Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Health Care Reform

I never intended to write a “this is where I stand” series. As most of you know, I love to pose questions that will evoke responses, but I make at least a token effort to keep my own opinions private. I’ve often commented – lamented – that a writer is more an observer than a participant in life.

However. The present political situation in this country, the decidedly unprofessional attitudes of many of our leaders, and the resulting unreasoned anger by citizens in general, have made me realize that to encourage debate without making my own position known, is not disinterested reporting, it’s avoiding confrontation.

So I’ve decided to level the playing field; this is how I feel, and why. Based on that, I invite your response. No more high altitude bombing. (I know I’m hitting something, I’m just not sure what.)

For the past year, I’ve watch the antics of congress and the senate with both growing interest and apprehension. In many instances the two major political powers flatly have refused to work with each other. Vaguely I can remember this happening one or more times in the past. During these time periods no viable business of the government was conducted. At the time there was a standing joke that this inaction may not have been a bad thing at all.

In this case, however, a purposeful antagonism seems to have abraded the distance between the democrats and the republicans. I’ve seen far more name calling and finger pointing than I expect from elected officials. Hate is an effective recruiting tool, but is almost always not satisfied until a violent action accompanies it.

Now you have my viewpoint on our present congress and senate. Their disrespect for each other doesn’t even come close to my disappointment in them as a whole.

With that as background, then, here are my observations of the progress of the present health care reform bill.

I remember when the bill was bring drafted, the President went on TV and said (paraphrased) “Here it is. If anybody has a better idea, let me know.” I don’t recall anybody stepping forward. Up to and including the time when the bill was made into law, there was STILL no better plan offered, just the demand to scrap everything and start over.

Those in favor of the law will explain in detail why it will work. Those opposed will explain (in my case with a condescending tone of voice) why it won’t work. The truth is, since none of this has been put into effect yet, nobody actually knows how it will work. Seems to me that the prudent course of action would be to observe something happening before praising or condemning it.

There seems to be a great amount of talk about “starting over.” Why? Admittedly, the work is not perfect. What’s wrong with fixing the problem areas instead of simply dropping everything? This law will provide millions of people with health insurance. Having given it to them, can you honestly face them and say you are now taking it away? What truly offends me are the people who are working so hard to withdraw the insurance have no fears of losing their own.



Saturday, March 27, 2010

This Is Where I Stand

Remember this thing?

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

In case you are unaware, this is the opening paragraph from the United States Declaration of Independence, signed by 56 men on July 4, 1776.

I’ve always enjoyed the pure audacity of this document. Here were a number of wealthy and influential men laying everything they held dear – including their lives – on the line for their convictions.

Two hundred and thirty-four years later it’s easy to view these people as two dimensional, frozen in portraits, a faded parchment one of the few artifacts reminding us that they lived at all.

Oddly enough, it was an Englishman commenting on my last post who unintentionally reminded me that grumbling from the safe obscurity of the sidelines doesn’t cut it. (Good show, Malmesbury.)

So. In order to give some kind of perspective to my critiques of the people who lead this country, here’s where I stand on those who either are in power, or think they are.

I support the President of the United States. I voted for him. (And was surprised when he won.) He’s not perfect – largely inexperienced. I know that. But I liked many of his ideas. And he’s smart. Sarah Palin once commented that if Barack Obama was elected, we’d have a college professor in office. To me, that was a selling point. I WANT someone as President who is smarter than I am. God knows I want someone in there who is smarter than Sarah Palin! I’ve been told that the effect of any President isn’t felt until 8 years after that person takes office. I’m willing to wait at least a little while before offering a judgment.

I have nothing against John McCain, but I felt nothing strongly for him, either. He had – has – a sarcastic streak I don’t appreciate. That turned me off, and thus so did he. As of late, he’s joined the “hell no” bandwagon. That’s fine. When I think of him, I will be reminded of the slogan. Good job, John.

I’m amazed at the popularity of Sarah Palin. The woman is hard pressed to put together two coherent sentences in a row. Yes, I read her book. Everything I see her do is motivated primarily to promote Sarah Palin. At some point I’d like to see her sink into the obscurity she so richly deserves.

On the day the Health Reform bill was made into law, the Republican minority leader, John Boehner, announced that he would make every effort to see that law repealed at the earliest possible opportunity. He has no better plan in mind. If he succeeds, I sincerely hope the 56 million people he will deprive of health insurance will take the opportunity to thank him personally.

And to those congressmen and senators who yell out during speeches and preach hate at every opportunity, I have zero tolerance. Zero. I don’t care how impassioned they are, this is unacceptable, immature, self-serving and rude. And in case you think I’m being too hard on them, consider this; forget for a moment that they are congressmen and senators. Would you want someone like that in the car behind you on the way home?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Congress and the Senate

To: The Congress and Senate of these United States
From: One really irritated rabbit


When I was in school, I was taught that it was rude to interrupt when someone else was speaking. When I was in business, if someone disrupted a meeting (which, by the way, never happened) that person would be asked to leave. Why, as a congressman or Senator, do you think it’s appropriate to scream out an inane comment when another public figure is speaking? Do you honestly think I appreciate this display of immaturity representing me? Do you think an insincere apology will mollify me? Sir or madam, it will not. I want you gone – out of here. I want your head shaved and painted orange. I want you stripped naked, and paraded out of town in the middle of winter while clinging by your fingernails to the top of a forty-foot tar covered telephone pole. And it’s not for you that I want this. You are history. Rather, I want the imbecile who replaces you to go into the job fully educated.

I don’t want one party to vote a hundred percent for a bill where the other party votes a hundred percent against it. And if a bill is voted into law, I don’t want to hear – that very day, that you are going to work to have it repealed at the first opportunity. Excuse me for asking, but … if you are so dissatisfied with this bill that you brag that you had nothing to do with it’s creation … my question is, why didn’t you? What am I paying you for? What are you doing up there? I think I’ve had enough. Clean out your desks and go. No hurry. Take all morning if you must.

What started my tirade? Today I heard a man casually comment that he’d like to see someone “take a gun an’ shoot the President an’ all them damn democrats.” True story.

Shocked (and more than a little naive), I asked the man why he wanted all these people murdered.

“Because of the - - health reform law,” he grumbled.

I thought about that. “Isn’t killing people over a health bill something of an oxymoron,” I asked.

The man bristled, sure that I was belittling him. He left, the anger more obvious than it was before he forced conversation upon me.

I wondered if he was encouraged by all the pompous rhetoric you have been spouting over the past weeks and months? I wonder if he will find justification in some form of violent action by following your leadership.?

And if someone is killed, I wonder if you can be tried as an accomplice or instigator? Boy, I hope so.

And so, whatever your motivations are, I want you to be aware of the following:

(1) YOU NO LONGER REPRESENT ME! I release you from your claimed obligations. You are, in fact, a source of great personal embarrassment.

(2) You have lost my vote. Not only have you lost my vote in the upcoming elections, but I’m going to see if I can take back my vote from the last several times you ran for office.

(3) It takes a lot – it really does, but you do NOT have the approval of a rabbit!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Panic Attack.

I know. It's been days since we've talked.

I'm feeling pressed. Several things happening at the same time.

Someone asked me today if I am retiring. From what? What does that mean?

In a few days Julie and I will again start writing for Script Frenzy - during the month of April we will write 100 pages in 30 days. A piece of cake. Last year we finished several days ahead of schedule. It was fun. creative, and we ended with something we're still working on.

Thursday I'm being interviewed in a town twenty miles away. I'm applying to direct a play at a theatre twenty miles in another direction. I'm not even sure I absolutely want this job. Why am I doing this?

I have two plays I'm writing that are near to completion. I look at them often - almost every day. I know the words - I have the words in my mind, but for some reason I can't/won't put them on paper. Why is that?

Here's a good one. I've been hired to direct a production of Richard III in November. Are these people out of their minds?! I'm a drop-your-pants kind of director. So far I haven't found much of that in Richard III. help .....

A friend emailed me because gossip built a wall between us. I was depressed. I thought I knew him better. I thought he knew me better. I emailed him back. I feel better. I hope he does, too. Why do people do these things? Is life really that jaded?

Last year I accepted a board position with a local drama school. I don't know why, but now, all of a sudden, these people actually expect me to DO something. I don't remember reading anything like that in the by-laws.

The theatre website for which I write hasn't contacted me in about a week. Relief. On the other hand, they haven't contacted me in a WEEK! What are they telling me?
So if you need to reach me, I'll be under the bed. Leave a message. Unless a gypsy caravan comes thru, in which case I'm outta here. I've always wanted to visit Volgagrad.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

And Yet Another Review

They're comin' thick and fast now, boy ...

Theatre Review – Hedda Gabler
Curtain Players Community Theatre 03/14/10

When the play Hedda Gabler was first produced in 1891, audiences didn’t understand it, and reviewers failed to recognize it as the great classic it would become. And when we say “it,” of course we refer to the central character of Hedda. She alone drives the plot forward. She alone makes the unremarkable characters around her remarkable, bending them to her formidable will.

In fact, if this was a one person play, it would still be fascinating.

Hedda is a study in contrasts. She hates her place in the society of her age, yet almost desperately wants to be accepted by it. She finds a sense of obliged destiny fulfilled by being married, but has nothing but disdain for her husband. Being raised by a single parent (a father in the military), her interests do not at all reflect those of proper young ladies during the latter part of the Victoria influenced era. Her open yearning for equality is her attraction, and the very denial of it determines not only her character, but also her fate.

Knowing all this in advance, I was intrigued to see how Curtain Players would handle an epic play in a petite theatre.

Frankly, they did pretty well.

The setting for the play is both comfortable and bright. Since the audience area is only six rows deep, there is an abiding intimacy here. Likewise the costumes appeared to be correct (and expensive) to my untrained eye. “Job well done” to designers Matt Hermes and Drew Washburn, and to costumer Joyce Leahy.

In a cast of worthy performances, Micah Jenkins first stands out. As the cuckold husband, his presentation of subtle weakness was constantly creative. I was impressed. I often forgot I was watching someone act.

I never forgot I was watching acting when I saw Joe Lusher as the judge. I wasn’t surprised to read of his Shakespearian background. I can only describe his performance as “rich.” I would occasionally back away from the involvement of the work to just enjoy pure style.

As the writer Lovborg, I was impressed with the raw power that Jeremy Ryan Brown brought to the set. He was the only male in the cast who could consistently stand up to the Godzilla-like personality of Hedda Gabler.

In a strong supporting role was Laura Miller as Thea. She must be good. I disliked the weakness in this character from her first moment on stage.

Also in smaller roles were Nancy Meyer and Linda Browning Hughes. In both cases I would like to have seen more.

And then there’s Hedda … When she first stepped on stage, Emma Bach reminded me of Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. After three minutes she reminded me of Lady Macbeth. By the end of the evening I wasn’t sure exactly what I had seen – other than it wasn’t going to fit well into any of my pre-conceived boxes. Here is a character so complex, so driven, yet so fragile … Ms Bach handled it all with seeming ease. In addition she added an almost hypnotic charm – one of those “I-am-the-flame-you-are-the-moth” kind of things.

With the high quality of everything else, I was disappointed with the direction. For example, the character of Hedda was too openly domineering, right from the beginning. A softer start would have allowed the character to “grow”, revealing more depth. What bothered me the most was the amateurish blocking – the unmotivated moving of people from one side of the set to another. Often three people would be jockeying for position to see who stands next to whom. Not good. And likely these mistakes might have been unnoticed if the quality of acting was less than it is.

Hedda Gabler will continue to be performed at Curtain Players Community theatre this coming weekend.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Woo-woo! Another review!

Is been a week of the write stuff - one interview, one article, two reports, two reviews. Here's my second review. (By the way, if this play ever passes by your doorstep, SEE IT.)

Theatre Review – Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks
Emerald City Players 03/06/10

Okay. Let’s start with the punch line. The Emerald City Players production of Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks is the funniest two person play I’ve ever seen in my life.

Having said that, if the people on play selection up in Dublin had asked me, I would have told them – straight out – “don’t do this play.” That’s what I would have said.

“Why not,” they would have asked. (Or likely would have asked. They’re a polite bunch. Respectful.)

“Because,” I would have pounced, “it will never work. Never ever. There are only two people in the cast – two! Where are you gonna find two people in this town who can pull that off? And it deals with intolerance and acceptance! When was the last time you saw a funny play about intolerance and acceptance?”

In my mind I could see them squirming. I had them and they knew it.

And then I would have gone straight for the throat. “Nobody’s gonna come see it. If you want audiences, do something by Neil Simon, or - better yet – Richard Rogers. That’s it! Or something with lots of kids. I think Annie Five is available …”

They didn’t listen to me. In fact, they didn’t even ask me. This conversation never happened.

But it illustrates two points.

First, it’s true that Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks will likely not draw large audiences. The show is not that well known by the general public. It does have a cast of only two people, and both of them are (a) not young, and (b) dressed throughout the production. Since the play deals with adult themes, it has adult language.

In other words, this play has everything in the world working against it as a community theatre presentation. Many times I’ve been told that these theatres can’t afford to speculate. Wistfully I’ve heard that they must stick with the proven money makers. It’s a matter of survival.

The second point is the colossal loss to the quality of life there would be if we chose not to embrace a play like this when it comes along.

Here’s what we would have missed;

We would have missed a marvelously well written work – it is at the same time warm, zany, funny, biting, and endlessly inventive. Very few topics are sacred – literally.

We would have missed two incredible performances. Kathy Strum and Mark Schuliger compliment each other perfectly. The chemistry between them is remarkable. At every moment you know you are in most capable hands. Characterizations are strong, clear, and sustained. Actions are motivated and reactions are endearing. And as for energy levels … could two people actually sustain the necessary energy levels to keep a play interesting for a two hour period? Hint. The energy levels were still going up during the curtain calls.

Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks will continue to be presented by Emerald City Players for the final times this weekend.

Parting shot. A number of plays are all being presented this weekend, all over town. Even with your best guess, every once in awhile a great one slips by, unnoticed. Don’t let Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks be one of them.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review of Tracks In The Snow

Another day, another play. Another review, same website.

Theatre Review – Tracks In The Snow for Raconteur Theatre Company .

The ambiance of Club Diversity on South High Street is unmistakable, and typical of those intimate bars that have been around since the year two. This one is remarkable only because it’s carved into architecture at once familiar in German Village; remnants of plaster over lathe, ancient brick, exposed beams - all giving the impression of strength, history, dignity, and quiet repose.

After mildly curious stares by local patrons, someone led me up a flight of wide steps and down a hall to a room about the size of a small efficiency apartment. At the front is the acting area. In the rear, light and sound boards. In between, purple walls, tables, chairs, imaginative drawings on what had once been large windows.

All this is Raconteur Theatre Company – every bit of it. The experience does not begin with the play, but when you walk in the door of the building.

To begin their 2010 season, Raconteur has chosen the play Tracks In The Snow, by Neil McGowan. The story centers around a young man, forced to take shelter with a farmer and his family during a snow storm. Complications arise when the young man interacts with the farmer’s two daughters …

Yeah, yeah, it was all I could do to write that last sentence. My first impression of the plot was that it fell somewhere between a soap opera and a very old joke. The characters were less than subtle exaggerations of real people – certainly larger that life. Worse, like a parody of Greek tragedy, I anticipated the ending right from the beginning.

So … with this comforting feeling of condescending superiority, at what point did I become aware that the characters moved from bazaar to interesting? When – and more importantly, HOW – did I become involved in their lives?

Everything, of course, begins with the writing. Neil McGowan has purposely created characters that are “weird” by their own admission. As more intimate details of their lives are revealed, so are their social and cultural values. The young man, representing the audience, is at first distant, an observer. As he is reluctantly drawn in, so are those of us who are watching and listening. If the purpose of the playwright is to say that we are all unique, yet share variations of the same very real issues … well then, congratulations, Mister McGowan, ya got me.

But even the best of scripts is subject to interpretation. Somewhere during the roughly two-hour presentation, the characterizations went from my impression of “strange” to “strong.” I’ve tried to pinpoint when that happened – for some reason that seems important to me – but I can’t. Only after the fact was I aware that my attitude had changed.

Perhaps it was in the performance of Leslie Robinson as the family matriarch. Ms Robinson was certainly the most believable of the cast members, and always a joy to watch in whatever role she takes.

Or my involvement might have been the result of watching Sean Reid, Jonathan Carter, Lorelei Moore, and Tom Shafer. At first they appeared to tip toe around the edges of burlesque in their broad character presentations, but by half way through the show I found myself nodding my head, “yes, I do know people like that.”

From the start I was intrigued with the performance of Andrew Goodwin. Mister Goodwin starred in one of my own plays several years ago, and I was curious to see his transformation into this new character. At first he appeared stiff, even formal. But as the play evolved, so did his character, becoming softer, more sensitive, even slightly haunted.

In the end, however, the main thrust of Tracks In The Snow is carried by Katie Powell. This talented performer is a dynamo of energy, leading the direction of the plot down one seeming rabbit trail after another. Ironically, you know this very exuberance will eventually doom the character. None of her dreams will be fulfilled.

The Raconteur Theatre Company’s production of Tracks In The Snow is a funny sad play, and if your nature is sensitive, the shadows will remain on the edges of haunted memory for some time.