Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Night at the Lambs

Seth Shelden, Noah Diamond, Kathy Biehl. Photo: Tom Bibla.
On Monday night, The Lambs (America's first professional theatrical club) hosted a private event in support of the upcoming production of I'll Say She Is. Of the many delightful and profound experiences we've had since the I'll Say She Is adventure began, this was absolutely one of the tops.

There's a lovely account of the evening from Cinematically Insane's Will McKinley here, and the great theatre blogger David Levy did some nifty tweeting, too. There should be more coverage, more photos, and perhaps even some video, on the way shortly.
It was wonderful to see so many heroes, old friends, and new friends at the event. Any attempt at a list will be shamefully incomplete, but with that disclaimer, I was delighted to spend a little more time with the legendary Dick Cavett, my favorite New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, the great showbiz biographer Herbert Goldman, the Paley Center's Jane Klain, and Lambs Marc Baron, Rita Hammer, Gini Dustin, and Bob Tevis. And, of course, our favorite Lamb, Kevin Fitzpatrick, who's enhanced our experiences not only with his many books about New York, the Jazz Age, and the Algonquin set, but with his leadership of Marxfest. Not incidentally, Kevin was also responsible for bringing I'll Say She Is to The Lambs this week, and we couldn't be more grateful.
Melody Jane, Sabrina Chap, Dick Cavett, Noah Diamond.
Amanda Sisk, Seth Shelden. Photo: Tom Bibla.

All of us fell in love with The Lambs. I was instantly hooked, not just on the historical grandeur of the location, but with the beautiful spirit of encouragement and generosity among its members and organizers. I had such a good time, both at the I'll Say She Is event and downstairs at dinner afterward, that I may have to violate Groucho's immortal pronouncement about joining clubs, if ever The Lambs would accept me.

One of the goals of The Lambs event was to help raise money for our production budget. The evening was a success in that regard, too, but as I said in my remarks, we do still have quite a mountain to climb in the next month, to make this production a reality. If you'd like to help make the dream come true, you can make a tax-deductible donation to our crowdfunding campaign (and earn fabulous donor rewards) right here.

And so, the adventure continues. The I'll Say She Is team is hard at work, preparing quite an experience for you, this May 28 - July 2 at the Connelly Theater. We'll see you there.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Marxfest Diary: Days 27-31

I've written a lot about Marxfest recently, but this is my first time writing about it in retrospect. There is a temptation to honor the cliche and say that the month flew by, that it feels like it began only yesterday; oh, Marxfest, we hardly knew ye! But I don't feel that way. It was a long month. It was the longest, best month in the history of human civilization, and it felt long not because it was difficult but because it was substantive, because we packed it so full of meaningful activity that demanded to be experienced as fully as possible.

Matthew Curiano, Bob Homeyer, Robert Pinnock, Noah
Diamond, and Seth Shelden. Photo: Getty Images.
DAY 27: When the Theatre Museum asked Trav S. D. to organize and host a variety program for its awards gala on May 27, did they know that the redoubtable Mr. S. D. would inject their ritzy soiree with a stiff shot of Marxian anarchy? Milling about the Players Club with fellow I'll Say She Is cast members Melody Jane, Seth Shelden, Robert Pinnock, Matthew Curiano, and Bob Homeyer, I felt like we were the Marx Brothers, crashing Margaret Dumont's party and making trouble.

In addition to the I'll Say She Is group, Trav put together a great bill of performers -- Ariella Pizza, Michael Goldfried, Abe Goldfarb, Lady Rizo -- all of whom performed material associated with the Marxes. Young Ms. Pizza impersonated all of the Brothers, in an epic performance of "Everyone Says I Love You." The Players Club didn't know what hit it. You can find a wealth of photos from the event here, here, here, here, and here.

Clockwise from top: Seth Shelden, Brett Leveridge, Noah
Diamond, Trudy Marshall, Kathy Biehl. Photo: Kathy Biehl.
DAY 29: I'm told that the final Epiphany Library screening, Horse Feathers, was well-attended and well-received, though I missed it, as I was catching up with my day job at the time. I was at liberty in the evening, for Trav's third Marxfest lecture, We're All Mad Here: The Marx Brothers in Context, at the Mid-Manhattan Library. It was an excellent talk, every bit as amusing and enlightening as Trav's previous Marxfest lectures -- but with two distinguishing factors that set it apart.

First, there was the turnout. No kidding, that Trav S.D. has the legs of a ballerina. No, no, I'm talking about the turnout, the crowd, which packed the sixth-floor lecture hall of the Mid-Manhattan Library, so the staff had to remove an accordion wall to accommodate more chairs! Throughout this festival, we've been looking for signs that our madness is contagious, any indication that we're doing something to spread the gospel of our Brothers. Exhibit 29: Too many people attended a lecture at the library on a Thursday night! Well -- certainly one too many, and that was the other distinguishing factor. If you missed the fracas before the show, no description of it is going to do you any good.

Incidentally, Trav has published the adapted text of his three Marxfest lectures:
From Angels to Anarchists | Anarchy in Astoria | We're All Mad Here

I finished up the night with Marxfest and/or I'll Say She Is colleagues Brett Leveridge, Seth Shelden, and Kathy Biehl, and our new friend Trudy Marshall (elle est un Marxiste, tendance Harpo), who flew all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to celebrate the Brothers with us. (And the first time she started, she got halfway here when she ran out of gasoline and had to go back.) Trudy and Kathy and I talked long into the night about such subjects as the Marx Brothers.

Kevin Fitzpatrick begins the tour.
DAY 31: All good things must come to an end. The end began exactly where the beginning ended -- the Algonquin Hotel. In the very spot where the legends of the Round Table once lunched -- but even more significantly, the very spot where Kathy cut the ribbon on the first night of Marxfest -- stood our leader, Kevin Fitzpatrick. Kevin's Algonquin Round Table walking tour (which you must take sometime) is exciting in its own right, but this one was spectacular. It was punctuated with references to the Marx Brothers, and Kevin was even kind enough to call on me for an anecdote or two. It was as lovely a day as New York has had this year, and it was a huge, fun crowd -- the largest he'd seen on the walking tour, Kevin told us.

Paul Wesolowski, Seth Shelden, and Brett Leveridge
By this point in the month, one of the greatest pleasures of Marxfest was seeing so many of the same faces from event to event. Each event had its own distinct audience, too, but by May 31 it was clear that there has been a nucleus, a family, that's been with us all along, or here and there, and I don't know why this should seem like such a revelation, but Marx Brothers fans are really terrific people. In the past month I've made many friends, struck up correspondences, met people whose books I've read, met people whose books I'm going to read, and in general, expanded my world far more than I ever thought I would by obsessing about one comedy team from a hundred years ago.

And so...
Melody Jane, Noah Diamond, Seth Shelden, and Trav S.D.
at Flute for A Night at Wit's End. Photo: Amanda Sisk.

For the last night of Marxfest, friend of the festival Don Spiro of Wit's End threw a spectacular speakeasy party at Flute Midtown (which was once Texas Guinan's Club Intime), dubbed A Night at Wit's End.

This was a magical night, and the perfect chaser to the big drink of Marxfest. It was attended by old friends, new friends, and so many of the people who in various ways have made this month the time of our lives. Though it must be acknowledged that on this joyous evening, some were conspicuously absent. The great Jonny Porkpie, Marxfest Committee member and Burlesque Mayor of New York City, had to spend the final week of May in Vienna, continuing the rollicking celebration of the human body which is his primary beat. I barely got out of that sentence alive. You were missed, Mr. Mayor, but I suspect you had a pretty good time nonetheless.

Jesse Gelber and Kate Manning and their band.
In  addition to sparkling conversation, highlights of the evening included a dance lesson, drawings by Adriano, warm words from hostess Kita St. Cyr, and live entertainment from my new favorite act in New York, Gelber and Manning. It feels like many months since they last crossed paths with Marxfest, at Music of the Marx Brothers on May 9. (Read all about it here.)

I might as well admit that I was only at the party about half the time; the rest of the time I was Groucho. (Walking to Flute, a pedestrian who was clearly not a Marxfest participant saw me in costume and shouted, "Hey, Charlie!") Groucho hobnobbed, Groucho posed for a drawing by Adriano, Groucho danced with Amanda Sisk (actually that might have been me). And Groucho was even permitted to perform a couple of songs with Gelber and Manning and company.

(If you can't get enough, "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" is here.)

Kathy Biehl, Noah Diamond, Trudy Marshall
Amanda Sisk and Carolyn Raship
Kevin Fitzpatrick took the microphone at one point and said some gracious words about the festival and its family. He also unveiled the key component of a Marx Brothers surprise that remains up our sleeves, which you'll be hearing about later this summer.

We all laughed, talked, sang, and danced into the night, and then we all said goodbye and went home. Marxfest, ladies and gentlemen.

Noah Diamond, Meryl Danziger
So, a question that's come up a lot lately is: Are you going to do it again? Some have not even considered it a question; there have been many references to "next year's Marxfest" as though it were sure as Christmas.

Well, here and now, I can give you the official answer: We don't know! 

Some of us are turning our attention to I'll Say She Is, which you will see in all its glory in the New York International Fringe Festival in August. And as hinted above, there are a few other Marx Brothers happenings around the corner. Some are scattered fragments of Marxfest, and some are just Marx Brothers things we're excited about, like the release of the Marx Brothers TV Collection DVD set in August, the publication of Matthew Coniam's The Annotated Marx Brothers next year, and the publication (hopefully soon) of Robert Bader's epic chronicle of the Brothers' stage career.

Seth Shelden, Melody Jane
Noah Diamond, Amanda Sisk
But okay, okay, I get it. The question was not "Are any Marx Brothers-related events taking place at any point in the future?" The question was whether we're going to do another Marxfest, next year, or ever. And the answer was we don't know. It seems impossible that there won't be another Marxfest, but it also seems impossible to start planning it now! All we can do is tell you to watch this space, and keep playing with us on Facebook and Twitter, and stay tuned.

It's not goodbye -- it's hello, we must be going.

As always, I remain
Yours in Marx,

MARXFEST FLASHBACK: On the first day of the festival, May 1, 2014, the Marxfest Committee performs an
appropriately mad ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Algonquin Hotel, for the Party of the First Part. Left to right:
Noah Diamond, Trav S.D., Kathy Biehl, Jonny Porkpie, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Brett Leveridge.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Marxfest Diary: Days 20-26

DAY 20: At the "secret" Party of the Second Part at Kabin, thrown by Marxfest Committee president Kevin Fitzpatrick for the festival's Kickstarter backers, so many familiar names were finally given faces! For me, the highlight of this night was getting to meet and speak with some of the fine men and women who helped make this festival possible. But it was an evening rich in highlights. The scintillating Bunny Buxom performed twice, and Marxfest Committee member Jonny Porkpie and I did our double-Groucho version of the immortal Gallagher and Shean theme song. Would you like to see some lovely watercolor renderings of these performances, by the inspired Carolyn Raship? Of course you would.

DAY 21: This day has been removed from the festival by special order of the Freedonia Chamber of Deputies.

DAY 22: At 2:00 pm was the penultimate free screening at the Epiphany Library -- A Day at the Races, a transitional Marx Brothers film, which many of us regard as either the last good one or the first bad one. (Next week's Epiphany screening is one we all agree is among the very best -- Horse Feathers.)

Trav S.D. introduces Duck Soup at the
Museum of Modern Art, May 22.
Photo from Travalanche.
In the evening, the Marxfest audience was forced to choose between two outstanding events. Downtown at the Players Theatre, there was the final performance of Pinchbottom Burlesque's The Pinch Brothers in "The Bawdy House." Meanwhile, in midtown, the Brothers' 1933 masterpiece Duck Soup was screened at no less a venue than the Museum of Modern Art. Having seen the Pinch Brothers show earlier (see my previous entry), I arrived at MoMA ready to be entertained by the Marx Brothers themselves.

Marxfest Committee member Trav S.D. introduced the picture with some well-chosen words about how in the midst of planning the festival, it occurred to us that in addition to our talks, walks, parties, and performances, it might be nice "to get together and watch a Marx Brothers movie" too.

Far too rarely have I had the experience of watching the boys on the big screen, with a big audience. Whenever I do, I'm reminded that despite impressive advances in home entertainment technology, nothing can come close to watching a classic comedy film in its natural habitat. I have a nice big TV, and you probably do too, but when was the last time you saw the Marx Brothers two or three stories tall? As Trav points out in his account of the screening, Duck Soup is simply much funnier on the big screen, in front of a big crowd, than it can ever be on Netflix. The visual humor had infinitely greater impact, and the contagious nature of laughter illuminated much that hadn't gotten to me before, or not in many years.

Robert Pinnock, Matthew Curiano, Seth Shelden,
Melody Jane, and Noah Diamond performing the
Napoleon Scene in the I'll Say She Is reading at the
Players Theatre, 5/23. Photo: Jonathan Melvin Smith.
DAYS 23 & 25: I've been working on my reconstruction-adaptation of I'll Say She Is for more than five years. Maybe you've heard about it. On Friday and Sunday, we presented the work publicly for the first time (or for the first time in ninety years, depending on what we're talking about).

It's a bit difficult for me to write about the I'll Say She Is readings the way I've been writing about the other Marxfest events. The whole festival has been a euphoric dream, but this show, having incubated in my hands for so long, is exceptional for me, even in this month of exceptions.

Working on I'll Say She Is, I've been so lucky so often. I was lucky to stumble upon so much research material; lucky to attain the guidance and friendship of Meg Farrell and other experts in Marxism, Johnstoneism, and musical theatre history; lucky to brush against this legend I've cherished since reading about it as a child. But it's hard to think of a luckier break, or one more crucial to the readings and the imminent production, than the association of I'll Say She Is and its producer and director, Trav S.D. I know that to burble about one's collaborators is almost as tiresome as to burble about one's work, but I can't help it. And since I'm already guilty of this, I'm going all the way and telling you that I've been humbled and gratified every day by this beautiful group of people who've brought the show back to life. There hasn't been a cast of I'll Say She Is since 1925. Let's hear it for Melody Jane, Seth Shelden, Robert Pinnock, Matthew Curiano, Kathy Biehl, Ivory Fox, Grace Gotham, Glen Heroy, Dan Herrman, and Bob Homeyer; for Frances Ines Rodriguez, for Sabrina Chap -- the active ingredients of a dream come true.
Matthew Curiano and Melody Jane.
Photo: Jonathan Melvin Smith.

Backstage: Kathy Biehl as Ruby
Mintworth in I'll Say She Is.
Besides the material itself, the readings included a scoop, announced with characteristic flair and showmanship by Trav during his opening speech: I'll Say She Is will be presented in full, with band and chorus, at the New York International Fringe Festival in August of this year. If you missed the Marxfest readings, fear not -- you'll see the whole show in August! And if you saw the Marxfest readings, fear not -- you'll see the whole show in August!

Trav's speech posited that the audience for the I'll Say She Is readings included two factions: the hardcore Marx Brothers fanatics, and others. Judging by the audience's reaction to the material, the former faction seemed to dominate. I'm bursting with excitement about the upcoming Fringe production, and I even dare to hope that I'll Say She Is will have a long life, um, beyond the Fringe. But it's possible that the show will never have as appreciative an audience as the glorious crowd who attended the Marxfest readings. The love in the room was palpable -- I mean the love for our Brothers, which unites us, one for all, and all for me, and me for you, and three for five, and six for a quarter.

And you know what, forget the love; how about the laughs! It's probable that this highly addictive drug, this most potent of all uppers, is what gets most of us on stage in the first place -- the exquisite, life-affirming sound of a large group of friends and strangers collectively issuing rolls of riotous laughter. There is no better music in the world. It was beautiful. It was a tribute to the Marx Brothers, to the Johnstone brothers, to the family on stage and the family in the audience.

Following Sunday's reading, there was a talkback session, with Trav, Meg, and me, and in its way this was almost as much fun as the reading itself. As Trav noted from the stage, virtually the entire capacity audience stayed for the talkback, which never happens! Video of the talkback may be forthcoming. I hope so.

UPDATE (6/5/14): Here it is!

DAY 24: To back up slightly -- in between the first I'll Say She Is reading on Friday and the second one on Sunday, there was a Marxfest event on Saturday afternoon at Kabin. (This comfortable East Village bar and lounge, incidentally, has been one of Marxfest's happiest homes. In addition to Saturday's event, we had our original photo shoot for both I'll Say She Is and The Pinch Brothers at Kabin, as well as the secret backers' party last Tuesday. The folks at Kabin have been incredibly welcoming and generous with the Marx Brothers community, so why don't you stop in sometime and thank them by having a drink or two on their premises?)

One of my favorite sidebars to the saga of the Marx Brothers is Groucho's seemingly unlikely friendship with T.S. Eliot. With this in mind, I conceived The Love Song of J. Cheever Loophole. The event consisted of readings -- first of the complete Groucho/Eliot correspondence as published in The Groucho Letters, and then of selections from both men's work, culminating in Eliot's masterpiece "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," interrupted by some of Groucho's most distinguished wisecracks. I enjoyed this event immensely, not just because I always enjoy any opportunity to speak in Groucho's voice, but because the Eliot selections were read by Hugh Sinclair, a great friend, a great actor, and a great Marxist. I could listen to him all day. In the future, I believe The Love Song of J. Cheever Loophole might be the basis for a full-length work exploring the Groucho/Eliot relationship.

DAY 26: There were no public Marxfest events on Memorial Day. I spent a lovely afternoon with my lovely mother, who was in town for the I'll Say She Is reading and the Eliot event. We even found time to discuss things other than the Marx Brothers! I'd forgotten there was anything else. Thanks, Mom!

Noah Diamond, Robert Pinnock, and Seth Shelden backstage at the
Players Theatre for the I'll Say She Is reading on May 25.
It's hard to imagine that anything could have topped the first three weeks of Marxfest, but Week Four actually did. And would you believe that there's still another week ahead?

Tonight, members of the cast of I'll Say She Is will be performing at the Theatre Museum Gala at the Players Club (which is distinct from the Players Theatre -- we try to keep things as confusing as possible). On Thursday, there's Horse Feathers at the Epiphany Library at 2:00, and then at 6:30, Trav's talk at the Mid-Manhattan Library: We're All Mad Here: The Marx Brothers in Context. Throughout the festival, it's been said many times that the Marx Brothers were an enormous influence on every comedian since. What is said far less often is that the Brothers were enormously influenced by comedians who came before them, and who were their peers in vaudeville. Trav, author of No Applause -- Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, will shed some light on this in what I'm sure will be an entertaining and informative talk. And it's free. After that, there's the final day of Marxfest -- Saturday, May 31. At noon, meet us outside the Algonquin Hotel for Kevin Fitzpatrick's Marx Brothers and Algonquin Round Table Walking Tour. And at 7:00 pm, we wrap up this dizzying month of Marxian madness with A Night at Wit's End, a speakeasy party at Flute Midtown. You probably know that Wit's End is the city's preeminent Jazz Age party. Did you know that on this particular night, in addition to vintage or vintage-inspired attire, the Wit's End dress code includes the option of Marx Brothers or Marx Brothers-inspired attire? We'll see you there.

As always, I remain
Yours in Marx,

P.S. Did you hear the one about Trav, Carolyn, Groucho, and a screaming child on the subway?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Marxfest Diary: Days 12-19

Marxfest Committee member Kathy Biehl chats with Bill Marx during
Marxfest's Global Marx Brothers Shindig on May 15
DAYS 12-14: There were no public Marxfest events last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday -- giving the Marxfest Committee and its various cohorts time to gear up for the second half of the festival.

DAY 15: The second half of the festival began on Thursday, May 15. This was the day designated by Bill Marx (son of Harpo) as the International Day of Laughter, so chosen because it's the actual centennial of the Galesburg, Illinois poker game at which Art Fisher gave the boys their nicknames. (Actually, according to Robert Bader, the fateful event could also have occurred on May 14 or 16.) To mark the occasion, Marxfest held a special event, an online conversation with Bill Marx and a virtual gathering of Marx Brothers fans from around the world.

There were some technical glitches, and we were sorry to hear that some who attempted to participate were either unable to log in, or unable to stream the event once they did. But more than 200 Marxists from both sides of the Atlantic did manage to get in, and were treated to a wonderful exchange. Bill graciously and eloquently answered questions about Harpo, the Marx Brothers, and the significance of their lives and careers. "My dad said, 'I never would have made it without my brothers,'" he told us. He also talked about playing the piano for Allan Sherman's debut performance (attended by all five Marx Brothers), shared memories of Harpo's innate wisdom and decency, and described his father's speaking voice.

The hour flew by, and at the end, Bill said -- not only to us, but to all Marx Brothers fans everywhere: "I want to tell you that I love you." He thanked us, all of us, for loving the Marx Brothers and keeping their comedy alive. The pleasure is ours, sir.

We're hoping to obtain video of the conversation and make highlights available online.

Tigger! as Pinchy in The Pinch Brothers in "The
Bawdy House."
Photo by Don Spiro.
Immediately following the Bill Marx Shindig, Marxfest Committee member Kathy Biehl and I high-tailed it to the Players Theatre to catch the second performance of Pinchbottom's Marxfest event, The Pinch Brothers in "The Bawdy House." This self-contained burlesque homage, written and directed by Marxfest Committee member Jonny Porkpie (who also appears as the Grouchovian character Zeigsky Minsfeld) is one of the few Marxfest events in which I played no administrative or creative role. It was a fantastic treat to just sit and enjoy it as a member of the audience.

The show began with a Pinchbottom parody of the old Paramount Pictures logo, followed by newspaper headlines setting up the plot -- a clever and beautifully-executed nod to the opening moments of Animal Crackers. For Marx Brothers fanatics (of which there are more than a few running around the city these days), much of the fun of The Pinch Brothers is identifying the many references to classic Marx material, which Jonny has deftly woven throughout his original libretto. The references I spotted, in addition to the Animal Crackers intro, included:

  • A "charades" scene between Pinchy (Tigger!) and Chica (Lady Scoutington), modeled on the Harpo/Chico charades sequences in A Day at the Races, A Night in Casablanca, and Love Happy.
  • Porkpie parodies of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" and other Marx standards.
  • Tigger!'s spot-on recreation of Harpo's "getting tough" business, as seen in Monkey Business and Horse Feathers.
  • Jonny Porkpie and A. Goldfarb hilariously capturing the Groucho/Dumont dynamic, with a twist or two.
  • Trav S.D. perfectly embodying the archetypal Marx Brothers detective -- a "pre-noir" lawman, as Trav has said, generally named Hennessy or Henderson. (At other performances, the role is played by Don Spiro.)
  • In addition to all the Marx references, The Bawdy House gleefully borrows classic comedy devices from elsewhere (pie fights, silent-movie chases, Donny Vomit as a moustache-twirling villain), nicely contextualizing the Marx mythos.

There are many others, including two classic cinematic Marx Brothers sequences impressively reinterpreted for the stage, but to be more specific would spoil too many surprises. You still have one more chance to see it, this Thursday. Adults only, and all that. For a more detailed account of The Bawdy House, read Trav S.D.'s article about the show.

Day 15 of Marxfest was also a big one for free screenings; at 2:00 you had your choice of A Night at the Opera (96th Street Library) or Room Service (Epiphany Library). The latter venue is showing A Day at the Races on May 22 and Horse Feathers on May 29.

A few Marxfest Committee members, and
friends, at the Brothers' childhood home.
DAY 16: This was a dark day for Marxfest. I don't mean that anything bad happened, just that there were no public events. I barely remember this day. I spent it feverishly preparing for...

DAY 17: I only got to spend a brief amount of time enjoying the Barx Brothers event, but it was a beautiful morning in Yorkville, and it was nice to meet up with part of the group on the steps of the Brothers' childhood home, 179 East 93rd Street. Or 179 Marx Brothers Place.

I had to get to the 96th Street Library to prepare for my own presentation, "The Marxes of Yorkville," which began at noon. The 96th Street Library has a great room downstairs, which they refer to as a meeting room, but which is really a small auditorium. Some years ago, I participated in a "Save Marx Brothers Place" event there, where we screened my film tribute The Brothers, and ever since then I've associated that room with the Marxes.

"The Marxes of Yorkville" was well-attended and seemed to go over nicely. It was a triple bill, starting with my -- lecture? Talk? Presentation? All of these words make it sound like something that would be a chore to sit through. I spoke for about thirty minutes, telling the story of the Brothers' early years in New York, accompanied by photographs and artifacts projected on a screen behind me. It was so much fun, I kind of wanted to keep going and cover their whole career. Maybe some day I'll get to teach a class in Marxism (perhaps in hi skule). But it was time to move on: Next on the bill was a particular treat, Dan Truman and Seth Shelden reading excerpts from Groucho and Me and Harpo Speaks. I'd selected the excerpts, all dealing with the Yorkville years, to complement my talk. Seth, who also plays Harpo in I'll Say She Is this week, told me that it was very helpful having heard Bill Marx's description of Harpo's voice two days earlier.

Noah Diamond speaks at "The Marxes of Yorkville" at the
96th Street Library, May 17. Photo by Amanda Sisk.
Third on the bill was my friend Susan Kathryn Hefti, co-chair of the 93rd Street Beautification Association, who spoke about the "Save Marx Brothers Place" cause, for which she's been working and fighting for many years. The 93rd Street Beautification Association has three goals: 1) to make 179 East 93rd Street an officially designated New York City landmark; 2) to co-name the block Marx Brothers Place; and 3) to extend the Carnegie Hill Historic District by one block, thereby protecting the extant historical structures on the block (including 179) from demolition and redevelopment. Susan shared some information about how Marx Brothers fans can help, and that information can be found here.

DAY 18: I'm hoping that Marxfest Committee president Kevin Fitzpatrick will report on the Bronx Zoo "Elephant in Your Pajamas" event which took place on Sunday. I missed that one, owing to a nine-hour marathon rehearsal for the two staged readings of I'll Say She Is which are coming your way this Friday and Sunday at the Players Theatre. (Details are here. Even more details are here.) I'm going to spare you the self-satisfied burbling in which I am tempted to indulge. I'm not going to tell you how exhilarating the rehearsal was, how brilliant the cast is, how historic these readings are, or how sorry you may be if you don't buy your tickets in advance right now and be part of this moment in Marx Brothers history.

DAY 19: There were no public Marxfest events on Monday, but it was nevertheless an important day. It was the actual ninetieth anniversary of the opening night of I'll Say She Is at the Casino Theatre. Nine decades since the boys graduated from vaudeville to Broadway. And how exciting to think that their ninety-year-old vehicle is still "a masterpiece of knock 'em down and drag 'em out humor" (as George Jean Nathan wrote in 1924), and even more exciting to think that you can be part of the first audience to enjoy this work since the original production closed, and all you have to do is buy tickets right now.

I'd better end this before I plug again.

As always, I remain
Yours in Marx,

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dogs & Elephants? It Must Be Family Weekend

Marxfest has been in full swing since the beginning of the month, however, this weekend is all about families. The Marxfest Committee has focused two days over the weekend on programming that’s aimed at the next generation of Marx Brothers fans. Here are the details to attend, for people of all ages.

Saturday, May 17, 10 AM. The Barx Brothers Dogwalk
We will be meeting at Marx Brothers Playground, on East Ninety-sixth Street, between First and Second Avenues (closer to Second). We will meet at 10 AM and the walk will commence between 10:15 and 10:30. The walk will be held rain or shine. Come dressed as your favorite Marx Brothers member, or dress your dogs and kids up too. Meet Eli the Celebrity Chihuahua! We will be walking about 12-15 blocks. Among the stops will be Marx Brothers Place on East Ninety-third street, where the brothers and their family lived for more than a dozen years. The walk will wind up at the 96th Street Library, 12 East 9th Street for “The Marxes of Yorkville” talk by Noah Diamond. This talk is also free and open to the public, and suitable for kids. It commences at Noon.

Sunday, May 18, Noon, An Elephant in Your Pajamas, at the Bronx Zoo
South Entrance (Gate C) meeting point (Noon) –parking entrance
Asia Gate Entrance meeting point (12:30) – mass transit entrance
The trend of wearing your pajamas in public (not a new trend in New York City) will be on display when we visit the Bronx Zoo attired in our sleepwear. Of course we are paying tribute to the famous Groucho Marx joke, however, we are taking it to the real world by visiting the Bronx Zoo elephants. However, the African Elephants at the zoo are not in a cage to walk up to in our pajamas. There is a bit of planning needed to get to see them!

There are two entrances to meet at, and then the rallying point. The South Entrance is where the parking lot is. If you are driving to the Bronx Zoo, park in the South Lot (Gate C). We will meet at the gate from 12:00-12:20 and then proceed to walk to the rallying point in Asia Plaza. If you are taking mass transit, you will be entering at Asia Gate! This is the 2 or 5 subway lines, or the BX9, BX36, Q44, BX40, or BX42 bus lines. You can meet here at approximately 12:30. Then proceed to the rally point in Asia Plaza. In Asia Plaza we’ll pose for photos about 1 PM and then get in line for the Wild Asia Monorail, which takes us to see the elephants (and their friends, the lions, tigers, etc). Following the trip to seeing the elephants (and shooting only photos), we can decide which exhibits to see next.

For all updated information on Saturday and Sunday, follow on Twitter @marxfest for updates that will be sent out. You can also email me for information.

The rest of the weekend is decidedly adults only! Saturday night Murray Hill hosts You Bet Your Ass and Sunday night is the Pinch Brothersin the Bawdy House.