Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Yes, yes -- I KNOW I've been remiss. But I've had a tempestuous two weeks. It would have been very entertaining (I suppose) if I'd chosen to write reports on all the events taking place in the course of the week I spent in Swarthmore but ... there was too much going on and now, almost a week after the show went onstage in Swarthmore, I reckon it'll be indiscreet to actually tell all. So much has happened, and so much now REMAINS to happen. People have been hurt. People have survived. Some people will come through this intact. And some ... may not.

Okay! I won't go on being mysterious. I left my sister's home for Swarthmore on Tuesday morning. My niece and her partner gave me a very friendly send-off at the Greyhound bus-station in Binghamton, a place that has become extremely familiar to me over the years, as I have so often used it as a transit point to and from my sister's home in Sayre, which is about an hour away, driving. The bus took about five hours to get to Philadelphia. Erin, the director of the play in Swarthmore, had given me directions for getting to Swarthmore -- cross the street from the bus terminal, get to the train station, buy a ticket, board the R3 to Swarthmore Station. She had warned me that she'd probably be at a lecture at the time I arrived, around 5.15, but not to panic, she would meet me between 5.30 and 6.00, at the closest little restaurant to the train station. And that I had her cell number so we'd always be in touch.

I guess those of you who have cell phones know what happened: I got to the little corner restaurant across the road from the station, waited till 5.30 to call Erin, and ... of course her phone was off. No panic. I ordered a sandwich and a coffee, sat down in the cafe, looked around, saw a nice old man who seemed to be circulating about in the shop, showing a couple of small paintings to some interested-looking customers. He smiled at me, I smiled at him, we got to talking, I bought him a coffee -- and when he found out I was waiting to be collected by someone who had not yet arrived, he offered to wait with me. He told me his life story -- he was an Israeli, been living in the US for 20 years, he drove a bus for a school for disabled children, he was a landscape painter in his spare time.

Meanwhile I called Erin another couple of times. No response. I left messages and also called the stage manager, Zhen. No response and also Zhen's phone mailbox was filled up and wouldn't accept messages. The nice Israeli artist, whose name is Joseph, offered to drive me to wherever I needed to go. It was now 6.30. The restaurant had closed for the day. We were sitting on the chairs outside. I finally acccepted his offer to help me find the place where I'd been told I was staying, a student guest house called Ashton House. WELL ... he didn't know where that was, so finally we got directions from the Public Library, we arrived at Ashton House -- but when I got to the door of the place, I discovered it was one of those self-service jobs, with no human being on hand to open doors or respond to doorbells -- so of course I could not get in, even though I was sure it was the right place! Hmmm. Night was falling. Our heroine was trying not to worry about needing the loo, the charming Israeli knight was offering a place to stay if all failed and in general the portents were uncool.

Oh -- of COURSE -- nothing went wrong! But it was a bit of a bummer, and by the time Erin called at 7.30, I was feeling rather sorry for myself. She told me to leave my stuff in the little space between the outer and inner doors of the guest house and to come to where she was, at the college theatre.

Here I have to pause to say that Swarthmore has the most beautiful campus -- grassy knolls, tall gracious nodding trees, a gracefull bell tower ... all the works.

The first two days of rehearsal that I attended were so highly embattled that there seemed no hope at all that the play would ever go onstage on Friday night. But on Thursday, a miracle occurred: the actors went under the lights and delivered two near-flawless performances, one after the other. They would tell me later that they had never yet had one complete run through. On Friday, the night of their first performance, after yet another good performance during the day, they came through with a strong, lively, characterful show and I was so relieved, I was practically beside myself. Present at the show was the charismatic director of the production company that was responsible for the show, East Coast Artist's Richard Schechner. It was wonderful for me to meet him, because I had already known of him and his work from an UNFORGETTABLE performance of Brecht's Mother Courage in Bombay some thirty years ago.

I met a number of extremely nice and friendly people: Allen Kuhovsky, who heads the Dept of Theatre at Swarthmore; Jean Tierno, who helped me with my paperwork; Mimi, Oana and Arnulfo, the design team for the play; Christine and Zhen, of ECA, the New York production company, who were responsible for seeing that the play went on the boards as scheduled.

I don't want to go into all the reasons that the rehearsal process was so riven with unhappiness, but let's just say that on the Monday of that week, i.e., on the 5th of September, the cast staged a walk-out. Later that day, they were cajoled into completing their performance, but only on the condition that their director could not address them directly, but instead must only communicate through Zhen or Christine. It was only by this means that the play, which seemed doomed to disaster, actually made it onstage four days later, on the evening of the 9th!

Ah-mazing. On the 10th, once more, after a pleasant day of lolling about -- I and the cast wandered around the sleepy streets of the nearby town of Media, eating icecream and getting food-poisoned on an unhealthy portion of lobster bisque (one of the actors! Not me) they delivered a good, strong and memorable performance. My friend Paul Knox came up from New York to see it and afterwards we all -- meaning, Paul, his friend Rana, members of the cast and two friendly cast-cousins -- went out for dinner, laughed, relaxed and enjoyed ourselves in the pleasant aftermath of what had been a bizarrely harrowing three final pre-show weeks.

On Sunday five of us, plus the stage manager Zhen motored up to NYC in the company van, I got dropped off at Penn Station and caught a train to Boston. There my niece and consort collected me from the South Station terminal and a pleasant evening was had by all. That was Sunday night. Two very pleasant nights in Boston later -- including a highly invigorating visit to the Mt Auburn Cemetery in the company of Paul Knox's extremely erudite and charming friend John Matthew -- this morning, Wednesday the 14th, my friend Maude -- artist and superlative human-being-at-large -- drove up from Providence, collected me from my niece's apartment and brought me to her wonderful home in a made-over textile mill building. We have spent the day talking nonstop, going to the mall to have a meal, walking around a wonderful, lyrical lake and ending the day with cheese, crackers, wine and avocados.

Major bliss!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Third Bulletin

This morning I caught up with a very friendly review of SUKI that appeared in this week's Sunday Magazine section of The Hindu (I imagine it appeared only in Madras, but I could be wrong). Naturally, I can't help thinking very warmly of the reviewer, whom I don't know -- if she's reading this, THANKS! Reviews like that makes it all worthwhile -- "it" being defined as all the sleepless nights and cut-and-paste days that went into putting the book together and all the years of wondering why I ever bothered to produce a strip that hardly anyone read.

Meanwhile, here in Sayre, we received several showers and even a bit of thunder, courtesty Katrina yesterday and the day before. But the sun's out now and the trees are murmuring and the birds busy at their feeding pavilion in the backgarden. My sister's home is one of the prettiest ones at which I regularly stay and I LOVE being here. Aside from being immersed in the STAR WARS saga (I have not yet finished ploughing through the mass of background detail -- I have learnt, to my surprise, that the first movie, that brilliant, unforgettable first introduction to a new way of looking at the galaxy, was embattled all the way to the theatres. It gives one hope -- however wan it may be -- that even the most astounding successes have had to struggle massively before they get the recognition they deserve. Amazing also to see the young George Lucas! A terminal-case nerd! Despite which ...) the three of us in this household spend our final waking hours watching the first season of "24" on DVD. I've only ever caught odd episodes of the second season, so it's very cool to watch the whole thing in excruciating realtime, with NO COMMERCIALS. We watch three episodes at a time (so ... yes ... three hours) and get to bed feeling drained. Totally cool.