Dad’s romantic forays now a witty play
Help me get a date.
Seems simple, if it’s your friend, brother or sister. But your dad?
That’s what Bob Morris was tasked with a few months after his mother died. His parents had a marriage that was a virtual love affair for over 50 years, but as Joe Morris explained to his shocked son, he wanted to replicate that feeling again.
Morris, a New York Times and Travel and Leisure writer, wrote a funny, poignant book in 2008, “Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating With My Dad,” about his resistance, then acceptance, of his father’s request, with its funny scenarios. Some of those scenes will come to life via the play he wrote in a staged reading to be performed at Guild Hall in East Hampton on July 28. Richard Kind, Tovah Feldshuh, Brian Sills and Max Wolkowitz are the stars.
“It’s a story that’s had a lot of iterations,” explained Morris, a Bellport resident, recently. “I started writing about it in a New York Times column.”
Morris authored “The Night” and “Age of Dissonance” columns for years. He became a regular columnist in 1992. “Because I don’t have the best impulses, I used it as a jumping point,” he said.
Don’t kid yourself. Morris’s impulses are what we all squash (well, most of the time); he’s honest about a lot of things and exposes human gaffes with a dry sense of humor.
“Mom had just died,” he continued. “My father was a life-loving man and my entire life I had a tricky relationship with him. We’re both very opinionated. I’m a big snob; dad was a slob who would talk to anybody he’d meet. He was like a walking talk-show host.”
There was another clunker. “My entire life, I was afraid to be left alone with him,” he said candidly. “But I thought, ‘he’s my father, a good father. How do I proceed?’”
His honest thoughts have hit a nerve with many a grown child facing a parent’s mortality, along with issues that hadn’t been resolved but needed to be addressed and reconciled.
“Mom died of a blood disease at 73,” he said, adding they had a loving, close connection. “It was within three months that he reached out to me. I went to Palm Beach thinking this was a private bonding time with him.”
Joe Morris gave his son a hello. Then, “He ditched me for a date. I stood there in the parking lot afterwards thinking the seagulls were laughing at me,” he recalled.
Morris reasoned he was a single New Yorker and liked it that way, so why couldn’t his dad?
“I had this nice, solitary armor at the time,” he said just before taking a short call from his husband, publishing executive Ira Silverberg. “And I felt it made you a stronger person. New York is 50 percent single, that’s what makes it so interesting, and I tried to convince him it’s good to be alone.”
No dice for Joe Morris. “He was a nagger,” Morris said with a rueful smile. “So here’s what I’m faced with. Do you spend time with him in an apartment in Great Neck? So we hopped on the dating train.”
They also sang songs together sometimes. Morris plays the uke.
Something surprising happened mixed in with the comedic and sobering moments. In looking for love for his dad, he found his.
“He was convinced he wanted to love so much it opened me up,” Morris said. Silverberg, an intelligent, cultured, stylish man with compassion, entered his life; they married in 2008. “Dad started nudging me and said, ‘you have to put your mind to it. You have to stop looking for perfection.’ Sometimes we have our parents in front of us and don’t know what we’re hearing.”
“Assisted Loving” enjoyed its world premiere production at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany in February; Morris went on radio and television talk shows and got great press.
“The opening night audience was in gales of laughter, proving that The Rep has a hit on their hands with Morris’s play,” said The Daily Gazette.
“It made a lot of money for Capital Rep in the winter and now we’re looking for more productions,” Morris added.
The budding idea was out there; Gordon Greenberg, a well-known stage director, theater and television writer was introduced to Morris by Daryl Roth, a theater producer. (Greenberg has directed over 100 plays and musicals at major theaters in the U.S. and Europe. He co-wrote and directed the Broadway stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn.”)
“Daryl thought we’d make a good pair,” said Greenberg in a phone interview. “We did it as a one-man show and I asked about the play. We started it in a workshop in Florida, followed by a reading at the 92nd Street Y, followed by a production at Capital Rep, and it’s continued to grow and develop its own life.” It’s become fiction inspired by real-life events.
Greenberg was compelled by the subject matter. “The overriding sentiment is relationships and the value, both romantic and familial, and in the process he learns how to be in a long-term relationship and how to accept love in his life,” he said.
When you’re a writer and journalist, you write. And that’s what Morris does. He’s pretty introspective. In his other book, “Bobby…Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents,” he pummels himself for not having done a better job as a son. It’s not a downer; his parents’ demises are a mixture of funny remembrances, medical dilemmas and crises, dropping the ball sometimes and wise counsel, including a rabbi’s lovely words that perhaps the good acts a person does become points of light after they pass.
While writing for a living is time-intensive, Morris does volunteer. He’s done it in Manhattan with PENN America for years. He loves teaching and has read books to second-graders in public schools all over the city; he mentioned the handmade signs they made welcoming him and their reception with affection. (Wow! A famous author is coming to see us! )
“Society is obsessed with private schools,” he said. “I went to schools that needed help.”
He’d like to crack another frontier closer to home in higher education. “I can teach feature- and first-person writing,” he said. He has a Stony Brook Southampton MFA in creative writing.
Locally, he pitched in to help get a slew of best-selling writers for the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society’s author lecture series and now volunteers for the Boys and Girls Club of the Bellport Area. He worked with Jason Tharp honing his speech as Youth of the Year, which he gave at the Beach Ball event. “He talked about his friend who was killed in that gang incident and what his life would have been had he joined the Boys and Girls Club,” Morris said. “He knocked it out of the box; I was just so proud of him.” Tharp, who graduated from Bellport High School this year, is working to attend Hofstra University and hopes to pursue forensic science.
“Bob’s commitment with the youths is really touching,” said BGCBA executive director Sybil Mimi Johnson, adding that Morris has been reading to 5-to-12-year-olds during story time for several years. “He’s really passionate. It’s a great thing for me to see the impact on kids working with a person who is famous and important; it touches greatness.” Johnson pointed out that it was a two-way street. “For Jason, working with Bob was the highest honor and for Bob, Jason sees him as important. Jason’s speech that he helped him with was so touching, there wasn’t a dry eye. Everyone was silent.”
Sidebar: Bob Morris’s play, “Assisted Loving,” will be performed in a staged reading at Guild Hall, in the John Drew Theater, Dina Merrill Pavilion, on July 28 at 8 p.m. It’s located at 158 East Main Street in East Hampton. For tickets, call 1-866-811-4111.
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