Observations Along the Road

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

Saturday News ABCs: Ada, Brands, Crap, Dentists, and Economics [...and Fillipenko]

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 06, 2014 @ 3:58 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and it’s hot outside, so what better than some nice cool, umm, stew that’s been simmering on the stove all week:

  • On The Wings of Ada. When I was getting out of college, object oriented programming was just entering the lexicon, primarily through the facility of Ada, the supposed DOD standard programming language. Here’s an interesting article on the Boeing 777, and how it flies on 99% Ada… and why Boeing feels that was a great decision for the aircraft. Here’s an interesting line from the conclusion: ” The trend towards more reliable hardware and software are revolutionizing aviation and can be found in aircrafts other than the 777. The systems in the cockpit talk to the other systems through the programming language, and in new airplanes, such as the Beechcraft 400A, the Learjet series, and some English jets, the language of choice is Ada.”
  • Branding Ain’t Just For Cattle. If you grew up in California, you knew there were two state University systems: The University of California (which were all UCxx, except UC Berkeley, which views itself as the University of California), and the California State University. It seems that the Cal State campuses are now concerned with branding, and each has their own identity. Some are xxxx State (e.g., Sac State, Long Beach State); others are California State University xxx (e.g., CSUN), and others have other identities (Cal Poly, California State College, and the Maritime University). Others are confused, such as CSULA which is worried about being confused with UCLA, at least in terms of acronyms. Of course, no one asks the California University in Pennsylvania.
  • In The Pipes. What’s something you depend upon everyday, but probably never think about? The answer is the sewer system, and here’s an in-depth exploration of the Los Angeles sewer system. The city alone has over 6,700 miles of sewer pipes, some going back to the 1880s. More importantly, the city doesn’t know where all the pipes are. Archival data is being gradually imported into a publicly accessible online directory called Navigate LA, which is managed by the Bureau of Engineering, but there are still plenty of gaps. One major part of the sewer system that has not been accurately mapped is the only way to access them: manholes (or the more proper term, maintenance holes).  (Note: the site displays a lot better in Chrome)
  • Be a Dentist. If you recall the song from Little Shop, Dentists love pain. People still thing of the dentist as painful, but they don’t realize how good they’ve got it. Here’s an article that explores what it was like to go to the dentist in the days before Novacaine. There was the belief that cavities were caused by worms. Often, practitioners would try to smoke the worm out by heating a mixture of beeswax and henbane seed on a piece of iron and directing the fumes into the cavity with a funnel. Afterwards, the hole was filled with powdered henbane seed and gum mastic, which may have provided temporary relief given the fact that henbane is a mild narcotic. Many times, though, the achy tooth had to be removed altogether. Some tooth-pullers mistook nerves for tooth worms, and extracted both the tooth and the nerve in what was certainly an extremely painful procedure in a period before anesthetics.
  • Quitting Smoking. This week, the CVS Drugstore chain stopped selling cigarettes. Given that they make 3% of their profit from ciggies, one might wonder why? The simple answer is Obamacare. More specifically, there’s more money to be made from healthcare than nicotine. This article has more. In short, CVS is rebranding as CVS Health, expanding its “Minute Clinic” network, and making groups with doctors to package prescription coverage with health plans. This emphasis (which is growing) is undercut if they sell cigarettes. So out go the cigarettes. Now, if they could only get their pharmacists to be efficient!
  • [ETA] Looking at the Stars. [When I wrote this up earlier today, I knew there was one article at work I had forgotten about. This is it...] No, I’m not referring to the nude pictures unleashed this week on the Internet. Rather, I’m referring to an article I saw earlier this week about UC defunding the Lick Observatory, and how it has got astronomers pissed. This includes the brother of a co-worker, and someone that my wife did science camp with when she was younger — Alex Fillipenko. Basically, the UC budget has been cut, and so UC is cutting funds for their only student-operated observator. This is the only observatory where UC students can schedule time and do research, and learn about the stars. As someone who works in the space field, this has me annoyed; as a UC grad and the parent of a future UC grad (although different UCs), it expresses a wrong attitude.

Music: Latin Brass: Barrippi Mompo (John Evans)

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Changes to California Highways: June-August 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 06, 2014 @ 10:30 am PDT

userpic=roadgeeking

When I was in college, I used to use the Labor Day weekend to do big programming projects. This year… its updating the highway pages. Life gets busy as you get older, especially when you have other hobbies (such as theatre and theatre reviews) getting in the way.

Updates were made to the following highways, based on my reading of the papers (which are posted to the roadgeeking category at the “Observations Along The Road” and to the California Highways Facebook group) as well as any backed up email changes. I didn’t review the the AAroads forum this time — it hasn’t been bringing much useful information, and a third of the year would be a lot of posts to review. I’ve given up on misc.transport.road. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Mike Sinclair(2)]: I-5(1), I-10(1), Route 12(1), Route 60(1), I-80(1), US 101(1), Route I-680(1,2), I-710(1).

Reviewed the Pending Legislation page, based on the new California Legislature site. As usual, I recommend to every Californian that they visit the legislative website regularly and see what their legis-critters are doing. Noted passage of the following items:

(more…)

A Face We Rarely See

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 31, 2014 @ 12:12 pm PDT

An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein (REP East)userpic=repeastUnderneath my outside face
There’s a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me.
(Shel Silverstein, “Everything Thing On It“)

My first introduction to Shel Silverstein was through music when I was a teenager, and I didn’t even know it. Songs like “A Boy Named Sue”, “Boa Constrictor”, “Unicorn” and others were all written by Shel Silverstein, and I didn’t know it. Of course, we all knew one Shel Silverstein song, thanks to Dr. Demento. How many of you can recite a few lines, if not the entirety, of “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”? As I got older, I was introduced to Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” (despite its mixed messages) and his poetry books. I also discovered the Shel Silverstein wasn’t only a children’s author — he drew numerous cartoons for Playboy (which every teen boy, umm, reads), and if you’ve ever read “The ABZ Book” or looked at “Different Dances“, you know Shel worked at many different levels. So I knew the adult side of Shel, but what I didn’t know was that in addition to being an artist, author, poet, and songwriter, Shel was also a playwright. He wrote loads and loads (from what I’ve read, over 100) of short one-act plays and scenes. In 2001 (after Shel’s death), New York’s Atlantic Theatre Company collected ten of Shel’s more adult one-acts into a two-act production called “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein“. The resulting production has been very popular with small theatres around the country; for the last two weekends, Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) has been presenting it as part of the short-run, more adult fare that they run during late summer.

Other Images for An Adult Evening with Shel SilversteinBefore I start describing the ten scenes and the performances therein, a few notes from the research I did to write this write-up. As I noted, a lot of theatres have presented this play, and it is interesting to see how they have adapted Shel’s child-oriented artwork to attract the adult market. I’ve captured a few examples to the right. These show that the licensing doesn’t provide an image for the show. The most common image seems to be an adaptation of “The Giving Tree” (his best known work); most seem to imply a heavily sexual nature to the show. Most seem to be designed to discourage children, demonstrating that Shel’s current association is with his children’s books. I’ll note the Playbill in the center is from the original Atlantic production. So how “adult” is this show? Will it scare the horses? There’s a fair amount of adult language in the show, but no actual nudity (there was more nudity on stage in Frankie and Johnny or The Graduate). Although in one scene the language may be a bit raunchy, most of the language is stuff that kids over 12 these days know from the  playground or pay-TV. What is adult in this show are the concepts. There are notions and ideas in this show that will fly right past a child; they won’t see the humor and they won’t get the point. Those familiar with Shel’s adult work know that he used shock and strong images to make significant points about society. It is those ideas that make this show wrong for kids.

So let’s look at the scenes and performances in the show. REP East only listed the scene names, but luckily Dramatists Play Service and Wikipedia provide more information:

  1. One Tennis Shoe. Harvey (Jeff Johnson/FB) needs to broach a delicate subject with his wife. He claims Sylvia (Bridget Pugliese (FB)) is becoming a bag lady, but she protests that her Bloomingdales’ shopping bag doesn’t make her a bag lady. No, says Harvey, but the picture frame, couch cushion and single tennis shoe retrieved from the garbage do. Not to mention the cold cooked oatmeal in her purse. The leads in this scene created a believable couple, but what I found more interesting was the reactions to the argument from the unnamed actors and the waiter in the background.
  2. Bus Stop.Irwin (George D. Cummings (FB)) stands on a street corner with a sign reading “bust stop.” When Celia (Erin Rivlin (FB)) passes, he stops her and proceeds to run through the entire list of slang for her breasts, but Celia turns the tables on him with a lengthy and demeaning list of her own. This is perhaps the most NSFW scene, at least in terms of language. It is almost guaranteed that you will hear slang terms for either breasts or the penis that you have never heard before. It is a classic turnabout, and Erin and George have lots of fun with it.
  3. Going Once. In a simultaneously comic and chilling monologue an auctioneer (George D. Cummings (FB)) shows off a woman (apparently Annie (Erin Rivlin (FB))), who is putting herself up for auction to the highest bidder. This scene is a commentary on how women were often viewed in the 1960s and 1970s (I certainly hope that isn’t today’s view), and could be viewed by some as misogynistic (although if you read through Different Dances, you’ll come away with the impression that Shel Silverstein thought that way at one time). How much would you pay for a women who would do anything? Good performances by both leads, but even thought the body is sold, not much is revealed. You have to pay to see more :-( .
  4. The Best Daddy. Lisa (Fiona Perry (FB))’s got the best daddy (Randy Aronson (FB)) in the world. After all, he bought her a pony for her birthday. Too bad he shot it dead. Or did he? Maybe it was Lisa’s older sister.Very strong performances from both; I really enjoyed Perry’s reactions to her father as he worked the expectations.
  5. The Lifeboat is Sinking. Jen (Hannah L. Endicott/G+) and Sherwin (Jason Endicott (FB)) sit safely on their bed, but Jen forces her husband to imagine they are on a sinking boat in the middle of a terrible storm. Waves fill the boat with water; there are no life jackets; and Sherwin must decide whether he should throw his mother overboard or condemn them all to die. The scene raises great questions about your priority in life, and who do you value more: your spouse or your parent, your spouse or your child? Given the great performances by newlyweds Hannah and Jason Endicott, one wonders if this triggered such a discussion in real life.
  6. Smile. Bender (Brent Christensen (FB)) and his henchmen (Jeff Hyde/FB, Nanook/FB) drag Gibby (Michael Keane/FB) into a room and throw him to the ground. Gibby protests that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but Bender and the others know better. They have found the man responsible for the ’70s smiley face and the phrase “Have a nice day,” and they’re going to make him pay. Loads of simulated physical violence by Christensen, Hyde, and Nanook (which they do so well), and Keane cowers quite well. A good commentary on how trite phrases can drive people crazy.
  7. Wash and Dry. Marianne (Beth Ann Sweezer (FB)) stops by the laundromat, but she’s horrified to discover that her laundry hasn’t been cleaned. George (Ben Marcus/FB – Week 2; J. T. Centonze (FB) – Week 1) counters he never agreed to wash it. “George’s Watch and Dry,” he says. “You gotta pay attention.” A very good commentary on the prevalence of fine print these days; one wonders what Silverstein would make of shrinkwrap agreements. Good performances by Marcus as George and Beth Ann as Marianne.
  8. Thinking Up a New Name for the Act. Pete (Mikee Schwinn (FB) hits on the phrase “Meat and Potatoes” as the perfect name for their vaudeville act, but Lucy (Amber Schwinn (FB)) doesn’t like it. They get into a terrible fight, and Lucy kills Pete. A police investigation, trial and execution quickly follow. The only words in this farcical sketch are “Meat and Potatoes.” A very well performed scene, especially as the actors could not depend on the dialogue (“meat and potatoes”) to convey the message–it had to be entirely through their performances. I believed they conveyed the message well; additionally, the fact that the leads were husband and wife permitted them to take certain, umm, liberties in action that other actors might not be afforded. Supporting the leads in the smaller roles were Barry Agin (FB) [Judge]; George D. Cummings (FB) [Priest]; Hannah L. Endicott/G+ [Prosecutor], Jason Endicott (FB) [Sergeant], Jeff Johnson/FB [Executioner] and Michael Keane/FB [Inspector].
  9. Buy One Get One Free. Merrilee (Alexis Crane (FB)) and Sherilee (Kelly Bader (FB)) are offering the deal of the century. “Buy one, get one free,” the hookers sing to a tempted Lee (Barry Agin (FB)). It’s a golden opportunity. And it all rhymes. This is perhaps the most traditional Shel Silverstein piece with the nature of the rhymes, but the subject matter is clearly not for children. Good performances by both Alexis and Kelly, given the large amount of dialogue.
  10. Blind Willie and the Talking Dog. Blind Willie (George Chavez/FB) – Week 2; Billy Davis/FB – Week 1) sings the blues and asks passersby if they can spare a nickel or dime to help him and his hungry dog (Jeff Johnson/FB). But his dog can’t understand why Willie refuses to use the fact that he owns a talking dog to make some real money. A wonderful performance by George (who can sing quite well), and Johnson played the dog quite well (although I hear his costume is a bitch).

Overall, this was a large cast (many of whom are local performers at REP or CTG, as opposed to heavy regulars elsewhere in the LA theatre scene) who were having fun with a short run production. They clearly enjoyed the production, and the direction of Jeff Johnson/FB kept everything running smoothly (it did make more work for me, as I try to find links for every actor, and many took quite a bit of hunting to find anything other than Facebook).

Technically, this was very simple. There was no real set; there were a number of prop pieces used to establish the scenes. Sound design was by Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB, who found the few Shel Silverstein CDs out there for interstitial music (I know he used “Freakers at the Freakers Ball”, and I think I heard a few songs from “Inside Folk Songs”). There was no credit for lighting, but I’m guessing REP regular Tim Christianson/FB was involved. “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” was produced by Jeff Johnson/FBMikee Schwinn (FB) and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

Alas, I saw the last performance of “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein“. You could get tickets for “The Great Gatsby, the next production at Repertory East Playhouse (REP East) (FB) [ETA: Which just went up on Goldstar].

[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:  August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19),  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27, and “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 dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), 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’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

 

 

Highway Headlines for August 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 31, 2014 @ 7:47 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingAh, the end of summer is upon us. The end of the summer roadtrips, and the end of the fights in Congress over the highway bill. Here are some headlines regarding California highways that have caught my eye:

  • I-405 Project Moves Forward. Efforts to improve one of the most heavily traveled freeway segments in the nation will continue to move forward following recent decisions by Caltrans. On July 25, Caltrans informed OCTA that the I-405 Improvement Project should include the Measure M commitment of one regular lane in each direction and add high-occupancy toll lanes at a later date.
  • Smart highway aims to cut congestion on westbound I-80. The Bay Area’s next big highway project promises to cut congestion and reduce accidents in the East Bay on westbound Interstate 80, which consistently ranks as the region’s lousiest commute – and it’s due to be finished early next year. Working at night, crews will install 11 huge gantries – metal sign frames – that stretch across all westbound lanes of the freeway in the most consistently congested and collision-ridden stretch, from Richmond to Emeryville. Those gantries will hold an array of signs giving drivers information to help them steer clear of accidents, debris and blocked lanes. It will even let them know if it would be faster to take public transit.
  • Freeway median gates completed. The next time traffic is stopped on I-10 between The Pass and Palm Springs, drivers won’t be stuck in their vehicles listening to hours of ’80s rock, country music or talk radio and eating gum and breath mints for lunch. With the construction of five median gates, drivers can now be turned around to bypass the traffic when there is a major backup.
  • Work Begins to Put Huge Park on Top of the 101 in Hollywood. Get excited Hollywood, because you are one step closer to having a huge park on top of the 101 Freeway. Friends of Hollywood Central Park, the group spearheading the plan, has finally gotten started on the first official step—environmental review process—according to a statement: “This brings us one big step closer toward achieving the long-held dream of building this much-needed park in the heart of Hollywood,” says the executive director. The 38-acre park would run over about a mile of highway, from Santa Monica Boulevard to Bronson Avenue, and hopefully “create a street-level urban park that reunites communities separated by the Hollywood Freeway more than sixty years ago.”
  • Road widening project nears completion. As the Jameson Canyon Highway 12 project begins to wind down (and what a wonderful project it is), we need to reflect upon those involved in the early stages.
  • I-5 expansion gets big green light. A plan that would expand North County’s Interstate 5 and coastal rail service won unanimous approval from the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday, giving the long-planned and controversial project one of its most important and final victories.
  • Petition created to rename Waldo Tunnel after Robin Williams. Rather than memorializing a 19th century nobody, the Waldo Tunnel and its rainbow arches north of the Golden Gate Bridge ought to honor actor and comedian Robin Williams, who became famous while wearing rainbow suspenders.
  • Can we cap the 101 freeway with a 44-acre park?. Floods of cars hurdle through the canyon along the 101 in Hollywood, spitting pollutants. Heat radiates from miles of asphalt and concrete buildings, and weary apartments line the chasm. But when Los Angeles native Laurie Goldman gazes over the twisting gray expanse, a part of town pedestrians rarely visit, all she can see is green. “I look at the freeway, and I only see the park,” she said.
  • California Highway and Interstate Historic Photos .
  • Oakland gets $6 million in state funding for transportation projects. The city of Oakland was awarded $6.1 million Thursday by the California Transportation Commission to implement two key projects in a state program designed to encourage non-motorized transportation. The money is part of a total of $221 million that the state commission awarded to 145 projects across California.

Weak Broth, Meaty Chunks: Hugs, Water, Malls, and Drills

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 30, 2014 @ 11:17 am PDT

Observation StewI was on vacation last week. This meant that I was out doing things — or more purposefully, not doing things — and not on the computer. There were a few articles that caught my eye… and most are worthy of some discussion:

  • What’s A Matter With Kids These Days. I was really taken — and saddened — by this opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times. It talked about how camp counselors these days can no longer hug our kids. It made me long for the simpler days of my childhood — when children could run around neighborhoods, and emotion could be shown. I was a camp counselor, and there were times you hugged your kids because there was that strong relationship, or they needed comforting and you were the ersatz parent substitute. But the fear of litigation and the fear of predators — and in general, the whole business of promoting fear — has made us afraid to do it, and afraid of the litigation that might result if the child tells their parents. It’s sad that our society today is like that. But, on the other hand, do I want that simpler society? On vacation, I read the book “Space” by James Michner, and it was a bit prescient in predicting the growth of religion, the growth in the people who believe that the Bible is science, and the growth of the hatred of others. Wanting simpler days is code for not wanting the complexity and difficulties science brings. Technology — either in the form of the Internet or TV reporting — has brought the predators out into the open. Whether there are more now than before is unknown, but we see them now and we talk about them more. We’re still on the fear side of the pendulum swing, but I hope the day will come when we don’t have to worry about the predators, and those who are caregivers to children can feel safe comforting them with a hug. A fist bump just doesn’t cut it.
  • With Money Comes Water. California is in a bad drought. We’ve had them before, and this is likely cyclical, but the situation seems worse than before. This is likely because there is a greater awareness of groundwater depletion — in previous droughts, we just worried about the reservoir levels and assumed there was plenty of groundwater. We now know this isn’t the case; wells in East Porterville CA have already gone dry and they are living on bottled water. Further, there is the quest for oil and the use of fracking to get it — they believe it is safe, but it has contaminated ground water before. Just imagine how bad a drought would be if we couldn’t augment reservoirs with groundwater. So it is a little galling to read articles like this one: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Parched: How the Golden State’s 1 percenters are avoiding the drought.” They waste the water because they can afford to waste the water, or they pay to truck in additional water so they can continue their profligate ways. This is wrong. We hope that the people we tend to present as celebrities will also serve as role models; it is sad when they do not.
  • Ah, for the Days of Bratskeller and College Books. There are many who feel that one of the factors leading to the demise of Westwood as a college town was the rebirth of the Third Street Prominade in Santa Monica (others blame it on the gang violence that overtook Westwood in the 1990s, or the outrageous rents that are charged). We forget that the Prominade was once as forlorn as Westwood. Here’s what the Prominade looked like in the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of the Gap and Santa Monica Place. Let’s hope that the community in Westwood can revitalize that community as Santa Monica did.
  • Drilling Down This last article is a little less thought provoking, and a bit more referential. However, some might call it revolutionary, and others might just say I should chuck it. I fear that if I keep with these puns, someone will give me the shaft. But I make them still, because the guide is a guide to drill bits and drilling. That reminds me… I’m seeing the dentist on Friday.

