😷 Three Days In

It gets to me in the evening. The fear. The sadness. The discomfort.

In the evening, I start to worry whether I, someone I love, some I care about, a dear friend, a colleague, and yes, even someone I know only through social media — might get sick of this illness. That they might die. I’m selfish. I don’t want anyone I care about to be sick or ill.

As I wrote the other day on Facebook, the fears give into a malaise about the world — make that my carefully constructed world — around me crashing down. I crave order in my life. Things working. My iPod. My DVR. My weekends. Knowing I have the ability to get what I want at the market. Knowing I have the ability to see my friends. This little strand of RNA reproducing has disrupted all of that. I don’t like it.

Yet I know that I still have many blessings. I don’t have to worry about my job or income. Our customer wants us to do more work. We’re all reasonably healthy. To our knowledge, we haven’t been near carriers, and have been self-isolating. I’m generally an introvert — I should like this, right?

Right?

But I’m still unsettled. And we’re only three days in. This is likely to be a long haul — conceivably stretching into May or June. This is going to be a very long year — not what any of us had planned.

I’m hoping that by writing these thoughts down, I’m getting them out of my brain. I’m sure you’re having thoughts like these as well. Feel free to share. Perhaps by sharing, we can help each other.

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😷 Why The Panic? It’s No Worse Than The Flu … Uh, No

I have a number of Conservative friends are who are making fun of the whole COVID-19/Coronavirus response. I’m sure you’ve got friends like that. The ones who insist that the name-your-flu-pandemic was worse. The ones who insist that events shouldn’t be cancelled; the high-risk population should just avoid going to them. The ones who believe this is just a conspiracy theory.

These folks are wrong. I’m taking a break from working at home to share why.

The charts in this post from Vox give a great summary of why the response you are seeing is warranted. In short:

  1. The virus is spreading rapidly. There are charts that explain this in the Vox post, but the updated SciVs podcast on the subject gives more detail, and it was an update of their first episode on the subject. Basically, there are standard equations that those who deal with epidemics use to predict the spread of an epidemic. These are governed by the R0 value of the disease. R0 a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. It’s also referred to as the reproduction number. R0 tells you the average number of people who will catch a disease from one contagious person. It specifically applies to a population of people who were previously free of infection and haven’t been vaccinated. If a disease has an R0 of 18, a person who has the disease will transmit it to an average of 18 other people, as long as no one has been vaccinated against it or is already immune to it in their community.  The estimates of the R0 value for the Novel Coronavirus was 2.2: If one person gets it, they will infect on average 2.2 other people. Working from that number, 20 to 70% of the population of the world will be infected. That doesn’t mean they will get sick: people can have a mild or no response to this. But they can go around infecting others. Even if we’re a bit off on that number, we’re looking at 20-60%. The risk is manyfold: not just person to person contact. We now know the virus can remain in the air for 3 hours, and on some surfaces for 3 days. So being out and about where an infected person has been can be very risky — and even if you don’t get sick, you can bring it back with you.
  2. This disease is deadly for certain populations. If you are young and healthy, you’re just going to get something mild and spread it. If you are older, have underlying health problems: this could kill you or land you in an ICU. So how does this compare with the Flu? According to Vox:The Spanish flu of 1918-’19, the most horrific pandemic in modern times, focused mainly on the young. It had biological similarities to a flu pandemic in the 1830s that gave some older people in the 1910s limited immunity. Covid-19 is not like that. So far, deaths in China have been concentrated among older adults, who have weaker immune systems on average than younger people and have a higher rate of chronic illness. People of all ages with chronic medical conditions are also at higher risk. The risk of death is real for younger people as well, but older people have the most reason to take care. Vox also notes: “It is tempting to compare Covid-19 to a more familiar disease: the seasonal flu. After all, the flu also has mild symptoms for most people, and can be dangerous and lethal among vulnerable populations like the elderly. But as the case fatality data shows, there’s no real comparison. About 6 percent of people 60 or older infected with Covid-19 die, according to data we have so far; that’s over six times the fatality rate for elderly people infected with the flu. The overall case fatality rate is at least 23 times greater (the fatality rate has risen since this chart was made). The LA Times also has a good article explaining why this is a greater risk than the seasonal flu. A later Vox article notes the real risk for the elderly: “In Italy, a country with one of the world’s oldest populations, a March 4 analysis by the national health institute found that of the 105 patients who died from the virus, the average age was 81. This put a 20-year gap between the average age of people who tested positive for the virus and the deceased, the institute said. On Friday, an ICU physician in Lombardy — the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak — told JAMA there have been only two deaths of people under the age of 50.”
  3. Our hospitals could be overwhelmed. When COVID-19 is lethal, it is often due to secondary lung infections that require ventilation in a hospital. If the hospitals are full, that treatment isn’t possible. So our goal must be to keep the hospitals below full. How do you do that? Delay the infection rate, and #FlattenTheCurve. If you can reduce the rate at which people get the disease, we can respond and it will be less deadly. Thus, the orders for social distancing and the cancellation of all the events.
  4. But couldn’t those vulnerable just not go to those events?. Sure. But that’s not the real risk. Remember that R0 number. Remember also that people can have this disease, be contagious, but have mild or no symptoms. So those not vulnerable go to the event and either spread the disease and/or get infected and bring it back home. We want to curb the spread rate. This disease is more contagious that the normal flu, which has an R0 of 1.3.  The “Stomach Flu” (Norovirus) is 1.3 to 3.1; measles is 11-18; ebola is 2, zika is 3-6.6. This is 2.2-3.1. That’s bad. Remember also this is a new disease: there are no vaccines, there is no immunity from it.
  5. But Only A Small Number Have This. Actually, we have no idea how many people have this. You only know if someone has it if you test for it, and our testing has been woefully lacking. When China started testing everyone, their numbers jumped. So it is quite likely that a lot more have this than we know. That’s why President Trump’s delayed response was so bad: he delayed getting the testing done, which would have allowed us to contain the first few cases before they spread into the general population. It’s too late for that now.
  6. How Do We Fight This? The answers for most folks is easy: social distancing, to stay away from others who might have the disease and #FlattenTheCurveWashing your hands and using hand sanitizer. If you look at the science of the Coronavirus, it is surrounded by an oily protective layer. Soap destroys this layer and destroys the virus. I’m going so far as to wash not only my hands, but my face as well to get rid of anything that got there through accidental touching. The right hand sanitizers do something similar.
  7. We Can’t Do It Alone As this Atlantic article notes: “Right now, one of the most important things Americans can do is deploy measures like social distancing and self-quarantining, even if they do not feel sick and are not at risk of the worst effects of the disease, in order to “flatten the curve” (epidemiologists’ term for slowing down the natural progression of an outbreak). This requires a radical shift in Americans’ thinking from an individual-first to a communitarian ethos—and it is not a shift that is coming easily to most, especially in the absence of clear federal guidelines.” It goes on to note: “If you are privileged enough to skip an event or work from home, you may save a life—even though the life you save may not be your own. It might be the life of your cousin with cancer, or your colleague’s brother, who has diabetes.”

In closing, I’d like to leave you with this, which is in tribute to Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby, which had its run shortened due to social distancing:

Spongebob Squarepants Wash Chart

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🗳 To Bernie or Not To Bernie, That Is The Question?

As a current (reluctant) Biden support in this period before the nomination is settled, I’m between two camps on Facebook.

On one side, predictably, are my few Conservative friends I’ve retained. They are, again predictably, going on about Sanders and his Socialism. I try to distinguish for them between Social Democracy and Socialism, but they don’t hear me. They’ve likely made up their minds already, but I also know there are loads of Republican moderates out there hearing the same thing, and believing Sanders is a Socialist, which is the same as a Communist.

On the other side are my friends who are (quite rightly) concerned heavily about social justice. They love what Sanders says and want me to love it as well. They feel that we need the most progressive candidate possible to pull the country to a place where it can do the most for the people with the least, where it can protect all those that need protection, where the economic and social inequality that has been acerbated by the Trump administration can be addressed. They fervently believe that Bernie is the only way to get to where they want this country to be; they believe that Biden is only slightly less evil than Trump, given his long history. They fear a Biden administration.

I’m sitting here between these two camps, reluctantly going with Biden because the other choices I like have left the race. Most have endorsed Biden, in fact. I don’t believe Biden is perfect — far from it. But I do believe that (a) he will respect the rule of law and the authority of Congress; (b) he will attempt to restore what Obama did right and fix what Obama got wrong or didn’t complete; and (c) he will respect Science and will work to address the climate crisis. I do sincerely hope that he picks a female running mate, not a sitting Senator, and that he commits to serving only one term (a good way to address the issues, and reduce the appearance of wanting power for power’s sake).

I also strongly believe that Sanders would be most effective in the Senate, working with Warren, Booker, and Klobuchar, to bring about the progressive policy that we need. They are much more effective and persuasive there, and they can introduce (together with their colleagues in the House) and bring the progress we need to put the bills on the President’s desk.

But that doesn’t stop the voices from both sides. So, Sen. Sanders (or your supporters), here’s what I would like from you:

  • A clear statement, explanation, repeated often, as to why you are not a Socialist and why what you are proposing is not Socialism. I don’t think it is, but I understand Social Democracy. Most don’t. Until you can get that clearly articulated, and get America believing that you are not a Socialist, that label will be a bludgeon used against you by the Trump campaign.
  • A clear statement that you will not be an ideological purist. The Congress will quite likely pass policies that are not as progressive as the stands you are promoting in the campaign. I want assurances that you will support moving the needle in the correct direction, even if it isn’t the utopia you want right away.
  • Ideally, the same pledge I want from Biden: You will be a one-term President. You are old, and the best way to address your age is to make your administration transitional. Pick a Vice President who will further your agenda, be younger than you are, and be someone you can train to replace you.

Because I want to get rid of Trump, I’ll still support you if you are the nominee. But others may not. Addressing the items above may help you get that landslide you would need to make the election unquestionable.

