Saturday, November 01, 2014

Dear Elizabeth Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Dear Elizabeth
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
140 Clarendon Street, 2d Floor
Boston, MA
Now Playing
A Play by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by A. Nora Long

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

One would think that two of America’s great poets would write great letters, especially to each other.  Whoever thinks so is correct. Add to the letters the fact that there is pathos and humor and they become great letters.  No dull, wasted verbiage here.  Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop pour their hearts out to each other and at times are brutally frank about the other’s poetry. 

One could also assume that letters between poets would not make a great play. Assumption wrong. Sarah Ruhl extracts two lives and brings them together, in sometimes confrontational and other times tender moments.  Her writing is never dull, in fact it is mostly riveting as the two protagonists move about indoors and outdoors, symbolic of their internal, external revelations. 

In one scene Bishop goes to Key West, Florida and to portray it, a Lionel electric train zips around a circular track to indicate the method of transportation.  In others snow falls, while in yet other scenes the stage or a suitcase opens to depict a beach or a lake.  Lighting and the scenery add to the reality.

However good the script, the scenery, the lighting it is always the actors who make or break a play. In this play Laura Latreille is a knock-out as Elizabeth Bishop.  Her hand movements say it all. When she is distressed her face reveals the anguish. Her happiness is the face of sunshine.  And her hugs for Lowell reveal her not-too-physically-close relationship with him and at time perhaps the romantic ambivalence she felt. Nonetheless, she is electric in the spectrum of Bishop’s emotions and a marvel to sit and watch and listen.

Ed Hoopman as Robert Lowell does an excellent job of portraying the Brahmin/aristocratic, mentally ill poet who depends heavily on Bishop’s friendship and commentary on his poems. Despite his illness, Lowell is a tender caring man who even during his time a McLean
Hospital is capable of lucidity for family and his one true friend.

It is noted in numerous books how they depended and influenced each other, something which both have stated.   In the program booklet the late Thom Gunn in his book Remembering Elizabeth Bishop wrote “Elizabeth told me about Robert Lowell.  She said, ‘He’s my best friend.’ When I met him a few years later, I mentioned that I knew her and he said, “Oh she’s my best friend.’ It was nice to think that she and Lowell both thought of each other in the same way.”

Sarah Ruhl is an award-winning playwright does a superior job of taking the letters of Lowell and Bishop and stitching together an extraordinary play, everyone interested in superior performance should attend.

Director Nora Long in directing her first Lyric Stage show does a wonderful job of bringing out the best out of both actors.

Dear Elizabeth is at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through November 9 and I recommend anyone within reading to see it.

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer, Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle and Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8

Publisher, Muddy River Books

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview with author E. B. Moore about her new novel: An Unseemly Wife

Author E.B. Moore

 Interview by Endicott student Ellen Pulitzer

E.B. Moore’s first novel “An Unseemly Wife” is a harrowing tale, based on the lives of the author’s great grandmother and her family. It is a novel that began its life as a chapbook of poems entitled New Eden, A Legacy (Finishing Line Press ‘09). It is a story passed down from mother to daughter, of an Amish housewife and mother – Ruth – whose way of life is suddenly uprooted by the western expansion in the United States. In 1867, going against doctrine, Ruth’s husband decides to move the family from their quiet farm in search of free land in Idaho. A pregnant and overdue Ruth must pack up with their four children and follow her husband on a journey that forces her to make some serious sacrifices.

E.B. Moore was kind enough to take the time to do an email interview with me, in which we talked about her process in developing this book through Grub Street’s Novel Incubator Program.  She fleshed  this story out first through poems, which she later turned into pages of an inspiring journey.


EP: The title of your new book An Unseemly Wife  is an interesting one. How was it chosen? 
EBM: The title came from collaboration with my agent, Alice Tasman. Originally the title had been A Wager of Bones, but she felt, at a glance this didn’t tell enough about the book. The novel follows Ruth as she resists obedience to her husband’s decrees, a very unseemly way to behave in their 19th century Amish fold. As the story begins, he bundles her and their four children (she is pregnant and overdue with their fifth) into a covered wagon, and against their faith, joins the dreaded English heading for free land in Idaho. On the trek, they face Indian attacks, a deadly pestilence, and prejudice leading to betrayal that left them alone on the trail-side fighting for their lives. Through it all her resistance takes many forms and brings her to question more than her husband. 
EP: I'm of the understanding that this book is based on your great grandmother's life experiences. What compelled you to write this book? 
EBM: My mother was fascinated by the story and told it often. She wanted to write it herself as a warning to my girls and me to trust in ourselves, but a brain tumor erased her memory before she could do no more than jot a cryptic list of incidents. So, even though I was a metal sculptor at the time, I gave it a try. My rendition started as a chapbook of poems called New Eden, A Legacy (Finishing Line Press ‘09). People who read the poems kept asking for details. The idea of a full narrative horrified me: too long, I’d get lost, besides, I didn’t know the details. But I joined Jenna Blum’s Grub Street novel class and in a matter of weeks became addicted to writing fiction. After more and more classes including Grub Street’s year long Novel Incubator, I finished the book. 
EP: What do you hope the reader will take away from her story? 
EBM: As it is with any art form, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder,
so I expect each reader will take something different from Ruth’s story. I’ll be interested to know what those interpretations are. 
EP: Is the character Ruth Holtz fictional, or was that the name of your great grandmother? 
EBM: Since this is a novel, I changed the names to protect the innocent along with the guilty. 
EP: I'm aware that your mother gave you the gift of the oral family history. Has your great grandmother's story affected your life in any profound way? 
EBM: Yes, it has. When I was a kid, “Ruth’s” strength inspired me as much as it did my mother and served as a bond between us. Mother had a scale model of the Conestoga wagon built and placed on her mantle as a constant reminder to be strong. After she lost her memory, she’d look at the wagon (then placed on my mantle, since she lived for ten years with my kids and me) and every day she’d say, “Tell me the wagon.” The kids would run from the room, hands over their ears. “No, no, not the wagon of death again.”
For the last six years, I’ve immersed myself in writing Ruth’s experience. This attempt to bring her to life has brought me to a generous new community and turned me into an author with a second book slated to come out from NAL/Penguin in the near future. 
EP: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? What was it like working in the Novel Incubator program? 
EBM: For me, writing is an everyday event, or I get crabby. If the words don’t flow, I read snippets of favorite books like March by Geraldine Brooks, or Grapes of Wrath. Many others overflow the bookshelves and stack tables and chairs around my loft. Reading all kinds of books helps every aspect of writing. This is why I’m part of several book clubs and writing groups. 
I took part in Grub Street’s Novel Incubator Program during its first experimental year when Michelle Hoover and Lisa Borders taught as a team. They led ten students through a yearlong program equivalent to an MFA. Each student came to the class with a completed novel, and for the first ten weeks we read and analyzed each one. As the year continued, we broke the novels down into chapters, scenes, and finally sentences. I have never worked so hard or been so excited about any schooling, up at four in the morning, canceling vacations, living, eating, and breathing the novels. Everyone in the group worked to help everyone else succeed, holding all feet to the fire in the most supportive way possible. Being a part of Grub Street classes has introduced me to an amazing community of writers that I treasure.
EP: Can you tell me a little about Ruth’s cultural background? Why was this journey so monumental for her? 
EBM: One of the basic tenets of the Amish faith, as outlined in the Ordnung, (The Ordnung is a set of rules for Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Conservative Mennonite living) is leading a Plain life (no frills, no frippery) and staying separate from the world at large. Ruth’s husband, Aaron, put her in an impossible situation. She had to choose between obeying him, which was her duty as a wife, or obeying the Ordnung. No matter what she chose, she’d be in the wrong, so she did her unseemly best to keep him from leaving the Fold. 
Though Aaron said he wouldn’t break from their faith, Ruth failed to dissuade him and they joined a wagon train in Pittsburgh. For the sake of their souls, they tried to keep distant from the others, but for survival they had to depend on the group. In the process Ruth came to realize people weren’t always what they appeared, and trusting the wrong person could prove more dangerous than an Indian attack. 


Monday, October 27, 2014

“The Biology of Luck” by Jacob M. Appel


“The Biology of Luck”
by Jacob M. Appel
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Elephant Rock Productions
Review by Timothy Gager

Very interesting concept, if you enjoy a puzzle, a kind of thing inside a thing, creating an overall larger thing. A mirror held up facing another mirror. A book within a book. That was the strength and hook of "The Biology of Luck"; Jacob M. Appel's unfurling of the conceptual nature within his work.

Then you get the bad-ass characters. If you like real characters, in doubt of their existence, thus ending up in places they should and often should not be in, then this one is a winner. Appel writes with fine craft in this artful novel, which I feel is good---I enjoyed the writer's set up, but I also felt it just missed. I wanted to like the female protagonist, Starshine Hart more, wanted in my mind as a reader to be able to hang out with her, but somehow couldn't place myself there. Larry Bloom, a struggling writer, is also the writer creating the story within the novel's story. Larry, often placed in situations beyond his control (which, of course he's creating) as a floundering tour guide to Dutch tourists--I could relate to his weaknesses much better.

Many times, I felt Appel was hitting on cylinders that I knew he was swinging for but I didn't pick up on 100% of the time. Upon completion of "The Biology of Luck", I felt I wanted to audit a course taught by Mr. Appel to gain full appreciation of this text. I  mean this as a high compliment, as I wanted to dive into and fully appreciate, every nuance here, but as a reader, was left frustrated.