Thursday, October 20, 2011


It is clearly time to leave my native land. The above-the-fold feature on the front of the Arts section of the New York Times today is about a video game. I remember when my sister was a follower of Meher Baba who had taken a vow of silence for the latter part of his life, and everyone was waiting for the words he would speak. Finally, as he died he said: "My time has come."
Well my time has went. I do not mind that it has become an e-world, as I did admire Steve Jobs and Apple especially after trying to deal with a renegade computer that needed frequent repair. But I do mind that even when you go to the theater, people are texting, so in-between their erratic attention to what's happening onstage, those little lights go on on cell phones, like fireflies in Central Park.
I could understand the inattention to the play, annoying as it was-- I mean the inattention and the play. The evening was the much-waited for(I think... wasn't everybody waiting?) Woody Allen piece, one of three with one by Elaine May and one by one of the over-celebrated Coen Bros., Relatively Speaking. It was the last preview at the Brooks Atkinson theatre, where, in Proustian tickle, my play The Best Laid Plans opened forty-five years ago, when Madeleine was born. I did not get there until the final curtain, as I was still in the hospital, it being those old days when they let you lie down for a few days after giving birth. But as the obstetrician wanted to go to Opening Night, he let me out, too, and rich and connected Hollywood studio friends who thought I was going to be a hit sent a limousine to take me from the hospital to the opening. I heard from the final laugh that wasn't there that the evening had been a disaster. The director had been replaced at the last minute and mucked up what had been frozen and stellar in the performances, and Polly Rowles, the one completely reliable pro in the cast-- we had crazy funny Kenny Mars as the psychiatrist, and he played it sometime on his knees, sometimes as a Cherman, so mercurial and outrageous that Mel Brooks, a good friend, scooped him up for The Producers-- but Polly, whose dialogue had been unchanged from the start burbled lines and, in the words of a cruel reviewer "stumbled under the burden of last minute rewrites." So oh, well. Mel and Annie Bancroft drove me back to the hospital and Mel said "Think of it this way: if your daughter had been born with six toes and two noses... that would have been okay. What mattered was the show." That made me laugh, so I was all right again, sort of.
But the ghost of Brooks Atkinson theater past was there last night, exacerbated by the truth of Woody Allen's being a prime figure in my failure to make inroads in comedy, one of my paths when I was very young and had my only job, with the Comedy Development program at NBC, sharing office space with Woody. I had plenty of room, as he came in only on the day we got our checks, and was out free-lancing the rest of the time, while I wrote a sitcom a day or a musical. So he was already smarter than I was, and I have to admit that I was jealous, but had to set aside my scorn finally with 'Midnight in Paris' which I thought was wonderful.
Last night's play, not so much. The first of the three was borderline unbearable, the work of Ethan Coen, with a mental patient and his doctor, and then a revelation of his background with a detestable couple, a pregnant mother who was as soft as Judge Judy, and no real form or content. The second was Elaine May, and featured a much-redone Marlo Thomas, looking like Erica Jong, crying out narcissistically over the death of the husband she didn't really care about and going on and on until it wasn't funny anymore. Then came Woody's, where theatergoers murmured during intermission that it was up to him to make the evening.
I don't know that he did. I was with the smart Rex Reed who didn't have a good time at all, and a venal woman said aloud that was because he wasn't Jewish. I found that insulting, not only to Rex, but to the whole idea of comedy. I remember when we were all in the Comedy Development program together, all us bright and fresh-faced young aspirers who went to Upstairs at the Downstairs for smart cabaret, one of our members had written a song: 'When you're in Love the Whole World is Jewish." It was a waltz of course, sweeping. Being Jewish has nothing to do with enjoying comedy, though Woody really milked it with his rabbi, the character I found most annoying. The rest were, by turns, cute: Steve Gutenberg as what you think is the groom coming to the Honeymoon motel(spoiler alert: he is the stepfather of the groom and has run off with the bride,) noxious: the mother of the jilted bridegroom; unbearable: Julie Kavner as the mother of the bride, doing so many takes you would have thought she was from an era even older than mine, a pizza man, and a character I didn't know who he was until Rex explained he was the best man. I don't think so. Still, I have to admit I laughed, but I don't remember at what: certainly it was not the ethnic crap. So I shall wait for the reviews tomorrow and see if Woody's survival mode, like his career, is better than mine.
On the non-theatrical side, I spoke to my once college president Pat today and she agreed that my leaving the country could not be at a more propitious time. I don't think I would survive working the next election. I am so disappointed in Barack, enraged at Michelle for a stupid personal slight to a friend who is heading up a program to improve Food in America, allegedly Michelle's 'cause,' frightened of the Republicans(why? you might ask if you are retarded, or as they say now, 'intellectually challenged") and sad sad sad for my country. Pat, who is of my vintage, said, along with me, that we never thought we would be saying, like our parents, or maybe even our grandparents, "it was better then." But it was. I grew up in an America where everybody could become, truly a land of Opportunity. All you had to do was aspire, get an education, and then the world was open to you. But that world is now on fire. The astrologer at Kamalaya, the Wellness center(read Spa with really knowledgable people in charge) said the stars now are in exactly the same alignment they were at the time of the French Revolution. Not that we believe in such things, but has anybody seen the news?
So I leave on Halloween for Bali without, as Ingrid Bergman said in Gaslight, " a shred of regret." I was here for the good part. Now it's time to move on. As my books become e-books, (go to, or Kindle, tell your friends) something I might once have grieved over, as turning pages and feeling bindings was a sensual pleasure, like riding in a car with new upholstery, I must re-upholster myself and move with the times. Flee them, actually.