Friday, May 30, 2014

Julia Jordan and Steve Levitt

I've referenced this keynote address by Julia Jordan to the 2011 Dramatists Guild conference many times, most recently Thursday night vs. the usual "we live in a meritocracy" crew:


"...Women dominate theater in high school and college. About the same numbers pursue graduate playwriting degrees - 50-50. Agents rep under 40% female clients... theaters report 30% of scripts submitted by females. And then theaters in turn produce just under 20%. That's what happens to female writers - attrition. 
Intelligent educated aware people are still talking about "merit." That artistic directors need to choose work based on their assessment of merit alone. Does that mean that if an artistic director is convinced that work by white artists is inherently superior to work by artists of color that he or she has the right to run a non-profit, tax-free, grant-receiving theater for white artists only? Can we not see through history how incredibly crappy human beings are at determining merit? 
(laughter, applause) 
I looked at the Broadway season a hundred years ago, I didn't recognize one title and I recognized only one name. And I'm a theater nut. The wrong movie wins the best Oscar all the time - we know this. Arguing about merit is silly..."
I was in the audience for this speech - it isn't clear from the video but Jordan got a standing ovation at the end.

Ironically, she mentioned getting help from Steven Levitt whom I think is an asshole - and Krugman recently noted the sheer arrogance of Levitt and Freakonomics:
Noah Smith isn’t very happy with Steve Levitt, who thinks he was being smart by telling David Cameron that he should scrap the NHS and let the magic of the marketplace deal with health care. Strangely, Cameron wasn’t impressed. 
I think there are actually several things going on here. One is a Levitt-specific, or maybe Freakonomics-specific, effect: the belief that a smart guy can waltz into any subject and that his shoot-from-the-hip assertions are as good as the experts’. Remember, Levitt did this on climate in his last book, delivering such brilliant judgements as the assertion that because solar panels are black (which they actually aren’t), they’ll absorb heat and make global warming worse. So it’s true to form that he would consider it unnecessary to pay attention to the work of lots of health economists, or for that matter the insights of Ken Arrow, and assert that hey, I don’t see any reason not to trust markets here.
What this teaches us is: it's a small world, especially for the upper classes, and two, nobody's perfect.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Two degrees of Al Franken

I realized that Al Franken's son Joe is on Linked In, so I requested to connect to him and he accepted! Weee I am two degrees of Al Franken! Not that I ever expect to actually meet Joe, let alone Al, but I just like the concept.

I've blogged about Franken here many times - he was a huge influence on my early teen years via Saturday Night Live which I loved when it first aired. It took me years to realize how much Franken's political input shaped SNL in the early days. And it became a much less political, and less funny after Franken left.

What really made me appreciate Franken was the way he went after Rush Limbaugh. His best-seller "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" was published in 1996, almost twenty years ago.

Thanks to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, getting laughs at the expense of the right-wing media seems perfectly unremarkable, but it was Franken who did it first. The extreme right didn't really dominate broadcast media until the Fairness Doctrine was struck down in 1987, so cable and radio talk shows were pretty tame politically, before then. It didn't take long for the right to take full advantage of the end of government-mandated reasonability. And once they started to fill the airwaves with Republican talking points and hate, comedians like Franken were among the first to take note. I like to think of comedians as an early-warning system against extremism.

To this day, the only book that had an index that could make me laugh aloud is Franken's Limbaugh book (see excerpt of below.) He's a genius. I have an autographed copy of the book, which I got from attending a personal appearance by Franken in Cherry Hill NJ not long after it was published.

And in case you are wondering what Franken's Bacon number is, it's 2.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bitter Gertrude

I was aware of the blogger called Bitter Gertrude awhile ago because I thought this post was bullshit - I haven't seen anything like what she claims in submissions to the various NYCPlaywrights calls for scripts. And anybody who knows the work of Neil Simon realizes that the reactive main character that she decided is exclusively a female failing in fact is not.

But an actor friend pointed me to the blog again and I generally agree with BG and she includes many a pro-feminist rant which of course I love.

In general BG is a much more tolerant person than I am when it comes to dealing with social media assholes. I know this because in this post she admits to having a discussion with someone she knows about the ghastly thing he posted to Facebook:
During the event, he posted a picture of a beautiful Black woman– surely another parent or relative (because who else goes to school plays?)– in a fit-and-flare leopard print dress with short sleeves, a modest neckline, and a hem that hits just above the knee. She was also wearing boots and a vintage-inspired updo. It was a secretly taken picture. She is smiling. She looks beautiful.
His comment on the picture was that her outfit is not appropriate for a “jr high play (sic),” but more appropriate for a club “or, better yet, a street corner.” He secretly took a picture of another parent at a school event, posted it online, and called her a whore. The wind was just . . . knocked out of me.
Several people called him out. The first few posts were all curious, on the order of “What? That outfit looks fine to me,” or “Why?” Mine was a little more detailed. I agreed with the other commenters that there was nothing wrong with the outfit, and that I’ve taught in similar outfits, although animal prints are not my personal style. I told him that it’s never appropriate behavior to post a secretly taken picture of a woman–a fellow parent at a school event!– that includes her face and calls her a whore, no matter what your opinion is of her outfit.
He reacted angrily. He said that my comments were “subtext crap” and refused to admit that his behavior was inappropriate in any way. He told me I needed to stop being “every females champion (sic).” He told me “If you don’t like it, that’s not my problem.” He told me, “I’m not apologizing for voicing my opinion.” He told me “I’m not going to sit here and have you ridicule me for voicing my opinion.” (Of course I wasn’t actually ridiculing him in any way, merely stating the things I’ve posted above.) He told me, “I thought you were a better friend than that.”
I kept thinking: why didn't you just block him? I mean seriously this is a hard-core asshole. She keeps insisting she wasn't ridiculing him. Well maybe that's the problem - he needs to be ridiculed because he's an asshole.

And then this well-justified complaint about Lena Dunham's just-a-little-girl-with-podiatry-issues photo, which demonstrates BG has another asshole friend on social media who needs a good blocking:
In the facebook discussion leading up to this post, I was told by an older man that my “style of criticism” was “over the top.” Whenever women speak out, whenever women claim our own power, whenever women voice an opinion without a meek “Well, it’s just my opinion,” someone is there to tell us we’re wrong for it. Often, we do it ourselves. This training runs deep.
It's possible that some of my Facebook friends hold such beliefs about my "style of criticism" and just know enough not to say anything. 

Certainly there is a social price to pay for a woman daring to criticize, as many women find out. My own personal experience includes criticizing bad independent movie director Andrew Bellware's exploitive casting practices - in return he - with the full approval of his gang of theater buddies (male and female) - attacked me personally, libeled me, and subjected me to months of search-string obscenities

None of Bellware's theater friends, as far as I have ever been able to discern, has a problem with his activities. Seriously - if you look at his Facebook profile he has lots and lots of buddies in the New York theater scene who think he's just swell. And I mean, Bellware is becoming famous as a bad movie maker. You really have to wonder what's in it for these NYC theater people to publicly support such a creep.

Although my interactions with Bellware haven't been completely negative  - his movie Angry Planet inspired the "space cowboy" mentioned in the publicity for JULIA & BUDDY. And this parody, which I admit, still cracks me up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

J&B Makeover

As a result of consulting with Jay, the MITF marketing guy I've completely rethought the graphic approach to the JULIA & BUDDY production as can be seen here.

Jay didn't like the tag line "love, dysfunction and philosophy" - he felt that "love, dysfunction" is overused, which came as a big surprise to me. He also didn't feel that name-dropping Schopenhauer was especially helpful. So I now refer to him as a "dead German philosopher." Jay liked that, along with the space cowboy and secret affair.

I do feel sorry about using my lovely poster graphic, which I worked on for hours and hours. But it's too subdued and romantic to use in promotion - although the play is romantic, comedy sells better, allegedly, than romance, so I made the design more comedic with the little icons.

And frankly people seem to prefer crass over class when it comes to theater productions, especially for a festival like MITF.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Seen in Astoria

You get to do some sight-seeing while you're running around Astoria. The Socrates Sculpture Park usually has something especially interesting to see, and right now they have an interesting sculpture called Queen Mother of Reality which looks like a reclining Buddha to me. I took a picture:


You can walk around inside of it, as the little girl to the right of the woman in the center of the photo demonstrates.

Here we see a free yoga class in the sculpture garden. I've recently begun yoga practice but haven't made it a regular routine yet. I'm still trying to figure out all of the poses, and all the yoga classes I've taken so far seem to assume you know them, and more importantly, how to assume the poses quickly. My daughter recommended this Basic Yoga Workout for Dummies video to me, and it is surprisingly good.


And down the street from the sculpture garden we see the work of a street muralist whose ambition it is, apparently, to be sued by all the entertainment lawyers.



Sunday, May 25, 2014

Drama Guild Stuff

I love Theresa Rebeck - she's one of the few well-known playwrights who consistently calls bullshit on the current situation of women's work being under-represented in the theater. This is from the latest issue of "The Dramatists" - the publication sent to members of the Dramatists Guild:
...So, of all the Dramatists Guild members working on Broadway this season, 10.7 percent were women, and 89.3 percent were men. Of all the new plays produced on Broad- way, 100 percent were written by white men, and zero percent were written by women of any color. 100 percent men, zero percent women.

Meanwhile, it seems that women are coming to Broadway to see plays and musicals in record numbers. In The New York Times March 29, 2014, (“In Audiences on Broadway, Fewer Guys Among theDolls”) Patrick Healy informs us that 68 percent of the Broadway audience is women and 32 percent is men. Broadway attendance is down in general, though. So guess who everyone is trying to lure into those seats? Why that’s right: MEN.

“Women drive Broadway sales,” Healy reports. “Though successful shows often depend on them to wrangle their husbands or boyfriends.” Say what? “Successful shows often depend?” Honestly that sounds a little like CNN, where the newscasters keep telling me that the debris in the ocean may or may not be wreckage from that poor lost plane.

Let’s not quibble. To me, the important part of that whole article really does seem to be the part where everyone acknowledges “women drive Broadway sales.” Women drive Broadway sales! Men are falling by the wayside but women are loyal fans!

But wait. “Women are the low-hanging fruit,” says publicist Michele Groner.

Gay men—the article goes on to explain—are considered “a reliable Broadway demographic.” But women? They’re “low-hanging fruit.” Is this related to the question of why Broadway remains so entrenched in an inability to actually hire women writers? It’s possible. “Women are low hanging fruit” sounds like you’ve got them anyway, so you don’t have to hire them or program for them. Even when the programming is there, the creative positions are not. As of now, the few shows that are clearly geared toward that female audience are writ- ten by men, by the same heavily skewed percentages. Even when they look to program to women, producers hire men.

It’s like politics, or Wall Street, or corporate headquarters. The closer you get to power and money, the more the women get shoved aside...
 Speaking of careers in the theater, it turns out I've never gotten around to upgrading to full Membership in the Dramatists Guild even though I've been qualified for at least eleven years, since the qualification is:
...a writer must have either had work professionally produced or published by an established publisher. Professional production is no longer defined by the size of the theatre but simply by whether tickets were sold to the public. 
I've certainly done a bit of self-producing, which I'm not sure counts, but that's OK because Oliver Butler's company Co-founder produced my play BLESSINGS OF THE SUN GOD as part of their Chemical Imbalance series in 2003. I'm pretty sure that qualifies.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

OUR TOWN v. VIRGINIA WOOLF

Bruce Barton, Winnie the Pooh,
Nick Fondulis in POOH STORY
I've been having various theater-related debates online lately. There is a considerable population in the playwrights world who believe we live in a meritocracy and that's why a disproportionate number of plays produced are written by men - because men just write better plays.

What's interesting about the merit argument is that there's little agreement on what makes a good play. This really hit me when someone in a playwrights discussion thread declared that Edward Albee doesn't write bad plays. While I can go along with the idea that Albee's plays are certainly adequate as plays by any objective standard, I don't like his work at all. I find it generally boring and pointless. I think ZOO STORY is silly and wrote a parody of it. I also got in some digs at another Albee play in the middle of POOH STORY:
LEE  
(talking to Pooh)  

But what about Piglet? What’s that you say? Piglet never existed? Piglet was just a fantasy we shared, out of our deep deep love for each other in the face of emasculated suburban ennui and alcoholism? Nooooo! 

