Inner Peace

Slow me down, Lord.
Ease the pounding of my heart
by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace
with a vision of the eternal reach of time.
Give me, amid the confusion of the day,
the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles
with the soothing music of singing streams
that live in my memory.

Help me to know
the magical, restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations --
of slowing down to look at a flower,
to chat with a friend,
to pat a dog,
to read a few lines from a good book.

Remind me each day of the fable
of the hare and the tortoise,
that I may know
that the race is not always to the swift --
that there is more to life
than increasing its speed.
Let me look upward
into the branches of the towering oak
and know that it grew great and strong
because it grew slowly and well.

Slow me down, Lord,
and inspire me to send my roots deep
into the soil of life’s enduring values
that I may grow toward the stars
of my greater destiny.

-- Cardinal Richard Cushing

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Temporal Powers to Ring the NASDAQ Stock Market Closing Bell Today

The cast of the Mint Theater’s acclaimed Off-Broadway show, Temporal Powers, will visit the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York City’s Times Square to celebrate the play’s Aug. 29 opening.   In honor of the occasion, Rosie Benton (in photo with Aidan Redmond) and the rest of the cast will ring today's Closing Bell beginning at 3:45 p.m. at NASDAQ MarketSite – 4 Times Square – 43rd & Broadway in the Broadcast Studio.

Temporal Powers, set in Ireland in the 1920s, is a story of love and loss, where hope and despair are two sides of the same contested coin. Michael and Min are stone-broke and homeless, but the greatest test of their marriage comes when, after taking shelter in a crumbling ruin, they stumble upon hidden treasure.  Min sees a chance to start a new life; Michael fears it’s stolen and wants to give it to the priest.  As the night grows dark, neither one is left able to see right from wrong.  Selected as a Critic's Pick by The New York Times.

Monday, August 29, 2011

i thank You God for this amazing
day: for leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

-- e.e. cummings

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

(Author uncertain)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reviving Teresa Deevy

I wrote thsi feature for the Aug. 28, 2011 issue of The Living Church Magazine.

She had six plays produced at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in six years in the 1930s. When her seventh met with rejection, she began writing for radio, despite having been deaf since 19, the result of Meniere’s disease developed several years earlier. In 1954 she was elected to the prestigious Irish Academy of Letters. The Irish Times called her one of the most significant Irish playwrights of the 20th century. Yet few people in Ireland today and even fewer in America know the name of Teresa Deevy.

The Mint Theater Company, an award-winning Off-Broadway theatre, is tackling that obscurity with its two-year Teresa Deevy Project, producing three of her plays as well as offering readings, recordings and publications.

“I found her because I asked the question ‘Who were the women writing plays in the first 50 years of the Abbey?’” said Jonathan Bank, the Mint’s artistic director. “I began with the perception that the history of theatre in Ireland was a lot of men and then, oh, yeah, there was Lady Gregory.”

He found that other women’s plays had been produced, but only Deevy’s had been published, and then only a few.

“What gets remembered and produced is a little bit arbitrary,” he said, adding that if people haven’t heard of a work they assume it wasn’t good in the first place. “That’s not a great measure of talent of the playwright and the worth of the play, but once that idea gets set it’s hard to overcome, which is why we’re trying to throw as much muscle as we have behind her.”

Bank began his latest resurrection effort — the Mint’s mission is to find lost or forgotten work and restore it to mint condition — last summer when he directed Wife to James Whelan, the play rejected by the Abbey in 1937. Its critically acclaimed run at the Mint was extended for as long as the space was available.

This summer Bank is directing Temporal Powers, a moving story of Michael and Min Donovan, a couple whose love has been strained by years of poverty. That love is pushed to the limits after they are evicted from their home and take refuge in a crumbling ruin, where they find a large sum of money buried within the walls and end up bitterly divided over the morality of keeping it. Michael says it doesn’t belong to them and that their poverty must be God’s will. Min sees it differently.

“’Tis the hand of God I see in this as clear as me own,” she says. “A wonder but you’d see! What would it be but the Providence of God looking down on his poor children and they destitute.”

Bank thinks the argument is Deevy’s way of “really attacking the question of what should the Church be doing about poverty.”

What Bank finds in all of Deevy’s work is a deep spirituality rooted in her Roman Catholic upbringing. Deevy was born in 1894 in Waterford as one of 13 children. She died in 1963.

“She was a devout, daily Mass-attending Catholic,” Bank said. She also made yearly pilgrimages to Lourdes as a stretcher-bearer for the sick, and on a trip to Rome had an audience with the pope. Her plays, however, offer no moral certitude.

“She posses a question but doesn’t resolve it,” he says.

In Temporal Powers, which plays through Oct. 2, it’s “the eternal question of salvation.”

“She does not come down on one side or the other,” he says. “She makes a really balanced argument and we’re left to make that decision ourselves. That’s true of all her work. You can’t quite find her point of view.”

Wife’s rejection by the Abbey after six straight years of acceptance can be attributed to political factors, Bank said, mentioning the new Irish constitution of 1937 that made it illegal for married women to work. The prevailing atmosphere would have been unfavorable to a woman playwright, even one who wasn’t married.

That her plays are unknown now is because so few of them were published. The Mint will publish her collected works in two volumes. The first will be released in August or September, with the second to follow next year, and will be available through the theatre’s website (

“She had a profound insight into human behavior, human psychology,” Bank said.

In preparing to launch the Teresa Deevy Project, Bank made his first visit to Ireland to meet with her family and study her writings, which were heaped in boxes with no filing system. Wife to James Whelan had disappeared for 40 years because it had been misfiled. Pages from some plays were missing, rendering them useless for production. Her family told him stories of her life and allowed him to copy her work.

“She was a very spiritual Catholic,” Bank says. “She took it to heart. It was not knee-jerk to her. Although her plays are to a certain extent thrashing with this issue, they don’t read as a woman without conflict. As firm as her beliefs would have been, so were her questions.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tina Howe's Some Women In Their Thirties Simply Start To Fall

We all know what it’s like to lose our heads over a love interest, but fortunately the loss is only figurative. Not so for Charlotte in Tina Howe’s wacky new short play Some Women In Their Thirties Simply Start To Fall . Charlotte’s head and body part ways on a busy shopping stretch of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In typical New York fashion, passersby offer their two cents in this absurdist jaunt directed by Billy Hopkins, one of eight one acts in 59E59 Theaters Summer Shorts 5 festival, which opened last night.

Trying to keep her cool under these most unusual circumstances, Charlotte (Crystal Finn, in photo center) sings Broadway songs while trying to will her body (Kate Geller covered head to toe in black), which can’t see or hear without its head and is running amok, back to her. An alarmed shopper, Rene (Kathryn Grody, left) whips out her cell phone to call 911 and report a woman’s head singing show tunes in front of Citarella. Howard (Arthur French, right) joins the commotion, also calling for help on his cell.

The concern of these two Good Samaritans turns to star-struck curiosity when they learn Charlotte is the author of books beloved by their grandchildren. Instantly they reach for their phones again and begin snapping photos, then digress into a conversation about their little ones. The zaniness mounts when Dr. Sudhir Singh (Ryan Shams) arrives and quickly, and accurately, diagnoses the cause of Charlotte’s dismembering -- she’s in love with a married man who won’t leave his wife for her. Rene and Howard have plenty to say about that too, offering advice from their own romantic entanglements.

It’s a nice little slice of Tina Howe, whose breakout 1983 play, Painting Churches, will be revised this season Off-Broadway by the Keen Company. Some Women was my favorite of the four shows I saw. I also liked Keith Reddin’s Clap Your Hands, which lacked Howe’s originality -- two couples on New Year’s Eve who really let insults fly after too much champagne -- but it was fun because of the excellent timing of the four actors -- Meg Gibson, J.J. Kandel, Megan Ketch, Victor Slezak. Hopkins directs this one as well.

The other two in Series B were José Rivera’s Lessons For An Unaccustomed Bride, about a devote young Roman Catholic woman who seeks love advice from a witch doctor, and The Green Book, “an Alchemical Comedy” written and directed by Will Scheffer about dementia, incontinence, gay marriage, sibling rivalry and the Holocaust -- all in one act. I felt I was back in my MFA play-writing workshop in both. After the first my friend Brenda commented that she wondered how work like that got produced. After the second she looked at me and asked, “What was that about?” My reactions to each had been the same.

59E59 Theaters’ fifth annual festival of new American short plays from established and emerging writers offers eight world premiere one-act plays in two separate evenings. The two series will run in rotating repertory through Sept. 3. Series A, which I haven’t seen, features In This, Our Time... by Alexander Dinelaris, Triple Trouble With Love, written and directed by Christopher Durang, The New Testament by Neil Labute and Carrie & Francine by Ruby Rae Spiegel.
George Xenos designed the minimalist sets, Michael Bevins the costumes and Greg MacPherson the lighting for each of the plays.

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