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.