Who: George Saunders, Keith Gessen
What: Livestreamed conversation
Where: National Arts Club Zoom
When: Wednesday, April 13, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: In his latest publication, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life (Penguin Random House, January 2021, $28), Man Booker Prize winner and Syracuse professor George Saunders writes, “Why do we keep reading a story? Because we want to. Why do we want to? That’s the million-dollar question: What makes a reader keep reading? Are there laws of fiction, as there are laws of physics? Do some things just work better than others? What forges the bond between reader and writer and what breaks it? Well, how would we know? One way would be to track our mind as it moves from line to line. A story (any story, every story) makes its meaning at speed, a small structural pulse at a time. We read a bit of text and a set of expectations arises.”
Expectations always arise when new material is published by Saunders, a former geophysical prospector, roofer, doorman, and technical writer born in Amarillo, Texas, and raised in Oak Forest, Illinois. Books such as Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December are among the best of the century. On April 13 at 7:00, Saunders will speak with editor, translator, author, and n+1 founding editor Keith Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men, A Terrible Country) in a live conversation hosted by the National Arts Club, focusing on A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which was inspired by the MFA class Saunders has been teaching at Syracuse for twenty years on the Russian short story; the book is structured around works by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol as Saunders ponders reading and writing. “Now your mind is not so blank. How has the state of your mind changed?” he asks. “If we were sitting together in a classroom, which I wish we were, you could tell me. Instead, I’ll ask you to sit quietly a bit and compare those two states of mind: the blank, receptive state your mind was in before you started to read and the one it’s in now.” Admission to the talk is free with advance RSVP.
RICHARD THOMPSON WITH ELVIS COSTELLO
Montclair Literary Festival
Tuesday, April 6, $20 ($35 with book), 8:00
“There is dust, and then there is dust. It’s thickest here, in my memory. This remotest room of my mind has been shut up for years, the windows shuttered, the furniture covered with dust sheets. Light hasn’t penetrated into some of these corners for years; in some cases it never has. If something is uncomfortable, I shove it in here and forget about it. When was the last time I dared look? I don’t want to remember, but now it is time to think back. The arrow is arcing through the air and speeding towards its appointed target.”
So begins British folk-rock legend Richard Thompson’s new memoir, Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967–1975 (Workman, April 2021, $27.95), written with Scott Timberg and illustrated with personal photographs. Thompson, who turned seventy-one last week, is one of the world’s finest guitarists and songwriters and a musicologist; he has made classic records with Fairport Convention, French Frith Kaiser Thompson, his then-wife, Linda Thompson, and as a solo artist. His project 1000 Years of Popular Music features tunes that go back to 1068. He peppers his extraordinary live shows with engaging patter with the audience, highlighting a snarky sense of humor and a wry smile. During the pandemic, he put on a series of living room concerts with his partner, Zara Phillips, from their home in Montclair, New Jersey, and released the six-track EP Bloody Noses, which he debuted from their house. So it is fitting that on April 6, he will be launching the book at the virtual Montclair Literary Festival, discussing it with Elvis Costello, who wrote his own memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, in 2015. Tickets are $35 with a copy of the book, $20 without.
Thompson will be back online April 15 for the 92Y presentation “Beeswing: Richard Thompson in Conversation with David Fricke,” speaking with the longtime Rolling Stone journalist about the memoir, named for one of his most popular songs, an autobiographical tune about falling in love as a teenager. “She was a rare thing / Fine as a beeswing / So fine a breath of wind might blow her away / She was a lost child / She was running wild, she said / As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay / And you wouldn’t want me any other way,” he sings. Exploring his formative years, the book features such chapters as “Instead of Bleeding,” “Yankee Hopscotch,” “Tuppenny Bangers and Damp Squibs,” and “Bright Lights.” Thompson will be bringing his guitar with him to play a couple of songs as well.
As he writes in the afterword, “Like Fairport, like so many of my contemporaries, I don’t know when to stop — and hooray for that. There are more mortgages to be paid off and bills piling up, but more motivational than that, there is still an audience. It may be twenty thousand at a festival, a thousand in a theatre or ten in a retirement home, but the desire to communicate from my heart to their heart is the strongest pull, and the sweetest feeling.” If you’re not yet part of that audience, now’s the time. Hooray for that.
Who: Red Bull Theater company
What: Conversation about William Shakespeare character Falstaff
Where: Red Bull Theater website, YouTube, and Facebook Live
When: Monday, April 5, free with RSVP (donations accepted), 7:30
Why: The last hand I shook was the large paw of Drama Desk Award–winning actor Jay O. Sanders, following his performance in the Broadway show Girl from the North Country at the Belasco on March 10, 2020, two days before the pandemic lockdown shuttered the city. With most theaters and the Great White Way still closed, Sanders will take part in Red Bull’s next online RemarkaBULL Podversation, “Exploring Falstaff,” on April 5 at 7:30. In the free virtual event, streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, the Austin-born actor and activist will perform an excerpt from Act 2, Scene 4 from Henry IV, Part 1, in which the bearish Sir John Falstaff tells Prince Hal at the Boar’s Head Tavern: “Shall I? content: this chair shall be my state, / this dagger my sceptre, and this cushion my crown. / Give me a cup of sack to / make my eyes look red, that it may be thought I have / wept; for I must speak in passion.”
After the speech, Sanders will discuss the character, who appeared in both parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor before being eulogized in Henry V, with Red Bull associate producer Nathan Winkelstein. The conversation will include several questions from the audience as well. Sanders (Uncle Vanya, the Apple Family plays) has portrayed such Shakespearean figures as Titus Andronicus, Marc Antony, Macbeth, Toby Belch, Caliban, Petruchio, and Bottom and has the record for most appearances at the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park presentations at the Delacorte, so he knows what of he speaks. Up next for Red Bull’s ambitious lockdown programming is a Zoom benefit reading of Paradise Lost on April 12 and 26; you can watch previous RemarkaBULL Podversations with André De Shields, Kate Burton, Patrick Page, Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Urie, Chukwudi Iwuji, Stephen Spinella, and others here.
Who: Stephen Petronio Company
What: Virtual birthday party
Where: SPC Zoom
When: Saturday, March 20, free with RSVP, 5:00
Why: In April 2013, Newark-born, New York City–based dancer and choreographer Stephen Petronio threw himself quite a New Orleans–style funeral at the Joyce for Like Lazarus Did (LLD 4/30). On March 20, he will rise up again for the spring equinox, celebrating his sixty-fifth birthday in style over Zoom. The virtual gathering will include an excerpt from SPC’s 2006 piece, Bloom, featuring music by Rufus Wainwright with the Young People’s Chorus of NYC; the world premiere of his latest short dance film, Pandemic Portraits (SPC previously presented #GimmeShelter last May and Are You Lonesome Tonight in July); and a reading and discussion of Petronio’s new book, In Absentia, consisting of personal journal entries about dealing with the current state of the world, written while Petronio was quarantining at the Petronio Residency Center in the Catskills. Signed and numbered copies of the limited edition book are available for $250. Petronio is a charming, effervescent character, so it’s always worth being in his company. Happy birthday!
On March 14, 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “I am not ready today at this hour to say, let’s have a city with no bars, no restaurants, no rec centers, no libraries. I’m not there.” But he was there the next day, shutting down the city while allowing St. Patrick’s Day revelers one last chance to become superspreaders, letting them have one final party night on March 16. A year later, Gotham has suffered 775,000 cases and more than 30,000 deaths, so for 2021, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be virtual, but restaurants are back open. For those who are not planning on cramming into any pubs quite yet, there are several online gatherings to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland.
The parade, a New York City institution since 1762, will be virtual in 2021, honoring first responders and essential workers. There will be events all day long, from a livestreamed mass and a composite of previous parades to live entertainment and interviews.
The Gingold Theatrical Group, which is dedicated to the work of George Bernard Shaw, is hosting a livestreamed Irish Poetry Slam with Robert Cuccioli, Tyne Daly, Melissa Errico, Jessica Hecht, Daniel Jenkins, Andrea Marcovicci, Tonya Pinkins, Thom Sesma, Renee Taylor, Sally Wilfert, Karen Ziemba, and others taking part in an open mic night beginning at 6:00 (admission is free with advance RSVP), with people contributing poetry, songs, toasts, jokes, monologues, sayings, and more, preferably by or inspired by Irish writers. "Ordinarily, we’d be having our annual Golden Shamrock Gala on the seventeenth, but . . . nope!” Gingold artistic director David Staller said in a statement. “This shindig will take place over Zoom! Not Irish? Not a problem. On St. Pat’s, we’re ALL a little Irish. This is just a party. Not a performance. Not a fundraiser. Just a chance for us all to raise a glass and be ‘together.’”
Meanwhile, Knowledge Workings Theater Company, started in 2018 by Joe Queenan, T. J. Elliott, and Marjorie Phillips Elliott, is holding its Second Annual Virtual (Not Necessarily Virtuous) St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. Anyone can participate by making their own video, following specific instructions on YouTube here and seeing what contributors posted last year. It’s free, but it you want to donate, Knowledge suggests you do so to the Irish Rep, which is presenting JM Synge’s The Aran Islands, starring Brendan Conroy, March 16-28, including 3:00 and 8:00 screenings March 17.
On Wednesday night at 8:00 GMT, Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival concludes with Barróg Lá Fhéile Phádraig, featuring performances by Lisa O’Neill, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Caoimhe Ní Fhlatharta, Seamus and Ronan Ó Flatharta, Diarmuid and Brian Mac Gloin, Cormac Begley, Ronan O’Snodaigh and Myles O’Reilly, Doireann, and Siún Glackin and Mohammad Syfkhan, sharing a big virtual hug extending across the Atlantic.
Who: Kathleen Chalfant
What: Benefit livestream
Where: Keen Company
When: Saturday, March 13, $25, 7:00 (available on demand through March 17)
Why: It’s been precisely a year since the coronavirus crisis shuttered theaters across the country. With more than half a million Americans dead from Covid-19 and more than 2.6 million victims worldwide, the planet has experienced a tremendous amount of loss since the WHO declared on March 11, 2020, “We have made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.” In homage to what this year has wrought, Keen Company is presenting a livestreamed virtuaL reading of Joan Didion’s 2007 play, The Year of Magical Thinking, which she adapted from her memoir that detailed what she experienced in the twelve months and one day following the sudden death in 2003 of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, during which their daughter, Quintana Roo, was seriously ill with a series of health issues that began with the flu; she passed away shortly before the National Book Award–winning bestseller was published, an incident that was added to the play.
Thus, the time seems right for a reading of the one-woman show, which premiered on Broadway in 2007 at the Booth Theater, starring Vanessa Redgrave; more recently, Kathleen Turner performed the role in a 2016 run at Arena Stage. The Keen presentation features the grande dame of New York theater, five-time Obie winner Kathleen Chalfant, who in the fall of 2019 portrayed Mabel Loomis Todd in Rebecca Gilman’s one-woman play, A Woman of the World. The online show is helmed by Keen artistic director Jonathan Silverstein, who said in a statement, “I am thrilled and honored to be reunited with Kathleen Chalfant on this beautiful play. Working with Kathleen for A Walk in the Woods [in 2014] was a highlight of my career, and she is a brilliant match for Joan Didion’s moving text. Didion’s words are clear-eyed, inspiring, and resonate on this one-year anniversary of the pandemic. We will be coming to you remotely, yet this intimate reading of Didion’s play will make you feel you’re in conversation with Chalfant and Didion.” Chalfant (Wit, Angels in America) is always elegant and graceful, whether onstage, on the big and small screens, or on Zoom. The one-night-only event takes place March 13 at 7:00 and will be followed by a talkback; tickets are $25, and purchasers can access the stream through March 17 at 7:00. Proceeds will benefit Keen’s Hear/Now season of audio theater in addition to Keen Playwrights Lab and Keen Teens.
Update: Kathleen Chalfant gives an exquisite, beautiful reading of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking for Keen Company. It is so well done you will sometimes forget you’re watching an actress performing and think you’re seeing Didion reading from her own book. Chalfant, who had contacted director David Hare about originating the part on Broadway, a role that had already been given to Vanessa Redgrave, rehearsed the play four times with director Jonathan Silverstein, including once in her home, where she delivers this performance, sitting in her living room, book in hand. She was offered a TelePrompter but found reading directly from the published play was more effective, and she’s right. She touches her chin, adjusts her glasses, pauses at a poignant moment when, by chance, ambulance sirens can be heard outside, and looks directly at the viewer, baring her character’s soul as she shares Didion’s tragic story over one hundred uncut, unedited minutes. It’s a gentle tour de force that comes at a time when we are all reflecting on a year like no other, delivered by a wonderful actress like no other. The reading is followed by a short talkback that lends further insight into this moving virtual presentation.