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is pretty much a complete waste of time. I rented the Taylor/Burton movie version before I became a playwright and turned the video off before the end because I was so bored - why do I want to watch a bunch of drunks bicker and say mean things to each other? Once I became a playwright I felt it was my duty to get through the whole play, and I still wasn't impressed. Their kid was just imaginary. Oh. OK. Well that's the kind of pointless thing a couple of hopeless alcoholics would do. So what? They couldn't have kids? Well maybe that's just as well, I can't imagine a kid would have it very easy with a couple of nasty drunkards for parents.

And the funny thing is, not even people who like the play agree about it. I'd been told that the ending of VIRGINIA WOOLF was hopeful - it showed they loved each other. I was told by someone on the playwrights discussion thread that the end of the play showed that nothing was ever going to get any better - and he was a big fan of the play.

On the other hand I think that OUR TOWN is one of the best plays ever written, and Emily's post-mortem scene never fails to make me cry. And a couple of people on the playwrights discussion thread said how boring OUR TOWN is and how much they hated it.

So there you go - not everybody likes OUR TOWN and not everybody likes VIRGINIA WOOLF - and yet both are considered classics of the theater. So if there is no agreement on plays that are standards in the repertoire, how unlikely is it that people will agree on the quality of new plays? Very unlikely, I think.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Did I ever mention how much I hate CT scans?

Let's get the definition out of the way first:
Computerized tomography (CT scan) — also called CT — combines a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles and computer processing to create cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body... 
How you prepare for a CT scan depends on which part of your body is being scanned. You may be asked to:
  • Take off some or all of your clothing and wear a hospital gown.
  • Remove any metal objects, such as a belt or jewelry, which might interfere with image results.
  • Stop eating for a few hours before your scan.
Contrast material
A special dye called a contrast material is needed for some CT scans, to help highlight the areas of your body being examined. The contrast material blocks X-rays and appears white on images, which can help emphasize blood vessels, intestines or other structures.
Contrast material can enter your body in a variety of ways:

  • Oral. If your esophagus or stomach is being scanned, you may need to swallow a liquid that contains contrast material. This drink may taste unpleasant.
  • Injection. Contrast agents can be injected through a vein in your arm, to help view your gallbladder, urinary tract, liver or blood vessels. You may experience a feeling of warmth during the injection or a metallic taste in your mouth.
I had to have a post-op CT scan and I've been dreading it - so much that I had an appointment several weeks ago and I cancelled at the last minute because I hate it so much.

For some reason I have to do both methods of contrast material and both of them are horrible. You have to drink like a quart of "unpleasant liquid." And the injection, while less physically unpleasant is much more creepy - you are hooked up to a bag of dye that they shoot through your veins and it makes your coochie warm - and this is while they are shoving you back and forth through the donut hole of the tomography equipment and telling you to hold your breath.

If you've ever had a CT scan you know what I mean. It is a thoroughly unpleasant experience, but I took the day off from work today and made myself go through with it.

So I had to sit in my insurance company's mandated imaging center, which is overcrowded, cold and filled with the inescapable blare of some awful live audience morning TV show, while drinking two heaping glasses full of the oral contrast solution. So 90 minutes into this scenario the CT technician comes out and says:

Anybody who is here for a CT scan please be aware that the machine has broken down. It will take at least two hours for the technician to get here to look at it, and even then there is no guarantee that it will be fixed by the end of the day.

Well I was out of there like a shot. No way I was going to sit in that hell hole on the off-chance that I would get the goddam CT scan. So now I have to drink another quart of that horrible stuff when I go somewhere else - and I don't care if my insurance company doesn't like it - to get a CT scan. Some place that doesn't use broke down old pieces of equipment.

Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seen around the office...

The view from the penthouse
 
View through the atrium skylight
Seen down the street


Workplace selfie

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BBG Membership

Finally got around to getting an annual Brooklyn Botanic Garden Membership, which means I can get into the BBG for free any time. If I manage to make time to get there - I think the last time I was there was the 4th of July 2011 - much too long.

This is my favorite page on their web site - a directory of all the mini-gardens within the larger botanic garden. So much beauty to choose from! I'm a fan of the Shakespeare Garden, of course, but I'm also partial to Japanese gardens, and the one at the BBG has the well-hidden shrine of Inari which I love. But then the rose garden is an alternative reality of roses...

I'm seriously thinking of moving to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn on the western boundary, Washington Street, which is right across the street from the BBG.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hedwig crew

Saw Hedwig - it was great!

This is the fourth version of Hedwig that I've seen - the other three are:

The Jane Street production back in the late 90s starring Michael Cerveris - I've also seen Cerveris in SWEENEY TODD and just this year in FUN HOME.

An American high school production in the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival starring I have no idea.

The movie starring Hedwig's creator John Cameron Mitchell.

 NPH was great of course and the production values were amazing. But I have to say, the Jane Street version was so intimate and in-your-face that it will probably always be my favorite.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The night of the Hedwig

Yes May 18 is H-day!

I was amused and gratified to learn that I'm not the only one who thought that Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) was the perfect choice to play Hedwig.

This Rolling Stone article reveals that the Hedwig team itself is in complete agreement with me - and in fact they wanted NPH for the role so much that they waited years, postponing the production, in order to have him:
Binder: We always wanted Neil — always. It was an ongoing discussion with him for years. But Neil was on a TV show that he had committed to, and then three years ago he had the twins. It took us a long, long time. He wanted to do it, but he just had obligations — personal ones and professional ones. I mean, he has twins! It really became a waiting game.  
Mitchell: There were other actors who we knew would be great but they had a really strong instinct about Neil. I had known him socially enough to say hello to over the years; he came to Hedwig and it was intense for him. It was the antithesis of L.A. in some ways — it was dirty and ugly and messy, and I could see his eyes glowing. But that was 15 years ago. So when they suggested him, I thought that was a fascinating idea. We were basically on a death watch for How I Met Your Mother, because there was no way he could do it with the show.  
Mayer: He's got all of these amazing skills that work so brilliantly for this: the acting, the singing, the dancing. He's an incredible host, and Hedwig is sort of the host for the evening. Neil's great at improvising — we've seen him do that at the Tony Awards — so he's got that great rapport with the audience. I just loved Neil's integrity as an artist, and his bravery as a gay artist. I had an instinct that this would give him an opportunity to just dig into parts of himself that he's never needed to access before for his work.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

JULIA & BUDDY - we finally have a schedule!

Well after my big to-do about Dorothy Strelsin it turns out that JULIA & BUDDY will be performed in the Jewel Box Theater of the Workshop Theater Company - which is where the one-act 2010 version was performed.

But at least we have a schedule now...

Performance 1 - Thursday, July 17, 6 PM
Performance 2 - Friday, July 18, 9 PM
Performance 3 - Saturday, July 19, 3 PM
Performance 4 - Sunday, July 27, 4:30 PM
Performance 5 - Saturday, August 2, 5 PM

Unfortunately every member of my dream team answered a definite maybe, must check schedule when I asked if they're available for the show. Hopefully I will know soon. Sigh.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Only 2 more days until Hedwig time!

That's right, it's time for Neil Patrick Harris's version of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH! My daughter, daughter-outlaw and some friends are all going this Sunday! I bought the tickets in February and at long last Hedwig time is here!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My medieval arsenal

I'm doing some hard-core spring cleaning this year and decided to get rid of my medieval arsenal. I've been schlepping these swords from apartment to apartment since the last TAM LIN production, which was 9 years ago.

Since I'm unlikely to produce any plays that needs swords in the near future (or probably ever) I decided to give them away. They need a little cleaning and polishing, but what do you want for free?

Actually, I'm giving the longest sword, the one in the middle, to Troy Acree who played the role of Lord Aberdeen in TAM LIN. In the play the sword was called "Murgatroyd" and Aberdeen had special fondness for it. Obviously, since he named it. Troy was thrilled to be offered the sword.

I also have a groovy pair of riding boots from my JANE EYRE production to give away. If only I knew somebody who could fit them...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

O PAIS KALOS*


I blogged about this man almost a year ago. I mentioned in that blog post that the guy, now in his late 40s, was at age 25 the sexiest man in the world, even sexier than my dear Earl, whom I met a few years after this guy.

But it wasn't especially credible given the quality of the photo and his regrettably receding hairline.

For the past 20 years I've wished I had a good photo of him from his most pulchritudinous period, just for the pure aesthetic thrill of it.

And behold! The guy posted this recently on his Facebook page. It's a college photo from 1988, three years before I met him. This gives some idea of his mind-boggling beauty. By the time I met him, he'd only grown more beautiful - filled out just a tiny bit more. But he wasn't only beautiful, he was the whole package - funny and smart and liked good art and music and literature. And had a tiny gold stud in his ear. And had a cat. And he could do impressions. For some reason I adore men who can do impressions, dialects, accents.

And you can see the not insignificant resemblance to the young Harrison Ford. Just looking at this image causes memory aftershocks of that first cataclysmic sight of him.

Meeting him and working with him in the same small room for 6 months completely rocked my world. I've certainly had my share of unrequited or unavailable love since then, but nothing compares to what this guy did to my erotic Weltanschauung.

Look at him. You cannot possibly blame me for it.
*"O PAIS KALOS" or sometimes just "KALOS" was an inscription that frequently appeared on ancient Greek vases and means "the boy is beautiful."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mammals vs. Snakes in King Lear

That's the theme of KING LEAR - mammals vs. snakes. And it is presented in many ways - the roles are evenly divided between mammals and snakes.

Mammals
Snakes
Lear
Cordelia
King of France
Kent
Edgar
Albany
Gloucester
The servant who stabs Cornwall  
Goneril
Regan
Edmund
Cornwall
Oswald
Duke of Burgundy
Edmund's henchman

I left the Fool out of this dichotomy - I think all of Shakespeare's fools are sort of neutral - they comment on the action but don't participate in the action. Although the fact that the snakes hang the Fool would tend to align him with the mammals.

Not only do snakes scheme to hurt the mammals, they scheme against their snake allies too. And that is the weakness of the snakes - they are utterly lacking in personal integrity and loyalty and so don't truly have anybody. The mammals have each other - most clearly shown when Lear and Cordelia are captured and take solace in each other's company.

 The weakness of the mammals is that they are not always scheming to gain advantage over others, and so they can be ridiculously oblivious to the machinations of the snakes, Which Edmund explicitly states about his brother Edgar:

A credulous father! and a brother noble,  
Whose nature is so far from doing harms, 
That he suspects none: on whose foolish honesty 
My practises ride easy! I see the business. 
Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit: 
All with me's meet that I can fashion fit.

This obliviousness is considered a sign of stupidity and weakness by the snakes, and they exploit it as much as possible.

It's interesting to contrast the marriages of the two evil daughters. Regan is married to Cornwall - they are both snakes, and so their marriage is harmonious because they completely understand each other. They make an efficient team when it comes to punishing Gloucester, until a servant intrudes and kills Cornwall. And in the production I saw on Saturday, by the Titan Theatre Company, the director's choice makes Regan more cold-blooded than in the original script. In the original, when Cornwall is mortally injured, Regan takes his arm and leads him off-stage. In this production she exits by herself, leaving him to die. It was always my impression that Goneril was the more evil of the two sisters. In the original script Goneril poisons Regan and then when confronted by Albany goes off and kills herself. In the Titan version the poisoned Regan uses her last ounce of strength to shoot Goneril.

Goneril, a snake, is married to Albany, a mammal, and so it's an unhappy marriage, once Albany finally gets a clue. Goneril holds Albany in perfect contempt because he isn't a manipulator or schemer. She insults his manhood frequently. And at first Albany appears to be completely oblivious to his wife's true nature. When Goneril reduces the number of Lear's retainers and he starts to freak out, Albany sides with Goneril out of "the great love I bear you." By the end of the play she will be plotting to kill Albany so she can hook up with Edmund.

Albany finally does wake up to the true nature of his wife but it takes something pretty big to do it - after she and Regan turn Lear out into the cold:
O Goneril!
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face. I fear your disposition:
That nature, which contemns its origin,
Cannot be border'd certain in itself;
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use.
Snake that she is, Goneril scoffs at his metaphor on the nature of ungrateful children.

You do have to wonder how Albany could have married Goneril without any idea of the person she is. But King Lear is even worse - somehow he has raise three daughters without knowing their true natures. The early big scene where Lear disinherits Cordelia is so iconic because such injustices happen all the time and almost everybody can think of a situation in their life when a manipulative smooth-talking flatterer has gotten their way, while the honest non-flatterers are scorned, as both Kent and Cordelia are by Lear.

One of the satisfactions of KING LEAR is that Lear discovers very early on what a huge mistake he made. In real life people sometimes take years to discover their error - sometimes they never even discover it but just roll along being played for a fool, in the very nest of snakes. Meanwhile those who truly loved them are cast out.

The play demonstrates how idiotic Lear was to cut off all communication with Cordelia - if he hadn't been so extreme in his response to her honest criticism and refusal to flatter him he would have had her aid sooner. How much anguish could be spared if people would only communicate with each other.

The King Lear character isn't only a fool though - one of the interesting bits that Shakespeare throws in during Lear's madness is that Lear learns wisdom when his sufferings provoke empathetic insight:
Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just.
And of course Lear redeems himself later by acknowledging his error to Cordelia, and of course she forgives him because even though he treated her so unjustly she still loved him all along. Mammals tend to have a hard time letting people go, once they have loved them. The tragedy is that Lear doesn't see it sooner, as events will prove.

Shakespeare suggests that not only mammals can find redemption, but even snakes may do so. Unfortunately the Titan production left out the part where Edmund has an eleventh-hour change of heart - I assume it was left out for the sake of shortening LEAR down to a two-hour playing time, but it's a real shame. It makes the dichotomy of snakes vs. mammals even more extreme. It also reduces the dramatic tension a bit. This is what the production left out:
   EDMUND
I pant for life: some good I mean to do,
Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send,
Be brief in it, to the castle; for my writ
Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia:
Nay, send in time.
   ALBANY
Run, run, O, run!
   EDGAR
To who, my lord? Who hath the office? send
Thy token of reprieve.
   EDMUND
Well thought on: take my sword,
Give it the captain.
   ALBANY
Haste thee, for thy life. 
Exit EDGAR
   EDMUND
He hath commission from thy wife and me
To hang Cordelia in the prison, and
To lay the blame upon her own despair,
That she fordid herself.
   ALBANY
The gods defend her! Bear him hence awhile.
So for a moment it looks like Cordelia might be saved by Edmund's confession, but it is too late and Lear enters with the dead Cordelia.

Shakespeare makes an important point about learning to tell the difference between mammals and snakes. But how rarely do people heed the lesson.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

KING LEAR and a big frickin Unisphere

I've never been to Flushing Meadows to see the Unisphere and I have never seen a live version of KING LEAR, so when my actor pal (and Facebook friend) Brad invited me to see him in LEAR I decided to go - I finally got around to it on its closing weekend.

Getting there was easy - I just grabbed a cab and it took twenty minutes - I was dropped off right in front of the theater.

But getting home was a schlep. You can't just go outside and hail a cab at the Queens Theater, you have to walk half a mile to the 7 train. Which turned out to be OK because after today's rains it was a lovely warm night and I got to see the Unisphere in person. I've seen photos of course, but it's very different being there - its massiveness has to be experienced to be believed. To get an idea of how big it is you can click on the photo and see the tiny little people on the ground under it.

According to Wiki the Unisphere is 12 stories high, but it's so much more impressive than a 12-story building because it doesn't sit on a solid square dug-in foundation, it's a globe balancing on a doohickey - I don't know what you call the thing it balances on but it looks very precarious. And seeing it lit up at night was also very nice.

I enjoyed KING LEAR too - I didn't agree with all of the director's choices, but that's typical. The biggest choice I disagreed with was to stick the cast into modern business wear and business casual. I hate it when Shakespeare is done in modern dress. I realize it's a huge cost savings (believe me, I know from costume costs) but one of the rare times you get to see men in outrageously decorative ensembles is pre-20th c. Starting in the late 1800s men's clothing became extremely drab. Not that I dislike a well-tailored suit with contrasting vest on a man, that's very nice. But it's nothing compared to the apparel of old.

And making it modern dress led to guns being used as weapons instead of swords - although they did resort to a knife fight between Edmund and Edgar. Sword fights are always cooler looking than gun fights - certainly on stage.

I didn't see much point to the scene changes in which low gray stone walls were moved into different configurations. It didn't seem to add anything to setting the scenes.

And maybe I've been spoiled by watching so many BBC productions of Shakespeare, but not all the actors in this production seemed to be aware of what they were saying - their acting was on two levels - face acting and dialog acting, and oftentimes the dialog acting was sort of like commentary on the emotions being portrayed by the face, rather than a synergistic whole.

The real stand-out in the show, in my opinion is Brendan Marshall-Rashid, who played Edgar, and this was in part due to the fact that he really seemed to understand what he was saying, in addition to his amazing, resonant voice and his agile and subtle emotional expressivity. The other actors were all at least better-than-competent, but Marshall-Rashid is a true Shakespearean.

I can't really fault the director for leaving out the Duke of Burgundy - he's the rival of the King of France for Cordelia's hand, but he rejects Cordelia once he finds out she no longer comes with a dowry. But he's there because the play's main theme is good people vs. bad people, or what I like to call mammals vs. snakes. Burgundy is a snake, France is a mammal. And mammals are at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with snakes, best explained by Edmund's dialog about his brother Edgar, the purest example of snake vs. mammal in the play:
A credulous father! and a brother noble,  
Whose nature is so far from doing harms, 
That he suspects none: on whose foolish honesty 
My practises ride easy! I see the business. 
Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit: 
All with me's meet that I can fashion fit.
The good guys in the play except Kent are all fooled by the bad guys and for the same reason that Edgar was fooled by Edmund -  they don't suspect the snakes want to do harm because they themselves don't want to do harm. And although the bad guys all come to harm in the end, the tragedy is what happens to Lear because he rejected Cordelia for his snake-y daughters.

More on this tomorrow.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I survived another 5K race

Robin running the 5K race
I survived the Mother's Day 5K race - it took me about 48 minutes to get around Roosevelt Island - my daughter also ran the 5K and her time was about half mine. They gave all us mothers and daughters pink carnations when we crossed the finish line.

I actually could have done it in under 45 minutes but half-way through the race I came upon a little kid running all by herself. She was officially in the race, she had a runner's number and all, but she couldn't have been more than six years old. You can see her in the picture on the left.

Her name was Robin, and I asked her where her parents were and she said they were far back behind us - I couldn't see anybody back behind us (we were pretty far back in the pack.)

Well what could I do? Granted a kid running by herself around Roosevelt Island isn't in the most dangerous of all possible situations, but still, I couldn't go running off without making sure that she was reunited with the adults in her group. So I kept pace with her - sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, sometimes side-by-side but I never let her out of my sight. She was reasonably fast for a little kid, but still, that did slow me down. I kept asking her to look back and see if she saw her people, but they were still nowhere to be seen.

We chatted a little - I told her she must be very fast to beat the grownups in her group - I suggested she might be ready for the Kid Olympics (no such thing as far as I know.) That seemed to make her happy - little kids love that kind of flattery.

Well about three-quarters of the way through the race I was starting to get worried that we would finish the race before Robin's family showed up, and then I was going to have to wait around until they did finally show up, when Robin calls out - "I see my mom" - and there was her mom - chilling out on a bench next to a baby stroller -  ahead of us. Did this woman just tell her kid to run in the race by herself? Robin's mom thanked me when we reached her, so I guess she did appreciate the babysitting, but she seemed completely calm. This boggled my mind. If I was ever in the great outdoors with my daughter when she was that age I would have freaked the hell out if she was ever out of my sight.

I didn't find out what the story was though, as soon as the kid reach her mom I sprinted off trying to make up for some of the lost time. Alas I never caught up with the 80-year-old (approximately) guy running ahead of me, which had been my ambition before I came upon Robin running by herself.

My time was much better for this race than for the LGBT race in Brooklyn I ran with my daughter last year - although I did have bursitis in my hip and limped across that finish line - and even then didn't come in last place. There are a surprisingly large number of out-of-shape people who participate in these races.

So now it looks like this is going to be a regular thing, running in these 5K races - they seem to happen year-round in the NYC area. Maybe that 80-year-old guy will be in the next race and I will have a chance to beat him again. You just wait, 80-year-old guy!

Waiting to start the race - the start line was next to the Queensborough Bridge. Feelin' groovy!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Mystery of the Islamic Apostate


Why did Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was once a devout Muslim completely reject her religion? Here's a clue:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a household name in Europe. Her story would seem far-fetched if it were fiction. Born in Somalia to a critic of the dictatorship of Siad Barre, her family fled when she was six - first to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia before finally settling in Kenya. There she attended a Saudi-funded religious school and was, in her words, "indoctrinated" into a traditionalist form of Islam. She recalls that she wore a hijab, supported the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie and had a knee-jerk hatred of Jews. Until, that is, she started reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Fascinated by a female character who operated freely in society, Hirsi Ali would later say that the stories played a major role in changing her attitudes towards the West.

Mystery solved -  Nancy Drew freed Hirsi Ali from religious fundamentalism!

I just came upon that fascinating fact today - I had recently mentioned Hirsi Ali because of her role as executive producer of a movie that is critical of anti-woman traditions in Muslim-majority countries - what Social Justice Warriors call "Islamophobic." They used the movie as an excuse to attack Gloria Steinem.

I have such mixed feelings about Hirsi Ali - she's a confirmed atheist, which I very much identify with, but she is Islamaphobic (which is not the same as saying her movie is) and makes common cause with the likes of New Atheist creeps Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Although you can understand why she might feel so strongly against Islam, since her grandmother had female genital mutilation performed on her when she was five, and of course the very real, hard-core misogyny that does infuse Islamic fundamentalism.

And then there are her friends even further to the right of Dawkins and Harris - she works for the American Enterprise Institute and she's married to failed economist Niall Ferguson, of whom Krugman says:
My own unpleasantness with Ferguson began when he tried to weigh in on monetary versus fiscal policy without understanding basic macroeconomics. Later, he tried to critique official inflation numbers without knowing enough about that subject to tell the difference between the experts and the cranks. Now he’s demonstrating, rather embarrassingly, that he doesn’t know how to read CBO reports.
So you have to wonder whether Hirsi Ali is very bright herself, to marry such an arrogant dumbass.

She is wrong about Islam in exactly the same way that Dawkins, Harris and all the other right-wing New Atheists are wrong about Islam - Hirsi Ali demonstrates her wrongness in this Wall Street Journal editorial about the Boko Haram kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls. She gets cause and effect backwards.
So, imagine an angry young man in any Muslim community anywhere in the world. Imagine him trying to establish an association of men dedicated to the practice of the Sunnah (the tradition of guidance from the Prophet Muhammad . Much of the young man's preaching will address the place of women. He will recommend that girls and women be kept indoors and covered from head to toe if they are to venture outside. He will also condemn the permissiveness of Western society. 
What kind of response will he meet? In the U.S. and in Europe, some moderate Muslims might quietly draw him to the attention of authorities. Women might voice concerns about the attacks on their freedoms. But in other parts of the world, where law and order are lacking, such young men and their extremist messages thrive.

Notice what Hirsi Ali does there - she asks the reader to imagine an angry young man in a Muslim community. But why did he become an angry extremist in the first place? What is it about extremism that appeals to him?

What Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and Hirsi Ali and the right-wingers who showed up to try to shut down a mosque, in a blatant rejection of the American principle of freedom of religion, believe is this: Islam, all by itself, turns young men into angry extremists.

They believe this so firmly, and so unquestioningly that they don't even think to explain it explicitly.

But Hirsi Ali herself admits that there are moderate Muslims - if Islam turns young men into angry extremists, how is the existence of moderate Muslims even possible? It never occurs to Hirsi Ali that there is a logical dissonance there. And this logic fail leads her and Dawkins and the others to a simplistic conclusion, although Hirsi Ali doesn't state it in the WSJ op-ed: "all we have to do is get rid of Islam and those angry young Muslim extremists would become happy and content free-thinkers."

It's a very odd feature of New Atheists that they believe so strongly in the all-powerful properties of Islam, that it alone, of all religions, has the power to make young men angry. It's almost as if they believed in sacred texts and magical incantations themselves. And how strange that so many public intellectuals are incapable of considering the complex interactions of socio-economics and history on the demeanor and lifestyle choices of young men.

But back to Nancy Drew - why is she playing the bagpipes in the cover illustration to "The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes"? Because Nancy Drew can do almost anything. She wasn't a super-hero in the strict sense of the term, but close enough for my satisfaction, so from the age of about eight to eleven I devoured every Nancy Drew Mystery I could get my hands on. I dreamed of meeting her author, Carolyn Keene.

And then I discovered that there was no Carolyn Keene - the name was a pseudonym used by a whole bunch of writers!

It's enough to make you lose your religion.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Superstar online

Wow, I'd heard of this early Todd Haynes movie Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story but didn't realize it was available now on Youtube:


I'm a big fan of Haynes' Velvet Goldmine, which features never-more-beautiful Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as well as the inimitable Eddie Izzard. That is not available online for free, but this clip is.





Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The old in-out

HELLCAB publicity photo
The 5K on Roosevelt Island is coming up this Saturday (at the crack of dawn - ugh - what is up with these runner types?) and I have been very bad about training. I have been training - but that means running a few miles once a week.

So I decided that dammit I was going to run home from work every day this week (except for Monday.) I often walk home from work, so why not just run? So that's what I did today and it cut my commuting time in half (walk-commuting, not subway commuting - the N/Q train gets me home in 10 minutes.)

And while I was running I was thinking about my breathing and from there, in my usual morbid way, to poor Nick Mevoli and how he couldn't catch his breath. I blogged about Mevoli eight years ago, when he was the lead in HELLCAB produced by Rising Sun Performance Company. My friend Reagan was in the cast of HELLCAB and invited me to come and see her. As you can see in the blog post, I was very impressed with the production.

Why couldn't Mevoli have stuck to acting? Isn't that scary enough? It sure would be for me.

Instead he decided to try to set the world free-diving record. Free-diving is when fools try to see how deep down into the water they can swim without any underwater breathing  or swimming equipment. His last dive was November 17, 2013, the day before my big operation (yes you can blog from your hospital bed, once the morphine wears off.) According to the NYTimes.
At 12:25 p.m. Sunday, surrounded by 15 other athletes and observers, as well as five safety divers, he turned and submerged, face first and looking like a human arrow shooting into the darkness on what would be the last dive of his life. 
Officials for Vertical Blue, a championship event in the sport of free diving, monitored and announced Mevoli’s progress by sonar, and all was progressing smoothly until he had trouble at 68 meters, or about 223 feet, and seemed to turn back. Yet instead of heading to the surface, he decided to dive down again in an attempt to reach his goal and achieve his second American record. A few of his fellow athletes squirmed with discomfort, recognizing that his decision was a dangerous one. 
“Diving to that depth with no fins, that’s a hard, physical dive,” said Mike Board, the British record-holder. “I was thinking, O.K., he’s going to have a hard time getting up.” 
Still, Mevoli shot to the surface under his own power, after a dive of 3 minutes 38 seconds. That’s when the scene turned nightmarish. 
Mevoli ripped off his goggles, flashed the O.K. sign and attempted to complete the surface protocol that would make his attempt official by saying, “I am O.K.” But he wasn’t. His words were garbled, his eyes wide and blank. He tipped backward into the ocean and lost consciousness, which, while alarming, is not unheard-of in a sport in which almost all the top athletes have lost consciousness at one time or another, though usually for only a few seconds. Mevoli was not so fortunate.
The Times has the gory details of what happened after that, which you can go and read. Basically Mevoli's lungs were too fucked up from the dive to let him breathe properly.

There was a controversy about the story because they ran a photo of Mevoli right after he surfaced, which was just moments before he died and you can see from his face that he is clearly in distress. You can Google for that image if you want, I'm not going to post it.

Mevoli was 32 and was handsome and talented and in great shape. Why was he compelled to risk his life on a regular basis like that? He was the same age as my dear Earl, who was also handsome (well beautiful, really) and talented and in great shape and who also died foolishly - but at least a motorcycle, as dangerous as it is, has a practical purpose of transportation. Free diving has no purpose other than so you can say "hey I dove really deep into the water and I lived to tell about it." If you live to tell about it.

In... out... in... out...

Monday, May 05, 2014

More gossip from work

So when the nasty woman at work confronted me in the company cafeteria, angry because I complained to our manager about her pattern of racist comments, what happened? Besides me not apologizing.

This all went down last October, by the way, but I didn't want to blog about it while the woman was still working at the company. Not that I think she is likely to ever read this blog - she had no interest in anything, as far as I could tell, except for her son's life and money. She was a little too interested in her son's life, actually. Long before my confrontation with her, she had grossed out everybody on the team, during one of our rare team lunches, by telling us that she put magazines with images of Marilyn Monroe around the living room for her son, so he could have someone "classy" to look at - and she didn't get any more explicit than that, but the rest of us knew what she meant - TMI!

Although why she thought a drug-addicted manic-depressive adulterous suicide is classier than your usual woman in a stroke mag is an interesting question.

Anyway, when she got in my face I said something along the lines of how outrageous it was that she should look down on the other people at the Social Security office in Harlem when she was there on behalf of her mother, who had only been paying into the SSI system for the past ten years, having emigrated from Russia, while the people this woman felt she had to hide her gold earrings from had been most likely paying into the SSI system their entire lives. (And mind you, this was on top of her prior statement about how African Americans were not nice like foreign-born black people.)

Her response was not to deny that she was racist, her response was to say that I had to understand that she grew up in Russia and never saw a black person until she was 23-years-old. As if that was an excuse - especially since this woman hadn't been 23 for about twenty-five years.

Well I almost laughed in her face. And eventually she gave up trying to get an apology out of me and went away.

But unfortunately, judging people on the basis of ethnicity or national origin is not unique to this woman. Later on I recounted the saga of the Racist Woman at Work to an acquaintance and she said: "oh, she's Russian? Well that's what they're like."

Sigh.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

OK so it's another new logo

Contacting Mikki Kendall and K. Tempest Bradford was really a formality - I expected neither of them to simply remove their Tumblr posts smearing me, at my request - and when I contacted them they were each as nasty as you would expect a Social Justice Warrior to be. More about that later on.

But Google suggests that you first try to contact the author of the content in question, and so that had to be step one. Now step two is up to Google - let's see if it comes close to its "don't be evil" motto. I've contacted them and have explained the Google-bombing Social Justice Warrior situation to them. Fortunately SJWs are becoming better known thanks to Suey Park - you now have a quick reference when talking about SJWs - you just say "Social Justice Warriors - you know, the people who wanted to cancel Colbert. Yeah, those nutjobs."

In the meantime it's back to work on the J&B production and yes, that is a new logo. I decided the last logo was too wimpy. And this one is right out of the box, I did almost no editing of the font, not even to the ampersand, except for bringing the letters together more closely. Next step: talk to the MITF marketing person and coordinate with Tony, my publicity guy.

And hopefully, soon, I'll have the real dates for the show. I already have my dream team in mind, but I can't cast without the damn dates.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Mikki Kendall blames the victim

UPDATE: I received a comment in response to this post - most likely the result of one of the Social Justice Warriors posting a link to this blog. This is what the comment said:
"you are so mad that you're racist it's killing me" 
Try to parse that one out. The SJW mind at work. This is why they are both ridiculous and dangerous at the same time - they are always on the hunt for witches and they don't want to hear that witches aren't real - they believe in witches and that's all that matters. So all a SJW leader has to do is point out a witch for them to attack and they go nuts with the mobbing and hatred. This is why their activities and campaigns of hatred (#solidarityisforwhitewomen, #CancelColbert) need to be tracked.



Mikki Kendall, the well-known Social Justice Warrior leader of the mighty forces of Twitter likes to blame the victims of her vicious attacks.

I never heard of Mikki Kendall until I found her smearing me by name, reposting someone calling me a racist because I had the nerve to disagree with the claim that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were/are racists. This was three years ago. And that smear keeps coming up in Google search results on my name.

I just emailed Kendall, now that I finally found a direct email address for her, and asked her to remove the one post from 2011. I did this privately but Kendall doesn't do anything privately - I don't think anybody spends as much time on social media as Mikki Kendall. Not only does she still run a Tumblr account but she tweets incessantly.

So of course when I asked her, privately, to remove her lie about me from her Tumblr account, she took it right to Twitter:



For some odd reason Kendall habitually refers to me in indefinite gender - "they're upset about this post" when she knows my gender and she links to her Tumblr post that shows my name. Maybe it's a way of dehumanizing me, kind of like how that psycho in "Silence of the Lambs" referred to his captive in the basement as "it."

Kendall seems to be incapable of ever admitting to doing anything wrong and so it is absolutely imperative that she try to make this my fault - if only I wouldn't talk about it, her lie about me wouldn't keep coming up the top of Google search results. In the image above you can see her try to make that claim.

However, Kendall is absolutely wrong. Because right after her Tumblr post in Google results is one by K. Tempest Bradford - and until this afternoon I hadn't even noticed her smearing me too and I certainly never talked about it or linked to it.

So sorry, Mikki Kendall, your attempt to blame the victim in this case has failed.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Finally this freaking video is done!


Oh vey - I was supposed to have this video done by the end of February and here it is May 1st and it's finally online. That is a personal worst for me and the NYCPlaywrights Play of the Month project.

It was a tsunami of ridiculous factors that caused this to take so long - there was all the damn snow, and there was the jury duty, and there was the 2-week long cold and worst of all there was the flaky flaky actors! I'd just about used up all my actor regulars - I try not to have an actor appear more than twice in these videos, although I have broken that rule with a couple of actors. So I was searching outside the usual pool of actors I work with and now I know why I work with the usual group - because they are by and large much more dependable than your typical actors. Liz, who I used several times last year, immediately agreed to do the video, quickly agreed on a date/time and showed up ready to act.

Before I asked Liz I asked:
  • An actor who said she couldn't do it because she was going on a cruise in a couple of weeks. Mind you this is a monologue that takes less than an hour to shoot and the actor doesn't have to be off-book. And yet somehow she couldn't do it until after her week-long cruise.
  • Another actor jerked me around for two weeks, dithering over the time and location (the frequent snowfall didn't help) and finally I gave up on her.
  • Another actor was ready to go, but I was meeting her straight from jury duty and the cops confiscated my camera and when they returned it it was all out of battery power - which I didn't find out until 30 minutes before the actor was supposed to show up at the rehearsal studio in Manhattan and I didn't have the power cord necessary to re-charge the battery. The next time I emailed her to ask if she wanted to try again she didn't bother to respond to my email.
  • Another actor I asked agreed right away, but couldn't be available for two weeks - and then a day before the shoot tried to get me to pay for her babysitter, which would double the amount I had offered to pay her for one hour of work. 
And then there were the actors who just didn't bother to respond to my email from the beginning. This is so annoying - I pay for these video shoots, the least they could do is make up an excuse in a timely fashion and respond to my email right away.

And now I have to shoot the other monologue - if I can find another actor who is not a complete flake.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Spring in Long Island City

Hey, who says only Brooklyn has nice things?

Rainbow over LIC


Somebody's clown doll collection in the window -
OK, that's disturbing...

Better get back to work - the company's
elevators are covered in reflective material.