Lucy Van Pelt, Examined
Ilana Levine is a 30-year-old actress who has been playing Lucy Van Pelt in the Broadway revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown since Jan. 23.
“I think Lucy is a complete narcissist,” Ms. Levine said. “She is a total narcissist! She wants to be the most important thing to everyone; she’s really jealous of things that make people happy.”
It was raining, and she was sitting with her legs folded under her in the Perry Street studio she rents for $1,150 per month. Ms. Levine, a delicate-boned bottle brunette, was wearing jeans, a plum-colored cardigan and black socks. A vintage Peanuts lunch box, which cost her boyfriend $65, was sitting by the bed.
“I think that she has really big ideas and I appreciate her, um, quest for love,” said Ms. Levine. “I totally get why she’s so into Schroeder. Schroeder’s this really self-contained artist who doesn’t need people. There’s nothing more intoxicating than someone who doesn’t need you, and Schroeder is the ultimate artist!”
Ms. Levine grew up in Teaneck, N.J. “Lucy was the first feminist character that I knew of,” she said. “She wasn’t afraid to be a leader. I mean, she’s tremendously interested in what she looks like, but she’s also tremendously interested in being powerful in the world. She’s not so good-looking. She looked real, and I felt solace in that. Her hair? It’s a little frizzy. Maybe she has more Jewish hair.”
Are the Van Pelts Jewish ?
“You know, she is like this kind of JAP-y girl! Maybe they changed their name when they came over. Maybe it was Van Peltansky, or Van Peltsky … or Goldberg! If anything, she’s very New York. Lucy had a very urban attitude in a very small town. I think there’s an aggressiveness and a demanding quality and a sense of entitlement that Lucy shares with a lot of New York women in general, and it’s not limited to Jewesses, particularly. Ultimately, Lucy would not be happy as a housewife.”
To Ms. Levine, Ms. Van Pelt is Bella Abzug with a dash of Rosalind Russell, or maybe Joan Crawford.
“Lucy has no censor. She can’t help herself. She can’t help herself. And Charlie Brown is the perfect foil for all her aggression. I think they have a really incredible relationship. It’s so sick. It’s so sick. I get why Charlie Brown keeps going back for more. He’s so scared of her. He probably wishes he were more like her, and I think for Lucy it’s just a really joyous thing to get at him, and she can’t stop.”
Ms. Levine has thought about Lucy a lot.
“I think Lucy and Linus–I think they’re from a single-mom home. Lucy’s so bossy, she’s sort of like the other parent. Later on, Lucy’s mom had another baby, but I’m not sure it’s a Van Pelt. I like to think of their mom being, like, a cocktail waitress, like out really late. In the morning, we have to be quiet because Mom’s, like, just gotten home, with a cigarette in her hands on the couch, and we have to put it out, so that’s why Lucy’s always upset! That’s why she’s so edgy .”
It’s a helluva gig, for sure, but everything isn’t roses.
“I’m in a blue dress and saddle shoes,” Ms. Levine said, “and, you know, it’s not Armani.”
Monica Lewinsky gets to everybody after a while. On the one hand, she’s a major figure in the life of a nation. On the other hand, she’s Monica. She’s somewhere between the most important and most banal person in the world. This makes her a particularly troublesome news subject for The New York Times .
In a Jan. 25 front-page story on her return to the political stage, Times reporters Francis X. Clines and Don Van Natta Jr. found themselves hopelessly trapped between the mission of the newspaper ( Let us record history as it unfolds ) and the utter mundanity that is Monica ( Mmmmmm, pancakes ).
“In the morning,” wrote Mr. Clines and Mr. Van Natta, “some hotel guests on lobby lookout reported sighting Ms. Lewinsky with her mother, Marcia Lewis, in the hotel restaurant. Ms. Lewinsky had two pancakes and orange juice, a witness said, and was dressed in a dark pants suit.”
The Times could have dispensed with Monica’s pancakes by dropping them into a quick subordinate clause (“after a pancake breakfast at the Mayfair Hotel, Ms. Lewinsky …”), but that would not have allowed the newspaper of record to demonstrate the reporters’ careful work with the anonymous “hotel guests” and the mysterious “witness” who spotted what Ms. Lewinsky had on her plate. By laying out its sourcing in such detail, the reporters almost managed to imbue Monica’s pancakes with some historical importance. Anyway, it was a nice try.
Amazing Manhattan Tour
We are about to embark on the ride of our lives. New York, New York! Ah, but if only we could ride together for three solid days, through each alley in Flatbush, past every soda fountain in Parkchester, down the linden-lined boulevards of Kew Gardens, then we would truly know New York. Alas, we are confined to lower Manhattan–and Manhattan is not New York, contrary to every postcard ever printed. New York is a balance of the earthy quietude of the Bronx, the generational wisdom of Brooklyn, the cheerless whimsy of Staten Island, the provincial hysteria of Queens and, of course, our present island, whose name derives, some believe, from the proto-Algonquin word for drunkenness.
New York is so vast that anything may be a metaphor for it. One may call it a car wash, a cloud, a couch, a conch shell. You can look up words at random in the dictionary and all of them are symbols of New York City. I did just that. See what I discovered– fallal: a showy article of dress .
Here are some interesting facts about New York:
The number of prostitutes plus the number of babies exactly equals the number of police officers.
There are four privately owned giraffes in New York City, all in penthouse apartments.
Every day in New York, more cigarettes are smoked than in all of Finland.
There are more women in the New York City Police Department than in the American Medical Association.
If all the compact disks in New York were made into one giant compact disk, it would be the size of Lake Erie.
If all of New York’s skyscrapers were laid end to end, they would reach Merrick, L.I.
New York is home to the best rabbis and tap-dancers in the world, according to a recent survey.
Ah, look! The Empire State Building. This spot has a curious history. It was originally the site of a particularly tall poplar known as Wah hon pee , or “flute of the gods.” English settlers felled the tree and used it to build a 48-foot structure, then the tallest on the island. George Washington watched the British advance from the tall house in 1778 and wrote, “The British may capture New York, but they will never understand it.”
Now we come to 38th Street, just west of Fifth Avenue. This entire block was once the site of Heller’s High Quality Targets, the world’s largest indoor shooting gallery. Most commonly frequented by criminals and police–who sometimes arrived together–it was best known for Crazy Elmer, a mechanical duck that could actually fly. If not shot down, it would attack the shooter, sometimes causing severe injury. The city closed the gallery in May 1897.
Here we are at 19 Mercer Street, the original site of the Orion Theater, home of the Girls Tuba Rodeo, the sensation of the 1882 season. This group consisted of chorus girls who learned to stand in a semicircle and rope a steer while playing “My Prairie Home” on tubas and sousaphones. The leader of the group, Mary Leapley, was able to catch a fleeing pig using only a tuba and a wooden spoon.
And here is Madison Square. This area was the Times Square of its day, teeming with billboards, streetwalkers and publicity stunts. One of the most famous of the latter was when Lucky Strike imported thousands of native Hawaiian dancers to perform “the smoker’s hula” to a cheering crowd, in 1901. Atop the present-day International Toy Center, at 200 Fifth Avenue, was a giant top that spun continuously for 34 years–an advertisement for Providential Insurance.
Now this building, at 103 Fifth Avenue, was once the headquarters and shrine of King Jed, the leader of a turn-of-the-century cult that used snakes as money. King Jed, a former Army officer and practicing clairvoyant, killed and mummified snakes, then ranked them on a monetary scale, from garter snakes–the equivalent of pennies–to diamondback rattlers, which were worth $1,000 apiece. At the height of his influence, 17 stores in the city accepted snakes as payment.