Damon Runyon is my favorite writer of short stories. He received neither peer nor critical acclaim due him in his own time or postmortem. My theory is that it is because of the subjects of his tales: gangsters, hustlers and women of so so repute who went by the colorful monikers of “Nathan Detroit”, “Big Jule” or “Dave The Dude”, Runyon was shunned by polite society. Gambling was a common theme. It was easier for the hoi polloi to herald accounts of patricians fictionalized in “The Great Gatsby” and similar ephemera.
Curling up with a Runyon anthology will make you laugh out loud. During his lifetime he was one of the most read authors and columnists in America. He developed his own vernacular. He always wrote in the present tense. He never used contractions. The slang he created has become part of our language: doll = woman; pineapple = hand grenade; roscoe = gun, noggin = head. Who can't like an author who writes about a doll, “the men around (the doll) are bachelors...or at least wishin' they were bachelors,” or describing a serial gold band chaser, “she was married twice by preachers, twice by justices of the peace and once by a captain of the sea.”
His short story “Little Miss Marker” was turned into a movie and was the break through for Shirley Temple. His “Idylls of Sarah Brown” became one of the greatest and most beloved musicals, “Guys & Dolls”; the lively screen version hampered only by the most egregious miscasting of talent in motion picture musical history with the non-singing Marlon Brando as the singing leading man, Sky.
For the first time in their eight decade history, The Brandywiners mount “Guys & Dolls”. Director Henry Porreca has gathered around him three experienced community theatre veterans for the leads, Jeff Santoro as Sky Masterson, Debbi Hollingsworth Arnold as Sarah.Brown and Joe Francisco as Nathan Detroit. Newcomer Nance Weber rounds out the leads playing the Detroit's long suffering girlfriend doll, the lamentable Adelaide.
Aisle Say had the opportunity to visit a rehearsal this week. Boxed in by the large cast required to fill the voluminous Longwood Gardens stage, this rehearsal coursed like most others in community theatre: music directors stopping the chorus in mid note to harangue them for not cutting off their consonants; stage directors pleading for the bit players to stay in character, and the overall unevenness of skill level particular to amateur actors.
Having been in a few Brandywiner productions, performing at Longwood is a very special experience. The dressing rooms are subterranean, beneath the high steps and expansive grass area used for impressive grand entrances. For the audience - on a serene and star studded summer night - it's a magical musical moment in time. Tickets come with free entrance to the gardens, so an entire afternoon or evening may be spent there.
Proceeds from ticket sales fund a variety of arts and cultural institutions in Delaware. Aisle Say's vote for next year's show is KISMET; a perfect environment for its lush music.
6 performances Brandywiners.org July 29-August 7 302.478.3355