Monday, December 29, 2008

The Wisey Awards


The theater world will be focused on the West Seattle Weisenheimer for the next week as we name the winners of the Weisenheimer Awards. The Wiseys recognize the best performances in theater productions that Weisenheimer and Sweetie the Scorer saw together during 2008.

The nominees are:

BEST PLAY
A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
Intiman Theatre. Directed by Sheila Daniels. Bartlett Sher, artistic director.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, by Jeff Whitty
Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Bill Rauch. Bill Rauch, artistic director.
WSW review

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, by Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
Matrix Theatre. Directed by Jeremy Aldridge. Originally produced by Sacred Fools Theater Company.
WSW review

BEST ACTOR
Shawn Law as Hamlet in Hamlet. Green Stage theater.
Armando Duran as Eddie Carbone in A View From the Bridge. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Dan Donohue as Iago in Othello. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Jake Broder as Louis Prima in Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara. Matrix Theatre.

BEST ACTRESS
Marianne Owen as multiple characters in Intimate Exchanges. ACT Theatre.
Angela Pierce as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intiman Theatre.
Robin Goodrin Nordli as Hedda Gabler in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely Smith in Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. Matrix Theatre.
Chelsey Rives as Jo in boom. Seattle Repertory Theatre.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matthew Ahrens as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Green Stage.
Michael Elich as Aufidius in Coriolanus. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Anthony Heald as Steven in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Jonathan Haugen as Patrick in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Chelsey Rives as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intiman Theatre.
Kimberly Scott as Mammy in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vilma Silva as Emilia in Othello. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vilma Silva as Beatrice in A View From the Bridge. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

BEST COSTUMES
Intimate Exchanges at ACT Theatre. Carolyn Keim, costume director.
A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Katherine Roth, costume designer.
The Clay Cart at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Deborah M. Dryden, costume designer.
The Adding Machine at New Century Theatre. Pete Rush, costume designer.

BEST SET
A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Walt Spangler, scenic designer.
Othello at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Rachel Hauck, scenic designer.
boom at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jennifer Zeyl, set designer.
Othello at Balagan Theatre. Jenna Shmidt, props designer.

BEST MUSIC
Jersey Boys at 5th Avenue Theatre. Ron Melrose, musical direction.
A Marvelous Party at ACT Theatre. Richard Grey, musical director.
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara at Matrix Theatre. Musical direction by Dennis Kaye.
Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre. Musical direction and arrangements by Pastor Patrinell Wright.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new tack for Black Nativity

This year's production of Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre was new and fresh for a holiday tradition that has been on the December stage for 11 years now.

Not coincidentally, this was the first time the show was performed without the Rev. Samuel McKinney as narrator and co-parson with the Total Experience Gospel Choir's Rev. Patrinell Wright. While we missed the gravitas, the fun, and the amazing pipes that McKinney brought to Black Nativity, his "retirement" after a decade in the role may have presented an opportunity for the creative team to take the second act of the program in a new direction.

Weisenheimer found the first act slightly disappointing. This is the half that uses the words of Langston Hughes, combined with marvelous dancing and with gospel music, to tell the Christmas story. We've seen the show six or seven times now, though it's been a year, or maybe two, since the last time. It seemed this time there wasn't quite so much of the dance, and it wasn't quite so spectacular, as in years past.

The second half, however, lit up. In past years it was good church-- lots of high-octane gospel music. This time it was a bit more theatrical, with more dance numbers incorporated into Intiman's Non-denominational "service." We agree with our friend Lisa over at Dancing Again that Josphine Howell's rendition of "Alabaster Box" was most moving and inspiring, and we loved Stephanie Scott-Hatley's solos on "Get Away Jordan" and "No-Good Shepherd."

Wright was fabulous as always, though she seems to be giving more of the lead vocals to others from the capable choir. We could do without some of the patter; the "call out" of how many Lutherans, etc., are in the audience is a bit tiring. The band, too, is top notch.

G. To'mas Jones was up to the task of filling McKinney's sizeable shoes, and sang a medley with Wright that was good, though Jones doesn't have McKinney's sub-woofer. The cast paid tribute to McKinney several times during the performance, and with good reason. The long-time pastor of Mount Zion Church is certainly one of the big reasons Black Nativity has endured at Intiman for more than a decade now. Let's hope it keeps rolling without McKinney on the boards.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Weisenheimer Winter

Winter officially begins in West Seattle tomorrow, but it arrived here last weekend when our day of FUN was canceled by snow. It's been snowy ever since. We got a major splat of snow beginning very early Thursday morning, which led to the snow pictured in the Weisenheimer tomato patch at right.

There's more snow falling as I write this. A few more pics from out and about:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You can never please an astronomer

The best thing about being interested in amateur astronomy while living in Seattle is that you don't have to waste a lot of time actually looking at celestial objects. Seems we've been griping for months now about a dearth of cloudless evenings. Well, it's been beautifully clear for the last couple of nights. But have we set up the telescopes? NO -- it's about 12 degrees out there! Normally a long, clear winter night is just the thing, but temperatures in the teens are just too low.

And... the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society, scheduled for the evening of Dec. 17, has been canceled due to threat of snow.

But you can read about astronomy! Weisenheimer is the editor of The Webfooted Astronomer, the newsletter of the Seattle Astronomical Society. The December issue (PDF) is particularly good!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The carnage is horrible. You must look.

I enjoy the Apostrophe Abuse blog. One of today's posts is a record setter. Only one apostrophe was abused, but there is plenty of other grammatical violence going on. At least 10 errors made it into a 15-word note. (If we were nit-picking we could ding 'em for a couple more.) I wonder if the camper ever sold.

Another hilarious post from last week was about a sign advertising the price of panty hoe's. That's gotta hurt.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cool surprises in "The Moon is Down"

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon I paid a visit to Powell's Books. I picked up a 1942 version of John Steinbeck's novella The Moon is Down. The book is no first edition or anything; the dustjacket lists its publication price as $5, and I bought it for $8.95. That's not much of a markup for 66 years. I just love Steinbeck, and enjoy having some vintage copies of his books around.

There are a couple of interesting things about this particular tome. First, tucked into the front cover is a reprint of a review from Book-of-the-Month-Club-News which, according to its last page, was printed about the size of the book at the suggestion of book club members "so that it can be pasted, if desired, to the flyleaf." This one isn't pasted, it's in there loose. The review, written by Dorothy Canfield, notes at one point that

Steinbeck's hastily written story is probably not first-rate literature, will probably not go down in literary history as one of the masterpieces of the art.

To which I ask, "Who the blazes is Dorothy Canfield to pick at John Steinbeck?" Sure, she may have invented Montessori and served on the BOMC committee for a quarter century (according to Wikipedia), but please.

The other interesting item is a note on the back of the dustjacket, pictured at right. The note suggests that, once you're finished reading the book, you should mail it to Atlanta, location of the "Army Libraries," because the men in the services could use some good reading. That's ironic; the story of The Moon is Down is clearly war propaganda and everyone takes the invaders to be Germans, but Steinbeck doesn't actually name the town that's invaded or the invading country. At its core, the story is about the futility of invading and occupying another country. I wonder if anyone mailed their copy in, and if Army Libraries passed it along to the front.

One last observation from the same note: it says that book postage is 1 1/2 cents per pound. The Moon is Down can't weigh much more than a pound, as it's a hardcover but only 188 pages. I've half a mind to mail it in and see if it gets there for two cents! In the same way, I'm always tempted to grab subscription cards from old magazines and see if I can still get them for just 32 cents per week.

The Moor the merrier

Back in early October Weisenheimer saw Othello at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in a review written by my Sweetie, the Scorer, we opined that the Tragedy of the Moor was in the lower quartile of works by the Bard. Today, the young upstarts at Seattle's Balagan Theatre have us re-thinking that opinion. Last night we saw Balagan's production of Othello, directed by Ryan Higgins, and came away delighted.

Our main beef with The Moor is that for a supposedly great military leader he's awfully easy to dupe. But Mike Dooly's Iago gets inside the head of Johnny Patchamatla's Othello in an exchange my Sweetie points out from Act III, scene iii, in which Iago says of Desdemona,

She did deceive her father marrying you, and when she seem'd to shake and fear your looks, she lov'd them most.

Iago plays on Othello's own insecurities, planting seeds of self doubt about the Moor's worthiness to marry Desdemona in a way that we've never seen come off quite so well on the stage before.

Part of the reason may be that the Balagan cast has the advantage of intimacy. While at OSF Othello was played in the 1,200-seat outdoor Elizabethan Stage, Balagan is a tiny basement black box on Capitol Hill that might seat 100. Swordplay in your lap is theater up close and personal.

That is to take nothing away from virtuoso performances by Patchamatla and Dooly. Patchamatla has the main Othello prerequisite, i.e., fabulous pipes. He's pumped some iron in his time, too, and was a commanding presence on the stage. He was able to temper his jealous rage with some true feelings of remorse and sadness. Dooly makes his Iago the most nearly likable of any I've seen. He plays the villain with a true warmth and charm, and everyone he manipulates is his best, dearest friend. Sure, Iago is a cretin, but Dooly pulls some looks in the end as if to suggest this wasn't the way he wanted it to turn out at all; that he really wanted everyone to wind up with egg on their faces, not in a pile of corpses on Desdemona's bed. (The text doesn't support that interpretation; after all, it is Iago who, in Act IV, suggests that poisoning is too good for Desdemona and that Othello ought to strangle his wife.)

The set was spare, with the main props being several wooden boxes that served as modular furniture. In a great touch, director Higgins has Iago be the only one to move the boxes. As the villain manipulates all of the characters, so too is he the one manipulating the stage itself, getting all the boxes to where they need to be for each scene. Even during the prelude Dooly was wandering the stage moving the boxes from place to place. He was planning every step of the way.

The rest of the cast were solid and real. Weisenheimer would especially single out Nik Perleros as Cassio, Terri Weagant as Desdemona, and Jason Harber as Roderigo.

Sadly, the final performance of Othello is tonight. But Balagan shows great promise. It's a relatively new company being run by a youthful lot willing to go out on a limb. In January they'll be staging Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss. A play. Within a play. Within an insane asylum. Check it out.

You're driving me batchit

Ken Levine has been running a great contest on his blog. The Daffy Definition Kontest asked readers to send in definitions to the verification words they were required to enter to post a comment on the blog.

Unfortunately, the kontest ended Thursday. Today I got "batchit" as a comment verification word.

I'm not absolutely certain what batchit is, but I bet Robin carries one in his utility belt.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rep's blog includes cool audience reviews

BACKSTAGE @ SEATTLE REP: Audience Responses - boom

Check out the Rep's blog. It features an audience response video made in what they call the Talk-it-out Booth. It used to be called the Rep Confessional, which I think is really a better name. But the responses are fun, and the video for boom includes remarks from playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

It's interesting to see how organizations are beginning to make good use of all this newfangled "Web 2.0" stuff.

World ends with big laughs at the Rep

The Seattle Rep bills its current production of boom, by playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, as "a comedy about the end of the world." And sure enough, you know you're in for an apocalyptic nightmare when the pre-show musical selections include such songs of gloom and dread as REM's "The End of the World as We Know It," "S.O.S." by Abba, "I Feel the Earth Move" by Carole King, and even the Carpenters' "Close to You."

Wha-what?? Carpenters? Yes. Remember the lyric, "Why do stars fall down from the sky..."

In boom, it's not a star that falls, but a comet that slams into Earth, just as predicted by Jules, a geeky, gay, and somewhat scattered biology grad student played with great flair by Nick Garrison. Though nobody believes Jules when he predicts catastrophe, he makes preparations anyway. His lab is in an old bomb shelter, he lays in an ample supply of bourbon, food, tampons, and diapers, and uses a Craig's List personal ad to lure a young co-ed into his shelter for the purposes of peopleing the planet post apocalypse.

Unfortunately, the date he gets is Jo, played by Chelsey Rives. Jo, a journalism major who is always behind deadline, plans to use her one-night fling as the basis for a magazine article on fleeting happiness. Jo has no interest in bearing even one child, much less being mother of the entire human race. The comet hits. Jo and Jules are trapped in the lab.

Hilarity ensues, and we get to watch. It's all overseen by Barbara (Gretchen Krich), something of a narrator and one-woman Greek chorus. When she's not griping about the management she's pulling levers and banging the drum, and not slowly. To say more would spoil the punch line -- and you're a genius if you see it coming.

Weisenheimer loves both Garrison and Rives (pictured at right in the production photo by Chris Bennion). Garrison was incredible in an over-the-top performance as the Emcee in Cabaret at The 5th Avenue earlier this year, and also played a gender-bending Feste in Twelfe Night at the Rep this past season. We were in row two at the Rep's Leo K theatre, an intimate house to begin with, the better to be riveted by Garrison's wide range of facial expressions and idiosyncracies. (Though at one point, when Jo observes that "You don't have 'gay' eyes," he responds "I'm wearing contacts.") He really nails (so to speak) the sometimes slapstick, fidgety, socially inept savior of the race. Rives is a ball of fire as Jo, who chronicles each of her hundreds of suicide attempts in the lab, all of which fail (though one was pretty close.) She's a whirlwind who has a chip on her shoulder, and we're pretty sure it was there before the end of the world. Weisenheimer also enjoyed her performance as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire at Intiman this year. She also was in The Lady From Dubuque at the Rep last year. She's a marvelous talent and one to watch.

boom, directed by Jerry Manning, has been extended through Dec. 21. Go!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Adding Machine a great debut by New Century Theatre Company

There's a new player on the Seattle theater scene, and if its inaugural production is any indication the New Century Theatre Company is going to be around for a while. NCTC is staging Elmer Rice's 1923 play The Adding Machine, directed by John Langs, in ACT's Falls Theater through Dec. 13.

The Adding Machine is an ambitious choice for the first production, given that the cast consists of 15 actors -- a big load to carry for a company just starting out. NCTC pulls it off; The Adding Machine is a visually stark and stunning, thought-provoking piece on work, life, death, and the afterlife.

Co-artistic director Paul Morgan Stetler plays central character Mr. Zero, arithmetic whiz in a big store's beancounting department. Zero gets the pink slip after 25 years "without missing a day" -- the "title device" has made his services unnecessary. Zero offs the boss and makes no effort to cover up the crime. The jury convicts him despite his perfectly logical contention that the boss had it coming.

Stetler's Mr. Zero is tormented by a torrent of figures, never far from the top of his mind. He's oblivious to the deep dissatisfaction of his wife (marvelously played by Amy Thone) and to the fact that ditsy co-worker Daisy (Jennifer Lee Taylor) really wants him. Daisy offs herself after Zero's execution, but somehow they don't manage to hook up when they meet at the Elysian Fields, either.

The funniest performance of the show is turned in by Darragh Keenan as Shrdlu, a nervous, chain-smoking character who has killed his mother. He makes a better case for justifiable homicide than Zero did! The two first meet sitting in the graveyard (it could be that Thornton Wilder ripped off the idea from Rice for the cemetery scene in Our Town) as Shrdlu explains that he smokes to ward off mosquitoes.

In the end, the suffering souls go back to life to do it all again. We're just not sure they weren't better off when they were monkeys.

NCTC aims to be a resident theater company and currently has eleven members, including Hans Altweis, who joins Stetler as co-artistic director, Thone, Taylor, and Kennan. They're aiming for somewhere in between the big guys and the fringe theaters in Seattle. Special props to one of the big guys, ACT, for its generous support.

NCTC's mission statement says the company will let the story be king. They are committed to plays that are fearless and will not do your thinking for you, and promise "timely works of the 20th Century, provocative 'second looks' of under-produced contemporary masterpieces, and annual world premieres from some of our country's most talented up-and-coming writers."

They've scored with The Adding Machine. Weisenheimer can't wait for their next show.

Simba for the Hall of Fame

Over on The Hardball Times the other day Geoff Young posted an article headlined, "Does Ted Simmons belong in the Hall of Fame?" As a long-time Cardinals rooter and big fan of "Simba" I say, "Hell, yes!" Young spends some 2,500 words and eight charts and still can't come up with an answer, concluding:

I'm not sure that Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame. I'm not sure that he doesn't either. My instinct tells me that if [Gary] Carter belongs, then so probably does Simmons. It's not a strong instinct, though, and I'd be receptive to hearing further arguments from either side. What I am certain about, however, is that Simmons is an eminently worthy candidate who deserved far more serious consideration than he ever received.


