the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Berkshires

Behind the Scenes in the Berkshires

This past weekend I took a bus in the heavy snow to the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

I had two special theatrical events to attend.

One was to attend a performance/theater/artsy/German/avantgarde thingamagig at Mass MOCA, in which actors lived in a theatrical set all day, and the audience could walk around the perimeter, peering in through the curtains as the “play” was performed in real time.

The other performance piece involved me visiting the home of Jenn Mattern, one of my all-time favorite bloggers.  She writes at Breed ‘Em and Weep, as well as Parentdish and Work it, Mom!  During this visit, I would be allowed to walk around and observe this “Jenn Mattern” in her daily life, as well as interact with other “actors” in her natural habitat.  This would offer me a unique glimpse behind the “writing” curtain to understand the woman behind the fancy words.


Two environments, two curtains to pull back, two sets of actors.  But two vastly different theatrical experiences.


The art performance at the museum, while well-packaged as an event, was quite cold and “Germanic” in ambiance.  The set was mostly a clumsily-constructed wooden box, with few comforts of home.  The audience members walked aimlessly around the set waiting for some activity, and the pace of the drama was quite slow.

One of the lead characters, THE SLEEPY GUY, slept for most of the time I was on the set.

The other two characters, THE ANGRY WOMAN and the NEBBISH DUDE, walked back and forth from the other rooms, like bored roommates with no social life other than having Twitter on their phones.

There was some sort of conversation going on between Angry and Nebbish, but it was difficult to follow, and annoying to have to schlep with them from room to room.  I think the angry woman was a stripper.  At some point she yelled at the Nebbish Dude that “It is my vagina and I will do what I want with it!”  This was pretty much the highlight of the play, or at least the part I saw.  After this outburst, the Nebbish Dude sat around on the couch and played some Led Zeppelin on his boombox.

I can’t truly “review” this performance, because it takes place over four days, eight hours a day in a box in a museum, so it is quite possible that something exciting happened after I left the room.  My segment consisted mostly of the actors sleeping or kvetching about their vaginas.

After fifteen minutes, I went to have a turkey sandwich in the cafe.


In contrast, the Jenn Mattern theater piece was nothing at all like the dark, sterile, dystopian vision of the German director.  Her house was warm and inviting, and Jenn herself was a delightful, attractive, fully three-dimensional lead character, a charismatic brunette with a warm heart and a sharp wit.

The pace of her theater piece, while completely improvised, was chaotic, funny, unexpected, and filled with the old-fashioned “realism” of a well-made play.  You could feel the “life” exploding in her environment, and there are more subplots going on in her story than in an episode of Mad Men.  Jenn has two cats.  And two dogs.  And two daughters.  And a mother, Elaine, who lives nearby, a terrific blogger herself, who sometimes just drops in unannounced, like Kramer in Seinfeld, just to play her accordion.

The Mattern house is an endearingly eccentric mix of books, Fruit Loops, children, music, writing, dogs and cats, and a bit of refreshingly open neuroticism. And Jenn is as beautiful a person as she is a talented writer. Anyone who is lucky enough to visit will have an unforgettable experience.

Oh, yeah. The experience was also interactive, like “Tony and Tina’s Wedding.”  Here I am, walking the family dog, Eli.  This was the very first time I ever walked a dog.  I picked up the poop — all by myself! Try doing THAT when you are seeing “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark” on Broadway!

So, the reviews are in —

1)  The German avant garde performance piece at the museum — one star.  a snore-fest, or as one of Jenn’s elder daughter put it, “That sounds REALLY BORING.”

2)  The Mattern home — five stars!  Rave reviews.  The highlight of the 2011 season.

Thanks, Mattern family!

The Noble Savage


I’m a long time admirer of 18th Century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, even though his beliefs are a bit nutty. 

Rousseau contended that man is essentially good, a “noble savage” when in the state of nature (the state of all the “other animals”, and the condition man was in before the creation of civilization and society), and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as “artificial” and “corrupt” and that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man.

“Man is born free but everywhere is in chains,” said Rousseau.  His solution:  “Let us return to nature.”

Last week, I returned to nature.   I became a different person.  I didn’t shave.  I let my hair grow wild.  I did physical labor, I took my shirt off, I tried to f**k a woman in a rowboat.  Eventually, I just gave up wearing clothes completely.  I became a wild man.  At night, I would sit by the lake and talk with the ducks, as if they were my long-time friends.

But, soon it was time to go home.   The four hours back to New York City were the longest in my life.  As Sophia and my mother played “20 Questions,” I had a harder task — to slowly return to civilized society.  When we hit Poughkeepsie, NY, we stopped at a Mobil station.  I went into the restroom and shaved my beard off.   When we made it to Yonkers, we stopped at a McDonald’s.  I carried my clothes into the men’s room and covered my nakedness for the first time in three days.  It made me feel “civilized” again, but it also felt restrictive, as if I were wearing a mask.   By the time we crossed over the Throng’s Neck Bridge into the Bronx, I was beginning to speak words again, although I thought I was communicating fine with just my grunts and scratching of my chest hairs.  After all, if you think about it, words, like clothes, are facades we hide behind as we manipulate and abuse each another.

As we drove into Queens, my Berkshires vacation became nothing more than a memory.  I couldn’t visualize the lake anymore or hear the sound of the water. I forgot the names of the ducks and how I befriended them.

By the time we drove into Flushing, we were starved.  I remember that Mrs. Mogul wrote a comment a few days ago insisting I try East on Kissena Boulevard, saying it was one the best Chinese restaurants she’d ever eaten in.  We quickly headed to the restaurant to have some dinner.  Mrs. Mogul was right.  The food was absolutely delicious, especially the duck.

Yes, we were back to urban life.

Confucius says, “A wise man lives with ducks in nature, and eats them in the city.”


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  The Body Woman

A Man of New England

(from bedroom porch)

The old Neilochka was urban, only comfortable in New York or Los Angeles. The old Neilochka was an effete metrosexual, afraid of nature.

The old Neilochka arrived at the lakeside cabin in Cheshire, Massachusetts yesterday afternoon.

1) Neilochka refused to walk to the lake because “of all the bugs.”

2) Neilochka was scared of chasing the geese from the lawn because “they might bite.”

3) Neilochka acted like he knew it all, just because he spent some summers at “sleep-away camp.”

For example, Neilochka and his mother had this conversation last night while sitting on the cabin’s back porch:

Neil: “Did you see the firefly?”

Mom: “Where?”

Neil: “There!”

Mom: I didn’t see it.

Neil: “You have to look closely. You see the light go on and then quickly go off. There it is!”

Mom: “Are you sure that’s a firefly?”

Neil: “Of course I am. What else could it be?”

Answer: Sophia sitting in the dark nearby, opening and closing her LED-lit cellphone to read her email on Yahoo.

That was Neilochka yesterday. A total country-living novice.

Today, he woke up a different man.

As he opened his eyes, he saw the lake just outside his window. He heard the birds. He dragged a row boat from the lake and turned it over when it started to rain.  He fearlessly chased some geese away. He picked berries on a farm. He cooked meat. He stopped being a Californian and became a sturdy New Englander. He drank beer with Herman Melville. He wrestled with Edith Wharton. He made love to Emily Dickinson on her kitchen floor, then showed her how to blog using WordPress. He stood on his cabin’s balcony after Sophia and his mother were fast asleep. He was naked to the stars — a new man born.

He also went to Tanglewood to hear a chamber orchestra and had a good latte in Lenox, MA — but he thought that sounded wimpy and didn’t fit in with the theme of the post.

A Year Ago in Citizen of the Month:  Blinded by Science Project

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