Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Heartburn In The Heartland

When Thomas Frank wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” in 2004, his theory was that the Republicans had successfully captured the rural vote by convincing the people of Kansas to vote against their own self-interest by frightening them with abstract fears of distant dangers.

According to the book, the political discourse of recent decades has dramatically shifted from social and economic equality to the use of “explosive” cultural issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, which are used to redirect anger toward “liberal elites.”

Against this backdrop, Frank describes the rise of political conservatism in the social and political landscape of Kansas, which he says espouses economic policies that do not benefit the majority of people in the state.

Trump and his minions have been exploiting this issue, riding to his election based on the fact-free claims that illegal immigration was destroying America, and that Others were out to destroy our way of life, including the suburbs.  The dog-whistle gave way to the bullhorn, and that is how they are hoping to keep their grip on power, using the demands for racial justice and police reform as precursors to the apocalyptic future of married lesbians lining up for free abortions and brown people voting.

But if it worked in 2016, it might not be working now, according to Nancy LeTourneau in Washington Monthly.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s margin against Clinton in Iowa (9.4) was slightly larger than it was in Texas (8.9). But according to the polling average at FiveThirtyEight, the 2020 Iowa presidential race is basically a toss-up, with Trump’s lead only 1.4 percent. Similarly, incumbent Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who won her seat in 2014 by over eight points, is tied against her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.

Iowa is one of those quintessentially “heartland” states that is predominantly rural. In other words, it is home to the people who make up Trump’s strongest base of support. So what has happened there over the last four years? According to Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times in Northwest Iowa, “An ill wind blows for incumbents” in his home state.

That’s not simply because Iowa is a COVID-19 hot spot or that the president’s trade wars triggered layoffs at John Deere plants in Davenport and Waterloo. It’s also owing to the climate crisis which Trump calls “a hoax”. The state had been hit by drought and a hurricane-like derecho wind, which flattened 14 million acres in August. Corn prices are at their lowest point in a decade.

As Cullen points out, Trump’s convention speech was tone-deaf to voters in Iowa.

Trump simply must win Iowa and Wisconsin. So he cast a convention against this backdrop of anxiety and fear – godless looters are coming for yours – and roped in our governor [Kim Reynolds], former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa to play in the tragedy. Few were inclined to listen. When the corn calls, you are too busy removing fallen trees from your machine shed.

So what’s the mood in Iowa?

Farmers are anxious. Latinos are afraid. Unemployed machinists are frustrated. That prized demographic, suburban women in Urbandale next to Des Moines, are encouraging the school board to sue the governor over her in-person school orders…

Even some of those farmers are wondering about Trump as they dig into a harvest so meager that wraps up as they vote.

What has changed in Iowa is that Trump’s narcissism and incompetence are landing hard on its citizens. If Cullen is right, they don’t need this president’s trumped-up fears about “those people.” They’ve got enough real-life worries.

This does not mean that the people of Iowa or Kansas will turn on Trump. But when reality overwhelms the abstract, nothing should be taken for granted.

(And yes, the picture is a shameless plug for my new play that is about this issue.)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Friday, August 7, 2020

Happy Friday

I’m honored to be a part of the growing family of playwrights and plays now published and licensed by Smith Scripts.

This month we welcome over 40 new writers; it has been a pleasure to make contact with each and every one of you and to read many outstanding new scripts. Many of these writers are based in the USA and our resultant increase in customers and interest in the US has become self-evident. Thank you for joining us.

Along with writers new and old the catalogue at SMITH SCRIPTS has been expanded considerably. We have just published script Number 700 – a rise of 250 since the start of the Lockdown period in March. This is a phenomenal increase in our listings.

The net result of this increase is that our traffic through the website is now around 400% above what it was before lockdown and sales have increased 10-fold. Licensing is still, understandably, slow, but it is happening and we have issued a number of performance licences in recent weeks.

I have eight publications with Smith Scripts, including an anthology of eleven short plays, and soon to be joined by another collection of seven short plays. I hope you’ll check out my page and take your pick.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Happy Friday

According to Charles P. Pierce, yesterday was a pretty good day.

“And, on fourth-and-15, here comes veteran John Roberts, back to kick. Takes the snap, and it’s a long one. Waaayyy down the field. It takes a huge Camp Runamuck bounce and it goes out of bounds, pinning the Republic back on its own three-yard line. Roberts really outkicked his coverage…”

I’m sorry about that. God, I’ve got to get another sportswriting gig.

