Archive | Events

Going All The Way (again) at The Red Key Tavern

Red Key Tavern

On Tuesday afternoon, August 18, we held a “socially distanced book signing” outside on the patio of The Red Key Tavern for the 50th anniversary of my novel Going All The Way. Twelve people signed up on my website to come at fifteen minute intervals from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. My friend John Myers (a veteran of Korea) served as “Sergeant at Arms.” What a fine and appropriate way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the novel!

This is part of a history that began during Christmas vacation of 1954, my senior year at Columbia. My Shortridge history teacher and friend, Dorothy Peterson, called me to say that Ted Steeg was home from Korea and he wanted to go to Columbia on the G.I. bill and would like to talk to me. Ted was in the Class of ’48 at Shortridge, two years ahead of me; he had been a star fullback for The Blue Devils and was elected ”Uglyman” – the most popular boy in the senior class. He went on to play for Wabash, and was a “Little [small college] All-American” as a defensive back. I had been a sports columnist and editor of The Shortidge Daily Echo two years after Ted graduated, and I was friendly with the jocks in my own class, so I felt socially qualified to hang out with Steeg. He called me and suggested we meet at The Red Key.

Like several other friends who had been in Korea, especially those who’d spent time in Japan, Ted had changed. The former football star/frat boy had started thinking outside the box. He was asking questions, of himself and of me (as well as of Indianapolis, America, and the world.) We sat at the end of the bar and talked and played the juke box and drank our beers and had a few more. Ted said he was going to start the M.A. in Literature program at Columbia in the spring semester, and he asked if he could stay with me when he got to New York. I explained I was living off campus in a basement apartment on West 77th street with only a single bed, a table and a chair, but he was welcome to stay on the concrete floor. One freezing night in February there was a knock at my door and I opened it to see Ted. He had a knapsack on his back, and he was holding a sleeping bag in one hand and a suitcase in the other. Our legend—our lifelong friendship—began.

50 Years of GATW
Buy Going All The Way at Amazon, Nook, or the App Store.

That meeting was given a fictionalized version in the novel when “Sonny” and “Gunner” meet on the train back to Indianapolis after their time in the service. It was fictionalized for film in the 1997 movie in the same two seats at the end of the bar in the Red Key with Ben Affleck as “Gunner” and Jeremy Davies as “Sonny.” When Gunner wants another beer he says “Hit me again, Russ,” in tribute to the late Russ Settle, the founder and owner of The Red Key Tavern. Russ is not seen in the movie but he actually served that beer—in “real life” in ’54 as well as in the movie in ‘97. The Red Key is now owned and operated by Russ’s son Jim, usually the bartender, aided by Jim’s wife Dolly (who makes the legendary chili and potato salad in their respective seasons) and his daughter Leslie, who is either behind the bar or waitressing or both, with the welcoming spirit that seems to be built into the place.

My super website and social media experts, SuperPixel, arranged for fifteen minute time slots for each signing, and eleven people signed up—two were not able to make it, but two others arrived by accident, so everything worked out. It rained that morning but the sun came out in the afternoon and the day was fair and fine. My friend Susan Neville, who is Indiana’s finest writer, was the first guest to have her copy of Going All The Way signed. I had asked Susan to bring her own new book, The Town of Whispering Dolls, a powerful and entrancing collection of stories that won the Catherine Doctorow Prize for the “Best Book of Innovative Fiction in 2019.” [That’s a national award.] I got so excited about Susan’s book that I read one of my favorite passages to the next guests, after I signed their copy of my novel.

Everyone who came was a winner, but the prize must go to the man who came directly from the hospital where he had just had his pacemaker replaced. He pulled up his t-shirt to show us the new bandage.

For $25, everyone got the novel, the author’s signature, and a beer from The Red Key. All proceeds went to The Red Key Tavern, which we think should be the first step in its being declared a Historic Monument.

Our bargain deal reminded me of an ad for the William H. Block department store touting one of its own bargains. It was written by an advertising copywriter for the store named Phoebe Hurty, who in 1938 hired Kurt Vonnegut to write about Block’s clothes for teenagers in The Shortridge Daily Echo. Vonnegut dedicated his novel Breakfast of Champions to Phoebe Hurty, and he quoted her work that he most admired:

“She wrote this ad for an end-of-the-summer sale on straw hats: ‘For prices like this, you can run them through your horses and put them on your roses.’”

Vonnegut felt he would never be as gracious in prose as Phoebe Hurty. I am not about to try.

Read Kurt Vonnegut’s review of Going All The Way here.

2

A New Theater Rises

The play was “The Brothers Paranormal.” The fact that it opened Friday night at the Fonseca Theatre Company’s sparkling and snappy new Basile Building on West Michigan Street in Haughville almost seemed to be a “paranormal” event in itself! In only a year and a half Bryan Fonseca, founder of The Phoenix Theatre, had created a new theater company committed to diversity and inclusion, completed an initial season of six plays (five staged at the art space Indy Convergence, one at The Linebacker Bar), and was opening a new season in the company’s own building (courtesy of Frank Basile, who was there to inaugurate the occasion, along with a full house of enthusiastic supporters.)

I am proud to be one of many “Collaborators” of the Fonseca Theatre Company, but I’m sorry to confess that I  struck out – fanned, dropped the ball, blew it, when Patricia Castaneda, President of the Board of Directors, asked me shortly before the ribbon-cutting if I knew any poems I could recite as a prelude to the occasion. I realized that the only poems I could recite in full were “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” and “The Second Coming” (“Things fall apart/the center cannot hold. . ..”) by W,B. Yeats. Neither of those seemed appropriate, nor did a couple of others that came to mind – “With Rue My Hearty is Laden,” and “To An Athlete, Dying Young” by A. E. Housman. I need to learn some upbeat poems.

The ribbon-cutting, done jointly by Bryan and Patricia went off without a hitch, a dramatic slice that needed no poetic flourish.

Bryan Fonseca and Patrica Castenada, president of the Fonse

Bryan Fonseca and Patrica Castenada, president of the Fonseca Theatre Board, cutting the ribbon on the new Bastile Building, opening night of the theatre’s new season

Because of the title “The Brothers Paranormal,” I was expecting the play to be a straight comedy – I should have known better. There were comic moments, but the play was much more – a richly real soma online textured drama that illuminated levels of the current American experience of cultural and geographic displacement. Two Thai brothers start a business to investigate complaints of paranormal activity, and are asked to solve the haunting of an African-American couple who were forced to flee their home in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. There are ghosts, real and imagined, originating in New Orleans and Thailand, and along with the ghosts are the real challenges that come from loss of home and homeland.

It’s a special experience in the theater when an actor or actress not only conveys the character she plays but also manages to convey a universality to the role, to have her performance resonate in a universal way. For me that happened with Diane Tsao,  playing the role of the (literally) haunting Thai mother. My own mother was a Midwestern WASP from Missouri, but I felt her attitudes, her techniques, her ability to “hover,” in the expressions and delivery of the Thai mother as played by Ms. Tsao. Mothers may come from different origins, languages and cultures, but they are mothers under the skin.

The play will run through November 10. For information and tickets, visit https://fonsecatheatre.org.

The theater is not the only gift the Fonseca company brings to the west side neighborhood. Next door is their combo cultural center/ classroom/ rehearsal hall/community center. Jordan Flores Schwartz, associate producing director of the company, will continue her popular classes for children, and direct her first play in March.

Fonseca announced that “Our programs will include a community theatre program for residents to act, the gathering of oral histories for production and preservation, and technical training.” On a Saturday in September, the theatre held a rice and beans festival for the neighborhood. They have come to stay.

If I’d had time to think of a poem appropriate for the ribbon cutting on opening night, I’d have picked a Maya Angelou poem that suggests the spirit of the whole Fonseca enterprise:

“Still I rise. . .”

2

“Miss You Like Hell:” Art is Propaganda

The cast and collaborators of Miss You Like Hell, Fonseca Theatre Company

The cast and collaborators of Miss You Like Hell, Fonseca Theatre Company

I thought I would never feel again the kind of creative ferment that made New York in the Fifties so unique and exciting. It was centered in Greenwich Village, where Jose Quintero was directing “The Iceman Cometh” at The Circle in the Square Theatre. (I was sitting on an aisle when Jason Robards came past me to step on to the stage.) Those were the days when I met James Baldwin in The White Horse Tavern, a Columbia classmate introduced me to Jack Kerouac at Johnny Romero’s bar in an obscure Village alley, and I heard the great trombone player J.J. Johnson (from Indianapolis and Attucks) at The Village Vanguard.

Lorraine Hansberry met me for coffee at The Limelight on Sheridan Square to thank me for writing in her defense to a drama critic who said her hit Broadway play “A Raisin in the Sun” was “propaganda.” I quoted my Columbia professor Lionel Trilling, the literary critic, who had told us “All art is propaganda” and I added that Hansberry’s play was “propaganda for humanity and survival.”

That kind of “propaganda” – the propaganda of art for humanity and survival – is being produced here in Indy, now, at the new Fonseca Theatre. Bryan Fonseca, who founded The Phoenix Theatre has opened up a vital new theatre in Haughville, on West Michigan Street. I am proud to be one of the theatre’s “Collaborators” and I’ve seen two of their first slate of plays – “Hooded: Or, Being Black for Dummies” staged at the art space Indy Convergence, and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille” put on at The Linebacker bar for real authenticity. Each of these performances was riveting, memorable.

Their own theatre will open on West Michigan Street in the fall, and in the meantime they are staging a knockout drama called “Miss You Like Hell” that will open in a The Kinney Group warehouse at 2425 W. Michigan Street July 12 and run through July 26. As a “Collaborator” I was invited to the first read-through of the play at the small but productive “Hit City” studio of musician Tim Brickley on 54th Street, just around the corner from The Jazz Kitchen on College. Bryan Fonseca sat at the head of the table like a great Papa Bear tending his pack, the cast members arrayed around him. He made this work  seem like the kind of adventure you always hoped to be included in, explaining how the use of the large space of the warehouse was an opportunity to create a more exciting kind of theatre experience, for the audience as well as the actors.

You could feel the cast members coming together in the spell of the opportunity, the chance to make something special. When the reading began and the actors playing the immigrant mother and the daughter born in the USA began to sing, I felt the kind of stirring of the blood that makes you know this is something special – it reminded me of Odetta at The Village Gate, of Geraldine Page in Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke” at The Circle in the Square, and listening to the aspiring opera singers putting on “Aida” to the music of a single piano at The Amato Opera House, a converted movie theater.  

The other night I felt that spirit here – it’s a sense of communal excitement and commitment, the spirit of doing something meaningful in the arts, not just “art or art’s sake” but for the kind of “propaganda” I felt in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” – “propaganda for humanity and survival.”
 
Tickets for Miss You Like Hell are on sale now. Tickets are $25 for regular admission, $20 for 21 and under, and $15 for Near West residents. Performances are held Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm.

Tickets for Miss You Like Hell and Flex Passes can be purchased by visiting https://fonsecatheatre.org/buy-tickets/ or by contacting our Associate Producing Director Jordan Flores Schwartz by email at jschwartz@fonsecatheatre.org or by phone at 678-939-2974.

3
Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield