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Napoli Brooklyn

 

At 10:30am on December 16, 1960, the 1700 students of St. Augustine’s School at the corner of Sterling Place and Sixth Avenue in Park Slope were in class, sheltered from the cold sleet dripping down the windows. Minutes later, they looked out those windows and saw a damaged jet descend down Sterling Place, wings clipping the tops of nearby buildings, before crashing into the intersection at Seventh Avenue.

The “Park Slope plane crash,” as it came to be called, was the deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history at the time. United Airlines flight 826 originated in Chicago and was bound for Idlewild Airport, now known as JFK. Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight 266 was en route from Columbus, Ohio, to LaGuardia Airport. The planes collided in the skies over Miller Field on Staten Island. The TWA plane, an older, propeller-driver Lockheed Super Constellation, broke apart and rained down on Miller Field and the surrounding neighborhoods of New Dorp and Midland Beach. The United plane, a year-old Douglas DC-8 jet, stayed airborne for 11 miles before smashing into the heart of Park Slope.

The crash was caused by a miscalculation by the United pilot. As he approached the New York Harbor, air traffic controllers sent him toward a navigational point near South Amboy, New Jersey, to enter a holding pattern and await clearance to land. Just before the collision, the pilot reported that he was approaching the navigational point--but his jet was already eleven miles past it. One of the jet’s navigational radios was not working, which may have contributed to the miscalculation.

All 44 people on board TWA flight 266 died in the crash, but no one on the ground in Staten Island was injured. Damage to buildings was minimal. Park Slope was not as lucky. Six people on the ground, including two sidewalk Christmas tree salesmen, a 90-year-old church caretaker, and a butcher shop employee were killed. Twelve buildings were damaged or destroyed. Firefighters worked through the day to control blazes.

There was one survivor of the crash: eleven-year-old Stephen Baltz of Wilmette, Illinois. Stephen, whose mother and sister had flown out two days earlier, was on his way to spend Christmas with family in Yonkers. He landed in a snowbank, and a photo of him, face blackened with soot, sheltered by an umbrella and surrounded by concerned residents, was on the front page of afternoon newspapers that day. New Yorkers of all faiths latched onto his survival as a miracle. Stephen Baltz died at Methodist Hospital the following morning. He described the crash before he passed away, saying, “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. Then all of a sudden there was an explosion. The plane started to fall and people started to scream. I held onto my seat and then the plane crashed.”

Footage from the scene in Park Slope was broadcast on television within hours of the crash, marking a shift in how the nation, accustomed to newspaper and radio coverage, experienced tragic news events.

After the crash, President John F. Kennedy convened a task force on air traffic control, and new regulations were enacted to prevent mid-air collisions. Today, scars of the crash can still be seen in masonry repairs at the intersection of Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue, though there is no memorial in to the crash in Park Slope. In 2010, a memorial was erected in nearby Greenwood Cemetery, on a plot that holds unidentified, fragmentary human remains from the crash. There’s also a memorial plaque inside New York Methodist Hospital, where Stephen Baltz died.


Napoli, Brooklyn is now in performance at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


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2016-2017 Season, Napoli Brooklyn


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Napoli, Brooklyn: Read, Watch, Do

Posted on: July 5th, 2017 by Morgan Grambo

 

To Read

Too Much, Too Much, Too Many
By Meghan Kennedy

Too Much, Too Much, Too Many by Meghan Kennedy premiered in the seventh season of the Roundabout Underground. Described by The New Yorker as “a moving poem...it’s heartfelt, serious, beautifully written…”, the play follows four characters traversing love and grief. As with Napoli, Brooklyn, Meghan considers our core family relationships, how we deal with pain, and the longing generated by love and loss. The delicate language and profoundly realistic characters of Too Much, Too Much, Too Many elevate Meghan Kennedy’s empathetic play and reflect in her newest play, Napoli, Brooklyn.

 

To Listen

“Parlami D’Amore Mariù”
By Mario Lanza

When Luda has control of the radio, the voice filling their home will no doubt be her favorite singer, Mario Lanza. One of the greatest Hollywood actors and prominent Italian-Americans of the mid-twentieth century, Mario’s voice is one of the most recognizable today. Listen to his many operatic and cinematic hits, especially the song that inspired a previous title of the play, Talk to Me of Love, “Parlami D’Amore Mariù”.

 

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”
By The Shirelles

Poignantly playing on the radio in the Muscolino kitchen early in the play, The Shirelles hit of the early 1960’s asks the question all of our characters want to know.

 

Chompsgiving to Chew Year’s: Holiday Dishes
NPR Special Series

As an Italian-American, I can attest that food defines us. Many other cultures would argue the same. In Napoli, Brooklyn, Luda’s eldest daughter Vita begs her to recognize their profound bond in the face of Vita’s expulsion from the family. She cries, “You taught me all your recipes. I’m the only one that knows all of them. You took so much time and care teaching me. How is that my mother and this my mother?”

The passing down of traditional dishes between generations is essential to fostering the unique elements of a family’s history and culture. NPR produced a special series that not only focuses on the Feast of the Seven Fishes that the Muscolino household prepares on Christmas Eve, but other traditional foods that draw families together during the holidays.

To do

For a major tragedy in New York City’s most populated borough, very few of its residents know what happened in their own backyards. Read up on the history of the Park Slope neighborhood here and visit the site of the crash at the corner of Sterling Place and Sixth Avenue fifty years later. Map


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Family Drama: How art imitates life

Posted on: June 12th, 2017 by Jason Jacobs

 

The events and people Napoli, Brooklyn are loosely inspired by family history playwright Meghan Kennedy learned from her mother. Like Francesca in the play, Kennedy’s mother was the youngest daughter of Italian immigrants in Brooklyn. In drawing upon her ancestry for inspiration, Kennedy stands on the shoulders of three giants of the American theatre: Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller, all of whom mined their own backgrounds to create their most memorable plays.

The Tyrones of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, seen last season at Roundabout, were based closely on O’Neill’s parents, James and Ella, and older brother, James Jr.. The Wingfields of Williams’s most autobiographical play, The Glass Menagerie, were inspired by Williams’s mother Edwina and sister Laura, while his father Cornelius looms heavily as the absent father. Both O’Neill and Williams inserted dramatized versions of themselves into their plays, through the characters of Edmund and Tom (which was also Williams’s real name).

Miller’s iconic Willy Loman of Death of Salesman was inspired by the playwright’s uncle Manny Newman, a salesman who suffered anxiety and despair and committed suicide. Miller’s representative in the play is not one the Loman sons, but nephew Bernard, a nerdy teenager who surpasses Willy’s sons in his achievements. Miller’s 1968 play The Price (revived this season by Roundabout) has even deeper roots in Miller’s past. Like Miller’s brother Kermit, Victor Franz drops out of college to support his parents, who are hurt by the Depression. Meanwhile, older brother Walter resembles Arthur, who left the family to put himself through college and went on to achieve greater success, along with great respect from the parents he left behind.

Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub in Arthur Miller's THE PRICE. Photo by Joan Marcus

Dramatizing one’s past can allow a writer to work through difficult memories. The fallout of O’Neill’s tortured family relationships, along with his mother’s drug addiction, weighed heavily on his life. He described his own suffering in a letter to a psychoanalyst, 15 years before he wrote Long Day’s Journey. He dedicated the play to his wife Carlotta, thanking her for “the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play.”

Gore Vidal, a fellow writer and loyal friend, said that Williams “could not possess his own life until he had written about it.” His mother and sister continued to haunt his work. One of his darkest plays, Suddenly Last Summer, emerged from the guilt Williams felt when his mother allowed Rose to be lobotomized—a futile attempt to cure her mental illness. But unlike Tom Wingfield, who abandons his family at the end of the play, Williams continued to take care of his mother and sister.

Miller denied that his work was autobiographical. Still, he often dealt with the lasting impact of the Great Depression on the individual American psyche, an effect he experienced personally. Miller was the son of a well-to-do family who lost their fortunes in the stock market crash and lived in reduced circumstances during the Depression. In The Price, he drew upon personal memories of his family’s financial struggles. Although he asserted that Victor and Walter do not represent his brother and himself, Miller acknowledged that “the magnetic underlying situation (of their relationship) was deep in my bones.” Critic Martin Gottfried proposes that The Price could be read as “Miller’s attempt to justify his life choices.” In a review of Roundabout’s 2017 production, Jesse Green proposes that aspects of Miller can be found both in Victor’s disgust of materialism and in Walter’s “silk-stocking (or camel-hair) problems.”

While tapping into a situation deep in his bones, Miller also combined characters and invented situations. Plays and autobiographies are different literary genres that fulfill different purposes, and both Miller and Williams wrote actual autobiographies (Timebends and Memoirs, respectively.) Playwrights must enhance conflict, tension, and revelation in order to keep audiences enthralled.

In dramatizing real events, O’Neill played freely with chronology—compressing incidents that occurred over months and years into the one long day in which his play is set. Williams made a significant change by removing the Wingfield father from the play. (His own father Cornelius lived with the family while they were in St. Louis.) The absent father raised the stakes on Laura’s dependency and Amanda’s desperation to provide for her children’s future. Literary critic Gilbert Debusscher proposes the term “autofictional” to look at Menagerie as “the result of a conflation of real life and fantasy, the poetic (re)arrangement of fact within fiction, the imaginative fictionalization of autobiography.”

Typically, autobiography centers around the author, with other people moving in and out of the narrative in relation to the central subject. The great family dramas, on the contrary, represent a group of people, all of whom have stakes in the action. Kennedy’s portrait of the Muscolino family is proof positive that no matter how a playwright to chooses to work their family’s past, the ability to find compassion for one’s relatives is essential to creating characters we care about.

Lilli Kay, Elise Kibler and Jordyn DiNatale in rehearsal for NAPOLI, BROOKLYN. Photo by Jenny Anderson.


THREE SISTERS AS ARCHETYPE

The three sisters at the center of Napoli, Brooklyn—Tina, Vita, and Francesca— exhibit great love and loyalty, and they protect each other in face of the violence, yet each sister pursues a unique paths towards fulfillment. Kennedy’s characters recall an archetype of “three sisters” that runs deep throughout mythology, folklore, and dramatic literature.

GREEK MYTHOLOGY
The Horai goddesses, Eunomia, Eiriene, and Dike are sisters who preside over the seasons, nature, and the movement of time; they represent the conditions required for prosperous farming. Their sisters, the Moraie, are also known as the Three Fates and represent the force of destiny over human life. At a man’s birth, they appear spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of his life. Another triad of sister goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, compete in a beauty contest for a golden apple that starts the Trojan War.

SHAKESPEARE: KING LEAR
Lear’s contest to his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, to declare their love for him draws on a widely known folktale type, the “love like salt” story. Here, a misunderstood daughter is cast out when she cannot adequately articulate her love. Freud proposed that the youngest sister often represents hidden virtues that are not easily seen, while the older sisters represent the deceptions of beauty and flattery. The tragedy shows the great costs of such misunderstanding.

ANTON CHEKHOV: THE THREE SISTERS
Chekhov told Vladimir Nemirovitch-Dachenko, co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre: “I have a subject: three sisters. But I am not going to start working on the play until I finish the tales that are on my conscience.” His creations, Olga, Masha, and Irina Prozoroff, are the opposite of the Fates, exercising no control over anyone’s destiny. Each sister represents a different attitude towards time. The eldest, Olga, speaks largely of the past; youngest Irina fixates on the future; middle sister Masha acts in the present moment with little regard for the consequences.

WENDY WASSERSTEIN: THE SISTERS ROSENWEIG
Wasserstein’s 1992 comedy paid homage to Chekhov in its portrayal of three middle-aged, Jewish sisters, Sara, Pfeni, and Goregous. Wasserstein employed the triad of sisters to explore three different approaches to one’s Jewish identity, and unlike her earlier work, here she presented the possibility of a successful middle-aged woman who makes her own choices but does not end up alone.


Napoli, Brooklyn begins performances at the Laura Pels Theatre on June 8. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Napoli Brooklyn, Upstage


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