Ted SimmonsThat last line is the amazing one to me. Simmons ranks seventh all-time among catchers based on Win Shares, but got a measly 17 Hall of Fame votes in his one year of eligibility. Rusty Staub got more, for cryin' out loud! Maybe it was the hair....

Simmons also suffered greatly because his career overlapped that of Johnny Bench. Indeed, in my own Century League replay Simba had to play second fiddle to J.B., who did almost all of the catching while Simmons got 139 at-bats and hit .209.

I'd been thinking a bit of Simmons of late, as his name made some of the lists of potential new managers for the Mariners. He recently took a gig as bench coach for the Padres.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon dance this weekend

It sometimes feels futile to be interested in astronomy while living in Seattle. As Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon swing toward a rendezvous, it appears we in the Puget Sound area have only a slight chance of seeing the spectacle.

On those rare days of clear twilight of late, you may have spotted Jupiter and Venus drawing ever closer to each other in the southwest. Come this evening, you'll see a slim crescent Moon -- it was new on Thanksgiving day -- swing into the picture below and to the right. They're closer on Sunday night, and closest yet on Monday. The approximate positions can be seen in the map above from Sky & Telescope magazine.

We've got an outside chance to see the show on Sunday, with the forecast being "partly sunny" for the day and "mostly cloudy" in the evening. If the clouds hold off, or break fortuitously, we might get a peek. Monday's forecast is for rain, which doesn't sound promising.

If you happen to be in Europe, you might see the Moon occult Venus on Monday -- read more in this article by S&T.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sing, Sing, ZING! Louis and Keely sparkle on stage

Up until last Sunday about all I knew about Louis Prima was that he was the big bandleader who bankrupted Primo and Secondo when he didn't show up for the lavish meal they cooked up in the delicious 1996 film Big Night. But since seeing Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles, I can't get "Just a Gigolo" out of my head.

Louis & Keely is the creation of Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder, pictured at right as Prima and his fourth wife and singing partner Keely Smith. Vanessa and Jake wrote and star in the show, which is directed by Jeremy Aldridge. The production recently won the L.A. Stage Alliance "Ovation Award" for best musical in an intimate theater. Smith, Broder, and Aldridge also were nominated as best actress, actor, and director. And deservedly so.

In Louis & Keely the audience was not at the Matrix, but at the Sahara, where Prima and Smith essentially invented the Vegas lounge act. Suspension of disbelief was pretty easy, as we were really there, with not just the two leads but a smoking seven-member band, led by sax man Colin Kupka as Sam Butera.

But it's Smith and Broder who are center stage, and they are both brilliant. Vanessa Smith -- not related to Keely -- has a beautiful, sparkling voice and nails Keely's deadpan stage persona, though she gets in the occasional zinger on Prima. Though billed as straight woman and second fiddle, Keely more than holds her own. Broder gives an over-the-top performance as Prima, hyper-kinetic, musically talented, athletic, and sweaty -- we were told he loses seven pounds during each 90-minute performance.

The real Louis & KeelyBetween the marvelous musical numbers we're treated to the often not-so-marvelous off-stage life of the couple (the real ones, pictured at right). Prima was quite a ladies' man. Smith was, after all his fourth wife (he went on to a fifth after Keely bolted the act) and she put up with a lot of philandering over the years. It's hard to imagine where he found the time; they did six shows a night, starting at midnight, while at the Sahara.

They cram two dozen numbers into the show, including "Embraceable You," "I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good)," "Them There Eyes," "That Old Black Magic," "I'm in the Mood for Love," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "I Ain't Got Nobody," and of course "Just a Gigolo." Most poignant is Keely's performance of "Autumn Leaves" near the end of the show. She'd wanted to sing it earlier, but Prima nixed the idea, suggesting that Keely hadn't experienced the proper heartbreak to be able to sing that song with the proper feeling. When she finally does, we at the Sahara know her bags are packed and it's her last with the act.

The music does not drown out the story, which is told as a comatose flashback. The play begins with Prima in a hospital bed -- he was in a coma for three years after surgery on a brain tumor before passing away in 1978. Snapping fingers signal Prima is snapping to life and back on stage, and also indicate the switches from on the boards to back stage. Back in the bed at the end, Prima admits what we know was his regret: he shoulda stuck with number four.

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara is a truly fantastic production. It is musically entertaining, and it tells an interesting, touching story of two versatile talents.

By the way, though Prima has been gone for 30 years, Keely is still at it. She did a performance of "That Old Black Magic" with Kid Rock at the 2008 Grammys. She also just recently visited the Matrix and caught Louis & Keely.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How long since you thought of Lancelot Link -- Secret Chimp?

One of my favorite blogs is "...by Ken Levine" which is written, amazingly enough, by Ken Levine, who was a major writer for M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier, and was a broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners for a year or two.

As you might expect, the blog is hilarious. His Nov. 16 post is a total hoot. In it, Levine talks about his first mentor, Stan Burns, who was a writer for the great Steve Allen, wrote for Get Smart, and was the creator of the legendary Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.

My favorite lines from the post:

The first time I saw THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW I thought, “Wow, bitchin’ babes like Laura Petrie marry comedy writers? I’m a riot for 12. I could do that!”

It seemed like a great life. Hang out with other funny people. Make each other laugh. Get paid for it. And attract long legged brunettes without having to master the harmonica.
Can we swap out Mike Blowers and get Levine back?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

EAT!

Back in the olden days we had roadside diners, and their sole method of marketing was a giant, rooftop, neon sign: EAT.

Today the same joint, now owned by the grandkids, has a Web site (including up-to-date menus and wine lists), advertises on-line, uses the latest word-of-mouth marketing techniques to create buzz, blogs about trends in the diner industry, and pushes out word of its daily specials on twitter.

That's why Weisenheimer had to laugh out loud when walking past the Icon Grill in Seattle, which has, for the moment, gone all old-school on us with a simple, direct message on its marquee: JUST GET IN HERE!

To be sure, the Icon has always been a bit old-school. But the grill does have a Web site, and its present slogan, "Aroused Americana Cooking," was clearly not cooked up by the chef.

If you happen by Fifth and Viginia, just get in there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Summing Up Arthur Miller

The Weisenheimer quoted my post-show reaction in his review of A View From a Bridge: "There's no one better than Arthur Miller for portraying male inadequacy. But at least he kills them in the end." I realize that was a little harsh.

In the October 27 issue of the New Yorker, Hilton Als opens a review of All My Sons by noting Miller's "obsessive attempt to show the ways in which the American male can be shaped and ultimately deformed by the pernicious dream of success."

That's what I meant to say.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blue Sweetie


My Sweetie, the scorer, and I have been spending quite a bit of time at the Highway 99 Blues Club lately. These days we seem to be listening to more blues than anything else, and we took a blues dancing class through the Northwest Dance Network in the spring. We wound up down at Highway 99 on Halloween night and heard a couple of sets by Lee Oskar.

Weisenheimer has a couple of WAR albums on vinyl (kids, we used to get all of our music that way, and we LIKED it) but never really connected that band with Oskar, who plays regularly at Highway 99, until I Googled him after the show. I suppose I should go back and read all of my 70s albums' liner notes more carefully. Oskar has a kick-ass band and we had a great time.

This portrait of my Sweetie, the scorer, was made with a cell-phone camera during Oskar's set on Halloween. My Sweetie didn't have the blues, but she sure looked blue.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ballard bombs away

Laurence Ballard is letting the theater establishment have it with both barrels. Ballard, the no-longer-based-in-Seattle actor, is interviewed by Tim Appelo in the October issue of Seattle City Arts magazine.

Ballard has skipped town for a teaching gig at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. The reasons are simple: a living wage, health plan, pension, and summers off. Ballard worked full-time as an actor last year, and pulled in about $25K. He's mad as hell at those who run theater companies, and blasting away.

"I don't give a rat's ass anymore," Appelo quotes Ballard, "because I've left the plantation. I can talk about what they do at the Big House now!"

What they do, in Ballard's view, is take complete advantage of actors and make it well nigh impossible for an artist to make any sort of living on the stage. As Mr. Wiggin in Monty Python's "Architect Sketch" might put it, they "don't care a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist." Or the great one; Ballard earned his meager salary as a critically acclaimed actor working at the top of the scale -- a scale that hasn't changed a penny in 15 years.

Appelo calls Ballard "one of the best actors I've seen in 30 years as a critic." Weisenheimer has only been a "critic" since starting this blog this summer, but I've seen Ballard in a great number of memorable shows in 17 years of attending Seattle stage productions. I share Appelo's assessment.

The performance that really sticks with me is Ballard's brilliant, over-the-top performance as Roy Cohn in Intiman's Angels in America productions (that's Ballard in a Chris Bennion photo from Angels above). He was also part of a hilarious Arms and the Man, a solid Measure for Measure, did a fabulous turn as George Bernard Shaw in Dear Liar, and has starred in numerous other fine productions at Intiman.

Going through old playbills at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently, we spotted some photos of him from his time there. I sure wish we'd seen those plays. Perhaps we'll get a chance to see him there, or in Seattle, again some day. Appelo points out that Ballard wanted to do a show in Seattle this summer, but the schedules didn't work out, and adds that the actor has been in conversations about doing a show with Intiman's Bart Sher -- but on the Broadway stage, not here. Alas.

Ballard admits in the article that he doesn't have the answers. At a minimum he says management should value the talent -- the actual product of the theater company. He also suggests many more low-cost, pay-what-you-can performances to fill empty seats. Would the model work? Might be worth a try.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Othello coming to Intiman

The Seattle Times reports today that Intiman has added William Shakespeare's Othello to its 2009 season lineup, and that artistic director Bart Sher will direct. In addition, Misha Berson writes that Sher will spread himself ever thinner, taking on the role of resident director of the Lincoln Center Theatre in New York, where he's staged productions of Light in the Piazza and South Pacific recently.

'Twas a time a production of Othello would have been welcome news. But we've decided that the Moor's story isn't exactly among our favorites among Shakespeare's oeuvre, and frankly Weisenheimer is awfully tired of Sher. We love the Bard, and Sher started out his reign at Intiman with a bang, giving us solid productions of seldom-performed Shakespeare plays, Cymbeline in 2001 and Titus Andronicus in 2002. Sher also has directed other good shows, including Arms and the Man in 2002, Three Sisters in 2005, and Uncle Vanya in 2007.

But things also started going askew at Intiman in 2002, with horrible productions of Nickel & Dimed and Scapin, followed in '03 by the criminally overrated Light in the Piazza and the dismal 21 Dog Years. It was after the lackluster 2003 season that Weisenheimer dropped our subscription to Intiman, which had been an annual Christmas present to my Sweetie, the scorer, for a dozen years, way back to our courtin' days. The final straw that broke our opinion of Sher beyond repair was his utterly botched Richard III in 2006. It didn't help that we'd seen Richard at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2005, and Weisenheimer still rates this as best theater production ever.

Vanya was good last year, and this year's A Streetcar Named Desire -- not directed by Sher -- was excellent, especially Angela Pierce as Blanche. But mostly we're just not all that interested in what Intiman is doing these days, the crazed hype about Piazza and inexplicable "regional" Tony awards notwithstanding. We move that Sher spend even more time in New York.

Where is Warner Shook when you need him?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Joan Osborne rocks

I’m not exactly sure why Joan Osborne isn’t selling out big arena shows or moderately sized theaters like the Paramount instead of 300-seat venues such as Seattle’s Triple Door. Osborne certainly has more talent in her thumb than any six standard-issue pop divas can muster up combined. Weisenheimer is thankful, however, for the shows in a more intimate club. At Madison Square Garden my sweetie and I probably would not have scored a front-row table about six feet from the great singer-songwriter’s left ankle as we did at Osborne’s appearance in town Monday night, part of a tour in support of her new album Little Wild One.

My only criticism of Osborne’s set, the second of two on the evening at the Triple Door, is that she saved the best for first. The opening number was a sultry, full-blues cover of “How Sweet it Is” that would have melted James Taylor’s guitar strings. Forget about Marvin Gaye and Sweet Baby James, this is now Osborne’s song, the title track of her 2002 album. Stealing from Marvin isn’t easy.

Osborne’s original material is top-notch. She played her smash hit “One of Us” as well as “Ladder,” both from her Grammy-nominated 1995 album Relish. But Weisenheimer says she’s at her absolute best singing the blues and covering funk hits. Her version of “Let’s Just Kiss,” the Manhattans’ chart-topper also recorded by Barry White and many others, was marvelous, as was “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?”, one of the tunes she sang in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary about the label’s incredible in-house band, the Funk Brothers.

Osborne’s band is top-notch, too. Andrew Carillo, a vaguely Neil Young-looking character, played guitar; Richard Hammond was on bass, Aaron Comess drums; and Keith Cotton keyboards. Osborne and the guys closed their set with an encore, the Grateful Dead’s “Brokedown Palace.” Osborne toured with the surviving members of the band, billed as The Dead (apparently they just aren't grateful without Jerry Garcia), in 2003. A version of “Palace” is on her 2006 disc Pretty Little Stranger.

Singer Matt Morris opened the show, and also did a duet with Osborne during her set, on “Cathedrals,” a track from the new disc. Weisenheimer liked Morris’ slow blues version of the Beatles’ “Help!” My sweetie was having none of that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shakespeare in stir

Hot on the heels of this week's piece in The Stranger suggesting a five-year moratorium on productions of Shakespeare comes a piece in the East Oregonian out of Pendleton about an interesting take on Hamlet -- performed by inmates at a state correctional facility.

The Seattle Times ran the article in its Sunday editions.

Next season the prisoners will be doing Escape from Alcatraz. It's probably not a good idea for them to do more "cutting edge" material....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ban the Bard?

To a Weisenheimer just returned from a week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it's interesting to read that theater companies need to declare a five-year moratorium on performances of Shakespeare in order to survive. That's part of the advice Brendan Kiley of The Stranger offers in his article "Ten Things Theaters Need to do Right Now to Save Themselves."

While Kiley serves up his advice "in no particular order" his points are numbered, and number one, in big bold letters, is "Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already." Gladly, Kiley calls the Bard "the greatest playwright in history" but then goes on to write that Shakespeare has, for theater companies, "become your enabler and your crutch, the man you call when you're timid and out of ideas."

In a way, he has a point. Theater producers must know that there's a certain guaranteed audience in Shakespeare. Weisenheimer loves the Bard and is delighted to find him on the schedule. We go to as many Shakespeare productions as we can. But I don't agree with Kiley's contention that staging Shakespeare is a signal of a lack of imagination and the end of creativity. This can be the case. Intiman's 2006 production of Richard III was a total dud. But there's plenty of room for new ideas in Shakespeare productions. One can re-think the most often- produced plays, or tackle those that are rarely seen. Coriolanus was a pleasant surprise at OSF this year.

There's a lot to like in the rest of Kiley's list. While we're not on board with his notion of busting up the unions, we're certainly open to new material. But we love the classics, too. As for getting younger people into the seats, it's not just about the new; the school groups at Ashland this year seemed most impressed by OSF's marvelous production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

It's a bad idea for theater companies to ban the Bard. The next suggestion would be for chamber music companies to get over their fawning reliance on Mozart. We don't just want to see Shakespeare, we want to see GOOD Shakespeare. And good theater, whether classic or modern.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Perplexing pepper peculiarities

Weisenheimer has been on the road a lot lately. Since starting this goofy blog in August I've been to such exotic locales as Portland, Eugene, Salem, Vancouver, B.C., Boise, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Ellensburg, Blaine, Ashland, Spokane, and, next up, Chelan. This travel has meant a lot of meals in restaurants, and those meals have solidified in my mind a fact that, as my sweetie will attest, I've been griping about in private for some time now: the people who make pepper and the people who make pepper shakers have never spoken to each other.

You don't really even need to travel to test this. Find a pepper shaker in your house. Put some pepper in it. Shake. What happens? Usually, nothing. I've got one like this. I've been thinking about taking it downstairs to the workbench and drilling bigger holes. But I don't think I should have to do that. (Another thing my sweetie will tell you I always say is, "People should have to use their own products before being allowed to sell them to the public." Stuff should work before you dupe me into buying it.)

The next time you're in a restaurant, having breakfast, try putting some pepper on your hash browns. Good luck. The holes in the shaker are not big enough to let the ground pepper out. Sometimes, if you shake long enough, you can break a bit of the ground pepper into even smaller bits and a little of it will escape. This problem is compounded by the fact that, in many restaurants, the person who is in charge of refilling the shakers packs it in so tight that when you shake the pepper it doesn't move anyway. You only have to fill it up once! The salt people don't seem to have this problem. You can almost always get salt out of the shaker. Pepper is another story.

Let's communicate, people!
I'm offering to serve as the go-between between pepper providers and the shaker makers. I don't know a whit about either business, but I don't need to. Like a diplomat, I just have to get the two sides to the table and shake up the status quo. Get them talking. I imagine the conversation might go something like this:

WSW: Mr. Pepper, why don't you grind up your pepper a little finer so that it can get out of the holes in the shakers?

PEP: Well, at present we grind the pepper into chunks 12.7 microns square. To grind it to, say, 10 microns would add several minutes to each batch at an additional cost of 1.3 cents per hundred pounds of pepper. Our margin is tiny. We couldn't afford that. Out competitors, who grind their pepper into even larger bits, would undercut us. It would be a better solution for the shaker folks to make the holes bigger.

WSW: What about that, Mr. Shaker? Can you make the holes in the shakers a bit bigger?

SHAK: Our plant is outfitted with 147,348 drill bits that each drill a hole 11 microns in diameter. It would cost us tens of millions of dollars to replace all of those with 13 micron bits. Our research shows that a shaker top with 11-micron holes arranged in offset polygon shapes gives the most efficient distribution of the shaken material is has an elegant, pleasing design.


As you can see, these issues are difficult, but not insurmountable. I'm hoping that, by 2015, we can have available to actual consumers pepper shakers that will actually distribute pepper. Imagine having such a thing on every dining table, public and private, all across America and, indeed, the world. Otherwise, shaker makers and pepper providers, we'll all just go to grinding our own.

Call me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Have to do with where choo-choo go

Weisenheimer has been in Spokane on business for a couple of days, and while flipping through the channels on the TV in the hotel room came across an advertisement for Rock Ridge Town Homes.

Now, I'm no business person, but I think if I were a real estate mogul I would NOT name my housing development Rock Ridge.

Oh, sure, the name itself is pleasant enough. It brings to mind images of serenity, a place that's probably a peaceful town where people live in harmony and never had no kind of trouble. A place that bore not a hint of misery, where the town saloon was always lively, not nasty or obscene.

Yet, would you buy a place there, knowing that Slim Pickens was going to send in a pack of murderers and thieves, perhaps even Mongo, in order to create havoc and make the townfolk flee? No, neither would I.

That is, unless I knew Sheriff Bart was on duty. What is your limit on Schnitzengruben?

Monday, October 6, 2008

OSF: Othello

I am not among those who find great possibilities of interpretation in Othello. It seems pretty straightforward to me. And with me in the audience the actors playing Othello and Desdemona are burdened with a lot of unfortunate cliches and associations, which is neither their fault nor fair. But there it is. For instance, I can never read or see the play without thinking of the exquisite performance turned in by Derek McGrath and Shelley Long in Homicidal Ham. Our Othello last night played his "fits" with a twitchy right arm with a mind of its own that he would clamp down on with the other hand, putting me in mind of Dr. Strangelove. So I will suppress my giggles and leave it to others to sing the praises of Peter Macon as Othello and Sarah Rutan as Desdemona.

However, I find Iago and Emilia as fascinating as I find Othello and Desdemona uninteresting, and Dan Donohue and Vilma Silva did not disappoint. Iago is Shakespeare's best villain and Donohue continually danced right up to the line of making us think there might be some real, human, redeeming, if twisted feeling inside him, before showing us again that he is an inveterate fiend. Donohue was the perfect blend of believably likeable, a little creepy, and wholly malevolent.

Emilia is the truth teller in this tragedy. In a play full of deceipt and delusion (Desdemona's romantic conceit, Othello's self delusion, Iago's malicious deceit) she alone has a genuine capacity for self-awareness and grasp of consequences, which is saying something in a play where, as my sweetie the Weisenheimer said, everyone is talking about themselves to themselves but no one's talking to each other. Silva's Emilia is the ballast that gives the final acts heft and direction. Silva makes acting look effortless and is searingly intense. Between this season and last we saw her turn in three fully embodied performances of three very different women (Emilia, Katherina in Taming of the Shrew, and Beatrice in A View from the Bridge), and she was riveting in each.

But I'm told I can't log a review of Othello without commenting on, well, Othello. So here it is. I think Peter Macon is a fine actor playing a very difficult part on a challenging stage. I think in that situation actors can fall back on virtuosity. Which may impress, but does not necessarily move. But the way his bald head was steaming in the 45 degree night-time air was super cool.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produced Othello this year on the outdoor Lizzy on a spare and gorgeously lit set. Here at OSF the set, props, and costumes may or may not have anything to do with each other or the time and place in which the play is set, but they will always be magnificent. In this production, they mostly don't relate. The minimalist, gray, and dramatically lit set suggests a modern setting, but really you are free to think of the play in any time and place where the women wore long full skirts and the men high-waisted breeches with suspenders and fancy Burberry overcoats. And the musicians wandering around sometimes playing and sometimes lip-syncing (you know what I mean) to a recorded track made no sense. Generally our directors at OSF do a fine job of, well, dramatizing all that text, but there were moments where the actors seemed at loose ends.

So while I'm not catching director Lisa Peterson's vision for the context of the characters and action, I do, however, like to think she understood who this play is really about, with a stunningly staged ending. A bloody Iago staggers to his feet, turns away from the "tragic loading of this bed," and center stage takes one halting lurch toward the audience with a look of complete unrepentant malevolence on his face, and midstep there is sudden blackout.

The protocol at OSF is for the entire company to assemble and take their bows together, with the stars noted only in their placement among the assembly. This is one of those times when I missed the opportunity to acknowledge the actors individually and recognize, as Iago and Emilia are the muscle of the play, Donohue and Silva are the stars of the show.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

OSF: A Midsummer Night's Dream

There was more energy in the audience, perhaps by a factor of 10, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of A Midsummer Night's Dream than I recall at any play I've ever attended. Perhaps this was because the crowd included a fair number of teenagers visiting the festival with school groups, and many of them were driven over the edge with giddiness at the sight of leather-and-tutu clad fairies, young lovers prancing around the forest at night in skimpy nighties or underwear, and, curiously, at every appearance of a green-and-orange "flower power" VW microbus. With all the squealing one expected the Beatles or Elvis had entered the building. Add to this a modernistic neon and steel "forest" with pounding techno-pop, disco, and rap that brought to mind "Sprockets" and you had all of the elements for a rocking good time.

A Midsummer Night's Dream delivered. It wasn't a setting that really encouraged great "acting," but the cast had plenty of chances to ham it up and an enormous amount of fun in doing it.

The story is familiar. Lysander and Demetrius both have the hots for Hermia, though Demetrius seems ready to ditch Helena for her. Weisenheimer thinks Demetrius is nuts, as Kjerstine Anderson is a hot redhead who plays Helena with great joy, though she looks a bit silly running around with just one stocking for much of the play. (She has her jammies on, too, you perverts!) Puck and the boys cast spells that don't always work as intended, and a night of mayhem ensues.

Though they're on the outs for much of the play, Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the faries played by Keven Kenerly and Christine Albright, make a smokin' couple. Kenerly as Oberon is featured on the season poster for OSF this year, though my Sweetie says his costume is "goofy." Kenerly has played an interesting range of characters in recent years, from Oberon to Citizen Barlow in last year's Gem of the Ocean to Algernon Moncreif in The Importance of Being Earnest a couple of years back. It was good to see Albright alive and well. We'd seen her play Juliet in a downpour on the outdoor stage late last season, and feared she may have contracted pneumonia.

Director Mark Rucker missed one chance for a great laugh. Whenever the VW microbus rolled onto the stage -- and it was a real, full-sized one -- they should have had smoke pour out every time the doors opened. Maybe when I get to direct that will happen. The bus carried a bunch of hippies who performed their play, Pyramus and Thisbe, at the end, when order was restored and the duke married Hypployta, Hermia married Lysander, and Demetrius tied the knot with Helena. We think. It could all be a dream.

OSF: The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler

In The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler playwright Jeff Whitty (an aptronym) has created a bizarre world in which fictional characters reside. They live on so long as people still think of their characters. When they don't, the characters pass away.

Hedda Gabler decides she doesn't like this arrangement. Gabler, the title character of Henrik Ibsen's 1890 play, commits suicide in that script because of the purposelessness of life. In the world of Further Adventures, characters stay in character. Living on the Cul de Sac of Tragic Women, Hedda is perpetually depressed and keeps killing herself. It doesn't help that her enabling husband, Tesman, keeps handing her the gun. He realizes nobody want to see a play about him, and if Hedda changes, POOF, he's gone. Their neighbor, Medea, can't stop murdering her children. Promotional material for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production asks, "Does she need a bigger gun or a better author?" Hedda opts for change, and sets out to become a happy, well-adjusted woman.

This change isn't so easy as one would hope. To do it, Hedda has to cross the dark forest and get to the furnace of creation, from whence all characters emerge. Some last only a few minutes, others endure for centuries. For the journey, Hedda is accompanied by her slave, Mammy from Gone With the Wind, who has understandably decided that change would suit her as well.

In a riff on Steven Sondheim's Into the Woods, they encounter a number of other fictional characters along the way, including Dorothy Gale, Icarus, a group of Jesuses (including one battered by Mel Gibson and another from Godspell), Annie, Leatherface (who chases down Annie with a chain saw when she starts singing "Tomorrow"), and an investigator from C.S.I. who is interruped by a hand lotion ad (TV characters come with commercials).

Most importantly, they encounter Patrick and Steven, a couple of aging, prancing, boozing, self-loathing queens who dispense a great deal of the wisdom and comedy in the play. (Weisenheimer didn't recognize them, but found several other reviewers who felt they were based on characters from The Boys in the Band.)

After a perilous journey (that included Patrick, Steven, Mammy, and Tesman enjoying cocktails while rowing across the lake in a boat called The African Queen) everyone gets to the furnace of creation. Hedda gets into the mind of Ibsen, who makes her happy, and Mammy emerges as a jazz diva. Steven and Patrick don't change, however. They did manage to get into the mind of their creator, but "there was an open bar."

Change turns out to be bad. While Hedda and Mammy are happy, they're no longer memorable and begin to fade away. In the end, they go back to the old routine, continuing their suffering so that maybe, just maybe, their audiences can learn something.

Robin Goodrin Nordli is marvelous as Hedda, reprising the character she played in OSF's production of the Ibsen play in 2003. Nordli has played a number of great roles, including Margaret in Richard III in 2005, Weisenheimer's favorite production ever, and Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac, which we voted best of festival in 2006. Kimberly Scott was amazing as Mammy. All of the performances were super, really, but special kudos to Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen who played Patrick and Steven respecitvely and hilariously.

The play includes one great inside joke. In an early scene, the utterly depressed Hedda emerges drinking her morning coffee from a smiley face mug. My Sweetie, though typically much happier than Hedda, can be a bit grumpy in the a.m. before she gets her java fix, and also has one of those smiley mugs. When I saw Hedda with hers I had to laugh like hell!

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler premiered at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California in 2006 and it was directed there by Bill Rauch, who also directs the OSF production, and directed it's production of Hedda Gabler in 2003. Further Adventures is a marvelous, smart, fun show. It runs through the end of October. Catch it if you can.

Friday, October 3, 2008

OSF: The Clay Cart

The 2008 season is the first for Bill Rauch as artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and The Clay Cart, a 2,000-year-old play from India by Sudraka, is Rauch's gift and challenge to his audiences.

While The Clay Cart is not Shakespeare, it does use many of the Bard's familiar devices: mistaken identity, class struggle, incompetent officialdom, sex, gambling, bungled tasks, religion, more sex, and a major character who seems dead but isn't, really. As Sudraka predates Shakespeare by some 1,500 years, one wonders if the Bard got a look at the ancient text and borrowed a few ideas.

This production is a true feast to the eyes. The cast gad about in wispy, veil-like costumes, and they're mostly goodbodies (though a few Weisenheimer-like physiques are thrown in for balance.) Charudatta is an impoverished merchant, but he hangs out in pretty nice digs! The set is opulent, with a circular stage fronted by a collection of golden statues of various Hindu gods. Only one piece seemed out of place: a huge foot in the background that was intended to be the part we could see of a gigantic statue of Brahma. That probably worked for most, but a giant foot always makes Weisenheimer think of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Charudatta is a stand-up guy but one circumstance after another piles up against him, to the point where his neck is on the chopping block for the murder of Vasantasena, a lovely courtesan who is something of a town treasure. She was not really dead (another Monty Python trigger!), but they waited until the axe was about to swing before Masseur, an indebted gambler turned monk, swooped in at the last second, Vasantasena at his side, to prove both that Charudatta is no murderer and that the king's brother-in-law, Samsthanaka, tried to kill Vasantasena, left her for dead, and tried to frame Charudatta.

Charudatta cashes his good-Karma points at the end to straighten things out, and starts banking Karma for the future by sparing the king's brother-in-law and letting him keep his land. The good guys win in the end. Yay!

Christofer Jean as Charudatta and Miriam A. Laube as Vasantasena were outstanding as the leads. Weisenheimer is taking quite a liking to Laube, though my Sweetie pegs her as a "song and dance actor." There was plenty of space for over-the-top performances in this show, led by Brent Hinkley, who was ridiculously evil and bumbling as the king's brother-in-law (a relationship he felt the need to announce constantly) and the hilariously bad moustache clearly pegged him as someone who would come to no good.

In all, The Clay Cart was a beautiful show with an uplifting message of hope. Everything's going to turn out fine.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hey, Sarah Palin: Thanks for the booze!

This blog is not about politics, but the presidential campaign elbowed its way into Weisenheimer's theater, food, and drink experience today.

My Sweetie and I were enjoying a nice dinner at T's Restaurant + Bar in downtown Ashland, Oregon this evening before heading over for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of The Clay Cart. We'd enjoyed a pretty good meal -- lamb shanks that were quite good accompanied by a mushroom risotto that was fabulous and a pretty nice bottle of red wine, a blend from a local vintner. Part way through dinner some ding-a-ling decided that the real reason were were all there was to listen to the debate between the vice-presidential candidates, Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. Being on vacation, I've been able to mostly avoid media stuff all week, but most of the customers and much of the staff -- it wasn't very busy on a rainy Thursday night -- seemed quite interested. We were working on dessert -- a cheese sampler plus after-dinner drinks -- and Weisenheimer was contemplating asking them to turn off the damn TV, when the bartender dropped by with a couple of items we hadn't ordered.

"You guys were here when we made the deal," he said. "It's a free shot of tequila on the house every time Palin calls McCain a maverick."

Cue up The Champs!

We did make it to the play on time. My review, for obvious reasons, will have to wait until tomorrow.

OSF: A Comedy of Errors

Weisenheimer and his sweetie took the backstage tour at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival the morning before seeing the festival's production of The Comedy of Errors. Looking at the nearly completed set our tour guide said, "With all of those stairs, you know it's going to be a comedy. Chase scenes are guaranteed." It's not often that a gigantic noose suspended from a 20-foot frame is the focal point of the staging of a comedy. Maybe they were planning some gallows humor.

Penny Metropulos staged and directed her own adaptation of The Comedy of Errors as a musical western, sort of an Oklahoma-meets-Mel-Brooks-concept. The zany western put Weisenheimer immediately in mind of Blazing Saddles, and there was a nod to Young Frankenstein as well: whenever a character noted that, "It's the law," a horse would neigh in the background. Frau Blucher would have been proud.

The Bard wasn't totally lost in all of of this. You still had two sets of separated-at-birth twins running around constantly being confused one for the other, in no small part because they also have twin names. But the actors looked very much alike and were costumed similarly, making them much more twin-like than we often see when Shakespeare uses this device. And, it seemed most everyone in the cast owed someone else money or was in some sort of trouble with the law. (Neiiiighhhh.)

Still, Metropulos had to bend the Bard quite a bit to fit The Comedy of Errors into "a town west of the Pecos." Several character names were changed. Solinus became Duke, the Sheriff; Angelo the Goldsmith was changed to The Colonel; and The Merchant became a Chinese salesman named Li Wei, making me wonder how much leeway we should give to mess around with the text.

Among all the hilarity Weisenheimer singles out Miriam A. Laube for her performance as Adriana, wife to one of the Antipholuses. On top of being spunky and energetic on stage, Laube can really belt out a tune. She's fast becoming a favorite actress of the company. She was marvelous as Rosalind in As You Like It during the 2007 season here.

While all of this likely made the Shakespeare purists a little grumpy, the show was a great, fun romp and an entertaining evening on a beautiful, pleasant night outdoors at OSF's Elizabethan Stage.

OSF: Coriolanus

Mothers, eh?

Caius Martius may well have borrowed that line from Jeff Murdock of the BBC comedy Coupling when explaining to rival/ally/rival Aufidius why he's calling off his participation in their march on Rome in the closing scene of Coriolanus at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Caius, later named Coriolanus, was born and raised to be a lean, mean, fighting machine. He fights many a heroic battle for Rome, and bears the scars to prove it, but his blunt, aggressive, and brutally honest approach doesn't work so well in the two- and three-timing world of the Senate. His brusque style and open disdain for the "little guy" end up getting him banished from the city, in a move orchestrated by conniving tribunes, rather than elevated to a seat of power.

Tossed from the city, Coriolanus joins forces with former rival Aufidius, and offers to help lead a revenge march and kick butt on the city. They would have done it, too, save for the intervention and manipulation by Coriolanus's mother, Volumnia. She talks him out of the invasion. It was always a bit of an uneasy alliance for Aufidius, but the look of disappointment on his face when Coriolanus finally caves to his mom was priceless. The Volscians cut Coriolanus to pieces; no matter to Volumnia, who still gets good seats at the Circus Maximus.

One wonders why Coriolanus is not performed more often than it is. It touches on themes that are most certainly relevant today: constant war, hunger, poverty, great economic and social inequality, politicians more concerned about their careers than the country. Protesters carry signs in the opening act that refer to "Time for Change" and call for "Need not Greed." Perhaps it is because Coriolanus is something of an anti-hero, and not a subtle one. There's none of the brooding or speechifying of a Hamlet, but rather dogged pursuit of his own consistency and personal ethic.

Danforth Comins plays the lead role with a sneering relish. Particularly memorable is a lengthy and athletic fight scene between Comins and Michael Elich as Aufidius. Robynn Rodriguez is chilling and impressive as Volumnia. Rex Young plays Brutus, one of the tribunes, with particular two-faced zeal.

One also must call out Richard Elmore for his performance as Menenius, a friend of Coriolanus and the one mind in the show working toward a mutually agreeable solution to the problems of all the characters. Unfortunately, for these folks, it appears that to have peace would have left them without honor. Alas. Elmore is a veteran of a quarter century at OSF and played Orgon in Tartuffe, one of our favorites from last season.

The set was fairly spare in OSF's New Theatre. The show was staged in the round, with the only set pieces being a series of manholes though which characters occasionally passed. They'd wheel in podiums when needed for speechifying. The costuming was a little confusing, with the earlier lieutenants wearing garb that said "Nazi" and WWII with long trench coats and such. But later the military folks had modern camo and weaponry, and the politicians used cellular phones and laptop computers.

The show was hit by the first really noticeable technical snafu in four years at the festival. At the start of the second act the house lights didn't go down -- the universal signal for the audience to shut up. This went on for several minutes, it seemed. The audience didn't shut up and Weisenheimer wondered if they might be seeking some dramatic effect. Then ALL of the lights went out. Finally, they seemed to get it under control, save for one bank of house lights that kept flickering. (Lightning? Distant shelling?) When we returned to our Ashland headquarters, it was apparent that power had been out there as well. May have been some sort of area outage that threw them a curve.

OSF: A View from the Bridge

"There's no one better than Arthur Miller for portraying male inadequacy. But at least he kills them in the end."

So said my Sweetie as we walked back to our Ashland headquarters after seeing Miller's A View from the Bridge, the first play of our week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And I knew I had my lead. Or "lede," as the cool kids are spelling it these days.

A View from the Bridge is set in 1955 in the Brooklyn tenement home of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice, and their teenaged niece Catherine. Eddie has it pretty good at the start, but things are about to go south.

In the beginning he reluctantly agrees to let Catherine take a job as a stenographer, about which she's excited because it might lead to a gig as a secretary some day. And, that night they're expecting boarders, Beatrice's cousins, a couple of "submarines" -- illegal immigrants from Italy -- who will hole up at their place while they scramble for work on the docks.

Marco, the elder cousin, sends cash back to his family in Sicily. Rodolpho, the younger cousin, is single, and spends his money on clothes, records, and Catherine. This rocks Eddie's world, and when Rodolpho and Catherine announce plans to marry he goes off the deep end.

In the riveting confrontation scene, Eddie plants big kisses on both Catherine and Rodolpho (the latter causing much tittering among the teenagers in the audience with their school groups) revealing that he desires them both. They're young, they're hot, and they have better lives ahead.

In the end Eddie calls immigration officers to come in, bust, and deport his wife's cousins. This makes him persona non grata in the neighborhood, and he spends the rest of the play fretting about getting his good name back. Before he's deported, Marco fights with Eddie and kills him.

Armando Durán is fabulous as Eddie Carbone, full of swagger and bravado and insecurity. The show has been running since July 23 and goes through Nov. 1. It must be tough playing such a role. One could get into a good villain with relish, but Eddie is just a schmuck. We've seen Durán in a few other shows in previous seasons at OSF.

Also worthy of note is the performance of Stephanie Beatriz as Catherine. She was spot-on, and had great on-stage chemistry with Juan Rivera LeBron, who played Rodolpho. Tony DeBruno played the lawyer, Mr. Alfieri, who also served as narrator and occasional counsel to the characters. Sadly, his advice to Eddie, "Let it go," went unheeded.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Successful ballclubs and Chuck Armstrong

The first articles on this blog were about baseball, and Weisenheimer is a big fan, but our readers (if any) may have noticed that we rarely mention the Seattle Mariners.

I don't much like the M's right now. This is something of a reversal. My sweetie, the scorer, and I actually let the Mariners choose our wedding date, back in the day when they were no longer horrid, but not yet all that good, either. (My sweetie arrived in town shortly after Griffey, and things got a lot better in Seattle. I still adore my sweetie. Griffey: not so much, though I dislike him less than the other two major traitors.) We wanted to see the "new" ballpark in Baltimore, so chose a wedding date the weekend before the M's were to play the O's at Camden Yards (not the "new" Memorial Stadium as I'm sure some of you wags were thinking.) We'd get 20-game ticket packages in the 200 level of the Kingdome, spend most home Saturdays at the ballpark and watch most of the rest of the games on television.

Times have changed. Weisenheimer went to one game this year -- free tickets in April. Last year, no games. My sweetie hasn't seen the local nine play since at least '06. A couple of years ago we had our cable TV disconnected; all we really wanted to watch was the Mariners, but watching the product of abject stupidity became too much. We still, usually, have the games on the radio, but only pay attention when there's some hollering. Usually that just means Rick Rizzs is faking a call of a play that happened 45 seconds ago while they were still in a commercial break.

We still pay attention to the Mariners, but we're no longer paying customers.

One of the ways I do follow the M's is through the blog U.S.S. Mariner. As is probably appropriate for an entity covering this team, USSM is a simmering pit of negativity. As with a multi-vehicle collision on the freeway, one can hardly not look! The other day the guys had an excellent point/counterpoint debate. One contended that M's fans are doomed for eternity, or at least as long as Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong are running the club. The other contended that success under the pair is not impossible, as the club has some positives and Lincoln and Armstrong have had winners before.

Should Armstrong go?
Armstrong showed up in Seattle with George Argyros in 1983, just after the Mariners had finished a 60-102 season, losing 100+ games for the third time in six years. There weren't a whole lot of expectations on those early clubs. By contrast, delusional managment and much of the fandom looked at last year's fluke finish, and the additions of "proven winners" Eric Bedard and Carlos Silva, as sure signs the club would be a serious pennant contender this season. (USSM and Weisenheimer did not share this view.)

Now we know that the 2008 season has been a pratfall of epic proportions. A club with a payroll in excess of $100 million has lost more than 100 games and will finish about 40 games behind the division champion Angels, and 16 or 17 back of third-place Oakland.

In 32 seasons the Mariners have had just three first-place finishes and one wild-card for four playoff appearances. They've finished dead last in a four-team division four of the past five years. They can no longer scream poverty; the club and the ballpark are money machines, the payroll is more than adequate for creation of a good team. They just don't seem to have a clue. Trade a good lefty reliever and four minor league prospects, including a promising outfielder we sorely need, for Eric Bedard? Jason Varitek AND Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb?

Take a walk, Chuck
Weisenheimer believes the Mariners certainly could morph into a winning club under the current management, just as flying simians could emerge from digestive systems all over town. The club, on the other hand, remains a respectable draw despite averaging 90 losses over the last five seasons. Can that keep up under the pressure of continued losing and a likely housecleaning this off-season? The club's Web site now urges visitors to "place a deposit for 2009 season tickets at Safeco Field." Weisenheimer will remain a non-paying customer, and my guess is attendance will sink like the M's broadcast contract and WaMu stock.

Armstrong and Lincoln should join Bill Bavasi and John McLaren on the unemployment line. The club is a mess, unless all you care about is the bottom line.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

ACT's "Intimate Exchanges" entertains

Alan Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges is a major challenge for actors. From a common opening scene, the show is eight different plays with 16 possible endings, all depending on choices made by characters at key junctions along the way. On top of that, the play is written for just two actors playing up to 10 different roles.

I was at Powell's Books in Portland a few weeks before we were to see Intimate Exchanges at Seattle's ACT Theatre, and combed the store's extensive drama collection for a script so that I could read the other versions and endings. Powell's didn't have it. Perhaps that's a good thing. I learned from a New York Times article about an off-Broadway revival of the show last spring that the whole shebang runs 750 pages -- longer, so they say, than Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth combined. The New York outfit, 59E59 Theaters, claimed to be the first in the U.S. to produce the work in its entirety.

ACT and director Kurt Beattie took on a reasonably manageable production, doing just four different endings. This still left actors Marianne Owen and R. Hamilton Wright playing six characters with 24 costumes and up to 30 quick changes during a performance. The speed with which they made the changes was amazing. These aren't just characters set apart from each other by a different scarf or cap. Owen and Wright make complete costume changes, including shoes and socks, often in very short trips offstage.

The main characters are Toby and Celia Teasdale, he the drunken headmaster of a British school, she his unhappy spouse. In the version we saw, Celia runs off and sets up a catering business (and romance) with Lionel Hepplewick, the school's groundskeeper and a self professed "master baker." (Ayckbourn occasionally gets a wee bit juvenile with his humor, but there's plenty of wit afoot.) Hepplewick is clearly not the baker he makes himself out to be, as their first big gig turns into a disaster of forgotten ingredients and inedible, rock-hard bread.

Both actors are outstanding, but I have to say that Owen steals the show with a couple of fabulous scenes, one in which main character Celia Teasdale goes off the deep end in a manic tea party under the tent on the school grounds, and the other as the old battle-ax Irene Pridworthy, who jolly well tells everyone how things ought to be. Pridworthy's staccato laugh -- HAH! -- put me in mind a bit of Andrea Martin's character Edith Prickley, the station manager on the old SCTV television series.

The play didn't really work all that well as a story. After the big breakdown scene, we pick up the characters five years later. Celia and Toby are split, he still at the school, she as a successful businesswoman. Lionel is her chauffeur. They're at a funeral -- the ending of several of the alternate plays. The performances are marvelous, and the work of the costume changes a sight to behold. Ayckbourn's fun with language is most entertaining as well. Intimate Exchanges is a madcap farce.

One wonders how differently an audience member would view the show after seeing more than one of the possible endings. After all, the whole 16-ending enchilada has some 17 hours of dialog, we're told. Alas, Weisenheimer took in just the one, which happened to be on the last weekend of the production. Seeing more than one might have given one a better sense of Ayckbourn's point that seemingly trivial decisions, and a big dose of fate, have a lot to do with the ending.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Yakima Bears 5, Tri-City Dust Devils 3

September 1, 2008

The city of Yakima, Washington was a ghost town on Labor Day. Even some of the wineries were closed on a Monday of a three-day holiday weekend. They must have known what they were doing. The kid at Wineglass Cellars said we were the first touristy types to happen by in quite a while that afternoon. But were the crowds thin because the wineries were closed, or were the wineries closed because the crowds were thin? We had all afternoon to make the major trek from Pasco to Yakima, and managed to find enough open wineries in between to stretch out the trip and amuse ourselves (and re-stock the cellar a bit, thank goodness!) Still, we rolled into Yakima around 5 p.m. before a seven o'clock game, and we were hungry. Alack and alas, there were precious few eateries open. Weisenheimer is not a real businessman, but I've got to figure that if I were in the hospitality business, I'd try to be open on a holiday Monday.

Finally we managed to find a place that was not fast food and still open. As Gasperetti's was shuttered, the best we could do was the Depot Restaurant, which is in the old train depot in downtown Yakima. The food was decent but unremarkable. At least they had a nice list of local wines, some of which we'd run across on our way into town.

The ghost town tale extended to the baseball game between the Yakima Bears and the Tri-City Dust Devils as well. The announced number of tickets sold for the contest was 1,536. If there were more than 500 people at the ballpark, then I'm your aunt Tillie.

Yakima County Stadium is kind of cool. For one thing, it's not named for an insurance company or credit union. For another, it has some interesting dimensions: just 293 feet down the lines, though it gets deeper in a hurry, especially down the left field line, where it goes to 340 no more than 20-25 feet from the line. While the actual scoreboard was on the blink, the giant video screen was functional. Norm Johnson, a candidate for State Representative, had a video commercial on the board at one point between innings. I don't really recall any political ads sponsoring games before. One other ad at the ballpark was for someplace called Bi-Mart, advertised as "The right fit for the Northwest." I thought that was rather enlightened.

A few other ballpark notes: The Yakima mascot, Boomer the Bear, wasn't very active. Maybe he is already ready to hibernate. The stadium also had a best and worst. They had the best vendor of the Weisenheimer 2008 ballpark tour. He was once heard to holler, "You can run away now, but eventually you're going to have to come to grips with the fact that you need some peanuts." Freud would be proud! They had the absolutely worst rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game in the history of the song. They brought a bunch of kids out to sing in the middle of the seventh. This is well and good so far as it goes, but they were off key, off beat, and off the charts horrible. Aren't they teaching music in the schools over there?

The game
Those of you sick souls following closely may have noticed that Yakima and Tri-City also played yesterday, but in Pasco, not Yakima. The two natural rivals, separated by less that 70 miles (call it the I-82 series) closed out the Northwest League schedule with six games against each other: One in Pasco, one in Yakima, another in Pasco, two more in Yakima, and the finale in the Tri-Cities. The Labor Day game, the fourth of the sixth, was won by the Bears 5-3 in front of the home "crowd." The Dust Devils scored a run in the top of the first inning to take an early lead, but the Yakima came back with three in the bottom of the first and led the rest of the way. Shortstop Justin Parker struck the key blow for Yakima in the first, a tie-breaking two-out, two-run triple. Tri-City made a couple of errors that helped the Bears score two more in the fifth to go up 5-1.

The Devils made a game of it, scoring two in the seventh, with the help of an error, to pull within 5-3. They put the tying runs on in the ninth thanks to a couple of walks by Yakima hurler Jordan Meaker, but couldn't bring them in, leaving the win for the home team, again.

A couple of pieces of free advice for Tri-City. The pale yellow lettering on the road gray uniforms just wasn't working for Weisenheimer. They need unis that are more legible. Also, given the success of the Tampa Bay club of the American League this year after they dropped the "Devil" from their name and became, simply, the Rays, I believe the Dust Devils should drop all demonic references and simply become the Tri-City Dust for next season.

You're welcome!

Box score