Monday, December 29, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman: In Memoriam

Philip Seymour Hoffman (courtesy of this site)

You traveled to the depths of our despair,
And mined the gold of human tragedy.
Cloaked your being with our traits, prepared
Such complex characters, in empathy.
Unique, unparalleled and fearless too,
You searched your soul for evil and disgrace,
Immersed, inhabited that hellish truth,
Translated it; in you we saw our face.
Through you we saw, we're all the same within.
Black hearts, dark holes of boundless emptiness
Unrequited vacuum, self-hate's "sin,"
The endless pain, the horror, the distress.
With heavenly artistry you touched our souls.
May joyous spiritual grace now make you whole.

PSH speaking at the 92nd Street Y about the film Capote.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Robin Williams, In Memoriam

Robin Williams Photo from site


Genius! Brilliant light your star shines through
The dark, beyond the pain that filled your life,
Shines your humor, shines your joyful truths.
Though revelations of your inner strife
Would shout their victory laughing at your core,
And mock all those you helped and raised in hope,
No matter! Spiritual tidings do restore
Your total self, of limitless breadth and scope.
We honor all you are and all you gave,
To make us laugh and lift us far above
Our cares and griefs.Your comic gifts did save
Us from ourselves. A gift of God's pure love.
Your consciousness more clear now as you see
Your great fulfilling purpose. From us you're free.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gore Vidal: Revisited

L to R: Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer: trenchant literary voices.

Since Gore Vidal's death in 2012 and my publication of the sonnet in remembrance, Nicholas Wrathall has completed his documentary, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia. It has appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival 2013 and it has screened throughout the country. I interviewed Nicholas Wrathall about the making of the film. I am not ashamed to say I fawned over the director who spent so much time with Vidal and made an important documentary which mentors us; it reveals a thinking American patriot in operation during his lifetime and shows how he critically examined American history and the American political system. I loved the documentary which I reviewed for Blogcritics (LINK).

The film captures the importance of Gore Vidal's contributions as an intellectual political thinker of the 20th and beginning 21st century. The anniversary of his death is coming up. I am reposting the sonnet, thrilled that the film is a living reminder of the greatness of the patrician who advocated for the "little people." It is a complete irony that Vidal is appearing on a site devoted to a Christian apologist's sonnets. On the other hand, the character of this professed atheist was more loving, heroic, brilliant and representative of Jesus than most religious politicos who profess Christianity and live like scribes, pharisees and hypocrites behind closed doors with hatred and malevolence in their hearts. Their faux Christianity ignores the Bible's "love of money is the root of all evil" ethic, as they place profits above people. Christianity to them is useful to gain votes and dupe the "stupid, unintellectual Christians who don't read or think." However, there is a scripture that states, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." If we rightly divide truth from a lie, we can see. Vidal could see; he was a prophet of the age. He transcended a brainwashed culture and defied labels and stereotypes as did Christ. He was intensely human and real. I am forever a fan. I truly think with his ironic sense of humor, it would probably bring a smile to his lips to see himself on this site. RIP Gore Vidal.

                                               Gore Vidal

Acerbic, vitriolic, searing words,
In you fermented, then poured out, a draught
Of wine. We sipped refreshed, the wisdom heard.
It quenched our ravaged souls and spirits wrought.
We culturally dispossessed? You raised us high.
Redeemed our history's worth with wit and grace,
And literary gifts none could decry.
Your genius ne'r could Truman* er' displace. 
Self-described emotionally cold were you
Patrician, righteous, prophet of the age,
To Buckley calumnious, to Mailer crude,
Tiresias: forthright, just, a humorous sage.
Your writings live, though Death choked off your time.
You lived a maverick's life, one of a kind.

*Truman Capote. Vidal and Capote often knifed each other's work or person with serrated sarcasm 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Walt Witcover: In Memoriam

Walt Witcover

Walt Witcover, three time Obie Award winning director, was a star artist in his own right though you probably don't know who he is if you are under 50 and never studied acting in New York. A member of the Actor's Studio Director's Unit when it was established by Lee Strausberg in its hey day, Walt presented a La Traviata that for its time in the 1960s, was unparalleled in its scope, conceptualization and logical perfection. Strausberg was gobsmacked. It was so transformative and uplifting that directors who saw the production, one in particular, took Walt's ideas and implemented them as their own without giving Walt credit. Instead of calling out the director, Walt and Masterworks Laboratory Theatre, his non-profit company, quietly continued to make history for friends, fans, colleagues and others in the business of theater. He has left them memories that they will always treasure.

Walt's first directing stint at Cornell.
Walt was the type to keep hurts within. Also, he was more caught up in the doing than in the marketing and promotional aspect of his work. Today, theater is evolving and Walt's ideas have still not come into the mainstream in live theater. Money is a major factor which often hampers the director's ability to craft and hone a production. However, plays Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway are burgeoning. Here and there one does see hints of what Walt was about. And here and there the exceptional production manifests the ideas of Living On Stage, Walt's book. Opera has yet to wholly embrace the concepts of giving the characters life in staging their actions. With the exceptional director, as Walt was, it is intuitive and natural. When a production comes to life as Walt always attempted with his work, the result is breathtaking and you know something alive and magical is happening. I so look forward to seeing these types of productions. They remind me of Walt and what he always will represent for me; the finest in the dramatic arts and play production.

Walt was a perfectionist who would settle for nothing short of spectacular and mind bending. Looking back at what I've written thus far, he would snap his blue pencil and edit those last two adjectives. Excess was not something he tolerated as a teacher, writer, director and actor. He was Goldilocksian through and through. Whatever he accomplished had to be just right. If it wasn't, he fretted. Such was his creative genius. I was an acting student and friend. I regret I didn't see more of his work in the 1970s and 1980s. I also regret that he never got the opportunity to help stage a friend's play about Kate Chopin (The Awakening of Kate Chopin by Rosary O'Neill). He expressed a great interest in it and I tried to contact another director, but by that point, Walt was physically failing and the project, like so many projects, went into limbo. Too bad. It would have been wonderful to see Walt work for one last time, but it was not to be. Walt, I love you and am so glad I was able to know you. I so appreciate that we were able to enjoy four years of plays at Brooklyn Academy of Music. I will miss your grace, honesty and genius.
Walt's Memoir

                                          Walt Witcover

Iconoclast, perfectionist were you
In life. A visionary actor's friend.
Director, writer, teacher, actor, too,
On your shy, sweet love and strength we did depend.

Your innovations were artistic dreams,
Rich seeds you sowed within our hearts and minds,
That blossomed, grew, bore fruit in vibrant streams
Embodying the lively arts, serene, sublime.

Your legacy we will uphold with grace,
Your life's work chronicled in words and deeds,
Living on Stage, your book, will keep its place
In actor lore, an actor's onstage creed. 

Oh Walt, God made his masterwork in you.
We're thankful that we shared your life, your truth.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Peter O'Toole: In Memoriam

As Lawrence of Arabia, his breakout role.
 I adore Peter O'Toole's work. As a kid I first saw him in Lawrence of Arabia. It was a wondrous film. It is still one of my favorites because of his and Omar Sharif's iconic performances. The brilliant direction of Sir David Lean and the phenomenal screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson with the Maurice Jarre's music and the amazing cinematography need no additional discussion. It deservedly won 7 Oscars. The film's artistry is ineffable and incomparable. For me in its ethereality it represents the human soul bleak, bare and beautiful.

Sir Laurence Oliver directed him in Hamlet in the 1960s.
 In more mundane terms the film resonated then. It resonates now and it will for all time. When we watch it we are seeing age old issues related to defining identity and our abject inability to reign our ungovernable natures. The film highlighted issues in the Middle East that are vital today: the politics of subtle imperialism and the easy bloodshed fomented by internecine conflicts. Yet O'Toole didn't want to be associated with the role and for years selected parts that would take him out of the shadow of Lawrence. In an O'Toole biography I read, it was said he thought that his Masada role would finally free him from Lawrence. In later years, he grew to appreciate the association with T.E. Lawrence and the unforgettable journey of the film which changed his life, indeed, all of our lives.
In the shadow of T.E. Lawrence
 O'Toole was a great actor who could never be typecast. In each role, he wore the cloak of the character, looked out through the character's eyes, swallowed the saliva of the character, walked in his shoes, or at least, did with the characters in his finest performances: The Stunt Man, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, The Creator, Becket, The Lion in Winter, even Foxtrot. He was as acute an actor in his later work; I remember a BBC production in which he was frighteningly evil: The Dark Angel. aka Uncle Silas. He reached into the depths of humankind's wickedness and was its embodiment. Truly, it is an amazing performance. Of course his role in Venus, for which he received his last Oscar nomination was impeccable.
Later years, the 1980s.
This sonnet is from me to Peter, who referred to himself as a retired Christian. God loves the creative genius of artists which He fashions and encourages. In the finest artistry, we see His face in ours. If we allow Him to speak through us, as you did, Peter, then He and you are in a state of felicity. For surely, you are one of His bad boy darlings.

                                         Peter O'Toole

A feisty Irishman an actor King,
You were in life. Beloved for your art.
You worshiped Shakespeare, did the classics bring
To understanding roles, with a poet's heart.
Your intellect self-schooled, and RADA trained,
Evolved beyond the cares of Corn Flake men.*
You scorned commercial "art." It diminished brains,
And trashed humanity's worth; not of your ken.
Your quality of spirit and your grace,
Were known by family and a loving few.
Your self-destructive threads and sorrowful traits
Revealed. That knowing, you to you stayed true.
Your gracious love shines out in graceful art,
Remembered, lifted up. God's blessed, you, hart.

*Corn Flake men was O'Toole's reference to the corporations taking over funding for films.