Some of you may already have read the earlier version of
this summary of my year, which was sent to a small circle of friends, several
of whom asked that I post it on Theatre’s Leiter Side for wider distribution.
This is an updated version, supplemented by material I first posted on Facebook.
2020. The year the world was crushed by Covid-19. I know a
number of people who contracted the virus, but, thankfully, only a small number
who actually died from it. But, along with everyone else, I’ve lived in fear of
it all year, masking, distancing, and doing whatever else is needed to stay
healthy. We had the family over once all year, for my 80th birthday, in July,
with around 11 people. We did our best to follow the rules, inside the house
and on the back porch, which wasn’t always possible, and I kept wondering why
in the world we’d gone through with it. Thankfully, we survived.
But even without the coronavirus, this has been a very
eventful year for us. For one thing, we sold our Poconos house after visiting it
on weekends for 35 years. Given the depressed prices on homes there in recent
years, we got a little more for it than we anticipated. Prices had risen as a
result of the pandemic, with people who could work at home seeking to flee the
urban areas for space in the country and suburbs. Driving there every two weeks
was getting onerous, and we had a close call one day this summer on our way
back to New York. We were driving in Jersey on Route 80 when something—no idea
what—flew off a car or truck and hit the windshield on the passenger side. BANG!
Never saw it coming but it destroyed the windshield. Thank goodness it didn’t
break through and hit Marcia.
A week or so later, while I was having it replaced at a
glass place, I got a call from Marcia that the hot water heater was busted and
flooding the basement. I couldn’t leave to assess the damage or figure out what
to do, so I called Home Advisor and got someone to come out and replace it
later in the day. Meanwhile, we had to clean up the sopping wet basement.
Later, the plumber ($1,400 for the hot water heater) showed me how easily I
could have shut off the water to stop the flooding while waiting for him.
What was just as memorable was that the plumber, Singh, was
a Sikh who, seeing all the Japanese stuff in my house, asked if I’d ever been
to Japan. It turned out he’d lived and worked there for several years and spoke
pretty good Japanese, so there we were, this Indian plumber and me, chatting
casually in Nihongo.
While on the subject of home repairs, I should mention that
I found a talented handyman, an Ecuadorian named Jamie, who was working on
projects for my neighbor, Miguel. I hired Jamie for a number of projects,
including putting in a new toilet in the garage apartment, fixing the leak from
my master bedroom’s air conditioner (turns out it was sitting at a bad angle),
which was destroying the garage apartment ceiling just beneath it, repairing
that ceiling as well as the cracks in the backyard cement that have been
letting water leak into my basement for years, and so on. He even installed our
new stove and helped carry our old one upstairs so our tenants could have it.
We also bought a new refrigerator and dishwasher, from P.C.
Richards, for which we’ve been waiting since late September because of a
manufacturing slowdown tied to the pandemic. Learned this week they won’t
arrive until the end of the year, maybe not even until early January.
Other major repairs include a new waste pipe from my kitchen
sink for which I was greatly overcharged. But that’s water down the drain.
Not only did we sell the Poconos house, but our
granddaughter, Briar, and her husband, Shippy, bought a lovely house in
Oceanside, directly bordering a nature preserve, with a fantastic view. They’ve
done a huge amount of work on it, but it still needs more, and is gradually
being renovated while they’re living in it. Moreover, Briar, 29, who teaches
English at a high school in East Rockaway, is pregnant with a boy and due in
early March. We’ll soon be great grandparents. My good friend, Larry, who’s my
age, became a grandpa a year and a half ago, and I know how greatly he relishes
each moment of it, since he’s always sending me photos and videos of his
grandson. Larry and I have become closer during these shut-in months, thanks to
Facetime, and, while he has plenty to brag about with his SammyB, as they call
him, I look forward to bragging back.
Then, to top off all this house selling and buying business,
my daughter, Bambi, bought a home in Baldwin, not far from where Briar and
Shippy live. Bambi’s other daughter, Paisley, is also fairly close, in an
apartment across from the boardwalk in Long Beach. We searched with Bambi for
the right house for months. We’re still waiting for the closing, which is
taking far too long, but it seems to be imminent. The process of selling the
Poconos house was much smoother, taking only two months to complete.
There are a couple of family health issues we’re keeping our
eyes on, but, for the most part, we’re doing well, or were until this week when
one of my granddaughters tested positive for Covid-19. After a few days of
flu-like symptoms, she’s feeling better. Ditto, her live-in boyfriend, a couple
of days later. He too is starting to feel better. Both are quarantining.
Otherwise, for the most part, everyone is well. Bambi, who
retired from teaching a couple of years ago, continues to enjoy her retirement
vocation of selling online, at which she’s doing surprisingly well, and Paisley
is working on her Master’s degree as a mental health counselor while trying to
stay solvent waitressing and selling the beautiful cookies she bakes, at which
she’s become very talented. Here’s her website, in case you live on the South
Shore of Long Island and want terrific, customized cookies: https://www.bakedbypaisley.com/
My son, Justin, a talented illustrator/graphic artist,
continues to design for an apparel company in New Jersey. However, even though
their offices are only a few minutes away, an otherwise ideal situation, he’s
been able to work from home during the pandemic, which is even better. Unfortunately,
we haven’t been able to visit him or he us since late summer because of the
My theatregoing schedule screeched to a halt on March 11, my
last show being The Girl from the North Country,
the Broadway musical whose score is from the songs of Bob Dylan. With all the
theatres shut because of the virus, I turned my energies to posting daily
essays from a manuscript I’d never published, an encyclopedia of New York
productions from 1970-1975. Instead of completing it for the entire decade of
the 70s, I switched gears and did the 20s, 30s, and 40s instead, and never did
get to the 70s again. As of today, I’ve posted well over 400 entries from this
unpublished monster on my blog, Theatre’s Leiter Side. And I’m only now
reaching the “R’s.”
I’ve also created two columns, one for Theater Pizzazz and
one for Theater Life, both being websites for which I used to review shows. (I
also reviewed for The Broadway Blog.) The first, called “Leiter Looks Back,” is
a year-by-year series in each posting of which I write about four or five
plays, musicals, revues, or revivals. The second is “On This Day in New York
Theater,” in which I write about all the shows that opened on a particular day
in the twenties, thirties, or forties.
Meanwhile, I also keep busy working on several books. One
will be called (tentatively) Thumbs Up:
100 Raves from Theatre’s Leiter Side, its partner being Thumbs Down: 100 Pans from Theatre’s
Leiter Side. They’ll be collections of my most positive and negative reviews
from Theatre’s Leiter Side (and elsewhere).
More importantly, academically, that is, I’m doing the
research for a book on Japanese theatre history: The Cypress Wood Stage: Meiji Kabuki and the First Kabuki-za. It’s a
history of kabuki during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan first was
opened to the West and its theatre, like everything else, was confronted by
modern influences. The project grew out of my lengthy series on my other blog, Kabuki
Woogie, where I’d written over two dozen chapters following, year by year, the
history of Japan’s most famous modern theatre, the Kabuki-za, whose first of
five buildings (on the same spot) lasted from 1889-1911. Those chapters are all
being completely rewritten and expanded, and will follow an overview of Meiji
kabuki leading up to the theatre’s opening.
I keep getting requests to participate in various projects
relating to kabuki. One that I accepted was to do a lecture for a video
presentation as part of a new online course called Theatre.Academy being
produced by a former theatre professor at Amherst, a lovely Israeli guy named
Yagil Eliraz. Yagil, who recently moved back to Israel, flew here from LA with
all his video equipment and recorded my lecture in the living room. His
website, which will charge a fee for those who want to study the lessons, will
launch in the New Year, and will include other lectures on Japanese theatre and
Indian theatre before expanding to Western theatre. I have no idea if it will
prove profitable, but, despite all the work I had to put into preparing for it,
I think it turned out well.
For recreation, Marcia and I have taken long walks, when the
weather has been nice, in the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge, Shirley Chisholm State
Park, and Forest Park, all within ten or fifteen minutes from the house by car.
Since March, we’ve played nearly a daily game of Scrabble, well over 200 games
by now. We tried to break the pattern one day with Monopoly, but I got bored after
two and a half hours of the four-hour game. Monopoly should be called monotony.
When we began, we often had a third Scrabble player, a close
friend of many years. Sadly, that person and we had a painful parting of the
ways, and only the two of us now compete. (Until recently, Marcia played
mahjong once a week on Long Island, but that ended when the pandemic worsened a
few weeks ago.)
Now that I’m not running to the theatre daily, I’ve gotten
into watching TV series and movies every night, especially those available on
Netflix. We replaced our 56” set with a 70” set several months ago, and it’s
been a godsend. There are so many great shows to watch, although we’ve dropped
a few when we couldn’t get into them after a few episodes.
I also try to read as much as possible, especially with all
the books I’ve bought over the years that I never got around to opening. Since
the self-isolation began, I’ve gone through 16 books, including novels by
writers ranging from Haruki Murakami to Daniel Defoe to James Baldwin to even
Nevada Barr. The others have been books on theatre history, biographies, show
biz surveys, and so on—some light, some heavy, some merely time-passers, and
some academic. In a sense, for someone like me, with my interests and age, the pandemic
has been a productive period. On the other hand, getting out to shop at the
hardware store or supermarket is now something I look forward to, if only for
the fresh air and the human faces, masks and all. Too many people wear their
masks below their noses, which makes them useless, but it does let you see who
you’re dealing with. Just don’t get too close.
Finally, despite all the trauma and restrictions and
discomforts of the pandemic, nothing has laid its heavy hand across my
heart—and I’m sure many of yours, as well—like the presence, words, and actions
of the monster in the White House, and of the so-called Americans who
vociferously support him. It’s hard to say which is more dangerous, Covid-19 or
Whether I’ll return to the theatre when it opens again is
impossible to answer at the moment. I hope and pray the theatre comes roaring
back, that the vaccinations do the trick, that Trump meets a sink hole in one,
and that something close to normality returns to our lives later in 2021.
Meanwhile, I’ll make as good use of the time remaining as possible. Hope you
Between January and March 10, when I saw The Girl from the
North Country, I reviewed 38 plays. The official season still had nearly two of
its busiest months to go before it ended in late April, but the pandemic made
that impossible. Of the 38 plays I reviewed, I liked a decent number but, as I
go over them now, gave only five my highest sign of approval--two thumbs up.
That means my five favorites were the following:
FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: THE NEXT GENERATION, MEDEA, THE
CONFESSION OF LILY DARE, DANA H., and THE GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY.
This being the time when critics are asked to name their
favorite whatevers of the year that's ending, I offer the above titles. Links
to my review of each follow. Hopefully, you can relive these shows through
these commentaries if you were lucky enough to see them. If not, you can get an
idea of what you missed. And, obviously, not everyone who did see them is going
to feel as I did, but let's be bipartisan about it anyway, shall we?
CONFESSION OF LILY DARE
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY