Category Archives: Writing


By Bob Shuman

The aesthetic issue being explored in Orson’s Shadow (Austin Pendleton’s own play now celebrating its 25th Anniversary) might best be expressed if I show you a picture of the Little Tramp (or the Little Fellow, as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier might call him). 

My question to you is the following:  Are you viewing a character from Hollywood’s golden age or are you looking at an actor from a Beckett play, 1949 (advertising shot)?  The one was invented during an artistic gold rush, in the early 1900s, and the second, after the devastations of a world war; the first possibility represents the popular entertainment establishment and the second existentialism, socialism or anti-authoritarianism.  The roles of the famous thespians, in Pendleton’s excellent comedy, now playing at Theater for the New City until March 31, are considering the Rorschach, too, with their own bankability at stake, just as the audience, likewise, notices incongruous elements, such as contemporary folding chairs in a play set in 1960, the breaking of the fourth wall, actors seen readying for their entrances, and the disregard of a culminating confrontation with the words: “don’t plead” (and no one is pleading).  Are these characters the same, as before theatre seemed to be changing beneath their feet, are their techniques any different than what they had been, and, if so, why do they feel so lost in the shadows of a theatre rehearsal room?  These are but a few examples.

Examining the film Citizen Kane, critic Pauline Kael noticed also the overlap between commercialism and modernism in her essay “Raising Kane,” from The Citizen Kane Book, and she took sides on the ironies regarding Welles’s film: “The formal elements themselves produce elation; we are kept aware of how marvelously worked out the ideas are.  It would be high-toned to call this method of keeping the audience aware “Brechtian . . . ” (it would also be too early in this review to tell you the point she then makes).

Orson’s Shadow is about the collaboration between Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, and Joan Plowright (and tangentially, Vivien Leigh), in which the great auteur, Welles, is recommended by one of his friends, the English critic Kenneth Tynan, to work with Olivier—a mega star of the ‘40s and beyond–at London’s Royal Court Theatre.  The idea is to have Welles, the pariah, hired as director, for a production of Ionesco’s Absurdist play Rhinoceros (which will also give him a chance to gain funding for a Shakespearean film Chimes at Midnight). Just like today, Ionesco is a hard sell, but his vision is a legitimate and historically critical artistic reaction to World War II (as is Beckett’s) and his empty and little characters illuminate the path to increasing societal conformity.  Ionesco’s revenge is that his insight was valid and, by the ’70s, the hit musical A Chorus Line emphasized the mainstream acceptance of the societal ideal of machine-like uniformity. Brecht, whose characters, for oppositional German theatre, included criminals, sex workers, and the guilty and unapologetic displayed productions that  incorporated machine apparatus, along with film ideas from silents and ‘30s movies: “in the talkies the heroes were to be the men who weren’t fooled, who were smart and learned their way around.”  That’s why Orson’s Shadow is ambiguous—because what appear to be Brechtian ideas are comparable to what was appearing on movie screens, in the early years of the medium. The subject matter of a behemothic Orson Welles and prima dona Laurence Olivier is out of old Broadway, Hollywood central casting, and maybe Warner Brothers cartoons (Brecht would show up there, too, before the House of UnAmerican Activities could decide to kick him out of the country).  Pendleton’s script is not consciously or unconsciously reflecting the captivity of defeated Europe, in either weirdness or depravity.  His characters are too busy and hopeful to be caged in barbed wire. Not gigantic modernism or proto-fragmenting post-modernism, the writing is witty, rat-a-tat-tat typewriter music, with literary repetitions and foreshadowing. Forget Beckett—at its heart this is Hecht and MacArthur, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Ring Lardner, Moss Hart, Edna Ferber, and dozens of other smart, “wisecracking, fast-talking, cynical-sentimental” screenwriters and literati, to quote Kael, as well as Herman J. Mankiewicz, the man who wrote Citizen Kane, suggesting that Randolph Hearst’s mistress couldn’t sing and who made Welles, the genius, into a roving, homeless, Odysseus.

Patrick Hamilton as Kenneth Tynan, Luke Hofmaier as Sean, the Stage Manager. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Pendleton can make you think he’s known you all of your life—you can feel immediately comfortable with him, even if he can enter a room without being noticed, which, oddly, is a descriptor also mentioned in his play. For many he is not a playwright (although two friends and I have loved and laughed with and over this play since 2008) but, of course, a consummate actor and director who acted, as only one example, in Billy Wilder’s 1974 version of  The Front Page, the 1928 newspaper comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; Pendleton was praised by Pauline Kael for his performance.  In the New York theatre world, everyone will have their stories, but I have known about him since 1972 when my mother came home from teaching in central New Jersey to explain that she had taken her history class to see Nicholas and Alexandra, a movie about the Russian Revolution, at the Criterion Theatre in New York City, on its last day.  Instead, the film had changed and the movie What’s Up Doc? premiered, starring Pendleton—the class was exultant.  Today, at Theatre for the New City, he is sitting two rows in front of me, in a blue sweatshirt and hoodie and blue ski jacket, occasionally chewing an orange-handled toothbrush.  Many will be watching his directing, whether he is part of the casts or not.  From the outside, he seems to allow his companies, often made up of new and unknown talent, to develop their roles from their own insides, in memorable, inhabiting, and complete ways. This is true for Orson’s Shadow, where the roles are luscious, because of the characters we think we know and the aligning interpretations of them.  The actors are facsimiles of who they say they are, handling subtext and rhythms adroitly:  an Olivier who can’t help being prissy and over-balletic (Ryan Tramont); a sane Vivien Leigh holding on and counting before she spirals out of control–a Sondheim line that might apply for her: “Clutching a copy of Life Just to keep in touch” (Natalie Menna); a young, down-to-earth, and, regrettably overshadowed Joan Plowright (Kim Taff); a reticent, stuttering (a difficulty Pendleton knew from his own youth) in-person and bold in-prose Kenneth Tynan (Patrick Hamilton); a compliant stage manager, holding it in (Luke Hofmaier), and, of course, the brilliant, untrustworthy, hammy, eternally damned Welles himself (Brad Fryman). You’d want Hirschfeld to draw them. The mood of the room is cozy.

Austin Pendleton and cast of “Orson’s Shadow.” Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Shadows are, of course, the central images for the play, and the murky Lighting Design is by Alexander Bartenieff,  incorporating ghostlight, spotlight, footlight, and sidelight; the Costume Design is by Billy Little. Sound Design, using music from the soundtracks of Welles’s films, is by Nick Moore. David Schweitzer is co-director. Mark Karafin is Assistant Director and Company Manager. Jose Ruiz is the Stage Manager.

Oh, yes.  Pauline Kael wrote, by way of Walter Kerr, that in the ‘30s, “A play was held to be something of a machine. . . . It was a machine for surprising and delighting the audience, regularly, logically, insanely, but accountably.  A play was like a watch that laughed.”  That is this play.

She also wrote: It would be wrong to call such a play Brechtian because it comes out of a different tradition.

I leave you to ponder the photo of the little tramp in conjunction with considering Orson’s Shadow.  

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. (Written without AI.)

WHERE AND WHEN: March 14 to 31, 2024; Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street) Presented by Theater for the New City in association with Oberon Theatre Ensemble and Strindberg Rep. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. Wednesdays at 7:30: March 20 & 27. $25 general admission, $15 seniors & students. Pay what you can Thursdays. Box office (212) 254-1109, Runs two hours with intermission. Opens March 17.

Press: Jonathan Slaff


(Rachel Syme’s article appeaed in The New Yorker, 11/14/2023. Photo: Trust is a big theme in the book, and perhaps its reason for existing. Photograph by Irving Penn / © Condé Nast) 


In “My Name Is Barbra,” the icon takes a maximalist approach to her own life, studying every trial, triumph, and snack food of a six-decade career. 

Seventy years ago, before she was galactically famous, before she dropped an “a” from her first name, before she was a Broadway ingénue, before her nose bump was aspirational, before she changed the way people hear the word “butter,” before she was a macher or a mogul or a decorated matron of the arts, Barbra Streisand was, by her own admission, “very annoying to be around.” She was born impatient and convinced of her potential—the basic ingredients of celebrity, and of an exquisitely obnoxious child. When Streisand was growing up in Brooklyn, in the nineteen-forties, she used to crawl onto the fire escape of her shabby apartment building and conduct philosophical debates with her best friend, Rosyln Arenstein, who was a staunch atheist. One day, Streisand told Arenstein that she was going to prove the existence of God. She pointed at a man on the street and said that, if she prayed hard enough, he would step off the curb. Within seconds, he obliged. “I had two thoughts at that moment,” Streisand writes in her hulking new memoir, “My Name Is Barbra” (Viking). “One: Whew, that was lucky! And two: There is a God, and I just got Him to do what I wanted by praying. I guess that’s when I began to believe in the power of the will.”

Streisand was always willful. She was not always lucky. Her father, a gentle academic named Emanuel, died from seizure complications when she was a year old. Her mother, Diana, could be cruel and strangely absent, particularly after she married Louis Kind, a man who seemed to resent Streisand’s existence. “I was like a wild child, a kind of animal,” Streisand writes. “There was no routine and no rules.” She shoplifted and stole Kind’s cigarettes, which she smoked on the roof. She developed chronic tinnitus, possibly because of stress, and kept the ringing in her ears a secret for years. “I long for silence,” she writes. But, despite these challenges, Streisand also knew that she was in possession of something rare. She could sing, naturally and effortlessly, with a broad, sunny tone and cataract force. Streisand took exactly one singing lesson and never learned how to read music. She simply accepted herself as gifted, with the same conviction that made her believe she could speak to God.

Because Streisand’s instrument was innate, she also found it rather boring. She joined the Choral Club at Erasmus Hall High School, in Flatbush, but what she really wanted to be was an actress. She would often go to the Astor Theatre, next door to Erasmus, to watch films by Akira Kurosawa, and to the Kings Theatre to see melodramas starring Deborah Kerr and Marlon Brando. (The great motif of this book, besides fame, is snacks, and Streisand is particularly nostalgic about Good & Plenty candy, which she likens to “eating jewelry” in the theatre.) In English class, she produced book reports on Stanislavsky’s “My Life in Art” and “An Actor Prepares.” She also got a job at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where she watched a production of the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey’s “Purple Dust.” She learned a lead role and proclaimed herself an understudy—though nobody had asked her to do this—and would greet the stagehands with “Top o’ the mornin’ to you, boys!” in an Irish accent. (“Again,” she writes, “annoying to be around.”)

Streisand was obsessed with acting because she saw it as a form that allowed for spontaneity and change. She was dismayed to learn, in a class that she took at fourteen, about the concept of blocking, in which an actor is expected to repeat her motions every time she runs through a scene. “You mean you have to move in exactly the same way, to the same spots?” she asked her teacher. “Why?” (Soon after, she quit the class.) Throughout her career, she balked at the idea that self-expression should be stable or reproducible. One reason that Streisand leaned into her musical prowess—she graduated high school at sixteen, moved to Manhattan, and soon started performing in a gay bar and a night club—was that concert audiences loved her elasticity. To this day, she prefers to sing a song differently each time.

The great paradox of Streisand’s career, then, is that as a person she has been nearly impervious to change. “No matter who you are,” she writes, “you can only eat one pastrami sandwich at a time.” Her point is that fame is a “hollow trophy”; she still thinks of herself, at eighty-one, as the “skinny marink” from Brooklyn. This assertion is tough to take from a woman who could, if she wanted, have every pastrami sandwich in New York delivered to her Malibu estate on a private jet, but I’m inclined to believe her. Streisand has spent her career, which spans fifty-plus albums, more than a dozen movies in starring roles, three films as a director, and a bushel of awards (an honorary egot, along with three Peabodys, eleven Golden Globes, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom), trying to protect the person she always was: a girl who, somehow, knew how to trust herself.

(Read more)


Theater for the New City Presents


Flawlessa tale of enchantment

Written by Robin Goldfin 

Directed by Ed Chemaly


November 9-26, 2023 (12 performances)

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 3pm

Plus, Wednesday, November 22 at 8pm

(no performance on Thanksgiving Day)


Theater for the New City

155 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003


General Admission: $18

Students and Seniors: $15

For tickets 

Runtime: 120 minutes with one intermission

Theater for the New City Executive Artistic Director Crystal Field presents Flawless, a tale of enchantment written by Robin Goldfin, based on and inspired by an award-winning essay by Canadian writer David J. Lawless. Ed Chemaly directs a cast of seven, including David Carson*, Page Clements*, Hannah Dillenbeck, Ricardo Gomez, Deanna Henson*, John Lampe*, and Hana LauerFlawless will be staged for twelve performances from November 9-26, 2023, at Theater for the News City, 155 First Avenue, New York, NY 10003. *Appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association. AEA Showcase.


Flawless is staged with dance and movement by Laurie DeVito, live music composed and performed by Oren Neiman on the guitar, and Patricia Santos on the cello.


