Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Memorial Day officially kicks off the summer and with it, the mandatory expeditions in search of sun, sand, and surf. Along with the volleyball, swimming, sun-bathing, and picnicking the beach is, of course, all about taking time to read. And what better to read at the beach than something set at the beach? Or for those who don’t have the chance to visit the beach at all, take a literary journey instead.
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941) Hercule Poirot was hoping for a quiet little holiday at a seaside resort on the Devon Coast. Of course things don’t go as planned. Poirot becomes entangled with the other vacationers including the young married couple the Redferns, the American tourists the Gardeners, famed designer Rosamund Darnley, former Army Major Barry, Emily Brewster spinster, the Reverand Lane, Sir Horace Blatt and the Marshalls consisting of Kenneth Marshall, beautiful flirty actress Arlena Marshall, and Arlena’s troubled teenage step-daughter Linda. When Arleana Marshall turns up murdered, Poirot has quite the list of suspects to sort through. Vintage Christie at her best.
Hawaii-A Novel by James Michener (1959) Published the same year Hawaii become the official 50th U.S. state. Michener writing in episodic format narrates a story beginning with the origins of the islands themselves, the original Hawaiians who sailed to Hawaii from Bora Bora, early Calvinist missionaries, merchants, and the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who came to seek their fortune. Each group left their mark helping shape Hawaii into the place we know today. Highly acclaimed for its historical accuracy and use of setting.
Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974) One night a Great White Shark attacks a young woman swimming in the ocean at the normally quiet resort of Amity…blah blah blah. But really you all know the rest of the story don’t you? You’ve all seen the movie. Why not read the runaway best-seller that started one of the biggest franchises of all time and made millions everywhere start looking out for the tell-tale fin?
Good Harbor by Anita Diament (2002) Good Harbor is a stretch of Cape Ann beach. Kathleen Levine local Gloucester librarian and mother of two men is suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 59. Joyce Tabachnik is a forty something freelance writer who’s grown increasingly distant from her husband and daughter. The two women form a friendship that helps them heal wounds from the past and move on to the future.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009) Set in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, Chevalier tells the story of Mary Anning a working class young woman with a remarkable talent for finding fossils embedded within the cliffs. As she continues her work of fossil finding she forms an friendship with prickly, upper class spinster Elizabeth Philpot. Chevalier does first person narration from both women with unique and memorable voices as she outlines a friendship/partnership that truly was remarkable. And 19th Century Lyme is practically a character in its own right within the book.
Comley University has some issues with its Drama Society. Tonight, there’s been a box office mix up and “we trust the 650 of you hoping to see Hamilton might enjoy our production as much.” Budget issues have necessitated shows such as Chekhov’s modified Two Sisters and, due to spoilage, James and The Peach, which further regressed to James, Where’s Your Peach? Last year, a casting issue determined the mounting of Snow White and The Seven Tall, Broad-Shouldered Gentlemen. We’re informed of the society’s vicissitudes by Chris Bean at this, his directorial “daboo.”
Fasten your seat belts, audience, this is going to be an hysterical ride.
When longtime butler, Perkins (Jonathan Sayer) and Thomas Colleymore (James Cordon lookalike Henry Lewis, who uses his body like a prop) walk around a wall (the door is stuck) to bring Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill – picture the deadpan perfection of Simon Jones) back to his wedding rehearsal party, they discover him murdered. Cue lights; ominous chord! Thomas’s sister Sandra (Charlie Russell), fiancé of the deceased, and Inspector Carter (Henry Shields) are sent for.
Dave Hearn, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell
Sandra, however, can’t get in either and must recite “No! I can’t believe what I’ve seen!” at the window far from view, then clumsily climbing through. Cecil Haversham (Dave Hearn who resembles Bill Irwin both in appearance and style) is pushed through the door by momentarily exposed, thoroughly abashed, cast members and stage hands. Having made his way through a blizzard – cue the tossing of square-cut white tissue paper outside, the Inspector arrives.
Everyone needs a drink. Perkins takes a grinding, smoke spewing elevator to the second floor study (we see this as an open platform with furniture) and retrieves a full bottle of scotch when, according to dialogue, it should be empty. Thinking fast he pours its contents down the intercom which opens onto the stage below with a splash. There should be a full bottle, he’s told. Reaching elsewhere, he then raises an empty one to the audience. Outcome: the company finds itself repeatedly drinking Paint Thinner (and just as often spitting it out.) Vintage? “Flammable and Corrosive.”
Missing props are blatantly handed in. Others are substituted for on the spot. Looking for the Inspector’s pencil, Thomas finds only duly delivered keys. The requested notebook is replaced by a vase filled with roses. Carter gamely scratches keys against vase to write. Henry Shields has the young John Cleese’s public school persona gone wildly awry. He manages to be staunch patrician and hugely droll at the same time.
Authors: Henry Shields, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Lewis
When the mantel falls off, stagehand Annie (Bryony Corrigan) finds herself holding two candlesticks through the wall a la Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Later, she’s forced to take over for the knocked out actress who plays Sandra, red dress on top of her overalls, book in hand. At first, Annie’s like a deer in headlights, then palpably surprised at the ongoing plot, and finally, territorial. When the original Sandra revives in Act II, returning to the stage in her scanties, the two physically fight out every line. Corrigan is swell.
Charles’s body falls through a stretcher. Two poles are ceremoniously carried out empty as if they were not, while the corpse crawls and slithers his way out the now functional door, rising to dramatically cross hands over chest. Later, Cecil must find an alternative solution to being borne by the broken carrier.
Sandra is having a secret affair with Cecil – did they do it?!, but the actor is repulsed by the actress’s advances. During an eventual forced kiss, he looks like a boa constrictor trying to swallow her whole. This particular player must be new to “the drama society.” He thrills to applause, taking time to appreciate it, beaming, sometimes bowing or repeating an action. Dave Hearn is one of the great highlights of the production. He’s adorable, executes slapstick like a silent film pro, and responds with uproarious precision.
Dave Hearn, Charlie Russell
There’s another murder, a discovered will, and the appearance of a Head Gardener who may be involved (Hearn). Motivation abounds. Cues fall unanswered. Up in a visible stage box, Stage Manager Trevor (Rob Falconer) is more concerned with the loss of his Duran Duran tape than the production, though even he gets amusingly conscripted when two of the cast are stricken unconscious.
When Carter can’t find a mislaid ledger, frustration leads to actual whimpering. We see it under the chaise. An audience member, then several, helpfully call out its location out to the actor. (I’ll wager a month’s rent this occurs on the night you’re there.) Needless to say, he responds with fury at our not taking the play seriously.
The play within the play, though certainly broad satire, is sufficiently well written to hold attention. Focus is paramount and present. Company members each have their contributory strengths with only Charlie Russell and Jonathan Sayer relative disappointments.
Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Dave Hearn
Every move is accompanied by perfectly timed freezes as the cast registers and/or endures one disaster after another. Expressions are priceless. I’ve seen several productions of Michael Frayn’s backstage piece, Noises Off, and I’m here to tell you this multiplies that play’s pandemonium by tenfold. Or more. Fights are beautifully choreographed, elaborate pratfalls and saves worthy of Chaplin and Keaton. Bravo Director Mark Bell.
Nigel Hook’s brilliant, elaborate, tawdry looking Set is engineered within an inch of company lives, like a Rube Goldberg mechanism. Roberto Surace’s Costumes are worthy of Agatha Christie.Sound Design by Andrew Johnson demands as much exactness as cascading scenery and comes through with flying colors.
The Play That Goes Wrong, is conceived and – lucky us – enacted, by three twenty-something, out of work, British actors who will stop appearing after the Broadway iteration. Already a long running West End hit, the farce has spawned a number of other, international productions. It’s easy to imagine the piece going viral with long lives everywhere people need to laugh. Go. It’s a tonic.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Jonathan Sayer, Henry Lewis, Dave Hearn, Charlie Russell (window), Greg Tannahill
The Mischief Theatre production of The Play That Goes Wrong “The Cornley University Drama Society presents Murder at Haversham Manor by Susie H. K. Brideswell” Directed by Mark Bell Written by Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer Lyceum Theatre 149 West 45th Street
With the holiday season upon us, we all like to find a comfortable chair (ideally in front of a roaring fireplace,) to curl up in, with a cup of eggnog and a good book. But which book? Here are five reads sure to make your days merry and bright!
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938) By Agatha Christie. The incredibly rich (and unpleasant) Simeon Lee invites all his relatives even the estranged ones to celebrate Christmas with him. It soon becomes clear that far from seeking familial reconciliation, Simeon is playing a sadistic mind game with his own descendants. When he’s brutally murdered there’s no lack of suspects for everyone’s favorite dapper little Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to investigate. For those of you whose idea of a perfect Yuletide season includes a cozy English murder mystery, you can’t do better than Dame Agatha at the height of her powers here.
The Cat Who Came For Christmas (1987) By Cleveland Amory. Cleveland Amory was a popular author, a prominent animal rights activist, and self-proclaimed curmudgeon. He was not however, especially fond of cats, until one Christmas he ended up fostering a feral stray cat. Of course Cleveland ended up permanently adopting the cat, (or rather the cat adopted him,) and he named it Polar Bear. This delightful book was the first of a charming trilogy devoted to Polar Bear sure to bring a smile to the lips of any animal lover.
The Autobiography of Santa Claus (1994) By Jeff Guinn. This enchanting holiday classic skillfully blends historical facts with legend to tell us the tale of Santa Claus. The premise has it that Saint Nicholas himself recounts 1700 years of the history of Christmas, the birth of the ‘Santa’ legend, and indeed the worldwide spread of Christianity. The book’s take on Santa’s “elves” or rather “helpers” is a particularly inventive touch that makes the whole story simply magical. This is also the first (and best) part of a trilogy as well that is continued with How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas and The Great Santa Search.
The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (2004) By Christopher Moore. Moore the mad satirical genius behind such works as A Dirty Job and You Suck: A Love Story offers us his own demented take on the Season of Giving. Angel Raziel is sent down to Earth to grant a child’s wish. The child in question is traumatized by seeing a man dressed as Santa Claus die. In a botched attempt to bring ‘Santa’ back to life Raziel unwittingly unleashes a plague of zombies on the little town of Pine Cove.
The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (2011) By Les Stanford. We all know A Christmas Carol or one of the countless versions of it. Here though, is the story of how Carol came to be. In 1843, Charles Dickens was depressed and saddled with debts. He wrote a small Christmas themed novella, but his publisher turned it down. He liked the tale so much though, that he used what little cash he had to publish it himself, though he worried it might ruin him. The rest as they say was history, as A Christmas Carol came to be THE definitive word on Christmas, a holiday that had taken a beating in Victorian England in previous years.
Of all of Dame Agatha Christie’s huge body of work, And Then There Were None (title changed from the politically incorrect 10 Little Indians) was both the best selling and by far the most horrific. It was in many ways the precursor to modern ‘slasher’ tales only with its trademark English country cottage feel and Christie’s superb psychological insight. Other Christie novels had detectives who came into save the day; And Then There Were None not only had no detectives, but also no ‘heroes’ in any sense at all. The ten guests and staff members are all murderers beyond the reach of the law, but not beyond that of an unknown fiend who begins picking them off.
It’s actually a terrific set-up for the screen, but all the past English language adaptions of the work, including stage adaptions, have sought to ‘soften’ the brutality and terror of the finale by creating survivors and/or suggesting that certain protagonists were actually innocent after all. Thankfully, the latest 2015 BBC three-hour mini series decided to hell with such attempts at cheering up the piece and gives us the most lurid, bloodiest, fatalistic, and horrific telling of the story yet. In fact it arguably goes further than Christie’s original text making some of the past killings more graphic (though this is also about making more dramatic flashbacks as well) and adding more drugs and sex. Some might criticize BBC for taking such creative license with the text but really, Christie would probably have done so in the original herself if the times would have permitted it.
To that end some of Great Britain’s biggest stars have been recruited for the show. Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Rises) as Detective Sergeant William Blore whose past lethal act of police brutality seems all too topical. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, Woman in Gold) as Justice Wargrave the Hanging Judge. Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, The Hours) as the cruel religious zealot Emily Brent. Toby Stephens (Black Sails, Die Another Die) as the pitiful drunk Dr. Armstrong. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October) as the world weary, shell-shocked General MacArthur. Douglas Booth (Noah, Jupiter Ascending) as callous playboy and reckless driver Anthony Marston. Anna Maxwell Martin (Philomena, Becoming Jane) as guilt ridden housekeeper Mrs. Rogers and Noah Taylor (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edge of Tomorrow) as her abusive husband. Each one is perfectly cast.
