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.
Two Trains Running takes place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the late 1960s. It was a time when views on race were shifting in the post Civil Rights era, but also a time when urban renewal was bringing change to many city neighborhoods. Nicole Lewis, whose resume includes Broadway appearances in Hair, Rent, and Lennon, is the sole woman in the seven-member cast. In this podcast, she talks with Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti about her career and her Arena Stage debut in August Wilson’s play.
There will always be debate when a play or musical is adapted for film. What seemed like a powerhouse story on a small stage may lose steam on the big screen. Despite its star power and award nominations, 2014’s August Osage County, with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, took in less than $40 million at the domestic box office. This season’s play-to-film offering, Fences, is positioned to do better, having raked in more than $32 million after opening in wide release on Christmas Day.
There’s been much anticipation over this film, adapted from August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Wilson, who died in 2005, thwarted previous efforts, holding out for an African-American director. Enter Denzel Washington, who had starred in a 2010 Broadway revival, which, like the film was also produced by Scott Rudin. (Rudin is one of a handful of people who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and Oscar.) With Washington as director and star, filming began in April in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the working-class neighborhood where Wilson grew up.
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Denzel Washington, and Jovan Adepo
Denzel’s Troy Maxson and his best friend, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), are sanitation workers, hanging off the back of the truck, wondering why only white men are used as drivers. Troy has registered a complaint with his superiors, a move that could get him fired. Instead, management honors his request and makes him a driver, although that move will lead to a separation from Bono, one of the few people who manages to keep Troy grounded.
Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson
On the surface, Troy seems content. He has a job, a home, and a wife, Rose (Viola Davis), he says he loves. But as he sits in the back yard drinking, first with Bono and later with his older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his story turns out to be much darker. As an adolescent, he killed a man in a robbery and spent time in prison. (That was where he met Bono.) After being released, he played in the Negro Baseball League and still hoped for a career in the majors. He continues to blame racism rather than his age for never advancing in the sport. And when his younger son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), is being scouted by college football teams, he refuses to meet with the recruiter or sign the necessary papers. While he justifies his stand by telling Cory that football, too, is racist, he seethes with jealousy that his son might succeed where he failed. Relations with his older son are no better. An aspiring musician, Lyons often turns up on Friday, payday, to borrow money from Troy, but what he really wants is his father’s attention. Instead, Troy refuses to go to the club to see Lyons play and continually disparages his career choice.
Troy frequently shouts that he’s the boss and the house Rose and Corey live in is his, something that’s not quite true. Troy’s brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), has a medal plate in his head, the result of a war injury. Gabe received $3,000 from the government for his mental impairment, which Troy used to buy the home. Although Gabe moved out, he lives nearby but spends most of his time wandering around the neighborhood, a tarnished trumpet tied around his neck.
While Troy thinks of himself as the head of the family, the one holding everything together is Rose. She puts up with his drinking and his ill-conceived plan to build a fence around the house. In Troy’s mind, the fence is more than just a way to enclose his property. Mentally, he’s hounded by the Grim Reaper and believes that the wooden barrier will keep evil at bay.
Washington opens up the film somewhat, with a few scenes shot in the street and in a bar. But for the most part, the action happens in Troy’s house and the backyard. Within that small space, the drama feels even more intense, brought home with close ups showing the emotions on the faces of the actors. While this is the story of an African-American working family, the themes resonate across socio-economic lines. Dreams die hard and often there is collateral damage.
Viola Davis and Jovan Adepo
Washington, in virtually every scene, has never been better. This is a dialogue heavy film and Washington alternates between delivering some lines like poetry, others like a diatribe. His Troy is not a sympathetic character, yet, at times, we feel sympathy for him, the result of Washington’s visceral performance. Troy is his own worst enemy, and as he builds his fence, this world closes in on him.
The real star of the film, however, is Davis. This actress seems to be at the top of her game no matter what she does. She continues to wow critics and fans with her role as Professor Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. No doubt, her star power will be one reason Fences does well at the box office. Her Rose is one for the ages, a performance that will be called out again and again. Watching Davis’ face as she registers the magnitude of Troy’s betrayal is painful to watch. She makes a difficult choice, one that has less to do with forgiving Troy and more to do with stopping others from suffering. It’s an heroic gesture, one that too few would have the courage to make.
Once more, the annual grand Frolik family vacation adventure took place. This year we escaped the August heat, with a 12 day long expedition to the mountains.
Fly out of Pittsburgh to Jackson Hole, Wyoming through Chicago. Jackson Hole, has a small (but very cute) airport with a fabulous display of wildlife photography. We drive down to Yellowstone Lake Village. It’s a beautiful ride and we see bison. Yellowstone Lake itself, the largest body of water in Yellowstone Park, is stunning. The Yellowstone Lake Hotel has porch seats with direct water views. We stay at the slightly less ritzy (but still quite comfortable) Yellowstone Lodge which also makes great use of the tranquil setting for the night.
