Notes from the Crane, 11/11

In an interview we did with her a few years back, Marjorie Conn told us, “When I first moved here, and I didn’t know anyone, I picked up all the local papers to get a sense of what was going on — and the minute I walked into the Stephen Crane House I knew immediately that it was where I wanted to do my thing.”

Her “thing,” as it turns out, was a brand of theater that was personal and political, confrontational and conversational, intimately cosmic and engagingly guerrilla — like, FRINGE, as in Provincetown Fringe Festival, the quirky quasi-underground brand she cultivated for years in the place that Norman Mailer called “a spit of shrub and dune.”

Ousted from her P’town stomping grounds in the name of upscale rents, exiled like an emperor to the Elba that is Asbury Park, the self-described “Conn Artist” set about doing that aforementioned “thing” in such hermit-crab haunts as restaurants, art galleries and retail establishments — finding her most comfortable berth at the historic Crane House, the circa 1878 cottage whose old dining room and kitchen regularly play host to poetry readings, film screenings, intimate concerts and writers’ workshops (and from which this very blog issues forth into the world).

It was at the Crane that the playwright and thespian introduced local audiences to her dynamite one-woman show Miss Lizzie A. Borden, a character portrait that we observed “took an axe to everything you’ve ever assumed about the infamously accused (but indisputably acquitted) figure of Yankee legend — illuminating a person who lived a life far beyond the morbid quatrain of the familiar rhyme.” Her many other projects at Crane’s crib have even included an original musical about the relationship between President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and her longtime friend Lorena Hickok.

This Saturday, November the Fifth, Marj Conn and the Provincetown Fringe Festival in Asbury Park commandeer the Crane for their third annual Short Play Festival, an evening of original playlets collected under the beach-umbrella title By the Beautiful Sea.

Marj, who loves nothing more than to greet the sunrise out on the briskly blasted beach every morning (and whose daily Facebook posts from the sands have often come equipped with everything from lost seals to found wallets), has assembled a quintet of sketches that each revolve around a seashore (or way offshore) setting. Continuing along that salty vein, the evening’s proceeds from the price of admission will be donated to the ad hoc animal rescue effort known as Beach Kitties of Ocean Grove (although if this particular kitty solicits funds from you, be it known that she does NOT represent the event).

Kicking off the 7pm program is At Sea by Conn and her frequent creative partner Christine Emmert — a piece “about a confluence of mermaids, mortals and one super grumpy bigot on a beach early morning” that was given a full staging recently at NYC’s Baruch Performing Arts Center, as part of a program celebrating the LGBT community. The other plays on the Saturday evening bill are as follows, and we quote:

Ex Marks The Spot by Pam Munson Steadman.  When a woman shares binoculars with a stranger on the beach, more than one can of worms is opened!

Lady By The Sea (Variations in Blue and Rose) by A.J. Ciccotelli is an absurd comedy about two sides of one painter’s vision caught in a battle that can only be played out behind a canvas.

Platform #7 by Alexis Kozak.  When things go wrong on an off-shore oil drilling platform, will brothers’ bonds survive?

Dawning, written by Conn, portrays a nun and a woman who have multiple strange encounters on the beach before sunrise.

All of the playwrights represented appear as actors in the various segments, with the cast rounded out by Lisa Banwell, Gregory Brewington, Wayne Steadman and Elijah Taylor.

Tickets for By the Beautiful Sea ($5) include refreshments and can be reserved by calling 732.807.4052. The Stephen Crane House is at 508 Fourth Avenue in Asbury Park, on the south side of the block between Grand Avenue and Emory Street.

It’s Audie Murphy in perhaps his greatest role (other than Audie Murphy), starring in John Huston’s 1951 filming of Stephen Crane’s classic novel THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE.

Speaking of Stephen Crane, this past Tuesday, November the First, marked the 140th birthday of the great 19th century fiction writer, poet and journalist (he was an early correspondent for what would become the Asbury Park Press) who in his all-too-brief 28 years left us with a classic war novel in the American realist tradition (The Red Badge of Courage), some unjustly overlooked stories (The Monster being a prime example) and some cutting-edge newspaper work that may even have pointed the way to Hunter Thompson if you squint hard enough.

Lest you think that we at the Crane House have somehow overlooked this milestone, the year 2011 is also the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired in the Civil War — and here in November, we’ll be commemorating both of these significant anniversaries with an event in which we’ll be screening the 1951 film version of The Red Badge of Courage. Directed by the great John Huston and starring an unorthodox cast headed by real-life WWII hero Audie Murphy (as well as the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin), the picture, despite lots of studio interference, uses some innovative cinematography and a no-star cast to convey both the folksiness and the frenzy of Crane’s intimately scaled novel of a war that ended six years before he was born. Details on the Crane Day event, for which we’ll be presenting readings from his work, will be forthcoming in this space — in the meantime, check out Daniel Wolff’s terrific book Fourth of July, Asbury Park for some of the best perspective on the young rebel known as Stevie Crane.

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