Young NYCDOE Playwrights take to the stage

The Fellowship Plays offer inspiring work by young NYC Department of Education Playwrights. Review by Domenick Danza

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“The Fellowship Plays” is the final product of the partnership between the Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation and the NYC Department of Education.  Seven high school student developed their plays under the mentorship of professional playwrights.  These works were scheduled for a full production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre this past spring.  Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the partnering organizations shifted the final production to video, which is available for all to see on YouTube.  This is an encouraging program for these talented and dedicated young playwrights.  This video production is sure to inspire and entertain.

“Circumstances” is written by Marcus Rosario.  It is a powerful play about the pain caused by the judgements we make.  Mr. Rosario has fully developed his characters and given them each a journey of self-discovery.

Joel (played by Roland Lane) runs into an old friend from high school, Mike (played by Danté Jeanfelix) at a coffee shop.  Joel is embarrassed because Mike is extremely successful, so he makes up a story about his job and college experience.  When Joel accidentally spills coffee on Mike’s laptop, he has to face the harsh truth about himself… and so does Mike.

Roland Lane and Danté Jeanfelix have a strong connection.  The shared history of their characters is truthful, and their mutual jealousy and resentment are grounded in reality.

“The Love I Meant to Say” is a strong piece about the future of our society and standing up for what you believe in.  Playwright Helene Quinola skillfully crafted this deeply moving work.  She keeps the action moving and her audience fully engaged.

We are sometime far in the future, and the Collective is furiously fighting to keep the DOE (displays of emotion) pandemic under control.  Linus (played by Christian Mark Gibbs) is assigned to write an article about the Great War of 2325.  Astrid (played by DeAnna Supplee) is assisting him.  Linus shows signs of emotion, and it is Astrid’s job to report him to the Collective.  She struggles with this responsibility as she finds herself experiencing emotions of her own.

Christian Mark Gibbs and DeAnna Supplee make this futuristic piece about emotional control into a genuine story about two people longing to connect.  Helene Quinola has written a potent piece of theatre, and these actors bring it to a tender and heartbreaking conclusion.

“The Interview of Wyetta Sims” is written by Zanieka Nembhard, who succeeds at creating a brave and sympathetic main character.  Her story is heartwarming.  Ms. Nembhard has crafted flowing dialogue that gradually peels back to reveal the core of the story.

Wyetta Sims (played by Denise Manning) escaped a brutal attack that killed her husband and young son.  She has forgiven her attacker after only one short year.  This and other facts in Wyetta’s story have made her a target in the press.  She is being interviewed by Frank Web (played by Andrew Goebel) to clear up some of these rumors.  He brings out the truths of Wyetta’s interracial marriage.

Denise Manning is open an honest in this performance.  Andrew Goebel’s character pushes her to get to the full story.  They have a natural chemistry and timing.

“Snowed In” by Katherine Sciortino is a gripping play with a powerful and jarring ending that packs a strong emotional punch.  Her characters are genuine, and her dialogue is authentic.

Jackie (played by Dorothea Gloria) and her brother, Jason (played by Alton Alburo) are in a cabin in the woods gathering up their deceased Mom’s belongings.  Jackie is planning on selling the cabin.  When the conversation turns to the topic of their father, they open up and reveal the depth of their grief and abandonment.  The truth of their reality is shocking.

Dorothea Gloria and Alton Alburo have a great chemistry.  Ms. Gloria creates a focused and mature character, while Mr. Alburo’s character is childish and playful.  Their adversarial relationship is intoxicatingly genuine and enjoyable.  Ms. Gloria brings this piece to a stunning conclusion, delivering a striking and sincere final moment.

“Caught in a Storm” is an impressive play about emotional family ties, written by Rommy Sasson.  It is sensitively developed, and crafted with powerful, direct, and honest dialogue.

Taylor (played by Lambert Tamin) is getting ready to leave for college.  His twin brother, Edmond (played by Danté Jeanfelix) is anxious about his brother’s leaving.  Edmond is desperate and does everything he can to convince his brother to stay.  When Taylor opens up about the truth of their lives together, he finds himself pulled back into the storm.

Lambert Tamin and Danté Jeanfelix are amazing together.  Their connection and timing are impeccable.

“Divination” is written by Anya Jiménez.  This young playwright has crafted characters that are unique and strong.  The dialogue is riveting and the relationship blossoms as the action builds.

Ruth (played by Vanessa Guardiana) thinks she might be pregnant.  She turns to her sister, Kat (played by Arielle Gonzalez) for support.  Kat’s pushes Ruth to fully understand the choice she is about to face.  Ruth’s decision is easier to accept when she receives an unexpected sign.

Vanessa Guardiana and Arielle Gonzalez are raw and honest in these roles.  They skillfully drive the action forward and create characters who are genuinely bonded.

“I Have a Dream” is a comedy with a twist, written by Joseph DiGirolamo.  He combines pop culture fictional characters to create this funny and thought-provoking play.

The popular game show “The Wheel” is hosted by Joey D (played by Jon Edward Cook).  His partner and letter turner on the show is the famous Betty Boop (played by Denise Manning).  The contestants are Lisa Marie Simpson (played by Dorothea Gloria), Barney (played by Andrew Goebel), and Simon Seville (played by Danté Jeanfelix).  They are playing for a $5,000 cash prize.   The subject for the puzzle is quotations.  The game is full of mayhem and is finally solved.  The answer, “I have a dream,” solves more than just the puzzle.

Jon Edward Cook leads this cast with outstanding energy and comic timing.  Denise Manning, Dorothea Gloria, Andrew Goebel, and Danté Jeanfelix superbly embody these well-known characters both physically and vocally.  They find the rhythm and timing needed to bring Mr. DiGirolamo’s excellently written humor fully to life.

Make time to watch this stunning video compilation of short plays.  Interspersed in the full show are interview with the playwrights, Director Kimille Howard, Director of Theatre from the NYD Department of Education Peter Avery, Executive Director of the Lucille Lortel Theatre George Forbes, and the amazing cast of actors.  It is an inspiring and enjoyable two hours, and well worth your time.

Here is the link:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4095&v=ONKXCojV4w4&feature=emb_logo

Domenick Danza

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Goode

In a  journey that began as a way of healing himself, RAYMOND GOODE became a healer to many. Thanks to theatrical works, lectures, and self-help program fostered and executed by him all across the country, Mr. Goode has become a force for mind and soul enhancement. ArtsViews had the change to pick his brain for a few  minutes.

The author of How to Write and Print for Under $300; Traces of You; Road to Oprah; Through Their Eyes; and 350 Goals of a Leader shared his thoughts.

image3Tell us about yourself as an artist?

I began my journey as an artist 10 years ago. I went through a depression and suicidal stage of life. It was a revelation. I found solace in writing. I started writing suicide letters to each person in my life. I had written over ten letters with each letter being over six pages. I realized that I had a knack for writing. Writing pulled me out of depression and from that point I wondered on how others had come through rough times in their lives. I started talking to people. Not as an interviewer but rather as a person whom could offer a listening ear. That began my path as a artist/author. I quit my three jobs and stepped out on faith to pursue my career as an author and soon became a playwright and director. 

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What is your mission and how are you accomplishing it?

My mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. The ones whom feel like their voices and stories hold no power. The ones whom not only choose to remain quiet but exercise the right to remain quiet. In my journey I have discovered that some people don’t want feedback on their lives. They are not looking for sympathy or empathy. They simply want to share their story to a kind and listening ear. I offer that kind and listening ear. I rewrite their stories (with the privacy of changing names and places to protect the individual) and share their stories with the world through my books and stage productions. I accomplish my goals by not only retelling their stories but by continuously offering the same listening ear with kindness, affection and a nonjudgmental attitude. 

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Share with us an inspiring story. It could be what you did or what was done for you.

I stepped out on faith December 31st 2010. I quit my three jobs and left Richmond Virginia in hopes of fulfilling my 1st goal to meet Oprah Winfrey in Chicago Illinois. That very night I stopped in Pittsburgh to explore new sights and I didn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve driving all night. I remember walking through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh and the streets were packed with people. (It was New Year’s Eve) The entire downtown was open. There was an art gallery with a woman singing salsa and people dancing. There was a street magician who could make a fork bend off the willpower of the participates mind. THE STREETS WERE PACKED! I remember that they had their own ball drop. The hours and minutes begin ticking down to seconds to when the ball was going to drop. For some reason I didn’t want to see the ball drop. The countdown begin…10,9,8 and I turned to walk away. (In my heart I knew my journey was just beginning and I had so much more work to do). 7,6,5 I started walking with the ball behind me 4,3,2. As I’m walking away I look up and I see a connecting glass partition that was a crossing point for two buildings that connected on opposite sides of the street. The countdown got to 1 and the ball dropped. Confetti filled the streets and there were people dancing in the streets. I saw all of this off of the glass partition. I looked around and absolutely everyone was looking in the direction of the ball drop. I WAS THE ONLY ONE LOOKING IN THE DIRECTION OF THE GLASS PARTITION! I instantly knew that I was on the right path and that that was my burning bush. 

What do we – the audience – get from your work?

1st off; you get passion. Passion from me as an artist and passion from the ones whom choose to use me as a vessel to share their stories. The audience will show empathy for people whom have experienced real life situations. The audience will gain compassion for the character and the stories that they are portraying. The audience will experience thought-provoking, raw emotions that will draw their interest. The audience will garner an introspective sight on what the character was thinking 1st hand from the inside looking out. 

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REFLECTIONS ON RACISM

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On the eve of Juneteenth June 12, 2020

When I began to write the musical about Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, COMMON GROUND (music by Stan Wietrzychowski, book and lyrics by me) in the fall of 2014, I had no idea how closely today’s convulsions in our septic democracy would parallel the story of our musical. 

Like now, there was a horrific event: the Fort Pillow massacre, where Rebel General Nathan Bedford Forrest ordered and oversaw the slaughter of captured black Union soldiers. 

Like now, there was a cry for justice and for action from President Lincoln and the Federal government. 

Like now, there was another killing machine let loose on our country– a civil war then, a pandemic now—that complicated the response. 

Like now there were cries for retaliation, against the South then and against “thugs” today. 

And like now, the massacre of innocent black men brought into sharp focus the evils of white supremacy and the poisonous rot of racism.

I’ll admit, it is disheartening to realize that history is indeed repeating itself once again. Yet there are important differences in the then and now. Then President Lincoln had issued a legal Retaliation Order that proclaimed that for every captured Union soldier killed for no other reason than the color of his skin, he would order that a captured Rebel soldier be hanged.

Think about that! 

What if we had a law that for every innocent black man killed by the police, a policeman would be shot? While that might make some feel that justice had been served, I feel strongly that the majority of us would recognize the insanity of that action.  However, Frederick Douglass pushed Lincoln to live up to his promise to retaliate. And, frankly, who could blame him? 

Douglass had seen up close the horrors of slavery and the depravity of white supremacy.  I think Douglass actually just wanted the “white man,” for once to keep his word. In the musical he sings:

            I’M TIRED OF YOUR LYING, YOUR TREATING, YOUR TRICKS

            YOU PROMISE US TOWERS, THEN GIVE US STICKS.

            ENOUGH OF DELAYING TILL YOU FILL THE NEED

            WHILE YOU ARE DELAYING MY PEOPLE BLEED.

This song is titled “WAIT.”  For me, the most depressing aspect of today’s tumult is that black people are still waiting for justice.

But another difference springs to mind that helps mitigate my anguish. 

Then, Douglass was practically alone in his defiance.  He crisscrossed the country giving ill-attended speeches calling for Lincoln to act.  He supported Fremont for President in 1864 over Lincoln and urged others to do the same.  He was, in many ways, a lone voice crying in the proverbial wilderness of white indifference. 

But look at today!  Thousands and thousands of Americans of every stripe and status are in the streets day after day demanding justice, demanding not just another president, but real change.  I like to think that if Frederick Douglass were here today, he would feel, as do I, that this time is different. 

Let it be!

There is someone else I am thinking about these days.  My father.  I grew up in the segregated south of Greenville, South Carolina—also, I am proud to say, the home of Jesse Jackson.  The injustices—nay, the racism—I witnessed on an almost daily basis seared into my soul a determination never to treat African-Americans as anything but equal and to try to do my part to ensure their equality.  Just as my father did his.  He was a member of the Bi-Racial Committee, formed to make sure that Greenville did not erupt into violence like so many other cities and towns as integration was implemented.

A few white community leaders met in secret with leaders from the African-American community to plot how to peacefully integrate. They purposefully did not take minutes of their meetings, knowing how fraught their conspiring was.  And they succeeded.

In June, 1963, they arranged for a blacks and whites to eat together in eleven separate establishments.  My father was at Woolworth’s, where a black Methodist minister and a highly-regarded white citizen sat at the counter. Plain-clothed policemen were stashed all around and photographers from the newspaper were there to record the event. Next, they arranged for African-Americans to sit downstairs in the movie theatres—first just two at a showing, then four, then eight, until all restrictions were removed.  Next, the hotels and motels were prevailed upon to designate a percentage of their rooms to house delegates for a national convention of an African-American fraternity. Finally, a single brave black girl attended the middle school in the fall.  Greenville had been peacefully integrated.

I think about my father and his co-conspirators as our nation tries to achieve justice once more. Would it be possible that some version of a national Bi-Racial Committee can assemble to plan and finally execute the implementation of full racial equality for all Americans? It seems almost too much to hope for, too impossible to achieve.  But if my father’s legacy has taught me anything, it is that we must try.  Who knows, we just might pull it off.  Just like Greenville, South Carolina, did in 1963.

As I wrote COMMON GROUND, it became crucial for me to show how a radical black man and a racist white president could find a common humanity, could actually come to admire each other. I wrote it to say: if they could, so can we.

Given the magnitude of the problem of racial injustice in our country, it sometimes seems simplistic and naïve to posit such an outcome.  And, as a white man, I struggle to write how Douglass responds to Lincoln’s offer of friendship. Who am I to presume to know?

COMMON GROUND poses the question: what is the answer to injustice, vengeance or finding common ground?  I have done my best to be true to the feelings I believe Douglass would have had.  A desire for vengeance would have been perfectly understandable. And yet Frederick Douglass chose another way.

After 400 years of oppression and injustice, it astonishes me that still today most black people do not choose to rise in vengeance.  Their forbearance and forgiving spirit humble me.

Struggling to know what to do in this crucible, I am trying to channel my father’s spirit. I know listening to black people is an obvious first step, just as Lincoln had to listen to Douglass.  And, yes, Douglass had to listen to Lincoln.  The Bi-Racial Committee succeeded because our two races were committed to listening to each other.

How do we find common ground? There is no easy answer. But I do know the truth of what Douglass sings at the end of the musical COMMON GROUND:

“LET ME BEGIN!”

 

Granville Wyche Burgess

Theater Wanderer

i am a theater wanderer by robert liebowitz

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Scrolling through assorted containers of my mind, over the years and decades, and came to this one succinct conclusion.

Wandering comes in many shapes and sizes.
The lives we live are so many coins in a beggar’s cup; Several of them, and each of them having two sides.
A boy’s life, then an adult caring for their own children;
A student’s life, followed by a life’s work in a profession;
A theater doer, and at the same time a theater witness.
How does a theater wanderer come to exist? Most times–not always–but most times, it begins as the by-product of a broken home, or some sense of profound tension, despair, or emptiness. It is no coincidence that I fell into the path of a life in the theater the exact same summer I stopped talking to my dad. No doubt, there are many other similar stories of bittersweet fate.
What was the draw? Easy, (though unrecognizable at the time)–the sense of community, of family. Sometimes people embark on solo adventures; other times, being with others, a family unit emerges, which has the sturdiness of a bar of iron.
Rehearsals/productions are in a sense episodes of traditional family life.
Wandering comes in many shapes and sizes. The obvious one would be the geographic one. Although never out of the country, theater productions have been experienced in San Francisco, Portland, Chicago Baltimore, and dozens of other locations in-between. Theater-doers–‘theatertricians’–are citizens in their own territory of the mind; it is easy to spot them on a street or in a subway car. It is this notion–the idea that we are all writing the same novel, or telling the same story–that binds us no matter where we roam.
The desire to wander is also defined by more subtle ways. November 26, 2000. A rainy Sunday in New York City. Almost 41, still adjusting to the wreckage and aftermath of a failed marriage; all life dreams put on temporary or permanent hold. The only desire held was to watch the football game on television, and make it through the day. Yet, I had given a friend my word that I would attend his play in Manhattan, and today was the last day of the run. A man who doesn’t keep his world is nothing, and so there I was…like Lear battling the storm (almost), slugging my way to the subway, and winding up somehow at the theater on First Avenue, 10 minutes before curtain.
The rain had picked up in intensity, and the afternoon sky had gotten dark fairly quickly. There were exactly four people in attendance, in a theater which held 99 seats; within five minutes a leak had developed in the roof; within ten minutes it was clear that the play was an  interminable piece of garbage. One prevailing thought, over and over and over again: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’
Wandering has its pleasures. In 1979, at 19, I made my off-Broadway debut (as a dancer, of all things!) at a theater all the way by 11th Avenue. All I knew up until that time was the subway, which only extended to 8th Ave…what about those three additional avenues? Well, having no money, I had to walk them, and adjust my schedule accordingly. Walk where I had never walked before.
It was a sight still seared in my memory–vacant lots, many body shops, little sign of life. Somewhat dangerous, especially at night.  I had trained myself to hum a piece of jazz music in my head, to distract me. Finally into the rickety elevator (there were still floors to travel!), and onto the correct floor, where there was a semblance of a theater.
The floor had a special fragrance. Freshly painted flats mixed with the parquet floor, and various hints of women’s perfume. A winter run, half the nights the heat wouldn’t work, and so we took our curtain calls in our overcoats. Then wander all the way back to 8th Avenue, and ‘civilization’.
It was the time of my life.
1985. An actor who had appeared in my playwriting debut two years earlier was now in a Broadway musical: ‘Grind’, which starred Ben Vereen and Stubby Kaye. I was there opening night with my date. His name in the Playbill got the juices flowing, and then, near the end of Act I, he actually appeared. At that exact moment, I felt immediately connected to all those who had come before me, and those who would come after. It was a feeling I still am unable to properly communicate with mere words. It went beyond wandering. It was a feeling of actually landing. Of arriving at a destination. He was on stage exactly six seconds, had one line, and then was gone. The musical was lousy, and it ended, its run mercifully shortened. All concerned simply headed for the next adventure. Somehow, though, I had an invisible hand in the actor’s success. A sense of accomplishment, A sense of completion. The wandering had a pay off.
Sometimes, when wandering, one takes comfort in the knowledge that certain things do not change…not really, not to the visible eye. They are solid as marble, and are able to provide a pillar of strength when those moments are needed. I have seen James Earl Jones perform three times over a thirty-year period. He appears to have never aged. There is a certain solace that comes with that. On the other hand, while following David Mamet’s career–from reading  ‘Sexual Perversity…’ in 1978, all the way to the 2008 revival of ‘American Buffalo’, his Broadway debut of his new play ‘The Anarchist’. in 2012, was an unmitigated disaster. The play was embarrassingly bad.. He had lost his talent. He had now become just another casualty. There is also an awareness of that potential, always lurking around the corner–the absolute dread of losing’s one talents.
Wandering the theater also mirrors life, in many ways. I have seen several productions stop due to illness in an audience member. I have seen seemingly hundreds of blown ques, both artistic and technical. Actors dropping lines–including in my own productions–more times than I care to remember. I witnessed an actor perform his role dragging a leg along the stage, the leg having been broken the night before. Joe Mantegna performing ‘Speed-the Plow’ with a bandage around his neck, presumably from a broken jaw, and barely able to speak. A production of ‘Carmen’ at the famed Metropolitan Opera having to be re-started due to the set crashing into the curtain. We try to make life like a smooth, planned, effortless rehearsal, without any bumps, and yet it rarely ever happens that way, The same could be said for the ‘planned spontaneity’ of the theater. Human, all too human.
Wandering is a chance to learn. Watching ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’ at the Cherry Lane in the early 80’s, the production was excellent, but a plot element in the play left me clueless–how could a heterosexual couple, intent on blackmailing a man, ‘divide’ him sexually for six months per year? What the hell was going on up on stage? It took me years to understand.
Wandering is sometimes a risk, literally. Second-acting ‘The Foreigner’ at the Public, we were almost thrown out of the theater because of my big mouth, bragging about our ability to sneak into the show. The patrons in the row below us called us ‘…a bunch of simpletons.’ It was the first time I ever heard the word.
It is also a risk, figuratively. In 1998, after seeing the decent play ‘Moe Green Gets It In The Eye’ on the Lower East Side, I decided to get all cultured, and push my luck by taking in Gary Oldman’s debut directing effort, ‘Nil By Mouth’. It was, up until that time, the worst movie I had ever seen. It was two hours of my life I could not get back.
2016. Finally was able to attend a Broadway production (any production) of one of my favorite plays, ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’. It is a play I have read and re-read dozens of times, always hoping for a different ending. And here came the brilliant Gabriel Byrne, and the unconquerable Jessica Lange, and not only were they book-perfect for the four hours, but left everything they had on the stage.
All the pitfalls and mistakes in my life  all the shitty shows I had been involved in, the ones I had watched, the ones I had reviewed for various publications–all of it just fell off me like a towel would out of a hot shower. At evening’s end, I was no longer a theater wanderer. I was where I always wanted to be.

CRAFFORD: LETTER TO MY FATHER

527165_10150848329868078_848316560_nLETTER TO MY FATHER
(with a nod to Franz Kafka and Oscar Wilde)

There is a character in Eugene O’Neil’s play  MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA who forgives herself for not forgiving another. That’s me. I cannot forgive you.
I have been told by various friends and peers along the way that I will never fully mature until I do forgive you but I do not believe in unilateral forgiveness.

If I forgave you now, it would be disingenuous and insincere. I could say the words but they would have no weight. On the other hand, if you had come to me at some point, especially toward the end of your life, I would have forgiven you on the spot had you asked for it. But you never did. And because you never did, you expected us all to accept the havoc and destruction of your selfishness called alcoholism.

I do not forgive you for beating up my mother multiple times. One of my earliest memories was being in the bathroom with my sister while Mom sat on the toilet weeping with her bloody and bruised shins after you mopped the floor with her.
We kept asking her what happened and why and she would not say a word; she just wept.

I do not forgive you for creating an atmosphere of horror and menace. All the times you threatened my life and implied you had spoken to criminals about beating me up or killing me off. No, you are not forgiven for that.

I think forgiveness is a two way street not a dead end or a one way. Forgiveness requires an agreement on two sides and not one. It implies an agreement between two people. The one needing forgiveness and the one granting it. You never gave me that chance. I would have done it. But not now.

I recall two physical brawls we got into in the backyard where you wanted to punch my lights out. I saw the hate and anger in your eyes, disinheriting me and wanting me pulverized. I had to fight you with all my might just to bring things to a draw as you pulled my hair and fought dirty to try and defeat me. Yet you failed to defeat me, didn’t you? I was much stronger than I looked and you imagined and it is damn good thing I was; otherwise, you might have killed me or caused me immense injury.

I do not forgive you for crashing a glass ketchup bottle across my face at the dinner table as you drunkenly picked a fight with me in front of my innocent girl friend, Cathy, who screamed in horror when she saw my blood between my eyes mix with the red gunk called ketchup. You might have blinded me then, you might have disfigured me then, you might have even killed me then. No, I do not forgive you for that.
Another time when I was about nine, you were napping on the bed and I was playing in the hallway. I saw a space on the bed between you and the edge of it and I made it my goal to crawl up there and lay next to you without waking you up. So I crept up to the bed as quietly as I could and was about to move on to it when you smashed my head against the sideboard saying DON’T EVER TRY AND SNEAK UP ON ME.

No, you are not forgiven for that. I did nothing wrong. I wasn’t trying to sneak up on you; I was trying not to wake you up. How insecure can you possibly be toward your nine year old son?

You tried to slap me into fighting you when I was fourteen. Constantly tell me that WHEN I WAS MAN ENOUGH I could meet you out in the backyard.

I was man enough when I was eighteen and man enough again when I was twenty three.

That backyard thing didn’t work out so well for you, did it?

I know many people had the impression you were a nice guy. I saw the nice guy in you too, sometimes. They didn’t see you at home. They didn’t see you drunk. They didn’t see the rage and the fury. They didn’t feel the sick, grotesque atmosphere of terror you created. The days and days of sitting in your dunce corner brooding at that little table wallowing in your misery and infecting the entire family with it.

We lived in a small Cape Cod cottage. The atmosphere of fear and terror reigned in every corner of it. Even when Mom finally divorced you after more than a dozen more years of nightmare alcoholism, you insisted on bullying your way in a causing grief and misery with your diseased presence. No, for this and other things, you are not forgiven.

I recently saw video my brother had taken of you toward the tail end of your life when you were a broken shell of a man. You looked like a soulless insect with barely a breath left in you. Your memory was totally shot. You couldn’t finish a sentence because you’d forget what you were talking about it. It was difficult to watch. But even then, even when there was nothing left to you, I still felt fear and waves of disquiet, unpleasant gloom. I still had moments when you scared me with your bottomless rage now dormant in your ravaged body. In the same video, I looked like the bad guy. I looked like the man who could tear someone to pieces and yet I was still afraid of you on some level. Go figure, and no, I do not forgive you for all of this.

Twenty four years have gone by since you passed away and within that time I have never shed a tear for you. i did feel a wave of sadness and I do recognize that you were a neglected child. I know you were, but you did not break the cycle. You continued it. You failed to protect. You failed to nourish and nurture. You failed to give a hug or a kind slap on the back. You just raged and scared us and beat up your beautiful wife and created an atmosphere of nightmares and demons.

I had a son too. He’s dead now. He died last month. But I can say this about him and me. I never hit him and–get this–I never raised my voice with him even when I was angry and disappointed. I broke the cycle. I promised myself I would never treat him like you treated me.

I won’t mail this letter. There is no place to send it. But I’ll let others read it. Maybe it will help them. Maybe it will frighten them. Maybe it will bore them.  I’ll take that chance.
Your oldest and most bruised son,

Jimmy

Inspired by the passing of his son and the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

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Excerpts from Crafford’s
CHEWING ON THE CUD

Ruminations on
life, love
and the mystery of it all

RUMINATIONS AT LATE AFTERNOON
Nothing seems. Everything appears.
The sun digests the moon. The moon
withholds the sun. The stars are no
longer there. Nothing has gone away.
The void breathes star dust and the dust
gives mites a land to roam.
Time is frozen like icicles in summer.
Summer is but a dream now. Cold spring
devours the blood of spiders. All insects
with multiple eyes see the same thing.
The space we are lost in becomes claustrophobic
and the closets we live in have no doors. The locks
we thought worked are only caverns now and the
keys we made special are stuck in an old coat

we no longer wear.

RUMINATIONS AT LATE EVENING
Snow like sawdust piles up near the porch
and the dog frolics within  it avoiding
the rake.  The rake was once a broom
and the broom was once a stick ball
bat. But that was someone else’s
childhood and no one else’s dream.
That oval plot of land that no one ever
built upon, and the singular solitary
tree that one day came up from nowhere
and grew a little then stopped, somehow
reinforced the wind and blinded the clouds
and let loose a reckoning that shatters
the senses of the animals.
This before that and back again.  This deadly
silence just before the rage unleashed and
the war that went on for a decade within the
decayed hearts of angry men and defeated women.
All this laid out in ancient maps and glossaries
defining words and places no ever uses any more

and no one ever visits, not even God.

RUMINATIONS UPON AWAKENING
The dreams were entangled with memories
of friends who had died or moved away. The sleep
had no peace and the moments of first light
burnt through the eyelids like an atomic blast.
The bones of the body had shriveled and decayed
and the libido was as torn newspaper used for the
fire for kindling.  The profanity of the morning stunk
and the weather report by the pretty announcer kept
breaking up into electric burps.
Here the dead laugh and the living endlessly weep.
Here the clowns crawl and the runners walk with crutches.
There one hears lies and cries of needless want. There
they make rules no one can obey, and everyone assumes
the rules were written by madmen in the swollen night
while everyone else was sleeping and dreaming hopeless

reveries that groaned like old men in hospice.

