Chasing Windmills and Broadway

Susan Cinoman

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

I saw my first Broadway show when I was nine and it was, “Man of La Mancha.” Not sure why I identified with Aldonza so much but hey, maybe it had to do with Ronnie Weinberg, my fourth grade boyfriend and the diabolical nature of the war between the sexes in general, that I was becoming aware of at a tender age. No matter, when Don Quixote died, I thought I’d  have to be hospitalized, such was my transcendent grief. A critic was there that night, and asked me my opinion of the show. Through my sobs I answered, “It…was…the…best show…ever!!”
   
Turns out I was on the money, because “Man of La Mancha” was a mammoth hit, which ran forever and won a zillion Tonys. I’m reminded of it now, because the hit song from the show about the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, and the slayer of windmills, “The Impossible Dream” is all around us, all the time, and I think we should keep reaching for it. 

Summer Lyric Theatre(Photos by Michael Palumbo)

Summer Lyric Theatre(Photos by Michael Palumbo)

The nature of theatre has become an almost impossible dream. It’s almost impossible for an average middle class family to go see theatre in New York City together, because it costs them as much as a month’s mortgage payment. It’s nearly impossible for new shows to go to Broadway, unless they are musical versions of already known entities like movies, or jukebox musicals about someone super famous from the music industry. It’s practically impossible for a playwright to create something solely from their imagination for the purpose of entertainment, and get it on Broadway, unless they happen to hit on the topic of the day, or it stars someone from a superhero movie. Sometimes a puppet or horse will make it to the Broadway stage through impossible odds, and that’s great, but usually it’s pretty impossible. 
   
Though it’s true that when Man of La Mancha ran on Broadway, so did probably 20 other shows and even more plays, because they could. The producers were there, taking chances, and the audience was willing to sit down for a full evening of watching something they hadn’t heard of before. (They even had enough money left over to have supper afterward) It could be argued that we want what we are familiar with, we feel secure with whom we know, and have seen the most of on television or online. (We could argue that a psychology like that proves out to be true in all sorts of different arenas of society) Reaching for impossible dreams so often go nowhere, make us broke, keep us down, and make us cry the tears of frustration, not transcendence. It’s easier to hope that the producers will deliver something that will work, that an outside force will bring us something that will make us feel safe. 

But everyday new audiences are coming to Broadway, getting caught up in shows like “Hamilton,” “Fun Home” and “The Curious Incident.”” Kinky Boots” is from a movie, but a little independent one, that was under the radar. Yes, it took stars to bring it to Broadway, but once it got there, audiences were thrilled to see something they hadn’t seen before, something that might have been predicted to be impossible. Producers like Kari Lynn Hearn brought political satire to the theatre, against all odds and people loved it. Kids are going to their theatre classes in high school and being awakened to  Durang, Ives, Churchill, Vogel, Nottage and others. The impossible is still happening every second of the day in theatres all over. 

Thirty years after I saw my first show, I’m still inspired enough to write another play, coach another actor, attend a new writer’s work. The theatre’s immediacy and it’s fleeting quality are what make it an impossible dream, but one that is as sustaining as the best dream that you wake up from feeling alive and filled with possibilities. 

Haym Solomon, Who Knew? A Sequel to Hamilton?

Susan Cinoman

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

Oh wow, it’s almost here—Tony, I mean Hamilton time. Since there is such a mania sweeping the nation regarding all things A. Ham, I thought I’d share this old letter I found, while combing through Revolutionary War documents and linens. It’s from Haym Solomon, the Jewish, lesser known Founding Father, to his wife.  I think there might be some rich source material here for a Hamilton sequel or prequel or fan fiction musical, or something. So feel free to start rapping any section of this. How lucky we are to be alive right now, and able to read the following:

My Darling Lena,

So, I have just returned home after dining at the home of George and Martha Washington. The meal was lovely, very filling appetizer but the main course was only meh, and cannot hold a candle to your brisket. Martha is a doll, you would like her. She reminds me a little of your cousin, Gittel, except she does not draw, and she is much better about keeping gossip to a minimum. I still believe that Gittel was responsible for Lenord Balkman’s nervous breakdown that summer, though I know you will try to defend her, one of the many reasons I love you.

Try your best to keep calm, Lena-- you were right in that the discussion did eventually turn to money, and how I could procure more for the troops who are in need of butter, blankets, bandages and Scotch. The Scotch, who knows why, and I am not judging, but maybe the Generals are needing it for medicinal purposes. (I hope). BUT it is not the only reason that the Sons of Liberty count me in as one of them, I assure you. They do not care that I am Jewish, and they genuinely like my company. Many times they remarked that my ascot was gorgeous, and almost perfectly matched the hazel color of my eyes. Perhaps you will still doubt their motives for enlisting me in the cause, thinking that they are not truly as devoted to my equality as they are to their own, as you have mentioned on occasion. (By the way, next time we talk about it, let us wait until my mother departs, as the issue will only be amplified, and picked apart by the rest of the Solomons, like so many scales on fish.) 

Lena, rest assured that I will be at your side at the end of this noble war that is really about equality, and not at all about the other Founding Fathers wanting to build up their estates like you enjoy hocking me about all the time. I know what I am doing. My dear friend, Alexander Hamilton, says we Jews are the chosen people, so be good to us, or it will be bad for you. You know how well that usually works out. Just saying.

I love you forever, darling, Lena. See you in Philadelphia. They’re thinking of naming one of the sections of it Solomon’s mall. So you see? I have no doubt that will come true.

                                                  Equally yours.
                                                Haym Solomon

Enter the Room of the Moment

Susan Cinoman

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

So my acting teacher, Joel Friedman, he’d say, “You must enter the room of the moment.” 

What must I do, Joel? 

“Darling, you must enter the room of the moment, you must slice the bologna very thin.” 

And I’d ruminate about how to do either of those esoteric actions. Where was the room and what was the moment? What kind of bologna was I providing that was clearly too fat and not thin enough? Surely Joel was not making a comment about my weight because he was the last of the great gentlemen of the theatre, with an accent that would make someone from Brooklyn say, “Hey! You from Brooklyn?”

In those days, when I was acting, I couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands when I was on the stage. When I played Gretel’s friend Victoria, the vicious vixen, I knew how to be mean, and scowl at poor Gretel when she asked where Hansel had gotten to, but I didn’t know where to put my hands when I stood outside of the witch’s house while people were eating it like they were a mouse. Or something. So, I guess, I hadn’t entered the room of the moment. It’s not like I go around life wondering what to do with my hands. I know where my hands are supposed to be, on the steering wheel, around my credit card, in my make up kit or handing my daughter 20 dollars. At those times, I’m in the moment, and not thinking about anything but what I’m doing. Is that the room I was supposed to enter? And if I wasn’t in that room, where was I?

I did a scene from “Hedda Gabler” with my friend, Michael for Joel. Now to say that Michael’s tone was droll, was like saying that Noel Coward smoked while interviewing. Both were true and in a way, interchangeable.  I, on the other hand, could get the rage going like fruit in a smoothie blender.  We started the scene, me barbing and biting like a bitch at a bitch fest, while Michael just lolled and drolled along—it took about fifteen minutes for each word to come galumphing out of him into our completely unbelievable and poorly conceived conversation of no drama, but much self satisfaction, that we both perpetrated.

Joel stopped us as quickly as humanly possible, and yet with a kindness of which we were highly undeserving. 

He put his hand on my shoulder firmly and said, 
“Don’t act.”

He looked at Michael, while still steadying me,
“You…act.”

Those were the words that helped me get through ten more years of acting on the stage, both in Philadelphia and New York City. When I gave it all up for writing, one of the best directors I had, gave me similar advice when I was learning how to craft a play.  Her name was Jane Hoffman. She said: 

“Write it better.”

Mad Men and English Dogs

Susan Cinoman 

  • OnStage Columnist
  • @susancinoman

So first let me tell you about Scooter, my dog. He’s an asset. I mean, to his country, which is probably England, because he’s a Yorkshire terrier and a spy. And those terriers are tough. I mean when he gets a piece of cloth or a dog toy, he does not let it go, and he growls. So, yeah, he is one tough small dog and also a double agent. The reason I know he’s working both sides is that his dad, my husband, Doug, reveals secrets to him. But at other times, Scooter questions me, and even if I think my guard is up, he manages to play me, and sure enough, I’ve told him about some location, or some safe house that might have a bone under it. Or something like that. But I bring up Scooter, first of all, because I’m obsessed with him, but also because of Hamilton and the Tonys, The Hashtag Hamiltonys, which I thought I had coined, but alas no, it’s yet another bitter disappointment in my life. I digress.
   
Hamilton. I am one of the lucky bastards who has seen it. I use the terms specifically, because I AM a lucky bastard. Literally, I was a bastard, meaning that my parents were not married when they bore me, they abandoned me, and then I was lucky enough to be adopted by The Cinomans, my parents whom I loved (and lost) but loved and was so lucky. So, just like Hamilton, I was a bastard orphan born, well, I did go to the Caribbean with my friend, Jill while we were rehearsing The Soubrettes, our comedy act, but I guess a lot of the similarities between Hamilton and I begin to diverge after the Bastard Orphan part. Until you get to the writing. I definitely write like I’m running out of time. Because I am, I’m getting a lot older and still waiting for a production of two of my plays, so yea, I’m running out of time. I contend, who isn’t? The point here, is that when it comes to Hamilton, and his quest, and his shot, and his scrappiness- I relate. Totally. I am there. And I’m sure that a lot of you are there, too.

You are singing it in the car, dancing it in your room and putting your name in the lottery. And listening to Ham4Ham - can’t forget that crazy good promotional tool that no one gets mad at, because how can ANYONE ever get mad at Lin? He’s like a combination of a cherub and an imp, but also swashbuckling and a comedian. So no, I don’t think you can find much fault in someone who can sing with the boyishness of Bobby Morse for one minute, then rap like Biggy Small the next, and end the number like Errol Flynn. Lin’s so cool that he uses the word l’chaim often, which make Jewish people, like myself, just want to pinch his cheek and admire him all the more. 
    
Working on the assumption that you all love Hamilton like I do, and must get your listen on at least once a day, I beg to put forth one idea about why we love the show with the intensity that we do. I want to theorize about just what it is in particular that has galvanized us into a bobbing, clapping, booming bunch of Hamiltonians. (I read that visitors to Hamilton’s house in Harlem used to number about 100 or 200 every couple of months. Now 3000 people a month are visiting.) I think I know why. I think it’s… pride. I think that we are desperately thirsty to feel a sense of national pride. To think that Hercules Mulligan and John Laurence and Lafayette were not that far away from where a Starbucks is on 8th Ave in New York City, or that Washington was sleeping at inns across Philadelphia, or that Jefferson was dancing around the Disney theatres on Times Square at one point in the past, it makes us feel that we are connected to a history that was really honorable and important and rebellious and cool and diverse and American.

And I think we like that. And we need that. And we deify Lin Manuel Miranda, who with this amazingly soaring music and the sound of battles from antiquity mixed with hip hop, and the charisma of the cast, they imbue us with a feeling of wanting to be an American that a lot of us haven’t thought about. At least I haven’t, not since fourth grade, when I thought that anyone could do anything here in the United States. I found out otherwise, but Hamilton helps me to forget that. Hamilton washes away cynicism and replaces it with an unironic production of pure human intrigue on the public and private level. I love that so much. Part of it is too sad, and I have to skip it and I don’t even know the music to those sections. That point brings me to a conclusion.
  
At the end of the musical, when transcendence arrives and it’s all very beautiful but also so terribly heartbreaking, I am at my most vulnerable, just a gaping wound. That’s what Scooter sniffs out, as he jauntily prances toward me from the kitchen to the living room. He looks at me and cocks his head. He looks again. What is he thinking? Who does he report to? The King? General Howe? Something isn’t quite right or comforting in his gaze. As I said, he’s from England. Is Scooter an adorable, cuddly playful little pup, who seeks comfort in my arms, hailing from Yorkshire…in Britain? Or is he a harbinger for a time when history repeats itself… indeed a revolution may be upon us again! Or not.