Observations Along the Road

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

What You Mean “Discover Us”? We discover you!

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Oct 13, 2014 @ 5:03 am PST

[Today is Columbus Day, and, FYI, the banks are closed. Whether you view today as a celebration of Christoper Columbus (which is happening less and less), or a celebration of indigenous peoples (a fitting repurposing), we need to remember the real reason for the day: to give bankers 3-day weekends :-)]

In 1961, the humorist Stan Freberg issued Volume 1 of The United States of America, a musical telling of the founding of America through the Battle of Yorktown (Volume 2 goes through the end of World War I (“They’ll never be another war…”)). The first scene on Volume 1 relates the story of how the Native American’s discovered Columbus, and how Columbus traveled to the “New World” to fulfill his dream — to bring death and disease to the people of the new world (and because his love affair with Isabella had been discovered). As today is Columbus Day, I present a transcription of the scene:

(more…)

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Delayed Stew: Post-Holiday News Chum Stew, in multiples of two

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Oct 06, 2014 @ 12:31 pm PST

Observation StewThis has been a busy weekend, what with Yom Kippur and MoTAS building the Sukkah on Sunday. As a result, the posting of the usual News Chum stew got delayed until today. Hopefully it didn’t get burned sitting on the stove for so long.

 

Go Clean Your Room!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Oct 04, 2014 @ 8:45 am PST

userpic=tallitLast week I wrote about the Rosh Hashanah sermons at our synagogue. Last night was Kol Nidre (Erev Yom Kippur), and guess what… another sermon. Nu? You expected I wouldn’t write about it?

Last night’s sermon was given by Rabbi Shawna (I”ll link it here once she posts it) and dealt with death. She was basically building on the notion that Yom Kippur is preparing one for one’s death. Setting the accounts straight, so to speak. Her theme was the things that you need to do now to prepare for your death.

Much of what she discussed was practical device designed to make life easier for those you care about when you get older and cannot make decisions, or when you are no longer there to make decisions. This included the following items, which I presume that everyone is doing (if not, do it):

  • Make an Advance Directive . Figure out what life-saving measures you do and do not want when you are in the final stages of life. Respirators. Pain killers. Intubation. Life support. Investigate all of these things and decide what you want. Write those instructions down, and make sure you children and trusted confidants know where to find the information.
  • Make Sure Your Children Are Addressed. Have children or others you support or take care of? Make sure you leave guardianship and care instructions.
  • Boxing It Up. How do you want to be buried: fancy box or plain pine? What type of service? What cemetary? If you can, pre-pay and make pre-need arrangements, and make sure your loved ones/confidants know where your instructions are.
  • Heirlooms. Do you have family heirlooms your kids will be fighting over. Make sure you leave clear instructions on who gets what.

Shawna also discussed the importance of leaving an Ethicial Will: Ethical instructions you want to pass on for future generations on how to live, and the values to have. More importantly, she stressed that even more important than writing your values down is living your values and teaching your children through your actions. She put it this way:

The way you live your life is how you will be remembered.

This is a very important thing to keep in mind.

However, Shawna forgot two important things:

Clean Your Room. Yom Kippur helps you deal with the spiritual junk you accumulate. You should also work to clean up the mental junk: all those grudges you hold, all the bad attitudes. Get rid of those now, before your children have to deal with the impacts of them on your friends.

More importantly, when you die, someone will have to dispose of all that physical stuff and junk you’ve accumulated. All those papers you’ve kept. All those photos. All those files and collections. All your furniture. All your tchotchkes. We’re still disposing of stuff from my dad 10 years ago! Make your children’s life easy and declutter now! This will also make it much easier for them when you have to move into assisted living or senior living (and more and more are doing).

Here’s an important postscript to this: Remember to clean your porn stash. Yes, most people have one and never admit it. Your children discover it while cleaning your house when you die, and no amount of brain bleach can get rid of those images.

The Electronic World. If you’re like me, you have a large electronic life. Accounts at banks and other financial institutions. Passwords to your email and social accounts. Obtaining access to these things is difficult when you die or become incapacitated, and increasingly they are required to keep paying your bills. Here’s my advice: (1) Get a password manager, such as Lastpass. (2) Make sure your children/trusted confidant has the key passwords they will need — the password to your account on your computer, the master password to your password manager, and anything else they might need to get to the password manager (such as your phone unlock code). (3) Make sure they know how to answer those pesky security questions, or keep a list of them and their answers as a secure note in your password manager.

Additionally, clean your room. Have instructions to your loved ones on how to disburse your electronic files as appropriate. Clean out all those electronic files that go back to the days of MS-DOS that you will never use again. And for heaven sakes, get rid of that digital porn stash as well — or at least encrypt it so they just delete it. A digital stash is better than those disgusting magazines you have under the bed or in the file in the garage, but still … oh, I need that brain bleach!

***

Shawna said, “The way you live your life is how you will be remembered.” I’ll add to that: The last impression you leave for your children is the junk you leave behind that they have to clean up. Make sure they don’t need the brain bleach and the mental floss.

 

California Highway Headlines for September 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Oct 01, 2014 @ 7:38 pm PST

userpic=roadgeekingAs the new year turns (what, you say, it’s not New Years yet? Silly! It is both Jewish New Year and the start of a new Government Fiscal Year)… as I was saying, as the new year turns, here are some headlines about California highways from the last month of the last year:

  • Presidio Parkway project moving along, slated for 2015 opening. New tunnels are forming and new roads are poured by the day as Marin drivers see their future path taking shape where Doyle Drive once stood. In its place the new $1 billion Presidio Parkway is emerging and is set to open in the summer of 2015. Late 2015 had been the target date, but a good pace of construction and the drought have helped push up the date.
  • Event marks near-completion of Highway 12 Jameson Canyon project. Leaders from communities on both sides of Jameson Canyon gathered at Jameson Ranch Vineyards to applaud what state Department of Transportation Director Malcolm Dougherty called a much-anticipated near-grand opening of the wider, safer Highway 12 between Fairfield and Highway 29 near Napa.
  • Officials celebrate completion of Jameson Canyon widening project. After years of planning, two ballot initiatives, traffic snarls and fatal crashes, the long-awaited Jameson Canyon Road/Highway 12 widening project will be completed by the end of next week. Given that history, the elected officials who gathered at the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning reflected a mixture of moods — at times somber, mirthful, thankful and relieved.
  • New carpool lane in Novato set to open. Caltrans is set to open a 1.6-mile carpool lane Saturday morning on northbound Highway 101 in Novato, another incremental piece of the Sonoma-Marin Narrows highway widening project. The new lane, from just north of Atherton Avenue to just south of Olompali State Park, will ease the commute for northbound drivers at a key bottleneck where four lanes of traffic have merged into two. The $14 million project includes a widened bridge over Rush Landing Road, where traffic will now merge into three lanes through the 1.6-mile stretch.
  • Editorial: Progress made on widening Novato Narrows. For thousands of Novato commuters, the widening of Highway 101 can’t come soon enough. New lanes, widening of the highway’s Novato Narrows segment, are being finished “a chunk at a time.” That’s the way Mike Ghilotti, president of San Rafael’s Ghilotti Bros. Inc., described the methodical progress of the 16-mile job.
  • Federal money approved for fixes to bottleneck at 57 and 60 freeways. There may be relief in sight for drivers and truckers facing one of Southern California’s worst bottlenecks. Federal officials Tuesday approved a $10-million grant for a series of fixes to the congested interchange between the 60 Freeway and the 57 Freeway in eastern Los Angeles County.
  • New Hwy. 101 off-ramp opens in Petaluma. Another small piece of the Sonoma-Marin Narrows Highway 101 project opened this morning. Caltrans said the northbound off-ramp at the new Petaluma Boulevard South/Kastania Road interchange is now open to traffic. The interchange is now three-fourths open, with only the northbound on-ramp left to be completed. Crews continue to work on the new frontage road, extending Petaluma Boulevard South along the east side of the freeway. Farther south in Marin county, the new interchange at the Redwood Landfill is nearly complete with only the southbound off-ramp left to open. That project, including a new bike path through the Narrows, is expected to be completed next month.
  • MURRIETA: Keller Road/I-215 interchange to be accelerated. It’s still years away, but Murrieta officials are working to fast-track a new Interstate 215 interchange at Keller Road in the northern reach of the city. With the inking of a $1.25 million contract with Pasadena-based Jacobs Engineering Inc. on Tuesday, the Murrieta City Council is aiming to complete a condensed second phase of preparation in about 18 months. The phase – which involves planning, design and environmental study – usually takes three to five years.
  • Richmond Bridge third lane proposal inches forward. A proposal to add a third lane to ease congestion on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is moving forward, albeit as slowly as the traffic on northbound 101 at rush hour. In March, “The Bay Area Transportation Authority approved a contract with HNTB Corp. for up to $3 million to provide design services,” the first step toward making the third lane a reality, said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin. A bike path on the upper deck is also part of the design.
  • 880-280 interchange: New ramps near Valley Fair to open in a few days. Work on the $62.1 million interchange at interstates 880 and 280 is coming down to the final paving stretch — and getting to Silicon Valley’s main shopping hubs at Valley Fair and Santana Row this Christmas season should be much easier. In a few days, three new on- and offramps to Stevens Creek Boulevard will open, and by Thanksgiving a special lane feeding traffic onto Monroe Street and bypassing Stevens Creek Boulevard should be ready. And early next year the biggest plum — the flyover ramp from north Interstate 280 to north Interstate 880 — should open, just before all the shovels and cranes are removed and workers depart for good.
  • . Caltrans and Metro today released the long-awaited draft environmental study for the High Desert Corridor project, which contemplates a new 63-mile freeway between Palmdale in Los Angeles County and the town of Apple Valley in San Bernardino County — along with a possible high-speed rail line, bikeway and green energy transmission corridor. The study also considers the legally-required No Build alternative.
  • Bay Bridge Steel Rods Are Sound, Final Tests Confirm. Metropolitan Transportation Commission chairman Steve Heminger said Tuesday that he is pleased that final tests confirm that most of the steel rods on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge are safe and don’t need to be replaced. But Heminger expressed concern that a 2011 investigation that found problems with some of the rods, which secure earthquake shock absorbers to the deck of the eastern span, wasn’t brought to his attention or made public until recently
  • Latest defect: Bay Bridge tower rods sitting in water. Nearly every one of the 423 steel rods that anchor the tower of the new Bay Bridge eastern span to its base has been sitting in potentially corrosive water, Caltrans officials said Tuesday — one of the most serious construction defects found yet on the $6.4 billion project.
  • California artists to get pieces of old Bay Bridge to work with. At least 300 tons of the old Bay Bridge will live on in California public art projects that could include anything from light poles or street benches to large sculptures.

Register and Attend ACSAC 2014 (December 8-12, New Orleans LA)

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Sep 30, 2014 @ 8:50 am PST

userpic=acsacWhen many people think about conferences, this media created image comes to mind of the conventions of yore that are pure boondoggles. But those who attend technical conferences and symposia know that the media image is far from the truth. Conferences are serious affairs during business hours with training sessions, papers, panels, keynote speakers. Much of that you could get through a web course or a book, but a conference goes beyond that and gives you something even more important: that chance to network and interact with your peers in the industry, and to make those connections that prove critical as you do your job.

I’m mentioning all of this because registration is now open for the 30th Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), being held December 8–12, 2014 at the Hyatt French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. ACSAC is a great mid-size conference — it’s not the gigantic RSA or Blackhat with thousands of people making it impossible to network, nor is it a small symposium with a narrow technical focus and insufficient critical mass of attendees. ACSAC typically has an attendance around 200, and provides well rounded technical program with training and workshops on Monday and Tuesday, and papers, panels, speakers, and case studies on Wednesday through Friday. I’ve been attending the conference since the 4th ACSAC in 1989 in Tucson, and have continually found it to be of value in what I do.

