Connect with us

Book Reviews

Another Advanced Chapter From City of Angles

Published

on

Yesterday, we presented an advanced chapter from Jonathan Leaf’s new book City of Angles. Today we are printing Chapter Two: An Audition Unlike Any Other,

(With the special permission of my publisher, Post Hill Press, Jonathan has given T2C a few of his chapters from his recently published novel, City of Angles. To purchase a copy, go to:https://www.amazon.com/City-Angles-Jonathan-Leaf/dp/1637587880.)

(With the special permission of my publisher, Post Hill Press, I’m including a few chapters of my recently published novel, City of Angles. These excerpts will appear on Mondays. The book has received rave reviews. Even the famously difficult folks at Kirkus Reviews called it “light, literary entertainment at its best.” To purchase a copy, go to: https://www.amazon.com/City-Angles-Jonathan-Leaf/dp/1637587880.)

Vincenza loved film noir. She adored Veronica Lake and Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall and Jane Greer. Her hairstyle imitated Bettie Page, and she liked to wear the sort of stockings that so consistently flattered Barbara Stanwyck. She had coffee table books on these old-time stars, and she sometimes wondered how she would look in a black and white picture with dramatic lighting and moody shadows.

That was a fantasy. What she was confronted by the following afternoon was real. It was as tangible as a bridge or an airplane, and, while it had the same quality of mystery as an old movie, those tales were a retreat from the struggles of her life. But she was faced by a terrifying problem: A corpse lay in her trunk, and she had no idea where it came from.

Set to audition for a role in a Reese Witherspoon movie, she was in an underground garage across the street from the studio in Culver City where her tryout was to take place. There is an elaborate social structure attached to movie parking spots, and her first reaction to being told to park outside the studio lot was irritation. Now it was gratitude. It was fortunate that her car was where no one paid attention. She had gone to the trunk because its warning light had come on, and, after getting out of the car, she had walked around, put her key in the lock and started to lift the lid. She stopped when she realized that what was peeking out was a pair of legs folded, crosswise, over a man’s torso.

As no one was around her, she reached in with her left hand, feeling his calf. It was room temperature and stiff. Accidentally biting her lip, she resisted the impulse to scream and closed the lid of the trunk shut.

Yes, she needed to phone the police. Yet she had no time. Mad though it was, this had to wait.

If the existence of a cadaver in the trunk of her car inspired shock and dread, she could not drop the audition. She remembered it too well: She had called off another tryout three months earlier when she was in the grip of a high fever, and, afterwards, her agent had scolded her in a way meant to leave no doubt that he was open to dumping her as a client. There was no subtext. She was not to miss an audition again, not if she were receiving chemo and confronted by the amputation of a limb. So there she was, trying to tell herself that it would be all right and that she should just go ahead and perform.

She wished that she was Lizabeth Scott or Claire Trevor and about to be romanced by Robert Mitchum or Sterling Hayden. The man would be wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a gat in his hand, and together they would tackle the whodunit, puzzling out the nature of the crime and the malefactor responsible. But while she knew from experience that there would be many handsome, square-jawed men on the studio lot, none was waiting for her.

Exiting the underground lot, she came out into the afternoon sun. Facing her was the gate in front of the studio complex, and crossing the street, she approached a security guard. Showing him her pass, she was waved in. She put on her oversized sunglasses and marched towards the soundstages and offices. Mercedes, BMWs, and Bentleys were all around: glistening autos with thick coats of paint. She tried not to think about how the California sun had faded the leather of her shoes and bag. She told herself that she was in control. She tried to remind herself of all those necessary clichés, starting with “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” If what was happening made no sense, somehow or other it was all going to be all right.

Pulling her phone out of the bag, she checked the time. She needed to compose herself. This was not merely to regain her poise. She had to redo her makeup and hair. Perspiration was accumulating around her wrists, forehead, and armpits. She had ten minutes before she was due for the audition. Experience told her that she might have another hour waiting outside the producer’s office. The sides—the pages of script that she was to perform—were in the bag draped around her shoulder. The part was small but significant, and she had rehearsed it for three and a half hours.

In the last few years, several friends had gotten these sorts of roles, built up their resumes, then won leads on TV shows or in studio features. It had happened for them. Why couldn’t it for her? This, not the body, was what she needed to focus on. Breathing deeply, she asked herself what the movie was about and what her chances of being cast were. Witherspoon was the star. The part was that of a bitchy stewardess who didn’t want to let the heroine, arriving late, onto a flight. Marked on the sides were directions telling her that she was to go to a room in building number twelve, and she examined a map of the lot. Streaming past her were those employed at the studio: D-girls, secretaries, flunkies, gophers. There were also directors, producers, and actors. On other days in better circumstances, these were people she would have liked to meet.

Reaching the building, she opened the door, turned left, and headed along a wide, carpeted hallway. Other actresses were already present. Among this number were familiar faces, women she had been up against before. Taking off her sunglasses, she gestured her hellos. A D-girl noted her arrival and instructed her to park herself on one of the chairs.

The greetings she received from the other actresses told her that they had heard about the indie picture she had just finished shooting. There was envy and resentment in their supposedly joyful congratulations. They knew who else was in the film. The “how amazings!” were laced with strychnine. How was it that this—the dead man in her trunk—had come to be there? It had happened right when she was on the cusp. She had not run away. But it seemed that was what this city and life itself were: You went on with things, playing your role, pretending that everything was fine when a catastrophe was happening. Now this was occurring on a thousand times greater scale. None knew. No one sensed it. Just the opposite: Perhaps it was the hint that she was about to be someone which prompted the D-girl to slide over to her, mentioning that they wouldn’t be seeing her for at least forty minutes. Did it say something that she didn’t need to ask where she was in the queue?

So notably solicitous, the assistant next directed her to the bathroom, which was down a flight of stairs. Reaching it, Vincenza checked herself once in the mirror, brushing her hair, fixing her lipstick, straightening her dress. Then she advanced into a stall. Not sitting down but closing the door firmly shut, she pressed her cell phone tightly to her ear. There were two messages from friends, asking what was she doing that night. That everything went on as it always did: This was simultaneously comforting and petrifying. How could it be that the other actresses didn’t suspect the trouble she was in, that what they saw was just a woman on the verge?

Checking herself in the mirror a second time, she brushed her hair once more, swallowed a mint to cover the smell of cigarettes, and exited the bathroom, walking up the steps and reentering the room. Sitting down on one of the metal folding chairs they had put out, she felt something she had not in some time: heart palpitations. She knew that all they saw was her legs and her enhanced chest and her lips and mascara.

Staggering into the audition room, she was faced by four people placed behind The Table. This is one of the established institutions of the entertainment industry, one whose sole purpose is to humble actors. For The Table is an otherwise superfluous piece of furniture whose sole value lies in its creation of an artificial barrier establishing a division between those who are casting and those anxious for their favor. Most often it is faced by a single chair. Placing yourself in this seat can feel a bit like undergoing interrogation, if with the difference that you must first spend hours learning lines, teasing up your hair, painting yourself with blush and lipstick, and working on the correct presentation of your cleavage, after which you linger for long stretches, waiting to be called. Within the room, there is usually a casting aide who serves as the “reader.” This person performs the scene with you. To make matters still more stressful and difficult, frequently he is not of the same age, race, or gender as his character.

And that was indeed the case. Thus, in trying to present her rendition of a snotty stewardess who refuses to let Reese Witherspoon onto her flight, Vincenza was acting with a “Reese” with the height and build of a middle linebacker. Where she had practiced the role by literally staring down at what was supposed to be a somewhat older five-foot-two-inch woman, she gazed up at a heavyset young man with a soul patch.

The producer, Vincenza gradually deduced, was the one providing the guidance, though it was hard to believe that the producer could be an attractive woman younger than she was.

Vincenza tried to tell herself that she was not distracted. Yet she knew that this was not the case. One thought preying on her was this question of how soon it would be until the carcass began to smell, and, in the run-up to her audition, she had pulled her phone close, taken off her sunglasses, and searched the internet to find out. Then she had asked herself if this might be potential evidence against her and if there was any way to bury the query with the body. As it happened, the minimum amount of time was said to be a day. She tried not to ponder it. She needed to be present. So she looked to the petite bottle blonde in the fancy suit: the producer. A Brit, she spoke in a deep, staccato voice, one continually punctuated by a snorting sound that suggested that she had a deviated septum. Gazing down and away from Vincenza, the woman stared at her resume, set on the back of her eightinch-by-ten glossy.

“Vincenza,” she began with an unexpected gentleness, “you’re doing one thing I really like, one thing which we really haven’t seen from anyone: not focusing on Reese’s character. Showing the audience that she’s the least of your concerns. And that’s exactly right. I guess what I’m saying is that you’re the first who actually understands the scene. But what I’m not getting is the full meanness. Can you do a bit more of that? Show us what a cunt you are?”

Even after twelve years in Hollywood, Vincenza was unnerved by the producer’s use of the word. But she knew to nod, taking her note. Inhaling once more, she looked to the windows left of her, just above eye level. Outside, the sun was dipping below the horizon, the sky taking on a striking medley of tones: lavender and scarlet, bronze and magenta. Could it be that her preoccupation with the body’s possible odor was assisting her in the audition? Instinct told her to stand up and to instruct her scene partner to take his place in the chair. She was in command. She had to play that.

She tried not to let them see her anxiousness. Had they liked this reading? It was always impossible to tell if you were going to receive a callback. What she knew now, though—and had not grasped before—was that she had done the right thing in scrupulously following the script: that it was better to be examining it than to be staring at the casting agent and the producer but changing the words. She had learned, too, how important it was to depart the room with a professional but bland politeness, a manner verging on indifference.

Back in the waiting area, she took off her pumps, slipping them into her handbag. In their place she put on her faded, open-toed, low heels. Departing, she switched her phone back on and gazed up. Light came from many directions: illumination from the studio buildings and from the overhead lamps in the lot. A sliver still emanated from the descending sun, falling below the western edge of Culver City.

Trudging forward, she went through with her customary review. (She did not want to call this one a postmortem. That was a little too apropos.) The movie’s director had not been present. Nor had the casting director. But she had managed to impress one of the producers, it seemed.

Making full use of the large sunglasses she had set back on her face, she tried not to make eye contact with the passing faces. Then, when she reached her car, she gazed about once more, making sure no one was nearby. No, there were just a great many automobiles fitted in between painted lines. So, inhaling deeply, she stepped to her car’s trunk and pulled out her key chain. Yet her hands were shaking, and she knew that she was not going to be able to put the key in the lock. Nor was she able to dial the police.

Pulling out her phone, she searched for the nearest police station. It was almost around the corner—on Duquesne Avenue—barely two blocks from the studio gates. Flipping the ignition, she drove down Culver Boulevard, past an old-fashioned post office building. That was on her left. Turning right onto Duquesne, she passed the Culver City Hall. Next to it was the police station. It, too, was designed in a Depression-era Works Progress Administration style: a long, white-stucco building flanked by flagpoles and palm trees. A half dozen black-and-white police cruisers were planted in front. Vincenza felt her heart beating. The palpitations were almost audible, and she drove past, circling around and driving up to Irving. Then she threaded her way down Washington back to Duquesne.

She passed the police station three times. The immediate question was where to park. The real concern was how to enter and tell the police that there was a dead body in her trunk, and she had no idea how it had gotten there. It was as though she was choking.

Whom might she call? Her first thought was her frequent scene partner, Sara Kertesz. But what could she do? The men she worked for in her day job were the types who might know how to dispose of a corpse. She did not want to be indebted to them. She did not want to think about her parents who were 2000 miles away. The only person she could think of potentially of use whom she could trust was an acquaintance in the religious sect she was attached to, the International Church of Life. A new faith, it attracted its members for a multitude of reasons. One bore relevance: The Church did things. She had assumed that this faculty would be employed to save the species. Perhaps it might be put to use saving her.

Pulling over and parking in a strip mall, she opened her driver’s side door, sat down, and lit a cigarette. Who was the man in the car’s rear? How had he gotten there? On at least two instances she had provided her car to other members of the Church. It struck her that in making her independent film she had also loaned the vehicle to her producing partner and the crew members. Who might have made copies of the key.

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Book Reviews

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Four Award-Winning Musical Theatre Writers Who Turned to Writing Books

Published

on

I am so pleased to announce our guest for next Wednesday’s show on April 17th are four award-winning musical theatre writers who turned to writing books.

For a veteran musical theatre dramatist, getting a new musical on is rarely easy, even at the healthiest of times. But when a pandemic stops everything cold—and a restless creative spirit is driven to both keep writing and reach an audience—what can be done? Well, four musical dramatists independently decided to meet the challenge head on with the same answer: Write a book! But their creative paths to near- simultaneous publication would be as unique as the rave-reviewed books themselves. And when they realized that their musical theatre backgrounds cast them as an equally unique quartet…they decided to come full circle back to the theatre community …to tell that story…the story of how their incredible books came to be…which in its way is also a universal story; a story for our time. A story of taking stock, taking a deep breath, taking new steps…and turning the page. Here are our writers:

page2image4238304

David Spencer is an award-winning musical dramatist, author, critic and musical theatre teacher, whose work has been produced in the US, Canada and England. His most well-known credits as lyricist-librettist are two musicals in collaboration with composer Alan Menken: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, based on the novel by Moredecai Richler (original cast album on Ghostlight Records) and Weird Romance (co-librettist: Alan Brennert; original cast album digital-on-demand from Columbia Masterworks). He made his professional debut writing the acclaimed colloquial English-language adaptation of La Bohème for the Public Theatre; and as composer-lyricist wrote scores and orchestrations for Theatreworks/USA’s young audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables (librettist-director for both: Rob Barron). His published books are The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann), the acting edition of Weird Romance (Samuel French)—and, pulpsmith proud, Passing Fancy, an original novel based on the TV series Alien Nation (PocketBooks). He recently completed a draft of his first straight play, Spirit Run (story by him and Jerry James).

David is an ex officio steering committee and faculty member of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, where he taught for over 25 years, and has also taught at HB Studio, Workshop Studio Theater in New York; and Goldsmith’s College and BML in London.

His book is The Novelizers: An Affectionate History of Media Adaptations and Originals, Their Astonishing Authors—and the Art of the Craft

page3image8206560

 Stephen Cole is an award-winning musical theatre writer whose shows have been produced from New York City to London to the Middle East and Australia. His off-Broadway musical with Matthew Ward, After The Fair, was nominated for the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Musical and was subsequently produced in London to great acclaim. The Night Of The Hunter won the prestigious Edward Kleban Award and was produced in New York City, Dallas, and San Francisco, where it was nominated for several Bay Area Theatre Awards. The award-winning 1998 concept CD features Ron Raines, Sally Mayes, and Dorothy Loudon. Saturday Night At Grossinger’s has had successful runs in Texas (starring Gavin MacLeod), Los Angeles, and Florida. Broadway legend Chita Rivera toured in Casper, and Hal Linden and Dee Hoty starred in the world premiere of his musical adaptation of Dodsworth. In 2005, Stephen was commissioned to write Aspire, the first American musical to premiere in the Middle East. This experience resulted in another musical about the creation of that show entitled The Road To Qatar!, produced to rave reviews and awards Off-Broadway, in London, and at the Edinburgh Festival, garnering a Best Musical nomination. Among his other produced shows are Rock Odyssey, which played to hundreds of thousands of kids for ten seasons of productions at the Adrienne Arscht Center in Miami, and Merman’s Apprentice, presented in concert at Birdland in New York City, followed by an all-star cast album on Jay Records, and an acclaimed premiere production in Sonoma, CA in 2019. Stephen’s latest critically acclaimed musical is Goin’ Hollywood. Stephen’s published books include That Book About That Girl and I Could Have Sung All Night, the Marni Nixon story, currently in development as a feature film from Amazon. Stephen has also written several published stories and his real-life friendships with Ethel Merman and Mary Martin resulted in this, his first novel. Visit www.stephencolewriter.org.