From stage to screen to poetry with Israel Horovitz

Adapting a piece from the theater to the silver screen isn’t so unusual. Making the move when you’re 75 isn’t quite so typical.

Award-winning playwright Israel Horovitz certainly knows the material: he’s making his directorial debut with the dramedy My Old Lady, an adaptation of one of his own plays. The film, starring Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith, tells the story of a thrice-divorced, washed up playwright Mathias (Kline) who travels to Paris to claim the one remaining connection to—and asset of—his estranged father: an apartment in the Marais.

The only small hitch in the plan is that there’s already a tenant, namely Mathilde (played by the indomitable Maggie Smith). Most of us would think twice before trying to roust Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess from her home. And strangely enough, a bizarre French law works in Mathilde’s favor: Mathias is not only forbidden to sell the property while Mathilde is still alive (especially tough luck as it seems like an established Hollywood fact that Maggie Smith is immortal) but he’s required to pay her monthly rent. And perhaps a less kind version of “washed up” would better describe Mathias: flat broke.

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Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith

Scott Thomas plays Mathilde’s rather gloomy daughter, Chloé, and few actresses can match her icy fire, particularly when she’s decided to give you the cold shoulder. Her intensity makes what could have been, in less capable hands all around, a real estate comedy into a comedic drama about the skeletons in all families’ closets.

Horovitz’s plays are no stranger to the big screen, from 1970’s The Strawberry Statement with Bruce Davison to 1982’s Author! Author!, starring Al Pacino. But while you wait for My Old Lady to come to a theater near you (the film opened in limited release on September 10and will also be screened at the Aspen Film Festival on September 27, with a wider release mostly likely coming in early 2015), here are three ways to get your Horovitz fix.

9781941110119-Heavean-Horovitz-COVER-200Read Horovitz’s upcoming volume of poetry, Heaven and Other Poems (Three Rooms Press, September 22)

Horovitz is truly a renaissance man, so it makes perfect sense that he’s as adept with verse as he is with stage direction and dialogue. Heaven marks his first official poetry collection and it’s already earned high praise from some big names. Kevin Kline says, “The poetry in this collection is variously political, personal, passionate, funny, nostalgic, elegiac, verbally playful, and unsparingly honest. Wordsworth said of the sonnet: ‘with this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart.’ The same can be said of the poems of Israel Horovitz.” Neil Labute, another theater veteran-turned-film-auteur, says of the collection, “Israel Horovitz loves language like most of us love oxygen. Words spill out of him and pile up in his work like beautiful mounds of rubble. Never easy. Never silly. Always tough, meaningful, funny, tragic and true. Heaven and Other Poems is a collective sigh, the work of a master writer and a hopeful man—perhaps the last among us to still believe in the redemptive powers of both love and art.” At 116 pages, this is the perfect volume to slip into your purse or pocket and read on the subway.

Watch Al Pacino in one of his lesser known (but highly regarded) performances in Author! Author!

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Al Pacino in Author! Author!

When most people think of Al Pacino, the words “Godfather” and “Scarface” come to mind. (Maybe we even mutter “say hello to my little friend!”) One of the great joys of an actor whose career is as long and varied as Pacino’s is veering away from the mainstream and discovering anew the films that weren’t blockbusters but still packed a punch. Author! Author! is one of these films. Pacino plays Ivan Travalian, a playwright (have you sensed a theme yet?) whose play is soon to open on Broadway as his personal life falls apart. His wife not only leaves him, but leaves behind four children from her previous marriage, in addition to Ivan’s own son. The film’s tagline sums up Ivan’s predicament perfectly: “The play must go on, and so must his family.” Pacino earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the harried playwright. And if you squint, you’ll see two of Horovitz’s children in bit parts: daughter Rachael, a film producer of hits like Moneyball and About Schmidt; and son Matthew, also a producer. Horovitz’s younger son, Adam—better known as Adrock from the Beastie Boys—sadly does not make an appearance.

Try to find a Horovitz stage production near you

The author of more than 50 produced plays, Horovitz is a fixture of the stage. From Line, which is in its 25th year off-Broadway, to The Indian Wants the Bronx, which introduced the world to Pacino, Horovitz’s plays are everywhere. If one isn’t playing in your town, do yourself a favor and read one (or more) of his collected works. Start with 1994’s Israel Horovitz, Vol. I: 16 Short Plays. You won’t regret it.

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Jordan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, after spending six years in NYC for college and graduate school (where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia) before realizing that her heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest. She (hopefully) puts that degree to good use writing for BookTrib and Publishers Weekly about the vast quantity of books she reads. While Jordan’s literary diet is largely crime fiction—as she was raised, often literally, in Portland’s only mystery bookstore—she’s perfectly content to read novels and nonfiction that lack a murder because good writing transcends labels. Follow her on Twitter @jordanfoster13.