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TALES OF THE CITY

for The Brooklyn Paper
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In 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers brought pride and joy to their hometown when they defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. Two years later, the infamous Walter O’Malley took our beloved Dodgers to Los Angeles.

In Brooklyn, Dodgers fans’ cherished Ebbets Field was torn down to make way for a housing project. In Los Angeles, plans to build a housing project in Chavez Ravine were scrapped, and the largely Mexican-American residents of the neighborhood were evicted to make way for the new Dodgers Stadium.

This modern-day epic is the inspiration behind performer-playwright Heather Woodbury’s "Tale of 2 Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks," to be presented in both the Galapagos Arts Space and the Brooklyn Lyceum this fall.

"I thought the displacement of the two groups of people on both sides of the country was an interesting starting point for loss of community and the disappearance of buildings, sites and our local identity, replaced by brand names and monolithic symbols," said Woodbury, in a phone interview last weekend. "The Brooklyn Dodgers were local. The L.A. Dodgers are more generic."

In "Tale of 2 Cities," Woodbury connects multiple story lines and time periods. Her characters, she says, are amalgamations of literary and historic figures, family members and "someone I heard on the subway."

Of the 10 contemporary characters in "Tale of 2 Cities," one is the ghost of a Mexican-American grandmother named Gabriela, who grew up in Chavez Ravine. Another is Miriam Klinger, who lies in a coma in Brooklyn, but once lived in Hollywood as the wife of a Communist scriptwriter. Miriam’s niece Hannah, who reads her aunt’s diaries, and Gabriela’s DJ grandson, Manny, connect past to present.

Baseball is the leitmotif running through the play.

"The Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball are symbols of a childhood ethos," Woodbury explains. But they are also symbolic, in this case, of loss, like the proverbial home to which we cannot always return. Woodbury even remarks that home plate looks like an upside-down house.

In a larger sense, "baseball itself is about building narrative," says Woodbury. "Nothing happens for a long time. Then something happens."

For Woodbury, the script is a blueprint for the actual performance, and no two performances are exactly alike.

"I have a large canvas. I tell long stories with many, many characters," says Woodbury. "It’s like a novel, but it’s performed live. I create it as I go along. It’s semi-improvisational. My performance is my third draft."

Woodbury creates her various characters solely through voice and body. "It’s almost like an adult’s game of pretend, like I’m my own puppet," she says.

Woodbury was raised in northern California. In 1981, she moved to New York, where she lived in various neighborhoods including Williamsburg and Park Slope. She moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and says much of her work is based on her "feeling of displacement" when she moved to L.A., as well as her love of Brooklyn.

Woodbury, who says she once worked in "a seedy bar in Brooklyn Heights," believes "Brooklyn is an important part of the character of New York City," especially now that "regular people can’t afford to live in Manhattan." And she notes that "many classic New Yorkers actually come from Brooklyn" such as Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand.

"Tale of 2 Cities" began with a Playwright Residency at the Public Theatre, made possible by a 2001 $25,000 Fellowship award from NEA/TCG. Woodbury’s previous "living novel," "What Ever: An American Odyssey in 8 Acts," premiered at PS 122 in 1995 and was performed at venues across America and abroad, including Laurie Anderson’s Meltdown Festival in London and the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Woodbury said that although she was not originally a baseball fan, through her research for the play, she has become "passionate about baseball and the Dodgers." This year she went to a Brooklyn Cyclones game.

"They lost, but that didn’t matter. I got really pulled into the game," said Woodbury.

If you love Brooklyn and you’re passionate about baseball, the Cyclones may well be the light at the end of the tunnel. But if you still feel a pang of regret when you think of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the name O’Malley still makes your blood pressure rise 10 points, then Woodbury’s "Tale of 2 Cities" will really hit home.

’Red Bush’ review

Comedian, writer, actress, singer and star of her own one-woman show, "My Red Bush & Other Stories," Michele Carlo moved to Windsor Terrace because she fell in love with Prospect Park. Hopefully, after Oct. 13, when her current show completes its run at the St. Marks Theater, Carlo will bring it to the borough she calls home. But just in case she doesn’t, get yourself to this Manhattan theater, pronto.

Written and performed by Carlo and directed by Park Sloper Allison Astor, "My Red Bush & Other Stories" is inspired by a schoolyard photo of Carlo and her five ninth-grade friends. The show evolves as a series of character vignettes punctuated by ironic and whimsical slide shows, and recorded rock music. The stories of these six girls are raunchy, outrageous, and sometimes surprisingly heart wrenching. Carlo performs the roles of all five friends.

"Tough-Tit" Terry Tomaselli introduces the members of the Bloodsisters, as they called themselves. Tomaselli is a Bronx bad-girl with serious "anger management issues" that could not be resolved in prison. She did, however, manage to channel her urban rage into a profitable "street yoga" school on the Upper East Side.

Edna "Holland Tunnel" Snook is a sweet-looking girl from the South who certainly has a well earned nickname, even though she confesses: "I never even stepped foot in New Jersey." A failure at "telephone fornication," she ends up answering the switchboard and dreaming of becoming a country sex singer belting out songs like, "My baby done gave me an STD/ My baby made a fool of me."

Velvet "The Stump" Lenahan is an aging actress who has starred in millions of Thumbelina commercials and was almost one of "Charlie’s Angels." A natural redhead who will go to all lengths to prove it, her story is the one that inspired the play’s title.

Janey-the-Waste has either sold, ingested, sniffed or swallowed every drug on the market, legally or illegally. But she has never been to a bar because "that stuff can kill you."

Marie "Grand Canyon" Russo, married to a man old enough to be her father, prides herself that her body is "not so bad for 35 and three kids." Her main problems are dealing with her wayward 13-year-old daughter, her sick husband and the sexual desires of that 35-year-old body.

Carmen "Hollywood" Garcia is a Puerto Rican who has discovered that "white is not so much a color as a state of mind." In Hollywood, she learns how to play both sides of the fence. In the end she becomes a comic sensation as she reinvents Carmen Miranda as a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, complete with banana headdress. The real Miranda was in fact a Portuguese-Brazilian actress who starred in Hollywood films in the 1940s. (Carlo also appears as the wild head dress-wearing "Carmen Mofongo" at Surf Reality in Greenwich Village through Dec. 22.)

Carlo’s ability to transform from character to character by changing her accent, putting on a bathrobe or donning a wig is truly extraordinary. She could be the next Carol Burnett. Carlo is a real talent whose mischievous smile and dancing eyes are enchanting. Her sexy wiggle is fetching. Her slurred, slow-motion imitation of a druggie is poignant.

"My Red Bush & Other Stories" runs well over an hour without an intermission. But the show moves so quickly - no one misses the intermission.

Carlo, who has light skin, red hair and freckles running across the bridge of her nose, grew up part of the only Puerto Rican family in an all-white neighborhood. Her feelings of alienation from both communities led to her first, more serious show, "The Search for My Inner Latina," a Sundance Theatre Lab 2000 finalist.

More recently, Carlo has turned her life experience into comedy, but you don’t have to be Puerto Rican to enjoy or relate to her offbeat humor. You just need to have a lively sense of humor.

"Tale of 2 Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks" will be on stage at Galapagos Arts Space, 70 North Street in Williamsburg, on Oct. 10 at 8 pm. Tickets are $5. For reservations, call (718) 384-4586. The show will also be performed at the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 Fourth Ave., on Nov. 7 at 8 pm. Tickets are $5. For reservations, call (718) 857-4816.

"My Red Bush & Other Stories" runs through Oct. 13, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm. The St. Marks Theatre is located at 94 St. Marks Place, between First Avenue and Avenue A. Tickets are $12. For a reservation, call (212) 330-7681.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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