06 February 2009

Promise of The Park

It is earlier than you think because so many of us have spent our lives watching the struggle for inclusion, unfold, and by the grace of God, triumph. It is very easy to fall into the misunderstanding, that no one was thinking about "our issues" prior to 1973. It was my pleasure, to learn that this is not true at all.

On Oct. 11th I observed "Promise of the Park", Ms. Leslie’s Fanelli’s time traveling tale, of the first park, open to everyone, in New York City’s central park, and it’s maverick Creator, Frederick Law Olmstead Sr. The park, took sixteen years to build, and opened in 1873, a century before the rehab act, laid the foundation for equality in education. Mr. Olmstead had designed a fully accessible park, trough the use of, sunken trails. He would design hundreds of parks, play a major role in the Colombian exposition, and,even create the McClean psych hospital,in Massachusetts where he spent his last few years following dementia.
He was ahead of his time there also, encouraging bright airfilled treatment rooms, in place of the stark cells of the era. This hospital is best known as the real life setting, for Susanne Kasyenne’s Girl Interupted. This genius, saw the need, to use public spaces to bring people together. In a time, when any concern for the non elite was dismissed as radical, or dispensed with the disdain of paternalistic disengagement, a place for all human kind, black and white, rich and poor, was unheard of. Even before he sustained his permanent limp, from a carriage accident, he understood the need to intergrate those with impairments, into his parks, and by extension the larger society.

The play, is executed in a whimsical, yet compelling manner, like all of Ms. Fanelli’s work. Her teenage persona and her friend and conscience, Amy, played with zest and humor by, Ms. Amelia Foweler, are having a picnic in the park, when too their disbelief they encounter Olmstead himself, who has traveled through time, to see his beloved child, in our world. Initially, they cannot believe this person, whom they have never heard of, is anything more than an actor, or confused soul; but he is able to convince them, and the three share a journey into the park’s creation and their own environmental development. The lion Olmstead, brought to life, by Mr.William DemBaugh, combines wonder at this new world, he believes planes are a new bird, with a desire to teach, and mentor the young people to protect this treasure he has given to them. Mr. Dembaugh is careful, to show the audience the master’s forward thinking without making him an archaism. He is a man of his time, a patriarch before we knew what that meant.

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