Sunday, April 29, 2007

Striders vs. Strollers

There are, I have come to realize, two types of people in the world. No, not those who divide people into categories and those who don't, but people who saunter through the world -- "strollers" -- and those who charge forward, legs almost pulling the ground beneath, as though the earth were one enormous treadmill. I am a strider. If I don't watch my pace, I will leave almost anyone behind in my hurry to get wherever it is I'm going.

After defining this division, I got to thinking that perhaps somewhere in this latest half-baked theory there might be some truths of human nature. Perhaps striding and strolling apply to more than just a person's walking pace. I'm not making value judgments here; I think there is value in both approaches. A strider things done faster, but a stroller may see things I miss. Strollers make better cops, striders do well as politicians. Striders are stockbrokers, accountants are strollers. I want a nurse who is a strider, but I'd like my gardener to be a stroller.

George W. Bush -- Stroller
Hillary Rodham Clinton -- Strider
Mick Jagger -- Strider
Keith Richards -- Stroller
Larry Bird -- Strider
Michael Jordan -- Stroller
Tiger Woods -- Strider
Ben Hogan -- Stroller
George Washington -- Strider
Thomas Jefferson -- Strider
Benjamin Franklin -- Stroller

So, which are you? Strider or stroller? Leave a comment and let me know.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

No (same-sex) Hobbit-on-Hobbit Action Allowed

Although most online interactive games allow players to form same-sex relationships, the new "The Lord of the Rings" MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) denies that option, primarily because no such relationships ever occurred in the world of Middle Earth created by Tolkien. Human-elf relationships, sure. Merry, Samwise and Pippin in a three-way? Not so much. Same with elf-dwarf hook-ups; they didn't happen in the books, so they are prohibited in the game.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Which is it, Rudy?

Rudy Giuliani is currently polling stronger than any of the Republican candidates for President, mostly, I feel, because he is perceived as a strong manager, something this country has been sorely lacking for the past six years. He even had the chance to win my support, since he seemed to show some common sense on social issues (though I was worried about his foreign policy experience).

Today, however, Giuliani dropped precipitously in my view after his flip-flop on equality. Giuliani seemed to stand foursquare for equal civil rights. He felt marriage should be reserved for opposite gender couples, but supported civil unions as a way of providing equality. He even signed New York City's domestic partner law when he was mayor.

Then, after the New Hampshire state legislature passed a civil union law that gives same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, and recognizes civil unions from other states, Giuliani recanted his prior support of equality. I guess gay couples are entitled to equal rights only if they're not quite equal. In truth, he's just trying to court the Christianist base, who have problems with his stand on social issues, primarily civil unions and abortion rights. For all the talk of Christians who say they don't have a problem with equality but want to retain the word "marriage" for relationships between a man and a woman (and there are many), that just doesn't seem to be true. They want to make sure gay relationships continue to be given second-class treatment, even on a civic level.

I read one comment online that stated Giuliani opposed this bill because it applied only to gay couples and not to opposite gender couples and was therefore unequal. If that was the case, why not just support total civil equality, and allow gay couples to get married? But since straight couples can already get those rights via marriage, I don't see where the inequality is. (Unless one remembers that "separate but equal" usually isn't.) Yes, I'd prefer if New Hampshire (or all states for that matter) enacted a civil union law that applies equally to all, but I'll take "separate but equal" for the moment, and work for full marriage equality down the road.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Underage girls, cancer and sex"...

...proved to be too volatile a combination for the Texas legislature, which voted to block Governor Rick Perry's efforts to make the state the first to require girls to be vaccinated against HPV, the human pappiloma virus, which is a main cause of cervical cancers in women. Add to that the legislators' feelings of disempowerment at what they felt was one-sided executive action (though Texans don't seem to have the same problem with overreaching executive power when it comes to the President), and you have a formula where politics overrides scientific knowledge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In the Goldilocks Zone

After years of searching, astronomers have finally located a planet within a space they call "the Goldilocks zone" -- neither too close to a star where any possible life as we know it would be cooked, nor so far away that there is insufficient light and heat to support life. In other words, not too cold, not too hot, but juuussst right.

On this planet, however, because it orbits much closer to a much cooler sun, 13-day years mean I'd be almost 1,400 years old there. On the bright side, imagine how much in Social Security benefits I would have collected by now!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fighting the Wrong War

Even while President Bush has gotten us mired in a civil war that is rapidly bankrupting us -- not just in financial terms, but also morally, ethically and politically -- he is ignoring the more important war to be fought. Perhaps "ignoring" is the wrong word, as he obviously thinks he is fighting a war on terror. He's just fighting it on the wrong front. It's as if Roosevelt, instead of ordering the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, had the troops land on Ipanema Beach.

A withdrawal of troops from Iraq does not mean we are surrendering in the war on terror; it would instead mean we would be able to shift our resources and fight Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations more effectively by taking the war to where they are, rather than fighting them on a battlefield in which our positions are known. We should be using our advanced military and intelligence systems to discover their hiding places in Pakistan or Somalia or wherever they are and take the fight to them. In Baghdad, the insurgents and terrorists can, to a great degree, engage our troops when and where they want. I'd rather see us smoke them out of their hidey-holes and kill them there.

Here is a similar take from yesterday's Marine Corps Times.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Do This

Go to Google maps, click on "get directions" and enter Grand Central Station, New York as your starting point and Gare de Lyon, Paris as your destination. Then read the directions it gives you.

Friday, April 20, 2007

So what if it's a choice?

One of the foundations of the case religious conservatives make against same-sex marriage is that homosexuality is a choice people make. That at some point in their lives, individuals turn from their natural inclinations and actively choose to be attracted to members of the same gender. Never mind that no gay person I have ever spoken to or heard speak on the matter has ever described anything like that, never mind that it goes against all common sense that millions and millions of people around the world would choose a life of ridicule, discrimination, ostracism and hatred, this is what many on the religious right believe. They believe God made all people heterosexual, and that a few of those people defy him and choose a path of sexual immorality.

They also say marriage is between one man and one woman; that is the way it always has been (never mind that in many ancient – and some contemporary – cultures, polygyny was the norm) and that is the way it always should be. Of course, I fully honor the right of any church to define marriage performed under its auspices in any way it likes. Some leaders actually do define marriage differently – they speak of “Covenant Marriage,” which involves sort of an extra-sacred set of vows, as a way of separating a marriage before God into a different category.

But many go farther and claim that even civil marriage must be defined in the same way their tradition does, and that therefore gay men and lesbian woman can only marry someone of the opposite gender. (They like to claim that extending marriage to same-sex partners would be giving one group of people extra rights. What they neglect to comprehend is that while the ability to marry a person of the same gender IS an additional right, it would be granted to ALL people, maintaining equality.) And since homosexuality is, to them, a choice, gays and lesbians who want to marry merely need to make different choices.

I say, who cares if it’s a choice or not? What rational reason is there to deny gay people civil marriage equality? The “rational states’ interest” argument cited most has to do with children. In July of last year, the Supreme Court of Washington State upheld that state’s Defense of Marriage Act by claiming “encouraging procreation between opposite-sex individuals within the framework of marriage is a legitimate government interest furthered by limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.” (However, the court did so on the rational basis standard of review, meaning “any conceivable set of facts may be considered that support the classification drawn, and over-and under-inclusiveness generally does not foreclose finding a rational basis for legislation.”) Lawyers for the State also argued that rearing children in a home headed by their opposite-sex parents is a legitimate state interest furthered by limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples because children tend to thrive in families consisting of a father, mother, and their biological children. Never mind that that is NOT what most studies say, and religious conservatives have been found to have twisted the results of the studies to suit their purposes, according to the authors of some of this research, that is what the court found.

The courts in Massachusetts found differently, noting that “[t]he ‘marriage is procreation’ argument singles out the one unbridgeable difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and transforms that difference into the essence of legal marriage.” The Massachusetts court decision also stated that “it is the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another, not the begetting of children, that is the sine qua non of civil marriage.” This makes sense: denying gay couples the right to enter into civil marriage does not prevent heterosexual couples from also creating long-term stable relationships.

But let’s get back to the matter of choice. Even if homosexuality were a choice, I still see no reason to deny marriage equality. There are lots of things we choose to do that are either protected by the Constitution, or which don’t effect the lives of other citizens to a sufficient degree to require prohibition or regulation. We can choose to practice any religion we want, or none at all. This right is expressly written into the Constitution. That might be due in part to the fact that the first colonies in this country were founded by Puritans escaping religious persecution. If Jamestown had been populated instead by homosexuals fleeing a repressive regime (never too hard to find, even now), the first amendment might read a bit differently.

If you are an evangelical, and you think homosexuality is a sin (which, if you are an evangelical, I suppose you have to), why should your religious viewpoint trump mine, which holds that homosexuality is simply another of nature’s variations? What’s more, if you’re a conservative (which, if you are an evangelical, it seems you have to be), why do you want further government involvement in people’s personal lives? Isn’t one of the core tenets of conservatism the idea of small government? If there is no rational state’s interest in denying civil marriage equality, why not extend civil marriage rights to include same-sex unions and move on to more pressing matters?

Golf's Holiest Sites

Just as Muslims have Mecca and Medina, Catholics Lourdes, Jews the Wailing Wall, Hindus the river Ganges and Tom Cruise Clearwater, Florida, golfers have their sacred places, as well. Tops on many golfers' lists would be St. Andrews in Scotland, home to the world's oldest golf course. Others might name Pebble Beach, Ballybunion or Bethpage State Park. I've never played any of those places, so what would I know? (And the Scots, who get all self-righteous about the hallowed nature of golf in their land need to be reminded that the game was actually born in Holland.)

My golf holy of holies resides well north of me, on the southern Oregon coast at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. When I walk the links of Pacific Dunes, their premier course, I get a feeling that I imagine is similar to what Saul felt on the road to Damascus; I feel transformed and transported. I feel changed. I feel there is no place on Earth I would rather be in that moment. I can feel the hand of forces greater than myself: why does the wind reach out and grab my ball? Why do I have to putt it in THIS direction to make it go in THAT direction?

Why do you get to hear this today? Simply this: the new edition of the Zagat Guide of America's Top Golf Courses was published this week, and Pacific Dunes is one of two courses to get a perfect 30 rating. (Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin is the other.) Click here for photos of the place.

I feel a pilgrimage coming on!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pitchfork Fondue

The name says it all.

The Gay Community's Best Friend

Surprise! It's Fred Phelps. No one that I can think of does a better job of showing just how ridiculous is the supposedly Bible-based hatred of homosexuals. Here is a few minutes from a documentary on his Westboro Baptist Church. These people are as deluded as Cho Seung Hui.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Great Jon Stewart...

...strikes again, as he so often does, at the heart of an issue, not through bluster, but with style and wit that in another age would have been called rapier-like. On tonight's show, Stewart is disucssing the Wolfowitz scandal (He hired his girlfriend. which doesn't get much play on the major networks, having to do only with one of the most powerful and influential institutions in the world, and not a rather bosomy corpse). After a few salient points to make ready the ground (be fair, Wolfowitz pleaded, "I was new to this institution."), Stewart gives us a video bite of Wolfowitz apologizing: "I made a mistake, for which I am sorry."

That's when Stewart hits it: "There you have it -- Paul Wolfowitz, one of the principal architects of the Iraq War, apologizing. For something else. I imagine it's like when Charles Manson left a note on the Tate and LoBianca houses, saying 'Sorry about the carpets.""

O'Reilly the Understater

It's hard not to watch the coverage from the Virginia Tech massacre -- it's everywhere. On Fox, the tease for "The O'Reilly Factor" included this comment from the brobdingnagian bloviator himself: "Greta, we've been investigating this mass murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, and we have disturbing stuff to tell you. Comin' up." He just killed 32 people -- how much more disturbing does it get than that?

Whiteboard Madness

Do take a moment to check out this web site, which is a promo site for an author's new book of stories. Be patient, it gets funnier as it goes along.

Flying Spaghetti Monsterism

And just why not?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Eleven

TODAY: "The Coast of Utopia: Salvage" "Love/Musik"

After 18 shows in 11 days, it was both a challenge and a pleasure to close with one of the most attention-demanding (but also one of the best) shows of the trip. I saw the first two installments of Tom Stoppard's massive trilogy on the birth of modern revolutionary thought back in December and blogged about them here and here.

Today, I headed back up to Lincoln Center for the final production of the troika. Although I can see how some might be disappointed in this last installment (it's a bit clunkier than the first two), taken as a whole, the production of "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy is one of the most stunning works of theater I've ever seen. The scale of the sets and staging and effects and lighting that Lincoln Center can put on never ceases to amaze me. The cast is terrific, maintaining focus and energy throughout these long works. I can hardly imagine what they must look (and feel) like on the days they perform all three plays as a marathon.

The final line of the trilogy is simple: "There is going to be a storm." The line is meant both literally and figuratively -- both in terms of the coming storm in Russian in 1917 (the play ends in 1868) and in terms of the ongoing war between tradition and modernity.

There is far more in "The Coast of Utopia" than I have the energy, the time or the intellect to fully explore here and now -- but if you have the opportunity to experience this amazing production, take it.

I'm witholding my opinion, however, on "Love/Musik," the Manhattan Theatre Club production now in previews at The Biltmore. The story of the relationship between composer Kurt Weill and his wife and muse Lotte Lenya, has a great deal to recommend it, primarily that fascinating story, two solid leading perfomers and a lot of Weill music. Unfortunately, the show is long. But it's early in previews so additional cuts could be made. What is more unfortunate, however, is that the show lacks that dark, edgy quality I get from Weill's music. The songs all seem to have been overdusted with musical Splenda, sweetened almost beyond recognition. It's the same music, but the arrangements and orchestration seem to have changed the core mood of Weill's songs. And that's a pity. On top of that, I could just never get behind the idea of Donna Murphy as the dissolute, world-weary Lotte Lenya. Michael Cerveris is eminently-believeable as Kurt Weill, but Murphy is just too healthy-looking to be Lenya.

For now, I say give it a pass, but keep an eye on it, in case they can make the major changes needed to rescue Weill's music and bring the solid book by Alfred Uhry to the fore.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Ten

TODAY: "Tea & Sympathy" "Some Men"

This is probably the gayest day of theater a person could experience. The only thing that could make it even the slightest bit more homocentric would to have added a performance of "Gypsy."

"Tea & Sympathy" is a revival of a 1953 play that must have been quite racy and even shocking in its time. The story concerns a boys' boarding school and the scandal that ensues when one of the teachers is seen skinny-dipping with one of the boys, who is already perceived as an "off horse" and "not a regular fellow." The accusations fly fast and fierce, and the only ally this poor 17-year old has is the wife of the most homophobic (and therefore possibly gay himself) of his tormentors. She, of course, is ready to stand behind him, not because he's gay, but because she feels it's not fair to accuse him of such a heinous crime without solid evidence.

Taken as a period piece, I think the production is quite successful, especially given how far off-Broadway it is. The incriminations, the shame, the teasing -- all combine to paint a picture of what it was like to be young and gay (or any age and gay) in the early 1950s. When I was a kid, being a faggot was the worst thing you could be -- and it must have been a LITTLE better in 1973 than it was in 1953.

Whatever gay issues "Tea & Sympathy" didn't cover at the matinee, "Some Men" got to at the evening performance. "Some Men" was written by Terrence McNally, who also authored the current disaster, "Deuce." Now we know where all his passion and energy was going. Where "Deuce" was false from start to finish, "Some Men" has almost nothing but truth. There's not a whole lot of structure here, other than the fact that the show begins and ends at a same-sex wedding ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria, and a few of the characters (played by eight actors) appear in multiple scenes.

The show felt almost like a collection of scenes from half a dozen great gay plays: one about the Stonewall pioneers, one about gay marriage, one about "don't ask, don't tell," another about AIDS, one about gay parenting, one about gay men finding God and still another about long-term relationships. There are probably a few more in there, but the great thing about it feeling like a collection of the best scenes from different plays is that you got a show full of great scenes.

"Some Men" is a terrific show, and not just for gay men. The two straight friends we went to the show with liked it even more than we did!

TOMORROW (last day): "The Coast of Utopia: Salvage" "Love/Musik"

Friday, April 13, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Nine

TODAY: "Our Leading Lady" "Los Angeles"

Charles Busch, Tony Award-winning author of "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," is generally capable of delivering a good time, and "Our Leading Lady" is no exception. Busch has a deft hand with a one-liner, and is even more skilled at creating compelling comic characters and guiding them through a story. His plays are often campy fun (especially the ones in which he goes in drag to play the lead female characters).

"Our Leading Lady" tells a story of Laura Keene, the actress who was on stage in the Ford's Theater production of "Our American Cousin" the night Abraham Lincoln was shot. The first act is all comic antics as Keene comes in as the traveling star who is forced to work with the local cast -- and throwing everything into disorder. After the intermission, the mood turns much darker, as the cast (especially the diva) comes to terms with the fact that they will forever be associated with the tragedy of April 14, 1865.

Kudos to Kate Mulgrew for her delicious portrayal of the egotistical, self-centered (yet madly charming) Laura Keene and Ann Duquesnay, who plays Madame Wu-Tan, the stage star's dresser/assistant. Duquesnay is a zaftig black woman playing a Chinese woman (at least for most of the show -- but let's not spoil anything, shall we?) to tremendous comic effect. Kristine Nielsen is excellent, as usual -- though I would like to see a bit more range from her. She seems to be relying on the same sets of eye rolls and shuddering takes that got her laughs in "Miss Witherspoon" and "Wonder of the World."

Overall, a fun show, but nothing especially earth-shattering here.

"Los Angeles," on the other hand, while not perhaps truly earth-shattering, is nonetheless a very good production -- an exceptional one if you consider the size of its theater (and presumably its budget).

"Los Angeles" is the story of Audrey, a girl who lost her self-esteem somewhere on the road through adolescence. Now that she is a young woman, she is once again on the search for something resembling her genuine self. Unfortunately, like too many sensitive, but unassertive young woman, Audrey looks for love in drugs, alcohol, unreliable men and users of both sexes -- as well as well-intentioned people who would help Audrey, if only she could make the first step on her own.

Katherine Waterston is a revelation in this role. As portrayed by Ms. Waterston, Audrey is gentle, fierce, intelligent, foolish, needy, bossy, impetuous and passionate -- all delivered with tremendous skill and feeling. My only problem with her performance is that when she was at her worst moments (on a five-day meth binge, for example), she still looks gorgeous. In a film role, makeup could help her overcome this, but she could use a little more experience in using her prodigious physical acting skills in creating the sense of defeat, the sense of bearing the bruises delivered by hard living. (I think of how Lisa Emery in "Iron" was able to make me believe she had been on a hunger strike between act one and act two.) I hope she can get there, because tonight she showed me she has a huge amount of talent.

Only one scene in tonight's performance felt wrong to me, and it came late in the show when Audrey meets her father (long-estranged from her) for lunch. After so much that felt so true, this scene -- which rang as completely and utterly false -- was jarring to me. It felt like the show ground to a halt for those five minutes and I was so glad when Dad left the stage.

I could go on about what I liked about "Los Angeles" (the band [except for the singer, who needs to monitor her pitch a bit more closely], the simple staging, the direction of Adam Rapp), but since it closes tomorrow night, I doubt it will make much difference. But keep your eye on Katherine Waterston -- she's a keeper.

TOMORROW: "Tea & Sympathy" "Some Men"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Eight

TODAY: "Deuce"

"Deuce" is stage icon Angela Lansbury's first role on Broadway in more than 25 years. Given the quality of what was put on the boards earlier this evening at the Music Box, she might have been wise to hold off a bit longer. Although allowances must be made for the fact that this was only the second preview, I still don't see enough in the text from which to construct a Broadway hit. I'm willing to forgive the fact that Lansbury and her co-star Marian Seldes had to be prompted on at least half a dozen occasions. I can forgive a script that lags from time to time -- cuts can be made as the show develops. I can even forgive the use of a pair of broadcast blowhards commenting from the TV booth overlooking center court. (The show concerns Lansbury and Seldes as a pair of tennis doubles legends who are sitting in box seats at the US Open, where they are to be honored after the match.) That they can cut. What I can't forgive is the fact that there was only a single moment that felt true to me. (It was the moment near the play's end when the two women were bathing in the applause of the crowd in the stadium -- the two characters appeared to be genuinely touched by the ovation, even though it was pre-recorded.)

I think both women are tremendous performers, and even at this early stage of production they look comfortable on stage, even though neither knows her lines. (Thank goodness there is minimal blocking -- they are in their seats for almost the entire show.) But neither acts remotely like a former world-class athlete. I don't think that's their fault, but rather the fault of playwright Terrence McNally. The dialogue is not just overly stage-y, it has no ring of truth at all. How hard could it have been for McNally to watch a few tennis matches on TV, and maybe a few interviews with players? Or listened to what today's tennis broadcasters really sound like? Because the commnetators in the booth were simply ridiculous caricatures, unlike anything one hears during the broadcast of a Grand Slam tennis event. Then there's the fact that I never once cared about these characters as people. I never understood why there was tension between them, or if, in fact, what I was seeing was supposed to BE tension.

What a mess. Too bad, too, because the story of how women's professional tennis achieved its currently level of popularity, through the bravery and tenacity of women who spent their entire careers earning what many of today's pros get for wearing a pair of shoes for a single season. It was a dramatic time, and though "Deuce" touches on it, it's not even close to a central theme. In fact, I'm not sure I could FIND a central theme.

"Deuce" is filled with dozen of unforced errors, double faults, bad line calls -- and just that one winner. It goes down in the first round, 0-6, 1-6.

TOMORROW: "Our Leading Lady" "Los Angeles"

PHOTO: New York's finest dealing with a situation at 41st and Lexington. Don't worry - it's not smoke, just a whole LOT of steam.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Seven

TODAY: "Inherit The Wind" "Losing Something"

There is a war, an ancient war. It pits reason against faith, tradition against modernity. Its genesis was at dawn of humanity, but it came of age at the battle of Copernicus. But once the defenders of faith were finally forced to let go of their idea of an Earth-centric universe, and face the physical reality of our orbiting a mass of incandescent gas, you'd think people might have become a tad more willing to accept subsequent theories backed by overwhelming physical evidence. Global climate change, for example. Or evolution.

Alas, such is not the case. Which is why, more than 50 years after its first production, "Inherit The Wind," still resonates as fundamentally true. The play, as you likely know, is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial in which a Tennessee teacher, John Scopes, was recruited to be a defendant in a case designed to challenge Tennessee's prohibition against teaching anything other than creationism in its public schools.

And though the production is first rate (although I'm a tad disappointed with Santo Loquasto's set -- it's not up to his standards), with bravura performances by both Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer, plus a wonderfully acid turn by Tony-winner Denis O'Hare as the reporter covering the trial (more on that in a moment), it ultimately felt too stodgy -- and too innocent -- to make the impact it needs to. For as universally-accepted is the correctness of evolution, teaching creationism as a valid explanation for the origins of the universe was until recently the policy in Kansas and was only rejected in February of THIS year.

My concern is that audiences may look at this production, with its period costumes and non-air-conditioned court rooms and think the battle between science and zealotry was fought and won years ago.

The show opens with a mixed quartet singing "I Shall Not Be Moved," which I think points to the core issue: believers will stick to their positions no matter how compelling the evidence against them. Whether it is the true theocrats in the Islamic world, or the wanna-be theocrats of the religious right, the bumper sticker sums it up: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." That's a very dangerous position to hold, and while I'm glad "Inherit The Wind" is defending that position, I think we need more (and better) artistic defenders of reason and verifiable truth.

The lead character in "Losing Something" is indeed losing something -- his mind. Or his grasp on reality. One or the other. Doesn't really matter, as the piece is both pretentious and pointless. Though the staging and imagery are fascinating in this performance piece (it utilized a new 3D projection technology), and some interesting philosophical points are raised in the final 20 minutes (of an hour show), it ultimately failed to move me in any fundamental way.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Six

TODAY: "Curtains"

"Curtains" comes from the same songwriting team (Kander and Ebb) that created two wonderful musicals: "Cabaret" and "Chicago." They began writing it about 20 years ago -- and should have stopped writing it 19 years ago.

It's not that I hated the show... but it was awful nonetheless. It was like a musical being staged within a Christopher Guest movie, the one the actors don't realize is uninspired dreck, yet give themselves over wholly to their performances. Unfortunately, I don't think this cast has the comfort of ignorance. I think they're all too good and too experienced not to realize this show is, at its heart, a lead box filled with forced joy, from which there is no escape (at least contractually).

The songs are forgettable, done in mostly by the lack of cleverness in the lyrics. (The lyricist half of the team, Fred Ebb, died in 2004, clearly before he could finish his work -- or perhaps even begin it.) They all have a first-thing-that-comes-to-mind sort of flavor to them. "Thataway...hmmm...throw your hat away? That works. What's next?" The script is clunky and both obvious and obtuse at the same time -- which is tough to do. There must have been half a dozen times where a line was delivered, fell flat and I instantly thought -- "you know, if you'd phrased it this way..."

Then there was the profanity. I don't have a problem with blue language (I think "Deadwood" is one of the best bits of drama ever), but it needs to serve a purpose. Profanity can have the ability to heighten a line or punctuate a point -- but not here. Here it almost always falls flat and sounds forced.

David Hyde Pierce, to his credit, is quite funny. In fact, I don't think the faults of this show can in any way be blamed on the cast. They are the innocent victims in this debacle. We can only pray for an early close and wonderful new jobs for them all. Especially Edward Hibbert, who does his usually wonderful bitchy comic turn.

The bridge and tunnel crowd seemed to have a good time, and that, combined with David Hyde Pierce's star power, will probably keep the show open for a year or so. But no matter how long they keep these curtains up -- turn away.

TOMORROW: "Inherit the Wind" "Losing Something"

PHOTO: The very crowded 4 train, 3:30 this afternoon, near the Union Square station, just before the guy with the dreads threatened to break the neck of the man with the glasses. ("Go ahead," the guy in the glasses said, "you'll look good in handcuffs." "Yeah, but I'll get to fuck you up first," Dreads replied. "That would make it worth it. That would turn me on."

Monday, April 09, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Five

TODAY: "Frost/Nixon"

If it weren't for the fact that the names are so familiar as politicians, the title of Peter Morgan's play could be mistaken for a boxing match-up: Frazier/Ali. Mayweather/De La Hoya. It wouldn't be far off target, either, for the conflict at the heart of "Frost/Nixon" feels very much like a face-off between two heavyweights.

I'm pretty sure 92% of my readers remember the interviews British talk show host David Frost conducted with Richard Nixon, the first interviews he gave (or rather, sold) following his resignation. For the two of you who don't, here's the brief: after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, every journalist with an eye to furthering their career wanted to bag the most important interview in a generation. Whoever could convince Richard Nixon to sit down and tell his side of the story was going to be a famous man. At the time (I was 18), I remember wondering why David Frost of all people would be the one to interview Nixon. Why not Walter Cronkite? Or Mike Wallace? I remember Frost had a reputation for being a bit of a lightweight. It would be like having Al Roker get the gig of interviewing Ahmedinejad on the day he decided to conduct Iran's first test of a nuclear weapon. (Well, not quite that, but I think you get the point.)

Still, Frost got the gig. This play is not about HOW he convinced Nixon to sit down with him (the Nixon camp thought he would be a pushover compared to Mike Wallace, and Frost was offering more money than CBS), but about how Frost and Nixon prepare for, and perform in the interviews. It's about the posturing and the deals and the negotiations surrounding the production of the interviews.

And it's bloody fascinating. I don't want to go into the resonances the piece calls up re our current president (but one gets a distinct chill when Frank Langella's Nixon says "If the President does it, then it isn't illegal. That's what I believe."), but if you liked the movie "The Queen," (also written by Peter Morgan), you'll like "Frost/Nixon."

When these two men finally get into the "ring," the play (which already had my full attention) kicks into another gear, and it's a ball to imagine what the real confrontation must have been like. For all his faults, Richard Nixon wasn't a pushover, and David Frost, while initially seen as a lightweight chat show host, ultimately more than held his ground. Michael Sheen plays Frost as a bundle of charm and ambition, and though Frank Langella's portrayal of Nixon seems to be getting more attention, I actually preferred Sheen's work. Although Langella does a passable impression of Nixon (especially when he's doing bits that there are video records of), I was struck by the fact that occasionally he sounded less like Richard M. Nixon than Thurston Howell, III.

I could pick nits with the stage design (the video wall just seems so 1995) and the rather ordinary staging, but overall I was enthralled.

TOMORROW: "Curtains"

Sunday, April 08, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Four (part two -- "I'll be just a moment."

TODAY: "In The Heights" "Jack Goes Boating" "Jackie With a 'Z'"

"In The Heights" is both a completely traditional musical (it's all about people with dreams), and a contemporary musical (lots of reliance on hip-hop beats and Latin rhythms). The problem with it is, that by combining the two types, they had too much musical and need to cut a bit of it. I had a good time at "In The Heights" (which tells the story of an owner of a bodega in Washington Heights who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic), but the problems I had with it were exactly the problems I didn't have with "Jersey Boys." That show was so economically told that it fairly thundered along. "In The Heights" needs to get on the express.

Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived the show, wrote the music and lyrics, and is the star, as well. Talk about carrying the weight of a show on your shoulders... But Miranda has the chops to pull it off, especially when he's on stage. This guy commands your attention from the show's first moments, but knows when to let the focus off of him and let it shine on some of the other fine performers (especially Robin de Jesus as Sonny and Eliseo Roman as "the piragua guy." ["piragua" being a sno-cone like treat]). If only he could learn to cut 20 minutes from the show. And he should, because "In The Heights" has a lot going for it, mostly a great big heart. They get to their message (which is the same as "The Wizard of Oz" -- happiness isn't somewhere over the rainbow, it's right in your own backyard) in a sweet, sincere -- but hot -- fashion. Fortunately for the backers, the audience seemed to love it and the house was almost completely full.

"Jack Goes Boating" stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is clearly the big draw. Unlike Julianne Moore, Julia Roberts or Denzel Washington, who came to New York with high expectations but failed to deliver, Hoffman pulls off his role with an easy comic aplomb. His Jack is a big lumbering galoot who likes good bud and simple living. It's a terrific comic performance.

What surprised me was how good the rest of the cast was, how balanced they were as a comic (and dramatic) team. Beth Cole, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega all take this concoction (by playwright Bob Glaudini and director Peter Dubois) and serve it up with tremendous skill.

The play covers some rough territory, but at its heart it has the same "positive vibe" that Jack seeks from the reggae music he loves. It's the dramatic version of a piece of Sourpatch Kids candy -- on your first bite you say "wow, what is this?," but as you chew you discover the sweetness at the core.

(SPOILER WARNING: I give away a surprise from the show in the last line of this paragraph.)
"Jackie With a 'Z'," on the other hand, is sour on the outside and bitter on the inside. Its star and namesake, comic actress Jackie Hoffman, hates children, cops to being racist -- and still delivers laugh talking about the brush with cancer that kept her from completing her turn in "Regrets Only," the Paul Rudnick play at MTC that I enjoyed so much in December. I mean, any show that ends with a singing uterus hand puppet.

New York, April 2007 - Day Four (part one - "Does anyone still wear...a hat?"

Just because it's below freezing in Manhattan doesn't mean the Easter Parade is cancelled, only that the sea of pastels seems oddly incongruous. Never having experienced the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, I was expecting a more formal sort of parade: floats, bands, classic convertibles with minor political figures sitting on the trunk, grinning and waving. What I found was more of a promenade: crafty types who have come out to show their headwear handiwork.

This was one of my favorites:
There were actually four of these girls, I just couldn't fit them all into the frame with the crowds:
I know this LOOKS like a centerpiece designed by a florist during a rather intense LSD experience, but it is, in fact, a hat:
This one suggests the layers of nature, from flowers to roots:
I believe those are supposed to be ants on her face.

This trio seemed to be having a good time:
Another crown:
"NOW do you like my hat?":

Ultimately, there were more of these......than there were people with hats.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Three

TODAY: "Blackbird" and "Journey's End"
The set of "Blackbird" looks like any ordinary office environment, a pre-fab, anonymous space that could be found in tens of thousands of offices anywhere. Bland carpet, nondescript furnishings, flourescent lighting and a suspended acoustical tile ceiling (including several with large, brown water stains, indicating a sense of neglect). The character Jeff Daniels plays, Ray, is also ordinary: a seemingly-average guy working for an average company.

Yet among all this ordinariness lurk dark secrets. As the play opens, Ray leads Una into a conference room or lunch room. The table is strewn with the detritus of several employees' meals. It's as if everyone left every bit of trash behind, leaving someone else to clean up their mess. These two elements -- the ordinariness and the mess no one is paying attention to -- are the heart of the message of "Blackbird." That message, I believe, is that what seems very ordinary, even pleasant and acceptable, can mask the presence of evil. The mess in the room at the beginning of the play (which ultimately gets much bigger) is a metaphor: that unless we learn to see what's really happening around us and take the initiative to do something, very bad things can result.

I don't want to say much about the plot, for fear of ruining the twists and turns, but suffice it to say Una and Ray had a previous relationship that did not end well, and Una has surprised Ray in his new life, where he now goes by the name Peter. Ultimately, this is a bit of a tough play: the subject matter is sensitive, the way it is dealt with is raw, and no quarter is given. No one is sparing your feelings.

As in last night's show (but to a much smaller degree), I feel there are still depths to the characters that Daniels and his co-star Allison Pill haven't quite plumbed (though to be honest, the show is still in previews, so this may change). Overall, though, I think their performances are excellent and the play is well worth seeing. Just don't be looking for things to turn out the way you expect -- and certainly don't expect them to turn out well.

"Journey's End" doesn't end well, either, and though the ensemble cast is terrific and the production first-rate, the play ultimately left me cold. This is a revival of a 1929 work set in the trenches of France during WWI, when German and English soldiers faced each other from only a few dozen yards apart. The cast, including Boyd Gaines ("Contact"), Hugh Dancy ("Elizabeth I" as well as a Burberry model) and Jefferson Mays ("I Am My Own Wife") in a brilliant turn as the company cook, is uniformly excellent, but I found myself (as I often do) searching for a bit more story.

For the moment, I'd have to say pass on "Journey's End."

TOMORROW: "In The Heights" "Jack Goes Boating" "Jackie With a 'Z'"

PHOTO: The New York Athletic Club on 44th street, a block or so from the Belasco Theater. Love those windows!

Friday, April 06, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day Two

TODAY: "Dying City"
An inauspicious official beginning to the trip. First, it's April, Easter is this Sunday...and it was SNOWING this morning! Second, tonight's show was a bit of a disappointment, especially for a writer. I hate to see a good text mangled by the actors. Well, if not exactly mangled, certainly not lifted to the level of art. The two actors, while skilled (after a fashion), simply failed to discover the humanity of the characters created by playwright Christopher Shinn.

The show is centered around the relationship of Kelly and a pair of identical twins, Peter and Craig. Craig and Kelly were married -- until Craig went off to Iraq (like so many Harvard grads) and died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. A year later, Peter barges in on Kelly, who's clearly been trying to avoid Peter.

The story unfolds rather nicely, as Shinn shifts the time back and forth between the night Peter intrudes on Kelly, and an earlier evening, the night before Craig was to head off for Iraq. Pablo Schreiber plays both brothers, and as the play moves forward, more and more details are revealed about the relationships between the three characters, and what happened between them to cause the tension we feel in the opening moments of the play, when the buzzer rings in Kelly's apartment and she discovers it's Peter downstairs.

As "Dying City" progresses, the stage itself moves. In fact, almost the entire stage (consisting of a couch and a TV on a stand in front of the couch) rotates throughout the course of the play, In fact, over the 90-minute intermissionless show, the set rotates exactly once. It's so slow you almost don't notice it (I had to have it pointed out to me first, and even then I didn't quite buy it), and then suddenly you realize that when you took your seat the couch was facing an entirely different direction.

Lincoln Center does its usual excellent job with production -- I'm just disappointed the director and the actors couldn't give the characters the sense of truth and dimension that I believe is there in the text.

TOMORROW: "Blackbird" and "Journey's End"

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New York, April 2007 - Day One

TODAY: Jason Robert Brown
To set a record, it helps to get off to a strong start. And though we didn't set out to establish a personal record for theater-going on this excursion, I'm sure we will. A show every day, two on Wednesdays, three this Saturday, two next. Plus, one tonight. Arrival days are usually dark, as I refuse to get up early enough to take a flight that could get us to New York in time for an 8:00 curtain. Tonight, though, after a relatively stress-free flight, I found my way across town to Birdland, the famed jazz club that was hosting Jason Robert Brown, a composer/songwriter/singer/piano player.

For the most part, a good show. I knew none of the songs, but ended liking a couple, even though they tended to try a bit too hard for me, some of which I blame on the fact that several of the songs were from off-Broadway musicals I'd never seen ("Parade" "The Last Five Years"). He has an easy stage manner, very relaxed and confident and his lyrics tended toward the clever and/or poetic. I loved the lyric of "I'm Wearing Someone Else's Clothes -- And Looking Better," and the fact that he rhymed "gotten her" with "rottener" -- and pulled it off.

It was also a visceral experience sitting at the first row of tables, with a massive Bosendorfer grand piano no more than eight feet from me. It wasn't mic'd, yet it filled the room and had a power that was almost alive. I don't know that I've ever been that close to that big a piano being played with that much power.

To learn more, hit his web site.

A Step Forward

Not that I would ever WANT to get married at Disneyland, with Mickey and Minnie greeting us and costumed trumpeters heralding our arrival, but at least it's an option.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Quote for the Day

"Only the shallow know themselves." Oscar Wilde

Ah...THAT's why I'm so confused.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Three Graphs on Golf

As the golf season gets into full swing (this weekend is the first major, The Masters), I decided to take a few minutes to examine my own golf game. (And, now, to subject you to this analysis. But, you have no one to blame but yourself -- you clicked here, probably expecting some half-baked idea of mine, or a link to a video of something odd or interesting or amusing, or a rant about the state of civil life in this country. Instead you get to step into my obsession for a few paragraphs.)

After I really started playing golf seriously, in 2004, I signed up with an online handicap service. I enter my scores, it maintains a USGA handicap for me. And, because I enter not a total score, but a hole-by-hole score, and keep track of three key statistics (fairways hit, greens in regulation and number of putts), I can monitor my progress (or plodding, as the case may be) as a golfer.

Here's how my overall handicap has gone over the past three years:

Not as steep a decline (lower is better in a golf handicap) as I would like, and though the trend was down in 2004 and 2005, it bubbled back up in 2006 before starting back down again.

But if you look at the percentage of fairways hit...

And greens in regulation...'ll see there is almost no improvement. (Ignore the first few months, as there were too few rounds to make the statistics relevant.) In fact, I'm making fewer greens in regulation now than I was two years ago.

So where is the improvement in my handicap coming from? Here...

I've gone from taking an average of more than two putts per hole to taking 1.8. That's between 32 and 33 strokes per round. The best putter on the PGA Tour this season is averaging 1.68 putts per hole. The worst putter is averaging about 1.9. So I'm probably not going to get significantly better in this aspect of the game. If I could improve my putting to 1.7 per hole I could go from a 17 index to a 16 index.

But...if I can learn to strike the ball better, hit more fairways and (more important) make more greens in regulation, I could have more chances to be putting for birdies and my index could plummet. At least, that's the idea. Now I just have to figure out how to do that.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Coming Out Right

It's still not easy for a kid to realize he is gay, accept himself and come out to family and friends. But it's a heck of a lot easier than it used to be.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Inner Circle Crack'd

From the early days of George W. Bush's campaign to be president, Matthew Dowd was a trusted adviser, an expert interpreter of polls who helped Karl Rove get Bush elected both in 2000 and 2004. Today, however, Matthew Dowd has officially broken with the administration, saying he has come to a fundamental disagreement with Bush's handling of the office. Specifically, he feels the President and Mr. Rove have focused too much on divisive politics. Money quote:

“I think we should design campaigns that appeal not to 51 percent of the people, but bring the country together as a whole.”

Sounds similar to a post I put up in the early days of this blog.

Maybe, just maybe, people are beginning to realize that what unites us can be far greater than what divides us. If only our president would come to the same realization.