John Doman, Mercedes Ruehl Among Readers Of Andrea Chapin’s Historical Novel ‘The Tutor’
“This is probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” author Andrea Chapin told a crowd in Brooklyn Heights Wednesday night. Nearly 100 fans and friends of the writer gathered at the home of Rachel Foster and Alain Kodsi to celebrate Chapin’s debut novel, “The Tutor” (Riverhead Books), an imaginative story that brings to life a young William Shakespeare in 1590s England by illuminating a brilliant young woman who inspired the literary icon.
Chapin, who used to live in the Pierrepont Street building where the reading took place, was grateful that her project had come full circle. “I finished the book upstairs; I sold the book upstairs,” she explained, graciously thanking the hosts. “The Tutor” was published by Riverhead Books just last month.
While many Brooklynites are familiar with book launch parties, this was not a typical reading. The audience was treated to a special presentation of Chapin’s book, with four acclaimed actors delivering a dynamic reading of the text. Readers included longtime Brooklyn Heights resident John Doman, known for his performances in “The Wire,” “Gotham” and the Golden-Globe-winning series “The Affair”; Academy and Tony Award-winning actress Mercedes Ruehl from “The Fisher King,” Lost in Yonkers,” and “Married to the Mob”; Christian Scheider from “Words and Pictures”; and Reshma Shetty from the hit series “Royal Pains.”
Chapin, who served as the narrator, said she was inspired to organize the theatrical reading because she had so much fun writing the dialogue. While the book required a tremendous amount of research, Chapin told the Brooklyn Eagle she purposefully wrote the first 50 pages before doing the vast majority of that research so that she could focus on developing her characters at the outset. The actors who read on Wednesday were solid proof that Chapin’s decision paid off. While the performers admitted they had spent little time rehearsing, the chemistry between the characters was palpable, holding the audience captive and drawing a steady stream of laughter.
Set during the brutal and turbulent height of Elizabethan England’s Catholic persecution, “The Tutor” follows Katharine de L’Isle (played by Shetty at Wednesday’s reading), who is living at Lufanwal Hall, the manor of her uncle, Sir Edward (played by Doman). A 31-year-old widow, Katharine leads a quiet life, reading and spending time with her cousins and their children. But when the family’s priest — who had secretly been performing Catholic services — is found murdered, Katharine’s world is uprooted.
It is during this time of unrest that a new, charming schoolmaster — William Shakespeare (played by Scheider) — arrives at the manor. Shetty and Scheider performed the scene in which Katharine and Shakespeare first meet, effortlessly portraying a flirtatious interaction with brilliant timing. Both Doman and Ruehl read from scenes with Shetty as well, conjuring equally convincing relationships. Doman gave life to an adoring uncle. Ruehl, who played the part of Sir Edward’s wife Matilda, acted out a scene that takes place toward the end of the book, in which she tries to convince Katharine to marry master stonemason Robert Smythson despite Katharine’s infatuation with Shakespeare.
The performance left the crowd in awe. The energy and wit of the text lent itself to such natural, engaging performances that some audience members were left wondering if the novel might be made into a movie.
Chapin, who has acted professionally, touring Germany in Edward Albee’s “Seascape,” has also served as an editor with several art, movie and literary magazines, including The Paris Review, Conjunctions and The Lincoln Center Theater Review. Chapin told the Eagle that after working as a “book doctor,” focusing exclusively on others’ writing, she decided to spend time on her own craft as a fiction writer.
She was particularly driven to write this story after reading James Shapiro’s “A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599,” finding herself drawn to the years of Shakespeare’s life that most know little about. Chapin was eager to create a story based upon the few details she did discover; she explained, “I’ve created a whole book of imagining what he was doing during his lost years.”