 

Putting It Out There For All To See

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Aug 28, 2014 @ 10:31 am PDT

Pageant (Cygnet Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsAll summer, I’ve been reading about the off-Broadway musical “Pageant, which has been getting strong reviews. When I started planning our vacation (which, of course, includes investigating the theatre in the area), I discovered that “Pageant” wasn’t only running off-Broadway, it was running off-Los Angeles. Translation: the Cygnet Theatre (FB) in Old Town San Diego was presenting “Pageant, and it was running during our vacation window. Furthermore, discount tickets were available through San Diego Arts Tix. I booked it, and last night saw us in Old Town watching a bunch of beauty queens on stage… and when I say “queens”… you’ll see…

Pageant” is a musical about a beauty pageant. Now there aren’t too many musicals focused on that narrow subject; the only other one that comes to mind is Ashman and Hamlisch’s 1986 flop “Smile, a musicalization of the 1975 Michael Ritchie comedy movie starring Bruce Dern and Barbara Feldon. “Pageant” is much less story driven — there is no overall arc to the characters, there is no character growth, there is no conflict, there is no backstage drama. “Pageant” is simply what it appears to be — a beauty pageant on stage sponsored by a cheezy beauty product company, with the requisite pageant components (opening walk, evening gown competition, swimsuit competition, talent competition, spokes-model competition) all presided over by a swarmy host. So what makes “Pageant” special? First, the winner is not pre-selected but is chosen by audience members.  More importantly, all of the female beauty contestants… are played by men. It is this latter aspect that drives much of the humor of the show. It creates the double entendres, it adds to the cheesy talent portions, it makes the spokes-model portions hilarious. But it is, at its heart, a gimmick. It’s funny, but in a “if you find that sort of thing funny” kind-of way.

If one was to look at “Pageant” without the gender-bending aspect, what would remain? There would still be a fair amount of skewering of the beauty pageant conventions, from the production numbers that make no sense to the warped notions of beauty that beauty product companies promote. There would be the talent competitions that, often, contain little to no talent. There would be the inside jokes that only those familiar with the pageant word (or those that have watched a lot of pageants) would understand. There would also be the music. What there wouldn’t be was… story. As noted earlier, the book by Bill Russell (of “Side Show” fame) and Frank Kelly (of “The Texas Chainsaw Musical“, umm, fame) (conceived by Robert Longbottom) creates very one dimensional characters — really caricatures — of some broad types and leaves it at that. The evangelical bible belt girl. The kooky California girl. The Southern belle. The musicalization (lyrics by the book writers; music by Albert Evans (of “The Texas Chainsaw Musical” and “Nite Club Confidential” fame)) provides cute production numbers, but nothing that sticks with you as you walk out, or that even provides a modicum of character development. In short, I think the skewering of beauty pageant conventions was handled much better in “Smile” — this is really a gimmicky farce, and it is best to go into the show understanding and expecting that farce is what you are going to get.

As for the gimmick itself, I question its use in this day and age. Contrast the two shows we saw this week in San Diego. In “Two Gentlemen of Verona“, we have a women dressing up as a man to pass as a man, not for humor. In Pageant, we have men dressing as women because it is ostensibly funny. After all, it was funny when Alban did it in La Cage, and it was funny when the two leads did it in Sugar, so we’ll just go with the trend. But Sugar (the musicalization of Some Like It Hot) was done in the 1970s; La Cage in the 1980s. This is 2014; it is the era of RuPaul, drag-queen chic, and acceptance of transgendered and gender-changing people. So is this show a relic of when it was written (1991)? Do our contestants need to be as close as possible to real women, or is the joke that they think they look beautiful? Then again, the point could just be that we’re judging too much — as pageants often do — on the superficial features.

When viewed as a flat farce, the show does much better. Perhaps the best judge of the farcical nature of the show was the audience at our show, where the entire front row consisted of contestants/winners from the Royal World Beauty Pageant (FB). These gals were cracking up and laughing throughout the show. Their handlers, however, appeared less amused. Sitting across from us were two women in purple — one who was really enjoying the show, and the other (who may have been the president of the RWI organization) who seemed to go back and forth from enjoyment to a “grumpy cat” look. As for us, there were portions that were laugh out loud funny, and there were portions that made you feel like the audience at “Springtime for Hitler” (i.e., did they really do “that”). In short, I believe this is humor aimed at a particular audience.

