- A reminder from literature: capitalism was always a disaster, even in the days when virtue and commerce were thought to go hand in hand. “The gentlemanly capitalism we were brought up to believe in was, if not wholly mythical, a sideshow in a noisy cavalcade of fraud, theft, and what Walter Bagehot called ‘ingenious mendacity’ on all sides … We should return to the pages of Dickens and Trollope to remind ourselves that there were wrong ’uns at every level and turn of nineteenth-century commerce, from crooked agents, clerks, brokers, and jobbers to ‘lords on the take, knights on the make’—and that ‘the thieves were often difficult to distinguish from the legitimate,’ to the cost of the ill-informed and gullible investor and customer.”
- In Donetsk, Ukraine, as artillery continues to barrage the city, the show must go on. “The persistent shelling was barely audible through the thick stone walls of the Donetsk National Academic Opera … The highly regarded opera continues a regular schedule of weekend performances, as does the neighboring dramatic theater. Performers at the popular Donetsk circus, having finished their New Year’s routines, are planning a new round of shows in February. The planetarium open every weekend. Many cinemas are operating.”
- Akhil Sharma on Chekhov the journalist: “Sakhalin Island is the greatest work of journalism from the nineteenth century … It has the pleasure of moving through a physical, distinct world and the keenness of documentary analysis.”
- Van Gogh, method actor: He began his professional life “in the Borinage, the former industrial and mining region to the southwest of Mons … He originally intended to be a pastor, but the sickly, impoverished mining communities were often baffled by his attempts at asceticism and his clumsy efforts to fit in by wearing rags, blackening his face and sleeping on the ground.”
- “Many of us have at least one thing we have put our name to that we have later regretted and desperately hoped might never again resurface to embarrass us, something that is far from guaranteed in an age of social-media outrage cycles … Pat Conroy’s novel The Great Santini was such a thinly-veiled portrayal of his tyrannical military father that Conroy’s mother presented it to the judge at her divorce proceedings, saying, ‘everything you need is in there.’ ”
The playwright Donald Margulies is at what he describes as a “delicious” point in his career. He’s written the screenplay for The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself that recently completed filming. His newest play, The Country House, opened June 3 in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse, and begins New York previews September 9 at The Manhattan Theater Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It’s an “homage” to Chekhov, employing themes and images from Margulies’s favorites: Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull. It’s also his first play ostensibly about the theater itself. The play is an ‘off-stage comedy’ set during the Williamstown Theatre Festival, focusing on a family of actors who have returned to a familiar house in the Berkshires after the recent death of a beloved family member.
Margulies is the author of over a dozen plays, including The Model Apartment, Sight Unseen, and Dinner With Friends, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000. He lives in New Haven with his wife; he has a son at college in Minnesota. His workspace is a series of rooms on the third floor of his home, walled by books, with windows overlooking his abundant backyard. When we spoke, first in his “bill-paying” room and then over fat sandwiches in New York, he appeared energized by his career’s activity, as if even its description gave him inspiration. He is now at work on the book for a musical, an adaptation of Father of the Bride, which would be a first.
Has any of your writing for the screen begun as writing for the stage?
I’ve adapted three of my plays into screenplays—Sight Unseen, which has not been filmed, and Collected Stories and Dinner With Friends, both of which were produced for television—but I have never begun a play that I decided would be better served as a screenplay. In the case of my most recent screenplay, The End of the Tour, my long-time manager, David Kanter, sent me David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, with a note that said, “Take a look at this, there might be a play in it,” because the book is almost entirely dialogue, the transcription of a four-day conversation between Lipsky and David Foster Wallace. I started reading it and was excited because I thought it did lend itself to adaptation—not for the stage but for the screen. I saw its potential as something much more expansive than two guys sitting around talking—namely a road picture. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing this iconic figure on the American landscape. The End of the Tour is consistent with themes that have interested me as a dramatist for forty years, which is what no doubt attracted me to it. Read More
But the reason I was telling this story was because I was reminded of that night in St. Petersburg when I saw Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya. Like Vanya and Astrov, I am middle-aged, a drunk, often despondent—perhaps I am having a midlife crisis—and yes, I am an adulterer. (Vanya and Astrov are only would-be adulterers.) At the time I was trying to pick up this Russian waitress—sitting drunk in the snow-covered park, watching a bear dance at the end of a short rope—I was already an adulterer. Two years before, I had left my first wife for my assistant, who worked in my jewelry store. I drank my way into that affair, and I would drink my way through the divorce.
But the sad fact was I did not get to sleep with the Russian waitress. This is what actually happened.
The man with the bear would not leave me alone. Read More
But how I got to thinking about my drunken love affair, years ago in Saint Petersburg, is Sam Gold’s new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, playing now at the Soho Rep.
It’s ninety-nine-cent Sunday, and the line of sweaty New Yorkers edging for shade outside the eighty-seat theater is long. They are bored and tired. It’s a muggy ninety degrees. “We’re never going to get in,” I hear one complain to another; later, outside the bathroom, where they sell vodka shots for three dollars a piece, I hear an excited woman say to her date: “I can’t believe we made it!” Most of the people who stood or sat in line (many since two P.M.) did not see the show. My own guests, who had driven in from the Bronx for the production, were turned away.
“I’m the reviewer,” I tried to convince the guy at the door.
“Man, we don’t get lines like this, even for the Sunday show. I’ll have a revolt. It wouldn’t be fair.”
My friends went to see a movie, and my date and I went to our corner seats, right by the couch where the Professor would later be shot (and not).
My apartment is infested with evil roommates and sad vibes. Being unemployed, I have no refuge. But I refuse to be depressed! Mornings I pack a small bag of books, take to the streets, wander around. But one can only sit on so many benches. Am curious about comfy food places where the management smiles kindly (or just not unkindly) on quiet, unassuming customers who occupy space for many hours, ordering only coffee, or perhaps (eventually) some delicious pie … Suggestions?
Sincerely, Ex Libris
(oh and Manhattan only please)
Dear Ex, We have one of the world’s great reading rooms–at least for now–at the Forty-second Street Library. Having spent years in tiny, often overcrowded apartments, I promise that you will sit longer and read more there than in any café. If you get hungry, there’s a Pret à Manger across the street, not to mention the restaurant and sandwich kiosks in Bryant Park. Enjoy it while you can. Other good reading places—on weekdays especially—are the side room at Cafe Pick Me Up on Avenue A, the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights, and Tarralucci e Vino, either the one off Union Square or the one on East Tenth Street. For weekends, I highly recommend the bar at Vandaag on Second Avenue. No pies, but excellent coffee, strupwafels, and poached eggs.
A cultural news roundup.
- After a particularly contentious run-up, Julian Barnes (finally) wins the Booker.
- The ceremony was … eventful.
- On the other side of the pond, the National Book Award apologizes for its error.
- Lauren Myracle withdraws.
- Roz Chast: “I think that children’s books should be censored not for references to sex but for references to diseases. I mean, who didn’t think after reading Madeline that they were going to get appendicitis?”
- Amazon hoards its superheroes.
- Stan Lee creates new ones.
- Tintin, the movie.
- The Seagull, the movie.
- Spot the fake title.
- Bram Stoker’s notebooks!
- Spalding Gray’s journals!
- C. S. Forester’s lost novel!
- Emily Post 4.0: “Just because someone’s IM service shows them as being ‘available,’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are … Respect ‘do not disturb’ status. Remember, each time you IM you are interrupting someone.”