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Michael Hollinger
The Arden Theater
Sept 15 –Nov. 7, 2010

In his seventh world premiere for the Arden, Michael Hollinger probes deeply and quietly into the mysteries of love and writing. Ghost-Writer, Hollinger’s new play is also a gift to his wife Meghan Bellwoar, who returns the gift with an accomplished and moving performance.
Bellwoar plays Myra Babbage, devoted secretary to novelist Franklin Woolsey, a role that demands her active presence on stage for Ghost-Writer’s entire ninety minutes. Myra is interviewed by an unseen interlocutor to determine if she is channeling or mimicking the words of the novelist who died in July with a manuscript near completion. It is November, 1919, in Manhattan. Myra insists she is not writing “only typing” and that she doesn’t believe in ghosts. “What is a ghost… a vivid memory?”

Douglas Rees as Mr. Woolsey also remains on stage throughout Ghost-Writer. He has less to say but the subtleties of gesture and inflection he employs convey meaning and express a period steeped in restraint. Bellwoar and Rees are very compatible. Bellwoar catches the complexities of a young woman of the last century and the wit, irritation and lively passion. Hollinger catches the tenor of language steeped in psychological nuance, wit and word play. Language to be savored for its quiet explosions.

The interpretation is beautiful in its movement from obsession to understanding into grief. Woolsey, upright, self-critical, belatedly unlocks forbidden feelings for his amanuensis. He has come to rely on Myra’s punctilious punctuation nor can the words come without the sound of her typewriting on only her instrument. She has been “tamed” of her jiggling, she reveals, attending over the years to his relaxed attentiveness to inspiration.

Theirs is a marriage of true minds. Since he is married, there are strictures. Once they dance, once he unburdens his heart then freezes. “We kissed and kissed,” Myra tells the interviewer. Then: clarifies “We would have kissed.” This is a true romantic.

Patricia Hodges as the overlooked Mrs. Woolsey appears and sounds imperious, vain, touchingly ignored, in short, ideal for the part but opening night her swift delivery and zig-zag movements were distracting and caricatured. She may need time to relax in the role. Mrs. Woolsey is given some of the play’s sharpest insights.

And if the words aren’t his? Myra alone with Mrs. Woolsey, struggles with this question.
“Well, then it’s just you alone in a room,” Mrs. Woolsey says. That’s called being a writer.
Ghost-Writer at the Arden through Nov. 7.


Written by Lesley Valdes

September 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Beckett’s First Love: Bravo Live Arts

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Live Arts….
First Love by Samuel Beckett
Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Sept. 3-5, 2010

Conor Lovett, of The Gare (pronounce: Gair) St. Lazare Players, Ireland, gave a brilliantly devastating depiction of Samuel Beckett’s rarely seen First Love opening weekend of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. The work, from 1946, (but not published in 1971*) is so bleakly comic, the audience howled aloud. Artistic director Judy Hegearty-Lovett directed. In First Love, Lovett, portrays a man who hangs out in cemeteries and associates his marriage with the death of his father. Lovett, shaved head, poker face and short jacket immediately triggers a misunderstood, lost soul – ah, a Beckett man.

Lovett’s played most of them. He’s considered an imminent interpreter. (The performance told why.) The second half of the intermission-less First Love could have you gasping if you’re a woman who has loved a damaged man though there is no physical violence. The writing though uneven holds quirks and terrors. Love and freedom, this play asks: Are both possible?

*Why did the playwright wait so long? Speculation Beckett wanted to protect an acquaintance. There are two in this one-man play. The question that will stick once you’ve seen First Love. Which one.

Written by Lesley Valdes

September 8, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Bedside Table: Cezanne’s Quarry

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Cezanne's Quarry (Pegasus Books) by Barbara Corrado Pope

Who can be without a stack. Lighter reading this month: a first novel by Barbara Corrado Pope. A mystery involving Paul Cezanne and Emil Zola (who did write a novel inspired by his artist friend). The fabrications: an English geologist who follows the theories of Darwin and of Sir Charles Lyell, the Scotsman whose theories greatly influenced Darwin. A French beauty with a beautiful mind supports the Englishman. The French beauty is the victim. She and her scientist-Significant-Other hold salons to discuss the new-and-controversial theories.

Corrado- Pope teaches gender studies at the University of Oregon. Her love story is the spider in the web of mid-19th French tumult. The Catholic Church battling Science; women treated as chattel and worse. Though the whodunnit of Cezanne’s Quarry is predictable, the facts of life for females of any status were exceedingly grim; the author’s grasp of these is significant. It is always pleasant to gain a slight awareness of artist’s life, and Cezanne’s granddaughter, has endorsed the first novel, which is set in Aixe en Provence of the Midi. Corrado-Pope shows affection for her characters, some promise developing dialogue, but the plot is forced.

March 25, she will discuss Cezanne’s Quarry at The Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. Alliance Francais sponsors. There will be a Provencal buffet.

Reservations: 215- 735-5283
$15 for members of the Alliance or the Barnes Foundation. Non-members: $25.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 22, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Posted in 1, Good Reads

American Austen

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American Austen
The Forgotten Writing of Agnes Repplier
Edited by John Lukacs
ISI Books, Wilmington, DE

Hurry over to Atlantic Books on South Street and see if you can pick up the last of these books half price. Miss Repplier, who nailed Philadelphia, The Place and its People, (1898) who knew our history better than anybody from the time of King George III, to well, to her death in 1950 (she was born 1855.) Hard to believe now but for a time, Repplier (pronounce with the final “R”) was on a par with Edith Wharton and Amy Lowell for her witing even though her writing was in a minor mode, her genre was the familiar essay, the succinct piece usually on literature or a familiar topic.

“My niche is small,” she said, “but I made it myself – in Philadelphia.”

The Atlantic Monthly published her for decades. She wrote thousands of essays, I’ve lost count at 8 books, which are out of print but lovely to hold in the hand, not very costly and available through those out=of-print sources online. Essays were her great strength. (Also biographies of Catholic saints which do not appeal to this writer but have not been carefully gone through so it seems unfair to judge here.)
Edmund Gosse, and other leading lights of the day, greatly respected her. So did H.H. Furness, Philadelphia’s great Shakespeare scholar.
She was not a pushy woman but she knew her own worth and her wit in and on this city appears unparalleled. The choices Lukacs has made in American Austen will prove some of these points.

In the meantime, let me add from my memory stock (having gone through the Repplier Letters available at the Rare Book Room at the University of Pennsylvania Library): Repplier was the person who brought a young Henry James to make his first (and I believe only) appearance in Philadelphia. James’s talk did not go particularly well. If, H.H. Furness is to be believed, Miss Repplier’s introduction was livelier.

American Austin should be available online. The website: Check it out you care about literature, wit, style. The first essay is a reprint from Lukacs’s Patricians and Philistines: Philadelphians: 1900-1950., welcome addition to any library shelf of Philadelphiana.
American Austin cover authors you haven’t read or thought about. Hazlett! Fielding, Strachey! not to mention scintillating thoughts on yes, Jane Austin. “How the Quaker City Spent its Money” and “The Promise of the Bell” are but two essays on our fair and not-so city.

Repplier spent her entire life in this city, one address was at Clinton and 9th Streets, I have passed many times, wondering where she had her desk, the one where sat her beloved sphinx like cat. Her best friend from childhood, Elizabeth, who married the painter Pennell, lived down the street on Pine, another block away the Owen Wisters, he of ” The Virginian.” It warms me to think that her recipe collection began with this one:
Oyster stew.

Enough said: I am an enthusiast.
Doubtless I shall be add and subtract to this post.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Jane Austin’s secret source

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Out of her young, questioning self, came the grave certainty that the family was the source of art, just as every novel is the fate of a child.

It might be argued that all literature is ultimately about family, the creation of structures – drama, poetry, fiction –
that reflect our immediate and randomly assigned circle of others –
what families do to us and how they can be re-imagined or transcended.

Carol Shields on
Jane Austin
(*Penguin Lives, copyright 2001)

This series is an amazing feat of publishing. Best minds compressing original thought on writers you wouldn’t think there would be anything left to say. Shields on Austin so taut, it sent me to her own work. Just finishing up the superb: Stone Diaries, which some time ago won the Pulitzer, and is a very fine, swift read, and yes, it spins the circle of family.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Golden Age Revisited; adds performance Feb. 14

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Note: Performance Added Sunday February 14, 7:30 to make up for cancellations due to Snow!

photo from the Philadelphia Theatre Company world premiere


Written by Lesley Valdes

February 9, 2010 at 3:56 am

The Poet’s House

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Photos: L. J.Valdes

Here is Elizabeth Bishop’s house. The one she rented in Key West.
Someone else rents it now.
It sits across from the very, very run-down cemetery.

On the gate the sign reads: Should we have stayed at home? Wherever that is.
Impossible not to think of her One Art.
Lost continents, homes.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm