Pulse: Chatter: Theater: Dominic and Me

Hollywood was still buzzing the day after the Academy Awards. Entering a small theater on Santa Monica Boulevard, I half expected to step over a disheveled, torn-tuxed Jeff Bridges, sleeping it off. But tonight the stage belonged to a younger actor from Cherry Hill, named Dominic Comperatore. He’d landed the role of a lifetime — my lifetime. Dominic was going to play me.  

The backstory to this casting starts about 10 years ago, when I wrote a book called Renovations: A Father and Son Rebuild a House and Rediscover Each Other. Though my publisher used a publicity plan borrowed from the folks who run the federal witness protection program, a handful of people managed to find and read Renovations. Several did ask me at the time, “Who would you want to play you in the movie?” It became a fun little party game, which I often ended by saying, “Rosie O’Donnell. Who else?” Then, a few years ago, a young playwright named Andrew Gerle read Renovations and purchased theatrical rights. I blew the big windfall on dinner and a movie. Gerle told me, “You should start thinking about who would play you.” Rosie O’Donnell loves the stage.

Meanwhile, Dominic Comperatore was heading for his date with my destiny. He started acting while attending St. Joe’s Prep because it was one of the few extracurricular activities at the all-boys’ school that included girls — the actresses were imports. In college, though he was studying international studies and German at the University of Scranton (my hometown; coincidence?), Dominic kept acting. When he came back to Cherry Hill after graduation, his mom and dad sat him down and gave him advice unprecedented in the history of parenthood — move to New York and try to become an actor.

His first role was Hamlet, far downtown and “way the hell off Broadway.” But he worked and studied and ended up on Broadway. Then he did a few independent films and decided to move to Los Angeles, and he appeared on 24 and Chuck and Entourage. He got a part as a Holocaust survivor in a movie called The Good German that put him in the midst of Cate Blanchett, Tobey -Maguire and George Clooney. Dominic worked so hard to inhabit that part that he lost 25 pounds.

But Hollywood work “comes in waves,” he says, and the tide must have been out when someone asked him to play a burnt-out, bitter freelance writer who leaves the city to fix up a house in the country. “The script was touching,” he says, “and a lot of fun.” He didn’t have to live through it.

I wish I could tell you that Dominic Comperatore nailed me. But from the moment Dominic started reading his lines — many of them my lines — my head spun, and I experienced a full body blush. My fiancée said he was great — and really cute. I do recall that actor Apollo Dukakis (Olympia’s brother) really got my father.

The playwright tells me there’s a chance of another production of Renovations soon in Chicago. I’d certainly suggest Dominic Comperatore play me again. But would he be willing to gain the 40 pounds necessary to really capture my essence?

“That depends,” he told me, “on what kind of food I could eat.”


Brawl on the Square

THE WARS THAT are fought around Rittenhouse Square are usually quite civil.

Occasionally, a perfect apartment in one of the best buildings will become available and provoke a skirmish of bidding by rival buyers. The Ladies Who Donate will sometimes engage in some sharp-elbowed jockeying for chairmanship of the proper charity event. And, of course, the opening of Stephen Starr’s Frenchified Parc this July forced tout le monde to tussle not just for a good table, but for any table.

So it was a little surprising when word started spreading of a bitter fight over the fate of a dowdy little wall on a cute little side street just off the Square. Tempers began flaring in June, around the time of the signature annual soiree of the Rittenhouse set, the Ball on the Square, where nasty whispers mingled with Eddie Bruce’s cocktail music and Georges Perrier’s canapés. Not long after, a shouting match erupted inside the earnest Ethical Society, pitting neighbors in the city’s most exclusive precinct against one another. Some think the fight is simply the latest manifestation of the always-simmering conflict between Old Money and New, the battle lines drawn in the sands of taste and propriety, fought at close quarters with charges of crassness hurled against a return volley alleging elitism. “This is just insanity,” says one prominent Rittenhouse resident who was at the Ethical Society brouhaha but didn’t want his name in print. “These people are crazy. I’m not looking to get into a fight. All the people on either side have had such a crazy, emotional response. I can’t even talk to my wife about it.”

The “it” in question is a painting, a big painting — a mural that would cover the two-story side wall of an art gallery bordering what is now a 40-space parking lot run by Joe Zuritsky’s Parkway Corporation. The lot sits on a tiny block known as Rittenhouse Street, which runs east to west between 17th and 18th streets. A lot of people agree with Zuritsky’s own evaluation of the aesthetic value of the spot right now: “It’s an ugly wall behind an ugly parking lot.”

It was when someone tried to make that wall look nicer that things really got ugly. The crazy, emotional argument started after attorney Paul Rosen — whose most recent high-profile client was Alycia Lane, in her battle against CBS 3 — announced that he was planning to cover Zuritsky’s blank wall with a realistic, allegorical painting depicting “Justice,” and the role of civil attorneys like himself in its noble pursuit. The artwork would be paid for by a foundation funded by Rosen’s law firm, Spector Gadon & Rosen, PC, to help encourage positive depictions of lawyers. The actual painting would be created under the auspices of the world-renowned Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and its much-lauded and beloved director, Jane Golden.

So an ugly wall gets covered with a pretty painting about Justice. Who could argue with that?

The Good Life: Should This Man Be Smiling?

Are you happy, Marty?

The Marty in question is Martin E.P. Seligman, who, in this winter week in question, might just be the best-known psychologist in America, if you don’t count Dr. Phil. Arriving back home in Wynnewood after a long holiday in the Bahamas, Seligman was greeted by a Time magazine cover story devoted to the movement he started seven years ago — Positive Psychology, the putative science of happiness. Virtually before he’d unpacked, he was whisked off to New York, where he was interviewed by Charlie Rose for a television show that would spread the word on Positive Psych deeper into America’s far-flung middle-to-high-brow, PBS-watching, news-magazine-reading population.

Rose had fixed those baggy droopy lizardy eyes on Seligman and posed the question. Here’s a guy who’s got degrees from Prince-ton and Penn. He’s been funded through 40 years of psychological work that ranged from giving nasty shocks to laboratory dogs to listening to pampered matrons who felt sad and empty. He’s the 62-year-old tenured owner of an endowed professor’s chair and the directorship of a well-funded research center at Penn. He’s written a raft of books, including a couple of best-sellers. With all that to his credit, he still needs one last crucial credential. If Dr. Seligman is going to claim that he’s discovered the keys to a happy life, he’s going to have to serve as his own poster child.

So, are you happy, Marty?

“Wow, that’s a good steak! One of the best I’ve ever had.” Tonight, Marty Seligman is tucked into the corner of the front room of Barclay Prime, folded behind a low, round table, and, at the moment, looking quite pleased with everything. It’s a few days after the Charlie Rose Show appearance. (Of course he told Charlie he was happy, though Seligman thought the show was “kind of inane. His usual show I find intellectually interesting. This was at the Oprah level.”)

The professor is dressed casually, sweater over a t-shirt and cargo pants. It could be a small problem at this new restaurant, which is working hard to be a sleek and posh ­expense-account joint. The gorgeous hostess probably doesn’t recognize him from TV. He is a squat man with an unassuming look. If you were casting an actor to play him, Paul Giamatti would be a decent choice, but Wallace Shawn might be better. Still, there is something about Seligman’s presence, his low, bag-of-gravel voice (not to mention the authentic winter tan), that says, “He must be somebody.”

“We don’t have a reservation,” Seligman declares in a Kissinger-like basso, “but we’d like a quiet table.”

And so we are seated without a reservation at a quiet table. Seligman orders a cocktail of shrimp that arrive nearly the size of footballs. He’s asked for the brand-name boutique-farm rib-eye steak and narrowed his wine pick to pinot noirs from Oregon and taken the sommelier’s suggestion and is perfectly content with the results. Ah, this is the happy life indeed.

Science: Al Gore Is a Greenhouse Gasbag

IT’s THE LAST day of November, which means winter begins in three weeks. Yet the temperature on the Penn campus is nearing 70 degrees, and it’s muggy. Walking to the offices of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science from a remote parking lot makes me sweaty. Global Warming.

Driving here this morning, I heard a report on WHYY from National Public Radio that the International Ski Federation was canceling races because there’s no snow in the Alps. Got to be Global Warming!

Yesterday, down the road in Washington, where the temperature was 16 degrees above normal, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case in which 13 state governments are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to force the government to begin controlling carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the decades-old Clean Air Act. If that doesn’t happen, the states claim, the rising sea levels caused by greenhouse gases will rob them of coastline. GLOBAL WARMING!!

And this is just one ordinary day in the new normal. Even if daily weather has nothing to do with global warming, and even if the scientific debate about it is not quite done, its cultural moment has certainly begun. Insurance companies have stopped writing policies for coastline residents. A government report out of England warns that global warming may be so economically deleterious that it will make the upheaval of the Great Depression and World War II seem benign.

Michael Crichton has already dramatized the issue in a best-selling novel. Leonardo DiCaprio is working on a documentary on the subject. A recent Time magazine cover featured a polar bear in danger of drowning and the warning: “Be Worried. Be Very Worried.”

I’ve come to Penn to see the skeptic.

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