Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill opens March 13

The lively and impressive Fonseca Theater Company will present as its finale for their stellar season the play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” opening March 13th at the Linebacker Lounge on W Michigan Street. This revival of the great Billie Holiday, who Frank Sinatra said was “the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing. . .”

Late one Saturday afternoon night in July of 1959 I got a call from Billie Holiday’s good friend Maely Dufty, husband of New York Post writer William Dufty, who ghost-wrote Billie’s autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues.” Maely explained that that Billie was in Metropolitan Hospital in New York, sick from heroin withdrawal. To add to her misery, the New York City police had come in to her hospital room and arrested her for drug possession, handcuffing her as she lay dying and maintaining a policeman in her hospital room. Maely was calling friends to ask if they would take around a petition for people to sign requesting the police to let her die in peace, without keeping watch in her hospital room.

Without hesitation, I took the subway up to the Dufty’s 93rd Street apartment and took copies of the petition, sure that it would be a popular cause, hardly controversial. I had forgot, however, that this was the 1950s, and we were still in the era of McCarthyism, when people who had signed what they thought were innocuous petitions for causes like aid  to mission houses in the Bowery, o support for the teachers union, and later were hauled before the McCarty committee accused of being Communist sympathizers. McCarthy and his minions had Americans fearful of signing anything, for fear it might later be held against them.

I happened to know there was a meeting that night of The Young Peoples Socialist League, headed by my writer friend Michael Harrington (he later gained game by writing the book “The Other America” that inspired the LBJ poverty program.) Mike introduced me and recommended people sign this simple request for humane treatment of a dying woman – yet many refused, backing away in fear that somehow, someway, this might years later be interpreted as some kind of “subversive” act! The popular statement of refusal to sign any document was “I’m not a signer.” Less than half the people in this most liberal-minded gathering imaginable were afraid to sign. The response was even more fearful and less supportive in other gatherings I went to in hopes of support – parties, bars, even meetings at churches. McCarthy had taught Americans to fear – not their enemies, but their own government.

I took my petitions with the signatures I’d managed to accumulate, and turned the in to the Duftys. Other friends had also brought in what signatures they were able to find. The Duftys and their lawyers, supported by newspaper articles about this travesty, were able to get a court order for the New York City police to finally leave Holiday’s hospital room a few hours before her death. She died on July 17. Her songs and her recordings are still classics played today – most notably “God Bless The Child,” and “Strange Fruit,” the haunting song that portrays the lynchings of black people in the South.

In 1961 Holiday was voted to the Down Beat Hall of Fame and Columbia reissued almost a hundred of her early records. In 1971 Diana Ross portrayed her in the movie “Lady Sings the Blues” and was nominated for an Oscar.

If you would like to catch Fonseca Theatre’s production of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm and Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm at the Linebacker Lounge. There will be a special matinee at 2pm on Sunday April 7th in honor of Billie Holiday’s birthday.

Visit fonsecatheatre.org for tickets and more information.

 

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Cure the Blahs: “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette”

Feeling the January blahs? Wake yourself up with a stimulating new production of “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” put on by the exciting new Brian Fonseca Theater Company. Founder of The Phoenix Theater, Fonseca is to theater in Indianapolis what Vonnegut is to writing – innovative, thoughtful, un-afraid to rock the boat. Fonseca’s first production was “Hooded – Being Black for Dummies” and it lived up to all the adjectives employed in the previous sentence.

I have read the script of the new show – “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” – it pulses with life, and takes you on a roller coast ride of unexpected dips and highs that will rock you out of your snowbound rut. Klook is a drifter who is tired of drifting, Vinette is on the run but she doesn’t know what’s chasing her. Meeting over carrot juice, they take a chance on love. . .

Take a chance on this life-brimming play, with the extra attraction of music directed and performed by Tim Brickley, an original artist who plays at The Jazz Kitchen and The Chatterbox. The Fonseca Theater Company is staging its first year of provocative productions at Indy Convergence, 2611 W. Michigan.

Performances beginning this Friday, January 25 through Feb. 1; Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Purchase tickets at  https://fonsecatheatre.org/buy-tickets/or by contacting Associate Producing Director Jordan Flores Schwartz by email at jschwartz@fonsecatheatre.org or by phone at 678-939-2974.

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Jay Harvey writes about the last Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam

Jay Harvey wrote a wonderful piece about last week’s Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam. It’s the best summation of the last show and our coming hiatus while Sophie has her baby.
Jay writes in part:
We’re always learning, but some people are lucky enough to encounter mentors early who put a special stamp upon what the learning process yields. Teachers in formal and informal situations alike point out the stepping stones toward individual success. Their teaching often reaches beyond their specialties, extending to wider horizons.
 
The final session this season of “The Uncle Dan & Sophie Jam” at the Jazz Kitchen Wednesday night gave a free rein to such memories for host Sophie Faught, jazz saxophonist and composer; guest Steve Allee, pianist-composer-bandleader, and writer and co-host Dan Wakefield.
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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield