Sunday, December 31, 2006


To resolve not to resolve--that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to make promises to yourself (only to not keep them), or to take arms against a sea of foibles and, by opposing, end them in the year 2007?


Of course, there are all the "usuals"--to lose weight, to take better care of one's health, to keep one's finances more tidy, to spend more time taking care of those who take care of you, etc. All of which are important (and make for great and noble list-making).

Perhaps it is healthiest to set up a small list of "do-able" tasks, such that you give yourself a pat on the back when you achieve them versus the full-scale flagellation that occurs when you fail a task that was beyond the scope of possibility from the very inception.

I do wish for health. I do wish for more time with friends--and more knowledge that we support each other, even when not physically together. (As fat as I feel, I can't stretch myself any thinner just now.) I wish for the world to come to its senses--less selfishness, more compromise in the smartest sense of the word. More compassion for others.

But then, we were talking about resolutions, things that one can actively do and control. Achievable resolutions.

On a bus down to Pennsylvania the other night, I was reflecting how recent events made me feel that I needed to be more vigilant, that if I were more on top of things, less would "go wrong." And I suddenly had a thought--maybe what's "wrong" is the way I'm choosing to view things. Something has "gone wrong" with my vision, both literally and psychologically. Something "went wrong" with the last job. Something "has gone horribly wrong" with my vision for the future.

My epiphany is that maybe something didn't go wrong. That just because I make plans doesn't mean that's how life will go. That teeth and eyes and other bodily functions don't "go wrong"--wear and tear with age is a normal and natural process, whether I like it or not. Memory isn't failing--it's doing what it's supposed to do. Life has peaks and valleys, successes and failures, and you ride them. In short, the journey is all about process, not wrong turns that require explanation and blame. If one is doing one's best and things happen, as they are wont to do, then why play the blame game--unless the sport of self-flagellation is your favorite brew.

In short, things aren't going wrong any more than they are going right. They are just going . . . going along the way life goes. Make the most of it. And if you don't like some particular thing that's happened, well . . . turn the page. Something else good may be there, waiting for you, not necessarily compensating for the bad that's happened, but nonetheless providing an occasion for celebration.

That, I guess, is the resolution--to live in the moment, to look at life as a continually evolving process, an adventure, and to fully explore the experience without taking it to the level of blame or self-flagellation. To enjoy what we have, who we have in our lives, to count our blessings while we have them (for they are not necessarily ours for keeps). And to keep turning the page instead of dwelling on that which has already happened and living in fear of what might or might not occur. This would be a healthy way to live.

I wish this for myself . . . and for all of you.

(Today's picture is of Chloe, my "sister-in-law," with her Xmas present, which she adores and is probably playing with as we speak.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006


(As usual, Mr. Sondheim is way ahead of us.)

As I thought about facing the holidays and the things we all wish for, I realized that ultimately, no matter what we aspire to or what we wish to acquire, we all wish to fit in, to connect with our fellow beings. Even those of us who are into material things wish to lavish them upon ourselves so we will be accepted. We want to be part of the gang.

When we are part of a group, we feel accepted, hopefully welcomed. We are not alone. We matter. Somehow, this makes us feel better.

Now perhaps we should all feel we matter as a matter of course. (After all, we do.) And certainly, we should sense our own intrinsic worth, regardless of who else recognizes it. External validation is not the bandaid for all that ails us.

But feeling that we have a connection with others . . . that's the thing. (Hey, I'm from Connecticut, whaddya want?) A smile between strangers on a train can brighten a day. A hello between a regular customer and a vendor at a local shop can create a sense of home. A quick morning chat between neighbors or co-workers creates a feeling that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. And more than any monetary gift, the gift of cordiality and friendship releases more positive "vibes" than anything else we can experience--with the possible exception of an extraordiary piece of chocolate!

And so it is that this year, while I would like to contact each and every friend and let them know that I am thinking about them (and I am!), and I would like to embrace all who make me feel I do in fact belong on a planet that is at times inhospitable, I am instead merely going to send out this wish--that at this time of year (and all throughout the year) you feel connected--to your world, your life, to other people--and that you feel thereby enriched in that connection.


Medium (Wednesdays, 10 pm, NBC)

Yesterday, I got caught up with some previously recorded programs I'd been saving for when I finally got a moment to relax. Of all that is on the air, I have to admit that my personal guilty pleasure is NBC's Medium, now in its third season. Much imitated (poorly at best by CBS's Ghost Whisperer), the show is nominally about a woman with paranormal abilities--the ability to solve (or help solve) crimes because of her special sensitivities that make the unsettled dead reach out to her, or else the vibrations she gets from objects tell her things, or else her dreams lead her directly to either unsolved crimes or to situations that perhaps can be averted if she can get there in time. All wishful, super-hero kinds of stuff. But what makes this show so special is NOT all these abilities granted to Alison DuBois (who supposedly is a real-life psychic medium upon whom the show is loosely based), but rather that these "gifts" are visited upon a normal American woman with a normal American family, a normal job with a normal boss and normal co-workers who are at times wonderful and at times pains in the butt. These are very real, recognizable people in a just-slightly altered situation. Life is more problematic for the gifted, and not all visions and dreams are welcome visitors. The adjustments we make for each others' quirks are many, and when life gets THIS quirky, you have to wonder if it's worth the effort. The wit, humor, and honesty of this series, created by Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting), is spectacular, as is the extraordinarily high level of naturalistic acting. Patricia Arquette is perfection as Alison, an attractive but normal-looking woman (read: she has curves like a real person, not a runway model), giving a performance of great nuance. We love Alison and her passion, her dedication to doing the right thing--even as, so often, we think she may be doing something really stupid or going about it all the wrong way. Her relationship with her husband is the sexiest (and most real) of all on American television (Jake Weber matches Arquette note-for-note), and the kids are as impossible and loveable and imperfect as you could wish. (Miguel Sandoval and David Cubitt also give excellent supporting performances in Alison's workplace.) Ultimately it is neither the investigation work nor the paranormal that makes this show click, but rather, it's humanity--that we all have our crosses to bear and our jobs to do and somehow we get through even the most horrific aspects with dignity and humor (or at least we try). After you watch an episode of Medium, regardless of the details of the episode or the structure of your own existence, you feel like saying, "There's my life. And I did the best I could today." Nice work, guys.

LETTING GO OF GOD - Julia Sweeney

Actress-comedienne-writer Julia Sweeney has been through the mill in recent years, losing a beloved brother and herself fighting off cancer as well as several existential crises. That she is able to sift through life's wreckage and come up with such wisdom and humor is wonderful, if not surprising, but what IS surprising is that she is then able to pass on those discoveries in such non-pontificating ways. She is a real person always looking on the bright side and more often than not she is disappointed, yet she keeps searching for the silver lining. Letting Go of God, an audio book based on her one-woman show, is available from her website or by download from Audible (through good ole Amazon), and it is well worth the effort to obtain. While probably enjoyable to read, Sweeney's delivery of her journey through actively seeking God and spirituality--and the enormous number and variety of speed bumps she encounters--is priceless and best heard in her own voice. This is one of our friends sharing a discovery with us, without a shred of self-aggrandizement or self-pity, and it is a wonderfully personal experience. Highly recommended.

About the picture up top . . .

That's me and Barry in one of my favorite shots from a photo booth a few years ago. It makes me smile, and if you happen to know us, I think it's a good portrait of what makes us . . . us. Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Happy to report that reviews have started to come in for my "kid's book," EDDIE HAS ALLERGIES, which I hope will appeal to kids of all ages. Here's one just published by the Midwest Book Review, an online book review organization out of Oregon, WI:

Threaded with wacky dialogue and rib-tickling puns
December 9, 2006

Reviewer: Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)

The debut chapter book for children and young adults by playwright, director, and teacher Judd Lear Silverman, Eddie Has Allergies is a short, humorous story about a young boy afflicted with severe allergies. As Eddie copes with the sinus-afflicting hazards of the day, he feels increasingly isolated, as his allergies prevent him from enjoying the activities that kids do and the medicines that suppress his allergies make him so drowsy he falls asleep and dreams bizarre dreams in class. Then a surprisingly magical occurrence helps him discover a bright side to his problems, and the potential for greatness within himself. Threaded with wacky dialogue and rib-tickling puns, Eddie Has Allergies is especially recommended for public and school library collections, as well as young people learning to deal with allergies in themselves, their relatives, or their friends.

This review appears online both at Midwest Book Review and also on the website listing for Eddie Has Allergies. Amazon's page also has this review from a young reader:

An excellent childs fable, August 27, 2006
Reviewer:Matt the man "matt" - See all my reviews
This is perfect for a child's bedtime story. complete with catchy rhymes and exciting themes. A tale of adventure and excitement as a boy comes to except his sever(e) allergies.

So far, so good! If you wish to find out more, go to Amazon or else to the publisher's website, Ernest Silliman Books. And thanks to all of you who have been so supportive so far!

Recently Seen at the Theater

Of course, I am extremely critical of playwriting and what passes these days for playwriting--and frustrated by what gets produced and (more to the point, I suppose) what doesn't. All too often, "hot button topic" plays get produced for their sound bytes and yet the plays prove underwhelming in terms of either craft or depth.

Not all storylines are new. In fact, few are. But if you're not saying anything new, you'd at least better say it well, with invention, wit and some freshness. At the very least, there should be a sense of the emotional commitment behind your words. Journalism should be short, sweet and to the point, but playwriting is an art form and should stir the emotions, which only happens when the playwright puts his heart on his sleeve, or rather, his page (and the stage). We should know what this play meant for the playwright and whether the work stirs positive or negative reactions from us, at the very least we should be stirred!

The Little Dog Laughed
, a so-called Off-Broadway hit from last year that received numerous extensions, has now taken up residence at the Cort Theatre on West 48th Street, a Broadway house. What might have been forgiven because of the intimacy level in a smaller theater falls flat on a larger stage. It's storyline has been done before: a male film star wants to come "out" with his new love, a young bi-sexual male hustler by his side, while his fast-talking, steamrolling agent wants to keep him in the closet, so that his new project (playing a gay character) seems daring, not "bragging." Added to the mix: the confused young hustler has also gotten his sometime girlfriend pregnant and wants to "help her." Now while it's not an inventive storyline by today's standards, it still shouldn't feel like you know what's about to happen four pages before the characters do. And if you're going to re-investigate old topics--closeted stars, Hollywood vs. the theater, hard-boiled agents and their misguided clients following their hearts--then either take a new tack or, at the very least, be devastatingly funny. The Little Dog Laughed is professionally glossy but sadly mediocre, without a shred of inventiveness and with very little new to make us care. Tom Everett Scott as the handsome movie star is bland at best, while Ari Graynor as the hustler's girlfriend has more promising moments in a trite role that disintegrates in the second-act, and both actors continually swallow their best lines, either through poor diction or speeding through without commitment. Julie White, as the motor-mouthed killer agent, won much acclaim off-Broadway last season for this role and in her TV work (notably as the conniving funeral home mogul on Six Feet Under) has often been witty and delicious. But at least on the night viewed, what should have been a bravura performance came off as labored and pushed, with a voice that sounded as if it might give out from the abuse any second. Breakneck speed in monologues is only effective if one is blown away by the specificity and the connection to the material by the actor, and while one could sense that Ms. White may have oringinally felt this way about the role or might be more connected on other nights, this night felt like a general wash of a rather cliche character over rather standard issue wisecracks. Only Johnny Galecki (of Roseanne TV fame) really inhabited his character and made a convincing case for the play's least-likely character, a sexually confused hustler who inexplicably falls in love with both a self-centered movie star and a self-serving, opportunistic girlfriend. Despite his diminutive stature, he filled the stage in the way that the others, no matter how brash or supposedly charismatic, did not, and one can only hope that he will continue to explore more stage work, hopefully in far more rewarding plays.

My case is further argued by the superb revival of Torch Song Trilogy at Brooklyn's premiere showcase company, The Gallery Players. When Harvey Fierstein first began exploring the three pieces of what would become a Tony-winning phenomenon, he wasn't worrying about breaking new ground, just in writing and telling the truth in his own unique and funny manner. Torch Song, for the few left who don't know, follows Arnold Beckoff through a quest for love, in backrooms of bars and in country houses upstate; a drag queen, he is nonetheless remarkably grounded and longing for the normal life his mother had, with a few variations. He loves a confused bi-sexual schoolteacher, co-habits for a time with a handsome young lover, and tries to adopt a young gay teen while grappling with issues with his own mother (a role originated by Estelle Getty). It was ground-breaking in the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS world because it was looking at a real person in honest emotional turmoil, a person who the rest of the world might not know due to the "circumstances" of their life. (Who knew, at that time, that not all gay men were flamboyant and promiscuous? Who was taking the time to write about it?) Harvey Fierstein not only broke the mold as a writer, but also turned in the first of his many award-winning performances. Let's face it--Harvey is quirky, but is so honest in his quirkiness and so wonderfully smart and connected that he is almost always a joy on stage (recently in Hairspray as Edna Turnblad and in Fiddler as Tevye!). Almost 23 years later, the honesty of the work more than holds interest, as proven in Gallery Players' meticulous revival, led by Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky (who gives an admirably balanced performance as Arnold). Three and a half hours flew by (well, it IS a trilogy, folks!) with honest, dedicated performances. These are people you can care about, despite their flaws. Two decades later, their stories may now seem far more commonplace than when written, yet we care as much if not more because of the honesty, wit and affection seen here. While I like to see new work get its shot on the Great White Way, I would have rather seen this lovely revival get the attention (and rewards) that the aforementioned work received rather undeservedly.

Then again, in fairness, I love to see anything that shows artistic imagination and invention, even if it is still in development, which is why it was a joy to watch Alice in Wonderland at the Calhoun School recently, in which middle school-aged members of PA78 brought eager experimentation and uninhibited joy to their exploration of Lewis Carroll's classic characters. Not all students achieved Broadway gloss, but the sheer joy, exhilaration and commitment was always a wonder to behold.


(This is what happens when I get so busy that I have to save up all my stories for a sunny Sunday!)

Last Sunday's New York Times featured a write up about Eddie Murphy and the buzz about his possibly Oscar-worthy performance in the film version of the Broadway musical, Dreamgirls. Eddie apparently didn't wish to be interviewed for the piece--he's been through a lot personally, ups and downs for which no doubt he is at least partially to blame--but several others did comment, such as filmmaker John Landis. Several were unkind to Eddie in their personal comments (despite their having made their reputations and their fortunes off of his talent), only adding to the legend of his being brilliant but aloof and difficult.

I was the assistant to Eddie's managers back in the early-mid 80's and was there for Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, and would like to share my experience.

I had been working at Eddie Murphy Productions for only 6 weeks or so when Eddie was out doing another cross-country tour of his stand-up comedy (with the now-forgotten The Busboys providing his opening act). Eddie must have been all of 23 at the time, and was arguably the biggest star in the country between Saturday Night Live, the live performances and HBO specials, the movies and even a budding music career (which may resurface as everyone seems surprised by his musicality in Dreamgirls.) At any rate, Eddie was an incredibly hot ticket, and backstage at his comedy concerts were in the ballpark with rockstar mania. His manager and I drove out to Westbury Music Fair and there were almost 150 people in the backstage dressing areas alone, all jostling for position to get a moment alone with the new prince of comedy, assumed to be Richard Prior's heir. Being one who hates parties and crowds, I had slid into a quiet corner to be swallowed up and go unnoticed. Suddenly, from across the room, who slides past all the sycophants and hangers-on but Eddie himself, who comes over to me to say, "Hi, Judd. Thanks for coming. How do you like the new job so far?" I murmur something or other and thank him and after a moment's chitchat, he moves on. The point is, with ALL those people fawning over him, he took the time to be a considerate host and a caring boss to greet a new employee and to see to his comfort. And it was that day that I decided that Eddie Murphy was "good people" with good values. I appreciated his efforts then and I still appreciate them now.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Well, these days, you don't have to be a Hollywood star to be a racist--but it certainly seems to help.

Unfortunate comments by the likes of Michael Richards and Mel Gibson have received an inordinate amount of attention from the national press, How can the people who come into our homes (via the media) turn out to be so, well, ugly under pressure? Of course, people have been uttering hateful rhetoric for centuries, but with the absurd levels of coverage our media gives TV and movie stars, it seems like a major shock that deep seated biases exist in "the beautiful people"as well. (Of course, for truly "deep-seated" shockers, perhaps one turns to Brittany Spears and her friends and their apparent fruit-of-the-loom boycott. The nerve of us expecting young women to wear underwear when out in public! What will they think of next?)

As always, bigotry has its roots in fear. Sure, alcohol can help release the inhibitions that usually keep us from saying the inappropriate. And when in a stressful situation (as the heckled Mr. Richards claims to have been), we may express ourselves with epithets that come out of deeply-rooted anger, which is a close neighbor to fear. But mostly, we are frightened by that which we don't fully understand and by those who we sense are different from ourselves. Which, of course, means everyone.

In Tourette's Syndrome, many people "tic," swearing and saying the most inappropriate things that most people would normally not say out loud, even if deep down their minds may think it. It's an OCD-related compulsion, and their innate, self-censoring mechanism malfunctions. This would seem to argue that, in short, we all harbor inner bigots along with our inner children. We just hope that our inner censors will prevent the world from seeing how fearful we really are. We are taught that it's not nice to point out people's differences, and so we neurotically conceal what we notice, hiding our responses to various cultures. We are urged to be politically correct.

But the process of denying our differences--racial, sexual, economic--doesn't solve anything. It just makes us more neurotic. Repression results in a build-up of tension. And with the right amount of pressure or stress, any one of us might well blurt out that which we're spending so much energy holding in. We are all walking powder kegs of racial and sexual insensitivity.

Now you may be wondering--is he therefore telling us to hurl hateful language at each other? Go ahead and be hateful? Let it all out? What IS he getting at?

It's this: maybe instead of trying so hard to pretend there are no cultural differences (a futile activity that saps positive energy), we need to learn to embrace and acknowledge our differences. It is because we are all different that we are also all the same. We each bring our uniqueness to the table and THAT is our common bond. Nobody wants a garden where every flower is identical--it would be visually pointless and ultimately boring. The diversity we have among us is bracing and enriches our lives. Let's acknowledge it. Yes, there are cultural differences we don't understand in our neighbors and our co-workers but that's what makes them interesting people and gives life its spice. Pretending that we don't notice, sitting on our impressions (that scientists say are formed within milliseconds) is a wasteful activity. If we recognize and enjoy our differences, even those we don't understand, then we neither need fear nor repress them--which may mean there will be less to pop out so inappropriately when arrested for drunken diving or when being heckled on a nightclub stage. Of course, it would be a good idea for us to explore and understand these different cultures better. And we may want to spend the time trying to understand WHY we fear those who are not like ourselves. And you might even think that those who are in positions of privilege, like Mr. Richards or Mr. Gibson, have the time and money to explore these fears and come to understand them so that their behavior is more responsible. But ultimately, all of us need to stop repressing fears and start accepting our neighbors as they are--the world is just too much of a power keg already.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Almost everyone has heard the famed quote, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," and those who are literate know it is spoken by Blanche DuBois, uttering the immortal line as she is carted off to the mental institution by a gentlemanly doctor in A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams' stage-and-screen classic about a clash of gentility-civility and brute-force directness.

When life is not easy, gentility--basic kindness--is often the first casualty in modern behavior. People jump to what they want, snapping and barking as if the necessity of the moment is of the utmost world importance . . . and I suppose it is, to them. But . . .

When was the last time someone improved a moment in your day just by smiling at you or cracking a joke or doing something quite small that for a moment made you happier, your life a bit easier? When was the last time someone expressed camaraderie, that yes it's all pretty annoying and depressing and yet somehow we're all in it together and that helps? When was the last time that someone, stranger or acquaintance, took a moment to connect with you, not wanting anything other than to connect for that moment, to share a moment's humanity? When was the last time you did the connecting?

Yes, I'm just back from another dental extraction, and yes, woozy no doubt from the anesthesia, and grateful to the excellent (and kind) dentist. And maybe I'll shudder when I read this later, a sentimental "Hallmark" kind of moment. But this is a thought that's been on my mind of late, even when not "under the influence" of various pain pills, etc.: that the way we treat each other in our daily lives IS how we live our lives. The moment extra we take to share kindness, humor, and goodwill costs us absolutely nothing, yet changes the entire quality of life, both for the recipient and the giver.

The holiday season has arrived--hope your Thanksgiving was as nice as mine--and the usual "peace on earth, goodwill to all men" spirit is being revved up at a time when, worldwide, we live in a world without peace and without much positive spirit. If in fact there are constants in the universe of mass and energy, then somewhere, somehow the balance feels off. Taking a moment to be kind, pleasant to someone--that slight extra effort-- is something that has to contribute to putting the world back on track, and it's not something that should only happen between Turkey Day and the day Santa sidles down the tight chimney space. The extra effort to give a giggle, a smile, a moment of genuine self (and selflessness) is worth it, improving at least two lives for a moment. And in this world, that is an accomplishment worth noting.


Meanwhile, one of the truly compassionate writer/actor/artists, Harvey Fierstein, is being represented by his great humanistic and comedic gem, TORCH SONG TRILOGY, in a rare New York revival at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn. No doubt it's been a while since you saw it, or perhaps you never did--here's your chance, produced and performed by this always excellent company. Seth Rudetsky, musical personality and radio host, plays Arnold in this engagement, and it should be a terrific time for all.

Torch Song Trilogy runs November 27 through December 10. Performances take place Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM. (Note early curtain time--it IS a trilogy, after all!) Further information can be found at Individual tickets for each performance are $18 for Adults and $14 for Children 12 and under and Senior Citizens. Individual tickets can be purchased at or by calling (212) 352-3101. The Gallery Players is located at 199 14th Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Take the F Train to 4th Avenue or the R Train to 9th Street. The "R" train is easily accessed at the Pacific/Atlantic subway station in Brooklyn which serves the B,D,Q,N,2,3,4 and 5 trains. By car, take the BQE to Hamilton Avenue, and Hamilton Avenue to 14th Street.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Playwrights are born and made.

(Yes, I know, it's usually one or the other.)

Frankly, something deep inside makes only the truly strangest of us want to be playwrights. We don't do it for the money, clearly. We do it because we have a need to share with others--and we want to get the voices in our head out there on the stage, live. (So maybe we can have some peace and quiet inside our heads for a little bit!) It's an admittedly odd thing to want to do, but if it's in your blood, then you pretty much need to do it.

And yet there are many folks who want to write but don't--not enough time to write, no quiet place to work, no actor friends to read for them, etc.--all the usual excuses for keeping their inner playwriting demons repressed. (And maybe this is a healthy, self-preserving action!) And yet . . .

Playwriting allows an unusual opportunity not only to put one's thoughts into words, but to create a living "dream world" that both artists and audiences can share, often dealing with topics and behavior that no other art form can or will bother to explore. It utilizes the imagination not only of the author and the actors, but the audience as well, and in an instant, one can go from a small dreary room with folding seats to a castle in Italy (without spending millions on a wedding, Mr. & Mrs. Cruise), or conjure up a dragon or fly to Mars or go back in time or, maybe, just deal with something seemingly innocent that happened at a bus stop that changed someone's life forever.

This is where the writers being "made" comes in. With a good, free-wheeling, fun playwriting class, one can let the writing beast out and see what makes him/her tick.

All of this is admittedly a shameless plug for the playwriting course I'm teaching down at the Henry Street Settlement Abrons Arts Center. It is the final week to sign up for the "winter session" of my Adult Playwriting class, which begins November 29th and meets on Wednesday nights from 7-9 pm. No experience is necessary, and the class welcomes both experienced writers and complete beginners. Ten classes are only $150. In addition to reading and critiquing members' work, we will discuss the creative process, writers block, play marketing and, well, life. Call 212-598-0400, ext. 224 to register, or go to the Henry Street Settlement Web Site.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Freelancing Without Fear

Not everyone is born for an artistic life.

Nor is everyone right for a thirty-five year, 9-5 office job, despite the security it may afford.

We are all born with different temperaments, goals and dreams. Artistic types, though often an asset in business situations, may find traditional office life stagnating, and the demands of a "regular job" may cost the very hours (and energy) needed to do their own creative work with its own rigorous demands. (It should be noted however that most people in America actually like and even depend on the structure of the 9-5 job, greatly discomforted by the idea of not knowing where their next meal is coming from!) If, like myself, you have gotten caught up in jobs that were almost right, but not quite--and then clung to them because you desperately needed the benefits, I am here to tell you there is finally hope--and a solution!

In case you haven't heard (or seen their clever ads on subway platforms, bus stops or on the web), there is now the Freelancers Union, a marvelous organization for those who cob together their living from various creative and productive endeavors. Not only do they have a web site where you can post resumes, swap job tips, list gigs for other free lancers, and meet interesting, creative people, but someone had the smarts to use the power of individuals as a group to get healthcare benefits at a reasonably affordable rate! If you are an independent worker who's earned $10,000 from various part-time jobs in the last six months or have worked at least 20 paid hours in each of the last 8 weeks, you may be eligible to join their health insurance plan. I highly advise a visit to their web site, either via, or else and check out how you can structure your life according to your dreams and desires, not just in order to achieve survival. (This is not paid advertising, by the way--this is just yours truly passing on valuable information to those trying to make ends meet and stay both sane and functional!)

Literary Salons Live

As mentioned in a previous "blogs," Brooklyn Reading Works at the Old Stone House in Park Slope is a wonderful way to meet writers and have the express pleasure of hearing authors read from their own works. Curated by Louise Crawford, herself a writer and blogger--click on the links for Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn--Brooklyn Reading Works provides an evening of two or three authors' readings, followed afterwards by a convivial meet-and-greet with light refreshments. (Okay, that may sound like Hyacinth Bucket on Keeping Up Appearances, but it really is charming and fun!) In this fast-paced, hustle-and-bustle city, it's a wonderfully civilized way to stop and smell the literary roses!

This coming Thursday, November 16th at 8 pm, the talented guest writers will be Elissa Schappell, Ilene Starger and Darcy Steinke. Elissa Schappell is the author of Use Me, which was nominated for a Pen/Hemingway award. She is co-editor with Jenny Offill of The Friend Who Got Away and the forthcoming Money Changes Everything. The co-founder of Tin House, Elissa also writes the Hot Type column in Vanity Fair. Ilene Starger, is a poet whose work has appeared in Bayou, Oyez Review, Georgetown Review, and numerous other magazines. She was a finalist for the 2005 Ann Stanford Prize. Darcy Steinke is the author of Suicide Blonde (chosen as a New York Times notable book of the year), Up from the Water, and Jesus Saves.

The Old Stone House is located in JJ Byrne Park on Fifth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street in Park Slope. 8 p.m. $5.00 includes the afore-mentioned light refreshments. Books are sold at all readings.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Pretty sensational title, eh?

Yes, sensationalism still sells--ask the tabloids, or the paparazzi who mow down their prey in order to get the final photographs of their victims. The paparazzi are having TV specials about themselves and their "work" now, as if they were heroes trying to feed a populace starved for Brangelina photographs and Madona baby adoptees. (Hey, Mother Theresa and Princess Diana are dead, somone's got to fill the void!) We live in an age where celebrity sells itself in an endless, vicious cycle that doesn't even seem to need the public's participation to keep it going. And it's getting worse by the day.

For many years, the circus freakshow and the carnival sideshow were the chief purveyors of human oddities--dwarves, giants, hairy ladies, tattooed men, conjoined twins, fat ladies and human skeletons. In short, any type of extreme human body was placed on display for those who wished to gawk. Some of these poor souls were exploited, while others chose to exploit themselves for the ring of cold hard cash. (Rumor has it Col. Tom Thumb and P.T. Barnum were great friends.) Still, an ever more socially conscious society rejected such marginalization of our fellow human beings, considering such gawking and hawking to be impolite at best, disgraceful at worst.

And then, there's Entertainment Tonight, "the most-watched entertainment news program in the world," celebrating 25 years on the air. Once upon a time, it was fairly entertaining, or at least mildly amusing: celebrity interviews, promos for upcoming entertainment events, perhaps a touch of scandal now and then, but nothing too invasive. Ah, those were the good ole days!

Now, despite the continuing presence of Mary Hart (one of the original hosts), the show has devolved into one of the most disgusting, exploitive freak shows in entertainment history. On any given night, there will be countless promises to show us anorexic women, ugly women, pretty women dressed up undercover as ugly fat women, nasty divorces and countersuits, weddings that turn into divorces within months . . . and oh, yes, nightly bulletins on the plight of Anna Nicole Smith. (Okay, she lost a son just as she gave birth to a daughter, but this spacey woman has now had 20-to-30 times more exposure on this program--with absolutely nothing to say!--than any other REAL celebrity in the world. Even Andy Warhol would say her 15 minutes is UP!) This is not reportage, folks, it's morbid garbage picking! How many anorexia stories can one show do? Tonight, trying to top itself, ET showed us Tracey Gold of Growing Pains (an anorexia survivor herself) heading to Australia to interview anorexic twins! "Last year, they looked like skeletons--how will they look a year later? Not tonight, folks, though we said we'd show them! Come back tomorrow night! Step right up, under the big top, to see the freaks . . ." HONESTLY . . . ! Then, on the same program, in between stories on Brittany Spears and Kevin Federline's divorce and Anna Nicole's pain over the paternity dispute, they dressed attractive correspondent Vanessa Menillo up in a fat suit, braces and a frizzy fright wig a la Ugly Betty, so that tomorrow we can see her humiliation via hidden camera.

Okay, enough is enough! Yes, America's TV and movie stars are indeed our royalty, figureheads who supposedly share their glamour with us. But truly, ET is sinking ever and ever lower. Whereas they used to overdo the on-location swimsuit photoshoots for Sports Illustrated, they now are simply scavenging for death and dying without giving their subjects the least shred of dignity. (And what of the former anorexic newswoman they kept showing for months? Or Sara Evans' former nanny, also an anorexic whom they gave a lie-detector test to see if she'd slept with Sara's husband?)

It's enough to bring back those immortal words from the days of Joe McCarthy and the blacklist--"Have you no sense of decency, sir? Have you no shred of decency?" Have they no sense of decency at all?! Positive action is what I always encourage, and I hate to suggest a boycott, though much deserved. But aren't we all too intelligent to watch this level of total trash? Do something positive for yourself--stop watching.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


As promised, I am trying to keep anyone who reads this blog posted of good writing coming their way and where to find it.

This coming week, for four performances only, the very talented Edward Musto, who writes wonderfully dark, edgy and funny comedies (often mysteries--he's been nominated for an Edgar!), has an evening of theater entitled CAMERA-READY ART (Another evening of murder and the like). The bill is comprised of three darkly-funny and disturbing one-acts, described this way on TheaterMania:

"A camera is the only witness in Camera-Ready Art -- a trilogy of short thrillers. In Shutterbug, a photographer of the macabre tries to convince his listener that he isn't inhuman. In And Everything Nice, an ex-convict, just having served time on a bum rap, hooks up with a liberal man of means to help her go straight -- with deadly consequences. And in Wedding Album (Photographs Presented in Reverse-Chronological Order), photographs of a small, impromptu wedding between a diplomat and his secretary at a foreign embassy serve as a memento of one party's murderous compulsion."

Once again, in an effort to be straight-up, I can tell you that I already know these pieces--which is one of the reasons I can recommend them as an entertaining evening of writing! Ed's work is always compassionate but laced with an edge of acid, and he comes up with twists and turns that you just don't see coming--a delicious blend.

Directed by Daedra Kaehler, the cast features Debra Kay Anderson, Rozie Bacchi, Erin Cronican, Manish Dayal, Eric Dente, Robert Dioguardi, William Franke, and Barry Steely. Performances are Thursday, Friday & Saturday, Nov. 9, 10 & 11, at 8 pm, with a Sunday matinee on November 12 at 3 pm, at The Players Loft, 115 McDougal Street. (between Bleeker and West 3rd, just north of Minetta Lane - take the A/C/E or B/D/F to West 4th Street. Tickets are $18.00 through or call TheaterMania at (212) 352-3101.

Friday, November 03, 2006


One can't legitimately review a theater company where one's work has been produced--and Gallery Players in Brooklyn has done some of my one-acts, and friends of mine work there often. But on the other hand, this IS a blog, such that opinions clearly labeled as such are legit--and I am the proprietor of this blog, after all. So with disclaimer firmly set forth, I still recommend that you snap up the remaining seats for their current production of URINETOWN. (I'm told Saturday night is sold out, but for tomorrow night at 8 pm or Sunday at 3 pm, you may still have a chance.) Gallery Players left the gate as a community theater years ago and is now among NYC's premiere showcase companies, attracting top flight talent (and attentive audiences) to Park Slope and to it's cozy basement theater on 14th Street and 4th Avenue. The work is consistently excellent and if you've missed a Broadway or Off-Broadway hit (no matter how risky the subject), chances are you can catch it shortly thereafter at Gallery Players in a sharp, highly professional production--and for a fraction of the price you'd pay in Manhattan! URINETOWN was the show I'd always meant to get to but somehow never did during its Broadway run. (In brief, it's a Brechtian send-up about a metropolis with a water shortage that charges people to pee--and the corruption and rebellion that ensues.) Here, it's given a gifted production--beautifully cast, sharply directed, well designed and musically clean as a whistle. This Tony-winning show may not be high art, but it is certainly witty, savvy and musically sophisticated, and the GP production gets every drop of juice out of it (pun intended). You will come away highly entertained. For more information and/or reservations, go to or call 212-352-3101.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


MISCHIEF NIGHT, an evening of five play readings to benefit Animal Haven, will take place on Monday, October 30th at 7:30 at BPAC (Baruch Performing Arts Center), 55 Lexington Ave @ 25th Street (btwn Lex & 3rd Aves). Brian Fuqua, Laura Gillis, Nell Gwynne, Jonna McElrath, John Moss, and Dana Watkins will read plays by David Johnston, Griffin Miller, Clare Melley Smith, Judd Lear Silverman (that's me) and Sue Yocum (founder of Playwrights for Pets). Suggested donation is $10. For reservations, call 718-768-4213 or email (For more information on Playwrights for Pets, go to the website,


Build a Bridge, Audra McDonald, Nonesuch
As performing artists go today, they don't come much classier or with more talent than Audra McDonald, the beautiful lady who can sing and act with the best of them (as witnessed by four Tony Awards, an Emmy nomination, etc.). In interviews and on PBS pledge drives, she seems like a normal person and a mom, with a keen intelligence and extremely good taste. Best of all, she seems totally at peace with her gifts and comfortable in her own skin. Her albums thusfar have all been superbly produced with a rich selection of material, blending top composing talents from the theater, pop and folk with standards and classics around which Ms. McDonald can blend her velvety voice. (Check out, for example, what she can do with Jason Robert Brown's Stars and the Moon, a mini-play about misguided dreams and longing.) Her latest CD, Build a Bridge, is likewise a classy event, with songs by everyone from John Mayer to Randy Newman. Her voice remains an amazingly nuanced instrument and her diction and clarity are superb. Particularly wonderful are her simple, heartfelt versions of Newman's I Think it's Going to Rain Today, Joe Raposo's Kermit classic, Bein' Green, and Nellie McKay's whimsically satiric I Wanna Get Married. She also does well by the music of Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright, and the late Laura Nyro (especially on Tom Cat). Slightly more unusual this time around are a couple of misfires. God Give Me Strength, the Burt Bacharach/Elvis Costello ballad recorded by the likes of Bette Midler, Kristen Vigaard and Costello himself, should be a triumph for Ms. McDonald with its soaring melody and range of emotional colors, but it never seems to land in her voice or her key, disrupting a song of strong emotional build into a jumble of changes and a narrative mess. And Dividing Day, from Adam Guettel's wonderful musical, The Light in the Piazza, which should benefit from stark, simple reflection--something at which Audra McDonald excels--instead gets a little overdressed, and it shows. Still, these are excellent songs as befits her superb taste, and less than her best still is far superior than the average chanteuse, such that Build a Bridge makes another CD to add to your collection of class acts.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


DEXTER (Showtime, Sundays, 10 pm)
Michael C. Hall is no stranger to body parts, having spent five years as mortician David Fisher on the duly popular Six Feet Under on HBO. But while David was gay and highly repressed, on his new show Hall gets to be challenged by a character both more in denial and yet less inhibited. You see, Dexter is by day a charming and respected forensic spatter pattern expert (yes, that's blood spatter pattern!), while by night he is a serial killer (but never on the taxpayer's dime). But what makes Dexter a truly different serial killer is that he only murders those who are getting away with it and that the law has failed to convict. He's a vigilante serial killer, if you will. He knows he's abnormal and is only playing a regular guy for public consumption--his surviving foster sister, his co-workers, his slightly damaged girlfriend--but Dexter thinks he's fully detached and in total control of his behavior. Yet occasionally, certain passions and drives manage to slip out, much to his surprise. Thus, we can't fully trust Dexter and his controlled voiceover narrative--and that just adds an extra kick of suspense. The show is based on Jeff Lindsay's novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and is wonderfully shot on location in Miami. A splendid supporting cast (including Jennifer Carpenter, James Remar and David Zayas) makes it great fun to watch--when will these people realize the man they are dealing with is not who they think he is?! Meanwhile, the gifted Hall (brilliant as the Emcee on Broadway in Cabaret) gives us a completely different performance from his previous TV persona: a handsome charmer who only shares his chilling inner thoughts with us. (Lucky us!) The show actually manages to be fun despite the grizzly gore factor, and those whom Dexter dispatches are so clearly deserving that we actually enjoy watching them beg for mercy (that they clearly will not receive from this Angel of Death). It's like watching magicians Penn and Teller--they explain what they're doing dispassionately and fully, yet you're mesmerized when they actually do the deed. I'm not sure yet if I will subscribe to Showtime just to access to this show, but on the other hand, I'm glad Showtime gave the public a chance to sample it once for free, and I will probably find one way or another to watch it again. It's that intriguing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


To be a playwright these days is tough--and certainly not at all lucrative. Many theater companies (by necessity) are prone to using tried-and-true authors and stories in order to get audiences to leave their comfortable homes. Thus, the competitive element sometimes rears its head as playwrights struggle to get their work produced. Yet, we also simultaneously root for our writing brothers and sisters to succeed. The fact is that we love the theater (why else write for it?) and we love good writing. (Also, the success of our fellow writers gives us hope for our own work!)

All parenthetical thoughts aside, there are several unsung playwrights I want people to know about and will write about in forthcoming blogs. (I recently mentioned Beau Willimon, whose writing you should get to know.) Today, however, I wanted to mention Daniel Damiano, a gifted writer (and also a talented actor) whose wonderful work I have encountered through the Gallery Players in Brooklyn and whose play, Dreams of Friendly Aliens, will be featured at Abingdon Theatre Company later this season. Two of his shorter pieces, The Dessert Cart and Bon Voyage, Mr. Phelps!, are among the wittiest, quirkiest and most thought-provoking I've seen in a long time, intellectually stimulating while also enormously entertaining.

At any rate, next Saturday, October 28th at 2 pm, one can catch a reading of Danny's new full-length play, Graphic Nature, at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn (199 14th St. Brooklyn, NY 11215 -- R train to 9th St. or F train to 4th Ave). A first-rate cast, under the highly capable direction of Heather Siobhan Curran, has been assembled, and the storyline sounds like great fun: "A mock-biography depicting the mid-life and times of Edmond de Capitiour, a once-anonymous executioner in 1913 France who, while shyly pursuing a young patisserie clerk in Versailles, struggles against his sudden notoriety." It should make for a tasty afternoon!

The suggested donation is $5.00. For reservations call (718)595-0547, ext. 6, or e-mail (put "October reading" in the subject line).

Friday, October 20, 2006


There's nothing quite like hearing an author read from their own work -- except perhaps listening to composers playing their own compositions! It's not that all writers are brilliant actors--some are quite into performing, while others are rather self-effacing and still others downright disappear when reading in public. But in hearing well-chosen words emanating directly from their original source, you get an emotional connection combined with a sense of the inspiration that brought the author (and you) to this very location, this point in time. It becomes a uniquely intimate moment -- not unlike the times when your folks would read you a bedtime story and you would share a common enjoyment of an image, a phrase, or maybe just a moment together.

Brooklyn Reading Works, curated by Louise Crawford (Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn), provides just such a pleasure. The series takes place on a regular basis at the Old Stone House on 5th Avenue, a charming historic landmark building which provides a cozy atmosphere for an intimate evening by the hearth. (The Old Stone House is located in JJ Byrne Park on Fifth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street in Park Slope. To learn more information, visit

Last night, the first reading of the season featured Richard Grayson, author of AND TO THINK THAT HE KISSED HIM ON LORIMER STREET, and Leora Skolkin-Smith, author of EDGES: O ISRAEL, O PALESTINE. Grayson, who has lived all over the country but is a Brooklyn native, read from his book about the dearly departed cinemas that once graced the borough--and his particular connection with each. It was a clever organization of nostalgia, cherishing the locations and experiences of movie-going as a way of tracking his own personal history. When reading from his work, Grayson was never flashy, but his shy asides and self-deprecating humor made for a gentle and amusing trip down the Brooklyn boulevard of time travel.

Skolkin-Smith also dealt in the intermingling of location and personal history, reading a chapter from EDGES that recalled a trip with her Israeli-born mother to Jerusalem in 1963, when (under Jordanian rule) Jews were not welcome in the Holy City. Frightening, tantalizing and seductive, it was a beautiful piece of writing -- no doubt a pleasure to read on one's own, but the pleasure here was surely heightened by the sensitivity and emotional recall Skolkin-Smith brought to the evening. (It is the sign of a good reading that the moment you've heard a selection, you run out and buy a copy of the book!)

Crawford, who also served as the "Alistaire Cooke" of the evening, assured us that many more such excellent evenings lay ahead in the coming months, featuring such authors as Elissa Schappell, Ilene Starger, Darcy Steinke. (Light refreshments are served as part of the literary soiree. At $5, the evening is quite a bargain!)

For more information and a schedule of events, go to As for Richard Grayson and Leora Skolkin-Smith, visit their web sites to find out more about their writing. (Just click on their names here--or else look for their books on Amazon.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

For those in search of a good evening of theater on Monday, 7/16, you might wish to check this out:
Justify Full
A Free Reading of
By Beau Willimon
Directed by Michael Goldfried
Featuring Andre Holland, John Douglas Thompson and Chris Chalk

Monday, October 16th, 7 pm
Ars Nova
511 W 54th St. (between 10th and 11th Aves.)
The reading is free and approximately one hour long. Drinks are available.
To reserve seats, rsvp to: or call the reservation
line: 212-977-1700

Beau's a wonderful writer, ARS NOVA is an up-and-coming theater company, and it should make for a good evening. (I would be there myself, but I actually having a reading of seven plays of mine in a private workshop tomorrow night, so I can't attend. Still, having heard several of Beau's pieces, and since HIS is open to the public, I recommend you give it a try.)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Over two years ago, a friend of mine, Sue Yocum, decided she wanted a find a way to combine two of her passions -- playwriting and caring for animals -- into one activity that would advance both. Her solution: Playwrights for Pets, a group that sponsors three public readings a year of new plays, with all proceeds going to benefit animals in the city shelters who need our help. (The recipient of the proceeds is that wonderful "no-kill" organization, Animal Haven, who are just opening a new Manhattan facility in SoHo -- for more information, check out their site at Funds raised from these playreading evenings have helped with buying food, leashes, medical expenses--and even helped defray costs when Animal Haven went down to Louisiana to rescue pets after Hurricane Katrina.

On Monday, October 30th, Playwrights for Pets begins its third season of readings with an evening entitled MISCHIEF NIGHT. (According to Wikipedia, "the night before Halloween, known alternately as '“Devil'’s Night,'” '“Mizzie Night,'” '“Gate Night,'” 'Cabbage Night,'” '“Mat Night,'” or 'Goosie Night'” is often associated with pranks or destructive activities performed by adolescents.") Sue has curated an evening of five short plays, all of which in some way relate to a sense of prank or even darker mischief, although all of the characters in these pieces are adults -- and the pieces are for mature minds. (No matter how you put that, it sounds like the material is risque, but it's not, really.) Playwrights David Johnston, Griffin Miller, Clare Melley Smith, Ms. Yocum AND yours truly explore a broad range of topics and styles in an evening that should be highly entertaining. The cast (Brian Fuqua, Laura Gillis, Nell Gwynne, Jonna McElrath, John Moss, and Dana Watkins) is superb, and if that's not enough, there will also be a small reception immediately following the one-hour reading. The suggested donation is $10. The evening starts at 7:30 at BPAC (Baruch Performing Arts Center), 55 Lexington Ave @ 25th Street (btwn Lex & 3rd Aves). For reservations, call 718-768-4213 or email (For more information on Playwrights for Pets, go to the website,

This series is developing quite a following--come see what the buzz is all about! See you at MISCHIEF NIGHT!

Monday, October 09, 2006


Sentimentality use to be the sop of American popular entertainment. The good guys rode off happily into the sunset, while the bad guys got what they deserved. The extent of family dysfunction was limited to whether or not Junior would fess up over accidentally hitting a baseball through grumpy Mr. Wilson's window or whether fibbing to Mom to spare her feelings was the best course of action. The relationship of what we saw bore little resemblance to the reality of human behavior but was easily sponsored by Hallmark and Rexall.

While we may all embrace something slightly more astringent these days, the fact remains that for a good story, we need an interesting conflict and characters that are people we can identify with, at least to some degree. We need to care. Lately, on screens big and small, style and flash abound, but not folks we really care about too much. More and more, shows feature self-indulgent narcissists, whose actions are hardly laudable and whose interests are limited.

HELP ME HELP YOU (Tuesdays, 9:30, ABC)
Ted Danson has always been a wonderful talent, perhaps first noticed as a ballroom dancing attorney/sidekick to William Hurt in the movie, Body Heat. As Sam Malone on Cheers, we knew that underneath his cad-like exterior was a heart of gold. Becker was tougher to swallow, but as the psychologist on Help Me Help You, he is brash, abrasive, self-involved and, worst of all, not terribly funny. Nor are the loser patients, all looking for easy solutions to their problems and all too eager rest their rehabilitation on the bad doctor's rather unsound advice. The show is about bruised and bruising egos, without an honest bone (or word) in its vocabulary. It's a cheap snooze.

STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP (Mondays, 10 pm, NBC) The creative team behind The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, brings their considerable writing and directing talent, along with a highly recognizable and likeable cast, to the small screen with great professionalism. But while the Presidency and the people behind the scenes of decisions that effect us all are naturally of interest, the actions of some showbiz types running an SNL-like TV show and making scads of money hold less appeal. Certainly, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Tim Busfield bring a certain built-in good will, but are their character's problems really all that interesting? A recent episode about accidental plagiarism is a topic, a faux pas, but not really something to get all that worked up about for an hour.

UGLY BETTY (Thursdays, 8 pm, ABC) at least has the sense to put a well-intentioned, if supposedly homely young woman at the center of a fable about the evil in the fashion world. They further give her a boss whose playboy behavior is tempered with the possibility of redemption--because he respects the homely young woman despite the temptations of the high veneer world in which he works. America Ferrara, whose natural attractiveness still successfully burst through the braces, horned-rims and horrible hair, plays it straight without commenting on the character, Vanessa Williams and Michael Urie make unapologetically funny villains, and the show is told with great visual flair. Most importantly, it seems to work so far because they spin a fast-paced, dramatically interesting story. Conflicts are clear, if stylized, and its fun to watch. Covering similar territory to the bloated and ultimately timid movie of The Devil Wore Prada, the creative team knows that you can't satirize a world and yet treat the clothes and the people who make them with undisguised reverence. Ugly Betty scores for now--but will we care about this paper thin world for an entire season and beyond?

BROTHERS & SISTERS (Sundays, 10 pm, ABC) continues to be about a family in a California food manufacturing business (yawn) who are in legal and financial trouble (boo-hoo) and are still re-coiling from the death of a father who was not the idyllic sweetheart they all supposed him to be. (Tom Skerritt is missed, not only by the family, but by the viewers--he was an interesting and believable, if flawed character.) The brothers and sisters of the title are all highly attractive, with the sisters played by two of the best actresses of a certain age, Kristin Griffith and Calista Flockhart. But all we really see from this generation of the family is a lot of hand-wringing and political/sexual/ethical confusion, portrayed one note at a time. It is the "older folk" on the show who actually engage us. Patricia Wettig and Ron Rifkin have yet to fully cut lose--or rather, their storylines are evolving slowly, carefully--but we believe they have lives going on between the moments when the camera catches them in their behavior. But if there really is a reason to become addicted to this show, it is the opportunity to watch Sally Field work her magic. Yes, we watched her grow up on TV, yadayadayada; yes, she's won two Oscars for plucky heroines, and played an inspiring mom to Forrest Gump; and yes, she's gone bi-polar and beyond in TV movies like Sybil and guest shots on ER. But on B&S, she's been given a real woman to play, and she plays her warts, heart and all. You see a humiliated woman lash out with mean glee, a loving mother trying to win over children whom she wants to control and can't, a strong-willed person of strong opinions who vacillates between optimism and pessimism and yet refuses to let herself give in to despair. Without soft camera shots to hide the aging face of a woman in her mature years, Field is natural, real and incredibly beautiful. She is a triumph of television acting at its best. One hopes that the "youngsters" on the show are taking copious notes, for they've got a rich mentorship here.

Finally, for real heart-pounding, will-they-won't-they thrills, combined with great music, movement and human interest, it doesn't get better than . . . dare I say it? A reality show? . . . DANCING WITH THE STARS (Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 pm, ABC). Hosted with genuine wit and panache by Tom Bergeron, we watch as celebrities we know from other venues are working with professional dance partners in a week-to-week ballroom competition, with a couple being eliminated each week. No, it's not as torturous as They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and they're not gonna dance till they drop. But the passion, commitment, and learning that happens both behind the scenes and on the dance floor is fascinating. The judges are opinionated but genuinely appreciative of the efforts put out there, which means that they in no way try to be the stars of the show. The "behind the scenes" rehearsal sequences are marvelously done, perfectly capturing the developing relationships of these mutually dependent partners and their desire to really develop both the technique and beauty of this art form. They literally are dancing their butts off, and each time when a couple is sent home in the elimination, you feel both their disappointment and their joy at having attempted something new in their lives, with a result that has changed them forever. Unlike American Idol or most of the other so-called reality shows, this is the a splendid ride, one that you don't want to miss for one minute. (Predictions: hard, since it's surprising who's gone home so far and who has survived, but look to see Mario Lopez and Joey Lawrence in the final three. And are Willa and Max actually falling in love before our eyes?)

And on the big screen . . .

Michael Gondry, whose visual flair and fascination with how the mind works (and doesn't work) made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a treat (and managed to bring the usually out-of-control Jim Carrey into balance with the gifted Kate Winslett and the always enjoyable Tom Wilkinson) here attempts again to play with our psyches. In The Science of Sleep, he explores the tale of Stephane, a young man who has apparently always had a difficult time differentiating between his dream life and his reality, and Stephanie, the lonely woman who moves in across the hall. Are they meant for each other or are they an impossible match? Unfortunately, this time around, the story gets so overwhelmed by special effects and, yes, we don't learn enough to care about these self-indulgent characters, so that the story becomes incomprehensible. That international hottie, Gael Garcia Bernal, brings as much charm as he can muster to the role of Stephan, and Charlotte Gainsbourg makes a plaintive plain Jane, but they don't really have much chemistry together and we're not really sure they should end up together, so where does that leave us at the end? (I won't describe the ending, not only because I shouldn't, but also because I'm not so sure that I can!) Some stunning visuals don't compensate for the feeling that we've all been stuck in a truly confusing dream, one we're not likely to be able to interpret once we awaken--and that we probably will go ahead and forget after the first cup of coffee.

Monday, October 02, 2006


On this Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, it is interesting to me how smart the ancients were, how "New Age." After all, they were saying that as a New Year began, one should reflect on the past, go over one's mistakes, repent, and begin a process of forgiveness and healing--in short, "turning the page" and starting a New Year fresh. (They even talk of being inscribed in a Book of Life, so this concept of "turning the page" is as old, if not older, than the hills themselves!) They understood that the psychic burden of nursing grudges hurt the bearer far worse than those who supposedly inflicted the injuries, and that by releasing and letting go, one can start a process of healing, which in turn will lead to a better year. Human nature gives us knowledge of our actions, and with that knowledge, we continually browbeat ourselves. (Well, especially if you are a Jewish writer type!) Positive energy helps us build, while nursing old grievances only destroys. The only chance of breaking such a negative cycle is absolution--creating a tabula rasa, a clean slate. By asking for and by granting forgiveness, we are redeemed. Energy that would be wasted in pointless grudge matches is released for positive usage. And in forgiving others, we also learn to forgive ourselves. (It is often the harms we have done to ourselves that are cruelest and most in need of forgiveness.) So as "old-fashioned" as the holiday may be, it is also at once cutting edge. Redemption allows for re-building and progress, and redemption can only come from forgiveness. So at this time, let us all forgive (if not forget) each other and ourselves, and build a stronger future.

It sounds basic and simple--but it is oh-so-hard to do!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


(This is a shortened version of the rant I was going to post. Sometimes it's good to write A LOT--and then not use it.)

In Iraq, there are folks who've gone without power and running water for months. In New Orleans, there are people who are still homeless a year after Hurricane Katrina and still without the necessary funds to re-build. People in Pakistan are recovering from devastating quakes. People in Indonesia are rebuilding from the tsunami. And I hate to think of all those who are suffering in Darfur. I would love to authoritatively place the blame on all those who have the ability and resources to help those people and have failed to do so, miserably. But I am ignorant, woefully so, and therefore am in no position to point a finger. Probably, we ultimately should blame ourselves for not holding our elected representatives accountable, at the very least. Our apathy has allowed them to literally get away with murder, while we have sat back and whined about our lot.

But one thing I am telling myself, whiner that I am, is that my little problems, life's little indignities, are nothing compared to what these people are suffering. So what if the cable is out, the new job allows for no facial hair, long-promised checks are failing to show up in the bank account, and no humans can be reached by phone, just endless computer-voiced "help" systems?! What if the job market is just not jumping to hire someone with 30 plus years experience? What if trying to keep up one's health insurance is threatening to sink one's entire financial survival? One has to recognize that these are "small potatoes" when compared to the suffering of the rest of the world. And as annoying and upsetting and even humiliating as life can be right now, it could still be much worse! Even when fear speaks, reason must provide a context.

(And less is more.)
There may be a later post today, but in the meantime, apologies for various typos and editing problems yesterday--there were technical problems with some of the blogging software, spellchecks and postings were a tad erratic and, once up, it became difficult to re-post. But bless the Blogger team, they've fixed the problems and all's well again. (Just a few spelling fanatics wounded in the crossfire!)

Monday, September 25, 2006


While saying good-bye to a friend in front of Key Food on Seventh Avenue, an Orthodox Jewish man (perhaps a Chassid) accosted us and asked if we were Jewish (I am, my friend was not) and if we'd yet heard the sound of the Shofar in this High Holiday season.

He was dressed in the usual black suit and hat and white shirt, and he was carrying a small black shofar, the ram's horn that is a traditional part of the High Holidays ceremonies in the Jewish faith. I cannot say how old he was--pale and thin, in this "traditional" garb, he could have been anywhere from early 20s to late 50s, although I do suspect he was younger than I. He looked zealously eager to perform this task, sounding the horn for strangers who somehow had managed to stray from the synagogue during the holiest of holidays.

My friend, Sue, seemed a bit startled and, having had a rough weekend, eager to flee. I, on the other hand, though usually prone to ignoring strangers who accost me and with the perfect excuse of needing to get groceries at Key Food, could well have avoided this man, but chose not to run. Something made me respond and identify my ethnic origin, as well as that of my friend. And when he asked if I'd like to hear the sound of the Shofar, I hesitated a moment but then said "yes." (Sue offered to then leave us, but I encouraged her to stay, knowing she'd never experienced such a thing, and, good attractive Irish lass that she is, she'd never be accosted on her own.)

I didn't know for sure which blessings would be required before his sounding the horn, but once he started each, I picked up and surprised him (and myself a bit) by knowing them and being able to recite them without too much coaching. (The blessings all start out similarly, but take various diversions to bless the item in question, given the particular holiday. Then, there is the "shehechianu," which I've no doubt misspelled but is the blessing for the first time you do a particular act on a given holiday.)

The words came out of me almost spontaneously--while my sister is quite religious, keeps Kosher, and is a leader in her Jewish community, I have eschewed organized religion for more personalized worship. Without going into it too deeply, I am into a spiritual one-on-one versus the trappings of money, rules and judgment that I find seep their way into any organized religion. I'm not against it--one needs spirituality, and the individual should find it wherever they can--but while I find the rituals and culture of Judaism quite beautiful, I find that a harsh, judgmental air does not make me, a gay man, at one with the Community. So I practice alone. For Rosh Hashanah, for example, I meditated and wrote my thoughts out in an extra-long journal entry. I am a writer by nature and by definition, such that I feel I best commune with my concept of God and the Universe through my words, the gifts that I was given. It is, in a sense, my own form of daily worship ("workship", to coin a phrase).

But if I'm to be honest, I've hit a dry patch financially and professionally, which has been a cause for concern. Depression and a loss of personal identity have ensued, and while I'm moving forward as best I can, I often have felt sad of late, as if something was slipping by me, some secret on everyone else's lips that I can't quite hear and I'm left asking them to repeat the secret--but of course, they don't. I'm old enough both to be scared by this feeling and also old enough (I hope) to know that life is cyclical and that if I wait long enough, things will get better again.

Once the blessings were said, the youngish old man (or oldish young man) raised the small black ram's horn to his lips. I'd seen far more resplendent horns in affluent congregations, and had no idea if the size and splendor of the horn's appearance had an effect on its sound production. I still don't know. My trumpeter's breath control was not that of a widely-practiced horn player, and the long "t'kiah," followed by quick, short staccato blasts, were not as crisp or accurate as I have known in the past. The Shofar is a piercing call to worship--or to arms, in centuries past. It is a sound that should lack hesitation, defiantly pouring out the history of countless generations. This seemed a bit pale, fragile, uncertain.

And yet. As troubled as I've felt these past weeks, as much as I was happy not to have sat in a synagogue as a hypocrite disliking the very practices I'd be participating in, as independent to believe as I choose . . . there was something about the moment, there on the corner of 7th Avenue, in front of the grocery store, a thin young/old man blowing his modest black ram's horn . . . it made me feel better somehow. Safer. Like the world was still crazy but, having come home to the sound, I would be alright. There was no chiding, no telling me I had to return to the fold. Just a notice that I still belonged, if I chose. And I suppose, to be honest, that I was grateful.

I thanked the stranger and wished him l'shana tovah. I then kissed my departing friend, and went on with the business of purchasing the goods for dinner, somehow set back on track.

Brothers & Sisters
(Sundays, 10pm, ABC) - With the classiest of pedigrees, this show has been given a prime spot just behind the juggernaut Desperate Housewives (which admittedly had an opener far improved over last year's pallid mismosh). With the return to series television of such talents as Sally Field, Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths, plus a host of attractive but rather too similar young men (Tom Skerritt and Ron Rifkin aside), this was to be a major event, especially given the stewardship of Ken Olin (Thirtysomething) and playwright Jon Robin Baitz. So why did it feel so . . . flat? Like all these talented, attractive people had gotten together to create and discovered they had nothing real to say to each other? The cast is indeed arresting, and the promised clash of conservative and liberal views in a family is still to come in more detail (one hopes), but the mismanagement of funds in a family business (here, a food company) and the sudden death of a prominent family member made this feel more like a nighttime soap than a new step forward in arresting television drama. Surely, Grey's Anatomy, its predecessor in the time slot, had made me feel both more entertained and more intellectually stimulated than this. With the powerhouse team assembled, more is promised, but it remains to be seen if that promise will be delivered.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


L'shana tovah to all my Jewish brethren.

Yes, it's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when we are supposed to reflect on the past year, on what we've done wrong and whom we've wronged--and then, hopefully, begin the process of making amends. During the days between RH and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), we are to ask forgiveness, humble ourselves, and clean the slate, such that we can be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.

(Of course, let he who is truly without sin throw the first stone . . . )

But for some of us, beating ourselves up over what we've done wrong is not reserved just for the High Holidays, but is an active daily sport. We guess and second-guess ourselves over our mistakes, what may have been taken by others as a slight, who in turn has slighted us, etc. At Rosh Hashanah, we wonder if we can actually do a good enough job remembering all the wrongs, the mistakes, the misdeeds from one whole year. (No wonder depression hits so many around this time of year!) And can you really make amends with someone who dislikes you, especially for an imagined slight or a misunderstanding? Should one open wounds best left to heal with time?

There is, perhaps, a more positive and less self-flagellating aspect of this holiday--to be inscribed in the Book of Life. Traditionally, it implies one has made amends and is ready to try to live a better life in the coming year. This is a good idea, of course. But perhaps it also requires something which too many of us are unable or unwilling to do--letting go.

Each year, on January 1st (the "secular" New Year), my top resolution for many years has been to "let it go." As someone who is a pack rat in every sense of the word, I clog up my life with the emotional, intellectual and literal detritus that I somehow fear will come back to haunt me if I dispose of it. Letting go is the hardest lesson I have ever tried to learn, the one course I have had to retake over and over and over again. And yet it must be done, or else the very weight of the garbage carried along will drag you down to the bottom. In a recent interview, entrepreneur and talk show host Merv Griffin, a colorful and highly successful individual, described his life's philosophy simply as "Turn the page." One ultimately has as many failures as successes, but brooding about them is a waste of time--move on. Likewise, the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, recognizes and gently chides his characters who mire themselves in the past: they are unable to make present tense choices, which results in their losing the options of choice and being left behind.

Those, like me, who worry things to death--what if, why did I, can't I just--will never successfully forget the wrongs, the misdeeds, the blow-by-blow details. It's not in our nature. But unless we accept and embrace the idea that we must move forward, let it go and turn the page, we will be forever mired and buried under the weight of past guilt. One must do one's best--but that's all you can do, so let go of the personal failures and MOVE ON. It's the healthiest thing course of action.

I'll let you know if I ever succeed at doing it.


Continuum, John Mayer's newest CD, proves that this talented young artist is no flash in the pan, and that early hits like Your Body's a Wonderland, though charming, are not the entire breadth and depth of his abilities. A talent with much on his mind, Mayer continues to grow, change and deepen as a musician and as a man, and this album confirms both his dedication to his art and to the maturation process. (Columbia.)

Nip/Tuck (Tuesdays, 10 pm, F/X) I am a latecomer to this acclaimed cable series, but I am now motivated to go pick up the previous seasons' episodes on DVD. What series on broadcast television would even consider slapping the audience for its encouragement of narcissism? Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh play enormously self-absorbed plastic surgeons in a world so tainted by venal self-interest that what you look like is the least of your worries. Jolie Richardson and Roma Mafia stand out in a strong supporting cast, while guest stars ranging from Peter Dinklage and Mario Lopez to Jacqueline Bisset and Rosie O'Donnell (!) keep the wattage high. In an age of celebrity worship, what really matters in our daily lives? For all the sex (graphically depicted), nudity and blood (mostly in surgery), this show is an everyman morality tale dressed in hot bodies and expensive surroundings.

Dancing with the Stars (Tuesdays and Wednesdays, ABC) Yes, idols may come and go, but ballroom dancing lives on and on. Tom Bergeron and this year's female co-host, Samantha Harris (they seem unable to hold onto one beyond a season), are convivial with the sense of their success, and why not? It's a ratings juggernaut. This is a show that requires dubious "celebrities" to compete in something they were not professionally prepared for: dancing in front of millions of people on live television. Whether you are an athlete or a fellow couch potato like me, you've got to feel for these truly brave folks, risking ridicule to accomplish the ultimate mix of grace, beauty and music. Some contestants surprise you, and the teamwork between the klutzy stars and their incredibly graceful (but often nameless) professional dance partners is indeed riveting. Yes, like all the other shows, there are judges who knock heads, and yes, there is home audience voting. But the sheer physical exertion and bravery of the contestants makes it a thrill-ride and you can't help but get swept up in each of their quests for the gold. (It doesn't hurt that it's extremely well directed and edited, with a wonderfully sly sense of humor.) This program itself is the gold standard for so-called reality TV. (Predictions: Joey Lawrence and the suddenly ubiquitous Mario Lopez will make it to at least the final three.)