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Pinter by Sands by nancy cohen-koan

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ImageMy first memory of Howard Pinter was sitting next to Sandy Mandel in a London theater and watching her head bounce up and down on her long neck during the Birthday Party. It was the same head that struggled to stay erect in front of the Trevi Fountain and at the opera at the Baths of Caracalla. We were young, it was our first trip to Europe and we hadn’t gotten much rest. And Pinter was probably way too sophisticated for our backpacking sensibilities. A few years later, I was living in London in a flat with a guy who was great friends with the actress Vivian Merchant and was regaled with gruesome stories about her difficult marriage to Pinter. But I still wasn’t tackling his material. In fact, it took me a long time to appreciate his nuanced style and even then I had to get over the fact that  I read  he hated Americans  — for the government’s policies…unfair, considering  how Thatcher’s actions in Grenada, had little effect on my lifelong Anglophilia.

But a few years back I participated in a workshop at Cuny with Harry Burton that dealt with Pinter’s work with actors and my respect and admiration was deepened. And It was revived last night at a one man show at The Irish Rep called a Celebration of Harold Pinter, directed by John Malkovich and starring Julian Sands. Sands  is truly a romantic actor… I loved him in Impromptu and A Room With A View, and have assiduously avoided seeing him in things like Warshlock . My gut feeling is that his comedic skills have yet to be exploited, though in this show, his improvisatory moments are very funny as well as his vulnerability.

Clearly Sands loves Pinter’s poetry and does it proud. When he is Pinter, his voice lowers to a gruffy basso and brings the outspoken man right back to life. Celebration covers many aspects of Pinter’s career, personality, politics and his very committed relationship to author Lady Antonia Fraser.  Sands  is so tight with Pinter that he was asked to read at the funeral ceremony in 2008, after Pinter succumbed to cancer. It is this kind of intimacy, both with the man and the material,  that Mr. Sands brings to this show. Death is ever present in this show and Sands begins with a short poem that is equally cool and warm in its scope. Pinter emotionally takes no prisoners…his  bold, raw style wouldn’t support Broadway, but had its birth in a country where art has been traditionally more supported.  It is such a pleasure to have a better understanding on “the curse of the Pinter pauses” and beats in his writing… I would like a sequel…. Perhaps with even more silence to fully take in everything that he says.  Generously, Mr. Sands mentioned that Rufus Sewell will be playing Pinter in the West End next year.  Hopefully, Mr. Sands will carry on with this show as he has done since 2011.

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Written by nancykoan

November 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Renee Taylor on Dieting and Other Habits

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reneeRenee Taylor has had the life I might have had if my acting career had been laced with the brio her personality; my father had been more of a gambler instead of a Sunday craps shooter and my mother had encouraged instead of competed with me when singing  Clair de Lune at the piano. With the completely opposite set of life circumstances, Renee Taylor pushed through her Bklyn/Bronx Wexler family of origin and in fact used it and its effect on her to become the charming, humorous comedienne and writer that she still is today.

Her new one woman show, My Life On A Diet ( based on her book  My Life on a Diet: Confessions of a Hollywood Diet Junkie) at Theatre at St Clement’s written with husband, and creative partner for 53 years, Joe Bologna, is sheer delight. When she first appears on Harry Feiner’s stage set which resembles a 99- cent store version of Joan Rivers’ rococo living room, you wouldn’t be so far off if you thought it was Dame Edna Everage.  Taylor is a sturdy eighty- something with if not little girl voice, a soft spoken New Yorkease, that compels you to move forward in your chair so as not to miss a moment of her story craft and superb comic timing.

Sitting comfortably at her desk, Ms. Taylor starts to recount the diets of her life, slicing them into her yearnings for stardom, her mostly good and some bad luck and her commitment to being full alive. The visual projections of her diets and of her family and friends help open the story of her life. We hear about her endless auditions, Marilyn Monroe’s insecurities, Lee at the Studio, and a myriad of survival jobs, one becoming the signature piece which helped launch her television career. Taylor is an inventive creature with a deep ability to laugh and respect herself at the same time. When she can’t brag personally, she mentions people who admired her work, like Jack Paar, Perry Como and Barbara Streisand and all of America who watched her as Fran Drescher’s mom on The Nanny. Every story leads back to her life- long fat issues and her attempts at resolving the problem with ideas as bizarre as drinking only Cristal champagne or abstaining from everything except autumn air.

Her husband Joe Bolgona died in 2017. Together they wrote and acted in wonderful comedies like Lovers and Other Strangers. By her re-telling of their sweet courtship, they surely were really Made For Each Other.

Clearly, Ms.Taylor doesn’t have to prove a thing. She’s already there. But she is such a gifted artist with a great willingness to share her infectious spirit. Altogether, this makes the story of a disappearing show biz world and a young woman’s dream to be part of it, a must for anyone who wants to think back on the past and laugh in the present.

 

Written by nancykoan

July 22, 2018 at 3:09 am

It’s More Than Just about Getting High ..The Mountain

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High wire walker over canyon - courtesy of Greenwich EntertainmentYou ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.

This poem Green Mountain by Li Bai  so simply describes the bond we feel when in the presence of a mountain. I grew up in Pennsylvania surrounded by The Seven Mountain range and I suppose took for granted that feeling of protection mixed with awe that was right outside my kitchen window.

Because I miss mountains and their majesty, I was drawn to the Australian film The Mountain. In many ways The Mountain is a beautifully filmed tone poem that moves the spirit with soaring cinematography. Director of the award- winning film The Sherpa Jennifer Peedom, was commissioned to make this film, with the intention of having it scored by The Australian Chamber Orchestra. It’s musically sound and works well, with Willem Dafoe’s narration guiding throughout.

The opening shot of a man scaling an unnamed mountain with what seems like no equipment is so daring… one could ask where do we go from here? But we go to many places, including the history of mountaineering, expedition footage and high- risk sports. I have never seen anything like this before; the walk on rope hung high between mountains suddenly puts the stroll of the great Philippe Petit at the World Trade Center in a very different zone.

All of the aerial shots are amazing, many shot with drones, and cinematographer and climber Renan Ozturk, who worked with Peedam on Sherpa, is a master.

Following the screening, I chatted to a skiier who had seen a lot of the sport footage before. Apparently, they had to cull from some of the world’s finest mountain material in order to cover many locales and for it to work with the music. I doubt many people will mind seeing these exquisite visuals over and over.

The philosophy for this film came from the Robert Macfarlane’s book Mountains of the Mind. He has a reverence for nature and her power. Man’s attempts at conquering the mountain, often seem foolhardy, but even the risk of falling won’t stop men from trying to reach the peak.

I wish Peedam had spent a little more time on the exploitation of the natural world by commercial outfits, but understandably the film was not to be a political endeavor.  She spoke by skype at a Q&A and is down to earth and caring.

The Mountain is a worthwhile experience. You feel this film, not just watch it.

Written by nancykoan

May 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm

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Boys Will BE Boys…Pity

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Last night I was in the both illuminating and uncomfortable position of witnessing a grownup professional man trying to outdo, compete and basically belittle a female from the same professional group.  It was misogyny in action.  As I stood watching this architect “John” carry on, it reminded me of an old English film,  where the elitist school master is trying to shame a female student who dares to want to study math.

The episode occurred at an event I happened upon at my local center of good activity,  St. Mark’s Church. It was a reception for The Grassroots Preservation Awards, honoring  people involved with the preservation of New York buildings. After my dog Darling received her usual round of accolades for complete cuteness, I started to chat with an architect, Ronnette Riley. Our conversation covered everything from Malcolm McLaren, about whom I made a film to 9/11 conspiracies. She is feisty, smart as a licorice whip and a lot of fun. She was the first woman from her family of fireman and investigators to go to college. She graduated Berkeley and Harvard Graduate School of Design and worked for Philip Johnson. She has run her 100% woman owned architecture firm for many years doing a wide range of projects; to say that her trajectory is long and full of substance is saying too little.

“John’s” argument with her was his insisting that she didn’t believe in preservation work. According to Ronnette, “I’ve had 15 preservation projects, compared to his five.” One of her  successes is the Restoration Hardware Building on lower Broadway where she maintained the beautiful white facade, among other details.

Apparently, John had had a dust off with her in the past about this subject and took the opportunity at this lovely event to go at it again. Well, Ronnette is no lily and gave as good as she got. But I felt like I had fallen into a time warp what with this smug, tweedy, too old to act like a school boy fart behaving in a way I had believed was a a thing of the past. Perhaps he represents the last vestiges of a dying breed, but probably not.

Still, kudos to the for their honors. Karen Ansis  received the Mickey Murphy Lifetime Achievement Award for her work with Landmarks Conservancy and honors were given to  Bowery Boys, George Janes,  Susan Olsen and Senator Brad Holyman.

Ok, now I remember the film this reminded me. It was the footage of the great The  Germaine Greer- Norman Mailer debate.  Bullies must be resisted.

