Sunday, March 29, 2009

Innovation in the match industry

I had to laugh recently when I bought a box of matches. The box cover proclaims: NEW LOOK! Same Great Product.

I must admit, I was a bit confused when I first opened the box. It was filled with little sticks of blond wood ("the highest quality Aspen wood" according to the box) with some red stuff and a white tip at one end. I'd expected some matches, but I'd never seen anything like this!

Or, was the "new look" a reference to the packaging? Well, I went to the Diamond Web site (yes, even matches have a Web site, though I didn't find a blog or Facebook page; they'd better get with it.) They don't have a definitive history of their logo, but the red and blue box with a diamond shaped logo has been used since the company was founded in 1881. I also learned that, in 1910, Diamond patented the first nonpoisonous match in the U.S. The next year President Taft asked Diamond to release the patent, which it did "for the good of mankind."

It may not really be a new look, but the matches work fine. They're fueled by the "Diamond Ignition System," you know.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Theater review backlog

Weisenheimer has been to several theater events in recent weeks, but darned if I've been able to find time to write about them all. Here are a few mini-reviews:

Closer by Patrick Marber. At Balagan Theatre, directed by Lisa Confehr.
Full disclosure: I've joined the board of Balagan Theatre, so maybe I'm not an impartial reviewer anymore, if I ever was, but Balagan is doing great work and Closer is no exception. This is the play on which the 2004 Mike Nichols film, starring Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, and Jude Law, is based. The Balagan production includes solid performances all around, most notably by Mike Dooly as Larry. We're enjoying Dooly's work; he aced Iago in Balagan's production of Othello in December. Props also to Susan Graf, gorgeous and fearless in the role of the stripper Alice. Cool set, too, with video backdrops of the aquarium, the bedroom window, the gallery, and other locations.

Closer got a nice review in The Stranger. Catch it in its last week.

The Merchant of Venice at Seattle Shakespeare Company, directed by John Langs.
There are some really solid actors in the Seattle Shakespeare Company's Merchant as well. Charles Leggett was absolutely marvelous as Shylock, and Klea Scott was strong, dynamic, and sassy as Portia. I found the scene in which Shylock and daughter Jessica (Melanie Moser) pray together wonderfuly poignant, especially as we know Jessica is about to run off with Lorenzo. 

We weren't quite sure about the casting of Will Beinbrink as Bassanio. His performance was well enough, and sure, he correctly chose the lead box to win Portia's hand, but he just didn't seem to have the right stuff to make Portia all ga-ga over him.

Merchant wraps up its run this week as well.

Hello, Dolly! at the 5th Avenue Theatre, directed by David Armstrong
Jenifer Lewis (right) was perfect in the role of Dolly Levi in the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Hello, Dolly! Lewis is a wonderful actor and dancer and can really belt out a tune. Weisenheimer was a little concerned about the casting of Pat Cashman of "Almost Live!" fame in the role of Horace Vandergelder. I figured it was just a cheap ticket-selling stunt. Cashman himself, in his program bio, advised, "Sit near an exit!" But he did well in the role of the grumpy and miserly feed store owner -- and they didn't make him sing and dance too much. Costumes, dancing, music, sets were all top-notch as we've come to expect from the 5th Avenue.

Big cutbacks at Seattle Rep; next season announced

The Seattle Times reported Friday that the Seattle Repertory Theatre is cutting its budget by more than a third for next season -- whacking $3.5 million from a $10 million budget. They'll do it by going to a four-day work week for many employees, running fewer shows, and fewer performances of the ones they stage. They can't draw from their endowment next year; its value has dipped below the $14 million original principal. Subscription sales are down, too.

The budget announcement came hand-in-hand with the release of the Rep's 2009-10 season. The lineup includes a couple of sure winners. Warner Shook will direct a production of Noel Coward's Hay Fever (in Weisenheimer's view, Shook can do no wrong) and they'll also stage August Wilson's Fences next spring. They'll reach into the familiar with David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, and hook up with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to co-produce Equivocation, which is running in Ashland at OSF this year.

It's interesting that the way to cut the budget is to do fewer shows -- less product. You'd think they should do more. But as they say, your ticket doesn't pay the full cost of the production.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Broadcasting legend Bill O'Mara passes away

Broadcasting pioneer Bill O'Mara passed away this morning at age 92, according to a report from KING-TV, where he was sports director for a number of years. O'Mara gained some fame as the main broadcaster for the hydroplane races,  back when that was the only game in town in Seattle. But he remained behind the mic until about two years ago, when new ownership at KLKI radio (it's now KWLE) in Anacortes sacked him at age 90. He'd been doing high school sports at KLKI for nearly 20 years.

Bill O'Mara
I worked with O'Mara at KRKO in Everett back in 1988-90. That was my last radio gig. O'Mara, already pushing 70, took a liking to me for some reason and seemed to enjoy helping the "young guys." I'd just turned 30 when I showed up there. If memory serves, O'Mara left for KLKI at about that time -- KRKO was constantly cutting back. We did lots of high school sports, football and boys and girls basketball. The most exciting moment was in 1990 when Everett High School boys were in the state basketball tournament. The Seagulls beat two-time defending state champ Redmond in the second round on a last-second three-pointer, and O'Mara went nuts with a Russ Hodges moment: "The Everett Seagulls win it... the Seagulls win it..." They lost in the third round to eventual champ Shadle Park. I was calling the girls' games that year, but have no such memories, except I think there were about five Spokane schools in the tourney.

O'Mara often used the exclamation "Oooh-WHEE!" And, of a player who'd just done something extraordinary, he'd say, "Jones is a real tour-de-force out there!"

O'Mara had a lot of great stories about his days at KING-TV, when they were flying by the seats of their pants. All you had to do to get him started was ask, "What would Mrs. Bullitt think about that?" He was a great devotee of the matriarch of KING Broadcasting, especially for the freedom she gave them to go out and create.

I saw him in late 2007 at a gathering of former KRKO employees. There are a lot of us formers! He'd lost a step or two but was still ahead of most of us, and complaining about how tough it was to look for work at age 90. The KING-TV obit linked above includes the video below, a story they did about O'Mara on his 90th birthday.

UPDATE: The Times ran an obit on Sunday.

RIP, Bill. You were a real tour-de-force.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

OSF gives me a time warp

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival warped time for me the other day. We're still six months out from our annual trek to Ashland for the 2009 festival, and they announced the 2010 season this week!

The four Shakespeare plays on the schedule are:
  • Hamlet
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Henry IV, Part One
Highlights of the rest of the fest include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Pride and Prejudice directed by Libby Appel, and Ruined by Lynn Nottage. The skinny on the entire season is here.

West Seattle's ArtsWest has announced its season for 2009-10. It includes Dead Man's Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl, which is running at OSF this season. We probably won't see it there, as it closes in mid-June.

For a treat here and now, check out Patrick Marber's Closer at Balagan Theatre on Capitol Hill. It has just opened and runs through April 4.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Whiny astronomers

Tom Gwilym is a talented astro-imager who has rigged up a fine observatory at his home in Renton. The Highlands Astro-Shack is the official home of "Big Blue," the Bellevue Astronomical Society's Meade LX200 telescope.

Like many who are interested in amateur astronomy in the Seattle area, Tom is getting a bit frustrated with the weather. I can tell from his rant on the relatively new Eastside Astro-Blog.

We ought to know better, I suppose. This is Seattle and it rains here. But Tom is right, the last couple of years have been dismal. Used to be that you'd get a week or so of clear, cold weather a couple of times each winter. But Weisenheimer hasn't done much observing of note since early autumn.

I did get out for a little bit one evening last week, and looked at Saturn for about 20 minutes before the clouds rolled in. I'm hoping to get a look at Comet Lulin before it speeds way too far off.

Well, if there's scant observing to be done, at least we can write about astronomy. The March issue of The Webfooted Astronomer, newsletter of the Seattle Astronomical Society, is out today. Edited by yours truly.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A lulu of Lulin

My friend Burley Packwood, a fellow member of the Seattle Astronomical Society, captured this photo of Comet Lulin from his backyard in Green Valley, Arizona back on Feb. 25. Lulin has been zipping past Saturn and the constellation Leo this week, will be very near the Beehive Cluster in Cancer at the end of the week, and shoots on into Gemini later in the month. It was closest to Earth on the 24th, but should be visible all through March and well into April.

Lulin's official name is C/2007 N3, and is called Lulin after the observatory in Taiwan from which the photos were taken that led to its discovery in July 2007. The Web site for Sky & Telescope magazine has excellent charts to help you spot Lulin, which is visible through binoculars, and perhaps with the naked eye if you have excellent vision and a good, dark spot.

That's the challenge for astronomers in Seattle. The weather has been lousy for observing this winter. Even on a few recent promising evenings Weisenheimer had meetings, work, or was just too dang tired to get out and do any observing. At least we can live and observe vicariously through our friends who have backyards in Arizona! But hey -- as I write this on a lovely Sunday morning there are considerable patches of blue sky out there. Perhaps tonight is the night!

UPDATE: Within an hour or two after posting about blue sky, it had clouded up and we've had some rain. Apparently I have a certain amount of influence on the weather. When I develop this skill into control of the weather, I promise to use the power for good, not evil!

For those into the details, Burley shot his photo on the evening of Feb. 25. It was a 2 1/2-minute exposure taken through a Meade LX200 with an ST2000XM CCD.