Nearly 40 Knoxvillians bundled up last week and, shrugging off the predicted rain and freezing temperatures, set out for an annual trek to New York City.
Four plays in four days and a vow to only eat at restaurants we had never before visited were the highlights of the trip for Alan and me, but there was so much more on this action-packed excursion.
Clarence Brown Theatre’s Artistic Director Cal MacLean and his team plan the trip each year, and they always manage to make each visit unique. Sometimes the group gets to meet actors (click here and here) or playwrights and casting directors (click here), or they go behind the scenes at a Broadway musical (click here).
Booth purchased the Gothic Revival-style mansion facing Gramercy Park and commissioned architect Stanford White to transform it into a club “for the promotion of social intercourse between the representative members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, sculpture and music, and the patrons of the arts.”
To put it in layman’s terms, the actors and other artistic types wanted a private space where they could relax, eat, drink and converse without having to be out in public where they could be recognized and possibly disturbed.
The tradition continues more than 125 years later.
After lunch in the club’s dining room, many of the group toured the premises and saw scores of portraits of famous actors and hundreds of artifacts of theatrical history. A pool table where Mark Twain often played is in the club’s grill, as is his pool cue.
My favorite room was the Kinstler Room displaying paintings and drawings of many famous actors who were and are members of The Players. A reproduction of John Singer Sargent’s full-length study of Edwin Booth is mounted above the fireplace and flanking it are portraits of Christopher Plummer as Prospero from “The Tempest” and Alfred Drake as Hajj in “Kismet.”
In the building’s library is a growing collection of books, manuscripts, photographs, prompt books, notebooks and more than 50,000 playbills, which began with Booth’s personal library.
Many also visited Booth’s suite, a parlor and bedroom where he lived his final five years after the opening of The Players.
The parlor and bedroom have been left furnished as they were when he died in 1893 at age 59, five months before his 60th birthday.
Well, as Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing!”
“Fun Home” was a close third for me, when ranking our four plays in order of favorites. It’s about a seriously (I mean seriously!) dysfunctional family. Trust me, this group does NOT put the “fun” in dysfunctional. But it is thought-provoking and very well done, and we do recommend it.
Although the fourth play, “The Father,” was last on our list of favorites, it was still worth seeing simply for the tour de force performance by veteran Broadway great Frank Langella. Langella, a three-time Tony Award winner, plays a father in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease – and all the fun that that implies. Again, thought-provoking but tough to watch.
I was a classics major for a brief time in college so I agree with John Kelley’s statement about why the classics fascinate him so much: The Greek myths embody everything that is timeless about the human experience. They reveal truths and acknowledge mysteries. They survive in the subconscious of western man to the point that to learn about them is to experience a shock of recognition.
The John Kelley show at Eerdmans Fine Art runs through April 29.
On the recommendation of our friend Margie Nichols, Alan and I visited a unique exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It featured the portraits of Vigee LeBrun (French, 1755–1842), one of the finest 18th-century French painters and among the most important of all women artists.
LeBrun was remarkable not only for her technical gifts but also for her understanding of and sympathy with her subjects. This is the first retrospective and only the second exhibition devoted to Vigée Le Brun in modern times. It continues through May 15, and we recommend you check it out if you are in New York.
A highlight of every Clarence Brown Theatre trip to New York is a reception for the theater’s alumni who live in the area.
After a jam-packed four days that were thoughtfully planned to allow everyone to customize his or her own experience, Sunday came and we all headed back to the warmer climes of Knoxville.
I know, I know. You foodies want a report on the restaurants we visited. That’s in the next edition of The Blue Streak.