A family’s youngest daughter takes center stage as her father cares for his wife of over 50 years, who now has Alzheimer’s. Witnessing the relentless repetition of the disease and the extraordinary patience and unwavering commitment of her father’s love, Estella struggles to accept her mother as she is now. While recalling her mother’s former vitality, a world view emanates, and we see the same couple in their first year of marriage, filled with light and hope for the future. She moves through time and space to learn the flickering power of memory, and to  remember what is important when the mother she loves cannot.


“Alzheimer’s and dementia affect all family members, but in different ways. The original award-winning essay by David J. Lawless includes actual conversations Lawless experienced with his wife in the last year of her life, and those conversations are recreated in this stage adaptation,” said director Ed Chemaly. “Dramatized by a brilliant cast of performers to capture the heartache of these gut-wrenching diseases, Flawless is ultimately about the importance of memory, and the beauty and enduring nature of love.”

Performances for Flawless are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm, plus a special Thanksgiving Eve performance on Wednesday, November 22 at 8:00pm. There is no performance on Thanksgiving Day.


Ticket Prices are $18 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors.


For tickets, visit:


The runtime is two hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Robin Goldfin (playwright) is a playwright, performer and teacher based in New York. His most recent project was Suddenly, a Knock at the Door, a play based on stories by award-winning Israeli author and filmmaker Etgar Keret with original live score by Oren Neiman. Robin’s own 10-minute play The Acoustics, directed by Ken Talberth, was part of Artistic New Directions’ Eclectic Evening of Shorts. His solo play The Ethics of Rav Hymie Goldfarb, directed by David Carson, premiered in The Midtown International Theatre Festival. (“Splendidly crafted” wrote  Robin’s other writing has been published in Tikkun Magazine, Zeek, and The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide; and in the anthologies Queer Stories for Boys: True Stories from the Gay Men’s Storytelling Workshop and One on One: The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century. As a performer, Robin danced for five years with Laurie DeVito’s She-Bops and Scats, a concert jazz-dance company and taught Simonson Jazz Dance Technique in New York and abroad. Robin has held artist’s residencies at Makor, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and at The Mishkan Omanim (Artists Residence) in Herzylia, Israel. Robin holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dramatic Writing from New York University and is recently retired as Clinical Professor of Writing in New York University’s Liberal Studies Program. He is a member of PEN American Center and The Dramatists Guild.

Ed Chemaly (director) is a director, actor and writer. At New York’s Metropolitan Playhouse he directed The Jewish King Lear (NYIT Award Nomination), The Easiest Way (adaptor and director) and The Spirit House. Other New York credits include Labor Day, A Doctor In Spite of Himself, shows at Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Mint Theatre, Henry Street Settlement, Spectrum Stage Co. and The Producers Club, as well as six original cabaret shows at The Village Gate, Eighty Eights and The Duplex. Regionally he directed the Deertrees Theatre Festival productions of Sleuth, I Ought To Be In Pictures and Almost, Maine; The Northeast Theatre and Electric Theatre Company’s The Odd Couple (female version), Almost, Maine, The Gibson Girl of His Dreams and Operation Opera, as well as Marriage Play at the Triangle Theatre in Philadelphia, Luv and Broadway Bound at Liberty Stage Co., a dinner theatre tour of Move Over, Mrs. Markham and a national tour of The Imaginary Invalid.


Oren Neiman (Composer/Guitarist) Oren’s compositions explore a combination of Jazz sensibility with Middle Eastern rhythms and melody. He was born in Israel and has lived in New York since 2001. Oren has released three albums as a bandleader, most recently the trio album “Serenity Now”(July 2023), and three albums with his band “Isra-Alien” – a high energy acoustic guitar duo. He also composes music for Theatre, most recently for Suddenly a Knock at the Door, which was staged at Theater for the New City in 2016. He performs regularly with his various musical projects in the NY area as well as touring wherever the music takes him. Oren was the Guitar/Mandolin chair in National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene’s award winning production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish directed by Joel Grey.


Laurie DeVito (choreographer) was a founding director of Dance Space/Dance New Amsterdam where she taught for 40 years. Along with her company, Laurie DeVito and Dancers, she has taught, choreographed and performed at schools and theaters across the United States, Canada and abroad. Most notably, she has worked at NYU Tisch School of the Performing Arts, Yale University, York University (Toronto), Montreal Jazz Festival, Spirit Square Center for the Arts(NC), Gustavus Adolphus College(MN), Tel Aviv Dance Center (Israel), I.A.C. Studio (Tokyo), International Dance (Spain), and Balettakademien (Sweden). She has self-produced 8 seasons in NYC. Throughout her tenure at Dance Space she co-created Dream Catchers Children Program and produced Susan Osborn’s Seeds of Singing workshops. Laurie brings Simonson technique which is specifically designed for dancers of all disciplines and injury prevention to Gina Gibney Center and Mark Morris Dance Center. For more information please visit:

Flawless is presented by Theater for the New City. Set Designer: Lytza Colon,  Lighting Designer: Heather Crocker,  Costume Designer: Anthony Paul-Cavaretta, Production Stage Manager: Mary Caitlyn Deffely; Poster Design: Janice Davis, Publicity: Paul Siebold OFF OFF PR.


Meet the Cast

David L. Carson (He) started his professional Actors Equity career in 1975. Since then, he as appeared with numerous New York companies including Metropolitan Playhouse (20+ productions over 14 years), MTWorks, and American Bard (Innovative Theatre nomination for Best Actor for Gloucester in King Lear). He has appeared regionally with Virginia Premier Theatre, IUP Theatre, and toured the country with Prince Street Players. He was directed by Tonya Pinkins in Glory Kadigan’s Till We Meet Again. David has worked with playwright Robin Goldfin on many projects since 2004. With Composer Oren Neiman, the three friends spent over 5 years turning 8 short stories by Israeli writer Etgar Keret into the play Suddenly a Knock at the Door, which premiered at Theatre For The New City. David and director Ed Chemaly have worked on projects together for over 30 years. Creating Flawless over the last four years has been a “Labor of Love by a Family of Friends.”


Page Clements (She) has appeared in over 60 productions in NYC and beyond. Her many credits include productions with The Roundabout Theatre Co., The Metropolitan Playhouse, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, The New York Shakespeare Exchange, The Hudson Warehouse, The Electric Theatre Company, and The T Schreiber Theatre. She is an award-winning actress and coach and currently an instructor of voice, dialects, and Shakespeare at the famed T Schreiber Studio. She recently appeared in the film “Art Thief” by Arthur Egeli, premiering last June in the Provincetown International Film Festival. Page also has many directing credits, and you may see her work in a new play by Alice Jankell in January. She is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.


Hannah Dillenbeck (Dancer Em/Police Officer/Tina) is a dancer and Pilates instructor based in NYC. She is from Rochester, NY and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma with a BFA in Modern Dance Performance and a BS in Biology/Neurobiology. Hannah dances professionally with Ballaro Dance (since 2020) and Alison Cook Beatty Dance (since 2023) and has performed as a freelance artist throughout the city with LimónLaunch (José Limón Foundation), MUMOS, Forza Dance Company, and visual artist, Reza Farkondeh. She has performed abroad at International Dance Conferences in Beijing, China and in Barcelona, Spain.


Ricardo Gomez (Alfredo/Police Officer) is a native of Colombia, S.A., and moved to the United States in 1989 on a scholarship to the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida for a BA. In 1993, while he was getting his MA from Hunter College he received a scholarship to the professional training program at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in NYC. He danced with Martha Graham Dance from 1993-1996. Mr. Gomez has also worked with Pearl Lang, Marijeanne Liederbach, II Piccolo Theater Dell’Opera, Mary Street Dance Theater, Deuxalamori Ballet Company, Michael Mao and Danscores. In 1996 Mr. Gomez founded the Gomez Dance Theater where he is the artistic director and choreographer. His choreography has been performed in New York at the Riverside Theater, New Generation for Dance in Purchase, New Choreographers on Pointe, the Joyce SoHo and the 92nd Street Y. Additionally, his choreography has been presented throughout South America and Europe. Mr. Gomez was commissioned by the Grupo de Danca de Almada in Portugal to create a work for their European tour, also he was invited to the “Millennium Celebration” for the Annabella Gonzalez Dance Theater as a guest choreographer. Mr. Gomez was commissioned to create a work for the Veteran’s Day dance festival at the 92nd Street Y. He has taught extensively in Colombia, Portugal and the United States. While teaching on the faculty at Escola Superior de Danca in Lisbon, Mr. Gomez introduced and instructed the faculty in a new curriculum which was integrated permanently into the university’s offerings. At present he is working on a new work inspired by the paintings of the Portuguese painter Paula Rego that is going to be performed in the festival “Danza de la Ciudad” in Bogota Colombia in 2024.


Deanna Henson (Estella) has appeared in several film, television, and theatre productions in New York City. Past credits include Relentlessly Pleasant (TIC Theatre), The Jewish King Lear (Metropolitan Playhouse), And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little (Longview Theatre), The Man Who Came to Dinner (PlayMaker’s Rep), The Impressionists (world premiere by Michael McKeever), Outfoxed (FullStop Collective), and Sensitive People (directed by Dan Lauria), to name just a few. Among her many TV credits some favorites are “Billions,” “Dexter,” “C.S.I. Miami.” Her film credits include “Suicide by Sunlight” (directed by Nikyatu Juso for Tribeca Films) and “Straight,” for which she won two best actress awards, Rahway International Film Festival and Hang Onto Your Shorts. And a nomination from Golden Door Film Festival. She holds an M.F.A. from UNC Chapel Hill, and has studied in the city with Terry Schreiber, Michael Howard and David Vadim.


John Lampe (Daniel) is a New York based actor, musician, writer and director. Onstage he has performed with the New York Shakespeare Company, New Circle Theatre Company, Frog and Peach Theatre and at many historic New York venues such as Nuyorican Cafe, The Players Theatre and the Stonewall Inn. Most recently he brought his two-man musical comedy The Tuneabomber to the Edinburgh Fringe. He is currently the Artistic Director of AND Theatre Company, where he helps to bring new works to the stage. AEA. BFA: Stephens College. Keep in touch at


Hana Lauer (Em) is making her theatre debut in New York City having come from an extensive background of theatre training. She recently starred as Melinda in “Forgive Me Father” (Feature Film), “Manon in Mode” (Short), and is currently studying at William Esper Studio under Barbara Marchant.  She has also studied at the Barrow Group and is an alumnus of Denver School of the Arts.


Patricia Santos (Cellist) is a songwriter and singing cellist who draws on her classical training to meld the cello with non- classical styles. Her music inhabits blues, rock, folk pop, and avant cabaret. Lucid Culture calls her a “dark, diverse cello rocker”, and Vance Gilbert describes her “as if Nina Simone and Yo-Yo Ma had a kid.” She is a teaching artist for Musicambia, bringing music instruction to incarcerated communities. She serves on the Board of Directors of the New Directions Cello Festival, is a voting member of the Recording Academy, and is the proud daughter of immigrants. Learn more at


Flawless production photos, from Top (Photographer: Paul Siebold)

Hannah Dillenbeck, Ricardo Gomez 

Hana Lauer, Hannah Dillenbeck, Deanna Henson, Ricardo Gomez

Page Clements, Deanna Henson, Hannah Dillenbeck

David L Carson, Page Clements, Hana Lauer, John Lampe

Robin Goldfin photo, courtesy of the author


(From Radio Free Europe, 11/10; Photo of Sasha Filipenka, from Radio Free Europe.)

Self-exiled Belarusian writer Sasha Filipenka told RFE/RL on November 10 that a Minsk court sentenced his father to 13 days in jail for reposting an article by the Zerkalo (Mirror) website that the government has labeled as extremist. Filipenka wrote on Facebook earlier that police detained his father on November 9 and that it is “obvious that they are putting pressure on me and want me to stop talking to the European media.” The 39-year-old writer is the author of several books for which he has received literary prizes. He fled Belarus after he took part in anti-government protests in 2020. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here. 




Phyllis Wheeler’s novel The Long Shadow (Elk Lake Publishing), represented by Marit Literary Agency, has won a Purple Dragonfly Award!

These awards are judged by Story Monsters Ink Magazine, focused on children’s literature. Wheeler’s award is in the historical category. This is significant in the indie publishing world.


The Long Shadow is a time-travel adventure for upper middle grade, 13 and up. Click and see the new cover, too! Find out more.


by Phyllis Wheeler

View on Amazon

Winner of a Purple Dragonfly Award

Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Five stars! A young teen finds himself propelled through time . . . –Susan K. Marlow, author of Andi Carter books

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.



Great reads for Christmas and the holidays 2021, represented by Marit Literary Agency:


by John B. Roberts II

View on Amazon

Reagan’s Cowboys is something of a memoir of Robert’s career with the 40th president, and as such, it’s a time machine back to the days of typewriters, hard-line telephones, and Marlboro cigarettes…be grateful to Roberts for giving us history as it actually happened, uncensored and un-politically corrected. …Roberts gives us glimpses of a huge cast of characters in Reaganworld”―Breitbart

When rumors about Geraldine Ferraro–the first woman vice-presidential nominee by a major party in U.S history–reached First Lady Nancy Reagan during the 1984 presidential election, a secret operation was launched to investigate her. It revealed Ferraro’s ties to organized crime and the extent to which she would have been subject to pressure or blackmail by the Mafia if elected. Written by an insider responsible for running the investigation, this never-before-told story goes behind the scenes as an incumbent president’s campaign works to expose a political opponent’s mob connections. Part detective story, part political thriller, the narrative features all the major players in the Reagan White House and 1984 reelection committee, with revealing anecdotes about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.


by Joe Kinnison


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Tips to become a bass fishing pro!

While many people catch fish, even the occasional lunker, few actually acquire bass fishing proficiency. The popular view is that anglers who achieve such prominence do so through a collection of vices. These afflictions range from luck, to fraudulence, to worst of all, patience. Few, however, talk about the true qualities that lead to angling success. That’s what Joe Kinnison, himself a sportsman, gathered in Next-Level Bass Fishing: the tips, options, strategies, and winning methods, to allow those who fish recreationally to employ the knowledge base of a pro.

Five professional anglers work with Joe to identify distinctive characteristics that elevate the best in the field. Bassmaster Elite pro Tyler Carriere illustrates a structured approach to fishing. Six-time Ladies Bass Anglers Association (LBAA) Angler of the Year, Pam Martin- Wells explains versatility as she takes readers on a tour of her favorite waterways. Brandon, Palaniuk, two-time 2020 tournament champion and one of the leading money winners on tour, discusses details such as hormones and sensory ranges of his quarry. Christiana Bradley teaches focus, and Destin Demarion provides an example of productive originality. When qualities are translated into lure selections and lake terrain targets, the results are far superior to those of the average angler reminiscing about how one got away.

Kinnison explores the key relationships, the innovative techniques, and the special places that have elevated the world’s best anglers to the top of their craft. Next-Level Bass Fishing is the next-best thing to touring with the pros.


by Robert Dwyer & Austin Wright

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Sheriff John Donovan is fighting to maintain his grip on Three Chop, Texas, the town he built and has ruled with an iron fist for twenty years. But as the twentieth century looms, Donovan faces a host of new challenges: powerful business interests, religious schism, and the budding women’s rights and Prohibition movements. As he navigates these changing times, making friends of enemies and enemies of friends, a twist of fate brings to Three Chop a gang of fearsome outlaws looking to wrest new riches and settle old scores. How else could such a struggle end but with bloodshed? A final showdown forces the residents of Three Chops to take sides, to choose between the town’s past and future.

Called “one of those rare modern Western fiction classics” by New York Times best-selling author Jeff GuinnThe Sheriff pays loving homage to the Western genre while brilliantly puncturing the myths of the Old West.


by Wayne Allensworth

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A modern Western…

In a small Texas town, the fallout from a globalized world tests the boundaries of loyalty and identity and the deepest attachments of the human heart. Parmer, Texas is a casualty of a clash of cultures and peoples, as the Mexican drug war opens a front in a town that has sent its men to far-flung battlefields. The town’s veterans, “the soldiers”, face a fight for the very existence of the place they call home, while the fate of one man may determine the future of Parmer and the fates of the soldiers themselves.

Field of Blood confronts the human tragedy playing out on America’s southern border.

“Wayne Allensworth provides a powerful and moving meditation on American modernity – part gritty action yarn, part compassionating polemic, part evisceration of spiritual emptiness. Across his grand, boldly-coloured, tragic landscapes, confused prisoners of circumstances kill or are killed, while republics and civilisations bleed in and out of each other, and everyone and everywhere are compromised” Derek Turner, author of Sea Changes

“This is a true, and terribly beautiful, novel by an artist of considerable ability. Wayne Allensworth has written a fine novel worthy of comparison with some of the best American works of fiction in recent times.. . .” Chronicles Magazine

Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernisation and Post-Communist Russia. He lives in Keller, Texas.


by Nancy Nelson

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Charming, witty, effortlessly debonair, and elegant, Cary Grant was the ultimate leading man, a silver screen icon who seemed to embody all that a movie star should be. But beneath the glamour was a real and complicated man–a surprisingly vulnerable, unabashedly romantic, and often exacting perfectionist, who rose above a traumatic childhood and failed marriages to become an incomparable Hollywood legend. In this sublimely truthful and candid portrait biographer Nancy Nelson draws on interviews with Grant, as well as material from his personal papers, along with loving revelatory reminiscences from some of his closest friends and loved ones, including Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Quincy Jones, James Stewart, and many more to reveal the vaudevillian, actor, lover, and father. With a treasury of both well-loved and rarely seen photographs–and a foreword by Grant’s wife Barbara and daughter, Jennifer–this is the definitive biography of one of the screen’s greatest stars


by Phyllis Wheeler

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Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award!

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.


JOE KINNISON is on the hook for our latest interview, talking with SV’s Bob Shuman about getting started in bass fishing, enjoying the peace, beauty, and intellectual challenge of the sport, and sharing insights from the world’s top Bassmaster anglers:  Christiana Bradley, Tyler Carriere, Destin Demarion, Pam Martin-Wells, and Brandon Palaniuk. 


Joe Kinnison “sincerely promotes fishing for everyone.” His previous book is Oh’Fish-Al Innsbrook Fishing Guide, on fishing technique tailored to a lake resort community in Eastern Missouri. Joe is an officer in a St. Louis fishing club, and he has several bass tournament wins. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SOEPA). 


What did you hook your first fish with—and what are your first memories of fishing?

When I was in primary school, my parents bought a small farm. The farm was all of the way at the end of a miles long gravel road. A small neighborhood organization took up a collection to maintain the road, along with a well that served water to the community. The well was a short walk up the road from our site, and a roughly two acre, kidney-bean-shaped pond was just downhill from the well on common ground. The pond was difficult to approach. It was surrounded by weeds and generally not well kept. Still, we decided to try fishing in the pond one summer day. After trampling enough weeds to get to the water’s edge, we baited hooks with bobbers and worms and started casting. In what seemed like no time, we were reeling in bass, many of which were good size, at least to a kid. Nearly every cast produced a fish, and I remember getting worn out, more than feeling that we’d caught all we could.

What kind of bait do you use today?

I use artificial baits today, and I change baits depending on the forage of the lake and the season of the year. I have had some of my best fishing days, in terms of volume, fishing a lipless crankbait. A lipless crankbait is a fairly heavy lure which is shaped like a fish. The fishing line ties to about the center of the fish’s back which makes the lure wiggle as it moves. A lipless crankbait can be cast a long distance, and the lure is retrieved at a regular rate. I use the lure to cover flats, which are large, shallow sections of lakes. I have had some of my most prolific fishing days dragging a lipless crankbait up the deep edge of a flat and long distances over the submerged surface of the flat. When the fish bite this moving lure, they tend to bite hard. The long length of fishing line from the long cast gives the hooked fish room run, and surge, and jump.

How has your technique changed over the years—and what crucial insight did you have about it?

When I moved to St. Louis, I started getting together with a small group of anglers. We jokingly called ourselves the Bassin’ Assassins. About once a month, we would travel to a group of ponds on a friend’s farm. We were not a very experienced group, but the ponds were seldom fished. These bass would bite almost anything. I started by throwing an inline spinner, which is really more of a trout lure than a bass lure. The bass bit it anyway. Since the ponds were a forgiving environment for an up-and-coming angler, I started experimenting. What I learned is that I preferred to fish slow, rather than just rip baits along a path and try for a reaction strike. I liked making the bait appear natural and move like a real crayfish or a worm. I later learned that this style of mimicking prey is called finesse fishing. Finesse fishing is the method I most prefer. It is slower, it gives a good feel for the fish, and being able to tempt a fish with what it believes is actual food is rewarding.

Why do you think people give up on fishing—and is there a way to keep them going with the sport?

I have met many people who like catching, but don’t necessarily like fishing. I think most people get excited to have a fish on the line. They get to steer the fish, reel it in, control it, and grab its lip. Although that’s the excitement of the sport, catching does not always happen. Moreover, sometimes when it does happen, the fish do not fight, or they are too small to be challenging. During most fishing trips, there is a period of time when the fish are not biting. Those are the times when most people give up on fishing, finding it boring. Those that stick with the sport seem to be the anglers that start seeking solutions when the fishing is idle. They start changing lures, alternating retrieve cadences, or switching colors. They start to notice changes in water color or wind direction or sun angle. Those that begin to understand the natural elements that impact the catching. These are the ones that keep going with the sport. I think the best way to learn the types of things that matter to fishing success is to spend time on the water with someone who loves fishing, not catching.

You interviewed five professional anglers, affiliated with Bassmaster for this book—were there any commonalities to their experience and stories?  Are most people who fish helpful to the newcomer?

Fishing is a welcoming community, especially to kids. In my experience, anglers are like golfers, in that they are happy to recount the elements that led up to their par, what club, what distance, what line, and so on.  For anglers, it may be what reels and cranks, what location, or what technique. While some anglers protect their secrets, most are quite open in sharing their experiences. As for the professionals, the most common element of their stories is that they each had a mentor. Be it a grandfather, brother, or family friend, each angler had a generous fishing enthusiast take them under their arm and give them experiences on the water. Although fishing is the second most popular outdoor sport, fishing can seem to be a small and not mainstream community. Really, it’s not. You just need to find a friend.

What does a fisherperson do during the off-season?

The off-season for professional fishing may not be what you think, the off-season is actually in the fall. Professional tours start as early as February, and the season ends in July. While that is the professional ranks, I make the point in my book that I am far from a professional caliber angler. For me, the off season is what you might expect, winter. I live in the Midwest, and I am not a big fan of cold. Some of my peers travel to Arkansas each year to fish for trout in the Ozark mountain streams. Personally, I like the heartiness and the fight of bass, so I stick with that type of fishing. I give my boat a good cleaning about Thanksgiving time, and I park it until the Easter season. I spend the winter reading and writing.

Please discuss the issue of releasing fish after they are caught. Why would or wouldn’t you do this—is it ever required?

Choosing to either keep or release a bass is a thorny issue, and there are passionate opinions on both sides. Large and smallmouth bass are not good eating fish. They are edible, but they would not be a first choice among diners. As such, keeping these fish for food is not the norm. For most of my fishing tenure, catch-and-release has been the preferred method. Recently, however, lake management views have been changing. Bass tend to be the apex predators in most lakes. With few adversaries, the fish tend to overpopulate. When a bass population gets too large, sufficient food is not present to support all of those fish. The fish tend to grow to approximately the same size and compete for what nourishment is available. These fish tend to thin. The industry calls such fish stunted. The bulk of the fish population of a lake can be unhealthy, starving. Some of the new thinking is that small bass should be removed from lakes and rivers to try to prevent the stunting problem. With small bass being particularly hard to prepare as food, the question becomes what to do with them. Dead fish are better used for garden fertilizer or even left on the bank to feed birds and raccoons. Some animal rights people believe that culling small fish is inhumane. Other animal rights people believe that starving a population of fish is inhumane. There are good arguments on both sides. I am a believer that catch-and-keep is the best policy.

What is fish body language and how does knowing about it help when fishing?

Even experienced anglers generally do not know that largemouth bass can change color. The fish have the ability to express the green and black pigments in their skin, or they can mask those pigments. It would not be unusual to catch really green-looking bass on one trip, and then catch really white-looking bass on another trip on the same lake. Coloration depends on how deep the bass are swimming and how much vegetation is in the water. Bass express their pigments when they are in the weeds. The green shades make them harder to find. The suppress their pigments when they are in deep or open water. More whiteness makes them harder to see by other fish looking from the bottom toward the surface. The pigment provides information to the angler. If you reel in a white-ish bass, it does not mean the animal is unhealthy. Instead, it means the animal came from a deep, suspended position to bite the lure. In that way, the coloration of the bass tells you at what depth the fish are feeding. This is valuable information for the angler.

How would this book have been written if you worked on it ten years ago—what has changed in the field?

I do not think this book could have been written a decade ago. Like many pursuits, fishing has undergone tremendous technological change in the last ten years. In that period of time, the industry has developed high resolution sonar equipment, invisible fishing lines, and previously unheard of lure presentations like umbrella rigs. Due to the improvements in the technology, most anglers have been focused on trying new gear. The new gear has been effective in improving catch rates, especially for offshore fish. As the technology has been assimilated, in my experience, questions remained unanswered. For example, if we both have all of the greatest gear, what makes an angler on the Bassmaster Elite tour different from me? In looking for that explanation, it became clear to me that soft skills separate anglers who already possess the latest technology. It really comes back to the human elements to determine success. Mentorship is a factor. It is also sensory skills, creativity, and organization that make the true difference.

What do you discuss in the book that isn’t typically covered in fishing books?

This may sound mundane, but one of the things that I discuss is how to get on the water. Some of the nation’s best fishing lakes are overwhelmingly large. It can be a difficult problem just to get started, and no one tells you that perspective. I point readers to where to launch their boat, where to get a guide, where to stay overnight, and where to grab dinner. Such practical things are often omitted in fishing books. Beyond the practical, few other fishing books will inform readers about things like sensory training and improvisation techniques.

How long does it take, on average, for someone to feel confident in fishing?

Getting confident in fishing can take a while. I cannot really identify a precise timetable, but I would say about five years will not be far off. As with any sport, some people have a natural gift for fishing. They may be particularly aware of nature or unusually observant. These folks usually start fast. For the fast starters as for the rest of us, eventually the angler will have an outing where they catch nothing. A reliable bait does not work or no fish reside in a confident “honey hole.” At these times, whatever confidence the beginning angler has fails. What restores confidence is going back out on the water and trying different lures, different techniques, and different locations until one finds and catches the fish. Having to adapt to different conditions and different quirks is what ultimately makes a successful angler. One would have to have experienced several shut-out situations before becoming assured that success could be achieved under most  fishing conditions.  Personally, going onto a lake knowing that I can effectively fish crankbaits, or spinnerbaits, or soft plastics, or swimbaits is what ultimately gave me confidence. That and being able to consistently out-fish my brother-in-law.

Do you honestly believe that both sensory training and improv training really make a difference to an angler?

Both of these disciplines sound “new agey,” and “fluffy,” as in not tangible. I refer people to a scientific study of a baseball team that employed sensory techniques. The results were measurable. In the book, I tried to translate some of the sensory training ideas to outdoors pursuits. I have tried these sensory exercises, and I believe that they have helped my fishing. My most memorable response to suggestions for sensory training was an angry one. A very experienced angler chastised me for trying to teach people what for him was just being “in the zone.” I guess he had some natural abilities, and he was upset that I was teaching people how to make the best of their lesser gifts. Improv is also a tentative conversation for most anglers. People seem to think that I’m trying to get them to try out for Second City Comedy or something of that ilk. No, I’m trying to provide permission and instill a process for experimentation. Sometimes just knowing it’s okay to cast a jig with a purple streamer or a crankbait with a worm weight ahead of it on the line is acceptable as long as it is purposeful.

You really make the sport sound approachable and fun.  How were you able to do that?

Two teachers in particular had an influence on my life. A high school English teacher was a fiend for economy of language. Second, a college professor once lowered a grade on a paper saying that I turned in ten pages because I did not have time to write eight pages. He wanted editing and economy. I brought those sentiments into my professional life, and I became a big advocate for clarity and simplicity. I believe that writing in that fashion makes most topics approachable.

Fishing can get really complex, and the industry is heavy on jargon. I have heard professional anglers take more than a full minute just to tell you the details of their rod, reel, line, and lure combination. I do not think it needs to be that complicated. One of the things that I really liked about the anglers that I worked with is that they too kept it simple. For example, one only used two lure colors, among the hundreds of choices. If the pros can reduce the options to two, so can weekend anglers.

Finally, fishing is fun. Something about the man versus beast situation is primal. Fishing is a rite of passage. Getting proficient at fishing is really just calling upon skills you use in other areas of your life and channeling them productively into this particular pursuit. Most people have the life skills that enable at least some measure of success at fishing. I am hoping to draw these out of people so that they enjoy the peace, beauty, majesty, and intellectual challenge of the sport as I do.

Thanks so much, Joe, for talking with Stage Voices.

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Photo permissions (from top): Skyhorse; Joe Kinnison; Tyler Carriere 

(c) 2021 by Joe Kinnison (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.


(Chekhov’s story appeared in Russia Beyond, 2/23/2021.)

Anton Chekhov. WOLF BAITING 

Translated by Dan Biktashev

It is said that we live in the nineteenth century. Do not be fooled, reader.

On Wednesday, the 6th  of January, in the European city of Moscow, a capital city at that, in the galleries overlooking the summer horse-racing track, sat a tightly packed crowd, jostling for position and trampling each other’s toes as they lapped up the spectacle. The spectacle itself, and even its description, is an anachronism… Are we even fit to describe it? We, who have exchanged brute force for ideas; we, the emotional, teary lot of suit-wearers and theatre-goers, and liberals et tutti quanti[1] – are we fit to describe this spectacle known as wolf baiting? I ask you, are we?

It would appear that we are. We must describe it, for we cannot help it.

Let me begin by saying that I am not a hunter. In all my life I have not killed an animal. I confess I have killed a number of fleas, but even then no hounds were involved; it was always a fair, one-on-one fight. The only firearms I am acquainted with are the tin cap guns I would buy my children as gifts for New Year. A hunter I am not, and I must beg forgiveness if I distort anything in my retelling, as non-experts are wont to. In what follows I will try to avoid touching upon matters that could allow me to flaunt my ignorance of hunting terms. Instead, I will tell you about this spectacle as the public would, i.e. in a superficial manner born of nothing deeper than a first impression…

It is the first hour. Behind the gallery are stagecoaches, luxurious sleds, and coachmen. Commotion and bustle abound… The sheer number of carriages is such that not crowding is impossible. Congregating in the galleries are men decked out in lambswool and the fur of raccoons, beavers and foxes; each professing expertise with horses, dogs, hawks, hounds, or other miscellaneous beasts. These men are freezing, but also burning with impatience. 

Ladies also congregate there, of course. You cannot have a spectacle without the ladies. Unusual for baiting many of the ladies gathered today are quite fair-looking. There are at least as many of them as men, and they, too, are burning with impatience. 

In the upper galleries one can glimpse an occasional gymnasium cap – students have come to watch the spectacle, and they are burning with impatience. Among the other spectators (burning with impatience) are the connoisseurs, fanciers, and self-styled critics who have come to the Khodynka Field all the way on foot and, for lack of a rouble to pay the entrance fee, have lined up along the fences, knee-deep in snow. 

In the arena are a number of carts laden with wooden crates. Inside the crates, the heroes of the day are enjoying the rest of their lives: the wolves. In all likelihood they are not burning with impatience…

As the crowd waits for the baiting to commence, it admires the Russian beauties riding about the arena on lovely horses… The most devoted and vicious of hunters are arguing about the hounds participating in today’s baiting. To a man, everyone is holding a poster of the event; the ladies also have a set of opera glasses.

“There is no pastime more pleasant than hunting,” an old man with a peaked cap and a wispy fluff of a beard confides to his neighbour; to all appearances he is a nobleman who fell on hard times a long time ago. “None more pleasant indeed… We would always set out on a hunt at first light… Sometimes with ladies, too…”

“There is no sense in going hunting with ladies,” his neighbour interrupts.

“Why not?”

“It’s not proper to curse in the presence of ladies. And what’s a hunt if you can’t curse?”

“Not much, I’ll give you that. But the ladies who went hunting with us were not above cursing at all… Mariya Karlovna, who was Baron Glanzer’s daughter, I don’t mind telling you, now could curse with the best of them! ‘You brazen-faced wretch,’ she would begin, and then proceed… with all manner of gosh and golly, dash and damn even… She was ever the bane of all low-ranking gentry’s lives… quick to anger, and to make use of her whip…”

“Mother, are the wolves in the crates?” a boy from the local gymnasium, who is wearing an extremely oversized cap, asks a woman with large ruddy cheeks.

“They are.”

“Can’t they jump out?”

“Oh, you! Stop that! Enough of your silly questions… Wipe your nose! Next time, try asking something clever. Why must you always ask about silly things!”

There is some motion in the arena. Six or so men, or shall we say, disciples of the hunting order, are carrying one of the crates. Now they put it down in the middle of the arena. The audience becomes excited.

“Good sir, whose pack goes first?”

“Mozharov’s. Hmmm… no, not Mozharov’s. Sheremetyev’s, I should think!”

“No, no, not Sheremetyev’s at all! Look at the hounds, they are Mozharov’s. And the black dog? It’s Mozharov’s! Or maybe not? Hmmm Yes, yes, yes, gentlemen, that yonder pack is Sheremetyev’s! Yes, Sheremetyev’s. Mozharov’s pack is over there.”

The men are pounding on the crate with a mallet. The crowd’s impatience is ad maximum… Now the men back off. One tugs on a rope, the walls of the wooden prison are pulled down, and a grey wolf – the most revered of all Russian animals – is revealed to the crowd. The wolf looks around, gets up and starts running… Sheremetyev’s pack race after it, followed by a Mozharov dog in breach of the correct order, in turn followed by the pack’s huntsman with a dagger in his hand…

The wolf does not get two full sazhens[2] before it is dead… The dogs have performed well, and so has the huntsman… “Bravooo!” cries the crowd, “braaavo! Bravo! Why’d Mozharov sic his dog out of order? Mozharov, boo! Braa… vvvoo!” Then another wolf goes through the same ordeal.


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(Hilton Als’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 2/8. PHOTO: Photograph from AKG / TT News Agency. )

The Danish memoirist built a literature of disaster, brick by brick.

Don’t think yourself odd if, after reading the Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s romantic, spiritually macabre, and ultimately devastating collection of memoirs, “The Copenhagen Trilogy” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), you spend hours, if not days, in a reverie of alienation. It’s because the author, who died by her own hand in 1976, when she was fifty-eight, makes profound and exciting art out of estrangement. Like a number of dispassionate, poetic modernists—the writers Jean Rhys and Octavia Butler, say, or the visual artists Alice Neel and Diane Arbus—Ditlevsen was marked, wounded, by her own sharp intelligence. Her world—the world she describes in “Childhood,” “Youth,” and “Dependency,” the three short books that make up the trilogy—was cash poor, emotionally mean, and misogynist. The sun must have shone sometimes in Denmark before and during the Second World War, but the atmosphere in “The Copenhagen Trilogy” is damp, dark, and flowerless. It’s not so surprising, then, that one of the first works Ditlevsen published, as a teen-ager, was a poem titled “To My Dead Child”:

I never heard your little voice.
Your pale lips never smiled at me.
And the kick of your tiny feet
Is something I will never see. . . .
See how I kiss your icy hand,
happy to be with you yet awhile,
silently I kiss you, weeping not,—
though the tears are burning in my throat.

In this attempt to imagine a mother’s repressed grief at the stillbirth of a child, Ditlevsen, who went on to publish more than twenty volumes of verse, fiction, children’s literature, and memoir, was beginning to explore the territory she masters in the trilogy’s terse, cinematic chapters: the drama and the particularity of disappointment.

You can’t be disappointed without first having hoped. As a little girl, Ditlevsen yearned for a complete union with her mother. “Childhood” (which was published in Danish in 1967 and is translated here by Tiina Nunnally) opens with the five-year-old Tove living with her parents, Alfrida and Ditlev, and her older brother, Edvin, in a small apartment in Vesterbro, the red-light district of Copenhagen. Times are hard. But they’ve always been hard. Tove’s parents met while both were employed at a bakery before the First World War. Ditlev, who was ten years Alfrida’s senior, had been sent to work as a shepherd when he was six. Social advancement was connected to economic advancement, and you couldn’t achieve either without an education. But higher education—or high school—was not an option if you were penniless, like Ditlev. A bookish socialist who wanted to be a writer—a dream that “never really left him,” according to his daughter—he was eventually hired as an apprentice reporter at a newspaper, but, “for unknown reasons,” he gave up the job. In any case, Ditlev’s love of words can’t compete with Alfrida’s constant arias of disillusionment. Alfrida is unhappy with the life she has made with her husband, but what can she do? She’s a woman. And poor. Her life is limited. Still, she makes an opera out of her dissatisfaction, and Tove is her rapt audience. Being an audience is one way to be loved. Being silent is another. Ditlevsen writes:

In the morning there was hope. It sat like a fleeting gleam of light in my mother’s smooth black hair that I never dared touch; it lay on my tongue with the sugar and the lukewarm oatmeal I was slowly eating while I looked at my mother’s slender, folded hands that lay motionless on the newspaper. . . . Behind her on the flowered wallpaper, the tatters pasted together by my father with brown tape, hung a picture of a woman staring out the window. On the floor behind her was a cradle with a little child. Below the picture it said, “Woman awaiting her husband home from the sea.” Sometimes my mother would suddenly catch sight of me and follow my glance up to the picture I found so tender and sad. But my mother burst out laughing and it sounded like dozens of paper bags filled with air exploding all at once. . . . [I]f I hadn’t looked at the picture, she wouldn’t have noticed me. Then she would have stayed sitting there with calmly folded hands and harsh, beautiful eyes fixed on the no-man’s-land between us. And my heart could have still whispered “Mother” for a long time and known that in a mysterious way she heard it. . . . Then something like love would have filled the whole world.

No mother is ordinary to her child. She is always as beautiful, confusing, and monumental as the world. It’s only when the child grows up that the parent becomes ordinary—which is to say, human. Part of the work of becoming an adult is figuring out how to reconcile your vision of your parents with who they actually are. Ditlevsen’s early obsession with writing may not have given her insight into that process, but she did learn how to use language to describe the rejecting force of Alfrida’s various gripes and dismissals. By the age of seven or so, Ditlevsen knew that writing was her vocation, and that, as such, it would separate her, “unwillingly, from those I should be closest to”; the gravitational pull of creativity would tear her away from her family, as it does to so many writers, even as she tore her family apart, the better to see it and tell its story.

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