Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, and a few of my favorite Shakespeare moments come to mind. There was that performance of “Titus Andronicus” that I saw in Central Park in New York City in the summer of 1997 put on by Joseph Papp’s Free Shakespeare in the Park. I remember that it had the largest cast of any theatrical performance that I have ever seen. Olympia Dukakis and Moses Gunn were in that cast.
My most magical Shakespeare moment was viewing “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the early 1980s at the American Players Theatre’s incredibly special setting in the woods of Spring Green, Wisconsin. It was an atmospheric evening presentation as the talented actor Randall Duk Kim played Puck as a bevy of bats flew above the stage.
Finally, just a few years ago, I saw the Strawdog Theatre in Chicago put on an energetic dramatization of “Cymbeline,” with a large cast of actors skillfully maneuvering around a ridiculously small performance venue. You were so close to the actors that you could see the freckles on their faces.
Please feel to share with us your favorite Shakespeare moments.
On June 5, 1958, Ulysses in Nighttown, a dramatization of the Circe episode from James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” had its world debut at the Rooftop Theatre, an Off-Off Broadway venue on Houston Street. In the production, conceived and directed by Burgess Meredith, the role of Leopold Bloom was played by Zero Mostel. Others in the cast included Carroll O’Connor, Bea Arthur, John Astin and Anne Meara. Sets for the play were designed by the Academy Award winning designer Herman Rosse. The play was a major success. Mostel, who had been blacklisted, received critical acclaim, winning an Obie for the role, and was able to get his career back on track.
My friend, the artist Leonid Osseny, has collaborated with me on my books Chicago Sketches and 1001 Train Rides in Chicago. I first met him when he was showing his Ulysses-related artwork at an exhibit at the Irish American Cultural Center in Chicago. In his piece, Real Time in ‘Ulysses’ J. Joyce, illustrations of the eighteen chapters of Ulysses are depicted.
Leonid, who has an architectural background, is an eclectic artist who has utilized styles as diverse as Gothic to Constructivism in his work. His vision of Ulysses was formed by the compositional school of the great cinema director Sergei Eisenstein, who employed the device of “Inner Monologue,” must like Joyce, to convey his ideas.
Leonid has also exhibited his work on Ulysses at the 19th International James Joyce Symposium in Dublin, the Palette and Chisel and the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago, and the Evanston Public Library. He is an amazing artist, and he is always looking for additional venues to show his work. Please contact me at email@example.com if you might have interest in discussing a possible showing of Leonid’s art in the future.
Not only was Winston Churchill one of the great statesmen of the 20th century, but he was also one of its outstanding and prolific of writers. Among his books, Sir Winston wrote six volumes of The Second World War; four volumes of Marlborough: His Life and Times; and four volumes of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”
My father, Jack Reeder, was born 107 years ago today, on April 9, 1913. He lived most of the 59 years of his life on Chicago’s West Side. Many of those years were at 4108 W. Grenshaw Street in Lawndale. We lived in a greystone two-flat that my parents and my sister Anne and I shared with our grandparents, Gussie and David Schlan, until we moved to West Rogers Park in 1955, when I was 9 years old.
In 1970, I moved back to my parents’ apartment on Lunt Avenue for a few months after an extended stay in Europe and Israel. There I found a thick Avon paperback that my father had just read. It was called The Old Bunch, written by Meyer Levin. I decided to read it as well.
It was an amazing book. The Old Bunch, originally published in 1937, is Chicago’s great Jewish novel. It follows a group of Jewish young people living in Lawndale in the 1920s and the 1930s. They are the sons and daughters of Eastern European immigrant Jews who are aspiring to live “the American Dream,” even when they are hard hit by the Great Depression.
The Old Bunch especially resonated with me because I saw so much of my mother and father, uncles and aunts, and their friends in Levin’s characters. These were people who had the grit and determination to overcome adversities to make a better life for themselves and families.
The “old bunch” in Levin’s book established lifelong friendships growing up in Lawndale, which were very similar to my parents’ experiences with their friends from the “Old Neighborhood.” These friendships were kept and treasured for as long as they lived.
Many of you may remember Alan Cheuse. He provided book reviews, literary profiles and commentary for NPR’s All Things Considered for about thirty years. Cheuse, an author and university professor, tragically died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 2015.
I finally have got around to reading one of his books, Fall Out of Heaven, published in 1987. It is part memoir, part travelogue. It is both Alan’s memoir as well as the telling of his father’s memoir, the latter never having been published. His father, Philip Cheuse, was an aviator, a young officer in the Red Air Force during the early days of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union.
Circumstances after the Russian Revolution separated the Cheuse family. Philip and his mother remained in Ukraine, while his father and brothers came to the United States, settling in Brooklyn. Eventually Philip, after a short career of daring adventure in Soviet Asia, finds his way to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he finds work, marries and raises a family.
After his father passes away, Alan and his twenty-one son Josh, visit the Soviet Union in 1986, in its waning days under Gorbachev. They retrace Philip’s steps, from Ukraine to Uzbekistan. The reader learns about the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s through Philip’s memoir, and observations about the Soviet Union in 1986 are told in Alan’s memoir. This is truly fascinating reading.
I once remember Alan Cheuse ending a review on NPR saying ‘’read this book, it takes you out of your routine existence, and puts you somewhere that you can’t even imagine.” I must say that I couldn’t find better words to recommend his amazing book, Fall Out of Heaven.