where there’s a will there’s a play

shakespeare's plays

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it’s good to be the king

Especially if you happen to be Bhumibol Adulyadej, more commonly known as Rama IX. The king of Thailand – no Yul Brenner jokes, please – has reigned since June 9, 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. (The Thai monarchy has been in continuous existence since the founding of the Kingdom of Sukothai in 1238.) Today is the king’s 85th birthday and for the past ten days I’ve been greeted by billboard-sized photos of his majesty everywhere I go. This little shrine outside my hotel was the most demure example I could find.

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funny you don’t look seventy-five

Happy 75th Birthday to one of the classiest suspension structures ever to cross a body of water: San Francisco’s singular Golden Gate Bridge. Girl, you look good.

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at the theatre: happy birthday

Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre turns 100 today. The smallest of Broadway’s venues – just 583 seats are sold for the current tenant, the Tony Award-nominated musical Rock of Ages – The Little Theatre was officially renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre in 1983 to honor America’s “first lady of the stage.” It was a fitting tribute given that the first theatre bearing the name of Helen Hayes, on West 46th Street, had in 1982 – along with the Morosco Theatre - been torn down in an act of vandalism to make way for the ungainly Marriott Marquis Hotel. I’ve always had a bit of a sentimental bent for this theatre.  It was at The Little where I saw one of my first Broadway shows: Harvey Fierstein’s breakthrough Torch Song Trilogy with Estelle Getty, a very young Matthew Broderick, and Harvey himself.  Later, I spent almost a decade toiling in the neighboring Sardi’s building, at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Walking daily past what had since become the Helen Hayes I never failed to be fascinated by the ever-changing marquee which heralded the parade of plays and musicals that attempted to settle in and call it home.

Borrowing from Playbill’s “At This Theatre” (Louis Botto and Robert Viagas’ history book of Broadway venues on sale at PlaybillStore.com) here’s a very abridged look at the early years of the old theatre, as well as the all-too-common fate of its passionate producer:

A century ago, The Little Theatre was built by producer Winthrop Ames. An aristocratic New Englander, Ames rebelled against Broadway commercialism and built the Little, then with only 299 seats, as an intimate house for the production of noncommercial plays that were too risky to stage in large Broadway theatres. The New York Times admired the theatre’s red-brick, green-shuttered exterior, its Colonial-style lobby with a fireplace, and the auditorium, which had no balcony or boxes and was built on an incline that afforded an unobstructed view of the stage. Ames’ policy — to produce “the clever, the unusual drama that had a chance of becoming a library classic” — continued to be reflected in the Little Theatre’s fare. Among the early productions, all financed solely by Ames, were George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer (1913); Prunella, a fantasy by Laurence Houseman and Harley Granville-Barker, starring Marguerite Clark and Ernest Glendinning (1913); and Cyril Harcourt’s comedy A Pair of Stockings (1914). By 1915 Ames was having financial problems with the Little. Because of his theatre’s small seating capacity, the impresario was losing money, even with hits. On March 11, 1915, The New York Times reported that Ames was in danger of losing his house. To prevent this, Ames planned to increase the seating capacity to 1,000, add a balcony, and make the stage larger. In 1920 Burns Mantle reported that the Little had been remodeled and the seating capacity was now 450 seats.

The true purpose of the Little Theatre, to present new playwrights and experimental dramas, was fulfilled by its next two bookings. In January 1920 Oliver Morosco presented Mamma’s Affair, a first play by Rachel Barton Butler that won a prize as the best drama written by a student of Professor George Baker’s famous “English 47” class at Harvard. Morosco presented a cash award to the author and mounted her play successfully with Effie Shannon. The other drama was Eugene O’Neill’s first full-length play, Beyond the Horizon, which had been playing matinees at other theatres before it was moved to the Little. It starred Richard Bennett and won the Pulitzer Prize. The Little next housed one of its gold mines. The First Year, by actor Frank Craven, who starred in it with Roberta Arnold, proved to be a sensation. It opened on Oct. 20, 1920, was produced by John Golden and ran for 760 performances. Brooks Atkinson reported in his book “Broadway” that by 1922 Ames had lost $504,372 on the Little Theatre. His other theatre, the Booth, which he built with Lee Shubert in 1913, was a commercial house and is still successful today. When Ames died in 1937, his estate had dwindled to $77,000, and his widow was forced to move from the sprawling Ames mansion to a small cottage on their estate.

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celebrating in curaçao

To combat February’s winter blues – and celebrate a very minor birthday – I’ve headed south.  Way south, off the coast of Venezuela to the world’s newest country, Curaçao.  You may have heard of it, if only for the famous blue liqueur with the same name; yet this small island – formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles – boasts a UNESCO-designated harbor and a rich history as the main port of the Dutch West India Company.  And then of course there’s all that lovely Caribbean sand.  And sun.  And sea. Happy Birthday to me.

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birthday booze: shine on

One of the cooler prezzies I got this year for my birthday was this bottle of Kings County Distillery corn whiskey, better known as moonshine.  Distilled right here in Brooklyn, New York, it ups the ante in my growing push to eat more locally. Now I’ve got to think about drinking locally, too.

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live blog: birthday hotel

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birthday socks

I got a long overdue birthday package yesterday courtesy of the Royal Mail.  Nothing quite matches the excitement inherent in unraveling a parcel that’s been copiously taped and bundled and shows all the wear and tear of traveling across an ocean.  This particular box did not fail in igniting my imagination:  dented, partially crushed, not only was it pock-marked with random stab wounds,  but the postal tape indicated it was mailed almost eight weeks ago.  No bother, since A: I wasn’t expecting anything fragile; and B: the distressed look only added to the romance and mystery of it all.

I noticed from the outset an Edinburgh return address, which immediately set my expectations high.  So imagine my grin when peeling back the lid I found a pair of brown knee-hi boots and a thick pair of proper kilt socks to go along with them!  A big shout out and thanks to Howie Nicholsby, the creative life force behind 21st Century Kilts, as well as the man who taught me everything I needed to know about kilts.  I’ve already written a bit about Howie and my minor kilt obsession.  In fact, Howie was my first posting on this website and only recently I decided that a return to Edinburgh for a new kilt should be in the cards this year.  It’s killing me that this snowy winter weather is delaying the return of spring, daffodils, and my exposed legs.  Could it be that good things really do come to those who wait?

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