Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sklar connects spies, kitties at New Works

Don’t underestimate the power of prose — or poetry. Daniel Sklar sure doesn’t. The 56-year-old Hamilton resident moved to the North Shore from New York, where he painted apartments and drove a cab while studying acting and getting a master’s degree in English from New York University. He met his wife, Denise, in the city. She was a dancer. He started looking for a respectable job, as a teacher, but there was nothing, and the Big Apple started feeling oppressive, and it was no place to raise a family. They wanted out. She had Salem roots, so they ended up on the North Shore. He started painting again, which was depressing. ”I thought I would be painting the rest of my life,” he says. Then one day he found himself outside Endicott College, an institution that he really didn’t know much about. He just walked in and got an interview. Which sounds unlikely and definitely not the best approach to landing a job, but the timing was right, the English department had one retirement, one firing and one guy just walking out the door. They needed someone right away. Sklar showed them his resume and one of his poems — and he landed the job, “So anyone who tells you that poetry will never get you anywhere is out of his mind,” he says. The Beverly liberal arts college offered him a full-time gig teaching creative writing and literature a year later.

That was 23 years ago. Now he’s a full professor and editor of the Endicott Review. His poetry has been published in a variety of publications. In 2001, he published “Hack Writer: Poems, Stories, Plays,” and in late 2008 followed up with ”Bicycles, Canoes, Drums,” a collection of his recent work. And, this weekend, “Sleeping with the Cat 1963,” his new short, will make its debut at the New Works Festival, a four-day event that focuses on original plays.

The name refers to a nightly, ritualistic bonding with a furry friend, which may be sweet and loving and therapeutic, but, when it’s all the emotional support you have, is a little sad. The story takes place on New Year’s Eve at the Saugus Iron Works, where two female spooks are nearing the end of their careers, which have lasted from the end of World War II to the Bay of Pigs. They meet for reasons that have not been fully explained to them. It’s all very mysterious. But the 10-minute play is not about espionage or intrigue or Cold War strategies. It’s about two people who have spent their entire adult lives lying about who they are and what they do. The end is nearing and, it appears, they’re crossing the finish line with nothing. They couldn’t have close friends because of their careers and now, save kitty, their lives are empty.

“It’s about relationships,” says Sklar, who will also make his Newburyport acting debut the same night, performing in “Knowing,” a comedy by Gregory Hischak. “It’s about choices. After they learn how to trust each other, no mean feat, coming from the world of cloak and dagger, they let down their defenses and spill their guts to each other.”

The production, which will be staged with six other shorts on Jan. 23, the second day of the festival, stars Maureen Daley and Mary Shapiro. Alan Huisman directs.

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