Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

“History on Trial”/”Denial” – Potential Discussion Questions

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 28, 2016 @ 12:46 pm PDT

denialuserpic=tallitOn Sunday, October 9th, the Men of TAS (in lieu of our usual meeting) are going to see the new movie Denial, based on Dr. Deborah Lipstadt‘s book, “History on Trial” [Note that this particular meeting is open to everyone]. This book is about  Dr. Lipstadt’s trial in the UK when the Holocaust Denier David Irving sued her for libel. I was a student of Dr. Lipstadt’s when I was at UCLA (I was the only one turning in papers printed via nroff(1) off the Diablo 1620 in the CS Department); as such, I feel it is important to see this movie and have a discussion. Note that this discussion is taking place just before the 2nd presidential debate.

As I’ve read the book, I’ve come up with the following discussion questions. I’m curious if you have others:

  1. When reading this book, I was struck by a number of parallels between the issues raised in the trial, and this year’s election season. What parallels do you see?
  2. Is it ever right to distort facts for a particular purpose?
  3. What is the importance of fact checking, and how much room is there for the interpretation of facts? We have seen much of that this election season — from both sides — where the claim is made in the past that they supported some thing or position, and yet evidence is quickly found showing the opposite, to which the candidate provides a spin to justify their original claim. (Trump Example; Clinton Example). How is this fact checking similar to that presented in the Irving trial?
  4. Is there a distinction between proving the truth, and proving that someone is lying about the truth?
  5. When building your overall assessment of an individual and their viewpoints, which has greater import: isolated past incidents, or continual patterns of behavior?
  6. When is it right to speak up, and when is it right to stay silent in the face of denial of history?
  7. Is it right to deny history for political reasons? An example of this is the Armenian Genocide in the face of the Turks, where there has been hesitation to publicly acknowledge that genocide because of the relationship with Turkey. Does political expediency ever trump history?
  8. What is the relationship between the denial of history, and the denial of science? Does the notion of convergence of the evidence differ between history and science?
  9. How might one balance convergence of the evidence and belief? Are there any parallels between those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible (such as those who have built the ark museum or fight creationism) and the denial of history?
  10. What lesson does this trial teach about fighting conspiracy theories, especially those theories that include the media as part of the conspiracy?
  11. When you are part of a team effort, when is it the right thing to do to suppress your desire to do it your way and go along with the remainder of the team?
  12. This trial ended over 10 years ago, yet antisemitism remains active? In what ways do you see antisemitism today? How do you battle it?
  13. Is there antisemitism present in this year’s election (for example, this or this)? Are any of these claims similar to the claims that Irving attempted while on the stand?
  14. In the book, Dr. Lipstadt edited it to ensure that antisemitism was always referred to without the hyphen. Why do you think she did that?
  15. Currently, the repeated efforts of the supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sactions) movement against Israel are in the news? What is the relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism? Does the denial of history have any connection to the arguments of the anti-Zionists? There are some paragraphs in the conclusion of the book that note that various Palestinian leaders, over time, have either denied — or have at least publicly doubted — the extent of the Holocaust.
  16. Are there other instances you can recall where the reality of significant Jewish history has been denied? How has it been combated?
  17. What is the balance between remembering history and glorifying it? Contrast the attempt to remove all Confederate symbols and remembrances of actions that were insensitive to blacks (such as blackface minstral reviews) with an attempt to pretend that slavery didn’t happen and that the Civil War was for purely economic or states right reasons. Contrast that with attempts to glorify Nazi heros and eliminate any Nazi symbols or practices. Where do these fall on the level of denying history, and what is the right balance regarding remember past actions of your country or people when those actions were horrific in today’s eyes?
  18. The closing paragraph of the book is: “We must conduct an unrelenting fight against those who encourage — directly or indirectly — others to [deny history]. But, even as we fight, we must not imbue our opponents with a primordial significance. We certainly must never attribute our existence to their attacks on us or let our battle against them because our raison d’etre. And as we fight them, we must dress them — or force them to dress themselves — in the jester’s costume. Ultimately, our victory comes when, even as we defeat them, we demonstrate not only how irrational, but how absolutely pathetic, they are.” Are you aware of any deniers of history today, and are they viewed as statesmen or jesters? What does how we view such individuals say about how society has changed since the Irving trial?

You can learn more details on the meeting by visiting this page, and clicking on the October flyer (or clicking the flyer to the right). Here’s the description of the movie:

Based on the acclaimed book “Denial: Holocaust History on Trial”, DENIAL recounts Dr. Deborah Lipstadt’s (Academy Award ® winner Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth against David Irving (BAFTA nominee Timothy Spall), who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team, led by Richard Rampton (Academy Award® nominee Tom Wilkinson), to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.

Additionally, here’s a preview of the notion of Holocaust defense in the movie, and how Dr. Lipstadt taught the lead actress to sound like a Jewish woman from Queens. That, of course, leads to the question of whether there is such a thing as the American Jewish accent, but that’s a question for another day.

L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5777

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Sep 27, 2016 @ 7:16 pm PDT

Apple in Honeyuserpic=tallitRosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts Sunday night. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog, LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5777. May you be written and inscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. Apples in honey, specifically, express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs, we read, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty – represented by God – “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.” With respect to the honey: honey – whether from dates, figs, or apiaries – was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh HaShanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land. Although the tradition is not in the Torah or Talmud, even as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year).
(Source: Reform Judaism Website)

Rosh Hashanah ImagesAnother traditional food is a round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the Ruler of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
(Source: Aish Ha’Torah)

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting Sunday evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of October 11th), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

Safe Spaces and Facebook

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Sep 26, 2016 @ 5:14 pm PDT

userpic=socialmediaOver the weekend, I had the occasion to get into a… discussion… on a post from a Facebook friend. During this… discussion… I was chastised for not being aware of all the context from previous posts by this friend on the subject. Another person commenting on the same post was chastised for intruding on a safe space in a problematic way, and a friend of mine was chastised for chiming in. Thinking back on this, I think the following reminders should be made:

  • Facebook is not a safe space, even if your post is “friends only”. Often, although the post might be friends only, Facebook makes the response visible transitively to friends of friends, meaning your post may inadvertently have a much wider audience than you expect.
  • Facebook does not present all past posts, and not always in sequential order. You cannot assume that anyone commenting on your post has any context at all. Whether they have seen your past posts depends not only on whether they have settings to show “most recent posts”, but how popular your posts are, how often they read your and linger on your posts, and many algorithmic factors.

The upshot to this is that you should not assume anything on Facebook is safe or private, and particularly, you cannot assume that your wall and your posts are safe spaces. Similar warnings apply to venues such as Tumblr and Twitter, where again you can’t always control who sees what you write. Warnings also apply to traditional Blogging, such as WordPress sites, where you can only restrict things through password protected posts.

If you want truly safe spaces, you should go “old school”. I’m not referring to pen and paper, although that can be safer. I’m referring to venues from the last decade, such as Livejournal and Dreamwidth, where you can restrict journals to friends or a subset of friends, where transitive accessibility is limited, and where you can have assurance that all posts are shown in sequential order. Further, on services such as Livejournal/Dreamwidth, you can have sticky warnings and FAQs at the top of your journal, and links to your rules. That’s difficult in Facebook — even if you do a group (where you can have a sticky post at the top), people reading on their wall may not see it.

Remember: the Internet, and especially social media, was not designed with privacy in mind. Especially if you are getting a service for free, you are often the product that is being sold, not the customer. It was also not designed to protect you — especially if you are sensitive to slights (intentional or otherwise), not everyone may know your warnings, and not everyone may be protected from posting. No where is that truer than Facebook or on Google, where everything you write is scanned for advertising potential, and it is easy to not see everything.

God Bless the Outcast | Hunchback of Notre Dame @ La Mirada

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 25, 2016 @ 1:50 pm PDT

Hunchback of Notre Dame (La Mirada)userpic=theatre_ticketsWhen you attend theatre, there are shows that transcend the good or the great to become exceptional — shows that have elements that leave you astonished at the quality of the theatre arts — that are the perfect melding of acting and creativity and words and music and that special sauce that become indelible in your memory. Last night’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB), based on the Victor Hugo novel and the songs from the Disney Film, was one of those shows. This is a show you must see in this incarnation, for I have no idea if it will be done in this particular way again.

Coming into the show, the first thing I would say is: drop your expectations. This is not exactly the Victor Hugo novel. It is definitely not the Disney film, although it retains the songs by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. It retains some notions of the Disney adapation, although all cutesy humor has been dropped, along with the happy ending (it roughly retains the ending of the original). It is not the 1999 German musical version with a book by James Lapine — there are significant changes in the story there. It is based on the 2014 production at the La Jolla playhouse and the 2015 Paper Mill Playhouse version of the show (with a revised book by Peter Parnell) but even then there are some changes from that version. The seeds of this particular production were sown at the Sacramento Music Circus earlier in August 2016, and many of the cast members from that production are in this production.

Given the complexity of the story, I’m going to refer you to the Wikipedia entry on the Paper Mill Production for the detailed synopsis. The story focuses on the Frollo brothers, Claude and Jehan, and their legacy. Given salvation in the Cathedral of Notre Dame as infants, they are raised in the church. Jehen  rebels and marries a Gypsy woman; Claude continues in the church and rises to Archdeacon, ever resenting the Gypsys for stealing his brother from him. On his deathbed, Jehan summons Claude and presents him with Jehan’s son, a deformed infant. Claude raises the boy, whom he has named Quasimodo, in the church, keeping him away from everyone in the bell tower (where he goes deaf from ringing bells). Quasimodo’s only friends are the stone gargoyles, who come to life and speak to him in his imagination. Once a year, the Gypsies are allowed to dance in the street; Quasimodo goes out that day and is crowned King of the Gypsies, and then taunted for his looks. The palace guards stop the taunting, and a gypsy woman, Esmerelda, comforts Quasimodo. She visits the church to see him, where Claude develops a lustful attraction for her. So does the captain of the guards. You can see the tragedy set in motion from that point, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice it to say that this doesn’t end well for everyone in the end (do Hugo’s novels ever do?).

What makes this production extra special is a conceit from director Glenn Casale (FB). Noting that the description of the story indicates that Quasimodo has gone deaf from ringing the bellw, he cast a deaf actor (John McGinty (FB)) as Quasimodo. Taking a que from the Deaf West Theatre Company (FB), he cast a different actor, Dino Nicandros (FB), as Quasimodo’s singing voice. He then incorporated ASL (American Sign Language) into the production: the gargoyles sign to Quasimodo as they sing with him; and McGinty signs as Nicandros sings. Note that I said that Nicandros is Quasimodo’s singing voice. When Quasimodo speaks to anyone else, it is McGinty (who is clearly deaf from his voice) speaking. This includes dialogue with both Frodo and Esmerelda. Essentially, the songs are a manifestation of Quasimodo’s thoughts, where in his head he can speak and be normal. The addition of the ASL brings that extra oomph, that extra poetry to the production, that extra magic. I truly hope that the Ovation voters see this show — McGinty is clearly deserving for this remarkable performance (and the emotion that Nicandros brings to the singing is truly special).

Also notable is McGinty’s transition. When the adult Quasimodo is introduced in the story, McGinty walks onstage as the handsome, non-deformed young man that he is. His singing voice hands him his outfit, and has he puts it on he transforms his hair, face, and posture to become the deformed Quasimodo. At the end of the show, the opposite transition occurs: McGinty removes his coat, straightens up, and becomes the handsome young man again. This reinforces the central question of this show: What makes a man a monster? Is it their looks, or their behavior? Who is the monster in the Hunchback of Notre Dame? [I’ll note that this is a very similar question to the one raised in Schwartz’s hit musical Wicked — are people born wicked, or do they become that way? Apply that same question here: Whoever you conclude was the monster — were they born that way, or did they become that way?]

But there are other performances that are spot on as well; this is not just a one-hunchback show. Particularly notable is the performance of Mark Jacoby as Dom Claude Frollo. The intensity that this man brings to this role is remarkable, especially in songs such as “Hellfire”. The character itself brought to me echos of Donald Trump in his reactions to immigrants, his anger, and his desire to keep the world safe and simple as he knows it. That echo is not intentional in the story, of course, but does make this story truly relevant to this year when we consider what makes a candidate human or a monster — the question of compassion vs. anger. But I disgress into the political; however, that’s what a great performance and great theatre can do. It can start you thinking, and finding the relevance of the classic stories to life today. By creating that echo in his performance, Jacoby adds to the exceptionalism of this production. He does what great acting does: transforms the act of an actor playing a character to an actor inhabiting and channeling the character, bringing a creation on the page to life on the stage. The leads here do that: McGinty/Nicandros and Jacoby certainly do.

The catalyst in this story, Esmerelda, is portrayed by Cassie Simone (FB). Unlike the other gypsies in the show who tend to be painted with a broad brush, Simone’s Esmerelda is deeper. Of course, she exhibits sexuality but not by the mere exposure of skin (in fact, the costuming of this production tends to keep the female gypsies relatively covered up). Her sexuality comes across in style, in movement, in dance, in attitude and in looks. In particular, what I think makes Simone’s Esmerelda particular attractive is she is not like the other gypsy woman: she has a mind of her own and an attitude of her own and she won’t let anyone tell her or force her to do something that she doesn’t want to do. That’s particularly sexy in a woman, although many woman fail to realize that. Simone has figured a way to bring that to her part through performance, again transcending the words on the page to inhabit a character on the stage. Remarkable singing, remarkable dancing, remarkable performance.

One other named performance is particularly worthy of note: Eric Kunze (FB) as Capt. Phoebus De Martin — the other man who is interested in Esmerelda, the man who is more interested in pleasure than policing, the man who gives up position to protect Esmerelda. Kunze gave a very handsome performance — by that I mean he upheld the tradition of some of his past roles, being the man who does the right thing and wins the girl (although that doesn’t quite happen here — remember, I said this was darker than the Disney musical). Kunze had a great singing voice and brought a good presence to the role.

The remaining named non-ensemble role was Keith A. Bearden (FB) as Clopin Trouillefou, the leader of the gypsies. He brought an interesting evil intensity to the role; there was something deeper in that role that was hinted at but not explored in the story. The other performance roles involved the ensemble, either in smaller named roles or as members of the congregation, as various gypsies, as the gargoyles and statues that talk to Quasimodo, and as townspeople, guards, and such. The talented ensemblists [named roles and positions noted] were Darian Archie (FB); Brandon Burks (FB); Doug Carfrae (FB) [Father Dupin (he is also Western Regional VP of Actors Equity], Cherrie Badajos Cruz (FB); Emily Dauwalder (FB); Rachel Farr (FB); Lance Galgon (FB) [King Louis XI]; Hannah Madeline Goodman (FB); Devon Hadsell (FB) [Florika, Dance Captain]; William Martinez (FB) [Lieutenant Frederic Charlus, ASL Captain]; Kevin McMahon (FB) [Saint Aphrodisus]; Shanon Mari Mills (FB) [Madame]; Dino Nicandros (FB) [Voice of Quasimodo]; Shannon Stoeke (FB) [Jehan Frollo, Fight Captain]; Stephanie Thiessen (FB); and Paul Zelhart/FB.  I was particularly happy to see Devon Hadsell (FB) again — we still remember her performance in Lysistrata Jones; Shanon Mari Mills (FB), who we saw at Cabrillo; Rachel Farr (FB), who we saw in Carrie; and Shannon Stoeke (FB), who we saw at the Pasadena Playhouse.

This production was unusual in that it featured an on-stage non-acting choir — almost a church choir — that amplified the songs both in intensity and sound. The choir was under the management of Sean Gabel (FB), and consisted of Christopher M. Allport (FB), Stephen Amundson/FB, Brandon Banda/FB, Amy Lynne Bandy/FB, Emma Bradley/FB, Jennifer Cannon/FB, Emily Columbier/FB, Eric M. Davis/FB, Kimberly Fedderoff/FB, Nicolette Gamboa (FB), Kevin Gasio (FB), Kelsey Hamann/FB, Wendy Hinkle/FB, Grant Hodges/FB, Claire Marshall, Joey Nestra (FB), Madison Osment, Jessica Ordaz/FB, Laura Peake/FB, Stephanie Phillips/FB, Levi Ray Roldan/FB, Nathan Shube, Mikayla Thrasher, Elder Timbol/FB, Katie Toussaint/FB, Mitchell Turner/FB, Alejandro Andes Very, Ruthanne Walker/FB, Jennifer Wilcove (FB), Brandon Wilks/FB, and Rebecca Wilks/FB.

The 14 piece orchestra, under the direction of Dennis Castellano (FB) [Music Director and Conductor], contracted by Tim Christensen, provided a great sound with a depth that could literally be felt in the mid-balcony. The orchestra consisted of Robert Peterson [Violin 1, Concertmaster], Gerry Hilera (FB) [Violin 2], Sorah Myang [Viola], Mia Barcia-Colombo (FB) [Cello], Jeff Dirskill (FB) [Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / Baritone Sax], Phil Feather (FB) [Oboe / English Horn / Clarinet / Alto Sax], Bob Carr [Bassoon / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet / Baritone Sax], Michael Stever (FB) [Trumpet / Piccolo Trumpet], Adam Bhatia (FB) [Trumpet / Flugelhorn], Charlie Morillas (FB) [Trombone / Bass Trombone / Euphonium], Stephanie O’Keefe (FB) [French Horn], Brian P. Kennedy [Keyboard 1 / Rehearsal Pianist], Peter Herz [Keyboard 2], and Mark Converse [Percussion].

The movement and choreography was under the control of Dana Solimando (FB) [whose domain listed in the program is empty]. Movement consisted of a vast variety, from gypsy dance to what is best referred to as liturgical movement. All was enjoyable to watch.

Turning to the remaining technical and creative credits. The scenic design by Stephen Gifford (FB) was…. towering. The stage consisted of a two level structure. The lower level served a number of purposes, both low (town square, church floor) and high (bell tower). The upper level housed the choir on each side, and provided an upper portion to the bell tower and an observation point for various characters. There were large bells that were lowered, and a grate that was likely wooden, but lowered with wonderful sound effects to create the illusion of metal (credit to Josh Bessom (FB)’s sound design in this area). There was also creative use of illusion, such as fabric to simulate molten lead, or non-fire fire effects such as torches, a pyre, and candles. The scenic design was supported by the lighting design of Jared A. Sayeg (FB), whose work we have seen before. I particularly noted the use of red mood establishing lighting not only during the fire scenes, but in songs such as “Hellfire”. The sound design of Bessom has been mentioned before; it is worth adding that the sound was relatively clear up in the balcony, although there were a few microphone crackles that could be addressed. The costumes by Marcy Froehlich (FB) were effective in creating the character; particularly good was the simply costume used to transform Quasimode from man to monster. Wigs and Hair and Makeup were by Katie McCoy/FB, and effectively created the characters from the distance of the balcony. Rounding out the credits: Julia Flores (FB) – Casting Director; John W. Calder III (FB) – Production Stage Manager; Jess Manning/FB – Assistant Stage Manager; David Elzer (FB) – Publicity. BT McNicholl (FB) – Producing Artistic Director; McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB) – Executive Producers.

Before I close this off, I’d like to note that we met a delightful group of students from nearby Biola University, who were there as part of a theatre appreciation assignment. I applaud them for attending live performance — regular attendance at live performance is enhancing and uplifting for the soul in a way a movie just isn’t.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame continues at the The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) through October 9th, and you should make every attempt you can to see it. This show will move you. Tickets are available through the La Mirada online box office, or by calling the La Mirada Box Office at 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310, between 11am – 5:30pm Mon-Fri  and  12 noon – 4pm on Sat. Discount tickets may be available through the LA Stage Alliance or Goldstar (although right now, Goldstar looks sold out).

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). We’re thinking of adding yet one more subscription: the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district. Their 2017 season looks great: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  The first weekend of October (actually Sept. 30) brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I doubt if we’ll have time for any shows. November will bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. We still have some open weekends in there I may book. We close out the year, in December, with the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. See here for the Indiegogo. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

The Intersection of Language and Sensitivity

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 24, 2016 @ 12:23 pm PDT

userpic=schmuckOne of my favorite adages is: “Never ascribe to malice what one can to stupidity.” Today, that applied to me.

Perhaps I should explain. Perhaps I shouldn’t — explain that is. Let me tell a story.

We have our lead character, let’s call him Edward J. Littlehazy. Ed is Jewish, caucasian, male, and does his best to be socially aware. He’s hip to terms like microagression. He supports #BlackLivesMatter, because he understands the implicit privilege that exists today in society, and that people like him have benefited from over time. He attempts to be sensitive in all his writings, and strives to listen and understand first, and not to resort to name calling or attacking the individual in discussions.

He is also, being Jewish, sensitized to antisemitism (and writes it as one word, to distinguish it from hatred of Semites in general). He has studied the subject, and is well aware of the terminology often used and abused in discussions. He is politically active on the liberal side of the spectrum (no surprise there), and is also sensitized to the growing desire of segments of the population to reinvent history to support their views. He’s a factual person.

This person made one mistake. He has a friend who is hypersensitized to privilege, agreession, and marginalization issues from a different aspect. That’s not the mistake — although he doesn’t always agree with this friend, he has learned from the discussions this friend has and the posts this friend makes. The mistake, was commenting on one of this friend’s posts, expressing how he interpreted the post slightly differently because of the words used; in fact, he saw the words excluding many dimensions of the issue, and using potential trigger terms.

For this, he was accused of a particularly bad behavior (“splain” is part of the accusation), and was said to be abusing his white privilege in commenting. When he asked to clarify what he had done wrong, more accusations arose related to privilege and belittling the original author.

Here’s where that adage comes in: Never ascribe to malice what one can to stupidity.

The author could have simply responded: “My intent was specifically not to be broad in the way you see it; I intended (describe narrow focus) for particular reason.” That, quite likely, would have ended the discussion by clarifying that the misreading was wrong. No malice. Just a stupid misreading.

But a particular intent was presumed. Again, mishandled by ascribing malice. Instead of saying someone had done some bad behavior and assuming it was obvious that it was intentional, there could have been an attempt to teach and clarify: By the way, were you aware that by wording your comment as xxx, it could come off as bad behavior because it could be interpreted as zzz. After a long back and forth, that particular explanation came out. The back and forth was unnecessary.

What’s the takeaway here? What can I learn from this? (and perhaps you, but I won’t explain how)

First, remember, never ascribe to malice what you can to stupidity.

Second, go into discussions to understand and discuss ideas; don’t attack the person. They may not know better. If someone mispeaks, gently educate them on how to say things better, not just how they were wrong. Remember the only useful thing from TQM: plusses and deltas. Let people know where they did good, and where they can improve.

Third, be aware not only of your own hypersensitivities, but of other’s sensitivities, when you talk to them.

Lastly, think twice before taking your dog for a walk in a minefield.

Understanding The News

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 21, 2016 @ 11:44 am PDT

userpic=oh-shitAs I sit here eating lunch and reading the headlines on Google News, I see the following:

newsimageCharlotte police shooting victim was armed with a gun, chief says after night of violent protests
Washington Post – ‎6 minutes ago‎
CHARLOTTE – The morning after violent protests erupted over the fatal police shooting of a black man, officials here called for peace while stressing that the man was armed and posing an “imminent deadly threat” when officers shot and killed him …

I’m reading the headline, and I’m thinking, “You know, most people will read this headline, think the killing was justified based on it, and not see what the protests are about.” Similarly, they’ll read about the shooting in Tulsa of the unarmed black man, learn that PCP was found in his trunk, and go “it was justified.”

Here’s why both of these are problems, and why they are illustrative of the divide in society that is captured in #BlackLivesMatter.

In the Charlotte incident, ask yourself: If the man who was shot was Hispanic, would the behavior of the officer have been the same? If he had been a white woman? If he had been a white man in a hoodie? If he had been a white man in a suit and tie? Quite likely — as is in the case of most police departments — the reaction of the officers would have been different. Therein is the problem. Police officers (and society at large) are bringing visible and invisible prejudices into situations, and those are coloring their reactions. As a result, the reaction is no longer based solely on the crime, on innocence or guilt, on clear danger, but on perceived danger, on fear not facts, on clothing and skin color and bias. The upshot of this is that being a person of color or being of lower socioeconomic status can cost you your life in a police situation even before real guilt or innocence is determined. That is something that is no longer acceptable today.

Similarly, whether or not there was PCP in the trunk is immaterial. Officers cannot see in the trunk. If the fellow who was shot was dressed like an investment banker or a lawyer, would the reaction have been the same, or would there have been hesitation. The difference in reaction is the problem; the reaction often comes from the internalized fear of “the other”, those beneath us in society, those for whom we have stereotypical tropes in our head.

Does the reaction happen the other way as well? What about those white officers who have been shot? I opine that in the opposite case, the only color that matters is the color of the uniform, not the skin. Those whom have been downtrodden by the police are having instinctive reactions to the uniform, and fighting back. Many analogies come to me.

So when you read about #BlackLivesMatter — and the opposite side of the issue, be it called #AllLivesMatter or White Racism or something else — think about the issue of hidden bias, and police who fear and overreact based on stereotypes, skin color, and status.

Oh, and by the way, this doesn’t mean that all police officers feel this way. Many — I’d go so far as to venture out on a limb and say a majority — go out of their way to avoid bias, and want to serve and protect everyone in their community. The problem is that a few bad apples have spoiled the entire bunch, and many people are scared to interact with a bushel of apples that may have one bad one in it (and so their reaction is to stomp them all).

When you see headlines such as this, ask yourself if hidden bias could have come into play. If it could, that may explain the reaction you see. Further, if you say that in this case, there may really have been a reason for the response, remember that the reaction of the community has been tainted by years and years and years of misbehavior. Until those policing us have a history of demonstrating color-and-bias blind policing, every action is suspect.

Even With a Republican • “I Love You, Because” @ GTC Burbank

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 18, 2016 @ 3:27 pm PDT

I Love You Because (GTC - Red Brick Road)userpic=theatre_ticketsShortly after the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I read a review in the LA Post-Examiner about a production of I Love You, Because at the Hudson Theatre. I had heard the music from the show before (I have the CD), and wanted to see it; unfortunately, I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule before it closed. Luckily for me, I learned about a different production being produced by someone I knew from my Temple Beth Torah days that was opening in September. The show’s schedule and my schedule were able to mesh, and so last night we were out in Burbank to see the Red Brick Road Theatre Company† (FB) and Endeavor Theatre Ensemble’s production of the Cunningham and Saltzman musical “I Love You, Because” at the Grove Theatre Center.
[† Red Brick Road does have a website, however it is currently under construction and not yet uploaded. Eventually, you’ll find it here.]

I Love You, Because is a musical about… well, let me start by telling you what everyone says it is about. Everyone says — that is, it seems to be that every review of the show that you will read will say — it is a modern twist of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now, I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, but I have read the Wikipedia summary,  and I have difficulty seeing the purported connection. My advice: ignore that claimed aspect of the show, as it appears to be tenuous at best. Beside that, there are no zombies.

So what is I Love You, Because about. To me, it is a comedy squarely in the center of the off-Broadway subgenre of small cast comedies about finding love in New York. You know them: shows like First Date; Brownstone, The Musical; Five Course Love; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; I, Sing; Little Shop of Horrors… oh, right, no zombies. In any case, shows about some small number of couples seeing to find love through endless dating, finding Mr. Wrong, and then finding Mr. Right. I don’t know why they are always in New York — perhaps Gothamites are much worse at finding love, or perhaps Gothamites will only go see a show if it is about their city (whereas LA folks care about love in New York, perhaps New York doesn’t care about LA).

In any case, I Love You, Because is squarely in the “looking for love” genre of musicals. In this case, we have two young and beautiful gothamites: Austin and Marcy. Each has just been dumped by their long-term paramores. One, Marcy, would just like to move on, but her best friend Diana convinces her that she absolutely must wait the proper amount of rebound time. The other, Austin, wants to win back the love of his life, but his brother, Jeff, convinces him that he must go out and date again, for only then will the universe restore balance by bringing the woman that dumped him back. If you hadn’t realized it yet, both of the sidekicks are pretty cynical about love itself and neither has any realistic hope or want of finding a relationship. So the two sidekicks happen to set up a date with each other, and happen to bring along their best friends so they can meet and force the universe to do what they want.

The universe is perverse, so you can guess what happens.

That’s right, Austin and Marcy start seeing each other: her to have something to pass the rebound time with; him to have someone help him right the perfect poem to win his girl back. There’s no interest of the two in each other, as they are stereotypical opposes: he a straight-laced Republican; she a free-spirited Liberal. As I said, you can guess what happens; I probably shouldn’t spoil it too much.

As for the sidekicks, you can probably guess what happens there. After all, you’ve see Mike and Molly. That’s right: they become friends with benefits.

By now you can see where this is going, and anticipate where things will end up. There is a crisis at the end of Act I prompted by the profession of actual feelings; Act II serves to resolve those feelings and bring everything to a happen ending, with the help and lubrication of two nameless supporting cast members who serve various roles, including as bartenders and waitresses (something every actor in New York knows how to play well).

Overall, I found the story a bit sitcomish, but enjoyable and funny and cute. That may be because the characters were written a bit broadly. Others in the audience were guffawing and finding it hilarious throughout — I’m not that demonstrative, but there are some very cute bits.  There could be an age factor in this: the humor may hit even more to those who are closer to the modern dating world than I, an engineering type who married another engineering type and never really explored the dating scene (except with other mathematicians, scientists, and engineers).

Part of this could be due to the fact that this was an early work from the authors, Ryan Cunningham (Book and Lyrics) and Joshua Saltzman (Music). The team does not have a lot of musicals under their belt, and often the oeuvre of a team matures over their production span. In many ways, the lyrics and music were a bit stronger than the book itself. Many of the songs were very cute and the audience could relate to them. Good examples of this are “We’re Just Friends”, “Coffee”, and “That’s What’s Gonna Happen”. Of course, there is the very strong “The Actuary Song”, which makes one think of the heist planning in 70 Girls 70. On the other hand, there were some klunky-ish songs such as “…But I Don’t Want to Talk About Her”.

One thing that was notable here was the casting, for which there is no specific credit (so it was likely a combination of the director and the producers). Most productions of this show, judging by the cast pictures, tend to select a uniformly white, good looking, model-proportioned cast. This production was far from that. Of the three female cast members, two were on the fubsy side, the third was a person of color. The male side was a little less diverse, although that is understandable given two of the three characters are brothers. But it was truly a nice thing to see on the stage — especially as -ism based on size has been about the only -ism to remain common.

ETA: Photos from the production have been posted on the production’s Facebook page.

Let’s turn to this cast, under the direction of Carol Becker (FB). In the lead positions were Laura Bevilacqua/FB as Marcy and Nick Echols (FB) as Austin. Let’s start with the basics: I was smitten with Bevilacqua’s performance. She had a remarkable personality, a dazzling smile, wonderful expressions and reactions and an extremely strong singing voice that did not require the amplification that it had. She was just a joy to watch, especially when she wasn’t the center of the action and was just reacting. Echols seems to start out a bit stiffer (this was, after all, the second performance of the show) and to have some amplification problems, but as the show progressed he became a much warmer character and less of the stereotype he began as. (boy, that was a convoluted sentence).  One other thing worth noting was the size difference between the two: even in her heels, Bevilacqua was at least a head shorter than Echols. It was fun to watch them navagate around that.

In the sidekick tier, we had Kristen Bennett/FB as Diana and Matthew Ian Welch (FB) as Jeff. Bennett and Welch just seemed wrong for each other, yet the pairing work. No where else was this clearer than in the “We’re Just Friends” song, where the two are clearly having a load of fun. Bennett had a very strong gospel style voice, and Welch had an amazing baratone that just seemed to come from nowhere.

Rounding out the team in various character roles were Ali Deyer (FB) as the “NYC Women” and Tim Jim Lim/FB as the “NYC Men”.  I really liked Deyer — it was nice to see someone who was zaftig on stage where it wasn’t being played for the funny, but just as a normal character with a normal life. Deyer also had a strong singing voice. I was less crazy about Lim — his characterizations were a bit over the top and at times bordered on the stereotypical; I was also not enamored of his singing voice, which was a bit weaker than the other two men in the cast. Lainie Pahos (FB) was the understudy for Marcy/Diana.

The on-stage musicians were under the musical direction of Stephanie Deprez (FB), who was on stage playing as much as the actors (she was a hoot to watch). The “orchestra” consisted of Betsi Freeman (FB) (Piano), Glenn Ochenkoski (Drums), Mark Corradetti (FB) (Bass), and Jeff Kroeger (Keyboard). Choreography was by Liza Barskaya (FB) and worked pretty well given the space — again, I particularly enjoyed it on the “We’re Just Friends” number.

Turning to the production and creatives side. The set design by Carmi Gallo was reasonable: it didn’t give a strong sense of New York other than the pictures hanging on the wall; additionally, there was this odd red LED shape at the back that would turn on occasionally. It was unclear what that was meant to convey; hence, it served primarily to distract. Properties design was by Rebecca Kahn/FB, and they worked reasonable well — especially all of the fruity drinks and such. The sound design from Jay Lee was problematic: there was bad balance between the actors and the music; in that size space, the music needs to be toned down and the actors — especially these actors — do not require much amplification. As it was, it was a bit overpowering. The lighting design by Robert Davis conveyed the proper sense of mood and time, and thus worked well. The costume designs by Christine Macedo were strong — I particularly enjoyed the costumes on the lead actress (remember, I said I was smitten); all conveyed that sense of New York design that doesn’t work as well in LA :-). Rounding out the production credits were: Becky Murdoch/FB, Assistant Director; Owen Panno (FB), Stage Manager (who didn’t recognize us from the many years ago where we frequented TDWA in Northridge with all the Nobel grads); and Emily Mae Heller (FB) and Betsi Freeman (FB), Producers.

I Love You, Because continues at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) through October 2nd. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets; they do not appear to be up on Goldstar. I found it a fun and cute show — not deep, but fun — and a nice way to pass the evening.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). We’re thinking of adding yet one more subscription: the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district. Their 2017 season looks great: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  The last weekend in September brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I doubt if we’ll have time for any shows. November will bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. We still have some open weekends in there I may book. We close out the year, in December, with the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. See here for the Indiegogo. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

News Chum Stew: Sex, Lubricants, and Tenuous Connections

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 17, 2016 @ 4:07 pm PDT

userpic=tortuga-heuvosIt’s the weekend. Time to clean out the list of links that never quite jelled into a theme. Let’s see what we’ve got here:

  • Ah, So That’s What It Looks Like. As they say, start with the sex and draw them in. Driving home from a recent vacation, we were listening to the excellent new Gimlet podcast, Science Vs — and this time, it was Science Vs. “The G Spot”. You know you want to listen to it, so I’ll wait. (taps foot) One of the things discussed in the episode is that, unlike the male organ which is (ahem) out in front, the bulk for the female equivalent is hidden, and we only see the tip. Well wonder no more: Here’s a three-dimensional model of the clitoris. (yes, it is SFW) It shows the organ is much more you see, and it explains why this notion of special spots is bunk — there’s all over sensitivity.
  • Lubricants. As we’re talking sex, we should be talking lubricants. Here’s an interesting article that explores the four basic types of lubricants, and what each is good for: oil, grease, penetrating lubricants, and dry lubricants. Hint: Don’t use penetrating lubricants with your partner, no matter what the name implies. On that part of the body, WD-40 is not your friend.
  • Unwrapping Your Present. What do you think the most popular Christmas or Chanukkah present is? I don’t know for sure, but the most popular birthday is September 16. Now, count back 9 months.
  • Knitting and Math. Perhaps you’re not into either sex or lubricants. You would rather knit. Cool. Here are six math concepts explained via knitting and crocheting. You too can knit a hyperbolic plane, a Lorenz manifold, cyclic groups, or a numerical progression.
  • When to get a Flu Shot. Perhaps all this talk of sex and knitting is making you sick. Could be the flu? Did you get your flu shot? They are out now. Here’s the best time to get one. Timing is everything. Some research shows that vaccines grow less effective over the course of one flu season. With the flu sometimes sticking around until spring, it’s then possible that those who get their shots early in the year will be left vulnerable at the end of a late season.
  • Ship Names. Continuing this tenuous theme, we all know what a submarine signifies. Now, what do Harvey Milk, Gabby Giffords, Sojourner Truth, Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez, and John Lewis have in common. They are all names assigned to Navy ships of late. The choice of names, predictibly, has gotten some small-minded members of congress up in arms. I happen to like them.
  • No Dues. Another tenous link: what’s almost as risky as unprotected sex. How about deciding to go away from a tried and true funding model — such as synagogue dues — and asking people to pay what they want for the community. Yes, this happens; in fact,  a synagogue in Westlake Village has taken the leap to a no-dues model. Will it be successful. I hope so — I think it is the model of the future.
  • Hot Under the Collar. All this talk of sex has probably gotten you hot. You’re not the only one. The earth is heating up as well. Here’s a timeline of how the earth has been heating up.