I don’t have Netflix but, lucky for me, my good friend does. So I’ve been able to enjoy the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.” In case you’re not familiar with it, it concerns two couples (Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen, Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston) whose marriages collapse when the men announce they’re involved – with each other. Waterston portrays lawyer Sol Bergstein tied by forty years to his hippie ex-wife Frankie. I have to admit that I’m not pleased seeing Sam Waterston playing the part of a soft, conflicted person. In addition, his hippie ex-wife still has a thing for her former husband. Played by Lily Tomlin, and thanks to her, her character comes alive. As Frankie, she garnered nominations for Prime Time Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2015 and 2016. It’s hard to describe this prolific super-talented gal. She is an actress, comedian, writer, singer and producer. If you’ve never seen her Ernestine, a nosey condescending telephone operator, she was a hoot who generally treated customers with little sympathy. Ernestine often snorted when she let loose a barbed response or heard something salacious. She wore her hair in a 1940s hairstyle with a hairnet. Her opening lines were often a comical “one ringy dingy - two ringy dingy.” Another memorable Tomlin character was a precocious five-and-a-half-year-old girl who waxes philosophical. To make Tomlin seem child-sized Edith Ann sat in an oversized rocking chair with her big doll. She created memorable characters. Tomlin enjoyed a great hit, the greatest of her film career, with 1980s “9 to 5.” – one of the year’s top-grossing films. In “Grace and Frankie” she plays a recently-separated lady from her husband of forty years (Waterston) while Jane Fonda plays Grace Hanson recently separated from her husband (Sheen). It’s entertaining to watch the two ladies become reluctant friends. The two carry their characters to extreme. Jane Fonda does a fine job as Gracie and I always look forward to seeing what she was wearing. She looks spectacular. More about Fonda another time. If you watch the Netflix hit I’d like to know your reaction. I find them both wonderful – the two men less so.
Mention the play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand about a hero who has an extremely large nose and most of us would immediately say “Cyrano de Bergerac.” It has been translated and performed many times. Last month the title role about the doomed love of that dashing but nasally-overendowed love was performed at the Metropolitan Opera. I kept thinking about Pinocchio. In this case the star was tenor Roberto Alagna. A sticky adhesive was brushed on his real nose in order to build the stage one. Wow! When I think about that it seems to me that eating and drinking would be difficult.
And singing, impossible. Actually, Cyrano is a challenging role without a foam prosthetic on the face. The rarely-heard opera came back for a short run. Surprisingly, the leads poured so much heart and intelligence into their performances that it reminded me of a great Woody Allen movie where there are equal parts comedy and tragedy in every scene and every character. Mr. Alagna mused that the fake nose came to feel normal when performing. “When you put it away at the end of the show and look at your real nose, it’s very strange. You feel as if you have no nose.” It reminds me of Gertrude Stein who said “when you get there, there’s no there there.” Interestingly, it is responsible for introducing the word “panache” into the English language. Cyrano, the character, is in fact famed for his panache. The play ends with him saying “my panache” just before his death. In 1946 Jose Ferrer played Cyrano in a Broadway staging. There were many later stage versions including a musical adaptation starring Christopher Plummer in 1973. He won a Tony Award for his performance. In 1997 Frank Langella created and directed and performed the title role in a stripped-down version of the play simply titled “Cyrano.” More about his illustrious half-century career later, but I’ll leave you with two questions: Do you know where he was born? W hat high school he went to in 1935? Read on.
OK! Game’s over – Frank Langella, a stage and film actor, was born in Bayonne and attended Washington Elementary School and Bayonne High School. So what does one do after leading a scandalous life – of course one writes a scandalous memoir. In some sixty-five chapters there’s a cheerful debauchery in “Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them.” Langella is relentlessly affable as he paints Hollywood and Broadway teeming with vulgar neurotic and irresistible company. And, boy, he pulls very few punches. He drops names and it’s like reading an uncensored diary. Narcissistic? The actor himself grants that he was selfish and obstreperous in his youth. “Dropped Names” celebrates sluttiness. In his eyes it’s a noble way of life – enthusiastic but often vicious. In his twenties Langella admits that he found it joyful to “throw some scripts, jeans and a few packs of condoms into a bag and go off to find more adventures” especially to see who he could bed. Our hero was capable of juggling film and television with stage work and receiving enthusiastic revues. It’s interesting to find a man who celebrated his life as a worthy, even noble, way. It seems that he found the right road to being inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. One can only hope that not too many follow his road.
You can e-mail June Sturz at firstname.lastname@example.org.