Chris Lemmon, musician, actor and teacher, loves talking about his dad, actor Jack Lemmon.
His 2005 memoir, A Twist of Lemmon, was a personal portrait of his father — one of Hollywood’s most beloved figures — who died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 76. The two-time Oscar winner for Mister Roberts and Save the Tiger is also known for his roles in The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses, The Great Race, The Odd Couple, Irma La Douce and most joyously, in Some Like It Hot in which he starred opposite Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. (Lemmon based his character of Daphne on his bigger-than-life mother, “GG,” which stands for “Gorgeous Grandma,” Lemmon says).
Lemmon will present his solo show, now simply called Twist of Lemmon, Sept. 14 at the University of New Haven’s Bucknall Theater in the Dodds Building on the main campus (300 Boston Post Road).
“He was a genuinely good man and cared about other people,” Lemmon says. “My dad cared very deeply about his work, the message it portrayed. He would go a great period of time not taking big commercial offers because he didn’t believe in the material and the message of the movie.”
Lemmon also teaches a UNH course this fall titled The Golden Age of Hollywood — Life Beyond the Silver Screen. He admits that many young people don’t have the same response to the movie legends such as Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck “or Jack Lemmon, for that matter.”
“Or, if you can believe it, I’ve had kids not know who Marilyn Monroe was. But they get what they were about.”
And speaking of Marilyn …
“I tell a story in the show about Marilyn, who lived a few houses down from me — Peter Lawford, too — and President John Kennedy would just fly on in and visit on his helicopter and they would have fun and hang out around the pool. Once, as a boy, I snuck in and watched them swimming together. Boy, it was an age of innocence where stuff like that could happen. It was a different era.”
Getting Naked With …
In Small Mouth Sounds, which begins its national tour now playing at Long Wharf Theatre through Sept. 24, Edward Chin-Lyn plays Rodney, a yoga-loving free spirit on a silent retreat in the woods who thinks nothing of going au natural.
The Montreal-raised Chin-Lyn, on the other hand, has never been naked on stage before. His thoughts? “I guess I’ll find out soon what it’s like. I expect it to be freeing. I’m more excited than apprehensive.”
He says the extensive nudity is “purposeful” in the play by Yale School of Drama grad Bess Wohl. There is almost no dialogue. (“I just have three lines in the entire play,” he says.) He also says he never thought “putting yoga on a résumé would help — until now.”
Since he’ll be on full display, the actor says he’s glad he decided earlier this year to do a new intensive physical-fitness regimen that includes triathlon work and rock climbing.
And his mindset as he starts rehearsals: “I’m just looking at it as a lot of fun,” adding with a laugh, “and my parents will be there opening night.”
Into the Woods
Darko Tresnjak may have conceived his Hartford Stage production of The Comedy Of Errors earlier this year on a Greek isle, à la the 1960 Greek comedy Never on Sunday, but his take on another of the Bard’s comedies, the oh-so-familiar A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will have a much more conventional spin. Not that the worlds of kings, magic potions and fairies can ever be considered conventional.
“It’s trickier to pull off than people think,” says Tresnjak, who is staging the play as the season opener beginning Sept. 7 at Hartford Stage, his seventh play by the Bard here. “You have four worlds of the play: the royal court, the young lovers, the forest fairies and the comic ‘mechanicals.’ So how to bring them into balance is the challenge. It’s not hard to do Midsummer well, but it’s difficult to do exceptionally — but we’ll try.”
As for the look of the show, he and set designer Alexander Dodge looked at gate houses on the great estates “because on one side there’s this courtly, architectural feel and on the other side is the forest, so that became a metaphor for the play.” Tresnjak says he was also inspired by the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch of Hartford’s Bushnell Park.
‘A pontiff walks into a bar…’
Mike Reiss is most known as a writer-producer of TV’s The Simpsons (beginning its 29th season) as well as the animated TV series The Critic and Queer Duck and a host of other books, movie and TV projects involving big yucks.
The Bristol native has also taken to writing for the stage, first with his I’m Connecticut which premiered at Connecticut Repertory Theatre in 2011 and played the Ivoryton Playhouse in 2013. He also wrote Comedy Is Hard, which bowed in Ivoryton in 2014 and starred Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt. Next up at the playhouse is the premiere of I Hate Musicals: The Musical, which is a re-think with music of his short comedy Rubble. The show, directed by Jim Valetti, will play Sept. 27-Oct. 15.
Reiss knows funny. After all, he has written for Garry Shandling, Johnny Carson, Homer Simpson — and the Pope.
Joke with the Pope was a digital campaign launched in 2015 encouraging people to send in their favorite joke while, at the same time, donating to one of several charities in Kenya, Ethiopia or Argentina. The website also featured celebrities submitting jokes.
“A New York priest is a friend of a friend and so he calls me at midnight,” Reiss says from his Manhattan home, “and he says, ‘I need a joke for Al Roker to tell the Pope tomorrow and it’s got to be about weather — and clean. Oh, and we need one for George Clooney and can you also do one for your friend David Copperfield?’ Somehow this was supposed to help orphans in Venezuela.”
Reiss thought, “What the hell?” and contributed a stream of jokes. Writing these types of gags-to-order, he says, “was like Sudoku for me for a while.”
Reiss displays on his study wall a framed certificate from the pope declaring him “a missionary of joy.”
But aren’t there any funny Catholic yucksters, I ask Reiss, who is Jewish.
“Yeah, maybe I should have had him call Ray Romano,” he says, laughing.
Have You Heard …
… that I will be giving a free 60-minute version of my lecture series on the musical phenom Hamilton at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m.?
… that playwrights Ike Holter (Hit the Wall) and Ireland’s Marina Carr will be among the eight writers (including poets and authors) who will participate in the annual Windham-Campbell Prize events in New Haven Sept. 13-15. Each scribe receives a $165,000 award, one of the largest monetary prizes around for writers. This is one of my favorite arts events of the year and all of the events are free.