The Royal Shakespeare Company’s U.S. Tour – Robert’s Diary Chapter Eleven



May 17th: Left flat at 7a.m. and took the A train to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (recommended by Linda). Glorious morning and arrived at 8-30a.m. in time for plenty of bird-song. Saw, through Linda’s binoculars, glossy ibis, snowy egret and great egret, is it Brent geese? several herons, I think a pelican, oyster catchers, big and small wading birds, ducks, probably a curlew, swallows of which there are many sorts, all kinds of gulls, a mobbed hawk, an osprey on an artificial nest post, plenty of perching birds, small and yellow, or large and grey, grackles I believe, a swan and, at last, a chipmunk; a wonderful (internationally important, I believe) place of reeds, saltmarsh, brackish and fresh ponds and a connection with the open sea; also woodland re-generating on old land-fill. It’s been going since 1951. Pleasant rangers, as is common.

Walked to the subway at Broad Channel through a clapboard community of, many of them, cute-sy houses and boatyards and some sense of dereliction. At the station was spoken to by a distinguished granny with her grand-daughter’s sister-in-law in tow (I think), on their way to the Met., asking about a train connection. Turns out she is a volunteer at the Refuge and claims it is safe for the future (the Republican congress is chipping away at environmental funding as at so many other things); she lives at Far Rockaway and, answering me, said the houses I referred to at Broad Ch.were not holiday homes but occupied by – did I know the term? – the lumpen-proletariat! Gun-toting, racist, not above murdering blacks, but do you leave your car and it’s safe. This gloss didn’t altogether surprise me. I passed a Knights of Columbus barrack and a Christ is risen sign and the corner store, post office, bar with its four or five habitués on stools, where I asked directions and was politely helped, had that feel of small town America. Noted a very Polish name on the mail box of one house – nothing more prejudiced than an established immigrant.

As we sat on the train, chatting, we were accosted by a young-ish local man, over-hearing us. He turned out to be an exception (I supposed, though he had a large plastic covered identity tag hanging off a tit, askew, so I couldn’t read clearly what else was on it other than ‘race card’). The lady had said she was a twice-weekly volunteer worker at the Refuge and the chap explained how he took his own and extended family there to help clean up and otherwise enjoy the place. Turned out he was a pharmacist in Brooklyn and seemed to be interested in plants, therefore the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and especially in finding something to combat mosquitos – helped me, later, to change at the right stop. There was a moment, prompted by the lady, when we exchanged names; curiously ritual-like necessity, after a while, clearly felt by the woman. Hers I didn’t catch, the younger was Alexandra (she kept not being able to get over my accent) and the pharmacist was Timothy. There entered our car an oriental pulling a cardboard box on wheels, containing batteries, chips, drinks and other small items for sale. I told the others that I had seen everything on the subway, but that.

When I changed to the C train the same thing happened; perhaps it’s a feature of this route. Having taken the Franklin Ave. shuttle, something of a Will Hay line, but lacking chickens, I didn’t know which way to walk at Botanic and strayed into a wide boulevard intersection where black males of all ages were just hanging out; kicking stones, jawing; I overheard one large, ranging fellow say out loud as I passed, ‘Two years of drug-pushing and nothin’ to show for it’, with humour, addressing others – or the world. Asking for directions I was solicitously directed to retrace my steps rather than take a slightly more direct route!? Apart from a Chinese stall-holder, I saw only blacks. Spent half an hour in the Brooklyn Bot. Gdns. Very well kept; Japanese garden with lake, yet one more Shakespeare garden and a fragrance garden which I could really smell. Wistaria and lilac in full flood, but the cherry gone and the roses yet to come; azaleas on either side of a wide green ride, but colours limited to white and shades of red. Came out on the proper end of Franklin Avenue which is very wide and quite grand, but seedy a few yards down towards the ghetto.

Spent an hour and a half in the Brooklyn. Museum. Vast building with comparatively few, but carefully displayed objects. Nice Monet and Corot, one or two of some great painters (Matisse, Braque and so on, perhaps what was left to grab), an historical, early, scene from a ballet by Degas and quite a few, including some sexy, Rodins. I have been wondering at the complete dearth of Graham Sutherlands right across America, given how pervasive he was and rated when I was first in London and suddenly, here is a solitary one on the wall entitled ‘egg-shaped rock’ or something akin; as flat and marginally interesting as he ever was and yet how seriously was one supposed to take him, once; basements all over must be crammed with his stuff. Museum good on 18th and 19th C. Americans. In the Egyptian rooms, an explicitly sexy plaster model or two with a painstaking explanation that scholars who deny that the Egyptians ever went in for overt sexual illustration are wrong. Echoes of Pompeii; vast tools with tomes on them, or linking a series of persons, etc. ascribed to fertility magic and charming, which I’m sure is right, centring on the potency of the magnified, almost autonomous, penis. Also a perfect, large, blue faience bead collar-like necklace. Superb few Iranian glass, and pottery, bowls.

After the ‘Dream’, Linda rang to say she has two work interviews for Monday, so that finally kills our plans to return to Connecticut. In these last three weeks, Lindsay Duncan is giving something like a consistent performance, nightly! Varied house responses, but sometimes ecstatic – and surprised sounding; also pretty full.

May 19th: A little after midnight Ellie McNulty returned my call, from work, as I shall now be able to attend her stand-up performance; made arrangements; keen-ness irrepressible, started me on Michael Hordern’s ‘Malvolio’ which she is thinking of offering to her clowning class. Supper to Linda’s; elicited more of her life story and relationship with her mother, Kay Brown, and younger, Ph. D. earning (in physical education) sister Kate – who may, possibly, be a lesbian. Spoke lovingly of her father, first a not very successful lawyer and then a happy salesman, but of ‘ancient’ up-state stock. L. confirmed that her mother had spoiled her one chance, at twenty-five, of marriage; by harping on money and the chap’s ability to support her. she says; hadn’t the confidence to ignore her. I have begun to suggest that she use her, avowed, new flushness of funds to buy herself a young man; in so far as she picked up my meaning she parried that she is much too much of a romantic – really, she’s just terrified. On the N and R return subway platform a very dark woman, rather finely dressed in black trouser suit, was playing the guitar, rather hauntingly and singing, I think in Spanish.

May 20th: More preparations for leaving town. Last conversation with David Kalodner, I imagine. Watched most of a second film on tape leant me by Linda; called ‘Smoke’, I found it untrue, frame by frame, and repellently sentimental, though ‘with it’s heart in the right place’, which seems to muster as worthy art around here.

At 8-30p.m. attended The Comic Strip on 2nd Ave. (between 81st and 82nd). A pub, really, not unlike The King’s Head. It was audition night for new stand-up comedy acts, though most of the performers were habitual pros. of one level or another. Ellie McNulty was made to wait hour after hour before getting on, until a good bit of the house had left and the rest were jaded. She was, however, exemplarily raw and inept, though very brave, and unabashed by her self-confessedly nightmarish ordeal; no tears. In fact, we had to hang around even later to find out if the management is likely to re-book her and, amazingly, they will probably offer another bite at an audition.

The best comic was a black man who used no sexual jokes, no insistent coarse language and no insult gags – rested his routine on being black in a largely non-black society. There was an embarrassing office worker from an advertising company who, in front of his boss and co-workers, mainly women, died while going on about his divorce, having an enema and his stained, boy-hood sheets. Some clear ability shown by some acts, but the American recourse to tired staples was lowering; much therapy is going on and there were some frank sadnesses. Ellie and I went to Dorrian’s Red Hand for supper and were there till two o’clock; she was ready to accept suggestions about technique, material (which she is inclined to change hourly) and her voice production. Accepted an idea to perform ‘Lance’ from ‘Two Gents.’ for her clown class. Told me she was being groomed for academic stardom, too, and has two science subjects (Chem. & Phys.) amongst her As. Father an inventor, almost an actor, and appalled at her taking all this up. Though she’s left her art course, which brought her here, she submits story boards to film companies for money, sometimes, otherwise works on the lights and doors and so forth at Chicago City Limits (which is here in N.Y.). A very broad-faced, Irish-looking person of considerable intelligence and much charm. Left her at 59th, where the guitarist of last night had been playing.

May 21st: Checked out the local Barnes and Noble. Letter from Wally; Kevin Fraser fell at the first fence! Watched the end of ‘Smoke’ (I wonder if Philip Morris backed it) and was amazed to read on the box that it won some prize in Berlin last year.

Arrived at theatre to find note from Mikel Lambert. Telephoned her number as soon as I got back to the flat.

May 22nd: Returned scripts to Joyce Ketay Agency and was asked by Wendy Streeter what I thought of them. Told her I found Adam Rapp’s ‘Ghosts In The Cottonwoods’ pretty stunning. He is twenty-five and the brother of Tony Rapp who features in ‘Rent’, the musical derived from ‘La Bohème’. Turns out he is not from the depths of the country but from Illinois and has made up the diction of his piece. W. wonders whether it’s too near ‘Buried Child’ but I said it’s better than and, anyway, O’Neill’-ish and therefore of an accepted American tradition. Could not tell if her critical response is based on much or she just sponges up eagerly, willingly and diplomatically from her interlocutor? A hint that the agency tries to ‘get things on’. She handed me a second Rapp play and, in total, I kept three from five.

Mia came up to the flat between shows; solid, lively political chat – only person I have found to speak to, the whole tour. Left me a, self-published, volume of poems, her feminist book and another couple of photo-copied articles.

Mikel, having seen the show, came round and we went for supper to Sam’s. Told me an hour and a half’s worth of her tale, since we were last thoroughly in touch, and we continued at the flat over tea. She confirmed receiving a letter from me after a student of hers, Gretta Dowling, had telephoned me and turned up in London. However, having had no reply, though I rummaged for her address before leaving London, it was not a priority to find it. All through the tour, though, I had been thinking as to how, were she able to, we might resume contact.

The signs I had received at my last visit to them (with Anna) of Jeremy Rowe’s state (they had only the one child then, Patrick) were not misleading. It had eventually come to a climax when, supported by a friend, he had called on her (from university, or teaching, or acting I can’t recall) and sat in a chair opposite to tell her he knew he was Jesus Christ. Slowly, apparently, he had sunk further and further into manic-depression. (She had under-pinned him through bewildering switches of career between teaching or acting.) She claims not to have suspected for an age that he was mentally ill. Later, she spoke of his oppressive watchfulness and suspicion of her and of who she met or where she went. It all fitted her story of him, and she seemed to be trying hard to be truthful, but I know that hints that she was unfaithful, even after they married, were supported by outsiders. I might try her on that, one day! It raises the thought as to what to any degree, brought on what. She left him finally in1974, was at Stratford (I vaguely remember a ‘Hamlet’ at the Roundhouse which came from T.O.P. when she played ‘Gertrude’ and which I left) and met Ann Hasson, possibly in her first job. Took her, by then two, sons, the second Tim, home to Virginia where her parents lived (a delightful couple, which I once met in London, her father a political journalist), acting and sometimes directing in Washington.

At the time she showed me a letter Tim was showing signs of disturbance so, to pay treatment bills, she had taken a teaching job at Catholic University and was there six years part and full time, though she hated it. A little over a year ago both her parents had died of cancer, so she has their house to realise; her children appear to be settling solidly, which leaves her free to try her luck in New York; which she knows only slightly, though she has an occasionally-appearing character to play in a soap that brings her here, with auditions, from time to time. Will move to N.Y. for good from early June. Jeremy, but for the one leaving-off which proved disastrous, is surviving stably on medication; is living in Cambridge and teaching at Dover School and is again married to a large ‘wonderful’ woman. (I think of José Berlinka). Also of Ronnie Cunliffe who reminded me, in Newcastle, that he and Jeremy had kibbutzed together in Israel, in the sunshiny days, after the Mermaid. Mikel asked after my directing and out of it arose a thought that we try to do a season of American plays here, it striking me that there is a wonderful part for her in Mia Albright’s play and I have the Adam Rapp, too. We agreed to do some constructive telephoning; I handed on numbers. She left at four.

May 23rd: Rang Ellie McNulty to say the management is suddenly offering us all four tickets, free, for each of five last performances. Mikel rang, joyfully, before catching her train and, in an after thought way, dropped that, over-drinking, she had stopped eleven years ago – her voice on the ‘phone is extraordinary and growly and I’d said something about smoking, which she does, and my father. Alan and Georgina Finch + daughter came to the apartment. We lunched at Sam’s. He is devising a soft-ware package to take businesses through changes of date and so on, into the 21st century – a nightmare they all have to face and for which he is offering a dirty, but cut-price, solution. They rose to no offers to see the show, even free, though baby-sitting seems a genuine problem; American families don’t seem, even, to trust their friends and prefer agencies! Walk in the sun, chatting, to their subway, via the New Victory Theatre – they live near the downtown West new marina.

Linda came to the stage door after the show and I treated her to supper at Sam’s. When we came again, effortlessly, to her not yet having learnt to spend money I suggested she buy a young man for, say, six months and, if she doesn’t like it, then throw him out; if she does like it, keep him on or try another, but make sure not to settle anything on him – the classic mistake older ladies fall into. I gave her a photocopy of Vivienne’s medical history (recently received) because Linda has a maverick medical guru called Allan Bateman who specialises in difficult cases. (Alan Finch has tried people, locally, but their opinions tend to be polar). L. will do a small piece herself in a writer’s marathon her group is setting up. Told her about Mikel and plans. L. came to the flat for tea and to take home household stuff she’d lent us and some scripts I have now read and don’t care to travel. It is the last time I will see her before passing through to return to London.

May 24th: Laundry, shopping, bank, walked 42nd St. beyond 8th Ave. Quentin Crisp has just been playing in one of the many little theatres down there, called Harold Clurman or Samuel Beckett or associated with Douglas Fairbanks; Playwrights’ Horizons also down there. A building, 330, W. 42nd St., I should say in line for development, temporarily occupied by a rowing boat and river activity group. Aim is to set people back on the waterways of New York. There is a rowing boat under construction in the window and, wandering in through the open door, there is timber and there are tools and a few people consulting and rope and marine paraphernalia; it’s another go by the middle classes, in association with and by working on the rich, to go back to something seen as healthy, sane and ecologically sound with a link to a, seen-to-be, more wholesome past; though the new, old-style , row-boats will have flotation tanks – see leaflet. Extremely friendly, and unexpected, ‘phone call from David Kalodner to say good-bye (he seems to like it that we are going to Yellowstone!) but also to confirm that W.M. London have sent him the wrong episode of ‘Bonjour La Classe’ – damn them – and also to check my precise holiday times – for the London office as much as his. Gave him Linda’s number for messages. Left good-bye message on Barbara Rosenblatt’s machine. Posted post-prandial post-card to Vivienne ref. to meeting Alan after all. Then strolled up and down 57th, St. to look at the architecture. Saw the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde club on 5th in daylight (the curious building I’d spotted coming back from the Fairbanks rout). Vacuumed. ‘Phone call from Ellie; wants two tickets for Sunday, thought it was 8p.m.! Anna and Lucy had just arrived at the Plaza as I got back from the show – minor cock-up over key.

May 25th: Collected laundry at 6p.m., read, hastily, a Nicky Silver script leant me by Carol Clark.

May 26th: Tidying in the flat. Lucy finishing (or trying to) homework. Anna ‘phone calls to book rides, floats in Wyoming. Leo Rost telephoned from Florida apologising for not keeping between shows date. Had to return for other eye cataract op. Seemed quite pleased with ‘Bob’s Butch Bar’ but sounded more chastened than before. Talking again of reviving ‘Marlow’ in N.Y. – with me directing. Told him, glancingly, of my plans. Last show; fairly solid standing ovation and three calls. ?Anna and Lucy attending, also Ellie M. and friend. And Sue Latimer, coffee after (with Finn at Dean and de Luca’s) – to tell her of wrong ep. and D. Kal. Packing. Leaving last stuff for Linda to collect.

May 27th: Intention to get car to La Guardia at 6-30a.m. for 8-25a.m. flight to Denver, then Jackson Hole airport. Drove to Gardiner. Lake Village Yellowstone, Colter Bay Village in Grand Tetons, then Jackson to June 8th; flew to Denver and New York (family to Heath Row). At Linda’s by 5-30p.m. local. Supper out.

June 9th: Slept! Talked to Mia Albright. With Linda to butterflies at Bronx Zoo. Waded through Puerto Rican National Day parade (with floats and Miss P. R.) there and on the way back – how filthy, the streets, compared with the Zoo! Talked to Mikel Lambert. Rang Branwen – used up last call card. Supper in; talked.

June 10th: Up at 4-30a.m., Carmel car to JFK. Not shackled or gaoled for overstaying visa (by seven days – alteration of immigration officer’s hand-written permit worked, perhaps; it did in South Africa – or helped, anyway). Home…

END