Sunday, July 5, 2015

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dramatic News

Gotta love getting an e-mail that starts with “Congratulations Playwright!” My play Which Way to the Beach has been selected for New Theatre’s New Stages Festival Miami 1-Acts on August 1 and 2.

new_stages_festival 06-25-15

This is the fourth time one of my plays has been selected for this semi-annual festival and I’m honored and excited to be working with such a great group again.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Reading

Hack Job — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on who’s behind the massive hack of the government and why.

One of things that makes hacking so unsettling is the asymmetry of the situation: Unlike with a physical theft, the victims sometimes don’t know they’re victims for a long time, and once they find out, it’s hard to tell just how badly they’ve been victimized.

That’s true of the massive data breach revealed Thursday affecting 4 million current and former federal employees. There’s still a great deal that hasn’t been explained about why and how the hack happened, and whose data was compromised. (Angry federal employees took to the Facebook page of the Office of Personnel Management to complain about feeling left in the dark about the attacks.) There are, however, some emerging answers to three key questions: Who did it, why, and how it happened.

Early on, the government fingered Chinese hackers in the leak. Bruce Schneier has written for The Atlantic about the dangers of uncritically accepting initial attributions for attacks. The Chinese government has also rejected the claim, saying that it’s a victim of hacking itself. (That’s probably true—and the U.S. admits that it also hacks foreign governments.) But officials says there are fingerprints of known Chinese hackers. Another they’re pointing at China—rather than, say, Russian organized-crime hackers who have also assaulted American computer systems—is the kind of data taken and what’s been done with it.

“They didn’t go to sell the data, which is what criminal groups usually do,” James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The New York Times. The government and outside experts think that, along with the fact that the leak targeted government employees suggest an elaborate effort to build a huge database of information on federal employees. The data reportedly cover employees going back as far as 1985, and includes information on employees who applied for security clearances.

How did they do it, though? The government has a large, costly, sophisticated, and mostly secret system for protecting its data. But that system is, even according to the government, obsolete. It follows an old protocol of attempting to keep hackers outside, like a fence. Newer systems assume hackers will get through the outside defense and try to stop them once they’re inside.

The U.S. had been warned that it wasn’t ready in an inspector general’s report late last year. By the time the report landed, it was apparently too late, but many of the steps it recommended still haven’t been taken. For example:

In the most egregious case cited by the inspector general, outsiders entering the system were not subjected to “multifactor authentication” — the systems that, for example, require a code that is sent to a cellphone to be entered before giving access to a user. Asked about that in an interview, Donna Seymour, the chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management, said that installing such gear in the government’s “antiquated environment” was difficult and very time consuming, and that her agency had to perform “triage” to determine how to close the worst vulnerabilities.

The government will now institute two-step verification—a step that longtime Atlantic readers will remember James Fallows exhorting them to take as early as the spring of 2011.

Life and Death in Sam Brownback’s Kansas — Kai Wright in The Nation on what refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare is doing to the citizens of Kansas.

RaDonna Kuekelhan and her sister, Cathy O’Mara, have spent their whole lives in and around southeast Kansas, a largely rural area wedged up against Oklahoma and Missouri. Long pastoral stretches separate the region’s smattering of ghostly quiet small towns, the depopulated remains of a thriving industrial past. Cathy left the area briefly as a young woman, following a man to Florida, a decision she still regrets.

“I said, ‘God, if you let me get back to Kansas, I will never leave again,’” she recalls, laughing at herself but not really joking. She had missed the closeness of community in Kansas, the way it eases life’s challenges. When she arrived back home without a job, she walked into the factory where her mom worked and started on the line that same day. She’s still there 34 years later.

Closeness has defined Cathy and RaDonna’s relationship, too. The sisters have rarely been separated by more than a long drive. And that is fortunate, because over the past five years, Cathy has been RaDonna’s lifeline as her body has slowly and steadily failed.

RaDonna is dying. She’s a stout, white-haired 59-year-old who’s proudly willful, and she has cheated death twice before. Her first health crisis arrived back in the late 1990s. “It was end of August,” she says. “I went to a softball game and hollered for two hours and I lost my voice. Well, I just assumed it was from the hollering, but it didn’t get no better. So finally my sister told me, ‘You’re going to the doctor.’”

It turned out RaDonna had cancer of the larynx. She says she endured 35 rounds of radiation to beat it back. The treatment was challenging, but at least it was covered. Back then, she had a job making motors for small appliances at Emerson Electric, and it came with a health plan.

Within a couple of years of her recovery, however, Emerson shut down. After two decades in a secure job, RaDonna could now find only temp work, and most of that in factories over the border in Oklahoma. Like most temp work, hers didn’t come with insurance. That made things more complicated when her most recent health crisis began.

In early 2010, she developed severe acid reflux and struggled with fatigue. She was constantly short of breath. “I couldn’t keep nothing on my stomach,” she says now in her gasping whisper, the strongest voice she’s able to muster. “I thought I was having pneumonia.” Cathy scrambled to find a doctor who would see her uninsured sister.

Southeast Kansas is home to four of the state’s five least healthy counties, according to an annual ranking by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. People die younger here than anywhere else in the state. They’re more likely to have diabetes, to be obese, to smoke, and they’re less likely to have insurance coverage for dealing with these ailments. In 2010, as RaDonna grew ill, 16 percent of Americans had no coverage; in Montgomery County, RaDonna’s home, the uninsured rate was nearly 22 percent. Few of these people qualified for Medicaid, the national program designed to insure poor people, because Kansas has long had one of the more restrictive programs in the country. At the time, working parents couldn’t earn more than 32 percent of the federal poverty level—or $5,859 a year for a family of three. Childless adults like RaDonna didn’t qualify no matter how little they took home.

But in March 2010, change was in the air. President Barack Obama had just signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which promised a massive nationwide expansion of Medicaid. States were asked to open their programs to all adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or just about $27,000 a year for a family of three. In return, Washington would pay the full costs of new enrollees through 2016 and 90 percent from 2020 forward. It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of this change. It was arguably the largest expansion of an anti-poverty program since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when Medicaid was created—and it could very well have saved RaDonna’s life.

But the pitched battle to bring Medicaid expansion to Kansas reveals much about how we arrived at today’s healthcare reality—one in which there is very much a red and a blue America. The difference between those two worlds is stark, perhaps nowhere more so than in Kansas.

Note: Montgomery County is the home of Independence; it’s where the Inge Festival is held.

Hey, America, It’s the Tonys!  — Michael Paulson at the New York Times on how the broadcast of tonight’s award show is meant to bring in the audience to the shows.

THE funeral home jingle is an upbeat crowd-pleaser in a show that more often prompts tears. Three winsome children, emerging from hiding in a coffin, pretend to record a TV spot for their family business, and the comic lyrics and antic dance moves invariably provoke rousing applause from the rapt audiences that are now packing into Circle in the Square Theater to see “Fun Home.”

So on the day Tony nominations were announced, when the awards show’s executive producers began calling the creators of Broadway musicals, they wanted to talk about including that song, “Come to the Fun Home,” on this Sunday’s broadcast.

But Team “Fun Home” — championing a show about a young lesbian whose father kills himself after acknowledging that he, too, is gay — was not interested.

The annual Tony Awards broadcast is, of course, about honoring the best of a theatrical season. But there is more than one way to win the night: For producers, the real battle is over wooing ticket-buyers, and the broadcast’s musical numbers are seen as the single most important way to do that.

On an evening sure to be dominated by medleys and mash-ups, the “Fun Home” creators proposed representing their show with an 11-year-old girl, standing alone at the center of Radio City Music Hall, singing “Ring of Keys,” an aching expression of identification and yearning to an unseen deliverywoman she has spotted at the threshold of a diner.

“We don’t have a big tap number, and we don’t have any pyrotechnics,” said Lisa Kron, the playwright who collaborated with composer Jeanine Tesori on the musical. “This is the song that most captures the essence of our show.”

“Fun Home” will be among 11 shows on the broadcast this year, including three not nominated for major awards and one that has been running for 10 years. The productions spend between $100,000 and $400,000 to rehearse and create sets for numbers that, generally in less than four minutes, strive to introduce the shows and persuade viewers to purchase seats.

Deciding what those songs will be, and when in the broadcast they will air, is the result of a largely unseen dance between CBS, the Tony Awards and the theatrical producers, who have overlapping but not identical interests as they try to make a television show that will attract and retain viewers and simultaneously bolster the billion-dollar business that is Broadway.

Doonesbury — Speaking of Kansas.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reflections on Inge

I promised a report on this year’s William Inge Festival, but Jeffrey Sweet, one of theatre’s best historians and critics, was there when we honored playwright Donald Margulies, and I humbly defer to him.

Independence has no Amtrak station. No regular bus service connects it to the outside world. The airport you use to get there is in Tulsa, which is in another state. If you want to get to Independence, you have to muster determination. And yet, every year for the past 34 years, a substantial number of actors, writers and directors—largely from New York and Los Angeles—gather there to celebrate that season’s honoree.

Truth to tell, Independence is a place that Inge—a gay man seeking a life in the arts—fled at the earliest opportunity. Still, he brought Independence’s influence with him to Broadway in such long-running plays as Picnic, Bus Stop, Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Come Back, Little Sheba.

It’s also where a film based on one of his screenplays was shot. There’s a story about that: A house owned by a lady in the town struck the producers as a likely location, and some of the filmmakers visited it to talk to her about it. Later, someone asked the lady about the visit. “Oh,” she said, “that funny little Billy Inge.  He came by with some Chinaman and some Jew.” These were legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe and director Eliza Kazan—who was Greek, not Jewish, though the confusion was hardly uncommon. (Boris Kaufman ended up shooting the film instead of Howe.) The film was Splendor in the Grass.

Margulies, who hails from Brooklyn and whose work owes little discernible debt to Inge, was done proud by this year’s Inge Festival. One evening was devoted to a reading of his most recent play, The Country House. The story concerns a middle-aged actor whose family make room for him because of the biological connection but otherwise treat him with ill-concealed condescension because he doesn’t have the talent they do. When it played Broadway, some of the critics, paying overmuch attention to the influence of Chekhov, gave it a sniffy reception. It deserves better.

donald-margulies_inge-fest

Donald Margulies, center, with theatre students from Labette County High School.

[…]

For their part, the gregarious, generous Kansans around us on the night of the Saturday night banquet at the Booth Hotel didn’t seem likely to go bonkers. There were salutes to the small army of volunteers who each year work hundreds of hours to bring a taste of professional theatre to Independence.  (The town doesn’t have a big enough audience to support an ongoing professional company.) After the festivities, I found myself chatting with a girl who talked about being introduced to Inge’s plays in high school. I remarked about what might be gleaned from his plays about how life was lived during and after the Depression in places like Independence, and about how his portraits of women, Jews and closeted gays struggling in such towns offers a reminder of how profoundly America’s social attitudes have changed in the intervening years. “I don’t know,” the girl said. “Independence is still a pretty conservative place.”

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Inge Festival

It’s that time of year again…

Inge Theatre outside daytime

The William Inge Theatre on the campus of Independence Community College

This weekend is the 34th annual William Inge Theatre Festival, and my twenty-fourth trip to the town of Independence, Kansas.  Long-time readers know of my annual pilgrimage where for three days I get to resume my other identity as a theatre scholar and playwright full-time.

My first Inge Festival was in 1991 when the honoree was Edward Albee.  This year the recognition for distinguished achievement goes to Donald Margulies.

So, who’s William Inge?  Well, among other things, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the play Picnic and an Oscar for the screenplay for Splendor in the Grass.  At the height of his fame in the early 1950’s he was considered to be one of the best American playwrights of the time along with Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.  He wrote many plays, including a collection of short plays.  His works are revived on Broadway every so often, including a stand-out production of Come Back, Little Sheba starring S. Epatha Merkerson in 2008 that should have won the Tony that year.  But fame and adulation doesn’t last forever or ensure happiness, and in 1973, convinced that he had lost his ability to tell any more stories, he committed suicide at the age of 60.  He is buried in Independence under a simple marker with his name, dates, and the word “Playwright.”

Since I’m going to be traveling today and diving in to the festivities, blogging will be light and variable until I get back Monday night.  But I’ll be putting up some reflections on theatre and perhaps some pictures, so I hope you’ll stop by.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tech Support — A Short Play

Scene: An office. Lights up on the cube farm. Me at my desk; Co-Worker at another.

Co-Worker: Oh, the internet’s down! Bobby, can you help?

Me (after wondering why people think the only guy in the office magically knows how to fix computers): What’s on the screen?

Co-Worker: “Internet Explorer cannot connect to this page.”

Me (getting up and going to Co-Worker’s cube and seeing a webpage in all its glory on the screen): Looks fine to me.

Co-Worker: But when I enter the address, I get the error message. (Co-Worker types in address. Error message pops up.) See?

Me: That’s because you’re typing the address into the Search box.

Co-Worker: Oh! Really?

Me: Yeah.

Co-Worker: Ha ha! How funny! Thanks!

Me: You’re welcome. (Goes back to his desk and looks for something to open a vein with.)

END OF PLAY.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

Oscar Snub

Some people who know me are surprised to learn that I’m not a huge movie buff.  I did not go see a film being shown in a movie theatre in 2014, and that’s not the first time that’s happened.  Yes, I’m a theatre scholar and yes, I like a number of movies, but when you get right down to it, the only thing movies at the cineplex have in common with going to the theatre is that you have a bunch of people sitting in a darkened room looking in one direction.  Oh, and they sell candy in the lobby.

This year’s selection of nominees for the Oscars points up another reason I’m not a huge movie goer any longer.  There is more variety in casting, directing, and subject matter in the Miami One-Minute Play Festival* than what’s in the Best Picture and Best Actor categories.  It’s as if the producers in the film industry said “Okay, last year we did the equal opportunity bit with 12 Years a Slave; aren’t we special?  So let’s get back to our real job: making movies for horny white straight men between the ages of 18 and 36 who want to see other horny white straight men blow up buildings, fart in church, and get laid.”  Yeah, that’s the ticket; that’s where the money is, and that’s what it’s all about.

*Full disclosure: I have two plays in the Miami 1MPF this weekend.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Well, I’m Back

Break’s over.  I’m back to blogging on the usual schedule.  Please try to contain your exuberance.

The time off gave me time to do things around the house like pressure-clean the patio, do some real housecleaning, get caught up on a lot of reading, and enjoy the holiday celebrations with friends.  I also had a great time at the Miami 1-Acts Festival.  We had a bit of a scare before the second performance of A Life Enriching Community; one of the actors woke up the morning of the show with the flu.  But a couple of calls later and we had a real trouper step up and do her part like she’d been rehearsing it the whole time.  The next theatre adventure is the One-Minute Play Festival coming up January 17th and 18th.

I also got a lot of writing — and re-writing — done on the novels-in-progress, and I am striving to keep true to my prediction that I will finish at least one of them by the end of the year.

But enough about me.  I suppose I could recap all the news I didn’t write about, but you probably know all of it already.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back/Looking Forward

The tradition continues:  it’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

– Despite the terrible roll-out and start-up of Obamacare and the opportunity it handed the Republican campaign strategists, the healthcare law will not be as big an issue in the 2014 mid-terms that all the Villagers say it will be.  By the time the campaign hits the final stretch, the law will be so entrenched that even the people who claim they hate it — even though they support what it does — will have a hard time trying to run candidates who promise to repeal it.  Still, the GOP noise machine and Tea Party hard-core is locked in on re-electing their safe base and the morning after the 2014 mid-terms will show a House still in the hands of the GOP and the Senate closer to 50-50.

I got most of that right: Obamacare was not a campaign issue but I didn’t count on the Democrats running away from it like it was an Ebola-soaked sponge.  The Republicans didn’t win the Senate so much as the Democrats lost it.

– Immigration reform and gun control will go nowhere because it’s the same Congress we had in 2013 and they didn’t do jack-shit.

Too easy, more’s the pity.

– By December 31, 2014 it will be a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will be running for president.  Joe Biden will play coy with the Villagers about running, but in the end he’ll demur to Ms. Clinton.  The Benghazi! non-scandal will be long gone except for the nutsery who still think Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  The GOP will be lining up its merry band that includes Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and just for laughs, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.  President Obama’s approval numbers will be back up in the 50% range.

Nailed that one.  Even the GOP House report says Benghazi! is a nothingburger, and President Obama’s approval numbers are going up.

– Florida Gov. Rick Scott will lose his re-election bid to Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat, and Marco Rubio’s star will be as faded in GOP national politics as Pauly Shore’s is among Oscar voters.  He’ll pick up a primary challenge from the far right, but he’ll be safe in 2016 because the Democrats have nobody to run against him.

– Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will all face tough re-election campaigns, but Mr. Kasich and Mr. Snyder will probably squeak by.  Mr. Corbett is out, and just for laughs, the people of Maine will toss their gaffe-prone Tea Party guv Paul LePage.

Still pissed that Florida and Maine re-elected those clowns.

– The national economy will continue to expand and the drive for the living wage movement will take hold.  The unemployment numbers will finally get below 7.0% and stay there.

Yeah, that was an easy call.  The minimum wage is going up all over the country.

– Marriage equality will spread to more states as more cases based on the ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 are heard.  Indiana will vote on a ban on same-sex marriage in November 2014, and it will lose narrowly. But same-sex won’t be the law of the land yet, and I predict that unless the Supreme Court issues a sweeping ruling, Texas will be the last hold-out.

– The Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that Hobby Lobby or any for-profit non-religious corporation does not have the right “to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.”

Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that marriage equality would take hold like it did this year.  Thirty-five states now allow same-sex marriage, many based on rulings by courts that hold that banning marriage equality violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.  There are several cases that are making their way to the United States Supreme Court.  But the court may have tipped its hand.  In October the Court declined to take action on five cases submitted for hearing during the 2014-2015 session.  This allowed the lower court rulings that struck down the bans in those states to stand.

Feh on the Hobby Lobby ruling.

– This will be a rebuilding year for the Detroit Tigers now that Jim Leyland has retired.  They’ll do respectably well and may even win the division again, but it’s time for a breather.

Yep.

– Fidel Castro will finally hop the twig, and the slow thaw between the U.S. and Cuba will begin as the generation that is as old as Castro continues to fade away.

Fidel is still alive, but Alan Gross is free and diplomatic relations are being restored.  About time, too.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

Losing Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both by their own hand, made this year especially painful.

– Personally, life will continue at its gentle pace in good health and good spirits.  In September I will turn 62 and begin the first steps towards eventual retirement, but that won’t be for a long time yet.  I’ve already started on my paper for the William Inge Theatre Festival in March, and I continue to write and produce blog posts.  My parents are happily settled into their “life enrichment community,” and I hope to visit them this summer.  I might even get a smartphone this year, but don’t bet on it.

I’m already working on my paper for the William Inge Festival in April, and I had two one-act plays produced, including one entitled A Life Enriching Community, thanks to my visit to my folks in Cincinnati.  No, I don’t have a smartphone.

Now the predictions:

– Now that we have a Republican House and Senate and a president who isn’t running for re-election, get out the popcorn, and I mean the good stuff.  The GOP will try to do everything they can to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama, but they will end up looking even more foolish, petulant, infantile, and borderline nuts than they have for the last two years, and that’s saying something.  Repeals of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and recharged attempts to investigate Benghazi!, the IRS, and the VA will be like the three rings of Barnum & Bailey, all of which President Obama will gleefully veto.  As Zandar noted at Balloon Juice, “Over/under on when a Republican declares on FOX that Obama’s veto is  “illegal”, Feb 8.”

– Hillary Clinton will announce that she is running for president by March 2015 at the latest.  Elizabeth Warren will not run, but Bernie Sanders, the Gene McCarthy of this generation, will announce as an independent and become a frequent guest on MSNBC.  Jeb Bush, after “actively exploring” a run in 2016, will announce that he is running and quickly fade to the single digits when the GOP base gets a taste of his views on immigration and Common Core.  He may be popular in Republican polls, but those people don’t vote in primaries.  The frontrunners for the Iowa caucuses a year from now will be Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

– The war in Afghanistan is officially over as of December 2014, but there will be U.S. troops actively engaged in combat in what is left of Syria and Iraq in 2015.

– The U.S. economy will continue to improve at a galloping pace.  The Dow will hit 19,000 at some point in 2015 and oil will continue to flood the market, keeping the price below $60 a barrel and gasoline will sell for under $2 a gallon, and finally wages will start to catch up with the improving economy.  I blame Obama.

– The Supreme Court will rule that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.  They will also narrowly uphold Obamacare again.

– The embargo against Cuba will end on a narrow vote in the Senate thanks to the overwhelming influence of Republican donors who see 11 million Cubans starving for Dunkin Donuts and car parts and don’t care what a bunch of domino-playing dreamers on Calle Ocho think.

– The Tigers will win their division again.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

– I technically retired on September 1, 2014, but my last day at work will be August 30, 2019.  (It’s complicated.)  I’m planning a return trip to Stratford this summer — more on that later — and I’ll get more plays produced.  I will finish at least one novel in 2015.

– And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

Okay, readers, it’s your turn.  What do you predict will befall us in 2015?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Troupers

The show went on, and it went on very well.

Yesterday morning I got a call from one of the actors in the one-act play.  She had done a great job in Saturday night’s performance, and all we had was one more show Sunday afternoon.  But now she had a fever of 101 and could barely get out of bed.  I made a call to Joel, the other actor in the play, and in five minutes his companion Joanne stepped up.  She read the script off a clipboard that we already used as a prop in her scene, and after a quick walk-through of the blocking, she nailed it.  I don’t think the audience had any idea that she was a substitute.

So thank you, Joanne, Joel, Jerry (our director), and from all of us to you, Francine, get well soon.

A friend was in the audience taking photos — the theatre allowed that — so I should have some pictures later on.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winding Down

Today is my last day at work before the two-week winter holiday.  Yesterday we had our annual office luncheon and Secret Santa gift exchange (thank you, Carmen!).  I missed that part of it because I was doing our first-ever live webinar in financial training.

This week has already been interesting.  On Monday the transmission in the Mustang basically fell apart, so I’ve been driving the Pontiac all week.  (At least I know its transmission is in good shape.)  I’ve been in rehearsal for a one-act play that I wrote for the New Theatre’s Miami 1-Acts Festival winter season.  Normally the playwright isn’t involved with the play after the first reading or so, but in this case the director couldn’t find an actor to play one of the roles, so for the first time since 1995, I’m performing on stage.  I’ve never acted in a play that I wrote, so this is an interesting learning experience as I occasionally wonder who wrote this shit?

Miami 1-Acts Winter 2014

I’ve also had a play selected for the Miami version of the national One-Minute Play Festival that goes on in January, so I’ll be meeting with the director of my offering for that sometime in the next couple of weeks.

This is my roundabout way of telling you that things are going to get a little quiet after today until New Year’s.  Posting will be light and variable through the break, but I will be here when I’m not doing something else like working on another play still in the works or one of the several other projects, plus a crossword or two.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Live TV

I watched the first hour of Peter Pan Live last night, then switched over to Rachel Maddow where they had a whole different live TV show going on: feeds of demonstrations from Chicago, New York, and other places on behalf of Eric Garner and justice.

As for the attempt at theatre on TV on NBC, it was inoffensive.  Allison Williams has a very nice singing voice and she was able to carry off the illusion of being a boy on the verge of puberty, carrying on the tradition of having a woman play the role that goes back to Maude Adams.  She had the tough task of rising to the bar set by Mary Martin, but then the target audience for this performance had no idea who Mary Martin was.  I’m pretty sure even their parents weren’t around when she flew in the window.  From what I saw, Ms. Williams did a good job.

Casting Christopher Walken as Captain Hook was, as they say in the business, a bold move.  It’s harking back to his early days as a hoofer on Broadway (he was in the chorus of the 1964 Noel Coward musical High Spirits), and I’m sure he approached it with his trademark intensity.  But again he had to fill the pumps of the legendary Cyril Ritchard (who also played Mr. Darling in a bit of Freudian double-casting), and while Mr. Walken’s performance in the pirate production number was interesting to say the least, he came across as more menacing than flamboyantly vicious.  Even Dustin Hoffman in Hook had more fun.  Besides, what’s the point of playing Captain Hook if you can’t camp it up?

I guess I’m just a nostalgic curmudgeon, but I liked it better seeing it in grainy black and white on our old Magnavox TV-radio-phono console in the living room when I was eight.  It was more theatrical.  You knew you were watching theatre, and seeing the cables that made the kids fly added to the fun.  Last night it was more a distraction knowing that they were staging it for TV.

Switching over to watch the marches on the streets of America had their own theatrical quality.  This was real street theatre.  There’s something karmic about changing channels from one show about fighting the forces of evil set to music to another show set to chants of “I can’t breathe.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It’s A Tradition

Fiddler_on_the_roofIf you’re in South Florida and looking for some family entertainment this weekend, check out the Miami Acting Company’s production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Banyan Bowl in Pinecrest Gardens.  This legendary musical that opened fifty years ago once held the record as the longest-running show on Broadway.  This production runs tonight through Sunday, so go already.

I attended the final dress rehearsal last night (which explains the dearth of posts this morning) and it looks good to go with a strong cast, a good-sized orchestra, and a very nice set that was assembled by a dedicated crew of skilled (if uncredited) carpenters last Sunday just out of range of the pouring rain.

This is not my first trip to the shtetl.  In 1972 the University of Miami Ring Theatre did Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevye was played by Ernie Sabella and the cast also included Gail Edwards and yours truly as the Russian priest.  I had one scene behind a scrim.  But to quote the immortal Avery Schreiber, there are no small parts, just short pay.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stratford Memories

In years past, today would be the day we packed up the car and headed for Stratford, Ontario.  Then we’d have four days of theatre and touring around to see our friends at Jonny’s Antiques, Rundles restaurant, and Callan Books.  But the move to Cincinnati and the inexorable passing of time have made the trip now a wonderful memory.  And while we’re not going this year, we knew that our trip last year was our farewell tour, and we made the most of it.

So I’m not going to get all maudlin about it.  We have over fifty years of memories, stories, and pictures to share, and as long as we have them, we’re there.

14. Festival Theatre

The Festival Theatre.

3 Garden

The Shakespeare Garden in front of the Festival Theatre.

010 Callan Books

Callan Books — now closed — but once the best little bookshop in Canada.

012 Me

Some random theatre goer and erstwhile drama critic having a picnic along the banks of the Avon River.

003

Dad and Mom outside Fanfare Books. Thanks for taking me and forging the love of theatre.

008 The Avon

The Avon River that wends its way through Stratford

It was in Stratford that I truly fell in love with theatre, and from there I took that love and turned it into my life study, if not my profession.

It’s not goodbye; it’s just intermission.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fifth of July

Fifth of July is not just a date, it’s a play by Lanford Wilson. It opened off-Broadway in 1978, then, after some revision, on Broadway in 1980. It’s also the play that was the starting point of my doctoral studies and the subject of my doctoral thesis in 1988.

In 1985 I directed a production of the play at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder with a great cast.

Fifth of July Nomads March 1985

The cast of Fifth of July at Nomads Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, March 1985

In the course of my studies I became friends with Mr. Wilson, and the director of the productions, Marshall W. Mason. So ever since then, I have marked the 5th of July as a special day for me and my love of theatre.

“Matt didn’t believe in death and I don’t either…. There’s no such thing. It goes on and then it stops. You can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.” – Sally Talley, Fifth of July.

Speaking of theatre, last night was the opening of the Miami 1-Acts Festival at New Theatre where my play Last Exit was a part of the program.  I was very happy with the performances by Hector Dominik and Gabriel Bonilla and grateful to director Jerry Jensen for his nuanced interpretation of the play.

Hector, Jerry, and Gabriel

Hector, Jerry, and Gabriel

There’s one more performance of the play tomorrow evening.

Friday, July 4, 2014