Assorted Theatre Here and There

NB: If you live in the greater NYC area, read to the end for news of a Westchester show!

It is staggeringly impressive how you can turn a common or garden boozer into a posh venue when you spend a million pounds sterling. To experience this phenomenon I recommend The White Bear in Kennington, London, UK. What was a black box theatre downstairs is now a superior black box theatre upstairs. Downstairs you can get very good fish & chips and the back of the place has been knocked through and made into a bit of upmarket gentrification complete with micro-brewery ales.

We had just got off the plane from New York and went that evening to see the last night of Harry and Meghan – the fact that my old friend and sometime fellow-student, Michael Kingsbury, has run the place for the past 40 years, and done much to elevate the cause of interesting theatre on the London fringe was a motivating factor. A talented quartet delivering sketch comedy style satire. – Packed!

That was Saturday

On Monday we saw The Hills of California, the latest play from Jez Butterworth. It bears all the hallmarks of his work – snappy dialogue with mythological implications and references, tense drama, and high production values.

A powerhouse performance from Laura Donelly – I mean POWERHOUSE – I knew her in The Ferryman – and here she gives whole other dimensions in her work – quite amazingly impressive – not sure if it’s coming to Broadway.

That was Monday

On Wednesday we saw Uncle Vanya at The Orange Tree in Richmond. Very interesting from all sorts of point of view. Directed by the 80 year old Trevor Nunn, late of the RSC, the National and of course Cats which made him rich.

James Lance ( a very fine actor) in the title role was off, and we were told there would be a substitute who had almost no rehearsal and would be carrying the script.

Sadly I cannot tell you the name of this heroic actor. Not only did he not carry the script, his performance was superb. As was the whole production. All the Chekhov elements were there: pathos, bathos – texture, passion, terminal boredom, frustrated desire, and above all humor.

A young man who could have been playing Trofimov (the eternal student) in The Cherry Orchard was seated next to Trish. He admonished us for laughing. Not a surprise to be informed that he had a PHD in Theatre.

Where do you start with such people?

So we fled to Paris

There was an interlude with zero theatre – Rodin, Monet, The Tuileries –

Well we did go to the ballet one night, Don Quixote was the show – I must honestly confess that I had no idea of the story (and I have been in Man of La Mancha in Beijing), but it was of course ravishing on the eye, and breathtaking when you consider what some people can do with their bodies.

Another interlude on the south coast…

The lovely Polly Adams and family and a rogue hot water bottle.

Meanwhile in London …

Colin McPhillamy, Michael Shaw, Matilda Thorpe, Richard Fallon, Roy Drinkwater

Actors – lunch, drinks, coffee … chat

With David Verrey

… As above with Mark Carey

And then … The Picture of Dorian Grey at the Haymarket.

Again, another show with multiple points of interest. First off: it is a solo performance by Sarah Snook (you’ve seen her in Succession), produced initially in Sydney Australia. A staggering tour de force with some very inventive tech. If you are an actor reading this, I highly recommend it from a professional research and development point of view. The show is slated to come to Broadway.

Which brings me to episode 2 in My Guest Today.

Amelia Campbell and Anthony Akin talk to me about the new play What Keeps Us Going by Barbara Dana, to be directed by Austin Pendleton. The cast includes Amelia and Tony, Tim Jerome, and Karen Ziemba – Tony nominations abound!

The play opens May 24th and plays until June 9th at the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls in Upper Westchester. Run do not walk to get tickets!


Ever Seen a Ghost?



I’m sorry to have to announce a cancellation.

Unfortunately my friend, host and producer Mary Carey has had a bereavement and must attend a family funeral on the 27th April.

The world premiere of AstroBard is canceled.

AstroBard – Cancelled

This was to be a singular gig, as my chum David Verrey (catch him in Napoleon) put it: “to attend the gathering of a knot of astro-literati in a Cotswolds village hall to see a woo-woo presentation given by a Briton, resident in New York … well, where else can you get that?”

And so given the, of necessity, somewhat homespun publicity on this one, I am circulating this post far and widely.

Following the theme of the show, Mark and I have agreed (although of course one wishes it were in happier circumstances) that this does distantly reference the old gag:

Psychic Fair 

Cancelled Due 

To Unforeseen Circumstances

This is really a postponement, AstroBard will take the stage at a later date.

Meanwhile …

I am pleased to announce the first in my occasional series, “My Guest Today”. The idea of this show is simple: whenever I meet someone interesting I ask them to have a chatty half hour with me at the local television station.

This is an interview with David Bruson, a man with a unique connection to an Australian hero, the late great Barry Humphries.

Available here

I admit to a certain over-loquacity on my part as the interviewer – this totally a result of a) being over-excited in the moment, and b) my life-long admiration for and fascination with Barry’s astonishing life and work.

Dame Edna Everage

My journey into awareness of Australia and what it meant to me began on or about April 1st 1972. 

I had an Australian Godfather (the best of godfathers) living in London, but being British born myself and in 1972 a mass of the identity chaos known as ‘a teenager’, I really had no idea how the Aussie piece fitted my personal jig-saw.

I was fifteen when I first went to Australia on a Qantas airplane. I remember the flight vividly. It was overbooked and in the Manila transit lounge in the Philippines passengers were offered money and three nights accommodation if they would take a later flight. I was tempted, but in pre-internet days had no way to communicate with my Australian relatives waiting to meet me in Sydney.

8 months in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with a hugely welcoming aunt, uncle, a grandmother, a couple of younger cousins, and some extended family, the time including a sojourn at North Sydney Boys high school, and a spell in the North Shore hospital following a dose of viral meningitis visited on me during a locust storm in the bush, and I really did wonder who the hell I was.

I could have stayed in Australia at that point and about 49% of me wanted to. But the controlling 51% was adamant to consolidate the remnants of my British I.D. and so I returned to London to complete the confused teen years in that capital.

Shortly after I got back to England, my godfather, Collin Bates (AKA Tucker Bates – a superb jazz pianist) introduced me to an LP of Sandy Stone, and without trying I learned every word of the long monologue. It would be a few years before I realized that this was a character created by Barry Humphries.

Barry Humphries on his 87th birthday

So I am pleased to introduce you to my occasional chat show, “My Guest Today”. As I said above, David Bruson is someone who knew Barry Humphries intimately and worked closely with him for several years, becoming part of Barry’s showbiz family.

I think the conversation is a bit of an exploration of the cultural crossroads where Britain, the USA and Australia meet (and don’t) through the lens of contact with one of the great comic geniuses of the 20th and 21st centuries.

If Barry Humphries is new to you, you are likely familiar with one of his creations: Dame Edna Everage or Sir Les Patterson or Sandy Stone? This great Australian was lately honored with a state funeral in Sydney.

Sir Les Patterson

World Premiere

This notice goes to far flung places. Your blogger understands that you may not be able to make it to Ilmington, UK on the night. Maybe you know someone who would enjoy AstroBard?


What’s New in Pleasantville?

Pleasantville Astrology opens for business on February 1st 2024. And we are running an Opening Special.

Pleasantville is a very fine town in Westchester, north of New York City. It has a great transport link in the shape of the Metro North (Harlem Line) railway and it takes a manageable fifty minutes to get to Grand Central. So is it a dormitory town for commuters working in the city? Only up to a point.

The town of Pleasantville links to the great NYC, but it has its own vibe, its own virtues. The Jacob Burns Film Center is a flagship point of focus. The Burns has a creative programming policy, they show the most interesting of the latest commercial releases and they combine that with quasi-obscure indie movies from international sources. There are quiet dramas, niche documentaries, quirky comedies, and if you’re a member you get free popcorn on a Wednesday.

It could have gone another way … The property now occupied by the Burns was being eyed by a chain clothing store, and the word is that the popular vote would have gone that way, but a single elected representative stuck out and stuck up for film art. The town is better for it. Because it’s a destination. 

Wheeler Avenue has one of every kind of restaurant; Asian fusion (Actually 2 of them), a Pizza place, one of three in the wider municipality with one more on the way; a couple of delis, a trattoria, a micro brewery, a steak house, a fish and chip shop (alas now closed; I cried; it’s a British thing), and more delis sprinkled around corners, a sushi place, a Southern kitchen, an unusual meld of French and Indian (You don’t believe it? Catch a train up here and I’ll show you). And you can get tacos and take-out. But there’s more.

Of the seven emporiums selling alcoholic refreshment there is one advanced establishment which serves Irish Whiskey aged in Guinness casks (think of it!?!).

And there are five denominations amongst the churches; Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopalian, plus a synagogue, oh six if you count the Korean place now closed which has turned its grounds into a community garden and a place to do al fresco yoga in the summer. At the Presbyterian church they host a FREE chamber music performance from top-notch musicians, four times a year.

There are three or four dry cleaners, a gym, two nail salons and a car dealership. But there are only three national chains (Dunkin’, Starbucks, 711 ) and they nestle a real live coffee shop where you can borrow a book, or take it home, or leave one for someone else. There is a farmer’s market every week. Fresh fish, all kinds of produce, cheeses to sample on friendly plates, bakers, Tibetan steamed dumplings, grass fed beef. There is a vegan food-to-go spot too, where you can get wheatgrass shots and an excellent mulligatawny soup. They have a bicycle shop here, and there are dentists and psychologists should you need them.

Pleasantville Community Television produces an eclectic mix of local small screen stuff. There’s a swimming pool. And don’t forget the Norman Rockwell type diner, glistening in chrome and marble in Memorial Plaza. A car mechanic. An opportunity shop. There’s more … The Jean Jaques bakery in its third generation makes amazing quiches. You can buy lottery tickets at one of the four gas stations. I only ever do so when the jackpot reaches nine figures, after all, you’ve got to have a reason to cross the road.

We have a barber, three or four hairdressing salons, three vintners and a supermarket. There is a volunteer fire department, and every now and then someone over there sounds a base-note klaxon which is reminiscent of an elephant farting. (Not that I’ve ever heard an elephant fart.)

One town down the track, the aptly named Valhalla boasts a magnificently landscaped cemetery of several hundred acres with a pond and ornamental trees. Al Hirschfeld’s last remains rest there, as do Danny Kaye’s.

One town over towards the three thousand acres of semi-wild managed woodland that is the Rockefeller Preserve, is the village of Pocantico Hills where the Union Church (another denomination) boasts half a dozen stained glass windows by Chagall, with a Rose Window by Matisse. The Preserve itself was a sanctuary during the lockdown, Trish and I walked there in all seasons. At Pocantico there is an internationally known restaurant called Stone Barns – it wasn’t known to me, and when I asked if there was a table for two for lunch, the charming lady on the door told me that bookings for lunch were running on a six month waiting list.

There’s a great library.

The Pleasantville schools are sought after. Young and growing families move here from urban pressure-cooker situations where micro spaces go for late-capitalism macro rents.

There’s a theatre too. Arc Stages is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise funds to improve the space. Lots of town kids want to act, so there’s a youth group that supports them, and a couple of times a year the season is sprinkled with Equity members. Usually theatre economics means that the Equity shows are limited to two-handers, but they are balanced by the community shows which boast big casts.

There’s a yearly music festival and there’s a table tennis centre run by a man – the only one I’ve ever met – who designed his own degree at college – the puzzle master of the New York Times and beyond, Will Shortz.

Not far away in Chappaqua there is a walk in the woods that takes you up to a cascading waterfall. And there is a maze.

If ever there was a town which lives up to it’s name it’s this one. Pleasantville. I remember reading about Smallville where Superman came from (after Krypton) when I was a boy in England. Now I wonder if the super-hero equivalent  here is the lady who runs one of the last physical bookshops in the county. It’s just not the same buying online is it?

All kinds of goods and services are available here in Pleasantville. There was a dojo where I did T’ai Chi for a little while. Sadly it fell out of service in the lockdown. But the town is thriving. In Memorial Plaza, where flags wave, a recently completed new apartment building with 70 or more deluxe places with deluxe rents has just opened for business.

Parking is an issue. I mean in civic terms. At town meetings there is spirited discussion on parking. I say nothing. Except, if you want to do parking, try it in north-west London, UK. That’s parking.

And in the Black Cow coffee shop you’ll find copies of Natural Awakenings, the holistic listings directory. Holistic dentistry, divorce counseling, Reiki, nutrition, yoga, and more.

And amidst all this variety and life. Was there an astrologer available in Pleasantville? 

There is now. 

Take a look:

Pleasantville Astrology
42 Memorial Plaza, Suite 131, 2nd floor