Monday, September 12, 2005

American classics ...

I am not known to be a frequenter of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. But I attended one of its events tonight and I'm here to say it was time very well spent. It was An Evening of Damon Runyon at the Society Hill Playhouse's Red Room. Five actors -- Barry Brait, Gene D'Alessandro (a colleague of mine), Rene Goodwin, Arnold Kendall, and Vince Mancini -- collaborated in reading five of Runyon's classic tales of Broadway low-lifes. The stories are at turns funny and touching, the language bottled-in-bond American vernacular. The performers were uniformly excellent, offering a nice variety of voices and accents.
Runyon, oddly, was born in Manhattan -- Kansas, that is -- but the Manhattan he was born to is located between the Hudson and the East Rivers. The show's on again tomorrow at 9 p.m. In my opinion, they should extend the run. Indeed, there should be more shows like this. Audiences would love them and literature would be well served.


  1. Frank, it's times like this I miss living 'back east.' The event you describe sounds like fun!

    It seems to me, out here, in West Texas, that many people might not recognize the name, 'Damon Runyan,' but would say, 'Ohhhh, yeah,' if you told them it was the guy who wrote "Guys and Dolls."

    Yet, he remains a favorite American writer of mine, along with others whose names people might not recognize, though they DID see - and enjoy! - the show/movie ... writers such as Raymond Chandler, O'Henry and (from the other side of 'the pond') H. Rider-Haggard.

    This may be true in your part of the country, as well.

  2. I guess the trick, once they recognize "Guys and Dolls," is to get them to read Runyon. And O. Henry. And Chandler (I think mystery fans still remember Chandler). And yes, Rider Haggard. I am planning to write from time to time, about past authors (not just current ones), because the habit of reading isn't onkly about the latest books; that's only a tiny part of a much greater world.

  3. Several years ago William Kennedy wrote an enthusiastic introduction to a collection of Damon Runyon's stories in which he expressed the hope/feeling that the time was ripe for a Runyon revival. Unfortunately, the time was not and his hope was misplaced. Too bad, for people don't know what they are missing. The stories are wonderful to read. And to think that they appeared in the much-maligned popular "slick" magazines of the time -- Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and so forth. Just goes to show that treasure is where you find it. Have you ever tried to imitate that eternal-present, first-person narration of his? It can't be done. Nothing sounds as fake as fake Runyon. And you're right about "old" books. Personally, right now I'm reading Thornton Wilder's "The Eighth Day."

  4. Frank: I applaud your desire to write about past authors, but I cannot believe that your masters there at the Inquirer share your enthusiasm. Surely they look upon books not as an intellectual exercise but as news, and will want to know why you are taking up space with, say, Hillaire Belloc and not the latest expression of brainless chick lit. I'm only guessing. Maybe you're right: Maybe blogs are the way to go. If so, smart, then, of the Inquirer to offer them. Hope it finds a way to make dough off them.
    Willis Wayde

  5. Actually, having a well-read editor enthusiastic about matters literary running the paper helps a lot. Who else would have given the go-ahead for photographer Eric Mencher and me to spend a week in Dublin following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom as a way of celebrating the centenary of Bloomsday?
    Also Jonathan Yardlley has blazed a path in this direction.
    And, judging by the response I got to me piece about John O'Hara, readers like it.