RUMINATIONS IN THE MIDST OF A NIGHTMARE
Death had its own peculiar sorrow and its own
joy. It dances on graves. It brings wreathes.
It drives there without telling the family and
the friends. It carves bad words into the
headstones and then it bleeds like a river.
The trail one once took in mud and puddles
is now paved.  Those nooks and crannies that
one had memorized are now black asphalt
with yellow lines separating the lanes. One may
walk or ride a bicycle or one may sleep or read
on a bench.  But one cannot return to that which
no longer exists.
The howling night shows no mercy.  The breathing
becomes more labored and the oxygen count is low.
The nurses exchange shifts  but wear the same dirty
masks.  The patient has six or seven hours to live.
In the distance, the vixen fox screeches for a mate,

sounding like a prehistoric bird.

RUMINATIONS ON THE LOST RAILROAD
The tracks aim into nowhere from somewhere
but with no way to get there from here. The
ghost of Jack Kerouac with his arm around
Neal can be seen floating in the blurry distance,
while assorted bats and owls clamor in the
bare tree forests that run along side.
Nothing seems. Everything appears. Time is shot
dead point blank  by Billy the Kid while
Jean Harlow waits in a white satin dress in
the background dripping with the sweat of sex.
The audience is excited and appalled. *
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is 101. Books that once
sold at bargain prices cannot be purchased by
normal working class people. Satan sells credit
cards to sinners only, as the last remaining
tattooed holocaust victims dry up and blow

away.

*See THE BEARD by the late Michael McClure.

THE LONG ROAD TO SALVATION

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THE LONG ROAD TO SALVATION
I am a human being.
One day I was born.
One day I shall die.
I am as a soap bubble
in the ocean.
And so are you.
We are all mortal,
fragile, delicate,
exquisite.
We are spirit made flesh.
We are here for a short time.
When we meet, know this
each time.
INTROIT:
The old man has been on a long road to salvation, barefoot through snow and ice. At the end of the road–a dead end–there is a tiny church where the door is just wide enough for a man to slip though (therefore, a woman as well).
When he arrives the man is shivering from head to toe and someone, a gentle giving soul, gives him warm slippers and invites him to let himself into the tiny church through the just wide enough door.
salvation (2)
OPENING PRAYERS:
The opening prayers are in a language only saints and higher beings understand. They are chanted in canticles.
A LETTER:
The old man wrote a letter to his younger brother before heading off on his road to salvation. That road was not always snowy and cold. It was sometimes warm and luscious with wine, women and soft cushions in which to lay. The letter reads as folows:
Dear Brother, I am sorry I could not be there when you arrived. Please do make yourself at home. I have loaded a gun and taken off into the desert to find a certain church I have only heard about from the aborigines who live in the hills nearby. Should I fail on my journey, I will use the gun to end my existence on this plane. Do not mourn for me. I am at peace with myself. I will either reach some form of salvation or I will not and should I fail then I am also at peace with my demise. In that case, my home and all my possessions are your’s. Love, your brother.
A GOSPEL STORY:
Once the Master went into the desert to have a powwow with the devil. It was there they sat for 40 days and 40 nights and argued metaphysics and morality and ethics and law. Neither slept and neither ate and both rigorously defended their views. At the end of 40 days and 40 nights, it snowed and while the snow piled up around them the devil froze solid and the Master went on his way.
But in time the frozen snow melted and the devil too went on his way. Only he took a different road that was meant to circumvent the Master although the Master could tell where he was at all times.
THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD AND THE DRINKING OF THE WINE:
The old man kneeled before the bethren of the tiny church and watched as they tore the newly baked bread with their hands and dipped it in the fresh wine offering to him in drenched slices. The old man hungry in a ferocious manner, devoured them and wanted more but he was chastened for his greed, so he ate but a little at a time and stopped.
A PERIOD OF SILENCE:
Sitting again in the tiny church the old man sat with his thoughts and wondered what his brother was thinking. Was he worried that he might be dead? How should he let him know he had survived but how? He sat with his thoughts that became more disturbing in the endless silence. Furthermore what had he done with the gun? He could not recall.
A WORD ON THE TINY CHURCH:
The church is tiny because it is only accessible to one soul at a time through a door constructed only for that single person and within the church itself there is nothing frivolous or gratuitous. Only essential elements of salvation and redemption.
THE MASS HAS ENDED GO IN PEACE:
The old man rises from his seat and goes to the door where he is met by one of the church brethren who warns him not to leave for fear of falling into temptation. But, the old man wants to send word to his brother to let him know he is all right and that he has found his way to the Master. So the church brethren fellow offers to serve as a messenger and go to the brother with this news.
CODA:
The brother sits in the home of his brother. His thoughts rock back and forth between hope and a forlorned horror and disgust. He imagines his brother dead on a desert trail or a corpse frozen in snow. He also imagines him at the feet of the Master happy and redeemed.
He waits and worries and worries and waits.
One day as the sun is dawning in a screaming red sky, the messenger arrives. He is in the form of a raven, a purple raven, vastly bigger than a crow. He lands atop the house and caws out a message that the brother writes down automatically without analysis or thought and he takes it to an aboriginal holy man in the hills.
The holy man reads the message and smiles and looks into the eyes of the brother.
Your brother is no longer in this world, he tells him, but he did not destroy himself. He was redeemed and died a happy death.
You are to rejoice. You are to spread joy to the world. You are to give hope to the people and turn your new home into a temple of worship and you are to invite all the peoples of the world to attend.
Go now!
The holy man evaporated as if smoke and the brother walked down from the hill to his new home and new mission.
He knew exactly what he was to do.
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ARTWORK by ROBERT CRAFFORD

Martin & Synchronicity

The Crafford Chronicles

James Crafford has truly had his own share of adversity. None have hit him as hard as the passing of his son, Martin. The gruff Crafford, senior, always had lightness in his words when mentioning his son … even when that light went out.

Here is a rare moment in the spiritual side of Author and Playwright, James Crafford.

SYNCHRONICITY

The psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity meaning a very meaningful coincidence. A coincidence that knocks us against the wall and forces us to see a portion of reality we might not have known existed.
When I was in high school I read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. I was interested in spy novels and true life accounts of cold war spies. I recall a quote at the beginning of one of the Bond books: “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and three times is enemy action.”
That line has stayed with me for a life time.
Last month my son, Martin, died after a ten year struggle with brain cancer. I won’t spend time talking about what a wonderful person he was and how much I miss him here now, but I wanted to share two incidents of pure 100% synchronicity that has happened since his passing.
The first occurred a couple of weeks ago. I was reading an essay about my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, on the angels he sometimes used in his work. Rilke’s angels were not Christian angels as we normally think but rather sometimes terrible angels or angels that brought fear and dread–fallen angels, etc.
The writer, Stephen Mitchell, mentioned a certain poem called “The Annunciation” from the Life of Mary that Rilke wrote early in his career where an angel in the form of a young man appears to Mary to announce to her that she will give birth to Jesus.
I knew I had one or two translations of that poem among my books, so I found a collection of Rilke that I thought it would be in and there was a bookmark in the book, so I opened it up to that spot and it turned out to be the very poem I was looking for! Furthermore, the bookmark was a photo of ME AND MARTIN!
I was floored and speechless.
This morning something very similar happened yet again:
I was talking to my wife about a certain photo of Martin I had taken of him and his wife (then, now ex) in Ohio when they came to visit my in-laws. In the photo Martin looks exceptionally like me when I was about 25 or 30 years old. I said I had no clue where the photo had gone.
Later in the morning I was reading a book called THE SNOW LEOPARD by Peter Matthiessen in which he mentions several of my favorite authors in this one particular paragraph–Thoreau, Hesse, Hamsun, Borges etc. and it gave me the impulse to check out a novel by Hesse called NARCISSUS AND GOLDMUND about two medieval monks in a battle of the flesh and the spirit.
So, I took down my copy from he shelf. Once again there was a photograph as a bookmark.
The photo was THE VERY ONE I had mentioned to my wife earlier in the day! Once more I was speechless.
I have zillions and books and tons of photos. The odds that photo would be in that book are astronomical.
What does it mean? Well, cynics might say nothing, but for me it is a sign. A sign that reality has many more dimensions that we think. Dimensions that overlap with spirituality and into the unknown forces and unknowable truths surrounding us.
Twice already Martin has bounced back into my life at precisely the time I needed him.
Twice I am reinforced with HOPE that there is more to this complex world than I thought even a day or two ago.
“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio”, Hamlet says.
You bet, Billy Shakespeare. No kidding!
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The House by James Crafford

AV is proud to welcome playwright laureate, James Crafford, to our literary site.

527165_10150848329868078_848316560_nJames Crafford began his theatrical career studying with the legendary Stella Adler nearly 50 years ago. His first showcase of works as a playwright was approved and produced by Ms. Adler sight unseen. He continued contributing works for Ms. Adler for the next two years. One of his works was optioned for Broadway, which took him on a journey that continues today as a distinguished playwright. It’s no wonder James Jennings – one of the founding fathers of the off-off Broadway movement – offered Crafford a home at the ATA. Crafford has since supplied plays and screenplays to Jennings and his merry troupe making him a household name in that house and many other theatrical houses. Crafford writes novels, short stories, and poetry. He is now a contributing author to AV. 

In honor of Mother’s Day, we present a piece regarding the home of one of Mr. Crafford’s matriarchs.

THE HOUSE

(Reacting to Bachelard’s THE POETICS OF SPACE)
I spent the first two years of my life at my grandmother’s house located at 55 Windsor Road in Pawtucket RI. It was situated on the corner of Orient Ave where I spent my youth.
The house had five trees around it then (only one survives now) and a huge lilac bush in the backyard (mostly a side yard) and thick bushes all the way around it up to the bottom of the windows. (The bushes are also gone now).
The back door was almost always unlocked and that led into a small foyer with three steps that went up into the kitchen and had a doorway that went into the basement (we usually called it the cellar).
The foyer had a particular smell. Hard to describe. Musky I guess I would say.
The kitchen contained an old fashion ironing machine. Not an iron but a machine that a dry cleaner might use, a stove and a table and chairs that was rarely used except on holiday occasions. There was also a black sewing machine and a small pantry area with a sink and cupboards on both sides with a bread box.
My first memory of being alive on this earth took place just out of that pantry area. I witnessed my grandparents having a terrible row over who would do the dishes. “I’ll do them”; “No, I’ll do them”, they said to one another over and over forever.
As a small child I could not understand the stubbornness and the vehemence of the argument.
The kitchen was next to both a bedroom and the living room. The house had three bedrooms all very small. The one near the kitchen was my grandmother’s for a while, then she moved to the middle one and my grandfather took the one in the front of the house on the other side of the wall from a screen enclosed porch.
When I was a teenager, I more or less moved into that first bedroom that had a couch that opened into a bed. I was often there bouncing back and forth between that house and my parents’ house a block or do away at 145 Orient Ave. (My brothers and I often refer to it as “145”).
The living room contained several chairs–all aimed at the TV in the front of the room, a fake fire place, a couch in the very back, a piano that only my grandmother and my brother, Bobby, played.
My grandfather also had a good stereo system that played both vinyl records and small cassette tapes. He liked “gadgets” and also had a decent reel to reel tape recorder and a fancy movie camera and still camera for the time.
The living room had a funereal feel to it. There was a dark red rug and lots of drapery that when closed made the room pitch dark. My parents’ got a few giggles out of making fun of it for appearing so grim and thought the rug was absurd.
My grandmother had a favorite chair that she practically lived in. My memories of her have her in that chair at virtually all times. She only walked to my parents’ house perhaps once in thirty years; otherwise, she was driven in a car.
I wrote a surrealistic novel at age twenty called GRANDMA IN THE LIVING ROOM DYING with that image in mind.
Between my grandmother’s bedroom and the bathroom was a desk that was rarely used except by me. I often played a game of dice there that I had invented replicating a baseball game. I did this for several years and kept a vast amount of statistics with it.
I had created a fantasy baseball team that played other teams in the major leagues but I discovered that my team rarely broke .500 percentage after an entire season meaning I usually won as many games as I lost and could never get a streak going.
Plus no player hit more than 20 HRs in a season but other than that the games were very realistic as per scores.
My grandmother’s bedroom had a 1888 gold leaf Bible that she kept on her dresser. I never saw anyone ever look at it except me. I was fond of the Dore engravings that adorned it throughout and I loved the ancient maps and glossary that were at the beginning. It sat there for thirty years and when my grandmother died, it sat on my grandfather’s dresser for another ten years, never used or read! It is an astonishing edition even for an unbeliever like myself.
It belonged to my Uncle Tom who apparently gave it to my grandmother when she was ill one time, but he tried to take it back after my grandfather died some forty years later. I asked my grandfather for it and he said I could have it never ever mentioning that it continued to belong to Tom. I thought it was ridiculous that he would want it back after forty full years, so I kept it and continue to own it with no intention of letting it go.
My grandmother’s bed was ultra-soft and had a satin cover on it that I always found luxurious and she had hand mirrors on her dresser that had large magnification and were fun to use.
The bathroom was tiled in pink and it too had a distinct smell that seemed unique to old people living there. It had a full length mirror on the wall and the medicine cabinet also had a mirror that when opened allowed one to see oneself from the side using the door mirror too.
My grandfather’s room at the far end of the house had a harder bed and also had several albums of old photographs and a drawer filled with cuff links as well as a financial ledger of creditors and debtors. He also had a stethoscope that he used to listen to his heart beat. He lived until he was 93. He had been a car salesman for most of his life and had a successful business.
The front porch was also rarely used except by me and some friends. It was enclosed with screens and was a pleasant place to sit in warmer months facing Windsor Road across the street from the Emmels and the Dooleys.
The attic had a steep staircase (as many do) that was mainly used to store certain canned goods. It could not be used because it had no floor boards, only beams that one could walk on carefully for fear of falling through the ceiling. It was always cramped and badly lit and something of a useless space in the long run.
But it is the basement that has always remained the haunted space in that house for me. I have written about it from time to time. I always found it creepy and foreboding for a myriad of reasons and it has occupied my nightmares for decades.
Jung says the basement represents the id–the sex and death portion of the personality, the dark depths of the human psyche and that space for me is the source of endless macabre and grotesque creepy dreams and nightmares.
Bachelard says the childhood home is often the basis for many comforting memories and I do have them but mine are also filled with demons and goblins of various sorts and a “malignant spectral presence” that seems to linger there. I wonder if something happened to me there as an infant or if I was unduly frightened perhaps in that basement a long time ago that escapes my memory?

James Crafford Plays in ATA’s Experimental Theatre

Moves & Counterviews

Review by Robert Liebowitz

As Robert DeNiro, with a mixture of warning and regret, explains to his son, in the movie ‘A Bronx Tale’: “There is nothing worse than wasted talent.” Unfortunately, for ‘Moves & Countermoves, A Night of New Works by Jamces Crafford”, that is the precise issue. A few of the performers did their absolute best with the material handed to them; the material, however, sad to report, was not up to snuff. That is being charitable.
In “This Game Is Not Over”, the more palatable of the two plays, a man (Thomas J. Kane) and a woman (Meredith Rust)–their relationship unknown and ambiguous–are playing a game of chess. The game ends, and yet nothing much happens plot-wise…and whatever does, seems so trite, strange (“Your wife is a pornographer!” screams the woman who is having an affair with a married man). and lacking importance. (‘The most beautiful penis I ever saw’????) The man’s wife (Valerie O’Hara) enters the fray, wheelchair-bound, and yet all this does is muddle the already muddled proceedings.
Things are said; confessions are made, strange, odd, boring subjects are bandied about…yet nothing happens, and whatever does happen is devoid of any dramatic tension.
The acting was second-tier; it seemed every line spoken was walking through a swimming pool to get to the other side; way too stodgy, and interminable.
The nightcap of the evening, “After The Hanging”, is the real frustration here; the trio telling the tale (Laurie Rae Waugh, Alan Hasnas, and especially Tzena Nicole as the widow of a man lynched) each acted wonderfully, and certainly succeeded as an ensemble trio…yet the play was–and there is no other way to say it–awful. Within the first ten minutes of the play, the ‘n’ word has been dropped at least twenty or so times by the two abhorrent lead characters, and all rooting interest–a basic building block in constructing a play–goes out the window, By the time the excellent Ms. Nicole made her entrance, the play has already gotten loose from the barn.
This is not the PC Police speaking; God knows Political Correctness is the real enemy of any worthwhile art. This complaint speaks towards the harshness, the banging of the hammer over one’s head, with that loathsome word. And while it may be realistic, it is not dramatic writing, because the sensibilities of the audience are not being considered, a cardinal sin in playwriting.