Monday, August 13, 2012

I'm Back!

STAGES After three months of being unable to attend any dance or theater event, I returned to a theater to see BULLET FOR HITLER – and as the first act ran on incessantly with these people whom I would avoid in real life within three minutes of meeting them, I almost wished I had a bullet myself. The second act at least moved and was mildly interesting. The director used every stock trick in the book to get laughs – and the audience laughed loudly and long. The author had a few clever remarks but they almost got lost in the overdone physicality of the action. As one who hated slapstick since childhood, I found much of this production a terrible turn off. During that recuperative three months, from which I finally emerged, I read many plays, including IN MASKS OUTRAGEOUS AND AUSTERE by Tennessee Williams which I would love to see staged. I read two plays by Ayn Rand which I had seen in off off Broadway productions here in New York in the last several years Her IDEALS was cleverly cut and smoothly presented in the production I saw. It ran on and on and on in the original script. Her THINK TWICE was less well served in the rather less than professional showing I attended. She is one of my favorite twentieth century authors, as is Daphne du Maurier. SHOOT/GET TREASURE/ REPEAT by Mark Ravenhill gave me chills as I read the series of plays which are brilliantly written and certainly show a different viewpoint than Western Nations generally adopt It would be painful to watch – but that is their intention. I have been working on cutting and reshaping some plays I wrote years ago as three acts to the more acceptable one or two acts. It has probably made me more conscious of overwritten plays. PAGES Also read a series of Ayn Rand’s short stories, a number of Daphne du Maurier novels Including “The House on the Strand”, “Rule Britannia” and “Don’t Look Now.” At first I was disinterested in Sinclair Lewis’ "The Prodigal Parents” but soon got caught up in it and found it ultimately a delight. Read Art Times Journal Sept/Oct issue to see my remarks about two books about early twentieth century dance phenomena -rocj and rikk and Martha Graham. Will be on line in Sept and in print as well. I just finished editing and formatting the children’s book “Dan is not Scary” by Melissa deGenova and sent it to the printer. Maggie Cousins, who illustrated my four read-to-me children’s anthologies of fantasy stories did the front cover and the illustrations for this book as well. It is about a little girl’s birthday and how she reacts to her friends’ finding her wheel chair bound older brother daunting. It is an earnest attempt to make kids understand that differences in speech or physical capabilities should not make people uncomfortable or afraid. I am plodding along with the second part of my memoir of childhood during the Great Depression and Second World War. It seems there has been little peace ever since. “Remembering our Parents – stories and sayings from mom and dad” which will be released in September has a section from me about my dad and his reaction to the sale of my first poem. Selection was taken directly from my memoir. It’s the third book in the last two years to print contributions from me – First was “Living the Life of My Dreams” by Caryn FitzGerald, out in ebooks in 2011 and paper more recently, and “Imperfect Weddings are Best” by Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg, published by Create Space earlier this year”: My Leftovers reminiscence is the first anecdote in that book. I am now starting on a group of Somerset Maugham’s novels. It has been a long time since I read any of them, and the one I began with, “The Narrow Corner” was one I never read before. Rarely in the past did I read a number of works by one author all in succession. I find by doing so you realize how much repetition there is in an author’s work, even when each book is totally different from the others. Am ending this now with the hope that I will be back to seeing three or four productions a week and being able to report on many of them. I am walking slightly better than a two year old now, after months of having to keep my leg straight, no bending of the knee, and hope to be up to par in a few more weeks. Do post your reactionsto this blog rther then merely e mail me.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Popping Up All Over

STAGES Busy time for theater and dance. Have seen Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN revival. My memory of earlier versions too strong. Did realize for first time, however, that the brother is a totally unrealistic remembrance by Loman, as if one visit encapsulated all their lives. AN EARLY HISTORY OF FIRE absorbing new family drama by David Rabe about youth’s eternal need to fly from home – and a creative man’s double need to expand his horizons. Well done and absorbing. LONELY, I’M NOT by Paul Weitz explores the difficult task of finding oneself. Nicely acted and well staged to keep action moving. ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS brilliantly directed and performed by a stellar cast. Had audience in stitches throughout and managed to fool most viewers with various schtick. Though not a fan of commedia dell’arte, I appreciate how superbly this was done. Was fascinated by THE MORINI STRAD – a friend who saw it could not warm to the leading character, but I, having worked for years with Sonia Moore, identified with her immediately. They were two of a kind. INTERNATIONAL PERFORMING ARTISTS PRESENTS AN EVENING OF DANCE in late March had few exciting moments but was enjoyable throughout. AVI SCHER & DANCERS, about whom I wrote extensively in the May/June issue of Art Times Journal continues to present superb classical dancers in his very romantic choreography. YOUTH AMERICA GRAND PRIX NEW YORK FINALS 2012 was a stunner. Classical Ballet has nothing to worry about in the future if the memorable dancers in STARS OF TODAY MEET STARS OF TOMORROW GALA is representative of the remarkable talents of young dancers emerging internationally today. I was particularly impressed by the male dancers who had great elevation and strong sustained performances in their solos and partnering. I will cover this event and the subsequent First Position movie in my Art Times Journal dance article on line in June. I was delighted to attend Program A of the Spring 2012 Directors’ Festival at Pace University. I went to accompany playwright Paul Dexter whose THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING DOUG was first play on the four play program. His play is one of my favorites in TnT Classic Books volume of "Short Plays to Long Remember" which I compiled and edited in 2010 and which was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Awards that year. The young actor portraying Doug, Jake Robbins, did a very energetic performance of Doug. A slower pacing of the play would have done much to indicate the humiliation he needed to portray. In the second play the daughter (Claire Charland) and mother (Brooklyn Newton) were both memorable, the younger for her naturalness and innocence, the mother for her ability to appear to be a middle aged dowager despite her actual youth. My favorite production of the evening was ALL ABOUT AL which offers a humorous look at jealousy. The final presentation was ill conceived and the actresses had neither the stage presence nor the vocal abilities to pull it off. I always tell actors when I direct there are two things you owe an audience - to be seen in character and heard throughout the theater. Without those very basic abilities, no amount of “acting” can save you. PAGES Read three more books for the global ebook awards – one quite wonderful. They asked us to hold comments until all entries are judged, so no words allowed yet. Also read over half a dozen paper books – no wonder my eyes are so bad – Mysteries by Lovejoy, Marsh and Barnard -- one actually fooled me, other 2 figured out fairly early. Biography of the brilliant artist Turner by Peter Ackroyd was interesting though not compelling, being more about his art than about him. Now reading Daphne du Maurier’s "The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte" biography, which has all the dramatic power she can so readily convey. Enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s “The Charming Quirks of Others.” Jeb Rubenfeld’s “Death Instinct”, second book with Freud as a character. was as entertaining as his first. Both are set in part in my native New York many years ago and are extra fascinating for that fact. I am working on the second part of my early years memoir, CONFESSIONS OF A DIRTY CHEW BASKET, having just left the devastating 1930s in NYC, not many years after the Rubenfeld books' time set. Also preparing a book by Melissa DiGenova for publication by TnT Classioc Books. Have a nice quote on the back cover of Norman Beim’s “Touring With Stalin.” An anecdote about my dad will appear in a forthcoming book, “Remembering our Parents” by Stuart Gustafson, and Sherry L. Meinberg sent me a copy of her book, “Imperfect Weddings” which begins with an anecdote from my own wedding. Looking forward to my interview May 22 at 1PM Eastern time on conscious discussions at We’ll discuss my current campaign to fight illiteracy by getting kids hooked on books before school sets them squirming when they have to read. Seems like I am popping up all over, but right now need to pop off and get going on supper.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Will winter demand a rematch now that its spring?