But the main focus is on Vera Claythorne (relative Australian newcomer Maeve Dermody) and Phillip Lombard (Aidan Turner of Poldark). Vera is a moody dour presence; ostensibly the sort of bright, resourceful independent young woman who would generally be the heroine of a Christie novel but here’s she’s slowly revealed to be capable of profound evil. Lombard is an utterly amoral mercenary who’s killed 21, but he’s also refreshingly honest. He’s the only person on the island to freely own up to his sins. The two of them have a white hot chemistry together that’s just as much about their mutual dark sides and capacity for violence as it is about the fact that they’re both stunningly attractive people. Its undoubted one of the most twisted ‘romance’ stories on screen.
What the latest BBC adaption truly understands about the story (set in 1939 as Britain is just on the brink of war) is how the traditional “English’ trappings of the piece serve to underline the horror of the tale rather than diminish it. Everyone on the island is (initially) dedicated to playing along to the roles of their assigned stations – guests cannot behave as servants and vice versa – and behaving as if it’s a perfectly ordinary house party even when the killing starts. But as the body count climbs everyone’s manners and even basic civility drop away. Stripped of their pretensions to gentility we see the moral depravity of these ‘respectable’ people and with it an indictment of the hypocrisy of ‘polite society’ altogether.
And Then There Were None can be seen on Amazon Prime.
Ireland has long been rightly renowned as a country of storytellers that has birthed such legendary authors as Johnathon Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce. But with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner and this being the year of Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy it seems appropriate to consider some of Ireland’s leading female authors. Many of the books by these authors are out of print, but a handful have been reissued for succeeding generations to enjoy. Click on a book’s cover to learn more and order on Amazon.
Anne Burke (1780-1805) Anne has once worked as a governess and after finding herself widowed with a son to support she took up writing. She specialized in Gothic novels and was one of the earliest women writers in the genre.
Rosa Mulholland (1841-1921) Also known as Lady Gilbert, Rose was a novelist, poet, and playwright. She originally wanted to be a painter but received encouragement in her literary aspirations from Charles Dickens! Dickens greatly admired her work and encouraged her to continue. Her first novel Dumana was published in 1864 under the pen name Ruth Murray.
Edith Somerville (1858-1949) and Violet Martin (1862-1915) These two ladies were cousins who wrote under the pseudonym of Somerville and Ross. Together they published a total of fourteen novels and collections of stories until Violet’s death in 1915. Whereupon Edith continued to publish works under “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that she and Violet continued to collaborate via spiritualist séances.
M.E. Francis (1859-1930) M.E. Francis was the pen name of Mary Elizabeth Brundell an astonishingly prolific novelist who published dozens of works, she was described as being the best known female novelist of her time.
Jesse Louisa Rickard (1876-1963) Though she didn’t publish her first novel Young Mr. Gibbs (1912) until she was 36, Jesse was an extremely prolific writer who published over forty novels ranging from light comedy to crime novels. She was a founding member of the Detective Writers Club along with Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, and Agatha Christie.
Kate O’Brien (1897-1974) Kate was an novelist and playwright whose books dealt with themes of female agency and sexuality. At the time this was quite controversial, in fact it was so controversial that her 1936 novel Mary Lavelle was banned in Ireland and Spain while her 1941 novel The Land of Spices was banned in Ireland on publication.
Deirdre Purcell (born 1945) Dierdre is a former stage actress as well as having done tv and press journalism. She has published twelve critically acclaimed novels all of which have been best sellers in Ireland.
Anne Enright (born 1962) While Anne had won the 1991 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the 2001 Encore award she was still relatively obscure until her 2007 novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize-a decision that was made unanimously by the jury. Since then she has written two more novel The Forgotten Waltz (2011) which was short-listed for the Orange Prize and won the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and The Green Road (2015) which won the award for Irish Novel of the Year.
Tana French (born 1973) Tana is a theatrical actress and novelist whose debut novel Into the Woods (2007) won the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel. She is referred to as the First Lady of Irish Crime and she has another novel The Trespasser scheduled for release this August.
Eimear McBride (born 1976) Eimear wrote her debut novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing in just six months but it took nine years to get it published. The book then went on to win numerous awards including the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction and Desmond Elliott Prize for debut novelists.