Saturday, December 08, 2012

IN MEMORIAM: Scott Parker

Photo by Susan Felter

Sarasota Man Dies In Drunken Driving Crash

Scott Parker,55, was hit by a suspected drunken driver who fled the scene and who shouldn't have been on the road driving anyway, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

A 55-year-old Sarasota man has died after a suspected drunken driver struck his car on Washington Boulevard early Friday.

Florida Highway Patrol responded to U.S. 301 and 47th Street at 12:50 a.m. where Siosaia K. Fonua, 29 of Bradenton was driving a 1995 Mercury on northbound U.S. 301 and struck a 1999 Ford Mustang driven by Scott R. Parker, 55, of Sarasota at 47th Street.

The Mercury struck the left side of the Mustang and Fonua fled on foot and was later located by law enforcement, according to Highway Patrol. Parker was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Highway Patrol.

Fonua suffered minor injuries and was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital for his injuries and faces DUI Manslaughter, driving on a suspended license and leaving the scene of a crash involving a death, according to Highway Patrol.

Fonua , of 4324 55th Ave. Drive East, has a lengthy criminal record in Manatee County, according to court records.

In 2001, Fonua at the age of 18, was charged with driving under the influence and was sentenced to probation, which was later violated, and to perform community service, according to court records.

Fonua pled no contest to felony robbery charges in 2006 and received probation, which was violated in 2008, but received credits for time served in jail, according to court records.

In 2009, Fonua was charged and convicted for DUI and providing a false name to Manatee County Sheriff's deputies and driving on a suspended license for a third or subsequent offense. He refused to submit himself to a blood alcohol test during that arrest, according to court records.

Fonua's license was suspended again in October 2011 for not appearing in court, according to court records.


Manhattan’s Forgotten Film Studio

Charles Simic

Buster Keaton (left), Fatty Arbuckle (center), and Al St. John, circa 1917

Here, briefly, is the story. In March, 1917, while walking on Broadway, Buster Keaton bumped into a friend from vaudeville who happened to know Fatty Arbuckle, the famous silent movie comedian and Chaplin’s rival. Asked if he had ever acted in motion pictures, Keaton said no, and was invited to drop by Arbuckle’s studio on 48th Street the following Monday. Keaton first declined, because Arbuckle had stolen one of his vaudeville routines in the past, but then changed his mind because his curiosity was piqued by the opportunity to see how movies are made and especially how the gags are filmed.

The Comique Film Studio was located in a warehouse at 318-320 East 48th Street, in the tough neighborhood west of the elevated subway tracks on First Avenue. On the first floor, the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation was in full swing filming Poppy. Near the precariously built sets, a violinist was attempting to put Norma in the proper mood for a love scene with her leading man. On the second floor, Norma’s sister Constance, who first gained attention in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, was making a new comedy. On the third floor Fatty Arbuckle, who was the first of the silent movie comics to also direct, was at work on a film called The Butcher Boy. There was no script. The director, the actors, and the crew talked over what they were going to do in the next scene and then did it. Keaton with his elegant, laid-back air improvised a routine with a broom and was instantly hired.

Keaton had grown up in show business. His father, Joe, worked in a traveling show with Harry Houdini called the “Mohawk Indian Medicine Company,” which in addition to entertaining rubes, sold patent medicine on the side. Keaton became a part of his parents’ comedy act when he was three. His mom played the saxophone while he goaded his father, who would respond by grabbing the boy by the suitcase handle they had sewn to the back of his jacket and throwing him against the scenery, into the orchestra pit, and at times even at the hecklers in the audience. So one might say he had a professional interest in seeing how Arbuckle dealt with the various acrobatic feats that were the staple of silent comedy.

On April 23, 1917, The Butcher Boy opened in two hundred theaters across the country, including the Strand in Times Square, and soon became a big box office success. Following that, Arbuckle and Keaton made, I believe, two other films in the same building—A Reckless Romeo and Rough House, the first of which no longer survives as far as I know. The company then moved to the Biograph Studio on East 175th Street where Coney Island, His Wedding Night, and a couple of others films were made before it relocated to Long Beach, California in October 1917.

Roughly twenty to twenty-five minutes long, these shorts, which can be seen on YouTube, are still very funny. Along with Arbuckle and Keaton, they feature Al St. John, Arbuckle’s second banana (and nephew), a gangly, loose-limbed acrobat dressed like a scarecrow who played country bumpkins and various kinds of villains. Beyond the slapstick and roughhouse typical of the times, the number of thoroughly original and brilliant comic ideas found in these shorts is staggering. (See, for instance, the marvelous clip on YouTube of the boys eating spaghetti in the 1918 film The Cook.) Keaton once said that making funny pictures is like assembling a watch; you have to be sober or it won’t tick. He also said afterward that everything he knew about film comedy he learned from Fatty Arbuckle, who by the time they met had already been in some twenty films.

Part of Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle's 48th Street movie studio, now a parking garage

I know a bit about the subject because years ago, I read everything I could find on Buster Keaton, and collected his movies and those of other silent movie comedians. Still, if my son had not lived for a time on First Avenue and 48th Street and I had not started parking my car at the 20th Century PARKING GARAGE, which turned out to have been part of the old Comique Film studio, I would not have made the connection.

Just recently I took a look at a documentary on Keaton made years ago, which to my shock placed Arbuckle’s studio in California, though it did not move there till the fall of 1917. Regardless, I was astonished that the building that held the studio run by Joseph Schenk was still there. It would be interesting to find out its history and that of the neighborhood over the decades. I love the idea that the garage was just three blocks from the United Nations and that over the years many world leaders and high diplomatic officials must have ridden past it in their bullet-proof limousines, throwing a casual glance at the entrance through which, almost a century earlier, Fatty, Keaton, and St. John went, if they were not already in the studio whacking each other over the heads with pillows, making feathers fly out of windows.

A few days ago, I took a stroll during the lunch hour past nail salons, stores selling cell phones, and pizza joints to take another look at the building, thinking the only familiar establishments in the neighborhood that the members of the Comique Film Corporation would still recognize are the Irish pub and the funeral parlor. The garage was still there, but to my surprise and horror I discovered that the wing of the old warehouse that contained the studio had recently been torn down and the government of Singapore was raising some kind of building in its place.

December 7, 2012, 12:18 p.m.

Friday, December 07, 2012


Bill Irwin and David Shiner Collaborate With Tina Landau and Nellie McKay for Old Hats World Premiere at Signature
By Kenneth Jones
06 Dec 2012

Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Old Hats is the name of the new work by clowning Tony Award winners Bill Irwin and David Shiner, who will appear in the show's world premiere by Signature Theatre Company starting in February 2013. Tina Landau directs the work, with music by retro-pop star Nellie McKay, who is also featured in the production.

Irwin, the renowned clown, is an alumni playwright from Signature's past. This presentation is part of the Off-Broadway's continuing effort to showcase work by alumni, in its Legacy Program.

Performance of Old Hats begin Feb. 12 toward a March 4 opening on The Irene Diamond Stage within the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street.

According to Signature, "2003-04 Playwright-in-Residence Bill Irwin reunites with fellow clown David Shiner for a new work combining their inimitable magic, slapstick, and hilarity. Using music, technology, and movement, plus other tricks up their sleeves, Irwin and Shiner create another wild and remarkable outing of theatre for a new generation of audiences. Signature is proud to present this dynamic duo's first collaboration since the smash Broadway hit Fool Moon."

Tina Landau directed Off-Broadway's Civil War Christmas, Floyd Collins, Dream True, In the Red and Brown Water, Iphigenia 2.0, Wig Out, Mary Rose, Saturn Returns, Orestes, Trojan Women; La Jolla Playhouse's Beauty, Cloud Tectonics and Marisol; Actors Theatre of Louisville's 1969; Broadway's Superior Donuts and Bells Are Ringing; and many other productions.
  The design team includes G.W. Mercier (scenic and costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), John Gromada (sound design), and Wendall K. Harrington (projection design). David H. Lurie is the production stage manager.

Production support for Old Hats is provided by the Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation and the Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater.

All tickets for the initial run of the production (to March 31) are $25 as part of the Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access. Tickets go on sale Jan. 8, 2013.

The Pershing Square Signature Center is located at 480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

For tickets and information, visit

Bill Irwin is a Tony Award winner for playing George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? His many Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional stage productions include The Goat or Who is Sylvia, opposite Sally Field; Waiting For Godot with Nathan Lane, for which Irwin was nominated in 2009 for a Drama Desk Award; The Tempest opposite Patrick Stewart; Texts for Nothing; Largely New York; The Regard of Flight; Garden of Earthly Delights; Accidental Death of an Anarchist; and the Tony Award-winning Fool Moon, which he created with David Shiner. He was Playwright in Residence for the 2003 Signature Theatre season. He was Mr. Noodle on "Sesame Street."

David Shiner made his American debut starring in the renowned Canadian Cirque du Soleil and toured North America in Cirque's Nouvelle Experience from 1990 through the spring of 1991. American-born David began his career on the streets of Boulder, CO. In 1981, he moved to Europe and honed his craft on the streets of Paris, Rome, Florence, London and Munich. He then began performing in Europe's most prestigious circuses, including starring in the German National Circus' Ronacalli and the Swiss National Circus' Knie. Between circus engagements, Shiner and partner Rene Bazinet toured Europe in a two-man show. In 1993, 1995 and 1998, Shiner starred with Bill Irwin and The Red Clay Ramblers in Fool Moon (Tony Award for Unique Theatrical Experience), touring the show throughout the U.S. and Europe. He also starred on Broadway as The Cat in the Hat in Seussical The Musical. Shiner's home base is Munich.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

JAMES THIERREE: Article by Jenny Gilbert

In Chaplin's footsteps: How James Thiérrée became vaudeville royalty

James Thiérrée is the scion of vaudeville royalty. Just don't tell him that he's the image of his grandfather...

By Jenny Gilbert

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

If anyone ever had good reason to want a nice quiet job in a bank when he grew up, it was the young James Thiérrée. From the age of four, alongside his three-year-old sister, he spent his childhood appearing in theatres across Europe and North America as a piece of luggage that sprouted little legs and ran around.

The show was his parents' own Cirque Imaginaire, a novelty in the late 1970s as one of the first circus shows to do without sawdust and trained animals. Its successor, Le Cirque Invisible, pushed the envelope further, and British theatre-goers of the late 1980s who managed to find their way to the old Thames-side venue The Mermaid may recall – along with memories of an elfin gymnast who turned herself into fantasy monsters by carrying quantities of chairs, and an older man with a dippy Harpo Marx smile who performed opera with his kneecaps – an uncommonly pimple-free youth, his long wavy hair flaring out in a halo, soaring about on bungee ropes like the Angel Gabriel. It was almost certainly that performance that gave Peter Greenaway the idea of casting the teenaged Thiérrée as Ariel in his 1991 film Prospero's Books.

James is lumbered with performing ancestry: his dad Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée gave up a career on the classical French stage to develop his musical vaudeville act; his dancer-cum-designer mother Victoria was the third' of Charlie Chaplin's eight children with Oona O'Neill, herself the daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neill. So, at an early age, he had to decide to do something defiantly ordinary, or seize his genetic fate.

In the vacant tearoom of a smart hotel in the French city of Lyon, where Thiérrée is touring his new one-man show Raoul before bringing it to London, he is, by his own admission, wiped out with exhaustion, yet strong physical family traits still shine through. His face echoes his grandfather's fine-boned wolfishness. His dark hair is the same vigorously curly mop, which at the front is prematurely blotched with silver (he turned 37 this year). Even slumped in an armchair, shod in orange trainers, Thiérrée's light frame has the high-tuned look of a body that can do pretty much anything its owner asks of it, be that descending a long ladder by slithering slowly head-first between alternate rungs, or tripping over a non-existent ruck in a carpet, only to bounce straight back up and trip over again. But if you think this sounds like stuff you've seen before, perhaps in a black-and-white silent film, you are only partly there. Thiérrée's medium is an amalgam of live theatre with elements of vaudeville, circus and dance – and you can forget about Cirque du Soleil, too. Those terms hardly begin to describe Thiérrée's celebration of low-tech, high-impact stage design, its extraordinary atmosphere, or the existential questions it lightly touches on.

"I'm still trying to find the rhythm of the new show," he confesses. "Having done three previous shows with a cast of four or five people around me [all these shows have travelled to London in the past 10 years], being alone on stage each night feels hugely different – a liberation in its way, but daunting."

Strictly speaking, Thiérrée isn't alone on stage. Raoul, the fictional hermit whose wordless story this is, makes his first entrance scrambling on to the stage from the stalls as if it's the last ridge of a mountain range he has had to cross to reach his home, a precariously constructed giant tepee of scaffolding poles. Wild-eyed and dishevelled, Raoul may be returning from fighting a war, or fending off global meltdown – we never know. What we do soon discover is that an intruder – an impersonator, even – has stolen his identity and inveigled his way into his hearth and home. To his fury and dismay, Raoul finds himself usurped.

The sleight-of-hand comedy Thiérrée mines from this situation is at once frenetic, unsettling, hilarious and profound. In the hand-to-hand combat that ensues, the audience keeps thinking the invader is about to be unmasked (as indeed, he is, repeatedly), but each time it is Thiérrée's face and body that emerge, raising the outlandish possibility that Raoul/Thiérrée really does have a doppelgänger.

More whimsically, Raoul also entertains various non-human visitors, fantastical creatures fashioned from scrap materials: a crayfish immaculately crafted out of industrial metal tubing; a giant jellyfish in shimmering antique silk; a skeletal wading bird made from frayed string; and, most fantastic of all, a spectral, life-size fabric elephant. You never see wheels or pulleys or a body inside. Part of the beauty of each scuttling or lumbering creature is its seeming self-locomotion.

Thiérrée loves the sense that, exquisite as these objects are, they're the result of someone sitting down with a needle and thread. He's also a stickler for using outmoded theatrical machinery, so no electronics. The movement of the cloth we see in the opening – a vast Gericault-like tableau of swathes of grubby sailcloth – is all controlled with cords and counterweights filled with sand. But why make life so difficult?

"Because the result is warm, and operates on a human scale. It's the same with the props. They're all things picked up in flea markets and salvage yards, with a sense of having lived a life already. You just can't compete with film and computerised imagery, so I deliberately go in the opposite direction." That's why, in a flying sequence near the end of the show, he has the lighting swing round to show the stage hands manipulating the flying crane, with Raoul, oblivious, doing his soaring through a night-sky bit, strapped to the other end. What the audience gets is a layered reality. By showing the mechanics, the routine is doubly interesting, yet the magic remains intact.

While Thiérrée himself takes the credit as set designer – along with lighting design and musical direction – it was his mother he invited to devise and make the creatures; clear evidence, if any were needed, that her son is perfectly at ease picking up the family baton. They are hardly in each other's pockets these days, though: James lives with his girlfriend in Paris, while his parents are based in Burgundy. And given the amount of time they spend on their separate tours (missing each other by a matter of weeks in London, this time round) they see each other rarely.

"People assume it must have been a problem for me, my parents being such a global success and my choosing the same creative line. But just as my father was an actor who taught himself clowning, and my mother a dancer who taught herself other skills, I've also taken bits and pieces from all over. We're all bouncing between different disciplines and I've perhaps moved further away from circus than they have. My only responsibility is to the audience, in taking them to a place in their heads where they don't feel quite secure. It's tempting to rely on rewards for comic effects, because that's immediately gratifying. But Raoul isn't meant to be pure comedy. I try to think of it as a moving sculpture, with comic moments." That said, some of the funniest at Lyon's vast Maison de la Danse passed so solemnly that my yelps of mirth had to be muffled, if only out of politeness. "Oh, that's typical French," Thiérrée quips. "They think it's terribly serious as I used the Schubert quintet on a loop earlier on, and they didn't feel they'd been given licence to laugh."

Be that as it may, the moment involved Thiérrée's character slithering stealthily down a scaffolding pole with extreme control, then bouncing vigorously on his backside when he reached the bottom, as if having fallen from a great height. Isn't that the very area of sly humour, based on subverting expectation and undermining physical laws, that his grandfather traded in as a performer?

There is a faintly hollow sense of victory in getting Thiérrée to admit that, yes, if you must, some of what he does could be seen as Chaplinesque. He is, after all, entitled as an artist to carve out his own path, not to have to retread the tracks left by a man he can barely remember. But then, as Thiérrée properly points out, Charlie may not have been the first to do those Chaplinesque gags either. He, too, was working within a genre, applying his skills to standard vaudeville tropes. Tradition, as Thiérrée describes it, "is like a strong wind at your back. You don't necessarily pay it attention, you just feel it."

I ask him, as a final throw, whether he intends his curtain calls as a tidbit tossed to fans who have come hoping to witness some directly channelled Charlie-isms. It is indeed a delicious moment when Thiérrée comes bowling on like a blown leaf, running and twirling in tiny irregular steps as if imminently about to trip over both feet, at once delighted and a touch affronted to see how many people have been out there watching him all along. And it does come across as a truly Chaplin moment.

Thiérrée's brow darkens. "Did it really look like I meant to do that? Then I must look again at those curtain calls. That was me just having fun and messing about. I really don't want anyone to think I'm making a reference. I don't want people to think that at all."