Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: How to Be Civilized ...

I always pay attention to Joan Juliet Buck. I mean, wouldn't you? (Photo: Amy Troost/WSJ).
Friday, October 24, 2014
by Liz Smith

You'll Never Forget Being "Disgraced" on Broadway ... Joan Juliet Buck Tells Us How to Be Civilized ... Will We Be "Bewitched" Yet Again?

"ALL THE WORLD'S
a stage, but in New York, most people are in a David Mamet play, not a Noel Coward comedy!"

So writes Joan Juliet Buck for the Bergdorf Goodman Mega-Fall catalogue.

Because my friend Ms. Buck used to be the editor of French Vogue, I always pay attention even when she is writing for a catalogue — especially so these days, for what is fashion without a catalogue?
UNDER THE HEADLINE "How Do You Spell Civilization?" Ms. Joan pontificates. She advises that "please" and "thank you" make up the core of manners ... The boor, who shouts in restaurants and snaps his fingers at waiters, is a bore ... “Your cell phone should be treated like a child. It isn't allowed at dinner with the grown-ups but is good company in the car. It must remain silent at weddings, funerals, theater, movies,
speeches, gatherings, ceremonies, baptisms and panel discussions. If the cell is your conduit to urgencies from your attorney, agent, ex-husband, realtors and doctors, you must change its nappies in private.”
Ms. Joan seems to be telling us we must not, in life, imitate reality shows. She says flower-senders are to receive a thank you note immediately. No guns are allowed in civilization. The Post Office is not permitted to read your mail so condolences, congratulations and thank you’s should be written by hand and mailed. If two people have gone to a marvelous party it is not to be discussed in front of a third person who was not invited.
If you use e-mail, Joan says, don't write long paragraphs and don't pass-along things. Text anyone under thirty. E-mail, continues JJB, does not replace phone calls, lunch, dinner, coffee, hand-holding, hugging, flowers or gifts. If you accept an invitation you must show up. Avoid trying for snappy repartee.

"U is for Über, writes Joan.
Are you wondering what JJB, who advised all this, looks like? See the Meryl Streep movie about Julia Child where Julia goes to a high-flown Paris cooking school and the mean woman, who is soooo French, treats her so badly. That's Joan. Nora Ephron, who directed the movie, always opined that the minute she saw Joan Juliet Buck, she said to herself, “There’s my Cordon Bleu character!”
My Drama Critic Spencer at 16.
THINGS HAVE come to a pretty pass when a sixteen-year-old begins to direct my theater going. But that's what happened to me when my godson started asking, "Do you know about the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play that won at Lincoln Center last year and is now going to open on Broadway?"

Well, I must have been under a rock, or under anesthesia, or somehow my mind was blank or I had totally ignored my favorite critics (like one Ben Brantley) because I didn't even recall what my teenager was talking about. But I bought some matinee tickets to the drama at the Lyceum Theater and took him to see "Disgraced," written by Ayad Akhtar.

("Disgraced" opened last night and I hope you didn't read the reviews, because I believe it's much better not to know what it's all about ... in fact, events onstage have taken on even more depth and meaning than could have been totally perceived last year when it stealthily won the Pulitzer!)

“Disgraced” is something you’ll never forget. The staging is so dramatic and all the actors so good that you’ll never be able to stop thinking about it. The actors are Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, Josh Radnor, Danny Ashok and Karen Pittman.
Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman, Hari Dhillon, and Josh Radnor in "Disgraced." Photo Joan Marcus.
If you don’t mind taking advice from someone who didn’t even know this play existed and that it had been welcomed with open arms by the whole dramatic world, well, you are really in for a staggering emotional treat.

Hooray for my Spencer, who also steered me into appreciating "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," which won the Tony after he had taken me to see it when he was only fifteen!
Gretchen Mol and Hari Dhillon in "Disgraced." Photo Joan Marcus.
Also, don't miss their Fall Reunion ...
HEAR, ye! Budding writers out there.

The late Elaine Kaufman of saloon-café fame for 47 years in NYC, has had The Table 4 Writers Foundation going strong in her honor.

They’ll give $5000 next spring and other grants to aspiring writers. Rules and applications available at www.table4.org.

You need to act before Nov. 15th.
OH, PLEASE — wasn’t the feature film of “Bewitched” enough bad news for fans of the old TV series starring Elizabeth Montgomery? (Nicole Kidman looked lost, and her co-stars Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine didn’t look lost enough.) Now NBC is reportedly hoping to re-make the series; a “new take” on the suburban witch and her hapless mortal husband.

Despite the charms of the late Miss Montgomery, “Bewitched” wasn’t very funny after about — two seasons. It went on for five more and “jumped the shark,” as they say today, at least twice a season. New ideas, Hollywood! New ideas!

Contact Liz Smith here.