Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hot weather turns me into Garrison Keillor

My Sweetie, the official scorer, is an avid gardener. Somehow Weisenheimer, though, got put in charge of the tomatoes every year. I suspect that this is due, at least in part, to my successful use of home-made spaghetti sauce as a tool of wooing and seduction from the earliest days of our courtship right up to the present.

Seattle does not have as good a climate for growing tomatoes as does Lake Wobegon. Our usual weather is a drib-drab gray and rainy all through June, often well into July, and then for the rest of the summer if it gets above 75 degrees many Seattle natives run screaming for Antarctica or somewhere even cooler. Two years ago our meager crop of Sauceys was still hard and green well into October. Sweetie and I had to go out into the tomato patch with hair dryers and Klieg lights, trying to coax just the slightest touch of orange out of the fruit before we picked it, brought it in, and hoped the tomatoes got to sauce-making ripeness before they got to compost-making rottenness.

Lake Wobegon, on the other hand, is perfect for tomatoes. I realized this some years ago when reading Garrison Keillor's great book Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. In it, Keillor wrote of visiting his Aunt Eva's farm, picking tomatoes fresh off the vine, and biting in and sucking up the warm juice. I remember thinking that we never got warm juice out of our tomatoes unless we brought them inside and zapped them in the microwave for a couple of hours.

This year I've finally caught up with Garrison Keillor. Since June our rare rain has come mainly when we've been at an outdoor theater production. Late spring was warm and, with the aid of some fancy new single-plant mini-greenhouses, the plants got off to an excellent start. They got as big as me (well, as tall, anyway, as evidenced by the photo above), set fruit early, and even started ripening. I returned from a business trip yesterday on a day of Seattle-record 103-degree heat. During my walk around the garden I picked a handful of ripe tomatoes, bit into them, and sucked up the warm juice. Ahhhh.

I'm pretty sure I've never had a ripe tomato from my own garden until September. We've got a bumper crop going and, barring any weather catastrophes or living pests, there should be enough to create gallons and gallons of my delicious sketty sauce, good for seduction several times a day all through until next summer.

So, if there's light blogging here from September through next June, that's why.

And to Keillor's people: when you stumble across this, please pass the URL along to the editors of the New Yorker.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Theater bits and pieces

There was a blogging lag the last couple of weeks since the great first day of the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival. There's plenty of news to report on theater since.

SOTF day two. After a gorgeous, perfect day and four fun plays July 11, the weather turned gloomy for the second day on the 12th. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I skipped the Young Shakespeare Workshop production of Twelfth Night, then enjoyed a fine production of King John by Greenstage. We watched Theater Schmeater's staging of The Sorcerer's Apprentice again. It was fun. But it really started to rain hard, with lightning and thunder, so we bailed out before Wooden O's Taming of the Shrew. We're not sure if the show went on or not. They don't like l
ightning. But we did go home and watch a tape of the Shrew episode of the old TV series "Moonlighting."

Pippin. Balagan Theatre (full disclosure: Weisenheimer is president of the board at Balagan) put on this teen production of Pippin. It's the first in what the company hopes will be many educational efforts for young people in the community. It was pleasantly entertaining, too. The musicians were fabulous and the cast sharp with their timing on lots of good gags.

Schmorgasborg. Balagan does a monthly late-night variety program of music, acting, and comedy. The July 18 lineup included not just one, but TWO, burlesque acts: Kitty Stripper and Clown Stripper! Both hilarious! Also J&J Music Factory, with special guest Chris Bell, performed a heartbreaking rock opera of love, deceit, hate, infidelity, and flexible sexuality. Good times! Free. The Schmorg has a Facebook group. Join and get notices of upcoming shows.

The Comedy of Errors. We saw the great Greenstage production directed by Ryan Higgins again, this time at Camp Long in West Seattle. It rained some during most of the last two thirds of the show. Few left, though.

Upcoming: 14/48 -- The World's Quickest Theater Festival -- runs the next two weekends at On the Boards. An all-festival pass is just $35. Gobs of rapidly created theater. Greenstage performances of The Comedy of Errors and King John run through August 15. My friend Kelly strongly recommends a production of The Elephant Man produced by Strawberry Theater Workshop. I'm not familiar with the company, but the cast includes David Pichette and MJ Sieber, and that's most promising. It's playing at Erickson Theatre Off Broadway through August 9.

Finally, Balagan's 2009-10 season opens August 6 with The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, starring the talented Terri Weagant and directed by the talented Lisa Confehr. Balagan season tickets are on sale now! Ten shows for a mere $120. Go here now.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

That's enough of Othello

The performance of Othello that we saw at the Intiman Theatre last Friday was our third time seeing the tragedy of the Moor of Venice in less than a year. I think that's enough for a while.

The production was something of a bait-and-switch on the part of Intiman. When the season was announced artistic director Bart Sher was slated to direct. When Sher later announced his impending departure, they bagged the local production and brought in the "acclaimed" staging of the play produced by New York's Theatre for a New Audience and directed by Arin Arbus. Many of the players from that production did come west for the show -- with the notable exceptions of Othello, Iago, and Desdemona. I'm not sure you can say that's the same production. It's like you are bringing in the "acclaimed" cast of Some Like It Hot, except you couldn't get Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis.

That said, the show wasn't bad. Sean Patrick Thomas was eloquent as Othello and Elisabeth Waterston strong and loyal as Desdemona. But there wasn't really much fire between them. John Campion put on a hard, vengeful performance as Iago. (That's Waterston, Thomas, and Campion, l-r, in the Chris Bennion photo at right.) Trouble is, we've seen two way better interpretations of the character in the last year. Dan Donohue won the 2008 Wisey for Best Actor for his portrayal at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Mike Dooly was fabulous in Balagan Theatre's smart production directed by Ryan Higgins in December. Both of those Iagos were more complex and nuanced, charming really, and to my mind more likely to successfully be able to manipulate the other characters to do his ultimate bidding.

Interesting that Seattlest agrees with us about the Balagan production, except that they want to re-stage that one -- and "see if John Campion is free." Campion was sure the star of the show, as Iago is meant to be, but I'll take Dooly any day.

Othello runs at Intiman through August 9.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Comedy of Errors highlights bang-up first day of outdoor theater fest

We saw four marvelously entertaining plays today as the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival took to the lawn on a gorgeous day at the amphitheater at Volunteer Park. The final show of the day, a superb production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors produced by GreenStage and directed by Ryan Higgins, was a hilarious treat and the highlight of the opening day of the festival.

Higgins has already caused Weisenheimer a lot of trouble. It was his fabulous take on Othello at Balagan Theatre that started me on the path to joining the board of directors at that company. His great work with Comedy of Errors cements his status as one of the most interesting young directors working in Seattle. His added twist is one most common in Shakespeare -- to the play's comic confusion of two sets of identical twins, he adds the gender flip, too, as women play men and men play women. The "hot chicks" of The Comedy of Errors are above. From left to right it's one of the Dromios, Patrick Bentley as Adriana, Michael D. Blum as a Courtezan with Marge-Simpson hair, and Rio Codda as Luciana.

Props, too, to Don MacEllis, who seemed to play about 12 characters all with great comic presence. Higgins gets the most out of a wonderful cast, and the show is a rapid-fire riot from start to finish.

Finishing a close second on the day is a nice production of Richard III by Wooden O and Seattle Shakespeare Company, directed by Stephanie Shine. George Mount, who directed the recent well-received recent production of The Tempest at Seattle Shakes, is appropriately wicked and scheming and even funny as Richard. Another Balagan favorite, Mike Dooly, does much of Richard's dirty work as Buckingham. That's them above, with Richard peering over Buckingham's shoulder. Higgins directed Dooly, who played Iago, in Balagan's production of Othello.

The day opened with a nice production of The Merry Wives of Windsor by Last Leaf Productions and a fun performance of The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Theater Schmeater and directed by Julia Griffin. The cast were solid, but we especially liked the over-the-top performance by Aaron Allshouse as the Sorcerer and by Monica Wulzen as A Cat.

The festival wraps up with five more shows at Volunteer Park on Sunday. Most can be seen again elsewhere. Wooden O runs Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew at various parks through August 2, Apprentice runs Saturdays and Sundays at 5 p.m. at Volunteer Park through August 9, Last Leaf runs Wives and Shrew the next couple of weekends in Snohomish County, and the GreenStage shows run through August 15.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Here's the tail end of the fireworks show after the Missoula vs. Great Falls game on July 3.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Great Falls Voyagers 7, Missoula Osprey 1

July 3, 2009

The planets aligned for the Weisenheimer "Thunderstorm Baseball Tour 2009" on Friday night. There was not a drop of rain on a lovely, warm evening in Missoula, we circumvented the "wristband" rule and were able to buy and drink beer, we were part of a record Osprey crowd of 4,042, we got nine full innings of baseball into the books, and the wind died down enough to allow the fireworks to go on after the game. Unfortunately, errors and walks did in the home team as the Missoula Osprey lost to the Great Falls Voyagers 7-1.

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field is a lovely facility. Built in 2004, it has most of the amenities of modern small ballparks: ample concession stands, kids play area, beer garden picnic area, and the like. But it has something most ballparks don't -- an actual live team mascot living on the grounds. A family of Osprey live in an aerie on a tall pole out beyond the right field wall. They had a fish feast up there during the game. The team logo even depicts an Osprey carrying a fish. Too cool!

The park also features some short dimensions down the lines. It's only 309 down the line in left field and a mere 287 in right. There's a berm and a railroad bridge right behind the wall, so there probably wasn't room to make it much bigger. They try to make it not too cheap for home runs by making the wall 27 feet high at the lines. It slopes down to about seven feet by the time it gets to right-center.

The Osprey successfully annoyed me before the game. When I went to the beer counter to get a couple of Trout Slayer Ales for myself and my Sweetie, the official scorer, the young lady behind the counter informed me that I needed to get an ID bracelet before they'd sell me the demon alcohol. Incredulous, I inquired how old she thought I was and, in an Uncle Herb moment, stomped off vowing never to drink beer in Missoula again and write them a scathing review in the blog. Luckily the lovely Stephanie happened by and offered to go fetch beer and munchies for us. Missoula is the only ballpark on the tour with in-seat service, and Stephanie didn't seem to care a whit that I didn't have an ID bracelet. Nice save! (By the way, the Trout Slayer, by Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, is yummy.)

As for the game, Missoula starter Enrique Burgos didn't have much, getting shelled for five runs, three earned, on three hits in an inning and two-thirds. He walked three, hit another, threw a wild pitch,. and had an error committed behind him. Meantime, Terry Doyle of Great Falls turned in the best start of the trip. Doyle worked seven innings and gave up just one earned run on seven hits. He struck out 14 and walked only one. Great Falls won in a breeze. Box score.

The fireworks show after the contest was grand.

Homeward bound. Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Helena Brewers 5, Billings Mustangs 4

July 2, 2009

The Weisenheimer tour of the Pioneer League continued this evening in Billings, Montana with the hometown Mustangs taking on the visiting Helena Brewers at Dehler Park. I'll save the suspense: Of COURSE it rained. People may wish to blame this on people from Seattle. But I hear tell it's been clear and pushing 90 degrees in the great Northwest, so it's clear that we are following the weather, and not vice versa.

Dehler Park opened last year, replacing the ancient Cobb Field, where generations of Billings teams played. Dehler is a fine facility, a little odd in that it's not very high; the deepest sections in the grandstand are only about 10 rows or so. That means every seat is pretty darn close to the field. They have a BBQ area, beer garden, ample concession stands -- it's a nice operation. The one black mark -- inadequate parking. There's a tiny lot out beyond the outfield fence. We had to park in the surrounding neighborhood, which the residents must just love. We had a walk of several blocks, so it wasn't a huge deal. The park is set below a large bluff, on top of which sits the Billings airport. A number of flights came in and out during the game.

There were ominous black clouds around at game time, and the scoreboard claimed it was 81 degrees out, but it didn't feel that warm. A crowd of 2,483 turned up and saw the Brewers build a 2-0 lead after three innings. In the fourth the wind really kicked up. In the bottom of the fifth the Mustangs got on the board with back-to-back doubles to make it 2-1. A few drops of rain started to fall. Then, with two out -- one measly out from an official game -- Ma Nature turned the spigot and it absolutely began to pour. The umps called the game and everyone scrambled for cover.

My Sweetie, the official scorer, wonders why these teams we're visiting, where it apparently rains all the dang time, don't have any sort of adequate shelter for the customers when inclement weather hits. Security Service Field in Colorado Springs has a large covered area, but most of the rest are pretty exposed. At Dehler Park many of the fans simply departed. Those of us who haven't had enough baseball this week found restrooms, souvenir shops, and other small spots mostly out of the rain, hoping the storm would only be a passing thing.

It was. In less than an hour we had a double rainbow, a cool sunset, and were back in action. But only a few hundred of the original crowd remained. Billings took a 4-3 lead with three in the sixth, a rally capped by the play of the game: A booming, two-run triple by Mustang catcher Humberto Sosa. The program lists Sosa at 5' 11" and 195. I'm here to tell you that 195 might have been when he was in eighth grade. I'm thinking 230 at least. Still, he cracked one over the center fielder's head to the wall 410 feet away, and moves pretty well for a big man, making third easily.

Billings held the lead until the ninth, when a bad throw and a controversial call by the first base umpire ignited a rally for the Brewers. Left fielder Chris Ellington led off with a grounder to Mustang shortstop Shane Carlson, who uncorked a wild throw. First baseman Chris Richburg, lunging to his left, snagged the ball and swept the tag toward Ellington, but the ump ruled the tag missed. Carlson, who has a live and wild arm, was charged with an error. Ellington took second on a wild pitch by Don Joseph. Joseph then struck out Cameron Garfield, but walked Cutter Dykstra, and Ellington stole third on ball four. Helena's Kyle Dhanani then hit what should have been an inning-ending double-play grounder. But Billings second baseman Mauricio Pimentel hesitated on the throw to second, decided to take a sure out at first, and then made such a rotten throw he looked like a quarterback spiking the ball to stop the clock. E-4, and Ellington scored the tying run. Dykstra and Dhanani then pulled a double steal, and Dykstra scored the go-ahead run on another wild pitch by Joseph. Two runs, no hits, two errors, one left on, 5-4 Helena. Billings went out 1-2-3 in the ninth, Pimentel whiffing for the final out. Box score.

Weather aside, the game at Billings was a lovely time. They don't have a mascot. They don't throw crap at you or have constant on-field promotions. The PA announcer doesn't yell, he just announces. The food was pretty tasty and reasonably priced. All Billings really needs is a little infield defense.

Tomorrow: Missoula!

We ain't afraid of no Ghosts; let's play two!

Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the official scorer, bolted out of Colorado Springs after a late breakfast with family yesterday morning and rolled into Casper, Wyoming at about 5:30 p.m. thinking we had a little time to freshen up and maybe grab a catnap before heading out to watch the Casper Ghosts play host to Idaho Falls in a 7:05 contest. Luckily, Sweetie decided to plot the best path to Mike Lansing Field before taking 20 winks; in so doing, she discovered that the action was to start at 6:05, and that they planned to play two. So, we quickly grabbed our scorecards and gear and headed to the ballpark.

It turned out that the twin bill was scheduled to make up for the non-playing of the first stop on our Pioneer League tour, a June 26 date in Idaho Falls that was scrubbed because of "wet grounds." We've been following bad weather around on this trip. It was a beautiful day when we arrived in Idaho Falls, as the water preceded us. Our game in Colorado Springs was suspended midway by robust thunderstorms. And sure enough, we'd seen some nasty looking clouds as we wound our way into Casper.

Still, things looked OK as we arrived at the yard. It was warm and humid and cloudy, but comfortable. Lansing Field isn't too fancy, but it's comfortable. It's not picturesque as some we've seen, but in a pleasant setting. Mascot "Hobart" is a purple platypus. They don't go crazy with the promotions. Though there was some good humor. Just before the start of the game the PA announcer urged us to cheer as the Ghosts took the field. Nothing happened. We couldn't see them...

The home team took an early lead, but then the rain found us again. Casper led 4-1 in the third inning of the first game when it started to thunder, lightning and pour. After the Chukars batted in the top of the frame the umpires called play as the sparse crowd headed for what little cover is available at Lansing Field. One local opined that he'd never seen it rain so hard there during baseball season.

During the rain delay we had a nice chat with Ghosts' CEO Kevin Haughian, who spotted us because of all the out-of-town ticket stubs on Sweetie, the official scorer's official score book. He was a little disappointed with the crowd after having a couple thousand for the Ghosts' home opener the previous night. There were only a few hundred at best on a Wednesday night with threatening weather. He also thought it might help if the club won a few. They came into the doubleheader with one win and six losses. Also during the day, we met a gentleman from Pullman who does media relations work for the WSU baseball team. He was in Casper as part of his quest to see a game in all 50 states. He's up to about 42.

The rain let up and, after a 34-minute delay, we were back at action. Lucky for us, not so much for Casper. Their starting pitcher, Ricardo Ferrer, had a fine outing, allowing just one run on three hits in five innings. But they took him out and the wheels fell off. Idaho Falls scored three in the sixth and two in the seventh to win 6-5. Game 1 box score, but not with Sweetie, the official scorer, stats.

The nightcap was a 0-0 tie through five innings as Idaho Falls starter Carlos Arias worked five strong innings while Casper hurlers Paul Bargas and Coty Woods blanked the Chukars. Idaho Falls plated a pair in the sixth with the help of an error, and went into the bottom of the seventh with a 2-0 advantage and Lewis Gomez, who had pitched a scoreless sixth, on the hill. But Avery Barnes (the Big Gator) led off with a single and Casper catcher Brandon Whitby hit a towering, opposite-field homer to right to tie the contest and give us extra innings!

Casper had a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth, when a walk, a hit batsman, and a sacrifice put runners on second and third with just one out. But the runner on third got picked off on what may have been a botched squeeze play, and then Barnes whiffed.

Idaho Falls then took the lead in the ninth. Tito Espinosa led off with a triple on a towering fly ball to left center that probably should have been caught. Espinosa then scored on a fly ball to left field. Casper manager Tony Diaz got run for the game for saying the umpire was "f---ing blind" -- with so few people in the stands we could hear everything! Diaz was arguing that Espinosa had left third early. The umps apparently felt that nothing that happens at 12:20 a.m. during a baseball game can be called "early."

Not to worry. Whitby led off the Casper ninth with a base hit, moved to second on an error, and scored the tying run on a pinch double by Chandler Laurent. Laurent moved to third on a groundout. With the Chukar infield playing in, Eliezer Mesa grounded one to Espinosa at first. Espinosa, however, double clutched and went from hero to goat as Laurent beat the throw home and gave the Ghosts their second win of the season. Box score.

In all, we got in 16 innings of baseball -- three more than we'd seen in our three previous games combined! It all ended at 12:38 a.m., Mountain Time. There we are above, happy to be a little damp and watching baseball after midnight in Casper, Wyoming.

Missed it by THAT MUCH

On Tuesday, June 30, while we hobnobbed with family in Colorado Springs the evening after attending a game there that was washed out, righthander Brandon Hynick of the Sky Sox pitched the first perfect game in club history. Thus Weisenheimer and Sweetie's common lament is intact: "We never get to see a no-hitter!"

Hynick's gem came in the second game of a twin bill at Security Service Field. Portland won the opener 10-8 in the completion of the game suspended by emphatic thunderstorms the night before. Colorado took the nightcap 2-0. Coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette.