Friday, October 30, 2015

"The Property Known as Garland" Played in Palm Beach

When Lee Marlow's acting coach requested a cold reading of The Property Known as Garland, she jumped to the podium, script in hand. One doesn't normally drag their feet or refuse a director's request, especially if that director happens to be Burt Reynolds. Marlow read it with grace and ease; the words tripping off her lips and the content coming from her heart. She later said of the read that,

"It. Felt. Wonderful!"

The role of Judy Garland appeared to be tailored-made for Marlow. A perfect fit, like the red, satin gown she wore in the final scene.

If you were lucky enough to see the production last month at the former Florida Stage, I think you'd agree that

It. Was. More.Than.Wonderful!

Photo credit Jeffrey A McDonald

Set in Garland's backstage dressing room, the icon took us on a journey from her stolen Vaudeville childhood, through the relationship with MGM studios, her many husbands, her mercenary mother, and the nagging narcotics. Garland told her story of triumphs, defeats and come-backs. With biting wit she rails on those who forced their agendas on her, who started her on the 'pill mill' at 15 - a pill to keep her awake, help her sleep, shed excess weight. She struggled to regain her life when those around her orchestrated it against her will. She battled for her identity and independence despite being treated like a thing, a product, a paycheck for her producers. Her fierce love for her children was her only lifeline, her saving grace, for the moment, anyway.

The two-character script was written by Billy Van Zandt and played in New York for several weeks. How it got to the The Palm Beaches Theatre in Manalapan, is a story in itself.

Burt Reynolds had set things in motion for Marlow and insisted the show be a one-woman monologue. Marlow contacted offices in New York to see if Reynold's vision was possible and to procure licensing rights. Office workers directed her to Billy Van Zandt himself via email. A few emails later she got a personal phone call from the playwright. Delighted to speak with him directly, Marlow explained Burt's concept and where he wanted to trim the script. To her surprise, Van Zandt told her he had preferred it as a monologue and said it should start with the precise line Reynolds had recommended. Licensing was granted. With that kind of like-mindedness and affirmation, Marlow went to work and emerged with 90 minutes of a sparkling depiction of the true Garland.

1957, Backstage at the Greek Theater - LA Times

When many of us think of Judy Garland, we picture the young farm girl in a blue checkered dress, Toto in arms, belting out "Over the Rainbow." We soar with her mighty vocals to that magical land.

For others a darker image arises: one of a tragic, worn down woman. We mourn that she left this world so early.

Regardless of which image of Judy you ascribe to, you won't want to miss Marlow's grand portrayal of the legendary lady. The Property Known As Garland plays November 12th, 13th and 14th at 7pm and Sunday, November 15th at 2pm at The Palm Beaches Theatre, formerly The Florida Stage, 262 South Ocean Drive, in Manalapan. For tickets call 561-362-0003 or visit

You will see that Marlow's presentation is more than just a tribute, but a treatise on Garland's tenacious will. A declaration of her determination to resist defeat and to shine as the victorious star she was.

Photo credit Jeffrey A McDonald

Friday, October 23, 2015

My Son, The Rail Rider

Depression Era Rail Riders

Perhaps it was his west coast roots that drew him, having been born in hilly Thousand Oaks just north of Los Angeles, or a distant call from the restless youths of a century ago, or simply the breath-stopping excitement of conquering a monstrous locomotive.

Whatever it was, my son had to go, had to answer, and leave his Brooklyn abode for a month-long odyssey commencing in Los Angeles. Home of  movie stars, it was his Vine celebrity friend who concocted the idea:

"Hey guys, let's hop trains for the month of August and make a documentary film on rail riding." 

 He invited four of his childhood friends, of whom my son was one, and with a "Holy Crap, that sounds awesome!" they dropped everything and booked a flight to LA.

They sub-let their rooms on Air B&B, took a leave from their jobs and texted their families goodbye despite their moms begging them to reconsider so dangerous an endeavor. The boys turned a deaf ear on big brother-in-uniform's warnings and fathers' disapproval of the whole idea. After all if you get caught, it's a misdemeanor and an unnecessary smudge on your record.




How different from the first freight hoppers. During the Depression, their fathers kicked them out on the street to fend for themselves. One less mouth to feed. At fifteen or younger, the boys were capable of living on their own. The train got them where they needed to go. To this town where rumors of work flew. To this farm where walnut picking would bring in enough for a meal. To this field to harvest tomatoes to keep body and soul together.

1930's Train Hoppers

Decades later, my son voluntarily left his comfortable bed for the cold steel bottom of a boxcar, or worse the frightful underbelly scaffold of a grainer.

Doesn't look pretty.

The group spent a full week planning and researching which routes and lines would take them from the City of Angels to the Big Apple via the northern route. First stop Portland, then Montana, Idaho, eastward to New York. That was the plan - full of unknowns as it was, there was enough in their minds to go for it. The rest they'd figure out along the way like which car to hop, how to hide from the authorities, where to sleep and eat. Luxuries such as washing hands and showering were deliberated later when the citified boys would finally get sick of pebbles in their eyes and soot under their fingernails.

Sleeping bag, check
Neckerchief for toxic exhaust fumes while going through tunnels, check
Video cameras, cellphones, chargers, check
Freeze-dried food, check,
Jacket, check
Hat, check
Tent, check
Glasses to protect eyes from wind and grit, check

All packed, but missing one of their travel companions who got delayed on his flight. Once he arrived they were ready for their LA jumping off point. The tricky part was getting on the right train. Other would be hobos had erroneously hopped one headed to Arizona, intending to go north.

Finally, it was the early morning of their departure. Five young men headed for the station. If they hadn't quite awoken, their racing heartbeats were pumping adrenaline then. Shoes crunched the train yard gravel as they awaited their first ride on the iron labyrinth that would take them through scenery and experiences none of them half expected...

My son, the Rail Rider.

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