… it has to be said that New York City is a bit of an assault on the senses. The decibels are way up. Take a taxi, a Lyft or and Uber and the state of the roads combined with the combat-driving technique that obtains in NYC and you get a thrill-ride, that shakes your corpuscles.
The late great Spike Milligan, the man who gave us The Goons, once wrote a satirical piece about traveling on the London Underground in the days when you could smoke cigarettes on busses, in cinemas, on planes and of course on tube trains “… and then to add to the commuters’ relief great clouds of stale cigarette smoke are pumped into the carriages…”
You know you’re in midtown Manhattan because of the distinctive sickly-sweet aroma of strong cannabis. Perhaps we’re all mildly stoned these days because of second hand smoke, and given the news maybe that’s a good thing. Aside from that, the improvised lean-to outdoor dining venues add exotic lights and have put 9th Avenue (where we are staying) into party mode.
Mainly though, it is excellent to be able to report that …
Among other shows To Kill A Mockingbird re-opened a couple of weeks ago at the Shubert Theatre on West 44th Street in New York City. And among other actors, that amazing Broadway veteran Patricia Conolly (full disclosure, she is known to me personally), seen here at the stage door about to go to work, resumes her role as Mrs Dubose.
I was at the dress rehearsal. It was a poignant occasion, 1700 people all in face masks, applauding nearly every entrance and giving the show an enthusiastic standing ovation.
And the show itself? One of the great classics of American literature seems more relevant now than ever.
They closed the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street on Thursday 12th March, most of Broadway and off-Broadway following within a few hours. On Friday March 20th Hangmen was closed officially.
All that seems like a whole different long-time-ago time now. But then that’s what two weeks (today) of self-isolation can do for you.
Actors are no strangers to being chucked out of work and sometimes suddenly too. But even the most seasoned of us has never been through this. Well that’s not quite true. As I mentioned in my previous post they closed the theatres down at the end of the 16th and in the early 17th centuries due to outbreaks of plague. And stories abound of touring companies being abandoned in far-flung parts because the manager absconded with the takings. That was in the bad old days before there was Equity, the actors’ union.
That’s me and Pete Bradbury up there in the top right. Below is a picture of me ready to step in to the role of Harry Wade, one of the Hangmen of the title. Posted here by kind permission of the production ‘cos sadly, although the chances were slim of you actually seeing me in the part, now the chances are zero.
We were getting into top gear, both working on Broadway shows, my wife Trish in the acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird – which had recently played to 18,000 high school kids in a sensational free performance at Madison Square Garden – and me in one that on paper at least had all the hit ingredients. This virus thing is more than inconvenient. Just saying.
That’s Patricia Conolly with a dressing room selfie of Mrs Dubose.
So what’s to be done in this in-between moment? Well you can always read a great novel (or write one). The only Tolstoy novel I’ve read is Resurrection, so yes, maybe I will have a go at War and Peace… Or Moby Dick… or one of the longer Dickens… The watercolors, the jig-saws, that coverlet you’ve always meant to crochet…
Talking of literature, P G Wodehouse can always be relied on for an amusing turn of phrase. Earlier today I came across this for example, “He uttered a sharp exclamation and gave a bound which, had he been a Russian dancer, would probably have caused the management to raise his salary.”
It may not look like much out of context and perhaps you had to be there, but it caused a lot of mirth in the Conolly/McPhillamy household to the extent that tense shoulders began to loosen and worry lines gave way to the creases of laughing smiles.
It does seem though that whatever you do, it really, really, REALLY is better not to go outside (except when deploying the newly minted social distancing for those essential journeys). So much so that this amusing little ballad – stop me if you’ve heard it before – seems now to be the summation of all wisdom currently available. (some vulgar language; viewer discretion advised).
I expect by now you’ve heard this one. But I’ll tell you again anyway…
Tweet: When Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague he wrote King Lear.
Answering Tweet: I don’t need that kind of pressure.
Tweet: And he did it without toilet paper.
Talking of Nostradamus. It seems unlikely that I’ll be doing any acting anytime soon, so now’s the time to focus on my side hustle – yes, that right ASTROLOGY. You can see my astrological two cents worth here, or check out the rest of the site at www.GalacticFragment.com, and if you’re interested, and I fully acknowledge that astro is not to everyone’s liking – sidebar here: at one time I was on a quest to have a sensible conversation with a scientist about why astrology works. I didn’t pursue this very far because the few scientists I met would start edging towards the door as soon as I mentioned the art of celestial interpretation. I never even got as far as asking them about the implications of the recently discovered sub-atomic particle, the neutrino.
Be that as it might, for the duration of the lock-down I’m offering a chart reading at the deeply discounted price of… pay-what-you-wish. If you’re interested email me at Colin@galacticfragment.com. Something different perhaps? After all, there’s only so much Netflix you can watch…
I hope you’re ok and that you have good supplies of rice, beans, and tinned fish – oh and loo roll!
That young actress Patricia Conolly is back on Broadway, she gave her first performance as Mrs Debose yesterday in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with the new cast at the Shubert Theatre with Ed Harris now playing Atticus Finch. Tickets are available at mind-numbing Broadway rates.
I haven’t seen the show yet, but judging by the audience response as I heard the last few lines of the play from the stage door, it sounds as if the price of admission might be justified. Understand that I say this as one whose first theatre-going set me back about 30 pence (50 cents), not the mortgage it takes today.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, or as we say here in NYC, Off-Broadway, I am rehearsing LONDON ASSURANCE at The Irish Rep. I’m playing Sir Harcourt Courtly a character descended from a long line of fops. There’s a puff piece here where you’ll also see a picture of the wonderful Rachel Pickup playing the unforgettably-named, Lady Gay Spanker.
That’s Simon Russell Beale in the 2010 National Theatre production.
Sir Harcourt Courtly has been personated by such giants of the stage as Donald Sinden in the legendary 1970, West End and Broadway production, and Brian Bedford 1997, Broadway and Stratford Ontario 2006.
I worked with Brian Bedford twice. He was a master at light comedy. One time I backed him into a corner and asked him to tell me his secrets, “Brian!” I said, “How do you do it!?! I have to know!” Brian gave it a little thought in that slightly puzzled quizzical manner which was one of his comic modes and finally said, modestly, “Well I don’t really know.” He did know of course, but in common with others of unusual ability, he knew it wasn’t a thing to be discussed. Why? Because that’s not what it’s for. And nothing lets the steam out of the bottle before the soufflé rises so surely as casual talk – so I had to be satisfied by just watching him. Which I did. But if Brian wishes to whisper any tips to me now that he’s playing the great stages in the sky, he’s more than welcome.
Tix at the Rep will set you back a manageable amount and they are available here. It’s a holiday show. We open December and play through January and I hear there’s a nice advance, so please book soon if you plan to come.
A big shout out to two colleagues of Irish Rep fame, Mick Mellamphy and Tim Ruddy, two of the lads who were also in THE SEAFARER with me, Andy Murray and Matthew Broderick at The Rep a couple of years back.
Matthew Broderick and Andy Murray in The Seafarer at the Irish Rep 2017
Mick performs and Tim directs THE CURE, tix here, and for the price of a couple of pints. It’s bare bones, storytelling magic at its best. Mick turns in a virtuoso performance with nothing much behind him in terms of set. Doesn’t matter, not needed.
Before we left we noticed that everyone we told we were going to Barcelona had something to say along the lines of: “Oh, it’s great, you’ll love it.” And now we can say that too.
There’s the oddly named Hotel REC, which I wholeheartedly recommend, is situated close by the Arc de Triomf. The entire staff is extra friendly and helpful, and the cool design of the building on an oddly shaped footprint includes a roof terrace with views over the old part of the city.
We did the Gaudi Basillica of course, we did the Picasso museum, which inspired a self-portrait.
We strolled in the parks and the wide tree-lined boulevards. One evening we went to the beach when I ordered a dish of langoustine, a challenging gastronomic adventure.
There was a seaside moment, this was L’escala. Could have stayed longer. Next time.
And a hotel we didn’t stay at with this perfect Romeo and Juliet balcony but, alas, too many flights of stairs, no elevator…
… and a hotel we did stay at:
And we took the occasional mysterious alleyway
We went to the confusingly named “City Hall” – which is neither a hall, nor in the least any kind of civic centre. It is in fact a tired old theatre reminiscent of some of the gloomier London fringe venues or some off-off Broadway space. There was long dimly lit corridor and starts to a basement. It was lit with very low level red-light and some sort of automatic, dancing follow spot and some pretty average sangria was included in the price of admission.
We were there to see “Authentic Flamenco”, and from the surroundings we did not expect much. But then…
The show lasted about an hour. Four men, two women including one guitarist. The other three men each sang, one danced, and everyone supplied percussive accompaniment with syncopated hand-clapping. They began slowly and softly, but then each of the dancers took a solo turn.
It was spectacular. Physically the dancing included gymnastics, ballet, tap, tango, and sculpture.
But emotionally… sudden flares of passion, equally sudden moments of poise and stillness. Contrasting and instant states of fierce pride, disdain, seduction, invitation, flirtation, challenge, devotion.
It was enthralling, hard to believe that human beings can move like that.
Oh and before all that we were sequestered for a week in an ancient villa in the hills where there was a terrace with views and a gathering of astrologers. More here.
On Saturday we received a phone call from Ciaran O’Reilly co-founder of The Irish Rep and excellent director. On Sunday Patricia Conolly, highly experienced actress of Broadway fame (who happens to be my wife), took over at very short notice in The Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of The Dead 1904. Patricia saw the show once and after a single brief rehearsal, joined the cast on Sunday in performance complete with period costume. I rushed from the end of my show catching a subway uptown and then a cab across Central Park and I made it just in time for curtain.
Patricia looked as though she was born to play the part, she excelled in the role, bringing all her own charm and quality to the event. The lady whom she replaced was temporarily indisposed and is expected to return to the show tomorrow.
The Dead 1904 is an adaptation of the short story by James Joyce. It is set in a house belonging to two sisters in Dublin who are holding a dinner party, there is, in truth, not much plot, not much story. The evening is a slice-of-life event, beautifully acted by a superb ensemble, and a fascinating insight into the time and place. What there is, is dancing and singing, and food.
Food. And Drink. Sherry before, wine during, port afterwards. And did I mention.. food?
The patrons mingle with the actors and are seated amongst them, while dinner is served. It is a splendid repast. Once again for emphasis: dinner with alcoholic beverages. Had this occurred merely 10 days ago, I would have joined the reveling theatre goers and done justice to the hospitality, but none of the above is any use to you if you happen to be in the middle of a juice fast. Oops!