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Monday, March 29, 2010

AuburnPub.com - When science takes the high road

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, an amazing true story.

Valerie Harper is LOOPED

Long before anyone ever heard of Lindsay Lohan, there was Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead was a rowdy, bawdy actress who worked on stage, screen and television from the 1920s through her last role in the camp TV show Batman.

Bankhead loved her drink, took pills, partied all night and cursed like a sailor. One of her last films was 1965's Die! Die! My Darling, which was an ironic name for a film starring Tallulah Bankhead since she called everyone she met "Dahling'".

To complete the film, Bankhead to attend a looping session, where she would go to a recording studio and 'loop' dialogue, that is record dialogue for the film that for some reason or another did not sound right on the film soundtrack.

That disastrous recording session was itself being recorded and became the basis for the stage show, Looped, written by Matthew Lombardo and starring Valerie Harper, best known as TV's "Rhoda" from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, now on Broadway.

Harper is the perfect Bankhead from the moment she barrels through the studio door, hours late and a little tipsy. Brian Hutchison plays the hapless film editor who has the misfortune of being the one left behind to shepherd Bankhead through what should be a few minute project, looping one line of dialogue, but thanks to Bankhead, it turns into a day-long process.

Harper captures the bigger-than-life essence of Bankhead, the party girl who is getting too old for this stuff, yet she carries on. Hutchison's performance of Danny, the exasperated editor who seems melancholy, is full of facial tics. I saw Hutchison in last year's Exit the King, where he was the dim palace guard, and he used the same facial tics to excellent advantage for that role. In this role, however, it seemed a bit off-putting. The only other character in the play is a sound engineer played by Michael Mulhern to good comic effect.

The first act is mostly comedic, filled with the great one-liners Tallulah Bankhead was famous for. When asked why she called everyone 'Dahling', she said "because all my life I've been bad at remembering people's names. Once I introduced a friend of mine as 'Martini'. Her name was actually 'Olive'." Another is "Cocaine isn't habit forming; I should know, I've been using it for years!"

While the first act is very funny, the second act is more emotional and better. The audience finds out why Danny is so sad, and Tallulah becomes a more realized, fully dimensional character.

I wouldn't pay full price for Looped, but if you get discount tickets at TKTS, Playbill.com or Theatermania.com, I would recommend the show. Harper is absolutely fantastic, and she brings Tallulah Bankhead to glorious life on stage.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jackie Collins strikes again!

Just as you can't eat one potato chip when you open a bag of Lay's Chips, you can't stop turning the pages when you open a Jackie Collins book.

In her latest novel, Poor Little Bitch Girl, Collins once again writes a page-turner of a novel filled with sex, friendship, a kidnapping, a murder mystery, and characters whose lives are on a collision course. And again, she succeeds in getting the reader's attention and keeping it.

This novel is a perfect beach read, just in time for spring breakers to head south or on a cruise. Denver Jones, a hard-charging LA lawyer meets up again with former high school classmates Annabelle Maestro and Bobby Santangelo Stanislopolous. Annabelle's movie star mother is murdered and Denver is on her movie star father's defense team. No one in LA knows that Annabelle and her boyfriend run a high end escort service in New York.

Bobby is the son of Collins' most popular recurring character, Lucky Santangelo, who makes a welcome cameo appearance in the novel. Another high school friend of Denver's, Carolyn, is a personal assistant to a senator with whom she is having an affair. When Carolyn goes missing, Denver and Bobby team up to help find her.

The plot races at whiplash speed, yet Collins manages to create characters who are interesting. Denver is a favorite, falling for the handsome Bobby and having a torrid affair with an artist she meets in NYC and a Mario Lopez-like TV entertainment show host. (When it rains, it pours for Collins' female protagonists and sex.) Bobby is a chip off the old Lucky block, a hard-working, handsome, rich, good guy- every girl's dream.

One fun aspect of Collins books is figuring out which real life rich and famous people are thinly veiled as characters. I also liked that this book has less graphic violence against women than in earlier Collins novels.

And as always there is lots of sex in the book. Smart men might pick up a copy as a gift for their wives or girlfriends. Just make sure you are there when they finish it a few hours after they start it!

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Leslie Jamison's debut novel, The Gin Closet, opens with Stella, a twenty-something woman working for an inspirational writer who treats her horribly. She is dating a married man who also treats her badly. Stella has been caring for her beloved grandmother, who is in failing health.

After a bad fall, her grandmother calls for Matilda, a name Stella does not know. Stella asks her mother about the name, and her cold, methodical mother matter-of-factly confirms the fact that Stella has an aunt. Tilly has been estranged from her family for over thirty years.

With her life stagnating, Stella decides to go to Nevada to find Tilly and tell her of her mother's passing. Although her mother has told her that Tilly was a wild teenager, heavily into drugs, alcohol and men, Stella was shocked when she found a drunken Tilly living in a filthy trailer filled with trash.

Stella moves in with Tilly and tries to help her get her life on track. She learns about Tilly's son, Abe, born to Tilly when she was working as prostitute, and raised by Abe's father. Abe wants his mother to come live with him in San Francisco, and Stella goes along too.

Abe, Tilly and Stella form a family of their own, albeit one that is tenuous at best. Stella works at a Bed & Breakfast, and Abe gets a Tilly a job at the bank where he works. The reader pulls for these people to make a family life that works, but reality soon intercedes.

Jamison paints a brutally honest portrait of a woman in crisis. Tilly is a tragic, memorable character, and her struggle to maintain her sobriety and fit in with 'decent' society is so real and sad. Anyone who has dealt with alcoholism in their own family will no doubt recognize this battle.

Tilly had built a wall around herself, and Jamison has the perfect line to describe Tilly's life.
Tilly told me once about the experience of giving birth. She said she screamed louder than she'd known was possible. "it was the first time I really heard my own voice," she said. "I wanted it to keep on hurting forever."

The book is also about the damage of keeping secrets. After Tilly reveals one that changed her life forever, the reader has to wonder how different her life would have been if she felt she could have told someone. Would her mother and sister have believed her? Would they have helped her? If she had found her own voice as a child, would she still have been banished from her family?

The Gin Closet is not an easy book to read; it will hurt your heart. But it will also make you more empathetic to people in your lives, people you feel don't live up to your expectations. Jamison made a wise decision to alternate narrators, Tilly and Stella, allowing the reader insight into two fascinating characters.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Caitlin from Free Press Publicity and Simon & Schuster for providing me a copy of the book for review.

Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge

If there is one publisher who has her finger on the pulse of what is hot, it is Amy Einhorn of Amy Einhorn Books imprint from Putnam. One of her first books was Kathryn Stockett'sThe Help , which I read on my Kindle last winter on vacation in the Bahamas. I got a sunburn reading the book on beach because I couldn't put it down!

THE HELP is a legitimate phenomenon, and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY reported that Steven Spielberg has optioned the book for a feature film. Diana Joseph's I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother and Friend to Man and Dog was funny and moving. My review here:

This year's sensation is Sarah Blake's The Postmistress, another home run now on the best seller lists, and a book that bloggers are all talking about. I'm halfway through and it is leaving me breathless.

Beth Fish Reads is sponsoring the Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge. Readers and bloggers will read through all the Amy Einhorn titles (there are fifteen so far), and comment on them.

I got to meet Amy Einhorn and Sarah Blake at a book reading last night at Barnes & Noble 86th St. in NYC, and I felt like I was going backstage at a Springsteen concert; they are rock stars of the literary world. They are lovely, smart and talented ladies.

This is a fabulous challenge and if you would like to join, click on the link here:


Look for more of my reviews of Amy Einhorn titles in the weeks and months ahead. Happy reading!