After all of this, I guess I should describe the show. As the show opens, we meet our master of ceremonies, Frankie Cavalier, and the Glamouresse Pageant Girls: Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss Bible Belt, Miss West Coast, Miss Deep South, Miss Texas, and Miss Great Plains. Frankie selects 5 audience members as judges. The competition then starts in earnest, with evening gowns (pictured below in the image I grabbed from the Cygnet Press Site). We then go through the talent competition for each of the girls, interspersed (every 2 girls) with a spokes-model pitch of some ridiculous Glamouresse product. After all the talent segments are done, there is another production number done by Frankie Cavalier about the pageant in the future (which has him in a very odd costume with a very large codpiece). This number ends with the girls in their white, one-piece swimsuits for the swimsuit competition, which also provides the opportunity to hear their inner thoughts. Once this is done, the “Miss Congeniality” prize is given and the six girls are down selected to five. There is then a tribute to the outgoing queen (the downselected girl, redressed), and a final competition. This last competition consists of the girls answering questions from the “Glamour Help Line”. At this point, the audience judges are polled to determine 2nd runner up, 1st runner up, and the winner. There is the winner presentation and the closing song, and the show is done.

Pageant - Cast (Cygnet Theatre) - Photo by Daren ScottThe picture to the right shows the cast of the show: Miss Deep South (David McBean (FB)), Miss Bible Belt (Ryan Fahey (FB)), Miss Texas (Charles Osborne (TW, FB)), Frankie Cavalier (Phil Johnson (FB)), Miss Industrial Northeast (Max Cadillac (FB)), Miss West Coast (Luke Jacobs Harvey/FB), and Miss Great Plains (Conor Tibbs (FB)) [photo by Daren Scott from the the Cygnet Press Site]. Let’s look at each of the girls closely, and what I remember the morning after the show.

  • Miss Deep South (David McBean (FB)) had, for me, one of the funniest talent portions with a great ventriloquism routine. At our performance, she didn’t win, and she had a wonderful display of bad sportsmanship (which was fun to watch). IIRC, she was our second runner up.
  • Miss Bible Belt (Ryan Fahey (FB)) came off as a little too preachy (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I particularly liked her Glamouresse spokes-model segment with the beauty spackle (and the cross drawn into it), and her response on the help line. She also had a good gospel number for her talent routine. She was our first runner-up
  • Miss Texas (Charles Osborne (TW, FB)) was the winner at our show, although when she first came out, I thought she had a mustache (it turned out to be lighting and bad upper lip makeup). Her tap dancing talent segment was wonderful.
  • Miss Industrial Northeast (Max Cadillac (FB)) was my least favorite girl of the piece, with a strong overdone Spanish accent. Her spokes-model segment was quite funny, as was her phone response. Warning: In her talent segment, she plays the accordion.
  • Miss West Coast (Luke Jacobs Harvey/FB) had a hilarious talent segment (I need some brain bleach for that birth scene), followed by a great spokes-model segment.
  • Miss Great Plains (Conor Tibbs (FB)) had a really strange poem about the land for her talent segment.

As the swarmy host, Frankie Cavalier, Phil Johnson (FB) did an excellent job, and was hilarious in the Venus 3000 number.

The production was directed and choreographed by James Vasquez (FB), who turned these men into somewhat believable beauty contestants (although my wife felt that RuPaul was needed to get the female mannerisms down right for all but Miss Deep South).  Don Lemaster (FB) was the musical director.

Turning to the technical side: The set design by Sean Fanning (FB) was a suitably glamorous pageant stage with the appropriate amount of shimmer and steps. The lighting design by Michelle Caron (FB) demonstrated very clever use of moving mirror lights — they were used in a manner equivalent to normal movers, which I’ve never seen before. The other lighting worked well to focus attention. General properties were designed by Angelica Ynfante (FB), with the special Glamouress properties designed by Michael McKeon (FB). These were extremely clever — both the talent show props such as the “target” for Miss Texas, to all the wonderful Glamouress products that were demonstrated — the lip gloss food, the double ended aerosol can, the facial powder vacuum, the snap odor eliminators. Costumes were by Shirley Pierson (FB) assisted by Kate Stallons (FB) and Kristine Kerr (FB); makeup and hair was by Peter Herman (FB). The costumes, in general, were cute and clever and served to conceal that which must be concealed if one is a man playing a woman (especially in a swimsuit). Some, such as Cavalier’s Venus 3000 getup, were just inspired (especially the codpiece). Makeup was a little less inspired, simply because these faces were not done up in a manner that preserved the female illusion. Perhaps that was intentional, but sometimes it was over or under done to distraction. The wigs, in general, worked well (at least I couldn’t tell they were obviously wigs). Taylor Wycoff (FB) was the Dramaturg, although I have absolutely no idea what a dramaturg does on an established show like this. Heather M. Brose (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Marguerite Sugden/FB. Sean Murray (FB) is the Artistic Director of Cygnet.

Pageant” only has a few more shows left; it closes on August 31. Tickets are available through the Cygnet Theatre Box Office; they may also be available through San Diego ArtsTix or through Goldstar.

Dining Notes: You’re in Old Town. There’s tons of reasonable Mexican places at which to eat.

[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:  August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), 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’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

Love is in the Summer Air

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 25, 2014 @ 11:08 am PDT

Two Gentlemen of Verona (Old Globe)userpic=twogentlemenMy favorite musical of all time is “Two Gentlemen of Verona“, which I saw at the Ahmanson Theatre back in 1973. It never fails to cheer me up. So when I learned that the author of the piece, a guy named Bill Shakespeare, had also written a non-musical version, I was curious. I then learned that The Old Globe Theatre (FB) in San Diego would be presenting a production of the show… while we were in the area on vacation. As we don’t stop going to theatre while on vacation… well, guess where we were last night :-). That’s right … we were seeing one of Bill’s earliest comedies, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona“.

Shakespeare has two types of plays: tragedies, where everyone dies at the end, and comedies, where everyone falls in love at the end. TGOV is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, with no deep meetings, just light fun. TGOV tells the story of two best friends: Proteus and Valentine. As they graduate from their academy, the choose different directions for their lives: Valentine goes off to find fame and fortune working for the Duke of Milan in Milan, while Proteus remains in Verona to woo the women he has fallen in love with: Julia. Although Julia initially sees nothing in him, her woman-servant Lucetta convinces her to give him a chance. They pledge their undying love for each other, and give each other rings as tokens. But Proteus’ father wants him to have more experience, so he chooses to send him to Milan to join his friend, Valentine. Meanwhile, Valentine has arrived in Milan and fallen in love with the Duke’s daughter, Sylvia… who the Duke has promised to Turio, a foppish, foolish, and rich suitor. Sylvia, however, has fallen for Valentine and secretly bethrothed herself to him. When Proteus arrives in Milan, Valentine tells Proteus of his love and his plans to elope. All changes when Proteus sees Sylvia, for he then falls in love with her as well. Proteus plots to win her affections, discredit Valentine, and discredit Turio. He informs the Duke of the plans to elope, and gets Valentine banished. He then proposes to win Sylvia for Turio, all the while trash-talking Turio and up-talking himself. Sylvia will have none of it, for Valentine has told her of Proteus’ love for Julia, and she wants Proteus to love Julia, not Sylvia. Meanwhile, Julia has decided she cannot live without Proteus, and so she dresses as a man to go to Milan. Proteus hires Julia, who he knows as Sebastian, to carry his messages to Sylvia. In doing so, Julia sees that Sylvia will have nothing to do with Proteus. Meanwhile, after Valentine is banished, he takes up with a band of ruffians in the forest, becoming their general. Meanwhile (there are lots of meanwhiles), Sylvia has made plans with a former suitor, Sir Eglamore, to rescue her and take her to Valentine. When they are in the forest, the ruffians attack them. Eglamore runs off and the ruffians take Sylvia to their general (Valentine), but on the way, Proteus rescues her. She still refuses him, and Proteaus starts to physically take her. Valentine then breaks them up, and Proteus repents. Valentine then gives Sylvia to Proteus, which forces Sebastian (Julia) to reveal herself, which brings Proteus to Julia and Valentine to Sylvia. Turio then shows up and proves himself to be a coward, so the Duke goes along with the pairings. Add to this the two man servants — Speed, assistant to Valentine, and Launce (who is more in love with his dog, Crab). These three (two men and the dog) provide comic relief throughout the piece.

This was my first time seeing the original. As I watched the story, I kept comparing it with the NYSF 1973 production storyline. Many things were different: Proteus did not get Julia pregnant; Julia didn’t travel with Lucetta; there appeared to be no strong pre-relationship between Sylvia and Eglamore; and the Duke had a much smaller role. The timeline was also changed. I’m guessing these changes were in the original, although it is possible that The Old Globe made slight changes in the story to condense it down to a 90 minute, one-act production (although, reading the Wikipedia summary, it looks more like the NYSF added to and reworked the story slightly). I also found that my familiarity with the story made the initial language hurdle smaller — I was able to follow the story because I knew the basic outlines. I find this is useful for Shakespeare — seeing Kiss Me Kate or Atomic Shakespeare helps with Taming of the Shrew, and I’m sure familiarity with The Lion King helps with Hamlet. Many things in the show were the same, and I discovered that many of the songs were literal from Shakespeare. The show itself was fun and well performed, and very accessible. This was the kind of show that made me want to see more Shakespeare. For all that, however, this show is rarely produced and many consider it to be one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays (they feel it may have been his first and shows his immaturity as a playwright). The best answer is to decide for yourself. This well-performed production would be a good place to start.

Two Gentlemen of Verona - Old Globe - Publicity Photos by Jim CoxThe leads were very strong (note: the photos to the right are from the Old Globe publicity site, and were taken by Jim Cox). As Proteus, Adam Kantor (TW, FB) projected an engaging personality that gave himself whole-heartedly to love; as his compatriot Valentine, Hubert Pont-Du Jour was even more engaging and warm with just a wonderful air of likeability. Of course, I was more taken with their loves. Both Kristin Villanueva (FB) as Julia and Britney Coleman (TW, FB) as Sylvia had smiles that could just melt your heart, and both did a great job of projecting the personalities of these women as more than just characters on a page. These four were just a joy to watch — they had the chemistry to make them believable as couples, and they seemed to just enjoy inhabiting these characters. I also found it interesting that Old Globe continued in the NYSF colorblind casting tradition — in particular with a black Valentine and Sylvia, just as in the musical I love.

Supporting Proteus and Valentine as their aides/servants were Rusty Ross (FB) as Speed, Richard Ruiz (FB) as Launce, and Khloe Jezbera as Crab. Both of the men gave appropriately comic performances — Ross was suitably manic; Ruiz was more old-school comic; and both were delightful in the scene reading about Launce’s milkmaid love. Khloe was a scene-stealer as Crab, behaving perfectly and playfully on stage. The female servants had smaller roles: As Lucetta, Erin Elizabeth Adams (About the Artists, FB) had a much smaller role than in the musical, but played quite well off of Villanueva’s Julia. Lindsay Brill (TWFB) was Sylvia’s page (as well as an outlaw and a student).

The main supporting characters were Mark Pinter (TWFB) as the Duke of Milan, and Lowell Byers (FB) as Turio (which should have been Thurio), Sylvia’s foolish intended. Pinter captured the authority of the Duke well, but I expected a bit more pomposity as well. Perhaps that’s a difference in the character between the musical and the original. Byers’s Turio came off a little too serious — again, I was expecting a bit more silliness or foppishness. Still, the portrayal worked.

Rounding out the remainder of the cast were: Meaghan Boeing (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting, Music Assistant); Charlotte Bydwell (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting, Dance Captain); Jamal Douglas (FB) (Servant to Antonio, Musician, Outlaw 3, Student); Adam Gerber (FB) (Sir Eglamour, Student); Arthur Hanket (FB) (Antonio, Dancing Master, Outlaw 2); Kushtrim Hoxha (Panthino, Outlaw, Student); Stephen Hu (FB) (Outlaw, Student); Tyler Kent (FB) (Host, Outlaw, Student); Robbie Simpson (TWFB)( (Dancing Instructor to Sylvia, Musician, Outlaw, Student); Megan M. Storti (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting); and Patrick Zeller (FB) (Outlaw 1, Student).

The production was directed by Mark Lamos, who did a great job of bringing the story to life in the simple, old-style stage that is the festival theatre. There was little scenery to set the stage, so to have the different locales come out so well is a testament to good staging.

Turning to the technical side… as I just noted, the scenic design of John Arnone was simple — a number of well-done flats and trees meant to evoke Verona or Milan, but otherwise not interacting with the actors (although the multilevel thrust stage was useful). Linda Cho‘s costumes were beautiful, rich, and well-done, and evoked the appropriate echos of the period (or at least what we think the period to be) while still having touches that grounded them in today. I particularly liked the ruffled collar on the dog. Stephen Strawbridge (FB)’s lighting design illuminated the stage well and set the scene appropriately. Acme Sound Partner‘s sound design did the best that it could to make the actors be heard clearly and to provide appropriate sound effects; alas, it was hampered by the Old Globe’s location near the flight path for San Diego International Airport. Would that the theatre had the clout to stop all flights in and out of the airport during performances. Don’t they know that theatre matters? The original music was by Fitz Patton (FB) and worked well; it would have been nice to interpolate “Who Is Sylvia?” from the NYSF version.  Movement was by Jeff Michael Rubudal (FB) and worked well on the stage, particularly in the dance scenes. Michael Rossmy (FB) was the fight director. David Huber was the voice and text coach. Bret Torbeck (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Amanda Salmons (FB).

Two Gentlemen of Verona” continues at  The Old Globe Theatre (FB) through Sunday, September 14. Tickets are available through the Old Globe production page. Note that the page does not render correctly under Firefox — you need to scroll down to the bottom to find the information. I was unable to find any discounts for this show on Goldstar or the San Diego Arts Tix.

Dining Notes: For dinner before the show, we crossed the bridge over to Cucina Urbana. We got there early enough that we didn’t need a reservation — this is a good thing as reservations are supposedly hard to get. A foodie place, but not outrageously priced. Karen had a polenta with a ragu that she just loved; I had a wonderful lamb sausage pizza with fontina cheese. Well worth considering before the show.

[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:  Our next show is on Wednesday: Pageant” at the Cygnet Theatre (FB) in Old Town. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), 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’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule.  As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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 Morning Post: A Tasty Stew of News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 23, 2014 @ 10:06 am PDT

Observation StewOK, so I’m nowhere near Benji Franklin or Norm Rockwell. But it is Saturday, and that means it is time to bring out the “mag”… otherwise known as the stew of articles that caught my eye over this busy week: