An audience of 150 eager listeners crowded into the lobby of the 32BJ building, as the Working Theater and 32BJ team quickly set up several extra rows of chairs to accommodate the rush of people.
The readers, having arrived early sat in the front row, discreetly to the far left, while the guest of honor, US Poet Laureate Philip Levine, blended into the third row, not announcing himself until the end of the evening.
Jeffrey Eugenides, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, was the first reader with a collection of four humorous poems– Gin, The Two, Facts, and Fire. After finishing Gin, Mr. Eugenides took a personal moment to share with the dimmed room the story of when he was a freshman at Brown University. Mr. Levine had come to do a reading for a creative writing class, after which Mr. Eugenides introduced himself to the poet, and the young Eugenides said he could smell alcohol on Mr. Levine’s breadth for it was the common practice of the Creative Writing Department to get their poets slightly sloshed before events— a tradition Working Theater upheld when we opened the bar preshow to the readers and audience alike.
This small story warmed the listeners to the humanity of the event. Reminding us that poetry can form associations to the past and the present, and remain with us over the span of a lifetime.
Mr. Eugenides read quietly, with the understated elegance of his written work (The Marriage Plot, Middlesex, and The Virgin Suicides).
The second reader who took the stage was actor Gene Gillette who read Lame Ducks, McKesson & Robbins, 1945; Fear and Fame, Growth, Today and Two Thousand Years from Now, and What Work Is. Mr. Gillette embodied the voice of the working man, the raw comedy and tragedy of the heartbreak of which “work” is composed.
Acclaimed playwright and actor, Lisa Ramirez, read Levine’s Among Children, Coming Close, West Wind, and A View of Home, imbuing each poem with the whisper of private thought– reminding that a poem is in itself the memorializing of a secret thoughts, words the poet whispers to himself in the solace of his composition.
Ms. Ramirez’s quietude was immediately followed by the final reader’s thundering rendition of They Feed They Lion.
Tony Award Nominated actor, André De Shields, closed the night with his booming cadence as he recited They Feed They Lion, Every Blessed Day, The Great Truth, and An Abandoned Factory, Detroit.
As an unexpected treat at the end of the show, Mr. Levine, who had up to this point been sitting attentively with his wife, took the stage and smiled, “these actors and writers have been kind enough read work that is not theirs and so I will read a poem which is not mine.” He then spoke of the poets forgotten over time, lost in the gulf between the quality of their work and the often impossible glory of literary fame. Mr. Levine read a poem of a Second World War’s soldier’s wife who thought she was pregnant when her husband left on a fatal tour only to discover later that her symptoms were only nerves.
A party of wine, cheese, crackers, fruits, and Brooklyn Brewery beer followed the event, offering a time during which audience members could approach the performers and Mr. Levine and discuss their thoughts and reactions.
It was a wonderful evening and the Working Theater is thankful to Mr. Levine, the readers, 32BJ, the volunteers, and the audience for making this night of poetry possible! Thank you all!
Working Theater presents a night of the Poetry of Philip Levine with Gene Gillette, André De Shields, and Lisa Ramirez, and Pulitzer-Prize winning Jeffrey Eugenides on May 7th at 7pm.
Philip Levine’s poetry explores and extols the world of working people. Mainly set against the rusting background of once-gleaming Detroit, his poems sing out the wails of the unemployed, the overworked, and the financially beaten.
Mr. Levine has been named this year’s US Poet Laureate. Mr. Levine has also been honored with such awards and accolades as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1995, the National Book Award for Poetry in both 1991 and 1980, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Modern Poetry Association and the American Council for the Arts, the Levinson Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, Frank O’Hara Prize, Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.
What Work Is, News of the World, One for the Rose, Breath, and The Mercy are only a few titles of Mr. Levine’s twenty-one published collections of poetry.
Guest reader Jeffrey Eugenides won Pulitzer-Prize in 2003 for his majestic second novel Middlesex, for which he was also awarded the WELT-Literaturpreis of Germany and the Great Lakes Book Award.
His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, published in 1993 received high-praise and was adapted to film in 1999 by Sophia Coppola. And his most recent book, The Marriage Plot, has met with thunderous acclaim and is honored with the #2 position on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Like Mr. Levine, Mr. Eugenides grew up in Detroit during its painstaking deflation and Middlesex portrays the struggles of a single immigrant family through several decades in the city.
Scheduled for the single evening of May 7th at 7pm, the reading will take place at the SEIU 32BJ building at 25 West 18th Street, on the 5th floor.
Tickets are $15 at www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?EID=&showCode=POE9 or call 212.868.4444.
On Monday night we celebrated the start of the Directors Salon with a party complete with actors, directors, designers, chocolate covered pretzels, and dark bottles of Brooklyn Brewery beer.
As per tradition, seven directors wrote their names on slips of paper and dropped them into a metal bowl to enter to develop one of seven plays, picked at random, which will compose our upcoming week of theater.
The plays all come from one common prompt: “Will Work For _____”. The seven playwrights include Jocelyn Bioh, Bekah Brunstetter, Ed Cardona, Jr., Tim J. Lord, Rehana Lew Mirza, Matthew Paul Olmos, and Crystal Skillman! All these plays look at the struggles of the working class and are all imbued with individual triumphs and disappointments.
Join us for more exciting events for the Directors Salon this week including:
-The Directors Q&A Panel at 7pm on Wednesday, April 18th
-The Arts Activist Panel at 7pm on Thursday, April 19th
-A Night of Director Driven Work at 7pm on Saturday, April 21st
_Will Work For ______ 7 New Plays! at 7pm on Sunday, April 22nd
Join The Working Theater for our Annual Open Mike Night this Thursday, April 5th at 7pm at The Abingdon Theater at 312 West 36th street. Enjoy FREE entertainment and FREE DRINKS! Listen to your fellow working people perform music, monologues, comedy, poetry and much more THIS THURSDAY!
BRING YOUR FRIENDS!
Salon founders Luke Harlan, Dina Vovsi, and Nicole A. Watson, with the support of Working Theater Producing Artistic Director Mark Plesent, will be curating the 3rd Annual week-long Directors Salon to support the work of emerging NYC directors. The Salon gives emerging directors the chance to showcase their work, meet with other directors and theater artists, and to hear from leaders in the fields of directing and arts management.
We’ve raised just over 10% of our goal in the past 2 days to support The 3rd Annual Working Theater Directors Salon – 19 days left to raise $2,500 to support a week of free events for emerging NYC directors! Please consider donating - every dollar helps.