Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Joanne Lessner

Joanne Lessner is a singer, actor, and writer. She is the author of the novel Pandora’s Bottle, which was published by Flint Mine Press in June 2010. Her play, Critical Mass, was named the winner of the 2009 Heiress Productions Playwriting Competition and will receive its New York premiere at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row in October 2010. She has written the book and lyrics to several musicals with her husband, composer/conductor Joshua Rosenblum, including the cult hit Fermat's Last Tango, which received its Off-Broadway premiere at the York Theatre Company in November 2000. The original cast recording became a bestseller, and the DVD has been screened at festivals from New Jersey to New Zealand.

Last week I asked Lessner what she was reading. Her reply:
You’ve caught me in a spate of re-reading, which is fairly unusual for me! In general, I subscribe to the ‘too many books, too little time’ school of thought, but occasionally, I find myself revisiting favorite works for specific reasons:

I’m reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban aloud to my 9 year-old daughter. I’ve read the series silently for myself, of course, and aloud once before in its entirety to my son who is now 14. I love to read the Potter books this way. What fabulously juicy and idiosyncratic characters – it’s actor catnip! Really, why should Jim Dale have all the fun? I keep the narrator in my own voice and layer on various British dialects for the others. My favorite character to do is Professor Trelawney, the loopy divination teacher. The only problem with reading the Potter books aloud is that I cry unabashedly at various key points and have to stop, much to my kids’ amusement. I think J.K. Rowling is a phenomenal, inspired author. We’re the same age and we share the same name, but I fear the similarity may end there.

I’m also taking a second look at Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel. It’s less well-known than Rebecca, but just as creepy and suggestive, and I’m reading it with an eye towards adapting it as a musical with my husband, composer Joshua Rosenblum. We’re envisioning something moody and mercurial - a sort of gothic, chamber musical. It’s a property we’ve been considering for awhile, and we recently received a commission from the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, so its time may have come!

Still sitting on my bedside table because I’ve just finished them for the second time, is the Cazalet Chronicle by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’m clearly a sucker for anything British, but particularly for books that reveal England in the first part of the last century. These four novels - The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion and Casting Off – are a charming, but penetrating saga of an extended family before, during and after World War II. Just after 9/11, the BBC film version aired on PBS and I found tremendous comfort watching another generation survive and triumph over a stealth threat from abroad. When I turned to the novels, I saw that Howard, like Rowling, had created a supremely detailed and involving world that reflected my own, despite obvious differences. Howard delivers much more than a garden-variety family saga; she is an acute observer of human nature. As soon as I finished them the first time, I knew I would read them again. I made myself wait almost ten years, and presented them to myself as a reward for finishing Pandora's Bottle. In fact, they were just what I needed as a palate cleanser before my last manuscript review.

Next up, to read for the first time, so I don’t have much to say yet, is Inheritance, by Natalie Danford. Not England this time, but Italy, another favorite locale, and WWII again. Looks right up my alley. Then, for completeness’ sake, I’ll read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. And if anyone reading this has a direct line to Reginald Hill, could you let him know I’m ready for the next installment of Dalziel and Pascoe? That has to be the slyest, most intellectually entertaining detective series ever!
Visit Joanne Sydney Lessner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue