Observations Along the Road

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

A Unique Visual Conception

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jul 20, 2015 @ 8:38 pm PDT

Astro Boy and the God of Comics (Sacred Fools)userpic=dramamasksSometimes, things just work out. For a while, it was looking like I wasn’t going to see any theatre this weekend. First, my Sunday evening show (which I had on my calendar for Saturday), “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB), cancelled on me; luckily, I was able to replace that with another show for Sunday night (based on a recommendation from a Facebook group). Then the show I thought was on Sunday, but which I now realize was Saturday, “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), cancelled due to the rain. However, in the end, I ended up seeing one of the most inventive, creative, and entertaining shows I have ever seen. Further, after telling my wife about the show, I’m going to be seeing it again next weekend (creating a triple header)… and yes, I checked the dates.

The show, Astro Boy and the God of Comics at Sacred Fools Theatre Company (FB), is about the father of what has come to be known as Anime or Manga, and his greatest creation, Astro Boy. Now, I grew up watching some Manga when I was little — yes, I remember the afternoons of Speed Racer and Kimba: The White Lion on UHF Channel 52. But who knew it as Manga back then — it was just dubbed cartoons. I also have loads of friends into Manga, and relatives that love drawing the stuff. But that was about the extent of my knowledge of the subject. I really never got into it, although I recognized the style.

The first inclination that this production is going to be different than anything you have seen begins before the show starts. The stage is covered by a see-through scrim, upon which loads of facts and factoids about anime in general, and Osamu Tezuka in particular, are projected. Suddenly, an animated sign saying “Curtain Announcements” is projected, and you get the typical announcements. During this, you are told that the show will be presented in 13 episodes, and they will be presented in reverse chronological order. An artist walks out, assesses the setup, and opens the scrim. At that point, the title of the first episode is projected and the fun begins.

When I first heard “reverse chronological”, two shows came to mind: Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years. Both of these use a reverse chronological mechanism, and both are hard to initially get into because of it. This is the first show I’ve seen where the mechanism works: we start with the end of Astro Boy, and work our way back to his origins, and then move from the latter days of his creator to the very beginning.

The execution of the show itself is unique. If you go to theatre a lot, you have a certain expectations. Actors playing characters, in a somewhat naturalistic set piece. If you see talents other than acting, it might be singing and dance. This show perhaps is best described as manic energy, punctuated with touching meaning. The energy comes at the start, and comes from the actors, the projections, and the drawing.

Astro Boy Publicity PhotosYes, I said drawing and projections. Look at the two publicity photos I selected at the right. The show starts with actors in coveralls seeing various images projected on what appears to be a white screen on the back of the stage. Suddenly, they start drawing on the screen. And drawing. And tracing. And when they are done — it is a drawing of Astro Boy. Suddenly, they are running and ripping down what they have just drawn, and the episode begins.

This is how the show continues. There is interaction with projections. There is constant drawing on the back, on paper, on pages. There are clever puppets (which made me think of the recent Entropy at Theatre of Note). There is Heather Schmidt (FB) as a perfect energetic and innocent Astro Boy. There is manga style. There is manga energy. It is just a remarkable imaginative staging you really have to see to believe.

Lets get some of the credit for this out of the way: The show was written by Natsu Onoda Power, and directed by Jaime Robledo (FB). I’ll cover the production staff in detail later, including the various assistants; suffice it to say this show would not be what it is without them. This is one of the first shows where I have seen projections be more than a backdrop — they became an additional actor. It is just a remarkable concept and conception.

There are just so many scenes from this show that left remarkable impressions. There was the episode where we learn of Astro Boy’s final mission. There was the robot auction. There was the assembly of Astro Boy. There was the wonderful introduction to Osamu Tezuka and his unique personality, told by his assistants, interns, and wife — with each drawing something that ended up being a self portrait of Osamu. There was the haunting episode about Japan during the war. There were scenes that were entirely silent — evoking silent movies to a great extent — and there was a fair amount of plain silliness. It was just so memorable and creative.

The actors for this show didn’t come across as your traditional stage actors: they had a role and a script and played a character. In fact, the only two real characters were Heather Schmidt (FB) as Astro Boy and West Liang (FB) as Osamu Tezuka (and even then they occasionally joined the ensemble in other roles). Schmidt was.. was… was…. perky and cute and hyper and joyful and… embodied Astro Boy in both performance and telegraphed attitude. Liang was more serious as Tezuka, but even he got into the fun occasionally.  He made you believe he was Tezuka … and that’s a great compliment.

The remainder of the ensemble became particular characters at times, but were more themselves in coveralls, portraying the story by frantic drawing, movement, pantomime, performance, and craziness. The ensemble consisted of Zach Brown (FB), Megumi Kabe (FB), Anthony Li (FB), Mandi Moss (FB), Jaime Puckett (FB), and Marz Richards (FB). You’ve heard of triple threat actors. I don’t know about their singing, but these guys are a different type of triple threat: actors, dancers (for what else would you call that closely choreographed movement on stage), and graphic artists. It is hard single any of them out for they each played great roles — I particularly remember Kabe’s portrayal of Osamu’s wife, Li as the head of the robot academy, Richards selling robots, Moss and her fuschia hair as an assistant, … well you get the idea. All are great.

Then there are the folks you only see briefly (or don’t see at all, but are there in spirit). There is a video of Osamu when he was young that I actually thought was real video … then I discovered they also shot that for the show with Scot Shamblin (FB) [Tezuka’s father], Jane Kim (FB) [Tezuka’s Mother], and Sebastian and Percival Africa [Young Tezuka]. Understudies were Erin Sanzo (FB) [Astro Boy], Scot Shamblin (FB) [Osamu Tezuka], Gregory Guy Gorden (FB) [Ensemble], Lisa Anne Nicolai (FB) [Ensemble], and Aviva Pressman (FB) [Ensemble].

I said at the beginning it was the production and technical staff that made this really special, so let’s start naming some names. It is really hard to single out one particular production aspects from another in this show — they blend together that well. The lighting (I noticed some quite effective use of movers and LEDs), the sound effects and music, the projections, the props, the puppets, the costumes, the overall set design that brought everything together. They made a seamless whole (with the possible exception of near the end, where I kept getting some odd flashes as if the projection went down for a split second and came back). The production team consisted of: Brian W. Wallis [Lead Producer / Technical Supervisor], Aviva Pressman (FB) [Live Art Director (I’m guessing this is the “Live Art” equivalent of Dance Captain :-) ], Rebecca Larsen [Assistant Director], Shaunessy Quinn [Associate Producer (Design/Tech)], Seamus Sullivan/FB [Associate Producer (Casting/Outreach)], Carrie Keranen (FB) [Marketing Coordinator], Heatherlynn Gonzalez (FB) [Stage Manager], Suze Campagna (FB) [Assistant Stage Manager], DeAnne Millais (FB) [Scenic Design], Matt Richter (FB) [Lighting Design], Linda Muggeridge/FB [Costume Design], Brandon Clark/FB [Prop Design], Natsu Onoda Power [Puppet Design], Jaime Robledo (FB) [Sound Design], Ryan Johnson/FB [Original Music], Mike Mahaffey [Stunt/Fight Choreography], Joe Fria [Suzuki Trainer], Anthony Backman [Production Video Design], Jim Pierce [Projection Animation Design], Danielle Heitmuller [Animation Painter], and many more.

Lucky for you, Astro Boy and the God of Comics has been extended through August 8. Go see it. I liked it so much, I’m willing to see it again with the same cast — which I rarely do. Tickets are available through Sacred Fools, and may be available through Goldstar and LA Stage Tix.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). 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: July is a month of double-headers. Next weekend is a triple header: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on Saturday July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day in the afternoon, followed by seeing Astro Boy again in the evening at  Sacred Fools Theatre Company (FB). August continues the craziness, with a double header at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend: “As You Like It” on Saturday, and the rescheduled “Green Grow The Lilacs” on Sunday.  The second weekend of August is equally busy, with “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) on Friday, our summer Mus-ique show on Saturday, and Concerts on the Green in Warner Park (with a Neil Diamond cover band) on Sunday. The third weekend of August is calmer, but only because we moved theatre off the weekend because my wife is driving my daughter’s car back to the bay area. As for me, I might very well go back to see the revised “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB) — they are returning to have live music and I expect that will make a significant difference. The third week of August may see us back at REP East (FB) for their “secret seventh show”, which has been revealed to be “A Company of Wayward Saints“. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

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Some Tasty Items: Gluten Free, Cottage Cheese, Fruits, and Cheap Eats

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 19, 2015 @ 2:42 pm PDT

userpic=cookingIn the last day or two, I’ve been talking heavily about chum and stew. Hungry yet? Perhaps these food related items will whet your appetite:

  • Gluten Free Fads. As you know, I’m interested in the gluten free diet craze because my wife is celiac and has to each gluten free for medical reason. Over the last two weeks, a few articles caught my eye related to this. The first is an article from the BBC talking about the fad. The title is horrible, but the points are good: you should really only go gluten-free if you medically have to.  Gluten-free food isn’t necessarily healthier; sometimes it is worse. Further, those who don’t really have sensitivities can muck up a restaurant’s idea of what is GF for those that will get really sick when they slip up. The second is an article about a pill that will supposedly make it safe for celiacs to eat gluten. My attitude on this is: let someone other than my wife test it (translated as: the risk that it won’t work is just too great). In many ways, I’m not sure this is a problem that needs pharmacological solution:  the GF diet works, and those that follow it don’t miss much. The benefits of eating gluten aren’t that great, and the cost of the pill will surely outweigh any costs of special food. Lastly is a link to a purported gluten-free B&B in the area.
  • You Gotta Have Culture. Let’s move from what my wife eats to what I eat. Cottage cheese. Every day on my salad at lunch. You used to see cottage cheese everywhere. Today, it’s yogurt, yogurt, yogurt. But cottage cheese is wonderful — and not only with fruit. I like it mixed into almost anything — it adds a wonderful sweet cheesy flavor. NPR explores how that upstart yogurt got ahead of cottage cheese.
  • Fruit News You Can Use. Earlier in July, I had a news chum that talked about what fruits you should refrigerate, and which ones you shouldn’t. Here’s some more useful fruit news: how to know when the fruit you are getting at the market is ripe. This is always useful information, especially for melons and such.
  • Dining in the Valley. One last food related item: a list of 10 San Fernando Valley cheap eats.  We’ve eaten at some of these (and some are favorites), such as Lum Ka-Naad (near our house), Bun Me, and Les Sisters. Others we’ll need to try.

 

Are You Feeling Cybersecure?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 19, 2015 @ 10:17 am PDT

userpic=securityContinuing the cleaning of the collected links, here are a few articles and comments related to cybersecurity. Note: Those who read my post yesterday on iPods and other Digital Audio Players should revisit it — I’ve updated it with lots more info.

  • Training the Next Generation. A few interesting articles relating to the training of new Cybersecurity experts — at least ones that caught my attention because of their connections. First, Caltrans is getting involved with Cybersecurity. Sponsored by Caltrans and the California Transportation Foundation, the 2015 CyberCIEGE Competition challenged high school-aged teams to deal with a realistic simulation of a workplace environment that teaches project management and computer network security concepts. Students hired and trained employees, purchased and configured workstations and network devices and defended against cyber attacks while managing their budget. Also focusing on high school students, a program at NSA is working with a number of schools, including UC Berkeley, to educate high-school students about cybersecurity careers. I happen to know one of the folks at NSA behind that program — I’ve known Steve LaFountain for years, going back to when I was at SDC. With Steve involved in this program, you know it is doing good work.
  • Investing in Cybersecurity. In what is surely a sign of the times, there is a new Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) that focuses on Cybersecurity.The fund seeks investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield of an equity index called the Nasdaq CEA Cybersecurity Index.This new ETF includes companies primarily involved in the building, implementation and management of security protocols applied to private and public networks, computers and mobile devices in order to provide protection of the integrity of data and network operations. It is an interesting notion and cybersecurity is a growth field, but as to how this index will perform… I’m not sure about that.
  • Building Blocks. About a year and a half ago, there was an effort to create a NIST FFRDC. It now exists, and I’ve seen the first announcement of its output: a series of building blocks that have been released for community review and comment. The building blocks cover cybersecurity implementations that apply to multiple industry sectors and will eventually be incorporated into many of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence’s sector-specific use cases.  The two that have been released are: (1) “Domain Name System-Based Security for Electronic Mail“, which proposes using the DNS-based Authentication of Named Entities (DANE) protocol to help prevent unauthorized parties from reading or modifying an organization’s email or using it as a vector for malware; and (2) “Derived Personal Identity Verification (PIV) Credentials“, which proposes a way for mobile devices to use two-factor authentication without specialized card readers, which read the identity credentials embedded in on-card computer chips to ensure authorized access to computer systems or facilities. With derived credentials, mobile device users could get the same level of security with their mobile devices that desktop users get with card-reader access.
  • Government Cybersecurity. An article on Slashdot today teased with the headline: “Despite Triage, US Federal Cybersecurity Still Lags Behind“. The article demonstrated Slashdot’s usual journalistic sensationalism, stating: “According to the NY Times, U.S. government officials will soon announce all the improvements their IT security teams have made to federal systems in response to the OPM breach. Unfortunately, says the Times, these updates only just scratch the surface, and are more to show that the government is “doing something” than to fix the long-standing problems with how it handles security. “After neglect that has been documented in dozens of audits for nearly two decades, the federal government is still far behind its adversaries. And it is still struggling to procure the latest technological defenses or attract the kind of digital security expertise necessary to secure its networks.”  What the Slashdot article fails to acknowledge is that the government, by definition, cannot easily be bleeding edge in this area. There are so many legacy IT systems across the entire Government that it is difficult to secure them all, especially when many are old and did not have security engineered in. Budgeting for improved cybersecurity is only now getting attention, and Government funding exhibits the battleship problem: it is slow to turn around. Add to that the delays inherent in any large bureaucracy, and you’ve got what we’ve got. In short, governments cannot be nimble. You might think one could only focus on the critical systems; alas, we all know that critical systems are often attacked from stepping stone systems that play the role of trusted connections. The answer isn’t easy, but a lot depends on pushing to engineer security in from the start; to consider security as important as any other mission functionality requirement.  More importantly, even if you can’t get it engineered in, you need to get everyone thinking about it: education, enforcement of policies, and emergency resilience can be as important as what is engineered in. Hmmm, seems like I climbed up onto a soapbox — the view is interesting from here. Articles like this can do it to you. Perhaps I’ll climb down now. Carefully.

Saturday News Chum: Pools, Morticians, Vinyl, Plutonium, and Facebook

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 18, 2015 @ 3:07 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s an oddly stormy July day here in Southern California (a bit worrisome because I have outdoor theatre tickets tonight). Still, storms make it a perfect time for some stew. I’ve also got two other themed articles brewing on the back burners (one on food, and one on cybersecurity), but the haven’t quite set up right yet. So let’s dig into the stew:

  • Benefitting from the Drought. Having a pool is a headache. You’ve got to keep it full; you’ve got to keep it clean. Additionally, when there is a drought, you worry about the water lost to evaporation… and leaks. Further, if you have a leak, think of the water bill if you have to drain and refill it to repair. I’m telling you this because some niche businesses benefit from a drought: In particular, a pool repair man who is able to repair pools under water has more work than he can handle. He’s developed a pool repair compound (trade secret) that can be applied and cure under water, meaning that pools do not require draining for repair. I found this very interesting, as I suspect my pool to have another leak… and for that leak to be somewhere deep where I can’t find it. During the summer, it is hard to differentiate water lost to a leak from water lost to evaporation.
  • No One Ever Plans to Be A Mortician. This is one of my favorite phrases… and so here’s an article about morticians. Specifically, it is about two Los Angeles morticians who are trying to effect a radical shakeup of the undertaking business. What they want to do is return death to the home. In other words, people are removed from death and their loved ones. People used to die at home; now they die in hospitals. They are handled in isolation by undertakers, who pump them full of chemicals to make them look alive. These two young morticians work with families to facilitate what the two call a “more natural” death — no formaldehyde cocktail, no pods that fill hollow eyes, no mouth former, no satin-lined casket, no metal vault. The goal is to promote home funerals. If family members care to, they can undress, bathe, and cool the body with ice themselves or they can watch them do so. Interesting concept.
  • The Rebirth of Vinyl. If you purchase music these days, you’ve probably heard about the rebirth of vinyl records; quite suprising in this day of digital music and CDs. But not everyone thinks it will last. In particular, Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter Paul and Mary, thinks the current resurgence of vinyl is just a fad. Specifically, he thinks a trend to oversampling will eliminate the sound advantage, but the tactile and emotional advantage will remain. Then again, if you don’t have a place or way to listen to the music you own, what difference does it make.
  • Invisible Girlfriends. On the Internet, there’s a service for everything — even being an invisible girlfriend who is there only in text messages. This service is provided in a way similar to a Mechanical Turk: it is crowdsourced. What is it like to be an Invisible Girlfriend? Funny you should ask: Someone wrote an article about the experience. This seems the perfect subject for a Reply All episode.
  • Magnets and Plutonium. Pluto has been in the news, so why not Plutonium. Plutonium is an odd metal: based on where it is in the periodic table, one would expect it to be magnetic — yet it isn’t. Scientists have just started to figure out why. The reason is that plutonium can have four, five or six electrons in the outer shell in the ground state (they previously thought the number was fixed); further, not only does it fluctuate between the three different configurations, it is in all three at the same time. Because the number of electrons in plutonium’s outer shell keeps changing, the unpaired electrons in the outer shell can never line up in a magnetic field and so plutonium can’t become magnetic.
  • Taking Control of Your Digital Life. One of the things that was nice about Livejournal was the ability to see what was happening with your friends chronologically, back to the point where you had last done so. Facebook and their algorithms made that difficult: you were never sure if you were seeing everything from everyone — Facebook tried to bring up what it thought was most important. That all may be changing. Supposedly, Facebook is going to soon let you bypass their algorithm. After years of sorting news feeds primarily by algorithm, Facebook is letting users choose what they want to see first.An update to Facebook’s iOS app expands the existing “News Feed Preferences” section with a way to choose whose updates appear at the top of the timeline. A similar update is coming to Facebook’s Android app and desktop website in the coming weeks. Users can check out the new settings by pressing the “More” button in the Facebook app’s bottom-right corner, then tapping on “News Feed Preferences” and selecting “Prioritize who to see first.” This brings up a list of friends and Pages that users can mark as favorites. Unread updates from favorite contacts will always appear at the top of the News Feed, overriding Facebook’s predictive algorithms.

That’s it — your stew for the weekend. Let’s now hope that the storm (we’ve got thunder and rain as I type this) doesn’t cancel tonight’s theatre. Update: It did :-(

Space, The Final Frontier

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 18, 2015 @ 7:52 am PDT

2015 iPodsuserpic=ipod[Excuse the barrage of posts today — I’m finally catching up after a busy two weeks]

This week, Apple finally announced a refresh to the remaining members of the iPod line. The new refresh brings a faster processor, updated display, and multiple sizes. Commentators are going on and on about its benefits, and the major drawback discussed deals with its place in the new Apple streaming ecosystem.

Color me unimpressed.

Mind you, I seriously would have thought about getting one of these beasts had Apple deigned to increase the memory to 256GB, or at least made the memory a micro-SD card that was capable of taking the largest micro-SD card currently made (2TB).  But 128GB? That’s less memory than my current iPod Classic at 160GB (148.79GB capacity for music). I’d have to delete music just to fit on a 128GB memory. As it is, I’ve only got around 13GB free on my iPod Classic, and that will be going down in a week or so (Amazon order going in on Monday).

Folks, we’re seeing industry trying to push us back to the future. They’ve successfully convinced people that you can do everything in the cloud — computing, storage, etc. Us old timers realize that’s just a move back to time-sharing on a central computer — the way computing was done in the 1970s. Apple and the rest of the music industry is attempting to convince us that we don’t need to own our music, we can listen to whatever we want by streaming; in fact, if we don’t want to pick what we listen to, they’ll do it for us. Us old timers realize that’s just pushing us back to the AM/FM model, where you would hear DJs programming a playlist of tracks out of a station’s vast library. Any music you had wasn’t portable. That’s the model of music we had until cassettes hit the market in the 1970s.

I’m sorry, but I like to have my own computing power that I control. I like to own my music, and I love the freedom to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want, and most importantly, whereever I want without worry for data usage or streaming capabilities. I want a dedicated music player so that it does not consume my phone’s battery, and that tries to do one thing right instead of many things wrong. Most importantly, I want a dedicated music player that has room for all the music I currently own AND all the music I will purchase in my lifetime. Most players cannot handle that. [Oh, and it would be a plus if it worked with the iTunes ecosystem so that I could preserve my play counts and all my smart playlists.]

Currently, there are NO music players currently sold that do this. Sorry, updated iPods, but 128GB doesn’t cut it. I’m sticking with my 160GB iPod and its twin.

Still, with only 13GB left, I keep exploring replacements. Here are the likely contenders:

  • Fiio X5 2nd Generation. Fiio focuses on the sound quality, aiming at the high-def market. Me? I focus on the fact that it has 2 128GB microSD slots, giving a total capacity of 256GB. What I don’t know about the Fiio is whether it views the two cards as unified storage, or you have to pick where to store things. I also don’t know whether it can handle playlists (esp. smart playlists), or work with the iTunes ecosystem. The price is reasonable: $349 for the player; microSD cards extra (~$80 for 128GB).  According to one review, “Fiio is confident that there should be no issues handling larger capacity cards as they are released, so expansion options look good for the future.” However, the internal software usability seems markedly below that of the iPod Classic. [Edited to Add: It looks like there is software to help connect with iTunes for both the PC and MAC; the MAC software looks more polished. You can shuffle all music, but it looks like smart playlists are not supported and support for podcasts is unclear. Here’s the Fiio X5 Manual. Note also that the Fiio X3 2nd Generation is a possibility if they truly comply with the SDXC standard, and update the firmware to handle 256GB-2TB cards (such support would also make the Fiio X1 viable as well). Now, just imagine an X5 with 2x2TB cards. Wow!]
  • Astell and Kern. These are the high-end products from iRiver. The upper end (AK240, AK380) all have 256GB internal and support a 128GB card (the AK Jr is also a possibility if they up the SDXC card supported; however, it is only at 64GB onboard + 64GB Mini-SD). These have gotten good reviews; however, they require the user to determine what music is onboard and what music is on the card. I also don’t know a lot about the interface, but I suspect it is album oriented and not smart playlist oriented.
  • Sony 64GB Walkman. Although 64GB is in the title, it can also support a 128GB microSD card, giving 192GB. However, you have to indicate where music is stored, and I haven’t heard that much good about the user and software interfaces. However, at $299, the 64GB is much better than the $1200 128GB player. The $1200 player is overpriced (plus, once you visit the Sony site, adds for Sony start appearing everywhere).
  • Pono Player. $399 for a 64GB internal plus 128GB microSD. Pono got a lot of buzz when they started as a Kickstarter, but they seem to be being eclipsed by the competition both in form factor (they are Toblerone shaped, not deck-of-cards), and the interface. They have their own iTunes replacement called Ponoworld that appears reasonable; I’ve seen no mention of whether it can import from iTunes. It is also unknown whether Pono can be managed through MusicBee or other managers. Pono has gotten mixed reviews (Ars Technica, C|Net, Stereophile, Stereogum); the conclusion isn’t that the Pono is bad but rather that it isn’t significantly better than the others. I’ve seen some comparisons with the Fiio and AK, and the Pono does not eclipse the competition. The major advantage of the Pono, truthfully, is that the company is headquarted in the US. All the other players are Asian: Fiio is China, Astell and Kern is iRiver from Korea, iBasso is Korea, and Sony is Japan. If that is important to you, Pono may be the choice.
  • iBasso DX50. It looks like this product can support up to a 2TB microSD (i.e., it supports the full SDXC standard). The manual is here. Interface looks a bit rudimentary. Price is reasonable, but you need to add the card (still, having a single card is an advantage). It has gotten some good reviews.

None of these have good software for the computer side of the management interface. However, I’ve done some searching, and it looks like MusicBee is a great alternative (at least if you’re on Windows, as I am).  I’ve read a number of reviews and writeups (Lifehacker, GHacks, Softpedia, Wikipedia), and it looks like it can import from iTunes, build smart playlists, and synchronize to DAP (digital audio player) devices.

I looked at the Cowon X9, but it seems to only take a 64GB memory card, and have a maximum file limit of 12,000 songs — I have triple that. The Sansa Clip+ is also recommended, but doesn’t appear to have sufficient capacity, even when Rockboxed.

My conclusion at this point is… wait, and if I get closer to filling the iPod Classic, move more of the less popular music off the iPod (or only sync playlists). Moving it off does lose playcounts and ratings — I’ve done that for some music already that I hadn’t liked at all, or stand-up comedy I rarely listen to or do not plan to listen to any more (Bill Cosby, I’m looking at you. Thump. Thump.)

I really wish Apple would wise up, and come up with a 256GB iPod Touch. It’s not that I want the touch screen — I want the larger storage in the iTunes ecosystem. Hell, come up with an iPod Touch that takes a microSD card. But I fear Apple will never do this; large capacity devices go against their current market, which is streaming, not stored, music.

Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 12, 2015 @ 11:31 am PDT

Jesus Christ Superstar (Rep East)userpic=repeastWhen I went to Jewish Summer Camp in the early 1970s, there were two “Jesus”-based musicals going around. One, Godspell, gave us a song we actually sang at camp: “Day by Day”. Out of context, it worked just fine. The other was this brown album with a stylized angel on it, and it gave us a song we sang as “Jesus Christ / Superstar / Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are”. The words aren’t too surprising for a Jewish summer camp. I mention this because that was really my knowledge of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar up to last night. I had seen Godspell a number of times and tended to like it because it wasn’t so “in your face” for a non-Christian. From what little I had heard or seen, JCS was much more in your face, heavy rock, and screamy. In recent years I had finally heard the music — and there were a few songs I liked — but still hadn’t seen the show either on stage or on screen. So when REP East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall, where we subscribe, announced the show for this season, I was looking forward to finally seeing it. Last night I finally saw it. I came away disappointed, unsure of what all the fuss was about. REP gave it a good effort, but it just didn’t strike that chord for me. As always, your mileage may vary.

Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS for short) was the first musical from the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB) and Tim Rice (FB) to hit America (Joseph was written earlier, but was imported to the US after JCS became a success). It was released first as a rock concept album — that aforementioned brown album — and became a hit. This led to the album being staged on Broadway by the same director that had done Hair. On Broadway — just as with Wicked — the critics almost universally panned the show, but the audiences loved it. JCS can be said to have started the era of sung-through musical — we can blame JCS for not only Evita, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera, and Cats, but for spawning shows like Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Tale of Two Cities, and the recent fringe show, The Count of Monte Cristo.

JCS essentially relates the well-known story of the last eight days of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Spoiler: He dies in the end (it does not show the resurrection). I’m not sure I need to relate the particulars of the story; if you need to see the plot synopsis, it is on the Wikipedia page.  The story really focuses on the relationship between Jesus, Judas, and Mary. Judas, who plays the central driving figure in the story, is disappointed that Jesus seems to have veered away from the focus of his ministry. Under what he sees as the influence of Mary, Judas believes that Jesus is spending funds on oils and ointments instead of using it to help the poor and needy. He becomes increasingly disillusioned with Jesus, moving to the point (as we all know) of betraying him to the authorities, which leads to his crucifixion. As Jesus gets pilloried by the authorities, we also see how many of his disciples appear to turn away from him as well, just as today popular media can turn people away from heroes of old. Only Mary stays steadfastly by Jesus’ side. At the end, they return remembering how he affected their lives.

The love triangle presented in story, as JCS presents it, is likely what drew youth into the story. The triangle: close friend disillusioned when the new woman in his bro’s life turns him away is classic — and it is an interesting take on Jesus’ life. I don’t know the extent to which this subtext, however, is actually in the gospels.

Unlike Godspell, which teaches Jesus’ lessons and focuses less on the actual life story, JCS really doesn’t teach what Jesus said about living. Through Judas, it seems to show how he turned away from what he was teaching. It shows Jesus as bargaining with God, trying to figure out his role in all of this. Ultimately, he is convinced he has to die in order to make his message. To me, a non-Christian, the portrayal of Jesus by Rice and Webber is a negative one. Here is a nice guy, trying to minister to the poor, but his followers inflate his ministry for their own purposes and for their own immortality (listen to the words in “The Last Supper”: “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle / Knew that I would make it if I tried / Then when we retire we can write the gospels / So they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died”). Rice and Webber portray Jesus as ultimately betraying his cause and his work to make that larger message, of being a reluctant messiah — in essence, of being a fraud. Look at the main lyric of the title song: “Jesus Christ, Superstar / Do you think you’re what they say you are”. Rice and Webber portray Judas as seeing through this, and trying to return Jesus to the right path. That’s certainly not the story of Jesus that I (a non-Christian) have gleaned over the years.  I think it is ultimately a negative portrayal of Jesus, with lyrics that are screaming and not always melodic.

Even worse, I think that JCS perpetuates the antisemitic nature of the Gospels. Look at “King Herod’s Song”, and particularly the “Trial Before Pilate”. What comes across is that the Jews are viewed in a negative sense, and that the Romans are really reluctant to kill Jesus — but (as the song says) it is the Jews that demand that the Romans find a reason to do so.

Suffice it to say that I’m not enthused about the presentation of the story, and I now understand why I preferred Godspell. There are some versions of Godspell that can get a bit preachy, but they do not get anti-anything. JCS does. It has a few songs that I like, particularly “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, but the show just turns me off. My guess is that this would be the case irrespective of the venue producing the show (although I am now curious about the highly-touted DOMA version).

Let’s now turn to the REP interpretation of the show, understanding how that may have been colored based on the book itself. Alas, this too was disappointing due to a number of factors, but I’ll ultimately chock it up to directoral vision combined with technical issues. As directed by Rick Pratt (FB), the show had a minimalist set staging (there were no real set pieces at all), with loads of odd lighting and paint choices that served to distract from rather than support the story. The pre-recorded music tended to overpower the voices, which were not helped by microphones that kept cutting in and out and having a fair amount of hiss. This was not the usual REP set, sound, or lighting quality — every theater has an aberration occasionally. Due to all this, the focus ultimately was on the cast and their relationships and emotions; given the sung through nature of the show, that had to come across in the quality and clarity of the songs and how they were sung. The cast tried hard to overcome these problems, but it never quite meshed with the demands the overwrought Webber/Rice story required.

As a quick aside, I also believe this is a story that works much better with live music. Live, as opposed to pre-recorded music, gives that extra energy that a rock opera such as this requires. The director, Rick Pratt, had experience with live on-stage music before at the REP and that worked very very well, and I wish he had been able to figure out a way to make the music live.

[Edited to Add: Based on some discussions with the REP, it looks like this will be transitioning to live music by 7/24. This should improve the production and energy greatly.]

In JCS, the central character driving the story is Judas. It is he that frames the initial opening direction of the story in “Heaven on Their Minds”; it is he that is there criticizing Jesus’s relationship with Mary; it is he that interacts with the High Priests; and it is he that ultimately faces Jesus in the end. His role is quite similar to the one that Rice/Webber would use again for Che in Evita. You need a powerhouse rock singer here — one that can not only act, but sing loud and clear to get the message across. You also need an actor who can just have that unspeakable presence. Adam Duarte tries very hard, and occasionally got the tone right, but didn’t have the consistency needed. Further, his attempt to be rock-ish made it difficult to hear the words clearly — and hearing the words is vital when the songs are the only thing moving the story forward.

The second part of the main triangle in the story is Jesus, who was played by Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB). Benjamin sang well when we saw him in Return to the Forbidden Planet (also directed by Pratt). For the most part, he did well here but had a lot of trouble with the upper end of the range on some of Jesus’ songs. He also had seemingly the wrong look, but I can’t put my finger on why — as a mid-thirties white bearded hippie, he certainly didn’t fit the conventional picture of Jesus; then again, we don’t know what Jesus looked like.

The third part of the triangle — and one of the standouts in the show — was Natasha J. Gaston (FB) as Mary Magdalene. Gaston’s Mary conveyed wonderful emotions, and had a wonderful singing voice that she put to great use in “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright”. The quality of this voice came through even as her microphone kept cutting in and out and over a large amount of amplification hiss. I hope that we see more of this lovely actress.

As the opposition leadership, Chris Loprete (FB) [Pontius Pilate], Paul Nieman (FB) [Caiphas], and Ally Loprete (FB) [Annas] did well. All three sang well and were able to convey their emotions through song. The costuming seemed a bit strange, especially the overly clingy and sexy number for Annas, who was supposedly a high priest, and the devilish dark red suit for Caiphas. [ETA: When I read this paragraph after seeing the show a second time, I realized that I was confusing Pilate with Sean Goodman/FB [Ensemble], who placed the third part of the Sanhedrin. Loprete’s Pilate was goot, but wasn’t part of the main opposition leadership.]

In the ensemble and playing a number of smaller roles were: Alex Bowman (FB) [Peter / Ensemble], Tara Cox/FB [Simon Zealotes / Ensemble], Michael Davies [King Herod / Ensemble], Eriel Brown (FB) [Ensemble / Dance Captain], Laura Norkin/FB [Ensemble], Marie-Clarie Erdynast/FB [Ensemble], Danielle Honeyman (FB) [Ensemble], Sean Goodman/FB [Ensemble], Bruce Robinson/FB [Ensemble], and Micahel Gilbertson/FB [Ensemble]. In the ensemble positions, all blended well, sang reasonably well, and had obvious fun portraying their characters. There are a few worthy of special comment. Tara Cox/FB was another of those actors with a voice above the rest; it came across quite strongly in the few solo numbers and portions of numbers that she had. We’ve seen Michael Davies before in Forbidden Planet. He was good in King Herod’s number (one of my favorites on the album), but didn’t quite have the right sense of the cat playing with the mouse that was required, and that feeds the righteous indignation that feeds the end of the number. The focus was the cutesy, not the message. Eriel Brown (FB) moved and danced well, and seemed (if I was picking her out right) to have a very nice singing voice. Lastly, Danielle Honeyman (FB) was fun to watch in the ensemble. Again, if I was hearing correctly, I heard a slightly operatic voice and tone.

As noted before, JCS was directed by Rick Pratt (FB) and Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB). Carla Bellefeuille (FB) was the vocal director, assisted by Justin G. Horwitz/FB. Erin Cholakian (FB) was the choreographer.  I’ve commented before about the directoral vision. JCS is a hard show to get correct in a small venue, so I do applaud the directoral team for trying.  Their choices didn’t work for me; it might work for others. I feel their attempt was hurt by the inability to have live music. It was also hurt by the current battle between intimate theatres and AEA that has led REP to go non-union; JCS in particular is a show that would have been helped greatly to have the additional seasoning, talent, and stage presence in the lead positions. I think the team did the best with what they had to work with. The choreography, on the other hand, worked well given the limited REP space; it is always nice to see dance on the REP stage.

[ETA: There was also an odd projection sequence during the overture music going through all sorts of historical scenes. The purpose was unclear — was it meant to say that this was done in Jesus’ name? What was the point? Further, given the uneven surface at the back of the theatre, the projections were hard to see and read.]

I’ve also noted before the various technical problems. The set design was minimal: some ramps, some raised stages, a cross that could be lowered, and some inexplicable painted lines on the floor and on the wall. This is not the style of set design that REP normally does, and it didn’t work for me (but then again, I’ve never seen JCS before — perhaps this is the concept). There were also significant problems with the sound — I don’t know if it was the design of Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB or problems with the wireless mics on the performers and difficulties at the sound board. In any case, it served to distract more than amplify. Although TC was listed as the resident lighting designer, lighting credit for this show was given to Jeffrey Hampton. The lighting was odd — there were odd flashes during songs that I’m guessing were meant to be rock opera-ish. There were also points where characters were singing or moving in the dark, which shouldn’t be the case. I don’t know what to say about the costume design by Chelsea Jones/FB: they attempted to update this to some unspecified era so that the costumes were some odd eclectic mix of robes, sexy shorts, spandex, hippie threads, jeans and T-shirts, and suits. My wife noted that there were numerous fitting problems. Calliope Weisman/FB was the stage manager.  REP is under the artistic direction of  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

Jesus Christ Superstar continues at REP East (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita) through August 15, 2015. Tickets are available through the REP online box office. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I’m not a fan of JCS, but you might be.

After JCS concludes its run, REP will be presenting a special two-weekend “81 series” production of A Company of Wayward Saints by George Herman, a commedia del arte type show. Tickets are available through the REP website.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). 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: July is a month of double-headers. Next weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Going Sideways

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 11, 2015 @ 9:53 am PDT

Madness Murder Mayhem (ZJU)userpic=yorickFor better (or some might say, for worse), I’ve gotten to know Colin Mitchell (FB), one of the masterminds (perhaps the evil one?) behind the Los Angeles theater website Bitter Lemons (FB). Colin recently invited me to see his new show “Madness! Murder! Mayhem!” at Zombie Joes Underground (FB). Given that I’ve grown to like ZJU’s stuff, and I had a Friday free, I decided to give it a try — thus creating the second double-header weekend of July (tonight we see Jesus Christ Superstar at REP East (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita).

M!M!M! is advertised as “Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Re-Imagined”. My only familiarity with the Grand Guignol style is Sondheim’s classic “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street“. I knew the style was somewhat dark, but there was also an element of humor behind it.  According to the website of Thrillpeddlers, a San Francisco based company specializing in the style, the term ‘Grand Guignol’ refers to any dramatic entertainment that deals with macabre subject matter and features “over-the-top” graphic violence. It is derived from Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, the name of the Parisian theatre that horrified audiences for over sixty years. The theatre was founded in 1897 as an extension of the naturalist movement. A typical evening at the Grand Guignol Theatre might consist of five or six short plays, ranging from suspenseful crime dramas to bawdy sex farces. But the staple of the Grand Guignol repertoire was the horror play, which inevitably featured eye-gouging, throat-slashing, acid-throwing, or some other equally grisly climax. In the case of M!M!M!, we had three short plays (running just over an hour) that fit the horror play style quite well, including  the grisly. These are not plays for people squicked out by intense personal descriptions or horror. Well, unless you’ve had a little to drink. All of the plays were written by Colin Mitchell (FB)💀.
[💀 Note: The sub-title claims these are three classic plays re-imagined, but there is no credit to the original plays. As I write this up, I’ll endeavor to uncover the originals.]

Madness! Murder! Manhem! (Production Photos)The first playlet, At The Break of Day, tells the story of Lacazze (Ken MacFarlane (FB)) and Henri (Roland De Leon (FB)).  To the best I can figure, it may be based (very loosely) on Chop-Chop! or The Guillotine (La Veuve), by Eugene Heros and Leon Abric. Lacazze has been imprisoned in a French Prison for a long time. One day, Henri, a new prisoner, joins him in the cell — scheduled for execution by the guillotine. Lacazze attempts to find out Henri’s story, discovering it was for a crime of passion when he thought his girlfriend was cheating on him. The twists of the crime are quite interesting, and I won’t spoil that part for you. Eventually, Lacazze starts taunting Henri about the guillotine and what execution by guillotine is … in gory detail. He discusses how it doesn’t work, and how sometimes the head seems to live on Eventually, Henri gets enraged and proceeds to kill Lacazze with his bare hands. He is left, at the end of the scene, with the steady chop chop chop sound of the guillotine.

This play touched a nerve with me, partially because the song “Madam Guillotine” from The Scarlett Pimpernel has always given me slight chills (“Now come let our lady possess you /In her breathtaking, hair-raising bed /She will tingle your spine /As she captures your heart and your head”). The description of the head living after the chop is just something I can’t imagine. Very good horror imagery there. My wife saw some parallels between the end and Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is equally chilling.  I found the performances very good, particularly MacFarlen’s Lacazze, which captured just the right level of madness and reason… and revenge. In fact, if there was a notion behind this playlet, it was the destructive power of revenge — in particular, early on I wrote down the phrase “Live for Revenge”. I’ll note that this created an odd connection with our last play, Matilda, which also dealt with revenge — as did Carrie, for that matter. Perhaps revenge is one of those emotions at the heart of Grand Guignol.

The second playlet, Natasha, appears to be based on L’Horrible Passion, by André de Lorde, about a young nanny who strangled the children in her care. It tells the story of Miss Dorie Logan (Jonica Patella (FB)), a nanny in a house where three children were brutally murdered. Dr. Benjamin Wavers (Colin Mitchell (FB)), a friend of Judge Clarrow (Dale Sandlin (FB)), believes that although she didn’t see the murderer, her subconscious did. He convinces the judge to permit her to be hypnotized, and when she does — let’s just say she did more than see the murderer. The ending was particularly chilling.

In some ways here, the story here was a bit telegraphed (if you’re familiar with Sybil). However, the story was suitably gruesome, particular the description of the deaths of the children (the two boys in particular still sticks with me). The performances were also very strong: Dr. Wavers very controlled, and Clarrow portraying skepticism and then interest quite well. But the best performance here was Patella, with the contrast between the meek personality of Dorie and the aggressive personality of Natasha.

The third playlet, Orgy in the Lighthouse, appears to be adapted from Alfred Marchand’s play of the same name, which was about two brothers who entertain a pair of whores in a lighthouse on a holy day. It this version it was two cousins: the lighthouse operator Bernard (Vincent Cusimano (FB)) and his cousin Edmund (Alex Walters (FB)). Edmund surprises Bernard one stormy and foggy evening for his “birthday” by bringing over two whores — Claire (Shayne Eastin (FB)) and Penelope (Jessica Madelaine).  Bernard is disinterested, being more concerned that the lighthouse works. But Edmund insists — and sometimes forces the women violently. Eventually, he pushes Claire onto Bernard, and goes into the other room to have his way forcibly with Penelope. While doing so, he disconnects the gas line. This enrages Bernard, and Edmond keeps coming up with solutions — such as setting a whore on fire and hanging her outside the lighthouse. The ending is particuarly grisly, and shall we say explosive?

The story in this play bothered me the most, simply because of the changes in society that have made strong violence against women particularly unpalatable. It is no longer acceptable to forcibly assault women against their will (I’m not sure it was ever right, but in the past it was often a part of life); this makes its portrayal on stage something very hard to watch. But I guess that’s the role of theatre — to make you uncomfortable, to make you realize what you tolerate and what you don’t. I am willing to accept that the violence was part of the original story (which makes it more gruesome now). The gore in this particular was a little less verbal and a bit more implied and offstage via sound effects, except for a chilling last scene.

The performances, however, were good. Cusimano gave off the image of reticence well, and Walters captured the violence inherent in Edmund with chilling calm. Eastin and Madelaine were appropriately whorish, if not a little overly so and potentially exaggerated; near the end, they captured the fear of the characters quite well.

The production was directed by Jana Wimer (FB), and was (in general) good. My only quibble was at times the actors seemed to be directed to overact a little bit — just a little overemphasis, just a little over the top. What I don’t know is whether this overplaying was intentional. After all, Grand Guignol is not a simple naturalistic presentation, but a stylized presentation that emphasizes both the gore and the humor. It is also a style out of the 1800s. Given that this was Grand Guignol style, the particular overlay that I recognized could very well have been part of that style. For now, I’ll assume that it was; it wasn’t a strong distraction from the show overall.

Taken together, I think these three playlets captured the Grand Guignol style well. I now have a much better understanding of the style — it is more than just Sweeney Todd — it is a style plays up the gore and grossness for a particular audience emotional impact. Not fear exactly, but horror (and there is a subtle difference). In that, these playlets worked well — they all demonstrated the horrific side of human nature. Additionally (and thus the title of this writeup), they all had an interesting sideways movement at the end, going into a direction that you weren’t expecting.

In general, the production side at Zombie Joe’s is spare and sparse. The set consists of a few wooden boxes; the lighting consists of clip-on lamps with colored bulbs (there isn’t even professional level Lekos or a clear lighting board). But it works: the sparse setting permits one to create the horror in your own mind, and to focus on the performances. The sound effects during the show worked particularly well. Technical credits: Scenic Blocks by Xandra-Marie Gabucan (FB) and David Wyn Harris (FB). Music Consultant: Elif Savas (FB). Costume Assistance: Jeri Batzdorff (FB). Assistant Director, ZJU GM, and Tech Guru: Adam Neubauer (FB). Sound design, ZJU Webmaster, and Online PR Manager: Randy “Kernel” Long. ZJU Production Advisers: Josh T. Ryan (FB) and Zombie Joe. Poster Graphics by Jana Wimer (FB) and Adam Neubauer (FB). Produced by Zombie Joe.

One note, which I seem to make every time I visit Zombie Joe’s: their website. Sigh. Their website design, which looks like an old Homestead website because it is an old Homestead website, is truly stuck in the early 1990s era of web design, with a flashy and garish background, poor organization, and what looks to be a non-responsive design. Just as I need to update my highways site, they need to update theirs. Their productions are so good, that their website shouldn’t look so amateurish. So, now-that-I-know-your-name, Mr. Randy Long. You’re their webmaster. Please make their site better — ZJU deserves it.

Madness! Murder! Mayhem! has three more performances: July 17, July 24, and July 31. Tickets are available through the ticket link on the ZJU website. The show runs just over one hour. If you’re into horror or the Grand Guignol style, this is worth seeing. If you’re into family entertainment, I’d give it a pass and go see Murder for Two instead.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre 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 subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). 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: July is a month of double-headers. Tonight is the second half of this weekend’s double header: “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). Next weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Retconning History

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 08, 2015 @ 12:08 pm PDT

userpic=old-shieldToday, while eating lunch, I came across an article titled: “California bill would ban naming state, local sites for Confederate leaders“. This bothers me greatly, not because I support the secessionist cause in any way, but because it is yet another example of the “TL;DR” view of society. We have two primary examples of that in the news right now: Robert E. Lee and Bill Cosby.

Let’s start with Robert E. Lee. Yes, he was the leading General of the Confederacy. But he was also (as Wikipedia notes): “The son of Revolutionary War officer Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III and a top graduate of the United States Military Academy, Robert E. Lee was an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War, served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy…”. Afterwards he was President of Washington and Lee University. The attempts to remove his name from everything essentially say that he is only defined by the three years he was in the C.S.A. army. I understand the victor gets to write the history books, and we should not be glorifying the losing cause in the Civil War battle. But how to we do this without forgetting all the good he did for the Union side before the split.

History is ugly, and doesn’t have clean lines. People we hold up as venerable have dark sides. Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson all owned slaves. Does that mean we no longer mention them? No. What we do is not hold them up as perfect icons — we present the history, both the good and the bad. Instead of a “zero tolerance” for any confederate involvement, we look at the person and ask: for what are they being honored? Were their accomplishments outside of the Civil War worth honoring, and can we present those aspects?

Bill Cosby is another example. I’m not attempting to defend the man at all. The recent court transcripts released paint a pretty conclusive picture. But that doesn’t make the stories he told in the 1960s less funny? That doesn’t make the series he developed less educational? How do we recognize the good done while acknowledging the bad man behind the good. Cosby isn’t unique in Hollywood. We all know there are other actors who, in their private lives, have committed all sorts of violence towards women. How do we learn to see the whole picture?

America these days has been trained on scandal; we’ve been taught to focus our attention on the bad most immediately done. We’ve also been taught to think to the sound bite — the snippet characterization. The problem is: life isn’t a sound bite; it isn’t the most recent story. In the many decades of life each of us have, we do both good and bad. We need to recognize no one is 100% good or 100% bad. We need to figure out how to recognize the good aspects, while acknowledging the bad aspects.

When I hear “Piiiiiipes”, see the name “Bob” on a coverall, or hear a “thump-thump thump-thump”, I’m going to think of Bill Cosby’s humor. I’ll remember there’s a bad and disturbed man behind that humor, but I’ll still smile at the story. When I think of Robert E. Lee, I’ll think of the Confederate General and the cause he fought for, why he fought for it, and why that side was wrong. But I’ll also think of the West Point officer who before the war was friends with other officers such as Grant, and who fought for the Union.

Life isn’t a sound bite; people can’t be characterized or pigeon-holed easily. We must take the time to see the whole person — the good and the bad. Perhaps these people don’t deserve a particular honor; perhaps they do. But we must always acknowledge the person — both the good and the flaws.