Thursday, August 4, 2022

Sondheim in Memoriam


He was a cultural deity, the leading musical artist of our age, always on the cutting edge of American theater, the consummate artist, his lyrics totally integrated with his music.  If Bob Dylan is deserving of the Pulitzer, seems to me that Sondheim is as well.  Although a “musical theatre” figure, he is far more, a poet whose lyrics captured the urbanity of modern life and chronicled human relations in dramas within a musical structure.  His musicals have as much in common with opera as they do with Broadway theatre (although Sondheim himself did not generally enjoy opera). 


If you look at one’s life as a piece of music, there may be a few long measures preceded by a rest notation.  Covid not only led to sickness and death, but also took large blocks of our lives away, experiences we can never recover.  It’s like a musical piece where, suddenly, the rest notation is unnaturally prolonged, taking up space where there should be music.  The older one is, the more that horridly mismanaged illness is a percentage of one’s remaining life.


Thus the pandemic marked the loss of experiences, such as the one I wrote about involving the reimagined production of Sondheim’s Company and our 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Although we missed that moment, we had hoped there would be another, and then the following year Sondheim passed away.  After his death I learned about the letters he wrote to others, even selflessly responding to strangers like me who revered him.


He had an extensive exchange of letters with Robert Osborne who for so many years was the face of Turner Classic Movies.  Watching the classic movies on TCM is just about the only TV I truly enjoy.


Sondheim also had an intense interest in such films, particularly those of the thirties, such as ones starring Joe E. Brown, and a host of other stars from that era.  Where in the world did he find the time to watch all of these?  I think of him, steeped in nostalgia and pastiche.  He once said something along the lines that if he was on a trip and a customs officer asked him where he’s from, he’d reply, “the past.”  He wrote to Osborne, a kindred soul, formed a mutual admiration society, and obviously Osborne kept him well supplied in tapes of films mostly from that era.


I’ve been able to collect ten of those letters.  Eighty-five were auctioned off in London in 2018 so my collection represents only a portion of their exchanges.  I framed the ones I collected and they now grace our hallway with other Sondheim memorabilia.  I’ve transcribed the contents of the ones I have below for future Sondheim scholars. 


They are fascinating, such as the September 5, 2006 letter in which he says “As for Angie's interview, do you by any chance have an unedited audiotape of it? I'd love to hear what she said.”   That must have been Osborne’s interview of Angela Lansbury who originated the role of the mad meat pie maker Mrs. Lovett in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and was in Sondheim’s early short-lived musical Anyone Can Whistle (1964).  Lansbury said Sweeney Todd was a huge success for her and that the show was a benchmark for Sondheim and “finally, down the road, that is the [Broadway] role” for which she’ll be remembered. (Watching that interview reminds me of the gift Osborne had, such a gentle, probing ability to get the best from an interview.)


The one dated Jan. 3, 2008 was on the eve of the financial (and ultimately political) crisis, and Sondheim concludes it with “Meanwhile, Happy New Year to all of us, please God” – something we were all feeling at the time.


Or the July 28, 2010 letter, the only one not signed “Steve,” which he signs “Affectionately Yours, Merle” obviously an in-joke, and not seeing what preceded it I’m guessing it was a reference to Merle Oberon.


The June 27, 2011 letter requests that Osborne send the tape of "London Can Take It;" as he wanted “Jeff to understand what went on during wartime there,” presumably Jeff being his husband-to-be at the time, Jeffrey Romley.  Or, the last Sondheim – Osborne letter I have dated June 12, 2012 requesting “Act One,” a 1963 film based on Moss Hart’s autobiography.  As he explains “James Lapine has been trying to track a copy down because he's writing a play based on the book.”  The play premiered on Broadway in 2014 to good reviews.


There are so many interesting references in these letters, so I’ll let these transcriptions do the talking themselves:


                                                                                August 31, 1998


Dear Bob –


Thanks so much.  What can I do for you?


                                                                                Steve  S.




December 18, 2003


Dear Bob -


What I do with TCM is tape the movies and watch them days, weeks or even months later. I don't remember which Gordon Douglas, but it was in the midst of the Gordon Douglas festival a few months back.  I didn't mean to keep you awake nights when I brought this whole thing up -- my apologies.


You got me on "Whispering Streets.” If it's part of the TCM catalogue, make a copy for me. (I'm only up to the C's at the moment, but compiling as I go along.) And as far as Madelon Claudet and Rachel Cade go, what about Harold Diddlebock?


Meanwhile, have a Christmas worthy of Ann Harding and George Raft, or even Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly.








September 5, 2006


Dear Bob –


Thanks, as always, for your generosity. I can't believe the number of movies that Joan Blondell made. It seems she made one out of every two movies that were released before 1940. As for Angie's interview,

do you by any chance have an unedited audiotape of it? I'd love to hear what she said.


Does your visit to Telluride have anything to do with Bill Pence's resignation? When I was there so was Ted Turner.


Surely, these can't be coincidences..


That was a joke,



P.S. Is "Down on Ami-Ami-Oni-Oni Isle" from "The Hurricane"? I suspect not.





January 3, 2008


Dear Bob –


Thanks for the DVD. One of the things I love about the series films is that people like Audrey Totter and Dennis O'Keefe show up in them in tiny roles.


Meanwhile, Happy New Year to all of us, please God.



as ever,






January 5, 2010


Dear Bob

For the thousandth time, thank you so much! When are you coming to our fair city next? Give me a little notice, and we'll have an in-depth conversation about Rondo Hatton.


Meanwhile, Happy New Year.






July 28, 2010


Dear Bob -


The new recorder didn't arrive in time, so please add the following to your list: "Eleven Men and a Girl"; "Top Speed"; "Broadminded"; "Going Wild"; Local Boy Makes Good"; "Sit Tight"; & Day Bike Rider"; "Bright Lights.”


I don't expect these till 2012 at the earliest.


                                                                                Affectionately Yours,





June 27, 2011


Dear Bob -


Thanks so much, as always, for dredging up the movies. By all means, keep them coming if you can. I'm particularly grateful for "London Can Take It;" as I want Jeff to understand what went on during wartime there.


I'd like to add four more titles to the lengthy list:

“The Man with Two Faces," "Innocence," "Gates of Heaven" and "Trouble the Water."


What can I do for you in return? Since you're getting some evenings off, perhaps when you're in New York you'd like to come to dinner and we'll talk about Johnny Sheffield. Seriously, just let me know.


As always,






August 2, 2011


Dear Bob


The usual request: I screwed up trying to tape "On with the Show' and "Going wild," so please add them to your list.


You're looking more chipper than ever - maybe it was anticipating your vacation. If you spend any of it in New York, give me a call and we can have a drink at least.






September 8, 2011


Dear Bob -


Just to ruin your vacation, would you add the following four movies to the list of Things My VHS Machine Screwed Up: "Crooner," "Guele d'Amour," "Virtue," "No More Orchids"?


As always,






June 12, 2012


Dear Bob -


Is "Act One" in the Turner Classic Movies library? It's a Warner Bros. picture, so I thought I'd ask. James Lapine has been trying to track a copy down because he's writing a play based on the book. Can you help him out?


Hope you're thriving -- you certainly seem to be, in your public appearances.







Alongside these letters is a framed Sondheim-signed sheet music of “Anyone Can Whistle”.  It reads “For Bob   Forte’” and as he dates it 10/5/91, well before TCM, perhaps this not dedicated to Osborne.  So when I play that piece I do so Forte’!



The opposite wall is devoted to Company Playbills surrounding a cast-signed New York Philharmonic poster of the 2013 production of Company which included such luminaries as Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Neil Patrick Harris, and Patti LuPone, among others. (Yes, Colbert and Cryer who we don’t think of in the context of musical theater do credible work in this production which was aired by PBS that year.)


We’ve made that hallway in our home a memorial to him. Thus, “Not a day goes by / Not a single day / …you're somewhere a part of my life.”


‘Sunday’ from Sunday in the Park with George is one of his masterpieces.  I include a brief video of my playing it as I often do with him in mind.  There will never be another Sondheim.



Friday, July 22, 2022

‘A Calling for Charlie Barnes’ -- A Metafictional Masterpiece


I used to wonder whether I would ever meet another flawed but lovable fictional character such as Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom from John Updike’s monumental Rabbit Tetralogy, and one written by a novelist who can similarly capture the times in which we live.  I have, and that protagonist is Charlie Barnes, known throughout A Calling for Charlie Barnes by his ironic moniker, “Steady Boy” and the author of this dazzling novel is Joshua Ferris.


This is not an Updike knock-off but Updikean nonetheless. Ferris gives more than a hat tip to his predecessor describing Charlie as "a fairly standard midcentury model, Updikean in his defects and indulgences."  We feel for this Everyman, one who is caught up in the American dream of success, only to be kicked around by the times we live in, his addiction to get rich quick schemes, and the demands of his four children (one of whom is hardly mentioned and another is Ferris’ alter ego, a writer of course, but who came into the Barnes clan as a foster child).  And finally, there are his four ex-wives and now his fifth, all with interesting names, just a hint of the black comedy that permeates the novel.


Sue Starter was naturally his first wife (“Sure, he’d married young.  Nineteen years old – just ridiculous.  The only way they could…you know.  Although technically, little Jerry was along his way”).  That was 1959.  Divorced.  Then in 1970 along came “the first of two Barbaras, Barbara Lefurst…the woman of his dreams, his life partner, his soul mate.  Just kidding: his second marriage, forged over whiskeys…was a classic rebound and lasted all of six months.”  By now we are getting the idea of the shifting narrative voice and its comic tone.


Amusingly, his third wife is named Charley Profitt.  They become Charlie and Charley and it’s the only time in his life he is out of scheming and meaningless jobs, working in social services at “Old Poor Farm” and even moonlighting as the director of a community theatre.    They have a daughter, Marcy, and take in foster children, including our narrator, Jake. Charley admires Charlie until he goes back to his “Steady Boy” ways. “Move in the direction of love and life gets harder.”


Number four is Evangeline, who takes Jake in, watches soap operas with him, a cozy time for Jake, and then comes the second Barbara, appropriately named Barbara Ledeux (who never acknowledges his marriage to Lefurst – Ledeux would prefer to be known at the first Barbara and as far as she’s concerned he was married “only” four times).


Ledeux is an ER nurse, a profession which aligns with Ferris’ central event for moving the plot along; Charlie has, then does not have, then has the "big kahuna" of cancers, pancreatic.  I think this is the only novel I’ve read where I can actually laugh at anything remotely related to the disease that took my own father’s life and one of my best friends before he turned 60.


This peripatetic lover of women, and of failed entrepreneurial schemes (“Clown In Your Town” a franchise pursuit, and the “Doolander” a frisbee toupee are but two of those), normally plotting in his basement office for the next big idea, now holds what he thinks to be a trump card – the threat of pancreatic cancer – to harass his enemies (anyone he perceives as profiting from the 2008 financial debacle) and to bring his far flung family and tangential friends together and regain their respect.  He leaves this message for his daughter with the receptionist where she works, “Can you tell Marcy that her father has pancreatic cancer, please? You might know something about pancreatic cancer, Bethany. I never like to presume… Well I can tell you this: it’s not good. People with pancreatic cancer go to their graves as a shot out of a cannon, okay? Hospital personnel can hardly collect a gurney quickly enough to send that particular patient off to hospice care before he keels over right there in the lobby of the hospital. Do you want to know what that’s like?...It’s like priority mail.  It gets you where you were going faster than any other methods but you have to pay extra – in fear, I mean, and the surprise factor, and physical devastation. There is no time to make amends or settle your accounts. You just die.” 


He comes to this realization:“Being alive was, as far as he could tell, an unrelieved nightmare of strange twinges and mysterious growths.  The least a man might be allowed to do is share his fear with loved ones at a moment of uncertainty….”


As a work of metafiction, its structure can be a challenging to the reader.  In effect Charlie has asked his son, Jake, who is a novelist (anyone we know connected with his novel who is also a writer?), to write the “facts” of his life.  What are life stories other than those we tell ourselves and then others?  How do we, as narrators of a father’s life, present ourselves?  Ferris frequently takes the reader aside, like an actor would break the fourth wall, to explain more of the story or even its construction.


Remarkably, it all seems so natural, even the double ending of the novel.  And the writing can be simply elegant.  I think of Updike but one can say it’s Hemingwayesque (no coincidence that the narrator is named Jake Barnes). Consider this passage from early in the novel, and I choose this almost at random, having dog-eared so many pages: “He went outside to retrieve the morning paper. As he emerged from under the portico, the bright day bushwhacked him. The warmth percolated, pricking him. Steady Boy paused, lifted his face to the sun. He felt a little drunk. He was present in heat like that at the launch of Apollo 11. He felt the same heat 10 years later on a rare vacation under a Florida palm. He ran naked as a little boy. He shucked corn during an Illinois drought. He watched his pebbly foot prints evaporate behind him on the poolside concrete. He rode in a canoe under a canopy of trees as a trickle of sunlight danced over the water, as elsewhere a memory it did over old barnyards and forest floors. A thundering, brain-clearing sneeze, exquisite in every way, followed in the next instant and he opened his eyes and carried on in the shuttering aftermath to the curb and the Chicago Tribune.” A quotidian moment in an Everyman’s life, told, then, by the omniscient narrator, not the biographer, so finely and succinctly crafted.


Parallel to “Steady Boy’s” story is Ferris’ metafictional narrative:  “I do not have a lock on the truth, provided there is such a thing, and that, in fact, when we consider the necessarily curated nature of any narrated life, it’s omissions as well as it’s trending hashtags, if you will, we are forced to conclude that every history, including our own first person accounts, is a fiction of a sword. Or as Wallace Stevens put it much more succinctly, ’the false and true are one.’”


Central to the tale is love and family, the relationship of fathers and sons, and when Jake arrives at the airport after hearing of the cancer diagnosis, Ferris’ strikes a dagger in my heart in a very personal way: “The child of divorce and the parent without primary custody know these interstitial places well:  the curb, the corridor, the terminal parking lot.  It is where you embrace, you shed tears, you thank God for reuniting you – or curse God for tearing you asunder once more.”  Jake tries to bring the family together, usually culminating in ugly family pyrotechnics.


But then again, he teases the reader “Now, I know what you’re thinking. Jake Barnes has played his hand. He sides with Charlie and can’t be trusted. He’s unreliable. Yeah, right. Like reliability exists anywhere anymore, like that’s still a thing.”


Charlie has kept his shoulder to the wheel of the American Dream all his life and now, what does he have to show for it?  Ferris has created a 21st century anti-hero to which “attention must be paid.”  It is a work of heart and ingenuity, and Ferris’ self-referential approach to “Steady Boy’s” story never gets in the way, it paves it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

July 4 Ignominy


When I started writing this entry, the Highland Park parade shooting was just being reported.  Highland Park, Parkland, Any Place, USA, a land of gun culture.  In the absence of real gun control, our feckless representatives are accessories to the next mass shooting already brewing in America Land.  We fought wars to live safely and freely and now the cancer from within society is our greatest enemy.  This is central to the pieces I read during the “holiday.”


Margaret Renkl, a contributing Opinion writer for the New York Times wrote an interesting article for the July 4 holiday, The American Flag Belongs to Me, Too, and This Year I’m Taking It Back


Essentially it recounts a dilemma I have felt – our flag seems to have been purloined by the MAGA crowd.  But she had an experience which led her to hang “the American flag again for the first time in years. It’s right next to the front door, and it does not symbolize MAGA lies or MAGA tyranny. We are flying it proudly in honor of our fellow Americans who are fighting for justice of every kind.”


To me it is merely an inspirational piece.  Our partisan SCOTUS is just beginning to show its clout.  And the J6 Hearings clearly show Trump’s role in that attempt to overthrow the peaceful transition of power. Where is justice ask the following pieces?


Jim Wright’s Stonekettle Station’s wonders where Merrick Garland is in When Good Men Do Nothing,  He used to write these hard-hitting progressive pieces on a regular basis before migrating to Twitter.  Still he writes a monthly wrap-up.  Essentially his piece can be summarized by “Why should I have any faith in the Department of Justice?”   

Another weekender was John Pavlovitz’s When the Law Fails You, Where Do You Go?  He approaches the same topic but from the viewpoint of a humanistic pastor (which he is).  These articles are there for anyone to read, so no further comment on them from me.


I’ll add a piece I wrote eight years ago Independence Day Reverie Hard to believe, eight years.  I was startled coming across this as it proves the old adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  I was writing about the same issues as today, and this is pre-Trump.  He is merely an accelerant on our national nightmare.


Thursday, June 30, 2022

6 Days in NYC


Sometime in March we learned that Stacey Kent, to us one of the premier Great American Songbook and Jazz singers, was going to appear at Birdland this June.  Kent now performs mostly in Europe.  We saw her ages ago when she made a rare appearance at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach.  There we witnessed her genius, her unique phrasing, putting her on the same pedestal that we would place Sinatra, although Kent is considered a jazz performer.  They both know how to sell a song.


Her New York City booking was the motivation for us to say to heck with the risks of traveling nowadays, go to NYC and kick off a heady cultural visit joining our son, Jonathan, and his wife, Tracie, for that first night at Birdland.  We would also see their new Upper West Side apartment for the first time, and then squeeze in as much theatre and museums as we could.  We booked our go to place, a hotel where we’ve stayed before with its location between Broadway and 7th on West 54th street ideal for making our destinations walkable, weather and our golden-ager bodies permitting.


So, in March we booked everything, using Delta miles that have been stagnating since the pandemic.  We were set but knowing the trip might still present hurdles.


As our departure date approached, our anxiety rose.  Delta had been routinely cancelling our flight.  We tried to book alternative flights on Jet Blue, an airline we once loved.  Everything is now an extra charge and we no longer feel that cozy relationship.  Their web site is designed to make you panic:  “Only 3 seats left at this price; you must book now!!!”  So rather than alternative bookings, we decided to stick with our Delta reservations and hope for the best.


We’re glad we did as they finally got the necessary equipment and crew back online for our flight, and that went off without a hitch, our neighbor Joe even volunteering to be our Uber to the airport, a generous gesture knowing the anxiety we had been experiencing with this flight and travel in general.


So off we went, to be met by our “kids” at LGA, the new Terminal C a few football fields long.  Getting into their car, we learned that the Stacey Kent concert had been cancelled.  COVID.  Between that awful word, supply chain issues, inflation, and political chaos, it does feel like Agamemnon. 



Visiting our kids’ apartment, overlooking the Hudson, with a lovely rooftop dining and sitting area, was a highpoint.  If they only had a 2nd bedroom!  But they moved, as we did, during the pandemic and it was catch as catch can.  We’ll be staying there later in the summer when they are away, so it all works out and we are grateful.



We were able to share a couple of lunches on their rooftop, sandwiches from a very West Side take out restaurant, Sherry Herring, specializing in serving fish on baguettes.  And from there, I walked almost five miles throughout my Upper West Side past (Ann decided to head back to the hotel), visiting my old brownstone apartment at 66 West 85th street, the corners of 85th and Columbus now populated by three different restaurants, including one where we had brunch a few days later called “Good Enough to Eat”-- typical West Side in name and food faire.



My enthusiasm for my walk was not only heightened by observing the effects of the passing of 50 plus years since I’ve lived there, but also included intense people watching, walking their dogs on Central Park West, the doormen chatting about the Yanks and the Mets, and the multitude of construction workers, seemingly endless construction, mostly refacing brownstones and apartments. 




Only on the West Side would one come across a cafĂ© which tolerates humans unaccompanied by dogs, but they can’t use the main entrance.  Given the way I feel about politics now, I root for the dogs.


I walked back past where we were married, the Ethical Culture Society, on the very same day Sondheim’s Company opened (a future blog entry will be devoted to him and that coincidence), and then finally past Ann’s old apartment, the one bedroom at 33 West 63rd Street which now stands dwarfed by huge high rises.  Ann remembers Lincoln Center being built when she first moved into that rent-controlled apartment (two windows on right side, second floor). And then back to our hotel on 54th Street to get ready for the balance of the week, museums and theatre and a cabaret performance. 


It was becoming an intense week.  I loathe traveling anymore especially in this rage ridden society onto which you can pile the incredible expense even to get a small bag of tissues.  NYC was reminding me again of the 70s, garbage all over the place (walking along one street I thought I spied a squirrel walking beside me but it was a big rat), some homeless living on cardboards with their shopping carts.  But we soldiered on.



Matisse’s The Red Studio exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art was a must see.  The New Yorker praised the exhibit as follows: “The exhibition surrounds a rendering of the French artist’s atelier, with most of the eleven earlier works of his (paintings, sculptures, a ceramic plate) that in freehand copy, pepper the canvas’s uniform ground of potent Venetian red.”  



I also strongly responded to one of his rare depictions of the male figure, Young Sailor, a teenage fisherman in a coastal town where Matisse frequently stayed. 


And as this photograph of him illustrates, he liked dogs too, just like New Yorkers!


We visited other parts of MOMA, always calming, inspiring moments in our lives.  I love just relaxing in their courtyard and enjoying the juxtaposition of it as an oasis in this great city.


Next, we went to the American Museum of Natural History, where a week would hardly plumb the depths of its collections.  I remember going through it as a child and some of the original dioramas seem to be unchanged.


But that was not our reason for visiting.  We were there for the impressive gem exhibit:

“The Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals tell the fascinating story of how the vast diversity of mineral species arose on our planet, how scientists classify and study them, and how we use them for personal adornment, tools, and technology. The galleries feature more than 5,000 specimens from 98 countries. “


The following day began our theatre excursions, seeing POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, then A Strange Loop, and finally, Tracy Letts’ The Minutes.   



When we originally booked these shows, we thought POTUS’ hilarity would put us in a good mood, but it was like an extended Saturday Night Live skit with stars, the audience roaring when they first appear on stage.  Everything was over the top, the incidental music so loud Ann had to turn her hearing aids way down while I suffered.  Even the lighting and the revolving stage overwhelmed the senses, and the air conditioning must have been set at 55 degrees.  The humor consisted of 5th grade potty talk which was not funny to us.  No sense in saying more as the play’s subtitle describes it all, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.  A dumbass President; we wondered who that might be.


Next on the docket was another one we booked long before the Tonys.  We had seen Hamilton on Broadway when it first opened, and we had hoped that similarly A Strange Loop would push the Broadway boundary further.  We wanted to be part of it.  It did, but not in the sense that Hamilton succeeded in marking a real evolution in American theatre.  We also had second thoughts about A Strange Loop after seeing their musical number at the 75th Tony Awards on TV (winning not only the Best Musical at the Tonys but the Pulitzer Prize for Drama before going to Broadway as well).  Why allow that one selection to dampen our enthusiasm?  


When we arrived at the theater we learned that the lead, Usher, was to be played by an understudy, Kyle Ramar Freeman.  This did not turn out to be a deterrent, but a bonus.  I think an understudy has to take advantage of those moments and he did.  He gave a memorable performance.


Unfortunately, A Strange Loop --to me at least -- is not in the class of most former Tony winners.  I get it though, the struggle of the artist to emerge in a society which throws so many slings and arrows at him, from his home life to his shame about his sexual orientation, his weight, his being black.  It never failed to be interesting and it was one of those performances where the mostly gay audience was giving back as much energy as it got.  There is one somewhat explicit sex scene, but, hey, we’re New Yorkers at heart and it was not disturbing.  And no pun intended, it is the climax of the show and Usher comes to the realization that he must live his life, not the one that he has been imagining to please others.


There were no real dance numbers, although Usher’s neuroses and self-doubt characters moved and sang with gusto and they were well choreographed; while the music was good, it was not memorable.  Nonetheless, the 100 intermission-less minutes flew by.  We’re glad we saw it as we’ve seen the arc of Broadway from the days of Rodgers and Hammerstein, to the emergence of Hair, to Sondheim, onto Hamilton, and now the next iteration in musical theatre history. 


We came out that theatre on 45th between Broadway and 6th Avenue in a light rain.  Forget an Uber or a cab and although the most direct route to walk back to our hotel was via Broadway, we opted for 6th Avenue as the throngs of people on Broadway or 7th Avenue were staggering.  Figured if there was any chance of making it uptown via cab, it would be 6th Avenue as well, although that pipedream dissolved with the increasing drizzle. Wise that we packed a couple of light umbrellas.


The best of our Broadway selections was the next night, Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, right next door to where we were going the following night, Feinstein’s.  I’m anxious to read this play as there is so much meaningful content.  The town of “Big Cherry” in The Minutes is a metaphor for our sick society and political system, a comedy which becomes darker and darker, satisfying every misanthropic fiber of my being, knowing where this once great nation is going, now being led by the Trump-anointed SCOTUS. (No direct mention of any of this in the play.) 


The Minutes moves from a town hall meeting to the enactment of a myth the “leaders” of the town hold dear in their hearts.  Towards the denouement the play ascends to the participation in a ritual, one our violent society holds sacred.  It is performed to indoctrinate one individual into the belief system of the group.  Big Cherry could be anywhere USA, but I would like to think it is in New Jersey, such as Excelsior in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth.  One can draw comparisons.  Both plays have archetypal characters where the sweep of history is played out.


Ironically, while we saw this play, SCOTUS was about to announce rolling back Roe vs. Wade and also finding a long-standing NY State law against carrying hidden weapons invalid, denying our “precious” 2nd Amendment “rights.”  Can you imagine the inevitable open carrying of weapons in a city of 18 million?  Looser gun laws beget more gun sales which beget looser gun laws, a strange loop indeed.  And gay rights will be the next to fall as SCOTUS seems to be implying that State laws take precedence over the Constitution.


The Minutes can be viewed through this lens.  Five of the eleven characters were played by understudies, Tracy Letts and Blair Brown not making appearances, perhaps some felled by COVID.  Still, that did not spoil the performance.  I started to sob at the end for what we’ve become.  This play, although it did not win the Pulitzer or the Tony for Drama, will endure.  It is Letts’ profound cautionary tale about our times and encroaching fascism.



Pretending that all is OK with the world was the only way we could totally enjoy our final night, a special appearance by Brian Stokes Mitchell at Feinstein’s/54 Below.  This was dinner and a two-hour performance by one of the great baritones of Broadway theatre, one who can not only sing, but entertain the audience, who introduced the music as only one so intimate with the selections can do.  



The show was an eclectic Broadway selection of iconic songs, including some Sondheim.  But as he originated the role of Coalhouse Walker Jr., in the musical Ragtime, for which he received a 1998 Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, he sang the inspired “Wheels of a Dream” to rousing effect.  The highlight of the evening was his powerful rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.  He had played Don Quixote in a Broadway revival.  During the early months of the pandemic, he sang this from the window of his apartment overlooking Broadway to honor the first responders, the health workers.  Each day a crowd would gather below to urge him on, so many people in fact that he was finally asked to cease his performances for safety reasons. 


He asked whether there were any first responders or health workers in our audience, and I pointed towards our daughter in law, Tracie, who is a Doctor, who drove to her hospital every day when most of us were ensconced in our homes, and let’s face it, no one fully understood the risks.  N95 masks and hospital gear was their only protection, and we were so happy that Mitchell acknowledged her presence and frequently looked at her while he sung this exceedingly moving song.


So on Saturday morning our “kids” picked us up early at the hotel and we were off to LGA for the return home.  The new Terminal C is all smart phone territory.  Forget about eating unless you can download the menu and pay using your virtual wallet.  Although we’re fairly Internet savvy, it took the small village of the two tables on either side of us with people who could have been our grandchildren to help us out.  Turns out both were on their way to Asheville, one for a wedding and one to see her brother, both first-timers in Asheville so we were able to fill them in on the “must” things to do there.  I would like to believe there is a fundamental goodness which will finally prevail.  This little incident at the airport reinforced that hope, but the rest of the news is dreadful. 


We did it all in NYC in six days, other than catching a Yankees game.  Maybe next time!