Mothers and Sons on Broadway

 

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Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor and Tyne Daly (photo courtesy of entertainment weekly, Joan Marcus)

I saw Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons in previews on Broadway the other night. I liked it. It threw me back to a really sad time. This play is the story of a deceased actor’s mother showing up like 25 years later, after all this time, to reminisce about her son with his beloved.

I think the two main characters, the mother and the lover, want forgiveness from each other. And basically I want that too. I want the characters to love each other, to get over their awkwardness.

The mother, played by the amazing Tyne Daly, cannot give love and can hardly give acceptance. The two circle one another without coming to a resolution. Fortunately the new husband, played by Bobby Steggert, and the couple’s son arrive. Just in time, to cut through the BS and awkwardness.

These two are the heroes because of their forthrightness – the new husband calls out the mother’s past injustices and the little boy articulates the family’s need for a grandmother.

The play reminded me of how the AIDS crisis in NYC swamped us. I felt overwhelmed by this again, when my son was reading Angels in America for his Constructing America class and he asked me and Chris, “Did you lose friends to AIDS?” And we told him “Yes.” Among them, Chris’s actor friend Robert Farber, a great artist, a great friend, whom we visited in his West Village apartment when he was getting close to death. And I think that we are still bothered that we didn’t visit him more.

So the play brought that up for me – how much of yourself do you give when you know someone is dying?

It was particularly heart-wrenching in the play when the survivor told his lover’s mother, “You and I are the only ones who still remember him.”

I don’t think that’s true. There are people, like me and Chris, friends on the margins, who remember. We know what happened and we still talk about it.

In the ’90s, I used to host my TV show, Mary Beth and Friends, at Manhattan Neighborhood Network right after Act Up taped their show. And I would schmooze with the on-camera people and the crew. I told them their stuff was cool, their interviews, their lying down protests, their silence=death. And I told them I supported them. But honestly, they weren’t all that interested in my opinion. They appreciated my support, I guess. But let’s face it, they had bigger issues.

It was a crazy time. I worked at the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center in the mid-late ’80s and lost a friend, fellow front desk clerk, He was a few years older than me and I was still in college. And he seemed to be one of the first deaths by AIDS. And it was so very hushed, very uncertain, a gay man’s disease, that we didn’t know how to talk about it. We didn’t have the words.

The play reminded me about all that. About how we talk or don’t talk about death and dying. A year or so, I bumped into an actor friend whose partner/friend had died of AIDS. I told him I still often remembered his friend fondly. In the coffee shop, we didn’t get all maudlin. We just reminisced. We just talked about his friend, like it was 9/11. Like, such a tragedy. Still, it had not stopped our lives. Remembering a death can cause us to stop in our tracks, unprepared for grief, but the remembering doesn’t make us stop living.

That’s the thing about Mothers and Sons and the death of someone you love — you see that serious illness, death even, doesn’t stop loved ones from living. You can’t stop living, even when someone you love is sick or dying. (And, of course, for me, this brings up Chris’s Parkinson’s. How can I stop myself from living? How can I not stop and treasure each day? Each day, a gift.)

Now, about my home girl, Tyne Daly – she just throws lines out there, so naturalistically. I love her arch intelligence. She owns the stage. The other actors were wonderful too, but it was hard to know if their awkwardness was due to the great lady on stage with them or just the scenario of the play itself – the mother of a deceased ex descending for a night on your boisterous, wonderful, ongoing family life.

What can you do? Keep living. Keep remembering. Keep talking. Silence=death.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Mothers and Sons and Pivoting Media for the tickets. The opinions on this blog are always my own. 

http://www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com/

Robert Farber’s art

 

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XFR STN

Over at the New Museum on the Bowery, they’ll help you archive your old hi-8, VHS, 3/4″ tapes in the Transfer Station. I’ve wanted to digitize Mary Beth and Friends for years. I put it off because of the time and money. I let my old tapes collect dust under my bed and in the back of the closet.

In the mid 1990s, I produced and hosted Mary Beth and Friends, a show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The show aired on Tuesday nights at 9 pm on channel 17. I interviewed artists, writers, and comedians. My mission was to showcase mine and my friends’ writing and acting and our comic bits. And to interview artists who were not profiled in the mainstream media — women and people of color. But eventually, I interviewed anyone making anything interesting.

This was before the internet. We had this urge — media by the people, for the people.

So yesterday, my time slot in the dubbing studio (transfer station) was from 3 to 6 pm. Going from analog to digital, you have to play your tapes in real time.

I knew I could only digitize a few episodes.  But I didn’t know which of the more than 100 shows to pick. You’ve heard of Sophie’s Choice. How could I choose one of my darlings to live and let the others languish?

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I worried about how I would feel, viewing my old tapes. I am, like, 20 years older (and 20 lbs. heavier?), than I was in those tapes. Would I be at peace with myself and how I have aged? Would I cry? Would I feel badly that the show was never picked up by a major network?

Several people I interviewed on Mary Beth and Friends have died, including my teacher and friend Mark O’Donnell. Should I find his tape and offer a tribute? I put off the decision for as long as possible, fearing it would take me hours to find the tapes. (It took all of 10 minutes to reach into the back of the closet and pull out a handful of tapes!)

I cannot tell you how affirmed I felt in those three hours in the media and edit suites.

Museum-goers puttered around us. Sometimes they’d ask what we were doing or Walter would just mention, non-chalantly, “Hi folks, This is Mary Beth, she’s an artist, who used to produce a cable access show in New York in the ’90s. We’re preserving her tapes. This is an exhibit of the museum. Take a look.” I felt a little like a show-and-tell project. But then, of course, having someone/anyone notice me and my show after all these years, well, that felt totally amazing.

We never, ever, considered what we were doing as art. We just wanted to amuse people. Being referred to as an artist blew me away, made me cry a little, reminded me that what we did, what we were trying to do, had value. My career in public access was not something to hide or be ashamed of. Those shows took time and effort. They turned out to be funny, too.

The two librarians/archivists, Leeroy Kang and Walter Forsberg, who set me up and guided me through the transfer process, were awesome. They were compassionate and matter-of-fact, like, just asking me, “What was this?” and “When was it produced?” And okay, “Let’s do it.”

Walter tweaked the brightness a little, making my whites not so bright. Leeroy asked me to fill in some info for keywords and tags for the archive.

The best part of the afternoon was talking to Leeroy about art projects and museums. We talked about how art is a conversation — like the one he and I had about Asian masculinity, while viewing my interview with the guys in Slant.

Museums should be places for conversations, not just places for staring silently at Van Goghs, snapping Instagram pics, and moving on.

For a museum to have this kind of exchange, for a museum to value living artists, totally blew me away, restored my faith in art. Art’s not about dead white male artists, but it’s about living artists, even middle-aged women like me, with a backpack full of old SVHS tapes from the ’90s.

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The tapes I grabbed were:

  1. My documentary-style trip with my aunts and uncles for my Uncle Kevins’s 50th birthday to Ireland in 1996
  2. A collection of funny skits from Mary Beth and Friends, including the Mafia Family Feud, featuring Jay Fortunato, John Christopher Jones, Leslie Body.
  3. An interview with novelist Valerie Block on the creative process of writing her first novel, Was It Something I Said?
  4. An interview with the performance art group, Slant, who had performed at La Mama in .
  5. 10 minutes of ephemera — yes, this is how archivists categorize home movies. This one was from summertime 2000 at Skenewood in the Adirondacks when my babies were babies.

In a month or so, the shows will be available on the Internet Archive, a non-profit site, a “free and open access to the entire world’s knowledge.” I found out about this project because I used to be a member of the New Museum and am still on their email list.

In the museum’s newspaper, there was this: “XFR STN might be described as looking closely at recent history in order to negotiate the present, perhaps even the future.” And an essay in the newspaper by Walter Forsberg that concludes with this, “How did these works once live, and how can they live on?”

I think that’s the point, to ask questions. What is the meaning of these creative projects?

I felt good knowing that a few of my old shows will live in a vast archive. But I felt better having had a real-life conversations about art in the museum, with Leeroy. Preserving old tapes is cool. Making new friends — talking to Leeroy about art — was cooler.

To me, this exhibit was more about the art o f conversation than conservation. But then, that’s what Mary Beth and Friends was about too. Conversations.

Starred in a Short Comedy Film

I am back in movie-making biz, baby.

After a 15-year hiatus, which coincided with the birth of my three children, I have begun acting, writing, and directing short comedy films again. So fun.

There are so many more wonderful women comedians and directors out there now for me to emulate. Not like when I left the biz, way-back when. The world has moved on since the days of Mary Beth & Friends, my cable show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in the early 1990s. There’s now Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Nancy Franklin, Amy Poehler, and Kathryn Bigelow. Right, I know Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t a comedy but I just want to mention my name in the same category as Bigelow’s).

On December 1, my name was pulled out of a hat. I won the “Wanna Be a Star?” contest at the Iron Mule short comedy film festival. The next thing I know, I’m getting eyelash extensions. ‘Cause I’m hoping that my eyelashes will distract viewers from my crow’s feet (smile lines!). I’m wondering if the camera still loves me. Vanity!

The name of the movie was shouted from the audience, the Alan Ladd Syndrome. And so last month, I starred in a funny short film written and directed by Victor Vornado. (not available for viewing yet.)

The premise is that the less popular the actor Alan Ladd was, the shorter he grew. When I threatened to break up with my boyfriend, played by the hilarious Michael Martin, he claimed to have this syndrome too!

I had so much fun performing in this little film that I announced to my husband Chris, a broadway veteran, I’m going to call my old commercial agent to see if I can start auditioning for commercials again.

“Well,” he said slowly. “You reach a certain age…” And he paused, presumably, sparing my feelings.

“Really?” I said, defensively. “Because I see people like me in commercials all the time — dog food, Viagra, anti-depressants?!” Yes, that’s what I said and that, indeed, did make me feel depressed — in need of some dog food, Viagra, anti-depressant.

“Maybe?” Mr. Broadway said, noncommittally.

Screening room (courtesy of 92nd Street Y Tribeca)
Screening room (courtesy of 92nd Street Y Tribeca)

Then the movie aired January 2. The Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival shows the first Saturday of every month at 8 pm.

Jay Stern, co-host with Victor,

interviewed me in front of, like 80 or so audience members.

I felt proud and cocky ’cause, hey, I had just starred in a movie. Besides, my eyelashes looked awesome.

I mentioned that their festival needed more women filmmakers. (And, if you know me, I think every institution needs more women, especially the White House cabinet.)

“Even though you probably have binders full of women.” Yes, I said that. Witty, no?

Jay asked me, in front of everybody, if I’d write and direct the next one. And so, of course, I said yes.

And, as usual after committing to a job, I had to overcome a few little hurtles — namely, a morass of self-doubt, inertia, procrastination.

Did I manage to get the film made? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Read what’s coming up on the Iron Mule blog: Iron Mule NYC

Celeste Victoria and 9/11

Cat was watching a Linda Ellerbee Nick special. I frowned. She explained, “I want to know what happened.”

“Turn it off,” I said.

“It’s okay, it’s on Nick. There will be no upsetting images,” she said.

I left the room. A few minutes later, I heard H. tell Cat, “Turn it off. This show’s upsetting me.”

Cat turned it off and came into my room. “Why does it upset you? Do you know anyone who died?” She asked.

celeste victoria“I did. I knew this great, nice, fun mom. Celeste Victoria. Though sometimes I’d get her name mixed up. And I’d call her Victoria Celeste. But she’d laugh that off. She worked with me at Manhattan Neighborhood Network. She was incredibly kind to everyone. Seriously. I remember telling her that too, ‘You’re so nice to EVERYONE. To all the crazy people with cable access shows.’

“She helped me with my show. And it was just so unfair to me that someone so incredibly nice and beautiful would die. She was a single mom, about my age. Her little daughter would be with her at MNN sometimes, doing homework at the reception desk. She was such a nice little kid too. It was just crazy that her mom would die.”

Back in my MNN days, I’d heard Celeste’d gotten a job in the corporate world and had left MNN. And I learned Celeste was helping to staff a breakfast at Windows on the World that morning. I thought of how she must’ve found it lovely to arrange a breakfast there and probably had looked forward to it. I always loved going to Windows on the World with friends or family, especially when I was in college.

All during college I worked as a front desk clerk the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center. I walked through the concourse hundreds of times, ate my lunch in the windy, sunken courtyard between the buildings.

It’s really too much. The commemorations are everywhere you turn this week. On every newspaper cover, on every TV channel, on every announcement in the my workplace elevator, there’s some kind of ten-year anniversary reminder, prayer service, discussion group. Christ! And then there are the images — ghost-like light beams of the twin towers at night.

If I have to remember 9/11 at all this week, and apparently, I have to, I’ll remember Celeste Victoria and her smile.

I don’t want to be re-traumatized. I don’t want to return to the incredible beauty of that morning.

Maybe it’s okay, it’s raining all week. It’s fine to be depressed.

Dreary’s fine. Eventually we’ll get sunshine. We won’t get Celeste. But we can be like Celeste — hard-working mothers who are friendly to everyone, even (and especially) the crazy people.

This was the sunset over the Hudson the other day.