Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Reading

Now What? — Suzy Khimm in The New Republic on where the Religious Right goes now.

It’s been a rough stretch lately for Christian social conservatives, whose nightmare came to life this past summer with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs. Hodges. But the annual Values Voter Summit kicked off this past weekend in Washington with shouts of jubilation, as activists celebrated the unexpected news that House Speaker John Boehner would be resigning amid the fight over social conservatives’ effort to defund Planned Parenthood or force a government shutdown. “Yes!” one man shouted above the deafening cheers and applause on Friday morning after Senator Marco Rubio interrupted his address to announce Boehner’s exit from the podium. “Amen!” shouted another.

Later, on Friday evening, another packed room at the Omni Shoreham would erupt once again when Kim Davis, the defiant country clerk from Kentucky, took the stage to accept an award for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “I am only one,” Davis told the crowd in her brief remarks, her voice rising to a shout. “But we are many!”

It was a pent-up primal scream that these Christian culture-warriors have long been waiting to unleash. While these triumphal moments may have been fleeting—Boehner almost surely won’t be replaced as speaker by a hardcore social conservative, and Davis’s stand has done nothing concrete to advance the cause of religious liberties—the urge to cheer for something was easy to understand; right about now, evangelicals will take whatever victories they can get. Ever since the religious right’s political power arguably peaked in 2004, when President George W. Bush and Karl Rove made gay-marriage bans a centerpiece of their re-election strategy, social conservatives have watched helplessly as their “family values” agenda fizzled, as the tide increasingly swam against them on gay marriage, and as Tea Partiers replaced them as the most coveted constituency for Republican candidates to court. While they’ve had great success in enacting abortion restrictions in many states, they’ve seen popular support for much of their once-ambitious policy agenda erode.

Despite the hallelujahs, what this year’s summit ended up highlighting was not the resurgent power of Christian conservatives in the Republican Party, but how much their influence on the policy debate has diminished outside of the issue of abortion. As usual, most of the major GOP presidential contenders—even the unlikely figure of Donald Trumpcame courting the crowd of 2,700 who’d registered for the event. But they offered little besides effusive praise for Kim Davis and utterly vague—if not utterly unrealistic—promises to champion religious liberties in the White House. When the summit-goers left Washington to scatter back to their hometowns across America, they left with no clear idea of what to fight for next on gay marriage—or how.

Get To Know Jorge Ramos — William Finnegan at The New Yorker profiles the Univision anchor and best-known journalist you’ve never heard of.

When Jorge Ramos travels in Middle America, nobody recognizes him—until somebody does. Ramos is the evening-news co-anchor on Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV network, a job he has held since 1986. A few weeks ago, I was on a flight with him from Chicago to Dubuque. Ramos, who is fifty-seven, is slim, not tall, with white hair and an unassuming demeanor. Wearing jeans, a gray sports coat, and a blue open-collared shirt, he went unremarked. But then, as he disembarked, a fellow-passenger, a stranger in her thirties, drew him aside at the terminal gate, speaking rapidly in Spanish. Ramos bowed his head to listen. The woman was a teacher at a local technical college. Things in this part of Iowa were bad, she said. People were afraid to leave their houses. When they went to Walmart, they only felt comfortable going at night. Ramos nodded. Her voice was urgent. She wiped her eyes. He held her arm while she composed herself. The woman thanked him and rushed away.

“Did you hear that?” he asked, at the car-rental counter. “They only go out to Walmart at night.”

In an Italian restaurant on a sleepy corner in downtown Dubuque, a dishwasher came out from the kitchen toward the end of lunch to pay her respects. She, too, fought back tears as she thanked Ramos for his work. He asked her how long she had been in Iowa. Five years, she said. She was from Hidalgo, not far from Mexico City, Ramos’s home town. She hurried back to the kitchen.

“We have almost no political representation,” Ramos said. He meant Latinos in the United States. “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won’t defend the undocumented.”

“A Country for All,” Ramos’s most recent book—he has published eleven—is dedicated to “all undocumented immigrants.” He was trying to explain how a journalist finds himself in the role of advocate.

“We’re a young community,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect ABC, or any of the mainstream networks, to take a position on immigration, health care, anything. But at Univision it’s different. We are pro-immigrant. That’s our audience, and people depend on us. When we are better represented politically, that role for us will recede.”

Besides co-anchoring the nightly news, and cranking out books, Ramos hosts a Sunday-morning public-affairs show, “Al Punto” (“To the Point”), and writes a syndicated column; for the past two years, he has also hosted a weekly news-magazine show, “America with Jorge Ramos,” in English, on a fledgling network (a joint venture of Univision and ABC) called Fusion. (When Jon Stewart asked him, on “The Daily Show,” to account for his hyperactivity, Ramos said, “I’m an immigrant. So I just need to get a lot of jobs.”) His English is fluent, if strongly accented. His Spanish, particularly on-air, is carefully neutral—pan-Latino, not noticeably Mexican. Univision’s audience comes from many different countries, and the network broadcasts from Miami, where the most common form of Spanish is Cuban.

Ramos occupies a peculiar place in the American news media. He has won eight Emmys and an armload of journalism awards, covered every major story since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and interviewed every American President since George H. W. Bush. (He’s interviewed Barack Obama half a dozen times.) But his affiliation can work against him. In June, when he sent a handwritten letter to Donald Trump, who had just launched his Presidential campaign, requesting an interview, it was no dice. Univision had cut its business ties with Trump, including its telecasts of the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe beauty pageants, after Trump accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to the United States. Trump posted Ramos’s letter on Instagram, crowing that Univision was “begging” him for interviews. The letter included Ramos’s personal cell-phone number, which Ramos was then obliged to change. In the weeks that followed, Trump produced a stream of provocative remarks and proposals about Mexicans and immigration, giving the national immigration-policy debate the hardest edge it has had in generations. Now Ramos really wanted to interview him.

Signs Of The Times — Michael Paulson in the New York Times on the revival of the musical “Spring Awakening” with deaf actors.

Staging a Broadway show is always a three-dimensional chess game. But this “Spring Awakening,” which uses eight deaf actors, eight hearing actors and seven onstage musicians, has added another layer of complexity and sparked a burst of theatrical innovation.

Musicals, after all, are built around sound, and ordinarily it is a beat, a lyric or a spoken phrase that signals to an actor when to walk on or walk off, when to begin a speech or a song, when to start a step. But for this “Spring Awakening,” the director Michael Arden, the choreographer Spencer Liff and the actors themselves have devised an array of silent cues: hidden lights, coded gestures, timed touches and prompting props.

“Spring Awakening,” a darkly tragic drama about adolescent sexuality in a repressive community, was written as a play by Frank Wedekind in 1891, and then adapted into a rock musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik in 2006. The adaptation was a hit on Broadway — it won eight Tony awards, including for best new musical, provided starmaking roles to Lea Michele (“Glee”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”) and John Gallagher Jr. (“American Idiot”), and ran for just over two years.

Mr. Arden, who has been collaborating with the Los Angeles troupe Deaf West Theater since appearing in their Broadway revival of “Big River” in 2003, thought that “Spring Awakening,” which he viewed as “a cautionary tale about the perils of miscommunication,” would have great resonance with a deaf cast. Both “Big River” and this “Spring Awakening” had two productions in Los Angeles before transferring to Broadway.

Without altering the Sater-Sheik book or lyrics, Mr. Arden has added a new context for the story. The deaf actors portray deaf students in a school that does not allow the use of sign language, implicitly nodding to a historical event (contemporaneous with the play’s setting in late 19th-century Germany) in which an international conference of educators called for the mandatory and exclusive use of oralism (lip reading and speech) when teaching deaf students.

In one scene, a teacher, played by Patrick Page, can be seen threatening students who use sign language, attempting to train the deaf to speak by having them feel, and then mimic, the movement of his mouth and throat, and by having them watch the impact of vocalizations on a feather held in front of the face.

In this “Spring Awakening,” which opened to good reviews on Sept. 27, the deaf actors are at the center: Mr. Arden has asked the cast, and is now expecting audiences, to focus attention on the signing, not the singing. The deaf actors are often downstage and lighted from the front; their hearing partners are generally lighted from behind, and in ensemble numbers the cast members look toward the signers.

“It is highly important that the performance is the deaf actors’, and the hearing actors are following their intention — we get in trouble if we get ahead of them,” said the actress Camryn Manheim, a onetime sign language interpreter who is making her Broadway debut playing several adult women in the show.

Doonesbury — Bigfooting.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Reading

Mission Accomplished — Tom Englehardt in The Nation on what Osama bin Laden got for his attacks.

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach—from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet—would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.

Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.

Don’t Do It, Joe — Charlie Pierce on why Joe Biden shouldn’t run.

Watching Vice President Joe Biden’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s new joint on Thursday night was like watching a man having his blood drawn with a turkey baster, one drop at a time. This is a guy who already had more tragedy than a merciful god would have allowed and that was before his son, Beau, died earlier this year. Of course, the man broke down. The wonder is that he ever gets out of bed in the morning. What he should do is continue as best he can to be the finest vice-president of my lifetime. What he should not do in his current state of emotional turmoil is run for president.

Leave aside the inescapable fact of political gravity that, as soon as he announces, his numbers begin to slide. Leave aside that his record as a senator is not exactly a progressive’s dream, and the only way to campaign effectively against Hillary Rodham Clinton is to come at her from the left, as Bernie Sanders has shown, and as Jim Webb has demonstrated from the other direction through his functional invisibility. Leave aside the fact that he’s tried it twice already and been crushed both times, once by Michael Dukakis, which ought to give anyone pause. Leave aside the fact that the whole boomlet thing seems to be the product of staffers, in Washington and in Delaware, who still see him as their last main chance. Those people are vampires.

But leave all that aside. Joe Biden shouldn’t run for president because he shouldn’t do it to himself. He has earned a unique place in the country’s heart, which is a far warmer place for him as a human being than shivering in some cornfield outside Ottumwa in the cold winter winds. A presidential campaign is a soulless mechanism designed to grind the human spirit into easily digestible nuggets. Moments of profound personal pain and loss are as unavoidable as are concussions in the NFL. It was almost unbearable to watch him speak of his son’s death even to someone as profoundly compassionate as Colbert. I would hate to see him coin that grief into political currency, or fashion it into a portion of a stump speech that would become banal the second time it was delivered. I think, at some level, he would come to hate himself for having to do that.  It’s not that I wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden, though I probably wouldn’t. It’s that I don’t want to see him hurt any more.

Revival — Ben Brantley of The New York Times on bringing back familiar shows in new productions.

So you think you’ve seen it all before — and recently, too.

I was of your mind once. Time was when looking at the schedule of a new theater season in New York would bring on a blinding déjà vu headache that threatened to send me to bed. “Not that show again,” I would think. “Didn’t I just see it a couple of years ago? Is there truly nothing new under the neon of the Rialto?”

If I were still trapped in that unenlightened state, you’d find me grousing myself hoarse about the roster of productions awaiting me on and off Broadway during the next year. Here come two more editions of Arthur Miller classics, “A View From the Bridge” (the last one was only five years ago!) and “The Crucible” (seen 13 years ago); and another couple of starry versions of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (12 years ago) and Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” (three and six years ago).

And what’s this? “Fiddler on the Roof” redux. (The last revival of this beloved shtetl musical closed in 2006). And “Noises Off” and “The Gin Game” and heck, even, “The Color Purple,” a musical that completed its initial two-and-a-half year Broadway run in 2008. This new century is still relatively young. Shouldn’t there be a moratorium on bringing back shows that have already had 21st-century outings until, say, 2020?

But having read a lot recently about how negativity is bad for your health, I am determined to put a happier face on this season of wall-to-wall recycling. My new code of behavior — and I hope you’ll subscribe to it, too — is all about how to stop worrying and love the revivals.

First of all, if you’re a theater geek like me, you’ve no doubt spent hours playing the imaginary casting game with like-minded friends. Sometimes this is an exercise in silliness. (“What if Kim and Kanye did ‘Private Lives’?” or, “How about Donald Trump as Sweeney Todd?”) On other occasions, the speculation is whimsical but not entirely beyond belief. (“Think of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon as Beatrice and Benedick in ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ ” or maybe, “Can’t you see Taylor Swift headlining ‘Sweet Charity’?”)

But such musings are rooted in the awareness that as familiar as some of them may be, good plays are endlessly mutable entities, which take on entirely new shapes according to who is appearing in, directing and designing them. And when I think about it honestly, I have to say I wouldn’t have missed any of the many, many Hamlets and Hedda Gablers and Vanyas and Prince Hals and Momma Roses and Sally Bowleses I’ve seen over the years.

That’s because if the play or musical is good enough, any production of it — even a misfire — is going to be illuminating in some way. Seeing the gap between miscast performers and their parts may be painful. But you can also read a lot about the playwright’s intentions, and your perception of the play, within that gap.

True enough, but it’s also important to give new plays — and playwrights — the chance to get their work done so they too can enjoy being revived five years later.

Doonesbury — Trendsetting.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Late Night

Things are running a bit slow here this morning because I was up very late — for me — last night.  It was the first read-through and rehearsal of my ten-minute play Which Way To The Beach which will be produced as part of the Miami New Stages Festival on Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13.

New Stages Festival Updated 08-01-15

Rehearsal started at 7:00 last night up in Sunrise, which is west of Fort Lauderdale, and we wrapped up around 9:30.  I had an hour’s drive home, getting me back here way after my bedtime.

But it was worth it.  We have a great cast, a fine director, and I’m excited to be a part of a thriving theatre community.  There will be time to sleep this weekend.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Backstage at Stratford

Yesterday we got the tour of the costume and prop warehouse at Stratford.  It’s huge; it’s a building the size of a football field with rows upon rows of costumes, props, and anything else you might need for a production.  At the end we got to try on some costumes for fun.

009Lady Bracknell’s outfit from The Importance of Being Earnest, worn by Brian Bedford.

015The Old Professor gets the royal treatment.

016Last night we saw The Taming of the Shrew.  Today we get the backstage tour of the Festival Theatre.  Here’s a preview.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On Vacation

I’m off to Stratford, Ontario, to take in the Stratford Festival.

14. Festival Theatre

Since 1970 this was an annual pilgrimage with my parents, who looked forward to this time even more than their son with all those advanced degrees in theatre.  This time I’m going with someone who has been an important influence on my theatre studies for nearly forty-five years and a good friend as well.  You know him as The Old Professor, a cognomen he bears with bemusement.  He is generously sponsoring a good deal of this journey, and my gratitude knows no bounds.

We’ll be seeing four plays while we’re there as well as dropping in on some favorite haunts such as Fanfare Books, exclusive distributors of my scripts in Canada and Rundles, the favorite restaurant of my father.

012 Fanfare BooksAll of this is my way of saying that I’ll be on my vacation schedule while I’m traveling.  I’ll post some pictures and notes about the plays we see and the places we go, but posting will be light and variable.

Exit, pursued by a bear.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Live On Stage

Via Bloomberg, here are some of the rules for Thursday night’s GOP debate on Fox.

Candidates who are called upon will be given only 30 seconds for rebuttals. If a candidate’s name is invoked during someone else’s answer to a question, that candidate will get a chance to respond for a length of time at the moderator’s discretion…

On the crowded stage of 10 candidates, the candidate with the highest polling numbers – currently real estate mogul Donald Trump – will stand at the center of the stage, with lower-polling candidates fanned out in alternating order to the left and right.

I will be out of the country seeing a performance of The Alchemist.  It’s the story of con artists who fleece the greedy fools.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

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, 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.)


Friday, March 27, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015