The Supreme Court on Thursday did what most people expected it to do on the matter of El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago’s financial records. It denied Congress’s attempt to subpoena the material, but it did rule that New York County DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. one day could go gamboling through the vast vista of scams and grifts and frauds likely contained therein. Indeed, in ruling in Vance’s favor, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the Court’s unanimous opinion on that point:

No citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.

This is a major statement on presidential power and, in that regard, it can rank with US v. Nixon and Jones v. Clinton. And hooray for that. (As far as the congressional subpoenas go, there is at least an arguable separation-of-powers claim to be made. Clearly, Roberts swung the entire Court onto the institutionalist side of his conscience. I wouldn’t make it, but it’s at least worth piling up the billable hours on.)

But the two rulings also ensure that he country will not get to see this information any time before the November election. The case of the congressional subpoenas will go back into the maelstrom of the lower courts. Vance was clearly luckier than Congress was but, after Vance’s own fandango in the lower courts, all of the documents under subpoena will go to a grand jury, the proceedings of which will be secret and, therefore, the information in the documents will remain inaccessible, at least for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the president* responded on the electric Twitter machine by going utterly bananas.

PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!

“We know what took place. We have already seen criminality. What is happening? Biggest political scandal of our time.” @MariaBartiromo You are 100% correct, Maria, it is a disgrace that nothing happens. Obama and Biden spied on my campaign, AND GOT CAUGHT…BUT NOTHING!

PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT!

We have a totally corrupt previous Administration, including a President and Vice President who spied on my campaign, AND GOT CAIGHT…and nothing happens to them. This crime was taking place even before my election, everyone knows it, and yet all are frozen stiff with fear….

No Republican Senate Judiciary response, NO “JUSTICE”, NO FBI, NO NOTHING. Major horror show REPORTS on Comey & McCabe, guilty as hell, nothing happens. Catch Obama & Biden cold, nothing. A 3 year, $45,000,000 Mueller HOAX, failed – investigated everything…

.for another President. This is about PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT. We catch the other side SPYING on my campaign, the biggest political crime and scandal in U.S. history, and NOTHING HAPPENS. But despite this, I have done more than any President in history in first 3 1/2 years!

This certainly sounds like the reasoned rebuttal of an innocent man.

(For the historical record, here’s how the Nixon White House, through attorney James St. Clair, responded to the 8-0 decision demanding that he hand over the subpoenaed White House tapes: “[The president] has always been a firm believer in the rule of law.”)

All in all, it was a pretty good day for the Republic, although it’s still got a long way to go before it hits pay dirt. And hope does spring eternal. After all, in the other decision by the Court on Thursday, almost half of the state of Oklahoma was determined to belong to Native Americans. Wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch (!):

On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. In exchange for ceding “all their land, East of the Mississippi river,” the U. S. government agreed by treaty that “[t]he Creek country west of the Mississippi shall be solemnly guarantied to the Creek Indians.” The government further promised that “[no] State or Territory [shall] ever have a right to pass laws for the government of such Indians, but they shall be allowed to govern themselves.” Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.

The “government” to which Gorsuch is referring was sitting in 1832. Andrew Jackson was president. John C. Calhoun was vice president. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were in the Senate. John Quincy Adams and James K. Polk were in the House. John Fcking Marshall was still Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Of course, shortly thereafter, the Jackson Administration began the genocidal campaign that ended with the Trail of Tears that brought the tribes. including the Creek people, from their ancestral lands in the southeastern United States to Oklahoma where, on Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the United States to live up to the deal it cut with those folks lucky enough to have survived.

Mills of the gods. Arc of the moral universe, and all that. If the Creek people can wait this long to settle a land case, we can be patient about a bunch of paperwork from Deutsche Bank.

In other news, I am happy to announce that “All Together Again,” the long-awaited sequel to my award-winning play “All Together Now,” has now been published by Smith Scripts. Check it out, or better yet, order a copy.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

“A Tree Grows in Longmont”

For those of you who I didn’t reach with my massive invitation to watch the live premiere of “A Tree Grows in Longmont” last Sunday (we had tech trouble that delayed the opening), here it is as produced by Silver Tongued Stages, directed by Ricky J. Martinez with Tanner Prace Collier and Kent Chambers-Wilson.  The running time is 62 minutes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dramatic News

Even with the virus, the show must go on.

My play, “A Tree Grows in Longmont,” will be presented on Sunday, May 3, at 3:00 pm ET by Silver Tongued Stages via YouTube.  There’s more information at this link.

I hope you can make it.  Seriously, what else have you got to do?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Happy Friday

“Happy Friday” is a wish, not a declaration.  In the midst of this crisis, we are all looking for something, large or small, to keep our spirits and hopes up.

How about some good news, at least for me?  My play, “A Life Enriching Community,” has been picked up for publication by ArtAge Publications of Portland, Oregon, and will be available soon for reading and performance from their catalogue.  It was originally written in 2014 and first presented in December 2014 at the Miami 1-Acts Festival, then in readings at the William Inge Festival New Play Lab in 2016 and at the Midwest Dramatists Conference in 2019.  It was slated to be read at the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference in June, but it’s been postponed until 2021.

I’m entering my third week of self-imposed isolation.  I have, however awkwardly, figured out how to work from home; I’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings, and next week I’ll be guest-lecturing a theatre class via the internet.  I’m working on new plays, maintaining contact at a distance with friends, and making new ones through this dance of electrons and pixels.  My housemate is conducting his broadcasting arts classes to his middle-schoolers via Zoom and Team, keeping his office hours from the dining room table, doing his martial arts exercises on the patio, developing film in the bathroom, and painting in watercolors, all under the watchful eye of Sombra, whose feelings are kept to herself, as is the practice of all cats.

Stay well. Stay safe.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Super Tuesday

It’s Super Tuesday in more ways than one.  If you’re in one of the states or territories that has a primary today, get out there and vote.  Chances are your candidate or one of your alternates dropped out of the race since last week — Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar — and announced that they’re endorsing Joe Biden.  You have to wonder what’s going to happen to the rest of the field; who they’re going to coalesce around now that the Democratic primary is basically down to Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who ended his presidential bid in November, joined Biden on stage at the end of the Dallas rally — and concluded a speech by inviting him for dinner at a nearby Whataburger.

Biden seemed taken aback by the swift change in fortunes. He told Buttigieg that he reminded him of his late son, Beau, the highest compliment he can offer. He told the crowd Klobuchar has a long political future ahead, and he told O’Rourke, whose candidacy was marked by liberal positions on gun control, “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me. You’re going to be the one who leads this effort.”

It was the second straight day that moderates, previously paralyzed over whom to rally behind, rushed to join Biden’s campaign. Harry M. Reid, a former Senate majority leader from Nevada, endorsed Biden along with other Democrats including Susan E. Rice, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama; political activist and actress Alyssa Milano; Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.); and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

In other news:

  • The coronavirus COVID19 is spreading and showing up here in the U.S., including Florida.  One of the schools where I work part-time is implementing common-sense precautions such as encouraging hand-washing, avoiding unnecessary contact, and handing out hand sanitizer bottles.  Hand-shaking has been replaced by polite bowing and the “Namaste” hands-together greeting (which is less awkward than touching elbows), and learning just how long it takes for a vaccine to go from Eureka to injection.
  • Chris Matthews abruptly “retired” from MSNBC.
  • And to top off a busy day, I got invited back to the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Alaska in June.  Yes, I’m going.

Go vote if you can.  The world is counting on you.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Friday, December 6, 2019

Your Vote Counts

Passing this on from a friend:

“Can’t Live Without You,” written by Philip Middleton Williams and which was produced earlier this year by The Playgroup LLC at the Willow Theatre, has been nominated for Best Play, Best Director: Jerry Jensen, Best actor: Robert Ayala, and Best Ensemble: AJ Ruiz, Robert Ayala, Carla Zackson Heller, Leslie Zivin Kandel and Anthony Wolff for the Broadway World 2019 Regional Awards. Please show your support and vote now!

Anyone can vote from anywhere. However, follow the instructions carefully; you can only vote once, and you must confirm your vote when the e-mail from Broadway World arrives, so check your spam filter just in case.

Thanks.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Monday, July 29, 2019

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

So Far So Great

This is an amazing place to have a theatre conference, and no, we don’t spend all the time in a room watching plays and eating.

Actually a lot of us spend time walking around the town.  Everything is within walking distance, including restaurants and other venues, and the local people have been very welcoming.  Valdez is a summer tourist mecca for trips into the Alaska interior and fishing, and even if the temperatures aren’t subtropical, it’s a nice break from the humidity that awaits my return next week.

As for wildlife, I was told to be on the lookout for moose.  So far all I’ve seen are some of the local indigenous population of rabbits.

And, yes, I have wasted no time doing some shameless self-promotion. If I don’t do it, no one else will.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Monday, April 1, 2019

Applause Line

Thank you to the wonderful cast — Robert Ayala, Leslie Kandel, Anthony Wolff, Carla Zackson Heller, and AJ Ruiz — and director Jerry Jensen for bringing “Can’t Live Without You” to life this past weekend. It is everything and way beyond what I hoped for.

L-R: Carla Zackson Heller, Leslie Kandel, Anthony Wolff, Robert Ayala, AJ Ruiz

The show has three more performances: Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Reading

Mayor Pete Week — Eric Lach at The New Yorker on the current boomlet for Pete Buttigieg.

It’s already boomlet season in the 2020 Democratic Presidential race. “The Mayor Pete boomlet is real,” the CNN analyst and polling maven Harry Enten tweeted, on Thursday, referring to Pete Buttigieg, the young, can’t-we-all-be-reasonable mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Enten pegged this boomlet in part to a new Quinnipiac poll of the 2020 Democratic field, which showed Buttigieg jumping all the way up to four-per-cent support, good for a fifth-place tie with Senator Elizabeth Warren. Boomletissimo?

It’s true that Buttigieg, who technically is still in the “exploratory” stage of his campaign, has recently been everywhere, which in American Presidential politics is defined as television and the early-voting states. After an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last month, Buttigieg was praised for his poise. During an interview on the New York City morning radio show “The Breakfast Club,” the host Charlamagne Tha God declared, in amazement, “This guy seems like he’s telling the truth!” “The Daily Show” did a segment on how to properly pronounce his many-lettered last name. (“Buddha-jedge.” Say it fast.) The Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda followed the candidate’s husband on Twitter.

Part of Buttigieg’s appeal is that he offers a kind of political refuge: he’s a candidate that lets you forget about the baggage and conflicts of the race’s front-runners, if only for a little while. He sounds comfortable discussing complex issues, smiles warmly, and has no visible political enemies. Putting himself forward as an alternative choice has been part of Buttigieg’s brand for as long as he’s been on the national political stage. Two years ago, during his unsuccessful effort to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, he held himself out less as the millennial candidate—a mantle he’s fully embraced more recently—than as the compromise candidate. He was the third man in a contest that featured a lefty, Keith Ellison, and an establishment figure, Tom Perez, who both seemed like avatars of the Party factions that had done battle during the 2016 primaries. “I don’t know why we’d want to live through it a second time,” Buttigieg said at the time. Put that on a bumper sticker.

As a Presidential candidate, Buttigieg isn’t triangulating so explicitly—it would be tough to do that in field this crowded—but he’s still working to synthesize the disparate forces animating the Democratic Party and its voters in this moment. “Sometimes pragmatism points you in a comparatively radical direction,” he told my colleague Benjamin Wallace-Wells, earlier this year. For someone getting so much credit as an intellectual—news stories about him mention the fact that he’s a Rhodes Scholar just about as often as they mention that he would be the country’s first openly gay President—Buttigieg’s policy ideas are more gestural than prescriptive. He’s for eliminating the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court, and he speaks often about how, as the millennial in the race (he’s thirty-seven), he has the right perspective to tackle issues such as climate change, health care, and the legacy of the country’s recent wars. He has a name for the approach this perspective leads him to: intergenerational justice.

In lieu of an armful of specific policy and legislative proposals, like Elizabeth Warren has, or a signature idea, like Cory Booker and his “baby bonds,” Buttigieg touts his time as a governing executive in South Bend. Like Ronald Reagan, who while running for reëlection, at age seventy-three, famously promised not to hold his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” against him, Buttigieg takes questions about his age and reframes them as ones of record. “I think local leaders, where the rubber meets the road, where you’re dealing with everything, from filling potholes to economic development to public safety—that’s the kind of background that I think would serve us best at a time when Washington can’t get anything done for them,” he said on “The Breakfast Club.” It’s at least an argument—one that Buttigieg likes to back up by reminding people that South Bend is a diverse city and that unemployment has fallen under his watch.

Buttigieg is going bigger in one notable way. Like most of the rest of the 2020 field, Buttigieg resists being simply an anti–Donald Trump figure. But lately, it seems like he might be O.K. with becoming an anti–Mike Pence. “He’s been consistently horrible, and holds beliefs that are sincerely awful when it comes to L.G.B.T. equality and a lot of other issues,” Buttigieg said of Pence this week, on the Buzzfeed morning show “AM to DM.” “I’m sure he does not consider himself to be a racist. But I think the moment you come on board with a project like the Trump campaign or the Trump-Pence Administration you are at best complicit in the process that has given cover for a flourishing and resurgence of white nationalism.” This wasn’t how Buttigieg always talked about Pence. In “Shortest Way Home,” a book he published just a few weeks ago, Buttigieg wrote of getting to know Pence, despite his views on L.G.B.T. rights, as personally “gracious and decent.” Here might be evidence of the political newcomer’s evolution: he appears to have picked an enemy. What might next week hold for Mayor Pete?

From Writer’s Block To Stage — J.W. Arnold in South Florida Gay News on a certain playwright’s journey.

Anthony Wolff and Robert Ayala star in the South Florida premiere of Philip Middleton Williams’ “Can’t Live Without You” in Boca Raton.

Miami writer and playwright Philip Middleton Williams is still trying to finish his novel, “Bobby Cramer.” It’s been more than two decades.

“Sometimes an old dream, like an old friend, can show up when you need it the most,” Williams explained.

That’s exactly what happened with “Bobby Cramer.” In 2001, while visiting the Florida keys with his parents over Christmas vacation, the title character of the novel inspired a new play.

“As I was driving, it occurred to me, what would happen if Bobby Cramer walked into the room?” he recalled.

By the time, Williams and his parents reached their motel room, he had sketched out the first scene in his head and by the end of the vacation, he would have the story finished. Now, that play is getting a new production by the Playgroup at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton.

The play centers around Donny Hollenbeck (Anthony Wolff), who thinks he has created the perfect life for himself. He has a lucrative career writing romance novels (under a female nom de plume), a nice girlfriend (Leslie Zivin Kandel), a go-getter realtor with ambitions beyond the next closing, and a beautiful home in Florida. But, when Bobby Cramer (Robert Ayala), a character from a novel he abandoned years ago, pays Donny a visit, he starts to realize his dreams took a wrong turn somewhere.

“The story is really about Donny’s struggle with his alter ego. His girlfriend wants him to settle down and start a family and his agent wants him to keep cranking out books,” said Williams, whose last play, “All Together Now,” was produced last season by the Playgroup. “I do that a lot—borrow characters from my other projects.”

While Donny is probably not gay, there are some twists.

“He’s attracted to this good-looking guy, Bobby, the yin to his yang. Bobby could be gay, but he’s questioning. Donny had experiences and it’s certainly a convenience to have a girlfriend,” said.

After pausing, the writer continued, “I’m still writing the novel. I may never finish it and it may certainly never be published, but that doesn’t matter, the novel is my Bobby Cramer. I may be writing a play or other stories, but I’m always coming back to that novel.”

Even though Williams created his characters before the more recent era of pansexuality or omnisexuality, the play also seems to predict many of the attitudes that are predominant with young people today.

“In many ways, it’s tough for people to admit they’re gay or straight and this fluidity that people are experiencing is because they’re being labeled, wrapped up in a package,” he said. “We have gay and straight actors and they all bring a sensibility to the study. I have not been to any rehearsals and I stay away because the playwright just sitting there gets in the way. I let (director) Jerry Jensen do his magic. My part is done and now it’s Jerry’s turn.”

Doonesbury — Dating himself.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Open For Business

In anticipation of my retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools in August and knowing I can’t just sit at home and yell at the TV (that job’s taken), I’ve formed an LLC to offer my services as a consultant on grant writing, grant financial management, and mentoring.

I don’t have a fancy logo or corporate slogan, but nonetheless, Philip Middleton Williams, LLC is open for business.

Meanwhile, tickets are still on sale for “Can’t Live Without You,” opening tomorrow and running through April 7.