I cannot believe I skipped mentioning a play I thought one of the best I’ve seen in years. It was on Theater Row,
Poetic License
by Jack Canfora– four characters, with old Greek unities, brilliant dialogue, scintillating performances, a fine set, very good direction by Evan Bergmann – should have gone to Broadway but the Times did not agree so probably it will languish until some wise producer finds it eventually. This talented playwright deserves a Broadway run soon.

A talented playwright who had his share of Broadway runs, the great Eugene O’Neill, was being well served at the Irish Rep Theater with a production of
Beyond the Horizon
that flowed as smoothly and inevitably as a river rushing to the ocean. I loved the expressionistic set by Hugh Landwehr and offer kudos to old pal Ciarán O’Reilly for his naturalistic direction.

On the dance front, enjoyed the 2012 Inaugural Performance of Kymera Dance in the spacious LaGuardia High School. More about this and New York Theatre Ballet’s 33rd Season
Signatures 12
celebration of legends and visionaries on line in April at


Rules for judges reading in the Global Ebook Awards have changed, and we are urged NOT to post opinions about books we have judged until winners are announced, so I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed several books in the historical fiction and mystery categories.

In paper books. Enjoyed Robert Barnard’s “Death of a Literary Widow” But then, I haee enjoyed most of his mysteries.

Admit I was not much taken with Gustave Flaubert’s “Sentimental Education.” Charles Finch’s “A Stranger in Mayfair” held my interest throughout even though I figured out the murderer too soon and the motive as soon as a certain fact unknown earlier was revealed. Well plotted, well written and well worth reading.

Am currently preparing a new kids book written by Melissa DiGenova for publication this Fall. It is her second book for TnT Classics, which published her first book. The book she wrote in between, “Jake is not Stupid” was published elsewhere. It was the first in a series this special ed teacher projects about children with physical, emotional or mental challenges.
Her new book, “Dan is Not Scary” is being illustrated by Maggie Cousins, who illustrated all four fo my read-to-me fantasy story books.

The great niece of the co-founder of TnT Classic Books, visited here this past week. We reminisced about her Great Aunt and all the books in the Happy Task series from TnT, which was named for Maggie Task upon her demise.

Will be at the Rainbow Book Fair on West 13th St Saturday, March 24 at the GNYIPA table on the first floor. If you get to read this in time and can make it, stop by. We are there from 10AM until early eve.
I’ll be reading a 4 minute selection from Jane Chambers’ spoof of evangelists, “Chasin’ Jason”, sometime between 3:30 and 4:00. This novel never got all the attention it deserved but seems especially appropriate in today’s religious climate. In it, a four year old declares himself the second coming – and his followers just about take over the world!
I finished the rewrite of my play about a musician who died too young, am back working on the second half of my memoir about childhood during the Great Depression and World War II. Life keeps getting in the way of my writing time – so will steal a few hours from this day and go back to work.

Sunday, March 4, 2012



I was so busy going to various staged events in February; I never got around to writing about them. So here’s a brief recap. Those with dancing involved are also covered in my March/April article in Art Times Journal and on line at
Broke my own rule about revivals and went to see “The Road to Mecca.” It reinforces why I don’t “do” revivals generally. While I am not opposed to talky plays, the talk has to dazzle or the players have to triumph. Neither was the case in this revival there just never was a moment when the play soared off the stage.
Saw “Russian Transport” which was played more for comedy than for the underlying horror of the family business. It was lively and many of the family scenes seemed very realistic. It is a disturbing play and a good attempt at real old fashioned drama.
I enjoyed Parsons Dance presentation at the Joyce. “Round my World” had some visually stunning moments. I found the music in several of the numbers so unpleasant I prayed for earplugs and just held my hands over my ears instead. A much younger musician friend who was with me had the same reaction. “Caught” should have come with a warning for those who cannot take strobe lighting, because it is a dance of light and posing and the timing must be perfect, as it was in this performance. All the dances used the stage well, and the final “Swing Shift” was a rousing one. Dancers were fluid, graceful and athletic. David Parson choreographed 4 of the 5 numbers, and Katarzyna Skarpetowska the world premiere of “A Stray’s Lullaby” which was commissioned by the Joyce Theater Foundation with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It was a perfect fit with the rest of the program.
Was at the world premiere of a new NYC dance company, Kymera Dance at the far from small Little Flower Theater at LaGuardia High School. Company foundet William Isaac choreographed two of the dances, one of which he had done in 2011 and which used LaGuardia High School Alumni Dancers to recreate it, the other was an energetic and exciting new work. Abdur-Rahim Jackson choreographed one and Karole Armitage presented excerpts form “Three Theories” which premiered in 2010.
I also saw “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” which soared on the opening nimber due to the exquisite voice of Nikki Renée Daniels. All the voices throughout were splendid, although some of the characterizations were less stunning than I had anticipated after all the great reviews. The dancing frankly left me disappointed. Still, it is a thrill to have the opportunity to see this done on a Broadway stage. Audra McDonald certainly did not disappoint.
Must mention the loss of Howard Kissel. He was top drama critic at the Daily News when I was a press agent and I found him always a gentleman and an astute critic. He shall be missed.
I have one personal memory of Howard which embarrassed him and amused me.
I was awaiting a cross town bus at 9th Ave and 34th when Howard rushed over to the bus stop. Delighted to see him after about 4 years, I greeted him and he stooped over and pecked my cheek. Then he pulled away and apologized, saying he thought I was someone else. He was blushing. Laughing I said “I’m Francine”
and before I could finish he said, Yes, Francine Trevens, I know.” I wonder for whom he mistook me?
I made a similar mistake some ten years earlier when I was rushing to a meeting on the east side and saw an actor I recognized, although his name eluded me. Having interviewed hundreds of actors in my theater reviewing days, I greeted him with a hug and said how surprised I was to see him in New York. “What are you doing here?”
I asked, struggling to recall his name. He said was filming a movie. I wished him luck with it, said how great it was to see him and hurried on. Two blocks later it dawned on me I had never interviewed him or spoken to him before in my life – it was Michael Caine. I wonder if he wondered who the h… I was?
In addition to my regular reading of books I can cuddle with before going to sleep, or read while dining, I have read three books for the Global Ebooks awards, being a judge again this year.
Of the three the first purported to be a mystery novel and I found it to be neither a novel or much of a mystery. The second blew me away – an historical novel that had me on the edge of my seat as I strained my eyes to read it on my computer. “Dr. Margaret’s Sea Chest” was thrilling – with its history of the underground railroad and the Indian wars with the charge of the light brigade all made up close and personal. I look forward to the sequel
Another good read was Ice on the Grapes by R.E. Donald. Took me a while to get into it but it kept moving and got more interesting as it went along. Well plotted mystery.
Smashwords, where I publish my ebooks for kids is having a special promotion so I have offered all four read to me illustrated fantasy books for half price now through March 10 – so if you have been wanting to read these gems Pixie Tales, “Elfin Tales,” “Fairy Tales Too,” and “Gremlins, Genies and Trolls, Oh My!”or get them for kids in your family get them now! You can download them to any e reader, or read as a PDF or an epub right on your computer.
The code for half price on any of the books is REW50. –

In paper format, have been reading several books. One mystery that delighted me was “Death at Devil’s Bridge” by Robin Paige (pen name of a husband and wife writing team). The mystery is set in the turbulent time when balloon travel was an uncontrollable new form of flight, and automobiles were considerate great dangers when they sped about at 12 miles an hour. Charming book.
“The Affairs of Forgotten Youth” is the first Alexander McCall Smith book which I have read which disappointed me. He is a favorite contemporary writer of mine and this book just didn’t grab me as have all his others.
Now, back to the pages of a full length play that I have been rewriting for the last two weeks. Hope to get it in shape this week and sent out to theaters ASAP. These things don’t do any of us any good sitting in drawers or on computers, do they?
As my 80th birthday creeps up, I know I must get a move on with all the projects I wish to get written before my final curtain!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012



Hope you had as happy a start to new year as did I.

If you had a choice between a box of one kind of chocolates or a sampler, which would you choose? If you went to a foreign food restaurant you had never tried before, would you prefer to order a single item or choose a buffet?
I’d go for the chocolate sampler and the buffet, because I like to try new things in small quantities to determine what I’d like the next time around.
So – attended a sampling of various dance companies at StamPede at Symphony Space again this year. Surprised how much more tap there was than I recall previously. The house was packed – the audience enthusiastic and the dancers terrific.
The footwork of the Chicago Tap Theatre was phenomenal, although the body work wasn’t quite up to par and the use of the vast stage left a lot to be desired. The break between first company and second was as long as a dance number and most annoying, especially since there seemed so little that had changed on stage! The Parijat Desai Dance Company presented two splendid dance numbers, with exotic overtones.
Darrah Carr Dance did some incredible work – their first piece reminded me of Mexican jumping beans which used to be playthings for kids when I was young. They zipped around each other so swuifrly you jeopt expecting a collision. Their step dancing had flair and interesting patterns. They moved with the speed of light! David Parker and the Bang Group had the audience in stitches. The many children in the audience were the first to laugh – and they laughed all the way through his first piece. Other companies also pleased the diverse audience.

My younger daughter was here for Martin Luther King’s weekend with her two eldest boys, and we went many places around town. I was astonished by the marvelous renovation made in the Historical Society Central Park West Building. Light, bright and lively. We were urged to see the short film in the revamped auditorium and the moment it began, I felt my eyes well with tears. It is a paean to the great love of my life, my home town, New York City. When we emerged my daughter laughingly asked me if I was sure I hadn’t written it, because it so fully expressed so much of my sentiment about the city.

Saw the film of War Horse, Found some remarkable photography and brilliant directorial choices which managed to show the friendship between the horses, the devotion of the young man to the newborn colt, the horrors of war, the reality of fear, and many other magnificent emotional moments. It,
The Artist
are all extraordinary films. What a great year for movies!


It also has started out as a great year for me. Cnildren’s Bookwatch finally got around to reviewing the second book in my now completed 4 volume series of read-to-me children story books. Its choice of Elfin Tales in the Fantasy/Sci-fi category thrilled me. Its actual review delighted even more.
Here is a long excerpt .
“From an enthralling series that promises more twinkling tales from magical beings, "Elfin Tales" weaves a special blend of traditional whimsey laced with pixie dust with matter-of fact narratives about three dimensional children and adults who are sometimes kind, sometimes not. It is a blend that works well to deliver a delicate message of the need for warmth and a compassionate heart. "Elfin Tales" will be eagerly listened to by children age 4-9, and/or read independently. This reviewer's favorite tale was Leprechaun or Can't, a morality fable and leprechaun travelogue that has little surprises sprinkled throughout. Fantastic little color illustrations add charm and appeal to these small tales.”
Of the six books I have read this year so far, I was most absorbed by E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View. There is a certain gentleness and charm on every page of the book.
I read what I called
the girl with series
last year, now realizing it is called The Millennium Trilogy
I learned this on the opening page of the other book which fascinated me, by Eva Gabrielsson with the ungainly title There are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me.
While hardly great literature, it was a strong cry for fairness from one who feels herself betrayed. How much of it is absolutely true, only a detective can determine, but it is an unusual presentation of a situation equally strange.

I shall be a judge again in the second annual global ebook awards. Not sure yet which categories I will be judging, but know I will not judge in fantasy or children’s literature

More in February...enjoy early winter.