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The Play’s The Thing: Revisiting ghosts of theater past as curtain falls on ’00s

Another year, and a new decade begins. Remember all the fuss and bother when 1999 turned into 2000 — the bogeyman of the Y2K computer scare? And I just received an e-mail invitation to an “end of the world” party starting on Dec. 20, 2012, and ending the next day — something to do with the Mayans and more dire predictions of catastrophe. To celebrate these ominous dates — I could tell you how time and the calendar are really fictitious, but I’ll leave that up to my colleague Alex Berger — let me update you about some of my recent time travel.

This adventure was courtesy of Cynthia Braun, a certified professional organizer, and it took me back some 40 years. That’s about how long my first wife and I have owned our house, and about how long I’ve been involved in local theater. Since some of us have a tough time in throwing things out, the clutter can be overwhelming.

That’s where Cynthia comes in. She shows up wearing a T-shirt that directs you to “organize your life,” and she gets you to get rid of lots of stuff. She’ll even do some heavy lifting. It can be painful, it can be emotional, but sometimes you come across some long-forgotten treasures. In my case there were old cast lists and programs and photos, and other memorabilia from past shows, going back to “Promises, Promises” with the Fresh Meadows Community Theater, where — it’s true — I sang and danced.

If you plead and promise your best behavior, Cynthia will let you keep some things, so I do have a trunk of props that may once again come in handy. And I even know what and where they are. Of course, you could do all this purging on your own — but you know you’re not really going to get to it. It will cost you some money and some time, but Cynthia will take good care of you, and she’s got the testimonials to prove it. Check out her web site at

Another back to the future trip was with Orson Welles. A couple of weeks ago I was at the Producer’s Club on West 44th Street at Ninth Avenue to see a staged reading of “Orson’s Shadow.” The play, written by Austin Pendleton, was performed by The Outrageous Fortune Company three years ago, and a then-cast member, Joe Hamel — he played Laurence Olivier — was part of the reading.

It all takes place in 1960 with several real-life characters.

A staged reading, by the way, can be a lot of fun and an easy way to put a play on its feet. The actors get to rehearse their lines and some blocking, but they hold a script in their hands — lots of memorization is not required — and there’s no need for props, sets or lighting. A good way for some of you undiscovered playwrights out there to get your work shown. The “Orson’s Shadow” reading was designed to build interest in a new production and raise some money.

My other time travel was back to 1937 with the movie “Me and Orson Welles”, when the great man, a mere 22 at the time, produced “Julius Caesar” to great acclaim at the now long-gone Mercury Theater. Amazingly enough, this lighthearted and rather mainstream film could be found in Queens only at the Kew Gardens Cinema (at Lefferts and Austin). There are hundreds of screens throughout the borough with the same movies playing at most of them, but if you want to see something different, Kew Gardens is where you have to go.

Kind of like the variety of our local theater, you have to take the time to seek it out.

Contact Ron Hellman at

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