Thanks so much for visiting Stage Voices for the latest in Theatre news and writing. Currently, we are privileged to be offering a free chapter from playwright JoAnne Brasil’s first novel–in a series of four–called Big Mamma’s #1 with Coleslaw, To Go.
The revised and expanded edition is set in Phoebus, a small military town in southeastern Virginia and told by the narrator and protagonist Cecelia O’Malley. As the inside cover of the original novel puts it, “Raised by the Irish immigrant owners of Billy’s Bar-B-Que . . . Cecyl escapes after high school graduation and moves to Boston where she supports herself by working as a janitor. Ill-prepared for the larger world of late 1960’s America . . . Cecyl is usually caught off-guard, but she always rebounds with a tenacity and love that draw us to her spirit.”
Originally titled Escape from Billy’s Bar-b-que–the book went into a second printing–Alice Walker (author of the Pulitzer winner, The Color Purple)–who published the work through her Wild Trees Press in 1985—has written “To those who have wanted to dismantle racial pigeonholes and leap over social barriers in a single bound, this book will offer special insight and encouragement.”
Additional praise includes:
“This is a novel written the way people talk. That leads us into the way people feel, and we are rewarded with one woman’s story and a valuable reminder that hearts and times do change—and for the better.”–Gloria Steinem
“This fragile novel packs a surprising wallop you’ll feel for a long time afterward.”–Patricia Holt, the San Francisco Chronicle
“Brasil has written a brilliant story about the way people talk, the way they feel and, as Cecyl puts it, the way they should ‘treat each other normal’.”–Publishers Weekly
“Cecyl is funny and sad, brave and devastatingly honest. JoAnne Brasil is uncompromising and true. So is her brave heroine.”–Dorothy Bryant (self-published Berkeley literary icon)
“Off-beat Characters on the Mark. . . . Brasil’s story is both hopeful and convincing, and given the size of the social walls Cecyl runs into this is no small accomplishment . . . perceptive and well-written. . . . ”—Daily Californian (UC Berkeley paper)
JoAnne Brasil is a writer living in Salem, MA. She’s worked as a news reporter for the Brattleboro Reformer in Brattleboro, VT, was a letter-writer for Smithsonian, wrote an astrology column for Poets & Writers magazine, and was the host of a Sunday morning radio program for WBUR Public Radio in Boston. She has written numerous plays, scripts and short stories, and is now in the process of completing the third in the Escape from Billy’s Bar-B-Que novels.
Copyright 2013, JoAnne Brasil. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For rights inquiries contact: Bobjshuman@gmail.com
Visit JoAnne Brasil’s Web site: http://www.joannebrasil.org/
JoAnne Brasil at Hildegard's Wander Theater: http://wandertheater.org/index.htm
Photos: Top of page, German production of The Wander Theater: JoAnne Brasil (r) and actor Andrea Rump (l) at the Project Theater (it was part of the Dresden Yiddish Theater and Music Week). Above, American production: JoAnne Brasil (r) and Georgette Beck (l) in front of the Griffen Theater in Salem, MA. Photos courtesy of JoAnne Brasil.
The Escape from Billy’s Bar-B-Que novels by JoAnne Brasil
Book II, Dial 1-900-Psychic,
Billy’s Bar-B-Que has been sold, to a chain of donut stores. As the story opens, Cecyl is back in Phoebus and working the counter at Krispy Kreme Donuts. She decides to make a firm commitment to a career in the field of astrology. Fate takes her to work in a cubicle at a Washington, D.C. think tank, to a psychic hotline in the San Fernando Valley, and then to a Beverly Hills diamond and precious metals brokerage house as the corporate astrologer.
Book III, Dresden,
takes us to the San Francisco Bay Area where Cecyl accepts a job as a live-in companion to an older woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Bettina Kleine, a former actress and a German Jew who grew up in Dresden and immigrated to the U.S. in 1938. Cecyl becomes lost in Bettina’s world of German high culture and the German stage in the 1930’s. She also befriends Bettina’s friend Dr. Q. Also Jewish and a Trotskyite, he is a retired journalist who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking community in the Russian Pale before WWI.
Excerpt: Big Mamma’s #1 with Coleslaw, To Go by JoAnne Brasil
Chapter 1: Life in Phoebus
Phoebus, Virginia is a little piece of paradise at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay. Except for the hum of traffic on I-64, Phoebus is a quiet, happy little place. Some people are still sad that the Confederacy lost the War Between the States, but they don’t fly the Confederate flag over the courthouse. There is no courthouse in Phoebus, and no Ku Klux Klan. A few people out in Fox Hill were in the Klan, but we never went to Fox Hill. We never went anywhere. If you lived in Phoebus you didn’t need to go anywhere. If you didn’t find it within a two-block radius of E. Mellon and N. Mallory, you didn’t need it and shouldn’t want it.
Phoebus was a small town, just big enough to support one x-rated movie theater (the Lee Theater), one bookstore that sold dirty books in a corner behind a plastic rope (Bender’s Books), a grocery store, a pawn shop, two barbershops, Keith’s Seafood Restaurant, Fertitta’s Hot Dogs and Hamburgers, and a bar-b-que place.
My parents owned the bar-b-que place, Billy’s Bar-B-Q. It was white. We were white. The customers were white. “I can’t help that,” Billy said. “I don’t make the rules.”
No black people came into Billy’s Bar-B-Que, but a lot of white people did: workers from the cement factory, people from the V.A. hospital, and GI’s from Fort Monroe, mostly all men.
They’d come in and order a coke and French fries and a #1: sliced pork slathered in barbeque sauce between two limp pieces of white bread that would get all orange and soggy, or a #2: shredded pork cooked in barbeque sauce for hours or even days, on hamburger buns with Cole slaw and hot sauce. They were good.
We also sold gum, mints, cigarettes, lighters, sanitized combs, baseball caps and women’s personal hygiene products that came in embarrassing bright blue boxes. Nobody ever bought them. But mostly Billy’s was just a normal little place. There were normal Formica tables, normal chrome chairs, a normal counter with a row of normal stools, and a few normal booths. There were normal travel posters of Las Vegas and Hawaii. The only thing that wasn’t normal was Billy, Billy and the rest of us.
But my parents were proud to be in America and proud to be in business for themselves. And Billy’s Bar-B-Q had a ring to it, my father thought. He even named himself after it (Billy) and learned to pronounce it (BILL-ih) in the local Tidewater English-like way, although he was Irish.
“Hey, y’all,” Bill-ih would say to people when they came in and hand them a menu. “Don’t be strangers now,” he’d say when they left. But there were no strangers in Phoebus; everyone knew everybody. Billy just looked strange. He was the only bald Irish person in town with an eye patch and a serious scar down one side of his face. But he was not shy and not one to let a minor facial deformity hold him back. He was lucky to have that scar, he said. He wasn’t just another pretty face.
I wasn’t just another pretty face either. But I had a good mind and that’s what counts in life, Billy said. It wasn’t true but it made me feel better.
My name is Cecelia. I was named after my maternal grandmother Cecelia and after Saint Cecelia, patron saint of musicians. My mother called me Black Rosie, Roisin Dubh. Hundreds of years ago Black Rose was sometimes used as a code word for Ireland, at times when even saying the word Ireland, the name of a sovereign nation separate and independent from England was forbidden by British law.
But I liked my name, Cecelia. People call me Cecyl. You can pronounce it SEH-sill or SEE-sill, either way is fine. And I knew that I could always change it if I wanted to. This was America, land of freedom.
Copyright 2013, JoAnne Brasil. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.