Take an early morning boat tour of Yellowstone Lake while a helpful ranger explains local history and the lake’s ecology. Then we start driving north to Gardiner, Montana. Because of ongoing construction in the park, we take a slightly longer route through the Tower Falls area but can’t complain when we make long distance sightings of bears AND wolves. Would have hiked the Falls but are interrupted by a thunderstorm. Have lunch at Roosevelt Lodge which is smaller than some of the other better known Yellowstone Lodges (like Canyon Village and Old Faithful) but has a wonderful cozy main dining room with a fireplace and the food is spectacular. Eventually arrive in Gardiner and check into the Cowboy Cabin that we’ve rented for the week. We know it’s going to be a great time because on our first evening in Gardiner, we look out our front door and see a mother deer with two speckled fawns practically across the street from us!
Today we headed over to Lamar Valley to spend hours gazing at bison (many of whom will cross the road directly in front of you halting traffic), osprey nests, and prong horned antelope. We also do a short hike on the Trout Lake trail. It turns out that the rustic town of Gardiner, where many of Yellowstone’s seasonal employees stay during the summer, is a magnet for elk herds, that can be spotted in people’s yards and in front of the visitor’s center. Elk pay NO attention to humans, but casually go about eating and loafing around in the designated no hunting zone. (Elk aren’t stupid.) This is why in Gardiner, all attempts at flowers and gardening invariably feature metal netting. That night we have dinner at the Mammoth Springs Lodge Dining Hall.
Wake up early to the sight of deer out my bedroom window and elk in the driveway. Dad and I do a ranger guided hike from the Mammoth Springs area known as the Claggett Butte Trail. There are eight people, and we see marmots, hot springs, and encounter elk bones as we make a 1,000 foot gain in elevation.
We visit Tower Falls, eat lunch at Canyon Village, and then drive to Lamar Valley once more and this time besides the bison, we spot prong horned antelope and big-horned sheep. That evening we do our laundry at a local laundromat in Gardiner.
Today another long ranger guided hike of the Garnet Hill Trail that is eight miles long and where we go through multiple eco-systems. That night we go out for dinner at the Raven Grill where they serve delicious elk lasagna and huckleberry crème brulee.
Check out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Upper and Lower Falls. Then do Uncle Tom’s Trail which is a quick but quite strenuous hike of hundreds of steps to get a close-up view of the Lower Falls. That night we go out for huckleberry ice cream in Gardiner.
Today, we go horseback riding in Yellowstone Park out of Roosevelt Lodge. The ride takes us past the Lost Falls and through the Pleasant Valley. It’s beautiful and so are the horses but horses can have a mind of their own, and riding can be quite tiring as some members of our party learn so be careful!
Leave Gardiner, Montana. Drive past the spectacular Firehole Falls and Canyon area, which also features an amazing swimming hole. Also spot at the Fountain Paint Pot geysers and hike the trail. Finally we arrive at Jackson Hole, Wyoming to stay at the Cowboy Village Motel where we’ve rented two great cabins. We’re only a short walk from the Town Square, and that evening we explore Jackson Hole, which is MUCH larger than Gardiner and far, FAR more upscale. You do NOT see elk or black-tailed deer on the streets of Jackson Hole, but you will find some of the best dining and shopping imaginable. Not to mention some great art galleries and realtor branches of Sotheby’s and Christies as well selling real estate to all the big money that comes into this area. It doesn’t feel as ‘authentic’ as Gardiner, but it’s certainly fun to hang around.
Visit Grand Teton National Park, specifically the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve Center which was the first LEED certified property in Wyoming with composting toilets and a 10kw photovoltaic system. It’s also just incredibly pleasant and relaxing space to be in whether you’re enjoying the mountain views from the deck chairs, checking out the great library where every window feels like a perfect nature photo, or experiencing the full stereo surround room where you hear nature sounds so real you’ll swear you can actually feel the raindrops on your skin. We do a hike up to Lake Phelps which is of course lovely. This part of the country absolutely spoils you for its beauty and its wildlife spottings.
Today, I rent a wet suit and go white water rafting in an eight person boat (courtesy of the Dave Hanson Whitewater Rafting Company) along the Snake River. Since I am at the direct front of the boat and we are going through Class 3 rapids, I of course get completely soaked but it’s well worth it. Along the ride we see ospreys and even a couple adolescent bald eagles.
We wake up extra early to do the Taggert Lake this morning, while its still cool out and not very crowded and enjoy views of the lake and panoramic views of the mountains. Spend the rest of the day kicking around Jackson Hole, before eating at a great local restaurant called “Local” where I order bison medallions and a smores panna cotta.
Fly Back home, and think about what a truly awesome vacation it was! Reality (and Pittsburgh’s humidity in August), will be such a comedown.
Top photo: Grand Teton National Park at Snake River overlook sunset
Robin Weaver (top photo on left with Campbell Brown) dashes into the Women’s National Republican Club in a whirlwind – she’s allotted an hour for our breakfast interview prior to dashing to Brooklyn for her next appointment. Recently elected President, she’s on a mission to transform the Club by raising political awareness and making it a forum for debate and discussion. “Although our membership adheres to Republican principles, especially lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, we want to make it a welcome place for all. As a matter of fact, a number of my friends who are Democrats attend our events,” she notes. Her goal is to make the Club a place where everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, feels comfortable, a go to spot for political and social events, and a destination for banquets and weddings. In office since May 2015, Robin already has made big strides, making the Club a mecca for New York men and women to exchange ideas, dine, and socialize.
The volunteer role of running any organization can be a thankless job—demanding time, energy, and the skills to manage the various personalities to get things done. Robin faces a big challenge—but her can-do attitude, fresh ideas, and attention to detail appear to be working.
Robin’s interest in politics was inspired by her father, now deceased, with whom she watched William F. Buckley’s Firing Line every week growing up in the Pittsburgh area. She joined the Young Republicans in high school, and her yearbook from that time attests to her involvement, sprinkled with comments from classmates acknowledging her extracurricular political activities. Her curiosity carried over to college (where she majored in political science and economics) and then law school, where she joined the Federalist Society, and now serves as Vice President of the New York Chapter. When she moved to New York City in the 1980s, Robin began attending social and political events at the WNRC, and became an official member four years ago. She also attended both political conventions in our city: the Democratic Convention, at which Bill Clinton received the nod, and the Republican one in 2004 at which George W. Bush was re-nominated.
In most cases, success in running an organization is measured by the numbers, and Robin’s gig is no different. Increasing its existing $5.5 million revenue is a primary objective, and she’s going full force with two initiatives: broadening membership and promoting its 3 West Club’s banquet and catering capabilities. “It’s also important that we tap into Republican organizations in the city, as Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats by about six to one. I have a special focus on young people, as they often bring innovative ideas that in the long term will help our Club flourish.”
The Club’s banquet facilities are impressive. Located on 51st Street, just a few steps west of Fifth Avenue, it boasts two ballrooms sizable enough to accommodate weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate events. Under Robin’s stewardship, banquet revenue is on the rise. The Club also has 27 prettily appointed rooms (including two suites) available both to members and non-members alike. Visitors would be hard pressed to find a better value: rates range from $140 to $220 per night, depending on the season. And its prime location, in the heart of the city’s prestigious shopping district, and within walking distance to the theatre, is an added attraction.
The Club’s pub and dining room, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails, are accessible to anyone with a credit card (and are a great value, with prices ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent lower than other private clubs). Robin plans to host social events on the 9th Floor’s solarium, which has a terrace, once warmer weather arrives.
She’s already attracted a stirring roster of Republican speakers, including Dana Perino, Peggy Noonan, Judith Miller, and Margaret Hoover. Judith will be honored on April 11 at the Club’s 95th Annual Awards Dinner, along with Jack Pritchard, the NYC Fire Department’s most highly decorated fire fighter. Other honorees at the dinner include Michael Mukasey, the country’s 81st Attorney General, as well as Congresswoman Martha McSally of Arizona (who was elected to the seat previously held by Gaby Gifford).
Among the Club’s members are Candy Straight, previously a Wall Street executive, whose film Equity starring Anna Gunn was previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and just sold to Sony Pictures; and Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey Governor and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration.
Alice LaBrie and Robin Weaver
An election cycle creates buzz, and Robin has cleverly capitalized on it by organizing a Debate Watch Party for each of the Republican debates. (Full disclosure: I’ve attended most of them, and they are colorful, fun-filled, and spirited). Our talk of the slate of presidential candidates quickly turns to Republicans whom she admires: Speaker Paul Ryan, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and Maine Senator Susan Collins. She also includes four Congresswomen in her list: Virginia Foxx (North Carolina), Kathy McMorris Rogers (Washington), Elise Stefanik (New York, and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress), and the aforementioned Martha McSally.
Right on cue, our time is up, but Robin makes one final observation: “We’re committed to recruiting from a broad demographic of all ages, especially younger women, men who can serve as associate members, and as diverse a group as possible. Although male members can’t vote, nor serve on the Club Board, we want them to join and participate in our programs and events. It’s part of our plan to make the Club a welcome spot for all Republicans in New York.”