Tuesday, December 29, 2009

 
RUN TO "RAGTIME"


I thought I had plenty of time to write and rave about the glorious new production of the great musical, RAGTIME, now playing at the Neil Simon Theater:  one of the best scores of the late 20th century, beautifully performed; a superb ensemble, crisply staged and choreographed by Marcia Milgrim Dodge; a simple but handsome and effective visual design that focused on the story versus the trappings.  Timely when it opened in 1998, it is even more timely now in the age of Obama, reality TV, instant celebrity and people behaving badly in the face of financial struggle.  It won mostly excellent reviews in D.C. at the Kennedy Center, and had won similar praise here in New York.   Rumors had swirled that it was having a hard time catching fire at the box office, but those rumors were denied just this weekend in the Times.

My family took me tonight to see it, and while standing ovations are far too gratuitous these days, this was an amazing ovation of love by a deeply moved audience.  (I had seen the original, twice, and admit it is one of my favorites and, I believe, destined to be a classic.  The original ran for 800 performances and won several Tonys including Best Book and Best Score, only being eclipsed for the big prize that year by THE LION KING.)

I came home to read IT'S CLOSING THIS SUNDAY.

So run, don't walk!  Don't miss stunning performances by a strong cast led by Christiane Noll, Robert Petkoff and Quentin Earl Darrington, superb direction, terrific design, and a story that really means something to today's audiences.  Most of all, don't miss this amazing score, which due to this frightfully short run of 57 performances, will be a long time in coming back.  (There had been talk of New York City Opera doing it two seasons ago, but a schedule conflict caused its withdrawal.)  If you've never seen it before, you owe it to yourself.  If you know the show, you won't be disappointed by this lovely and lovingly-appointed productions.

Sigh . . . too many good shows suffering from the economy--and too many theater lovers are missing out.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


A GIFT FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Well, the holidays are zipping along and we're almost at the end of a highly-tumultuous 2009. (Tumultuous is a neat-sounding word, ain't it, even if if isn't always a fun way to go!)

Jobs and finances were at their absolute worst for me and most of the folk I know. Very few people had a good financial 2009--maybe Dick Cheney, but then again, he probably had most of his funds stuffed safely away somewhere in Dubai. (That Dick knows a good deal when he sees one.)

And at times, the frustration REEEEALLY wore me down. Not sure what was trickier--being unemployed for months on end, or then working part-time but not having an easy time on the job AND still not making enough $ to pay bills. And little-to-no supplemental work in sight.

BUT . . . life is full of contradictions. I had a very productive year as a playwright (which may mean at least my tin cup will have a neat inscription when I'm out on the corner). Lots of thrilling experiences, the best of which was the Last Frontier Theater Conference in Valdez, Alaska. Terrific people, terrific work, and a great sense of things that are still right with life. And as a result, I'm heading off to Anchorage in a week to see the world premiere of HEART, which was read at LFTC. It's been a long birthing process for HEART, but I'm so pleased that it finally will get to reach an audience in a fully-staged production under the loving care of ACT in Anchorage. (And who knows, maybe there will be a life beyond that, too!)

And I have spent a year where I've felt great love and support from friends new and old. Yes, Facebook can be the bane of one's existence, but it also brought me back in touch with more friends than I ever knew I had and it has led to warm conversations, revived friendships and the development of new, long-term relationships.

Speaking of relationships, I'm now working towards 25 years with my significant other. That I'm still in love after 24 years is wonderful, but that my partner, Barry, still puts up with me after 24 years--that is TRULY miraculous, and I am extremely grateful.

And I'm still grateful for the love of a dog. Above you see Chloe, the Steely's shih tzu who is five and is one of the sweetest, funniest, most complicated little dogs I've ever known. When she plays, she doesn't just play, she plays WITH YOU. And when given a new toy, she not only is the epitome of joy, but she is also visibly and demonstrably grateful--she let's you know just how much she appreciates your getting her something, even as her delight is palpable thanks enough. There is something so magical about letting go of human hubhub and just communing with a dog--pure, direct, and trusting, a lovely thing.

And despite a continually crumbling wreck of a body, I am grateful that time teaches patience and reminds us that everything comes in cycles. For every downturn, eventually an upturn will come. That is a lesson that only comes with time, and I genuinely ache for my teenage students who don't know that riding out the pain will eventually lead somewhere--they just don't know it yet.

Accepting oneself takes a lot of work over a lifetime. I'm closer than I've ever been to accepting this nutcase/fruitcake I am or have grown into, although I know I still have a long, long way to go. I do know that acceptance of ourselves and of others, warts and all, is one of life's great challenges and also the source of its greatest rewards. And for that realization, I am truly blessed and grateful, even as I struggle to make peace with myself and others, as we all do.

So . . . this seems the perfect time to say thanks to family and friends, to wish everyone peace and (hopefully) prosperity in the New Year and a third "P"--patience. Life is not predictable and perhaps that is for the best. But one has to believe that putting one's best into the world will ultimately bring, if not peace, dignity.

Happy 2010.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


REFLECTIONS

Regardless of whether or not you are religious, the better aspect of holidays is that they drag you (sometimes kicking and screaming) into a reflective mode.

The Jewish High Holidays, for example, are frequently about atonement (with a bit of self-flagellation for added zest!).

Thanksgiving, when not about the stresses of travel, family expectations, digestive concerns and a bunch of eagerly begun but ultimately incomplete conversations, actively encourages reflection. Its origins, no matter how distorted by time and history, are rooted in something rather simple and smart, which is to give thanks for our blessings and to realize how much we have for which we should be grateful.

It is not easy in these very difficult times to do and the encouragement to do so, no matter how seemingly external, is welcome. Indeed, it is all so scary right now that we often take refuge in our misery, more comfortable with the demons we live with than the angels we don't recognize. After all, so many are out of work or have taken jobs that don't cover the bills and bring about endless frustration. Rent is dear and hard to come by, and the growth of living costs is in no way matched by growth in our income.

And so, sadly, people seem to have switched into an "every-man-for-himself" mode. You see this on the streets and public transportation, as people push past and knock into you without a word of apology. Employees, fearfully following the scripts of their employers' increasingly absurd and usurious policies, lose their humanity when dealing with customers in need. And clearly we're following an example laid out by the blatant bad behavior on Capitol Hill these days. It seems that winning or taking power is all that matters, to the extent that the real function of society--to care for ALL of us, especially those less well off--has fallen by the wayside. The social contract we all subscribe to is rendered meaningless when the milk of human kindness (let alone civility) has run dry.

So while Thanksgiving may appear to some as "outmoded" in its quaint gauntlet for appreciation, such thoughts are needed now more than ever. We need to be thankful for a safe place to live, which is not afforded to all. We need to be grateful for our health, which can change at any moment and, unless things are fixed soon, can lead us to physical and financial ruin in the blink of an eye. We need to appreciate our loved ones, the folks who love us NOT for our official role in their lives but for who we are, what we share of ourselves and what we give to each other. We should be thankful for mirth and music, for creativity and imagination, for loyalty and the ability to disagree with someone without a loss of respect. Depressions, both financial and emotional, threaten to bring us down individually and as a nation--we should be grateful to those who rally us, actively trying to find a solution, picking us up when we are at our lowest. I'm all for separation of Church and State, but the value of true humanity, that runs through all religious doctrine, should indeed be part and parcel of how we function as a nation and as a people. Those who trumpet values should examine real human costs first, before price tags.

Supporting one another costs little. A smile to someone across a commerce counter costs next to nothing, but gives so much. Civility takes extra effort, as does respect, but it is perhaps our most valuable commodity. On this holiday and all days, maybe we should be most grateful we have these gifts to give--and we should give of them freely. Nothing else shows the better aspect of humanity.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

POWERFULLY BEAUTIFUL

It is funny how the world of art has viewed the human body--and men and women as objects of art. While men have for centuries dominated as the maestros--frequently choosing the female nude as their object of choice--women artists were kept under wraps and the male form was more often than not kept discreetly cloaked or clothed. (Not always, granted--but why, if I were to ask you to name a famous male nude, would almost everyone gravitate to Michelangelo's David? Isn't it because after that they get harder to recall and name?) And while classical artists would at times revel in the architecture of the human body (mostly female), modern artists have seemed almost prurient when it comes to the male form. All too often, the male nude has been relegated to the category of homo-eroticism. (This is not to negate gay art patrons, mind you, who've always recognized beauty regardless of gender.)

Commendably, in the past two decades female artists of many stripes, generations and ages have been revealed. (Yes, there are more than just Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo, wonderful though they are!) A whole new generation of fans have finally begun to realize that posing was NOT the only contribution women have made to art over the centuries.

But with changing times, modern artists have also begun to be willing to look at the beauty of the male form, not merely as part of the gay subculture, but as part of our willingness to accept our bodies as a source of pride. (What religious guilt has done will take centuries to repair!) Finally, both male and female artists have been willing to view and portray the male form in all its glory and come up with as many interpretations as they previously have for the female nude.

Firehouse Studio has come up with a stunning publication of contemporary male classical forms, entitled POWERFULLY BEAUTIFUL: Classically Inspired Living Painters of the Male Figure. It is a stunning and beautifully produced collection of paintings by a talented coterie of 29 male and female artists--sensual, colorful and often provocative, ranging in style from the photo realistic to post-impressionistic. With a foreword by Grady Harp and an afterword by David Jarrett, it is a magnificent new publication and a valuable addition to the modern library of 21st Century art and ideas--and well worth your exploration. Currently available in a surprisingly sumptuous paperback format, the book is distributed through Amazon.com and CreativeSpace (an Amazon subsidiary) and is a great addition to any personal or public art library. It is not only a celebration of classical painting of the male form but a celebration of active artists displaying enormous gifts in the service of the beauty around us.

In the interest of full disclosure--no pun intended!--I do indeed know one of the artists quite well, but then again, this IS a blog and I'm NOT a journalist here! But rather than take my advice on this, check it out for yourself at https://www.createspace.com/3382894 or on the "Powerfully Beautiful" Facebook page ( which is http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Powerfully-Beautiful/129778600457?v=info&ref=ts). And believe it or not, since this IS a blog, I can pass on a secret 10% discount code: BYJG6B5F.



POETRY FOR PETS

Over the past five years, as a founding member (and frequent writing and directing participant), I have regaled you with invitations to events presented by the sterling Playwrights for Pets, the organization that raises funds for animal shelters in New York City through staging theatrical readings, drawing on some of the best and brightest writers, actors and other artists.

And I am again. But this time is a bit different.

Oh, yes, there's certain to be wonderful writing. And the performers scheduled (Brian Fuqua, Laura Gillis, Jonna McElrath and John Moss) are superbly gifted performers who are veterans of numerous PFP benefits. There will even be wine & soft drinks, plus 45-minutes of entertainment. And all the money will go to benefit Animal Haven, who will also be hosting the event in their lovely Soho adoption, training and boutique space.

The difference this time: POETRY. Poetry, versus short plays, will be the literary format of the evening. (Not being a poet myself, I'll be sipping and enjoying like the rest of you!) Sue Yocum, Executive Director of PFP, has rounded up works from talented poets old and new to create what should be a most enjoyable evening. So if you are a pet person and want to spend a lovely early evening with a glass of wine and good company, you could either sit in your corner chair with a Cabernet and your cat OR you could come and help others who hope for a home where they can keep their master/mistress company. (C'mon, your pet can spare you for one night!)

Poetry for Pets will take place on Tuesday, October 27th at 7:30 at Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street (between Broome & Grand). Donations are $10. Reservations can be made by calling 718 -768-4213 or e-mailing to Sue@playwrightsforpets.com.


Sunday, August 23, 2009


HAPPY AS A CLAM

This morning, eating my breakfast at Two Boots (my favorite haunt in Park Slope), I thought that at least for the moment I was "happy as a clam."

As I should be. Things could be better (on the employment front) but things could also be much, MUCH worse . . . !

And then, of course, it started . . . the brain, which hadn't dared to start prior to the first sip of iced coffee, lest it strain itself unnecessarily . . .

Just how happy is a clam?

Why are clams purported to be so damned gleeful?

Is it "low expectations"? Does a clam not expect that much--and therefore it doesn't take much to make one of them happy?

Do they keep life simple? Free from too much stress? Even before they end up on ice, are they staying cool?

And if they are successful at doing this--as most of us homo sapiens are NOT . . . are we then not even as smart as clams? Let alone, infrequently as happy . . . ?

Perhaps we should take a lesson from our mollusk friends and just keep our big fat bivalves shut . . .

Ah, to be as happy as a clam . . . discuss amongst yourselves . . . !

Friday, August 21, 2009


MANY FACES OF MERYL

I admittedly have not been dwelling in the camp who feel Meryl Streep can do no wrong. (I've frequently felt that she can . . . and does!)

Having followed her career studiously for many years (she is only a few years older than myself), I have fully understood her allure--after all, she is tall, attractive, smart as a whip, has a good ear, a great voice and, let's face it, quite a presence. She is understandably a major talent and it is not surprising that she is one of our most honored actresses. But there are times that I have found her self-conscious, mannered and, at times, overly self-congratulatory. There were certain films that I could feel her patting her own back, saying "good job, Meryl." Her prodigious technique may have been on display, but I also felt that her technique was showing. I won't bore you all with the roles I disliked--well, okay, I personally found her stilted, wilted and "in quotes" in SOPHIE'S CHOICE and SILKWOOD, among many others. (I can feel the angry hate mail being composed already, so hang in there a few more moments, if you will . . . )

Then there was a period where I felt she stopped taking everything (and herself) too seriously and just left herself alone, so to speak--instead of "working" it, she became the character just by trusting her own, perfectly wonderful instrument. She was remarkable as Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) in 1985's OUT OF AFRICA--although I think it's hard to be less than terrific in any film by Sydney Pollak. (And it was obviously a good year for her, as she gave an appropriately brittle and believable performance in the film version of David Hare's PLENTY. ) Somewhere around that time, a dingo ate her baby--but we'll just leave that be. In 1990, she was wonderfully real in the screen adaptation of POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, playing a roman a clef version of Carrie Fisher. She was actually enchanting as Albert Brooks' inamorata in DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, a shamefully neglected and highly enjoyable film that ranks as one of her best (and his, too--he wrote and directed it, after all). And while others may debate its merits, the triumvirate of Meryl, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis made DEATH BECOMES HER a black comedy I can still watch again and again. This was a looser, freer, more fluid actress, skilled in comedy and still truthful.

Then she started taking herself too seriously again, beginning to assume the role of "elder stateswoman." Lots of clunkers--and lots of adaptations of famous books and plays that preyed on her vaulted, vaunted status to guarantee some box office gravitas. Many of them sank like a stone. (I remain particularly grumpy about the film version of the wonderful play, MARVIN'S ROOM.) She was serviceable as an action hero in THE RIVER WILD, but a bit overwrought in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and fun but slightly self-conscious in ADAPTATION. She was so-so in THE HOURS, giving the least luminous among some wonderful performances, and I would have been perfectly happy if she had retired after trying to outdo Angela Lansbury as the Mother from Hell in the remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. (Then again, only Liev Schreiber survived that film unscathed--ONLY ONLY ONLY WATCH THE ORIGINAL OF THAT ONE!!!)

As for THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA--okay, but she could have phoned it in (and maybe did). Mannered, perhaps, but at least she was using the mannerisms to her advantage. She was skillful but not especially interesting.

ANGELS IN AMERICA--much deserved acclaim, really nice work under Mike Nichols terrific direction of Tony Kushner's masterpiece.

I am charitably skipping MAMMA MIA--it would just be too easy . . . !

Haven't seen DOUBT yet. Have it ready to watch, but I'm scared--scenes I've seen look overwrought (and I absolutely loved it onstage with Eileen Atkins and Ron Eldard).

So a drum roll, please . . .

JULIE & JULIA . . .

now THIS is the role she should be winning Oscars for, a whole passel of 'em! She is amazingly believable, funny, touching and full of life as the beloved Julia Child, catching the mannerisms, voice and SOUL we all feel we know so well. You cannot take your eyes off her, she is such a treat and a pleasure to watch. It is my hope that THIS ends up being one of the roles she is most remembered for--she is as magnificent here as Julia Child was herself in life.

I must hasten to add that JULIE & JULIA is a sheer delight, even BETTER than most of the reviews might lead you to believe--and they were mostly positive. I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, even moved to tears a couple of times! The estimable Stanley Tucci makes a terrific partner as Paul Child, and the scenes between Streep and Tucci are sexy, funny, romantic, and irresistible. I found myself wanting to stay at the movie theater all day. (Of course, it also was air-conditioned there on the hottest day of the summer!) But I also think the "Julie" section of the movie has been unfairly under-rated, especially given the splendid performances of the always delightful Amy Adams as blogger Julie Powell and the sexy support of Chris Messina as her husband, Eric Powell. (Julie's decision to cook every single recipe of Julia's MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING and blogging about it is the impetus for the whole film--which is told in juxtaposition with how Julia Child became, well, Julia Child, and how her famous career and book were born.) Nora Ephron's direction and screenplay are self-assured and great fun, making this her best film to date (and certainly her best looking film to date as well). There are many, many terrific cameos by some of the best actors on both coasts, with special mention going to Frances Sternhagen and particularly Jane Lynch. (Lynch, playing Julia's sister Dorothy, temporarily hijacks the film in a terrific performance that makes you think Dorothy's life should be another film onto itself! The scenes with the two sisters are hysterical, priceless!) This film is one of the truly adult treats of the summer of 2009.

But yes, ultimately, the film belongs to Julia--and Meryl's wondrous portrayal. If I was ever going to fall in love with her, well . . . okay, to misquote a Tom Cruise film (don't get me started!!!) . . . Meryl, you had me at bon appetit!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


FACEBOOK BUSKERS

As an admitted addict, I am well familiar with the professed desire--to quit or curtail one's Facebook habit, presence, etc. Feeling somewhat whorish, smirk-y, embarrassed, like I've imbibed entirely too much, said a bit more than I meant to, eaves-dropped on one-too-many conversations, I swear to go cold turkey, to clean up my act, to at least set a limit, a curfew . . .

Of course, I am a man of few traditional bad habits--I don't smoke, drink (one glass, cheap date) or gamble.

Ah, but give me an audience . . .

In these tough economic times, being on Facebook is like being a street busker--performing your act to the crowd that passes by, sometimes attracting attention, maybe even winning a crown or two from a generous onlooker, entertaining the masses . . .

And sometimes, with too much time on my hands, I will I.M., add the witty quip, upload my latest twisted animation or my newest antique photos, lovingly hand-tinted, all with the assumption that my "friends" on Facebook can't wait for another of my bon mots, my special treats . . . and sometimes, I get so disgusted with myself, the sheer unmitigated ego of it all! I suddenly want to hide in shame, thinking what a needy cuss I've become!

But then, if I'm truly honest with myself . . . I am born to entertain, it's what I do, or rather, what I love to do. I live for wit and words and visual arts--and sharing those experiences with an audience. Whether this is a good thing or not, for me or for the assumed audience, is irrelevant. It is what I do, as medicine is what a doctor does, rocket science is what a rocket scientist does, etc.

And in an age where it is tough to get produced, tough to get presented, tough to even make a living no matter what the field, Facebook is providing a soap box, a street corner for FREE (at least for now, thank God!), and the passersby can either watch or not, throw a coin in your cup . . . or not . . . and you can put your wares out there: your wit, your opinions, your visuals, your projects, your connections, your dreams . . . it may not shake up the world but at least you are putting it out there INTO the world, and who knows . . .

The street performer is slightly sad. We'd always wish him/her a better venue to make performance dreams come true. And like Bert in MARY POPPINS, we know that those chalk drawings, no matter how beautiful and inviting, will disappear with this afternoon's sudden rain burst . . . but for the moment, it is lovely and the fact that it is there for us, however fleetingly, makes life a bit more lovely for the moment . . .

Friday, July 31, 2009


NOT ALWAYS SO SIMPLE

One of life's paradoxes--the things that should be so simple, like love, are in fact the things we complicate most for ourselves. Is it our love of puzzles? Our need for self-torment? Or does fear simply make us so irrational that we can't get out of our own way?

No blogger has yet found the answer to this--but then again, the poets have been working on the issue for far longer! And thank God they have! And likewise, let's be happy that Mark Von Sternberg has written and directed a charming new film called LOVE SIMPLE, currently showing as part of the HBO Latino Film Festival.

On a shoestring budget, Von Sternberg has created a quirky valentine, lovingly shot in Park Slope (with even more love than Noah Baumbach's THE SQUID AND THE WHALE). In a story alternately humorous and tender, love appears to two battle-scarred romance seekers in a neighborhood laundromat, and it should be a match made in heaven--except that, ashamed of their personal baggage, both start off with simple lies that turn into elaborate ruses that ultimately become difficult for them to unravel. People lying when pursuing the object of desire is nothing new, of course--Shakespeare has earned a pretty penny with such a premise time and time again. We all fear we won't be received by our beloved if we are not shown in the most favorable light. But in LOVE SIMPLE, even as we understand the young lovers' fears, we find ourselves wanting to call out, "No! Just say the truth, or you'll regret it!" That Von Sternberg's directorial/screenwriting debut awakens such urgency in even slightly-jaded hearts (such as this viewer) is a lovely accomplishment indeed.

The young technical staff belies whatever inexperience they may or may not have with an amazingly good-looking film on a tiny budget, and it is lovingly scored as well. The cast, to a man, is perfection. As Adam and Seta, the young couple navigating love's bumpy course, Francisco Solorzano and Patrizia Hernandez are funny, prickly and lovely, and they receive able support from their almost Shakespearean comedic counterparts (and best friends), played by John Harlacher and Caitlin Fitzgerald. A surprising supporting performance comes from famed playwright and screenwriter Israel Horovitz, playing Adam's ailing father with a touching blend of warmth and despair, and the scenes between father and son are quite moving. An assortment of fine supporting players lend to the Brooklyn ambiance, but this is not just another New York story--trusting the truth in love will always be tricky, but it is something that ultimately must be done if love is to survive.

LOVE SIMPLE will be shown again on Sunday, August 2nd, in NYC, 3:30 PM @ Clearview Cinemas Chelsea Screen 7 (260 W 23rd St, between 8th & 7th Ave). It will also be screened in Los Angeles August 7-9th at the Feel Good Film Festival.

And yes, I do know these folks--but the beauty of a blog is that you don't have to recuse yourself for journalistic ethics. (And if I didn't like it, I just wouldn't bother to write about it!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009


"Stupid" Word Usage

I unashamedly adore Ms. Whoopi Goldberg and further admit to being hooked on The View. I find her admirably sensible, funny, practical, and warmly honest. So I begin this "dispute" with love.

Whoopi has an aversion to use of the word, "stupid," and I both appreciate and understand that aversion. In a strange but perhaps unsurprising development in our culture, the f-word is commonplace, but to call someone "stupid" actually stings. ("Fool," another four-letter f-word, is also a conversation-stopper.)

The good news, I guess, is that words still have their meaning-- and the power to make people sit up and take notice. While cuss words come and go, they are meant to be disposable, ultimately. But real words have power. Real words are binding. Real words can sting.

Now, President Obama is coming under his usual daily dose of attack for his use of the word, "stupid", in condemning the behavior of Cambridge police in arresting Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an esteemed Harvard professor who was arrested and cuffed for breaking into his own house, even when he presented his I.D. (Apparently, the "absent-minded professor" had misplaced his keys during an overseas trip to China and needed to find a way into his own abode. Having had to search for my keys on a daily basis, I sincerely feel Prof. Gates' pain, as those things truly DO have a life of their own.) That the police responded rapidly to the burglary call from a neighbor is laudable, but that the police arrested Prof. Gates despite the evidence that this wasn't a crime, arrested him for disorderly conduct in his own home, did not read him his Miranda rights, and then refused to apologize for their mistake--WHAT WOULD YOU CALL THIS?

That Professor Gates is a highly-recognized and respected member of numerous communities shouldn't matter IF he had behaved badly--and only those at the scene would know what really went down. No member of ANY community should abuse those doing their civic duty, and lord knows the police need support in their actions and appreciation for the bravery they display on a regular basis. On the other hand, President Obama is absolutely right in pointing out that the degree of racial profiling informing the activities of law enforcement has statistically reached frightening proportions and politely ignoring this fact will not make it all go away. (As Whoopi sagely pointed out, it is also sad that neighbors don't get to know each other better--perhaps, had Professor Gates' neighbors taken the time to get to know him, they wouldn't have called to report a black man breaking into the house across the street.)

But to the word itself.

Asked a direct question, the President responded honestly, openly and directly with his opinion (which is in keeping with his style). He said the police had "acted stupidly" in arresting Professor Gates, given the evidence that there was no crime committed.

In looking at the definitions of the word, "stupid," one finds "lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind," and also "in a state of stupor, stupefied; stupid from fatigue." (see below for reference.) In short, acting stupidly is the action of one temporarily not at their best. It does not imply they are permanently or at all times deficient, but it does infer that they are not using their best judgment in the given circumstances. How much more correct can the President's usage be?

Also, just as parents have a right to bring a child up short when they've misbehaved, it is totally appropriate for the top law enforcement official in the country to reprimand his subordinates when those who serve in our name misbehave in the execution of their duty. (Especially when this behavior has been going on unchecked for far too long, to a degree that is practically an epidemic.)

Finally, it speaks to President Obama's character. I respect him for going to a friend's defense rather than taking the political high-ground, especially when this situation is not rooted in political gain. Reverend Jeremiah Wright was deliberately using his position and was keenly aware of the political consequences. Professor Gates was trying to get in his own front door. Barrack Obama, clearly, is a true friend, and as an African-American and as a friend, answered the reporter's question honestly, without "politico speak" and I, for one, appreciate that. (He further prefaced the remark, saying he did not know all the facts involved and was speaking from a personal response.)

Stupidity is the use of poor judgment.

For example, when the Republican Representative (whose name escapes me, sorry) was attacking Obama's health plan yesterday NOT by discussing its weaknesses but by saying how this would break Obama's power, further attacking the President himself and not the plan . . . I would say this was stupid, revealing an attack that was totally based in partisan politics and not on what is best for the health care of his constituency (a subject for another blog, another time).

Stupidity is today, when Sgt. Crowley, the officer in question, criticizied HIS boss (the President of the United States) for butting in. Stupid is Sgt. Crowley saying he will never apologize. He is 100% right for not apologizing for doing his job--but he is 100% wrong not to acknowledge that mistakes were made and that he could have handled things better in his position.

Reading the police account, it sounds like tempers and egos flared. When one has been travelling for hours and hours (back from China), one might be very fatigued and irritable. (I know I would be.) I suspect no one behaved in a sterling, clear-headed fashion that night. When President Obama refers to the behavior as "stupid," he is not casting aspersions. He has hit the nail squarely on the head in an attempt to insist that we all do better.

So Whoopi, my love--I still respect you, but I think one should use strong words when strong words are appropriately used.

---
References:

Modern Language Association (MLA):
"stupid." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 23 Jul. 2009. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stupid>.

American Psychological Association (APA):
stupid. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 23, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stupid



Wednesday, July 08, 2009


THE ROAD SHOW NOT TAKEN?

ROAD SHOW took many years to write, and like so many artists' pet projects, it may not end up being the most popular "child" no matter how much it is beloved by its creators. And if this is the "final" version, then WISE GUYS and BOUNCE are only of minor interest in the development process--it is the finished piece that counts. The reaction off-Broadway to ROAD SHOW was strangely cool, perhaps due to all the expectations. And no matter how "advanced" New York audiences and critics may claim to be, traditionalists still love central tracking "characters," a person who represents the audience. But Sondheim and Weidman have done musical "essays" before--a musing meditation on a historic event that changed the course of history. In PACIFIC OVERTURES, the central character wasn't a person at all--it was Japan, dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. Great visuals, breath-taking music, a thought-provoking experience that questions our own responsibility in Japan's subsequent actions and development. (In ASSASSINS, it was the contorted dream of fame, of making a difference, of getting noticed--America's all-preoccupying past time.) Are you going to say two of our greatest current theater artists can't explore something of interest to them, something a bit more challenging? ROAD SHOW, especially now, is timely in its exploration of hucksterism, of bogus land deals and bilking the public trust. Some folks took what they took with deliberation, while others let circumstances usurp and corrupt their ambitions and dreams. How timely is that? If Japan was the central character of PACIFIC OVERTURES, America and its dream is the central character of ROAD SHOW. It is small, mean, efficient, essay-like--and pungent. And in its own way, quite subversive, asking the questions that we choose not to ask of ourselves. It points the finger at us, the bilked public, the Madoff victims, and asks us, "Aren't you complicit?" And the production at the Public was most admirable, small in scale and design (if somewhat overpopulated) but ably directed and paced by John Doyle, with an incredibly dedicated cast. Alma Cuervo, William Parry, and Claybourne Elder led a strong supporting ensemble, and Michael Cerveris was as brave as ever, portraying the self-serving Wilson Mizner. But it was Alexander Gemignani, a large imposing presence with a heart of gold and guilt (spelling intentional) who came closest to being if not the tracking character, then at least the guilty conscience of ROAD SHOW, in a beautifully sung and played performance (as Addison Mizner). The show was intellectually interesting in the theater and you had to listen to each detail as it hurried by. The recording gives more time to absorb--and like all Sondheim, it grows richer and richer with each replay.

Serious musical theater fans rejoice--a valuable cast album has arrived. As for Sondheim fans--recognize that the master hasn't softened one iota: he still wants you to sit up, listen and think.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


INDEPENDENCE DAY

My recurring memory of the 4th of July is (as it is for most of my family) of getting together the entire family at my Aunt Doris' house in New London, CT. She and Uncle Morris had a house on Pequot Avenue across the street from a small strip of private beach, and we would spend the holiday there, living only a few blocks away on Glenwood Place. Sometimes Aunt Shirley and Uncle Nat would come in from Jericho, Long Island with my cousins. And usually, Aunt Joan and Uncle Roger would come in from New York--and Uncle Roger would sit all of us kids down, good attorney that he was, and read us the Declaration of Independence on Aunt Doris' patio. Then after a hot dog/hamburger cookout, we'd go across and down the street to watch a fireworks display--modest but, to a youngster, magical. (My favorite part was the sparkling, moving animals--it took me a long time to realize that someone had merely made large, animal-shaped frames, lit sparklers along the frames, and then walked the frames along the darkened beach, somehow creating the magic illusion of moving animals of flame!)

Today, aside from one Alaska governor's career going down in flames, most of the pyrotechnics will be limited to the skies. (Macy's is doing it on the Hudson versus the East River for a change--should be quite a show along the West Side.)

But I guess more than anything else, I find myself pondering what Independence Day means. Not in the historical sense, although it may be impossible to divorce history from this discussion. Indeed, the whole notion this nation was supposedly founded on was that we were a place where freedom of ideas--and expression of those ideas--was not only permitted but celebrated. Wars continue to be fought (supposedly) to protect that concept, a concept which, in turn, we hope to spread to other lands (sometimes even if it kills 'em). As a nation, we get obnoxious overseas, telling others that our democracy is the way, perhaps the ONLY way. (We're being slightly better with that behavior of late, thanks to a President with a modicum of taste and tact.)

I guess what I'm exploring is: for all the fighting to protect those rights--and God bless our soldiers and all who defend and protect those rights on our behalf--are we in fact cherishing them?

To me, this country is supposed to be where Independence of thought is sacred. You can worship as you please--which means organized or disorganized religion, mass worship or a congregation of one. Or none.

Independence means you can love whomever you choose to love, wherever you choose to love them. Love for another human being should be a fundamental right--regardless of gender, race or creed. Relationships are so hard and complicated--if two people want to commit to each other, no matter who they are, bless 'em for making a go of it! (To get hung up on who or what they are and what defines "marriage" is antithetical to the very basis of holy union, whose roots are pure and start with love and commitment.)

Independence means freedom of opinion--and while not always agreeing, respecting others' opinions or, at the very least, their right to their opinion. The venom spewed by extremists on both sides of the aisle (no parties immune) continues to erode like acid the very fabric of the flag. (In Albany, currently, ego and power trips won't even allow people to sit in the same room with each other to do the very duties they are sworn to uphold as public Representatives.)

Being an American means being able to take care of yourself and your family. Contributing to and taking from a system that allows you autonomy. And when you are unable to take care of yourself--or when the system has somehow failed you or even sadly screwed you over--there are still fail safes from our society that will help you till you get back on your feet again. As nearly one in ten citizens is now unemployed, it is depressing to think how hard it may be to claim your Independence when you can't afford your basic necessities.

Freedom should mean being able to fly, unfettered. And being a U.S. citizen should mean supporting each other in that pursuit. Do we?

Wishing you all an independent spirit--the most important freedom of all.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009



















TWO SEEMINGLY UNRELATED NEWS ITEMS


Well, we seem to be losing major icons by the boatload. Rest in peace, Farrah, Billy Mays, Ed McMahon, Karl Malden--all of whom contributed to our culture, our pleasures, our art, our commerce.

I will not turn hypocritical and sing a song of Michael Jackson's praises, for while talented and certainly a major cultural icon, he wasn't my favorite for various reasons. But I do send condolences for his loss to all of his many fans.

No, I bring Michael up because of all the reports of various medications that he took or abused or (at least) was given prescriptions for which may have contributed to his death.

And I am fascinated by the latest reports on the dangers of acetaminophen, best known as Tylenol and used in Excedrin and NyQuil. The FDA is warning that America is doing major liver damage to itself through overdosing on this popular and normally safe drug. As reported today by The Philadelphia Inquirer, "The FDA cited research showing that acetaminophen overdoses led to 56,000 emergency-room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths from 1990 through 1998." New maximum dosage guidelines are about to come out, so that people don't overdose by unwittingly taking multiple meds containing acetaminophen. The new maximum daily recommended dose may be 2,600 milligrams, down from 4,000. Also, certain prescription drugs may be pulled entirely because of the problems they cause when people take other over the counter meds in combination with them--not to mention the dangers they pose in and of themselves at their higher prescription dosages. (These include Percocet and Vicodin, Gregory House's pain reliever of choice.)

Acetaminophen has been around for almost 50 years and in proper dosages is a wonderful drug.

We all have pain, but we need to realize that our bodies are chemistry sets, with finely tuned balances.

But American always want more. If two pills help but the result isn't enough, pop a few more. (It's amazing how many folks even O.D. on vitamins, not recognizing that they are regulatory supplements, not wonder elixirs.)

Here's where Michael Jackson comes in. We seem to think that the more we add to our bodies, the better off we'll be. (Or sometimes with Michael, the more we remove . . . !) But as with everything in life, balance and moderation are key!

While the pharmaceutical industry is hardly a group of angels, they DO actually test drugs and their dosages to find effective, safe levels. (They may be forced to do so, granted, but still, they do test.) Just as we should watch our intake of salts, fats, carbs, etc.-- all of which ARE good for us in moderation-- we should consider what is effective and what is safe and follow those guidelines. (Not to mention that some of us are more drug sensitive, so that level of safety might be variable.)

If Michael Jackson had only played with a toy chemistry set versus using his own body as a lab . . . If only he'd had real friends who knew how to say "no" to him . . .

So at the risk of sounding preachy, the following bears stating and repeating:

Consult a physician before you take ANYTHING on a regular basis, be it a prescription or a cure-all from the health food store, and any time you add to your regimen, make sure it will not have a bad interaction with that which you are already taking. (If you can't reach your primary physician, ask your local pharmacist--provided the prescription and mail-order drug services haven't run them out of business.) Take all prescriptions and supplements AT THE RECOMMENDED DOSAGE and contact your physician if you have any signs of an unusual reaction.

We're not here forever, any of us. But let's try not to leave prematurely.

Friday, June 26, 2009

WEEK OF A LIFETIME





I am just emerging from jet lag, kicking and screaming. Not that I like being lagged, mind you, but it means I will have to face reality. I am back from one of the best weeks of my life.

For those of you not bombarded with my news nonstop for the last several months, I have been to Alaska! I attended the 17th Annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, where for a solid week I was involved in non-stop playwriting, directing and acting. My play, HEART, received a lovely public reading (with Frank Collison playing Bert and an amazingly dedicated and talented cast), as well as a terrific presentation of ANCESTORS OF TELEMARKETING and an enjoyable reading of DEATH BY MISADVENTURE in the Fringe. Additionally, I was a reader in the wonderful works and words of Damon Chua (THE GHOST BUILDING), Alex Pollock (UNTITLED), and the wonderful wizard of Oz himself, Dawson Moore (BURNING). It was a week of wonderful readings, terrific performances, breath-taking landscapes and amazing people.

The week worked its magic on me in several ways.

First (and I suppose foremost), it gave me not only an opportunity to hear my work and receive valuable critique (a special thanks to Marshall W. Mason, Lee Brock, Tim Daly and the audience!), but also a much needed shot in the arm for my artistic ego. There were also some amazing workshops, with two (one led by John Yearley, the other by Richard Dresser) standing out as particularly enjoyable and helpful.

Secondly, the Conference was jammed packed with activities--more than any one mortal could hope to do!--that gave me no time to whine or worry. Just keeping up with it all was a challenge, and it required me to fly versus holding on for dear life, as is my wont. It was stimulating to say the very least, and I was required to try things I might not have let myself try under my "normal" circumstances. For example, as an actor I was cast in roles that I never would have thought of myself for--yet with nothing to lose, I threw myself into them and was able to work in ways I never had before and to (at least) satisfactory results.

Thirdly--and this is the kicker--after so many years of feeling odd-man out, the geeky asthmatic kid who dropped out midway through two-week day camp, I was actually feeling welcomed and "one of the gang." This has NEVER been my experience in 51 plus years! I met so many wonderful people, who were accepting of my, er, "quirkiness", and I had the most relaxed and wonderful discussions not only about art but about life. I'm amazed how well virtually everyone got along. I even was in a dorm with roommates and had a splendid time "roughing it." (Don't get me started about collapsing cots and corndogs!) To feel like one has repaired a failure in life--to be one of the guys--is a MAJOR gift and one that I truly appreciate. With help from the Internet and Facebook, there are folks with whom I will hopefully continue lifelong friendships. Talk about mining Alaska for Gold.

And finally, the change of scenery. As you'll note from the video above, the landscape was breath-taking. I've never seen mountains like that, mountains on steroids. With mists, fogs, snows, wild animals and, yes, green foliage of a different stripe than the New England and New York scenery I was raised on . . . if Edinburgh was Brigadoon for me, this was Shangi-La!

Needless to say, this is a trip I would recommend to anyone of a theatrical stripe and it will remain one of my cherished experiences.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A CAT'S EYE VIEW

In the interest of equal representation, a spokescat presents her point of mew about the upcoming Animal Haven event, BETWEEN MAN & BEAST.



Playwrights for Pets presents BETWEEN MAN & BEAST, Tuesday evening, May 19th at 7:30 pm at Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street (between Grand and Broome Streets). Suggested donation is $10, and all proceeds go to Animal Haven, the animal shelter/adoption center that cares for dogs and cats. Reservations for the evening can be made by calling 718-768-4213 or emailing sue@playwrightsforpets.com. Running time for the evening will be approximately one hour. Hope you can join us for what will be a fun evening--and it's all for an excellent cause!

Saturday, May 09, 2009


QUESTIONING THE QUESTIONERS

Slow as I am, I finally just got to Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, SICKO, on disc. It was what I expected--intelligent if somewhat biased, entertaining if somewhat manipulative, and ABOVE ALL, thought-provoking. Moore's critics will seem to find his gift for "thought-provoking" to be his greatest sin.

What we should ask these critics is: What is the harm in provoking thoughts? In starting discussions? In looking at things that need improvement in our IMPERFECT system--yes, sorry, folks but there are indeed flies in the ointment! What is the harm in looking at where we need to improve? Isn't freedom of speech, freedom of opinion what we've been fighting for all these years?

Michael Moore is larger than life. He is a gifted film maker and an essayist--but not necessarily a journalist. He is not reporting, he is rabble-rousing, getting people hot and bothered and making them THINK. (I guess one can say the same thing about Rush Limbaugh--two bears on opposite sides of the ring!) If you are a liberal, then no doubt you will nod in agreement with many of Michael Moore's points, and if you are a conservative, you may well accuse him of being one-sided. But are we so insecure as a people that we can't take a hard look at ourselves and find ourselves wanting, in need of change? We champion our capitalist way of life but seem terrified to look beneath the shrink-wrapping to see what's really inside the package.

While SICKO may play fast and loose by presenting only selected facts, one cannot deny that the American health system is broken. Anyone who has been through the mill with a serious illness--or even just attempted to prevent a devastating problem through testing, check-ups and doctor visits--will tell you that the health system itself is more terrifying than the illness. Can anyone (other than bonus-grabbing pharmaceutical and HMO executives) honestly say they feel safer for their coverage? That their financial survival is not troubled by the health care coverage in this country? Unless you are independently wealthy, does ANYONE have smooth sailing when visiting doctors, hospitals, dentists, emergency rooms? And while certain politicians have defensively decried the ills of nationalized health care in other countries, virtually everyone I know from those other countries has backed up Moore's claims--that public health care systems work and make for a more secure way of life. Health care should be government subsidized from tax dollars, as are police, firemen, schools, etc., and should be one of the things government does to aid and protect its citizens. (Of course, it also works in other countries because the drug manufacturers have not been allowed to drive up costs to ridiculous heights, placing coverage exclusions on the most needed drugs, and HMO's have not been dictating who gets treated and what treatments work versus being merely experimental in the name of reducing their payouts.) The American people are not happy, the doctors are not happy, the pharmacists are not happy. So who IS happy with the status quo? The same people who contribute vast sums to election campaigns, perhaps?

But this is all, I suppose, up for debate. My REAL point here is: why can't we look at ourselves and try to improve on our shortcomings? Self-critique is a sign of strength. Just as there are those who opposed the stimulus package and yet offered only criticism but no alternative solutions, it seems that there are folks who just slam the door when health care reform is even mentioned. There are those presently in Washington who are saying Obama is foolish to deal with health care now in the middle of everything. But health care IS in the middle of everything--employment, finances, household incomes, economic problems and basic day-to-day survival of the average American. To say it is not is being worse than ignorant--it is deliberately turning a blind eye to something that should be the right of every citizen. Sometimes it feels as though those who insist on less government are in fact only looking for less oversight of their own activities. Those who squelch the health care discussion are those who have the most to lose by allowing reform to happen.

The very basis of our country's democracy is supposed to be the ability to talk, to argue and, through consensus, arrive at systemic improvements. (Interestingly, in many of the countries that have nationalized health care, they view it as a product of a democratic society, NOT a socialist regime.) If people can't get health care for their children, if people put off major therapies and procedures because they can't afford them or their insurance won't cover them, if people have to choose between medications that will help them and putting food on their table in this, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, SOMETHING IS WRONG.

I have no expertise and can not tell you one plan is better than another or one side is right and one is wrong. I do know enough, however, to be suspicious: if there is no discussion, if we remain in this quagmire, then SOMEONE is responsible for the shutdown. (And it needs to be looked at WHY they won't let the talks take place!)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A BENEFIT FOR OUR FURRY FRIENDS!




Playwrights for Pets, a terrific organization dedicated to “making theater to benefit animals in need,” will present an evening of five staged readings under the title, BETWEEN MAN & BEAST, on Tuesday evening, May 19th at 7:30 pm at Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street (between Grand and Broome Streets). The event, which will benefit Animal Haven, will feature staged readings of five new plays by playwrights Bill Dudley, Evan Guilford-Blake, V.E. Kimberlin, Ed Vela, and yours truly ( who is also director for the evening). The work will be read by an estimable ensemble of actors: James Arden, Kaseem Bristow, Erin Cronican, Eric Hunt, Jonna McElrath and Annie Pesch.

Suggested donation is $10, and all proceeds go to Animal Haven, the animal shelter/adoption center that cares for dogs and cats. Reservations for the evening can be made by calling 718-768-4213 or emailing sue@playwrightsforpets.com. Running time for the evening will be approximately one hour.

Hope you can join us for what will be a fun evening--and it's all for an excellent cause!

Friday, May 01, 2009

PEARLS BEFORE . . .
(Not to hog up too much airspace, but thought this would be fun--and maybe one day bring home the bacon!)

When we panic, we try to protect ourselves and may inadvertently harm others less fortunate. There always has and always will be flu--let's put it in perspective, shall we? Or as Piggy says, "People, people, people . . ."




"Hello. I'm here to address an overwhelming concern that is sweeping the world. It's proper name, of course is the H1N1 virus. But far too often, it is being represented as the so-called swine flu. As a member of the maligned swine community, I wish to inform you all that we as a species do not pose imminent danger.

But someone got the idea that swine are easy targets.

I ask you--we already have to deal with prejudice in the entertainment industry, where pearls are ALWAYS cast before we are. But now to be blamed for some pandemic. Pandemonium is more like it!

People, people, people! We don't blame everything on you!

When people belly futures crashed and the farmers' market tumbled and so many of us lost our life savings, we didn't say "damn those humans"! And as glaciers melt and rain forests disappear and many gifted creatures disappear, did you EVER see one of us point a finger?

We are peaceful, loving creatures. We mean you no harm. So calm down! Have a glass of juice. Drink chicken soup. Point your snout away from others if you think you are going to sneeze and put a sock in it if you're gonna cough on someone. If feverish, stay home and watch a video--an excellent flick, for example, would be BABE. Great film, always good for a laugh.

And masks, in my experience, are colorful and attractive and stare at you from the walls, but they will not help you avoid the illness.

And please, please, please. Remember that every time you call it the swine flu, you insult me and my fellows. Every time you call it the swine flu, you hurt a piggy.

Thank you."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A TORTURED AND TORTUROUS DISCUSSION

Displaying the egotistical hallmark that has distinguished the American persona for the last 8-10 years, the conversation about torture and the Obama administration's anti-torture position would be laughable, if it weren't so sad. Let me be clear--NOT the the position, the conversation ABOUT it.

Torture IS a moral issue. You either have a certain code of behavior you find acceptable or you don't. Any form of torture is acceptable or it is not. It doesn't matter--or at least, shouldn't matter--what the rest of the world thinks or what you fear the rest of the world will (or won't) do to you when the shoe is on the other foot. If torture is wrong, then it is wrong in any degree.

If you believe it is wrong to torture other human beings to get the information that you want, then it is wrong to do it. If you believe the ends justify the means, no matter how evil, then the sky is the limit. It is one of the few all-or-nothing issues.

The idea that it is wrong for others to torture but that WE can do it because hey, look at all the other lives we saved and the rights we've protected . . . is hypocritical. You either have certain values or you don't. Period.

It is ironic how many so-called conservatives preach certain "Christian" values (and again I refer to their USE of the label, not what those values really mean), yet are saying well, the torture we performed on suspected terrorists got us information that made us safe so, in this case, it's okay. In short, better the other guy--THAT'S a good Christian value? An honestly moral person doesn't drop their beliefs just to protect their own skin.

Torture tactics we deemed unacceptable are in our case acceptable because they were monitored? Really? And did anyone step in during these monitored sessions and say, "Stop--now you're going over the line?" Would we ever know?

(It should be added that over the centuries, it has been proven that torture victims will say anything that ends the torture, what they think their captors wanted to hear. If it happened to be good information, good for the torturers, but if not, the results were no doubt catastrophic for someone.)

It is the flagrant "me first, screw everyone else" attitude that brought us to the time, place and financial disaster we find ourselves in at present. Flagrant greed, hidden under the cloak that we are the "land of opportunity." It is consistent with the values of Dick Cheney and the Bush administration, therefore, that torture is acceptable because we got what we wanted and WE are safe. (This is the same man who, once on his way out of power in the U.S., summarily moved his company to Dubai! The same man who, when questioned about the current financial plight, and all the lives lost in the war, said "So?")

To some, making Dick Cheney the poster child may seem unfair. But while Bush is quietly resting in Texas under the reasonable assumption that it's someone else's ballgame now, Cheney has been showing no respect for the Office or the folks who hold it, even as he continually invoked privilege during his days in office. If he's putting himself in the spotlight, then he's opened himself to critique.

I can fully understand why former Bush administration big shots are now saying publicly that Obama is risking U.S. security by admitting that torture was done and then refusing to continue it. It worked for them, they believed in it. They are not hypocrites, at least, in this regard. Lacking in moral fiber, perhaps, but not hypocritical in this regard.

The Obama administration is stating its life values. If we abandon those values when it suits us to get what we want, then what the hell are we fighting to protect? Standards are standards because they are unchanging, bedrock. (You would think Conservatives would understand THAT!)

So we are no longing endorsing torture and will not accept those who continue to advocate for it. Those who are proud to be Americans should not place their flag-waving pride over the values we supposedly hold dear, the ideals we supposedly live by.

Thursday, April 02, 2009
















BEING UNDER THE RIGHT IMPRESSION

Those who love impressionism, color, dynamic use of lights and darks, interesting perspectives. and generally great art should get themselves out to Brooklyn to see the fabulous exhibit of french painter Gustave Caillebotte (pronounced Ky-a-bott)(1848-1894). Entitled “Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings From Paris to the Sea,” it is an amazing exhibition of paintings, sketches and yes, boat half models, for this vibrant gentleman was a rabid boat enthusiast and designer, as well as a painter, engineer, lawyer, and art collector. He was a major member, financial supporter and frequent organizer for the French Impressionists, a well-to-do gentleman who used his wealth and connections to further new thought in art, often putting his money where his mouth was (dying too young at age 46). But he was no dilettante himself, as this exhibit shows. He had great skill as a painter, and loved putting his various passions into his paintings. From the start, his sense of structure made him explore extreme and unusual perspectives in his work. (LOVE the round-topped painting, where two boats through the trees being watched by two boys and a dog, changes perspective radically depending on where you stand in the gallery!) It is amazing to watch as he transforms from a traditionalist to an impressionist, yet all the while keeping the dynamism and understanding of contrasting space from his formal training. His personality practically vibrates off the walls.

And really, folks, The Brooklyn Museum is one of the country's finest--a very short trip over the bridge. Try to see this wonderful show (through July 5th). If you're like me, you'll discover an artist you didn't know before--and what an exciting discovery he is! (See the New York Times review, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/arts/design/27cail.html?scp=2&sq=Caillebotte&st=cse .)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

OFF THE WALL

Okay, I've been good--well, relatively good--lately, writing versus animating everything. But I thought I would share this one, the most recent. No(h) Japanese prints were harmed in the making of this film, PRISONERS OF A BROOKLYN BATH(ROOM).






COMING UN-INGED

I don't care who or what is in vogue or popular. I've always loved William Inge because he deals with what I feel is a natural theatrical topic, as well as a difficult subject to explore--human longing. While Arthur Miller examines our moral sense and its collisions with justice, and Williams examines our survival in a brutal world, and Albee our, well, our defense mechanisms in a hostile society, Inge (who at one time was mentioned with equal reverence) was the prosaic poet of our dreams, desires and disappointments. In plays like PICNIC and COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, his characters want to follow their hearts but are perhaps too frightened of their own feelings to act upon their passions--rather like the majority of us. If current audiences are too "hip" to find such ordinary frustrations and inaction off-putting, I would counter that perhaps Inge's emotionalism cuts embarrassingly close to the bone. His work straddles a fine line of comedy and pathos, but is rarely slick, sardonic or biting--which is what many more audiences seem to trust today. (Tracy Letts seems to combine both successfully in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.) But to really find what motivates us or what holds us back, those small private fears that loom large in our own inner lives, Inge achieves achingly lovely and painful theatrical moments. In some aspects, he is our American Chekhov. And like Chekhov, he is hard to do well.

That said, you may wish to check out BUS STOP, one of his classics, now being performed by Brooklyn's Gallery Players through March 29th. If not the ultimate production, it nonetheless is a loving exploration of ordinary folks, road travellers stuck at a diner until a blizzard lets up and they can move on to their ultimate destination. (Like Chekhov, you have arrivals and departures and the folks that stay behind as the stuff of all drama.) It is not a searing, dark night of the soul--rather, it is regular people trying their damnedest to get through a long and somewhat awkward night together. The piece is probably best known as the film vehicle for Marilyn Monroe in the 50s, but while that film narrowed the focus to only one of the principal threads (and probably couldn't spend too much time on the alcoholic professor interested in underage girls, given the Eisenhower era), the play has many more layers, subtextures and currents. New York City only gets views of Inge once in a blue moon, given what's popular, so you may wish to take advantage of this opportunity to see some authentic American theater literature done with warmth and affection.

BUS STOP by William Inge, directed by Heather Siobhan Curran, now playing at The Gallery Players, 199 14th Street, Brooklyn, btwn. 4th & 5th Avenue (R train to 9th Street; F train to 4th Avenue), Thursdays-Sundays through March 29th. Tickets $18. Thurs, Fri & Sat Eves at 8 pm, Sat at 2, Sun at 3. www.galleryplayers.com for more information and ticket reservations. (Above: Pictured (l to r): Brad Lewandowski, Shawn Parsons, and Alisha Spielmann in The Gallery Players’ production of Bus Stop by William Inge. Photo by Bella Muccari.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009


CONVERSATIONS ON RUSSIAN LITERATURE

As I've written before, being a blogger does not come with the same responsibilities as being a reviewer--one doesn't have to cover everything, and one is entitled to promote one's own or one's friends' projects. (Although I think it's important to disclose the context of your "review," just to let the reader know what they're reading.) Of course, you don't get free tickets as part of the job when you do it for your own blog. And if you don't like a production, you can simply keep your mouth shut.

That said, I am writing today about the final weekend of CONVERSATIONS ON RUSSIAN LITERATURE AND THREE OTHER PLAYS, an evening by my friend, David Johnston. Blue Coyote has been his home for a few years now, always giving solid and often gifted support. This production is no exception, an evening that ranges from entertaining to breathtaking. Johnston's writing ranges from wittily sophisticated to disturbingly thought-provoking. PLAY RUSSIA is a giddy poke at Chekhov, sending up almost all of the major works while enjoying the discomfiture of pronouncing long, tongue-herniating names and surnames. FOR THOSE OF US WHO HAVE LIVED IN FRANCE is comprised of three intertwining monologues by three unlikely stagemates: Mary Queen of Scots, Henry Kissinger and a Virginia housewife, all of whom are letter writing, to be able to visit France. MOTHRA IS WAITING is the backstage tale of a sister act that appears to be heading for a breakup. All three display sharp, witty lines and afterimages that will grab you, along with some splendid performances (David Lapkin makes a particularly amusing Kissinger, and Tracy Gilbert is quite touching as she waits to be rescued by her giant hero).

But the second act is the play, CONVERSATIONS ON RUSSIAN LITERATURE, which is not only more than worth the price of admission but is one of the most satisfying plays to be seen in New York at this time. The setting, a vodka-soaked summer evening in a Russian park, plays host to what appears at first to be a discussion about beloved books between an American woman and an older Russian gentlemen. The fact that we are actually watching a very delicate negotiation between representatives of two powerful nations is only gradually revealed as the intellectual dance progresses through a minefield of personal, political and artistic beliefs. Director Gary Shrader has given a stunning production to Johnston's brilliant words, and the performances of Jonna McElrath as the American and Frank Anderson as the Russian are full-bodied and superbly shaded. This is a totally absorbing forty minutes of theater that will make you question governments and how much the personal competes with the professional, with "we the people" the beneficiaries (or victims) of the results. This is a production that deserves a much longer run.

“Conversations on Russian Literature Plus Three More Plays” continues through March 7 at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, at White Street, TriBeCa; (212) 868-4444.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


SEARCHING FOR INTELLIGENT CONSERVATIVES

I miss William F. Buckley. George Will can't carry the mantle alone, although he does so admirably.

I am a liberal or a moderate-to-liberal. But I enjoy a well-expressed point of view and feel we all learn from and grow from good, considered discussion.

I am so tired of Rush Limbaugh stomping his feet and whining like the big fat idiot baby that he is, throwing tantrums and tirades. To oppose socialism and to fear we're going in the wrong direction is one thing. But to say he hopes the stimulus plan fails and encouraging others to cause its failure is to encourage the failure of the country. He was the first to say we must support our leaders no matter what when HIS candidates are in office, but clearly, he just wants to be right, to have his own way. Well, where's YOUR patriotism now? And how disappointing that the leader of the Republican party, Michael Steele, who wisely chastised bad and self-serving behavior, recanted because he's afraid of a bully. Rush is entitled to his opinion, naturally, but that doesn't make his behavior off-limits for criticism.

And as for the lovely Ann Coulter . . . what a shame such a steel-trap of a mind is so mired in hate-mongering. She has a great brain for facts and figures, but so twists and distorts things to feed her own ego. She mistakes negative attention for positive reinforcement.

These are people who would rather be right than have things better. Or rather, THEY are doing well, so the hell with anything that would make life better for the rest of us--we got ours, so therefore something is wrong with all of you. In a most brutish way, they've gone extreme Darwin on us (and even Darwin wasn't recommending survival of the fittest as an excuse for selfish extremism.)

There are liberals as well who favor less government--but who also favor fair chances for all, who favor a generosity that the religious right gives lip service to but does not support with their actions.

On the other hand, the late great Buckley, and those who follow in his wake, would propose alternatives and would enter into the discussion with respect and intelligence, recognizing a need to solve problems over a need to be right.

In this day and age, pundits need to get over their egos--something else that grew overinflated over the past 8-10 years!

GARGOYLES

As if you thought there'd be no animations today . . . !

At the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, you can see the original paintings which, in the flesh, reveal a far greater skill and artistry than the magazine cover reproductions that graced the many Saturday Evening Post covers over the years. His fame is well-deserved.

But on our visit one summer, we saw the wonderful, whimsical work of his son out in the gardens and walkways of the museum, terrific gargoyle creations that seemed like they could talk to you.

And now, one of them is . . . enjoy!




Friday, February 20, 2009

VIRGINIA

Moving into a more complex phase (I fear . . . )

Once public television and cable have ransacked all unknown, misunderstood artists and geniuses for their in depth documentaries, what will be left?


Thursday, February 12, 2009

GETTING ANIMATED

Yes, yes, I know. It must be a phase I'm going through. I'm obsessed with my experiments in short animations. They're quick "doodles," if you will, inspired by some of my favorite things--antique photos, toby mugs, drawings and illustrations. I seem to be driven to explore new ways of story telling--new for me, at any rate.

Below are two more new ones. And then I will TRY to stop for a while--and maybe work on a longer work of more overall heft.

Enjoy.

Family Portrait




The Competition

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Some commerical promotions . . . and a rant! Hope you're not sorry you visited!

TALKING DOGS

Chloe wants her chance in the spotlight--especially for a good cause.




AN ENDORSEMENT FROM MY PUBLISHER

Okay, okay, he has a vested interest, but Ernest Silliman has decided to help promote EDDIE HAS ALLERGIES. Here's HIS commercial.





SOMEONES GOT TO KNOW HOW TO PAY TAXES

Many thanks to President Obama for being a straight shooter and saying, hey, yeah, I screwed up on some of these appointments. It continues to show that he's "real people," one of us, and it helps earn our trust.

But WHY are all these appointees needing to apologize for tax evasion? (Or "mistakes," as they so sheepishly put it?) They're up for posts as the country's experts. They are not just average Joes. (Or Joe the Plumber, for that matter.) It is true that few of us can know, comprehend and negotiate all the complicated tax codes. But surely Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, should know--or has a staff that knows the ins-and-outs? (And maybe he does!) Don't they have access to some of the best tax minds? And our new Secretary of Treasury, Timothy Geitner, former head of the New York Federal Reserve, should certainly have a handle on it! Once again, this is a sign of just how long power has provided loopholes. It's a symptom of the exact same malaise afflicting the executives who continue to want all the perks of their position while their company is begging for bailouts. Accountability, people! The word "bonus" was supposed to mean something extra, a special one-time gift for a job well done--not a guaranteed part of a salary regardless of whether or not you've run your company into the ground.

Friday, January 30, 2009

FRIENDSHIP

Sometimes, to reflect on the nature of friendship and how we connect, we have to go back a ways . . .

Saturday, January 24, 2009

JOBS AREN'T EASY FOR OLD MUGS

With things the way they are in the present economy, it's not easy for ANY of us to find work--but the older you are, the more problematic it is, particularly in the arts. Witness this somewhat comedic attempt . . .


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009


RANDOM THINKING

Tomorrow will indeed be an amazing day. A start of what will hopefully be a new age.

There are no guarantees for the future, of course--no one person could meet the expectations being placed at the President-elect's doorstep. But the difference, the change in not only personnel but character, is clearly a step in the right direction. The need for a different way of thinking--one that reflects ALL of the American people--is long overdue.

The greatest support for this optimism lay in Obama's cabinet choices, in his careful and precise planning for the economy even prior to taking office, AND for his ability to remain an active dad and husband while dealing with a Herculean amount of pressure. All bodes well.

No matter what faith you hold, say a prayer for our future leader--that a practical, 21st century approach can perhaps dig us out of the mire and into the light.

VICTORIA CLARK

Those who know the work of Victoria Clark--or think they do from her Tony-winning turn as Margaret Johnson the southern mother abroad in LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, or one of her other wonderful acting turns on Broadway--will still be amazed and startled by the fresh breeze on her album, FIFTEEN SECONDS OF GRACE, a splendid mix of songs familiar and less so. The voice is lovely, of course, but the interpretations are so inviting. For one who lately has played matrons and strong-willed ladies, it is a delight to find this is a voice of quick-silver, intelligence and delicacy. Under the superb musical direction of Ted Sperling, this album is one luminous discovery after another, with a wonderful sense of intimacy. Each number is a work of art, but to single one out, take a listen to BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, that stalwart anthem to life from HELLO, DOLLY! Deftly defying expectations (in part thanks to a really splendid arrangement), a steamroller anthem to survive has been reborn as the tale of someone who is genuinely thrilled to re-discover life's adventure. By concentrating not on overcoming the past (as in usual interpretations) but rather on the promise of the future, the song takes on a glistening beauty previously overlooked. It is that delightfully inventive perspective that Clark brings to every note on the album. This is not a show-singer disc--it is an artist giving you a truly one-person exhibit, with something special around every corner. (PS Classics)