Réjane sauntered into my life through a happy serend-accident. My husband was writing plays and my dear family friend, Marianne ‘Willie’ Finckel (pictured) mentioned that her grandmother happened to have been a world famous actress in the Belle Époque, which happened to be my favorite era ever. Then Willie pointed to a drawing, nonchalantly propped on a small table in her living room which happened to be by Toulouse-Lautrec, who happens to be my favorite painter ever. Then she said: that’s my grandmother. Réjane.
Now: my grandmother was fabulous, but she had more than one name. Who was this woman? Every summer of my life (including the year I was a fetus) Willie’s family and mine played poker and music together, just inches from that drawing, in Willie’s Bennington, VT home. And Willie told my husband about Réjane. Then she showed him us the Boldini, the Chartran, show programs, a menu with an homage salade on it, and so on.
All world-class classical musicians, I knew our families had all been artistically impressive since at least the 1940s: Willie was a professional pianist who married a professional ‘cellist, George Finckel. With their sons Michael and Chris, and their nephew David, George went on to form the Finckel ‘Cello Quartet. Chris is the ‘cellist in the Manhattan String Quartet; David is the ‘cellist in the Emerson Quartet and his name is on a poster outside Linclon Center; and Michael is a celebrated performer, recording artist, conductor and composer in New York. Michael’s daughter, singer-songwriter Adrien Reju plays all over New York and Philadelphia, and has thankfully agreed to create music and sound for what is now ‘The Réjane Project.’ My Dad, violinist Joel Berman, opened the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, played with YoYo Ma when YoYo was a 19-year old sprout, and is a retired Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland. But this – this was a bigger, better, somehow more nostalgic life, career and story, set in my favorite time period since just after I was a fetus: the Belle Époque!
Willie whole-heartedly supported my sudden, euphoric and voracious interest in her grandmother’s life and work. She answered questions and granted me access to a wealth of family archives. When Willie passed away in August 2007, the rest of the family graciously continued that support. Then I tried to write a simple one-person show based on some letters the family had. After all, I was an actress in need of a vehicle.