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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Mar. 10, 2010 7 years ago

For Sarasota muses, art imitating life is personal

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Sitting down with Ann Z. Leventhal and Jon Newman is like watching those couple outtakes in “When Harry Met Sally.” You know the little how-we-met vignettes? That’s Leventhal and Newman, comical and instantly adorable. No wonder their relationship inspired a play.

The couple splits their time between Hartford, Conn., and University Park. Leventhal is a writer, poet and musician. Newman is a federal judge, who has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the
Second Circuit in New York for 31 years.

The two began dating in 2005. In 2007, they were married. Widow and widower, both shared between them seven children and 99 years of marriage.

To an outsider, it might seem as if they moved too fast, but to Leventhal and Newman, the pace felt natural and right.

“People who meet at our age make a quick decision whether or not they want to get together,” Newman says. “Twenty-somethings have their whole lives ahead of them, 70-somethings do not.”

“Within a week we had decided we were at the very least going to have a fling,” Leventhal adds.
They say it’s this way for a lot of older couples. You either act on your impulses, or you don’t.

However ordinary Leventhal and Newman claim their courtship to be, Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer saw an unusual fairytale. She had dinner with the couple in 2006 in New York City. At the time, she admits she wasn’t thrilled about the plans.

She had arrived in Manhattan to see “Doubt” on Broadway, and at the urging of her friend and colleague Susan Booth, Leventhal’s daughter-in-law and the artistic director of the Alliance Theatre, in Atlanta, she agreed to meet the then 69-year-old Leventhal and 72-year-old Newman for dinner.

“I always imagined that couples who got together late in life did so for companionship,” Shaffer says. “Ann and Jon changed all of that. They were so interesting and big-spirited and hot for each other. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got it all wrong.’”

When Leventhal and Newman hear this, they explode into laughter.

“She expected to be bored and we were totally different,” Leventhal says. “We were like teenagers.”

Shaffer, 46, was so moved by the couple that in 2007 she penned a two-act romantic comedy titled “Managing Maxine” about a 70-year-old widow (Maxine) who pursues a relationship with a retired judge (Arthur), despite their respective daughters’ disapproval.

The play, which opened in October 2008 at the Alliance Theatre, accurately reflects bits and pieces from the couple’s beginning, but much of the story is fictionalized, including the idea that the lovebirds began their relationship in Sarasota.

The script includes Leventhal’s gutsy first move — a letter she wrote to Newman a year after the death of her first husband — the seven-hour-long first date and the eventual sex scene, obscured by a blackout and explosive sound effects.

Ironically, the only thing about the script that the couple finds unrealistic is the heartfelt letter Maxine addresses to Arthur.

“The letter I wrote went: ‘Dear Jon, please let me know if you would like to get dinner sometime,’” Leventhal says. “The letter in the play goes on and on.”

“If Ann wrote a letter that long to me,” Newman says, “I don’t think I’d be with her!”

If You Go

“Managing Maxine” runs March 12 to April 18, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. For tickets, call 351-8000 or visit

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]

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