Let me give some highlights for this year’s program:

You can see the full program at the ACSAC website; each session has links with more information. Information on conference registration and hotel registration is here. Please spread the word about the conference with your friends, colleagues, coworkers, and associates.

Disclaimer: If you know me at all (and I hope you do, if you are reading this), I’ve been involved with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) for a long time. I’ve been the chair of the training program since 1990, and over the years I’ve also done local arrangements and been general chair of the conference. I’m also the Secretary of the sponsoring organization, ACSA. ACSA, the sponsoring organization behind ACSAC, also runs the New Security Paradigms Workshop, and is the initiator and sponsor of the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS).

P.S.: ACSAC 31 (and 32) will be at the Universal Hilton in Los Angeles near Universal City December 7-11, 2015 (and December 5-9, 2016). Mark your calendars now to “save the dates”. I’ll be doing local arrangements for those conferences, and would love to demonstrate why Southern California is the best draw for cybersecurity!

Continuing Relationship Problems

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 28, 2014 @ 8:05 pm PST

The Great Gatsby (Rep East)userpic=repeastThis has been a weekend for relationship problems. Earlier this morning I wrote about some relationships in flux in Atlanta in 1973; these were portrayed on stage in What I Learned In Paris” at the Colony Theatre. This afternoon we saw more relationship problems — this time in the 1920s in New York — when we saw the Los Angeles Premier of “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) in Newhall.†

I’d been roughly familiar with The Great Gatsby before: I knew of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (but had never read it); I knew of the two movie versions of the story (but had never seen them); and I used to work next to a restaurant called Gatsby’s in Brentwood (but never ate there). I knew it was about the decadence of the 1920s, and that it concerned a relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. But that’s about all I knew.

As a result, as I sat through the show, I found myself hindered by the confusing exposition and relationships. I liked the characters and the performances, but the story left me cold. Discussing the show on the way home I discovered that was partially the intent: to show the decadence and how there was coldness behind it. I also read the Wikipedia page with the summary of the story, and it very very closely matched what was on stage. I opine that this show will be received at little better by those with a passing familiarity with the Gatsby story — be it from the book, the movies, or even the Wikipedia version :-). That’s not to say that the show wasn’t enjoyable — it was — just that a little more familiarity would have helped (I can’t fault the writer or those who adapted it for the stage, as they followed the original story; rather, I think there is so much meaning behind the elements of the story that the presentation would be enhanced with an understanding of those elements).

The adaption of the story was by Simon Levy, the producing director for the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. It was first produced at the Guthrie Theatre in MN; it had its West Coast premier at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. This production was the Los Angeles premier — it is great to see REP reaching the stature where it brings new plays to Los Angeles.

So what is the story behind Gatsby? Wikipedia summarizes the story as follows (condensed a little), and this is essentially what is portrayed on stage:

The story takes place in the summer of 1922. Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and World War I veteran from the Midwest – who serves as the novel’s narrator – takes a job in New York as a bond salesman. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the (fictional) village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties but does not participate in them. Nick drives around the bay for dinner at the home of his cousin, Daisy Fay Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, a college acquaintance of Nick’s. They introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, an attractive, cynical young golfer with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. She reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle to an apartment they keep for their affair. At the apartment, a vulgar and bizarre party takes place. It ends with Tom breaking Myrtle’s nose after she annoys him by saying Daisy’s name several times.  As the summer progresses, Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, an aloof and surprisingly young man who recognizes Nick from their same division in the war. Through Jordan, Nick later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy from a romantic encounter in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion, hoping to one day rekindle their lost romance. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are an attempt to impress Daisy in the hope that she will one day appear again at Gatsby’s doorstep. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection. They begin an affair and, after a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Daisy speaks to Gatsby with such undisguised intimacy that Tom realizes she is in love with Gatsby. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is outraged by his wife’s infidelity. He forces the group to drive into New York City and confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, asserting that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand. In addition to that, he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal whose fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him. On the way home, Nick, Jordan, and Tom discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy, not Gatsby himself, was driving the car at the time of the accident but Gatsby intends to take the blame anyway. Myrtle’s husband, George, falsely concludes that the driver of the yellow car is the secret lover he recently began suspecting she has, and sets out on foot to locate its owner. After finding out the yellow car is Gatsby’s, he arrives at Gatsby’s mansion where he fatally shoots both Gatsby and then himself. Nick stages an unsettlingly small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest, disillusioned with the Eastern lifestyle.

The performances of the actors were very good; the direction of co-directors Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and Christopher Chase (FB) worked well to bring realistic performances, although at times there was a little confusion as to what action was where. In the lead positions were Dennis Hadley (FB) as Jay Gatsby and Carole Catanzaro (FB) as Daisy Buchanan. Hadley was affable and gave off the ambiance of the well-to-do well; Daisy seemed appropriately self-centered and not really invested in any relationship — or to put it another way, in whichever relationship could move her forward. It was interesting to contrast Daisy with Ann in the Colony play. Both were torn between two men — one that loved them madly but wasn’t their spouse, and their spouse who was somewhat indifferent to them. The resolutions were very different, but the situations similar. Completing the love triangle was Dustin Emery as Tom Buchanan. Emery’s Buchanan gave off the appropriate violent menace required for the character. Emery played the character in a way that made it clear he did not love Daisy, but had a strong physical (but not necessarily emotional attraction) to his mistress. A friend of ours opined the similarity between Buchanan, a sports hero in the story, and certain characters in the NFL today.

Although I hesitate to call them supporting as they were critical to the action (but supporting in the sense of who you remember) were Cole Shoemaker as Nick Carraway and Alli Kelly (FB) as Jordan Baker. Shoemaker’s Carraway had a bit of cold indifference, but when you consider he was the narrator of the story that is less surprising. At times, I found his exposition a bit hard to follow, but in general I liked his performance as the character. Kelly’s Baker was fun to watch — she had these odd sardonic facial expressions at just the right moment.

Rounding out the cast were Amber Schwinn (FB) as Myrtle Wilson, Jeremiah Lowder/FB as George Wilson, John Lucewich (FB) as Chester McKee, Julie Henderson (FB) as Lucille McKee, and Brent Christensen (FB) as Myer Wolfsheim. Amber was great as Myrtle Wilson, capturing the distaste for her husband and her desire for Tom well; she also plays dead great :-). Lowder captured the mechanic nature of George Wilson well, but otherwise was written superficially. Lastly, I never quite understood Wolfsheim as his character was never given a good explanation; but Brent played him well.

Turning to the technical side. Sound and lights were by the usual REP suspects: Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB on sound and Tim Christianson/FB on lights. Both worked well. The set design was by Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and did a reasonable job of establishing place and era; this was aided by the projections by  Mikee Schwinn/FB. Costumes were by Janet McAnany (FB) and seemed reasonably flapper era — plus the suits that she chose for Gatsby were spectacular. Jeffrey Hampton/FB was the production stage manager. “The Great Gatsby” was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

The Great Gatsby” continues at Repertory East (FB) until October 18.  Tickets are available through the REP East Online Box Office, as well as through Goldstar. It is well worth seeing.

Although there is no printed announcement, Repertory East (FB) has announced their 2015 season: “Avenue Q“, “Doubt“, “Dinner with Friends“, “Jesus Christ Superstar“, “Diviners” and “Deathtrap“. Specific performance dates and season subscription information should be available at the next REP show, “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club“, starting November 14.

[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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente. 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.

†: Plus I did something to upset my wife (although not intentional), starting with not going to her backup restaurant when there was a 90 minute wait at our primary restaurant because there was nothing that looked appealing to eat. Following that, I was less then enthused when we went to an art show/pow-wow after the show (when I had load and loads of stuff to do at home). I’ve apologized, but I’m probably in the doghouse for a while. Back to cooking dinner, for example….

Theatre Reflections and Community Participation

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 28, 2014 @ 9:53 am PST

What I Learned in Paris (Colony)userpic=colonyIf there is a problem in the theatre today, it is the makeup of the audience. Go to most shows, and you’ll see the same type of audience — older, white, and typically better suited financially. None of these are particularly surprising, given who was trained to attend theatre when they were younger (i.e., in the 1950s and 1960s). Some theatres, playwrights, and artistic directors know how to change that — and I’m thinking of folks like Sheldon Epps over at the Pasadena Playhouse. They’ve mastered the art of the “black play” — that is, a play with something that draws out the African-American audience to the theatre. I’ve written before about how I believe this is a good thing — how, in fact, I wish that the audience for theatre in general was more reflective of society’s makeup. I’ve also bemoaned that the white audience seems to disappear for the perceived “black” plays, and black audience isn’t there for the “white” plays.

So what makes a successful “black” play or musical? To my eyes, there seems to be three varieties. There is the black play that draws on the uniquely black experience and uses that to teach. The Pasadena Playhouse has done loads of these, and you can often find them from playwrights such as August Wilson. The Colony had one recently in Breath and Imagination. Then there are those that draw on the black musical experience. A friend commented that the current musical “Motown” is like that. Then there are others that are just an everyday play with some slight story changes and an all-black cast. The current “Kiss Me Kate” revival at the Pasadena Playhouse is like that: it is the stock “Kiss Me Kate” placed in the milieu of 1920s black vaudeville. Other examples are the castings of “Guys and Dolls” or “Hello Dolly” with an all black cast. I ask all of this because last night we saw “What I Learned In Paris” by Pearl Cleage at The Colony Theatre (FB). This is obstensibly a “black play”: it is an all-black cast set in a significant time and place in black history. But there was no distinct color shift in the audience. Was this due to the play? The promotion? The fact that it was in Burbank?

I don’t really have the answers, alas. But I walked out of “What I Learned in Paris” thinking that the story itself was universal: with the exception of a few elements (mostly having to do with housing discrimination), this could have been the story about any election and the events that happened afterwards. In doing so, it made an important point: that there really is no difference. The black experience is often our experience. It was a good play; a fun play. The black-ness came from the cast and the setting, however, not as much the particular story. I was sad that the African-American theatregoing community in LA hadn’t discovered this play; our audience composition was the typical subscriber composition, and many of the seats on the sides were empty (as if the white single-purchase theatregoers normally drawn in weren’t, and the black single-purchase theatregoers weren’t drawn in). My only conclusion is a marketing one: the Colony simply may not know how to get the word out about its shows to the potential African-American audience. This is too bad: if theatre is to grow and survive, it must draw in the younger audience, draw more minorities to the live theatre experience, and do stories reflective of the world today (the Colony’s recent “Year Zero” was a great example of this, looking at the Hmong commuity).

Is “What I Learned in Paris” a black play? Set in Atlanta in 1972, right after the election of the first African-American mayor of any major city (Maynard Jackson), Paris concerns itself not with the pivotal events of the election and campaign, but the immediate post-election lives of his campaign staff. There are five main characters: J.P. Madison, an older lawyer working on the campaign; his first wife, Eve Madison; his second wife Ann Madison; another lawyer on staff John Nelson, and another staffer who worked on the get out the vote effort, Lena Jefferson. As the story opens in Eve Madison’s place (which was being used as campaign headquarters), J.P., Ann, Lena, and John are celebrating Jackson’s election. We quickly learn the nature of the characters, and that John is secretly in love with Ann, and was just waiting for the election to be over so she could divorce J.P. and be with him. The two major plot complications then appear. First, Eve Madison returns from San Francisco creating tension between J.P. and all. She wants to return to Atlanta and start hosting salons and parties to bring the diverse separate communities of Atlanta together, and to do this she wants to buy a house in Buckhead, an upscale white community near the Governor’s Mansion . Second, J.P. gets on the short list for city attorney. The latter brings to the front the fact that he never actually married Ann — they went to Vegas to get married, but never went through with it and have just been pretending for the last few months. J.P. asks Lena to find him a pastor who can discreetly perform the ceremony before the press finds out.  You can see the collisions already on the horizon.

You’ll note that “Paris” is no where in the description above? The title refers to the time when Edie was in Paris just before she divorced J.P., when she realized that she had to know who she was first before she could do any form of relationship — as she put it, she had to be free enough to be able to enjoy eating in Paris alone. This becomes the pivotal point in the second act, when Eve volunteers her services and her townhouse to host J.P. and Ann’s wedding, which she’ll perform; prior to the ceremony, she’ll host a small bridal shower for Ann with just her and Lena.

From the description, you can see there is little distinctly black about this story, save for the campaign that brought everyone together, and the reaction of the upscale community to Evie wanting to purchase there. That, perhaps, is the wasted potential of this play. It had the opportunity to say more about this election and the impact on the community… and it didn’t. Thinking about it a bit more, the problem could be the fact that the election wasn’t all that pivotal. He wasn’t the first African-American mayor of a major city (that honor goes to Carl Stokes in Cleveland in 1967; he wasn’t the first African-American mayor of a southern city (that was Howard Lee in Chapel Hill NC in 1968). In fact — an more importantly for this production and this play — Jackson’s election was the same year as the election of Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles.

Still, despite these flaws, we thoroughly enjoyed the story. It was fun to watch, well performed, with some unexpected twists and turns. The director, Saundra McClain (FB), shaped the performances to be natural and to fit the characters well. These seemed like people you would enjoy knowing; they had little quirks and mannerisms that made them fun to watch.

The cast was great. There weren’t really tiers here — all roles were equal in significance. There were two groupings, however. The “Madison” grouping consisted of J.P. Madison (William C. Mitchell (FB)), his first wife Eve (L Scott Caldwell), and his second “wife” Ann (Joy Brunson (FB)). Mitchell played the pompous politician/lawyer well, and at points gave great hints of the compassionate man under the surface. Caldwell captured the free-spirit nature of Evie well. I had recently seen Brunson on Masters of Sex, and it was a delight to see her here. She initially seemed colder as a character, but near the end of the play you could see flashes of fun in the character as Evie drew her out of her political shell and back into herself.

The second groups, for lack of a better term, were the non-Madisons: Shon Fuller (FB) as John Nelson and Karan Kendrick (FB) as Lena Jefferson.  Fuller (actually, his character) came across as young and headstrong, and confused about the love with Ann and how to deal with the fact that she was already married. Fuller portrayed this well. Kendrick’s Lena was that all knowing friend: she was in the middle holding things together; she conveyed quite a bit with an expression or look in reaction to an action.

In short, all five actors were great.

The technical side was up to the Colony’s usual excellence. The scenic design by Charles Erven captured the 1970s townhouse era well; this was aided by the properties and set dressing of John McElveney (FB), which was up to its usual excellent standards. The sound design of Dave Mickey (FB) provided great backround music, and the lighting design of Jared A. Sayeg (FB) was simple and effective.  Scenic art was by Orlando de la Paz. The costumes by Dianne K. Graebner (FB) were beautiful and effective, and reflected that era well. Leesa Freed (FB) was the production stage manager.

What I Learned in Paris” has one more week at The Colony Theatre (FB), closing on October 5th. Tickets are available through the Colony website; discount tickets are available on Goldstar and through the LA Stage Alliance.

Dining Notes: We tried someplace new for dinner: The Story Tavern, about 6 blocks (not counting the mall) from the theatre near Olive and San Fernando. In short: yum. I had a delightful beef stew, and they had loads of gluten-free goodies for Karen including Shepard’s Pie. Well worth trying, and we’ll be back.

[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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  This afternoon brings “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/29. October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. Right now, there is only one show booked for January 2015 – “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente. 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.

Saturday Stew: Roaches, Hookworms, and other things that are creepy

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 27, 2014 @ 4:47 pm PST

Observation StewJust realized it is Saturday and I haven’t done my news chum stew post, even though I’m likely to have stew for dinner. I’ve been too busy updating systems and installing the new version of Acronis, my favorite backup software. So here are some stew items for you: