Community Palette

Double Life - A Great Read

April 24, 2012

On Monday evening I had the pleasure of co-hosting a book party for Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine to celebrate their book Double Life. Alan and Norman are good friends and Connecticut neighbors of Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre, who hosted the event in the Patron’s Lounge in beautiful Harman Hall.

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The book is a celebration of their life of over 50 years together. Alan was an actor, casting director and then President of Warner Brothers Television. He cast such films as All the President’s Men, the story of Watergate, and was responsible for casting Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee. Robards won an Academy Award for the role. He is also a major force in the success of Linda Lavin having put her hit show Aliceon TV. Norman had a career as an advertising executive and is a successful artist and sculptor. A work of his hangs in Harman Hall. All those of a certain age will remember one of his most recognizable commercials BLACKGLAMA Mink, “What Becomes a Legend Most” which featured such stars as Elizabeth Taylor when people still wore real fur.

Bill McSweeny and Tom Sherwood (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Bill McSweeny and Tom Sherwood

Alan spoke of the reason he and Norman decided to write the book. At a holiday dinner party hosted by Joan Rivers, their neighbor in Connecticut, she went around the table asking each guest what they were most thankful for during the holiday season. Alan remembers one guest saying his new dog, another their good job, and then when it was his turn he just found himself saying he was most grateful for his 50 years with Norman.  He said everyone at the table then started doing the math as to how old they were. It was a time when gay teen suicides were front-page stories and someone suggested to him what an inspiration he and Norman could be to young members of the LGBT community who couldn’t ever see themselves falling in love no less having a 50 year relationship. So the long three year process of writing the book began.

Hillary Rosen and Dorothy McSweeny (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Hillary Rosen and Dorothy McSweeny

I can only say thank you for writing it. It is the story of a love affair and how difficult it was back when they first met, especially in Hollywood, where being gay was something you hid and never talked about. They managed to have successful careers and a wonderful life and are an inspiration to all those who sometimes still think that being part of the LGBT community means they won’t be successful or find love. The book is also catnip for anyone who enjoys some good Hollywood gossip.

Among the guests at the party were Sally Quinn Bradlee, her son Quinn and his beautiful wife, yoga instructor Pari Bradlee. Hillary Rosen, who has been involved in a small political skirmish in recent days looked great and all those like me who have admired the work she has done for many years know exactly what she meant when she spoke out and know that her political astuteness will continue to have a positive impact on the way Americans think. Other guests included Tom Sherwood, Bill and Dorothy McSweeny, and John Hill, retiring Executive Director of the Federal City Council.

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The Mayor vs. the Council Chair

April 22, 2012

A healthy dose of skepticism between the Council and the Mayor’s Office is good but the relationship doesn’t always have to be adversarial and acrimonious.

A big question is what role the Council Chair sees for himself? It often appears that he wants a more adversarial one. It seems that he and his staff are looking to grab headlines rather than working with the Administration to do what is right for the people of the District. Two years ago, the D.C. City Council had one of the highest positive ratings of any legislative body in the nation. That wouldn’t be the case today.

Recently the Council Chair introduced emergency legislation requiring the Mayor to notify council members of any capital budget reprogramming requests of less than $500,000 so they are aware of any funding they lose from projects in their wards and it would give the Council the opportunity to stop the action. The mayor sent a letter “strongly opposed” to the move because it could delay “the timely implementation of projects.” Councilmember Wells wisely warned that the Council was taking an “offensive act” and it may be prudent to take a step back on the action which ultimately the Chairman did and withdrew the proposal on the dais.

The entire dance played out over the supplemental budget was seen by most as a political game. Spending pressures calling for a supplemental budget are not unusual but what everyone needs to recognize is that under Mayor Gray these pressures are at the lowest they have been since the Control Board took over the City’s finances. We are in good financial shape in this City and political gamesmanship is not good government.

The mayor proposed that we pay city workers for the four days they were furloughed last year. He did so because the furloughs went into effect based on indications that the city needed money to balance the budget. Since this turned out not to be the case he wanted to give that money back to the workers. The premise being that is the fair thing to do and that workers will be more responsive to such requests in the future if it is really needed. Some Council members had other things they wanted to do with the money and some even suggested that because some city workers don’t live in the District they shouldn’t get this money. That is absurd. If you are eligible to be hired to work here you should be viewed like every other worker and judged on the job you do not where you live. As of now, this part of the Mayor’s supplemental budget, along with money for D.C. Public Schools and other needed funds has not been passed.

The Council should debate what the Mayor has suggested in his budget but can’t fault him on how he succeeded to bring balance to the District’s budget and ensure that the rainy day fund spent down by the last administration has been replenished.

It is time for the Council Chair to take a step back from the adversarial way he is working with the Administration and move forward rather with a skeptical eye to the future. The Council needs to debate and approve a budget, introduce legislation and continue strong oversight of city agencies. If they focus on those things without all the sturm and drang, they could again gain the public’s confidence and support.


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Strange Interlude: Must See

April 11, 2012

An evening with Eugene O’Neill is always interesting and I recommend that no one miss this great production of Strange Interlude at the Shakespeare Theatre.

When he wrote Strange Interlude and it appeared on Broadway it was as a six hour play with a dinner intermission. It won rave reviews, a Pulitzer Prize and played for over 400 performances, unheard of at that time. Now a six hour production would be hard to do in today’s theatre world. But Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre and director extraordinaire has trimmed it down to a more manageable length, keeping the story intact and providing for a totally engrossing evening, well worth the investment of your time. 

It is the story of Nina Leeds’ (Francesca Faridany) life and loves, often unfulfilled, that keeps you enthralled. Faridany is passionate and brilliant in the role.  The story covers 25 years of Nina’s life and begins when her father (Ted van Griethuysen) revealing that he was against her marriage to Gordon, never seen but who left for the war without marrying her and whose plane is shot down at the beginning of the play.

This event leads to Nina’s changing her life, becoming a nurse, leaving the comfortable cloistered life she was born into, and entering a period of promiscuity before determining to look for “happiness” via a new marriage and children.  Nina’s life for the next twenty five years revolves around her four men; her husband Sam (Ted Koch); Ned (Baylen Thomas) her doctor and lover; old family friend Marsden (Robert Stanton) an author with Victorian views and a clear lack of understanding of even his own needs and desires, and her son Gordon (Jake Land).

The audacity of this evening in the theatre comes from Michael Kahn’s willingness to stage this play, which he has pondered for literally decades, and bringing his passion for it to today’s audiences. Times were very different when it was first staged nearly 100 years ago. But Kahn’s genius is making it work today and finding an amazing cast (including; Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Tana Hicken, and Joe short) who bring the characters to life in a way that we can relate too. It is Freudian and serious, and with Michael’s shrewd direction the humor that is part of these characters and their lives is brought out fully. By evening’s end you realize that at different times you loved and hated, understood and were appalled by everyone in it. Adding to the production is the great but spare set design by Walt Spangler and costumes by Jane Greenwood.

Added to my experience with Strange Interlude was having drink’s with the cast after the show and finding out how much they appreciated the opportunity to act in this O’Neill masterpiece and how they all felt that Michael Kahn brought out the best in their performance.

Don’t miss this amazing night in the theatre. It may be many years before Strange Interlude is presented again. It will be at Shakespeare Theatre’s beautiful Harman Hall until April 29th.

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