Diamond Lil, Queen of the Bowery

by LindaAnn Loschiavo, Dramatist

My entire childhood was influenced by The Arts.

Even before I entered first grade, I worried that I could never oil paint as well as my grandfather nor sketch as quickly and delightfully as my aunt much less compete with those framed masterpieces hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where my parents would take me on Sunday. My grandfather had painted a wide landscape that my grandmother hung at the base of the stairs, so I felt like I was walking into it. It was supposed to be Dante’s encounter with Beatrice. My aunts explained that it was Paradise and Dante could not actually touch her. That was confusing because the bridges looked like Venice, not Heaven. Anyway I suspected my small portion of talent wouldn’t take me too far.

From the age of 2 years old, I was listening to opera and, more importantly, the loud arguments over who had sung each aria the best, which conductor interpreted the narrative most faithfully, who had received more encores during a farewell performance. My grandmother, who had met Enrico Caruso in person, often won the arguments. I adored opera, too, but felt ashamed that my voice would never be greeted with the cheers and foot stomping that made paint flake from the ceiling.

From the age of 4 years old, I was taken to Broadway musicals. Even as I felt privileged to be sitting in the orchestra section, reading my Playbill by the beam of the courtesy seat light, I suspected I could never belt out a song like Ethel Merman nor dance like Gwen Verdon. Poor me, not good enough.

Surrounded by the best ARTS BUFFET Manhattan had to offer, what little corner could I slice off as my portion? Writing seemed to be the answer. Even as a child, I had the ability to dash off effective complaint letters, so my family gave me that responsibility. I branched out into greeting cards, doing a watercolor design on the front and writing a poem inside. Then I wrote sonnets for class projects, which merited a star and got pinned up. My parents refused to buy a home encyclopedia, which forced me into the library every Wednesday; I’d borrow seven books, read one a day, and resume the cycle the following Wednesday. The librarians showed me where the published plays were kept. It was fun to memorize dramatic scenes and recite these for my family after supper.

After reading the novel “Little Women” and discussing it with the librarians, I was annoyed that very few of my classmates were familiar with this classic. I decided to dramatize part of the book to make it come alive. “New Little Women” became my first one-act play. The four March sisters (Meg, Amy, Beth, and feisty Jo) and their mother Marmee were the cast and I typed each copy of the script on my manual typewriter. Each “actress” had to promise to rehearse and, more importantly, swear on her life not to lose the script. Since my aunts worked in the garment industry, they had leftover velveteen fabric to make five long skirts and I borrowed the “scenery”: an old rocking chair. My 50-minute play, produced in Brooklyn, NY, ran for close to 18 months. What a lovely sound: the applause of a roomful of attentive strangers.

My most recent play “Diamond Lil, Queen of the Bowery” (runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes) had a simple set (1 stool, 2 chairs, and a small table), and a cast of eight. Set in 1895, this was easy to costume: long skirts and corsets for the actresses, derbies, bowties, and shirt garters for the actors. My drama ran in Manhattan on West 46th Street from August 17th, 2013 – – November 24th, 2013.

My appetite for the arts continues. My latest book has a section on opera before the Civil War and I attend the theatre
2 -3 times a week. Blame it on Broadway biting me when I was a wide-eyed child.

“Diamond Lil” was entered into NYC’s Fringe Festival.