Saturday, July 28, 2012

Spinner baseball and a mis-spent youth

It's no secret that I've whiled away about a zillion hours in my life playing baseball board and computer games. The lede of my biography on our business website reads, "Greg Scheiderer began telling stories as the eight-year-old play-by-play announcer for the contests played on his Cadaco All-Star spinner baseball game." My mom's oft-expressed lament was that if I would put as much effort into my schoolwork as I did into those silly games I might make something of myself! Maybe so, but I can still figure batting averages in my head, for what it's worth. Besides, it's all mom's fault; getting sent to my room as "punishment" meant quiet and uninterrupted time to spin a few games!

Weisenheimer spent a zillion hours (roughly) between
the ages of eight and 16 playing "spinner baseball"--Ethan
Allen's All-Star Baseball by Cadaco. As a Cardinal fan it
was a little galling to have to look at Wrigley Field for
all of those games!
I've been thinking about the Cadaco game of late, in part because I came across my beat-up copy of it last summer as we moved back into the house after our remodeling project. I completely wore out my first game and the second has seen extensive play; the box is held together with first-aid tape and I've stuck wood blocks in under the playing field to support the sagging cardboard diamond.

As evidence that most everything is on the Internet these days, I've found a couple of websites, a Wikipedia page, and a Facebook page devoted to the Cadaco game (where it's referred to as "ASB") as well as a Yahoo! group devoted to the ASB game and another for baseball board games in general. For those unfamiliar with the game, ASB is a simple baseball simulation. Each major league player included is represented by a disc based on actual statistics, with possible outcomes represented by wedges on the edge of the disc. The wider the wedge, the more likely a player is to achieve the result. Thus, Babe Ruth has a bigger home run wedge than does Mark Belanger. The disc is inserted in the spinner, you give it a flick, and the result is determined by where the arrow points. It's fully batter driven; it doesn't matter who is pitching.

This week there's been a lengthy discussion on the Yahoo! site about what to do when a spin lands "on the line" of the disc. Many players have developed elaborate answers to this question based on the pitcher, lefty/righty matchups, or which way the wind is likely to be blowing. (The correct answer, of course, is that a "line" is a foul ball.)

The player disc for the great Lou Brock! In ASB Lou is
no better or worse base stealer than Harmon Killebrew.
My first response to my renewed interest in ASB was to load my "Communist League" (as opposed to American and National; I was something of a Weisenheimer already when I created this thing as a little kid!) into APBA Baseball for Windows and see how it came out. One thing is certain: the offense is way down since pitchers matter and mostly elite hurlers are involved. As we near the halfway point of the 36-game season the Armpit (Idaho) Sprays have the best record in the league at 13–5. The Sprays are led by Ted Williams, who is second in the league in batting at an even .400 and leads the loop in slugging (.900), on-base percentage (.583), RBI (24) and has six home runs. Camp Freeman's Lefty Gomez is the loop's top pitcher at 7-3 with a stingy ERA of 0.85.

My baseball-gaming friends and I discovered the dice game of APBA about the time we started in high school. Pitchers, speed, and defense mattered, and the game was more sophisticated, so we switched over and ASB didn't see much playing time. Eventually APBA came out with the computer version, which wasn't necessarily as much fun, but it made the task of keeping statistics a lot easier! Three pals and I went back to the dice in the early '90s when we formed the League For All Seasons, starting out with the 1970 season, which was about about the first year we played APBA. Intending to play a season every three months, we so far have done 29 tournaments of 15 games per team, but haven't played an LFAS for about six years. We still get together and play other board games, but none of us is paying much attention to baseball.

I played a few Communist League games on the computer the other night. In one, Steve Carlton of the Texas Turkies took a no-hitter and a 4-0 lead into the ninth inning against the Jutland Jellicoes. Pinky Higgins broke up the no-no with a 0-out double, Jutland ended up scoring four in the ninth to tie it, then won 5-4 with a run in the 12th.

This little project is my first foray into computer baseball in a while. I dropped out of Puget Sound Computer Baseball about three years ago, no longer willing to put in the study time necessary to be competitive. (Besides, founding team members Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux retired, and it just wouldn't have been the same without them.) I played two seasons of The Century League determining modern baseball's best era, and that project ended 4 1/2 years ago. (It's funny to me that both the Century League and LFAS websites live on, despite the fact that they're connected to a Seanet account we dropped at least four or five years ago.)

I'm about ready for another computer baseball project, and have three concepts in mind. One is a league in which each team is made up of players whose last name starts with the same letter. The X's will have trouble fielding a team. The second is a tournament with the top 64 teams seeded in brackets and playing best-of-seven. The last is a reverse reality in which the damn Yankees are everyone else's farm club. We'd hold a draft at the start of each season and each other club, in reverse order of the previous year's record, gets to swap any of their players for any Yankee. It will be fun to drub them every year.

But first to finish out the Communist League slate. We've been waiting close to 40 years to see how it comes out.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Strawshop kills with Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Strawberry Theatre Workshop was so concerned about the ability of its production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist to compete with the Capitol Hill Block Party this weekend that it slashed ticket prices to $15 and offered refunds to those of us who had already paid the full $30. While attendance wasn't a complete bomb, there were still plenty of good seats available Friday night. Those who opted for the sound and fury of the block party, or other weekend options, missed a hell of a fine show at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. Strawshop's Anarchist, directed by Gabriel Baron, knocked it out of the window.

Fo's script is based on real events surrounding the bombing of a bank in Milan in 1969, but the rant against bureaucracy and official state abuse of power is just as relevant today, especially in a city where the U.S. Department of Justice is all over the cops for repeated excessive use of violence. Fo encourages producers of the show to insert local references, and Baron, who directed the same play for Strawshop in 2005, takes advantage in a number of spots.

I'll blow you up real good! Ryan Higgins is hilariously
maniacal as the Maniac in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's
production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist,
running through Aug. 4 at the Erickson Theatre Off
Broadway in Seattle. Photo: John Ulman.
All six actors in the show turned in superb performances, anchored by the fantastic Ryan Higgins as "Maniac." Higgins plays at times a high-priced psychiatrist impersonator, a judge impersonator, a one-eyed, one-legged, one-handed professor impersonator, and the anarchist maniac (not impersonated). Higgins is a dervish in an amazingly physical, slapstick performance. He's especially hilarious as the professor, with the fake wooden leg, glass eye, several interchangeable wooden hands, and one of the more ridiculous fake moustaches in theater history. His comedy is such a balance to the covering-up coppers that it's a shock in the final scenes when he's just a plain old crazy-eyed maniac forcing the show to its multiple explosive conclusions.

Galen Joseph Osier and Tim Hyland are marvelous as crooked cops, and MJ Sieber a riot as the corrupt superintendent, right out of the 70s in his half-buttoned polyester shirt and coated with cocaine by the play's end. Jason Harber is understatedly funny—for this play, anyway!—as the doofus police officer, though he's in danger of being typecast; I kept thinking about his doofus turn as Schmendiman in Balagan Theatre's Picasso at the Lapin Agile back in 2009. Rhonda J. Soikowski is pointedly proper as the serious journalist of the second act, though in one of the endings the whole show blows up on her.

The set for Anarchist, designed by Greg Carter, Evan Mosher, Reed Nakayama, and Ron Erickson, was a marvelous backdrop of precariously piled filing cabinets representing the reams of irretrievable documents stashed at police headquarters, the requisite bright interrogation light, a messy desk, a phone with a very long cord, one door for needed entrances and exits, and the window through which the anarchist "fell" and incriminating documents and piles of cash are tossed. The double ending is thought provoking. How much do you care who gets blown up? Does that make you just as bad as the other guys?

We're really enjoying watching Higgins these days. He was fantastic in last year's Live! From the Last Night of My Life at Theater Schmeater, though sadly this happened while we were in our non-blogging phase. We can't wait for his next project, Maldoror with UMO Ensemble.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a production not to be missed. We let them keep the extra $15, and it was well worth it! If you insist on attending block parties or other such diversions, well, you have additional theater options. Anarchist runs at the Erickson through August 4.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Winter's Tale, Wooden O Productions

I'm trying to remember what I said that made the Weisenheimer think that I don't like The Winter's Tale. I might have been grousing about that whole business in act V scene ii where, after the dramatic build up of act V scene i (spoiler alert!), three Gentlemen come in and blab about how everything worked out, and then we move on to all this Pygmalion/Galatea nonsense in scene iii with the "dead" queen posing as a statue and coming to life to the astonishment of all assembled. I always think Shakespeare must have been on deadline and ran out of time and thought "oh, fuck it," and dashed off 150 or so lines of exposition and then 150 or so lines ripped off from Ovid and called it good. So, OK, I don't love the ending.

But I did thoroughly enjoy Wooden O's production of The Winter's Tale, directed by Mary Machala and playing in Seattle area parks through August 12. Every time the play risks getting mired in Greek tragedy, they dialed up the comedy and the pastoral bits. David Quicksall's performance gave sweet comic relief as Antigonus right up to "Exit pursued by a bear" and as Autolycus after that. Shakespeare gives the Old Shepherd's son no name other than "Clown," and Mark Oram brought clowning skills aplenty. I thoroughly enjoyed the original, live music provided by Sean Patrick Taylor. And I appreciated what they did with the staging and costuming to dramatize the falsely accused queen Hermione's plight, giving birth in prison and being called too soon after to stand trial (costume designer K.D. Schill). Not at all nice. 

Like many of Shakespeare's plays, there are some characters who seem mostly types fulfilling their narrative/dramatic function, and other characters around them who make things really interesting. The most interesting characters to me are Paulina, Polixenes, and Camillo—the ones who must live with, respond to, and conform themselves to the actions of the king Leontes, his queen Hermione, and the next generation, Perdita and Florizel. The actors playing these three characters did not disappoint, drawing out the conflict and humanity of people loyal by family or duty to Leontes, who's bollocksed everything up. In particular, Therese Diekhans' feisty performance as Paulina gave the play spice and flavor, spark and heat. Mike Dooly as Polixenes and Nick Rempel as Camillo were as fascinating to watch when they weren't speaking lines as when they were, showing us throughout the bewilderment and confusion of men struggling with their principles and their loss in the face of being let down by those they love most.

I guess the Weisenheimer is right. It's not my favorite Shakespeare play. But enjoying Wooden O's production and getting a new perspective on the play, especially the Paulina and Polixenes characters...sitting outside on a lovely (if sprinkly) Seattle summer day with a picnic, a Dante's Inferno dog, and the exactly where I wanted to be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Great wrapup for Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival

The Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival was a big success, with seven more performances to solid audiences at Volunteer Park on Sunday. Weisenheimer caught three of them, and parts of a fourth.

The Queen (Erin Day, kneeling) gets grilled by Wolsey
(Michael D. Blum), the King (Daniel Guttenberg) and
Cardinal Campeius (Charles Gift) in the GreenStage
production of Henry VIII.
The first show of the day was Othello by the Young Shakespeare Workshop, directed by Darren Ley. Weisenheimer set out to watch this play. However, they did a full-on Othello at 2 1/2 hours; they did it in the round, which often made it very difficult to hear; and they did it under some big cedar trees, where it was damned cold this morning! I bailed out for a sunnier spot.

We sat in the sun for the GreenStage production of Henry VIII, directed by Teresa Thuman. There is plenty of court intrigue and power playing during the show, and we were especially taken in by the accusation and trial of Queen Katherine of Aragon because of the electrifying performances of Erin Day as the Queen and Michael D. Blum as Cardinal Wolsey. Daniel Guttenberg as King Henry and Alyssa Kay were strong as well, and the entire cast turned in super performances.

Henry VIII is not produced very often. In fact Day, who serves as artistic director for GreenStage, said after the performance that they've been wondering if this production isn't the first time its ever been staged professionally in the state. Get out and see it this summer.

Curtain call for the cast of Hansel and Gretel.
The 5 p.m. show was Theater Schmeater's production of Hansel and Gretel, directed by Julia Griffin. I missed it Saturday but my Sweetie saw it and reported it was good. I caught it today and it lived up to Grimm's reputation of "frightening children for hundreds of years." This production frightened this adult, too; set after the original story, the witch is remodeling, which means two of the characters are incompetent contractors from the "Short and Sweet Building Company." Having survived a home remodel last year, we have sympathy for the witch.

Amelia Meckler was great as the migraine-plagued witch, Jay Irwin a hoot as H&G's mom Betty Knott, and Monica Wulzen and Nathan Pringle (a chip off the old block) played the title characters. The Schmee as usual delivered fun for all ages.

Wrapping up the festival on the set of Twelfth Night.
The festival rounded out with the production of Twelfth Night by Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O, directed by Makaela Pollock. This was a highly entertaining show featuring Emily Chisholm and Matthew Gilbert as the "twins" Viola/Cesario and Sebastian, Connor Toms as Duke Orsino, Emily Grogan as Olivia, and George Mount as Malvolio. A special shout-out to Justin Huertas, who relished the role of Feste the fool, and the dizzying array of props and costumes at his disposal.

It was a most entertaining festival, and on Sunday we weren't able to attend all of the plays, missing Balagan Theatre's Sally and Thor Save the World (at Summer Camp), Shakespeare Northwest's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Jet City Improv's The Lost Folio, all of which played across the way at the Museum stage.

Not to worry, all of these will be playing at multiple venues through the rest of the summer. Check their websites for dates, times, and places of a show near you. We're lucky to have such great outdoor theater options all summer long!

Disclaimer: Weisenheimer is doing marketing work for GreenStage, but it doesn't make me biased!

Great day! Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival, day one

The Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival is like Christmas, or maybe the World Series. Don't plan any other events during that time, because my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I are booked.

Saturday was the first day of this year's festival, and all three productions we attended hit the mark.

The cast of The Winter's Tale Saturday at Volunteer Park.
The first show of the day was The Winter's Tale, performed by the Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O and directed by Mary Machala. My Sweetie isn't crazy about this particular text, but enjoyed what they did with it. I think it's a cool story, and this production featured marvelous performances all around.

Especially fabulous was Therese Diekhans, who as Paulina did some boisterous lecturing of King Leontes. Look up "speak truth to power" in the dictionary and you'll find Paulina's picture there, as she calls the king a dolt for his obsessive jealously. We also loved her in recent turns as Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor and as Volumnia in Coriolanus, both at Seattle Shakes.

Speaking of stubborn idiot kings, Mike Dooly and Michael Patten were super as Polixenes and Leontes, and we loved David Quicksall as Antigonus and especially as the pickpocket and swindler Autolycus. The Winter's Tale is a super production.

I missed Theater Schmeater's production of Hansel and Gretel, as I was doing a stint in the festival's information booth. Mostly we informed people of where the restrooms are (two choices: behind the stage or in the red-roofed building) and what play was next, though we did get one question about what exactly a goatee is. For the record, we got it wrong, but from here on out we'll know that a goatee is technically a beard just on the chin with no mustache.

Anyway, armed with that knowledge I'll see H&G on Sunday and report back, but my Sweetie enjoyed it!

Action shot! Kate (Allison Standley) lands a good punch
during a fight with Petruchio (Tom Dewey) during The
Taming of the Shrew Saturday at Volunteer Park.
The evening was closed out by The Taming of the Shrew, produced by GreenStage and directed by Mark "Mok" Moser. The play had a good-sized audience laughing throughout. Tom Dewey and Allison Standley played the protagonists Petruchio and Kate. Their acrobatic fight scenes were great, and both proved pretty handy with a whip. (Crack!) Nick Edwards was a riot as Grumio, Petruchio's dim-witted and frequently flogged servant. Really, the entire cast of 10 actors were fantastic.

You don't want to miss Shrew--my Sweetie expects we'll watch it many more times this summer.

The Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival wraps up Sunday with seven more shows starting at 11 a.m.; the complete schedule is on the website for GreenStage, which produces the festival. We'll see you out at Volunteer Park. Or, if you want to catch The Taming of the Shrew, it plays in Seward Park at 7 p.m., and Winter's Tale will be on Sunday evening at 7:00 at Luther Burbank Park.

Disclaimer: Weisenheimer is doing marketing work for GreenStage, but it doesn't make me biased!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Back in the saddle

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last blog post.

OK, it has been about six minutes, but before that it was six months! And let's face it, in the last year there have only been six posts on Weisenheimer. Two of those were about 14/48 and two more about the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival; this is sort of like blogging about how much you love Christmas. One of the other posts was even more directly Christmas related, as it was about cartoon poop. This means that our only post in the last 12 months that was not about the greatest thing ever was about a dumb-ass production of Alladin at the 5th Avenue Theater.

I wouldn't think this would be such a disaster for anyone except for a couple of incidents in the last two weeks.

Daniel Guttenberg stars as Henry VIII
in the GreenStage production this
summer. Go see a play!
First, at a preview party announcing the 2012-13 season for Balagan Theatre, a loyal reader (and he may well be the only one, as Ma Weisenheimer is not a consumer of the Internet) lamented the lack of recent posts and opined that he missed our writing very much. A few days later, while proofreading the summer program for GreenStage, we noticed that Janessa Jayne Styck, who is the costume designer for the company's production of Henry VIII, lists in her bio that she received the Wisey Award for her 2009 design of costumes for A Comedy of Errors.

We haven't even DONE the Wiseys for a couple of years (busy, busy, busy), though I think that last year Live! From the Last Night of My Life by Wayne Rawley and starring Ryan Higgins may well have swept, unless the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of The Imaginary Invalid worked its way in there somehow.

By the way, the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival is coming up July 14-15 at Volunteer Park. I'm doing marketing these days for GreenStage, which produces the festival, but it doesn't make be biased to say that it's going to be great. And I'm still on the board at Balagan, which is doing Avenue Q, Next to Normal, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and August: Osage County for its upcoming season. It doesn't make me biased to say that you should buy season tickets to see these shows.

There. That's two posts in a day. We now return you to your regular programming.


Diane Schuur rolled into Seattle and kicked some butt with two dynamite sets Friday night at Jazz Alley. It was great to have my socks knocked off by Schuur, one of my favorite musical artists. The last time we'd seen her, a 2009 show at the same venue, we were underwhelmed. I'm happy to report that the previous dud was probably just an off night, as Schuur and band were fantastic on Friday.

The early set opened with a pair of tunes from Schuur's 2011 album "The Gathering," a collection of country classics: "Today I Started Loving You Again" and the Patsy Cline tune "Why Can't He Be You?" She also covered the Etta James signature song "At Last."

For me, the highlight of the first set was a spectacular performance of the Chuck Mangione composition "Land of Make Believe" that must have gone on for 15 minutes. I'm writing this on Tuesday evening, and the performance is still rattling around in my head four days after the fact.

The set also featured something new to Schuur shows, at least to my memory; on several tunes, including Stevie Wonder's "As", and Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing", Schuur and sax player Andrew Neu engaged in a brilliant call-and-response with Deedles matching the sax every step of the way.

The opening set also included several Schuur classics: "More Than You Know" from the album "Schuur Fire," an a capella rendition of "Over the Rainbow," and the set-closer "Deedles' Blues."

As great as the first set was, the second blew it away. It featured three tunes from Schuur's 2003 album "Midnight", written and produced by Barry Manilow. "Meet Me, Midnight", "When October Goes", and "Life is Good" all were great. But the highlights of the set were three great jams, on the Miles Davis composition "All Blues", on "The Chicken", and the night's final tune "Love Dance" by Ivan Lins.

Schuur was in fine form, and her band was great. It featured Neu on sax, Tony Moore on drums, and was anchored by Roberto Vally on bass. They just went out and jammed on a half dozen tunes during the evening's two sets, and it was a joy to watch how well they played together.

Between sets my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I contemplated how wrong it was that, on this evening, the brilliant Diane Schuur attracted maybe 100 or so to Jazz Alley--the second set was especially sparsely attended--while a few miles away more than 23,000 watched the Seattle Mariners, who haven't done anything worth a damn for 10 years.

Schuur still has it. Don't miss it the next time she comes to town.