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Storming the Castle

New York State Senator Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) is regarded as a strong advocate for humane prison conditions and adequate healthcare for inmates. And this week—in an unconventional move to raise awarness for the cause—Duane has invited the cast of the off-Broadway play The Castle to give a special performance for New York State legislators at the capitol this week.

When The Castle opened at New World Stages earlier this year, The New York Times described the play as, “a simple, fascinating production about four ex-convicts, which presents the other side of the coin, describing the obstacles that criminal offenders face upon their release.” The stories of the play’s unique cast and creators, and its distinctive origins instill the production with striking honesty.

Forty years ago, after David Rothenberg produced another off-Broadway prison drama, Fortune and Men’s Eyes, the then-theater-publicist was inspired to set aside his long-time carreer and establish the Fortune Society, a nonprofit prisoner re-entry program with services that span from housing and career planning to counseling and health care. Today, the New York City-based center serves approximately 4,000 men and women each year, and after four decades of work with prisoners, Rothenberg’s career has come full circle—back to the theater—with the new work he co-wrote with four former inmates.

Titled after the Fortune Society’s central residential housing facility (nicknamed “The Castle” by residents for it’s towering gothic architecture), The Castle is an autobiographical drama, which recounts the stories of its authors: their childhoods and downfalls, their arrests and incarcarations, their prison time and eventual release. The play is performed, not by trained actors, but by the authors themselves—Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrington, Angel Ramos and Casimiro Torres—who, between them, have served a total of 70 years in New York state prisons and jails.

The play was originally performed in-house at the Fortune Society—intended more as a theraputic proccess than a theatrical production—but a couple of Rothernburger’s old producer friends saw the show, and eagerly mounted an off- broadway production. Sen. Duane saw the play at New World Stages and, according to Rothenberg, Duane believed his fellow legislators should hear the ex-convicts’ stories.

“We’re putting a face on people in prison,” says Rothenberg. “We’ve found that most legislators have never sat and met with people in prison, or who have been in prison. Hopefully it will help them understand that there is cause and effect in crime.”

It’s not the first time Rothenberg has come to Albany with a mission. He and other representatives from the Fortune Society are frequent lobbyists at the capitol, advocating for Rockefeller Drug Law reform and increased support for re-entry programs. Rothenberg has spent the past few days calling legislators and encouraging them to attend the play. He hopes that the production will help them realize that the state system needs to incorporate the kind of re-entry support that the Fortune Society provides.

“You only hear about the people who are rearrested,” criticizes Rothenberg. “No one tells the story of the guy working the nine-to-five job, doing his best to support his family. No one hears what works, what made the difference.”

—kathryn lange

Art Beat

This old toy: A glass rat “whimsy” from Sheridan Avenue.

The Castle will be performed on Monday (June 16) at 6 PM in Legislative Meeting Room 6 of the Empire State Plaza (Concourse, Madison Ave., Albany). The one-night performance is open to the public. To reserve seats, call Sen. Duane’s office at 455-2452.

TUNE IN TONIGHT Want to see local short films from the comfort of your home? Well then, watch WMHT-TV tonight (June 12) at 10 PM, when they will broadcast their new program TvFILM. Hosted by Brandon Bethmann, TvFILM will showcase movies selected by a “distinguished panel of local judges,” and feature interviews with the filmmakers about “the inspiration, ideas and concepts behind their work.” For more info, visit

IF YOU DIG, YOU’LL TURN UP RELICS That’s the way it goes in an old, old, old town like Albany. Before they (i.e., New York State) built the Sheridan Avenue Parking Facility, they called in Hartgen Archeological Associates to investigate the site first. What they found is now the exhibit Sheridan Hollow: A Very Working-Class Neighborhood, which opens Sunday (June 15) at the New York State Museum (Empire State Plaza, Albany). If you’ve read William Kennedy’s O Albany!, you know that Sheridan Avenue and its environs was, from the 19th century right through the Depression, a very rough-and-tumble, working-class place. In fact, in the notes for the exhibit, the NYSM points out that many houses in Sheridan Hollow didn’t have running water or indoor plumbing right into the 1920s. Anyhoo, this exhibit includes a variety of nifty artifacts, from the glass rat “whimsy” pictured to medicine bottles, household items and (surprise) pipes decorated with shamrocks. The exhibit runs through Oct. 14. For more info, call 474-5877.

CALL FOR ENTRIES The Greene County Council on the Arts has announced a call for entries for two (2) juried exhibits. Snow: Beauty or Beast (which will run Sept. 27-Nov. 1) will explore, duh, the subject of snow. “All media considered, including painting, drawing, mixed media, photography and sculpture.” The deadline is Aug. 1. Beautiful Greene (which will run Aug. 2-Sept. 20) will focus on six specific spots in Greene County. The deadline is July 7. Both exhibits will be displayed at the GCCA Mountain Top Gallery in Windham. For complete info, call 943-3400 or visit

KNOCK IT OFF Someone keeps stealing Walking the Dog Theater’s banners, which hung on the corner of Warren and Fifth streets in Hudson. This has happened three times. “The banners are 4 feet long by 3 feet high,” and feature a cute black & white terrier. They advertise a dog parade and dog show at Basilica Industria (110 Front St., Hudson) on July 12. Please cut it out. Every time a banner is stolen we get another press release. For more info, call 755-1716.

—Shawn Stone

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