 

Written by nancykoan

April 26, 2018 at 1:38 am

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ME TOO and Some Other Stuff

 

 

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My memories of Harvey Weinstein from my brief employ at Miramax were first, eating delicious cookies and rugalach brought by his mother from a bakery in Queens. These were on tap in the hip building where the higher level folks worked. I would occasionally sneak over to see a friend, nab dessert and listen to the screams. Not really…but the tension in that office was palpable.

One time I did procure a meeting with a lower chieftain to discuss my desire to move from the print shipping department to something a little more creative in that building. I recall an employee with a more interesting job than mine sitting at the booth next to me talking to a somewhat higher chieftain. Her skirt was hiked up almost like hot pants; he seemed intrigued and I briefly considered dressing more inappropriately for future interviews. I didn’t get them.

 

In the time there, I only had one conversation with Harvey. Both of us grew up in movie theatres, my grandfather and father’s in Pennsylvania; his upstate New York. I had hoped that we’d share memories of this bizarre type of babysitter, but he was too busy building an empire.

When all of the news broke out, I was surprised as I had never heard anything about the sexual issues, only the crudeness and tantrums. It is very sad indeed and brought to mind my innocent days of auditioning as an actress. Once while going to a reading for a horror film, I was asked to pull my pants down so that the producer could see how I ‘shaped’ up. I thought fast, and told him I had my period and would prefer to stay dressed. He accepted that excuse but insisted that I read the scene while stretched out on a couch and directed me to ‘move sensually’ while he fed me the lines, sitting behind a big desk. Of course, afterwards, I felt like a first class shmuck…but I wasn’t union and all of us actors wanted to build credits.

 

Then there was the time I went for a ‘pay for singing classes’ waitress job. The place was a very fancy hotel with promises of big tips. The big boss, who made Harvey Weinstein look like George Clooney, wanted to see how I looked in a tighter blouse. I wasn’t born yesterday and thought it was fishy, but like the good girl I was trained to be, went back to his office wearing a stretchy tight shirt that was almost see-through. It was only then that I was informed that the job included after hour work with the male diners and that a practice session with the boss was required.

 

Sometimes these guys worked in packs. I showed up for a play audition and when told it had already been cast, was sent up to another floor where the man was looking for people for print work. I found myself in a fancy office apartment with a producer who was in a rush for his meeting with Dolly Parton, but had enough time to consider me for a hands commercial. After showing him my paws, he realized that I could be better for something else and insisted I try on a kimono while reading some copy about frozen food. For this, I studied with Shelley Winters?

 

But it’s not only actresses who are tortured in this way. I was fired from a job at NBC after only three days. I had been hired to work as an assistant to a unit manager in the news department. I recall that the man was balding and not funny. He kept calling me short stuff and it just didn’t feel right. I had quit another job for this job and had just applied for my dream apartment using NBC as my proof of employment. In only three days I was fired; suddenly unemployed and looking like a liar to the new landlord. My then boyfriend, heroic and as shocked as myself, marched up to the HR Department to inquire as to what I could have done so wrong in only three days. He was told outright, as the HR lady read my file, “that the boss said I wasn’t bouncy enough.’ Now I know what that means in terms of body language, but I also think he felt I didn’t bounce back and laugh each time he tried to put me down. Many years later, my name was part of the massive lawsuit female employees had against NBC.

Just to cut out  some of the stress of the last week, I started calling my little doggy Hervy Weinstein, cause she humps my leg whether I want it or not. But she knows she’ll get a bath, whether she wants it or not.

Mr. Weinstein is part of a long history of rude men who misuse power. It is hard to understand them without understanding their childhoods and even then, there may be no answers. Perhaps Harvey never got bathed or was warmly touched as a child. Perhaps he grew up like me, seeing life projected so large that normal life seems a bit unreal and he chose the role of the last tycoon. Or maybe he’s simply a sociopath who can’t be redeemed.

 

Luckily, there are courageous women who recognize that the shame is not theirs to own, but that of the predator. Lucky, that there are men who are as appalled by this type of behavior as women. It doesn’t matter whether these incidents happen in a movie studio or a war torn country; they dehumanize all the participants. It is up to all of us to recognize how quickly a power imbalance can erode our higher instincts and stop it in its tracks, shout about it to each other and seek help if the impulse doesn’t stop.

Written by nancykoan

October 17, 2017 at 11:55 pm

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Joan Didion — The Center Will Not Hold

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griffin

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

10/14/2017 12:57 am ET

The first film I saw at the Woodstock Film Festival is actually a film I could watch on Netflix as it’s release date is October 27. But I’m pleased that I didn’t wait. …, a documentary about the writer Joan Didion, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew, director and actor, Griffin Dunne is very special.

 

We start out learning something about Ms. Didion’s character through her ancestors… a group of pioneers who traveled with the Donner family; but instead of taking the deadly pass, separated and took the long way around to the West and survived. Ms. Didion is a real survivor too … she survived living in LA during the late sixties’ violence and the Charles Manson era. She survives the loss of her beloved husband and writing partner John Gregory Dunne and not much later, her only daughter Quintana.

She writes constantly throughout all these life passages, not only to not only report on events, but to reach a deeper understanding for herself of how she feels about them. New journalism.

 

The film shows her early successes with magazine articles and later books like The Year of Magical Thinking and Play it as it Lays, and film scripts. She has a point of view that is very her, very unique. We watch her mental processes as she tries to make sense of uneasy connections… how when Roman Polanski, once spilling red wine on her dress , corresponds to later in life finding herself writing about Linda Kasabian (one of Charles Manson’s girls) and then helping her buy a dress for court.

Ms. Didion has a rich mind, able to both detach as a journalist and at the same time create beautiful, sultry sentences as an essayist.

 

Mr. Dunne, so well liked in Werewolves in London has directed other films before, but this film has a mature resonance. He loves his aunt, but is willing to go underneath and probe around a bit. The ‘dark’ side of the Irish is all throughout this film. Ms. Didion shows us by her example how not to be devoured by these challenging aspects of life, love and loss. This is as true for the audience as it may be for Mr. Dunne, who lost his own sister in a well publicized and violent circumstance.

 

There is plenty of humor in the film, too; Calvin Trillin’s anecdotes really lighten things up and the archival footage, thoughtful and plentiful, takes us through the many stages of Didion’s life in New York and California. Music is used very well and Mr. Dunne’s narration never overwhelms the story but keeps it all nicely in the family.

Written by nancykoan

October 14, 2017 at 5:08 am

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THE VENERABLE W…evil draped in saffron

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the-venerable-w

Written by nancykoan

October 12, 2017 at 1:06 am

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They Promised Her the Moon

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jerriecobb

 

When they go low, we go high,” are words that could have easily been spoken by Jerrie Cobb (Amanda Quaid) in Laurel Ollstein’s new play They Promised her The Moon.  The play tells the relatively unknown story of mid- Western Cobb, a girl with a speech defect and a critical mother, but a dream that proved stronger than her limitations.

Cobb’s dad (John Leonard Thompson) was a pilot and after flying with him at age ten, Cobb was hooked. With his encouragement, she became pro and broke records in speed, distance and absolute altitude. Still, with so much discrimination against women pilots, she struggled to find work. When famed pilot Jackie Cochran, (Andrus Nichols), considered top female aviator in the world, created the Mercury 13 program to train female astronauts, Cobb’s luck changed. She out tested everyone including her male colleagues in the Mercury 7 program, but was not permitted to go up because women were not considered The Right Stuff.  John Glenn testified against hiring women for the space program and so Russia got there first with a lesser qualified Valentina Tereshkova.

This story of strength and resilience is beautifully told in this insightful and humorous play. Cobb had to compete not only against men but her own gender; Cochran, at fifty-five was too old to be an astronaut and consciously worked against Cobb’s success. She is brittle and tough, but we understand what she had to fight against, too.

The performances are all top notch, some playing several characters.  John Leonard Thompson as Cobb’s pilot father and Congressman is a quiet sensitive man and wholly believable as a father who can see a future in his daughter’s eyes.  Edmund Lewis, Polly Mckie and John Russell are all terrific with a wide range.

Amanda Quaid, our pilot hero, who discovers romantic love but chucks it for the skies, is so good at bringing an awkward young woman into existence in front of our eyes. When her career takes the obvious fall it must from not being permitted to become an astronaut, she doesn’t give up…she just moves…to the Amazon where she works with tribes and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.

Ms. Ollstein, an original member of Actors’ Gang in LA, has a great ear for real talk and imbues the story with sensitivity and humor.

As directed by Producing and Artistic Director of the Miranda Company, Valentina Fratti brings this too little known story beautifully to life. Graham Kindred’s set and lighting design is simply perfect.

Hopefully, this wonderful show, having run its course at St. Clement’s will soon find a new home. It deserves it.

Written by nancykoan

June 2, 2017 at 8:52 pm