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🎭 Intense Obsession | “Passion” @ Boston Court

Passion (Boston Court)Back in November 2017, we were subscribers at a small theatre in the West Adams district of Los Angeles called Chromolume. They had just announced their 2018 season: Dessa Rose, Jane Eyre: The Musical, and Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. Alas, only Dessa Rose happened. During the spring the company died; their last show was The Story of My Life during HFF18. But as I do, I had gotten the cast album for Passion, one of the few Sondheim shows I hadn’t seen. Listening to it, it seemed a darkly romantic show — but the story was very hard to imagine from the music alone.  So I was presently surprised when I discovered that Boston Court (FB) in Pasadena was doing the show this month. Finally, a chance to see it.

So last night, as opposed to braving the snows of Madison last week, I braved the fear of COVID19 and went out to Pasadena. Grabbing some hand sanitizer, I steeled myself for Stephen Sondheim’s passion. For a Sondheim show, especially one that won multiple Tony awards (including Best Musical), this is one that has seen little press and few revivals. Why? This win occurred in the face of a small number of performances: 280. It opened in May, closed the following January. How did this short running musical win over Beauty and the Beast?

Passion is a one-act musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine. The story was adapted from Ettore Scola‘s film Passione d’Amore, itself adapted from the novel Fosca by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. The central characters of the story are an 1860-era Italian Army captain, Giorgio Bachetti; his lover Clara in Milan; and the cousin of his superior officer in a provincial Army camp, Fosca.

The story opens with Bachetti in the arms of his lover, Clara. He informs her that he has been transferred to the provincial camp and must leave her, but will write regularly to keep their passion alive. Arriving at the camp, Giorgio meets the other officers and learns about the mysterious cousin of his commanding officer, Colonel Ricci, named Fosca. She’s medically frail, and often has hysterical and emotional screams. She is tended to by the unit’s doctor, Dr. Tambourri, who informs Bachetti that she tends to be alone with her books. Bachetti loans her some of his books. Through the subsequent scenes, we get to meet Fosca and see how she connects with Bachetti. Her friendship turns into obsession (what today we might call stalking), while Bachetti continues to be focused on his lover, Clara. Over time, we see this obsession grow and take over Fosca’s life. We also see it begin to affect Bachetti’s relationship with Clara. By the time the show is over, we see the relationship with Clara broken, Bachetti in love with Fosca, and then Fosca dying.

You can find a much more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

I had a number of thoughts after seeing this piece, first and foremost of which was: A venue the size of Boston Court is perfect for this piece. This is a distinctly chamber piece that requires one to see the actors up close and feel the emotions up close. It would be lost in a Broadway house, a touring house, or even a mid-size theatre. This is Sondheim sized-right.

My second thought was: This is a slow and sensitive piece — again, chamber music, not musical. The music is slow and lush. There is rarely anything toe-tapping. It is romantic and obsessive, full of feelings. It isn’t your typical “song and dance”; it isn’t even a Sweeny Todd or Into The Woods where there are just fun numbers. This is raw emotion. It is heavy Chix-theatre. I’m glad I saw it, but it’s not something I’d go out of my way to see again. Further, this makes clear why this isn’t mounted very often.

Thirdly, there is a sense of dated-ness in the story. There are attitudes towards and about women shown here that are appropriate for the era of the novel, and even appropriate to be voice in the 1990s, that are just a bit iffier today (especially the notions that women are nothing without marriage). This is a problem I’m seeing increasingly in shows.

But, surprisingly, even though I found the story a bit romantic for my tastes, I found myself drawn into it. Part of this was the performances, which were exceptional. However, the story is crafted to draw you in — to make you wonder how this triangle will be involved. In that, it is great theatre that makes you care about the story and turns the people from writing on a page into believable characters. Kudos to director Michael Michetti for realizing the vision and making the show so effective.

But the performance team is also top notch. My personal favorite is Meghan Andrews (FB) as Fosca. She gave a stunning performance, which was much more than what she said or show she said it. From her tremors to her weakness to her hesitency, she embodied the invalid Fosca. She made you believe this was a young women overtaken with frailty and emotions. You could also see — just from her performance — how her passion made her stronger, and the fear of the loss of it weakened her. Combine this with a beautiful singing voice, and this was just a stunning performance.

Also strong was the object of Bachetti’s passion: Bryce Charles (★FB, FB) as Clara. She’s the first actor you see, and she has a face that does a wonderful job of radiating joy. She also has an extremely beautiful singing voice.

The third key player is the man at the center of the story: Richard Bermudez as Georgio Bachetti. His performance has a magnetism that makes it clear why these women were drawn to him; again, he also has a lovely singing voice.

In standout featured supporting roles were Nicholas Hormann (FB) Doctor Tambourri and Mark Doerr (★FB, FB) Colonel Ricci. Hormann was a wonderfully warm presence, expressing concern about both Fosca and Bachetti. We saw a bit less of Doerr, but he was great in both telling the backstory of Fosca and in defending her honor at the end.

Rounding out the performance team were Jacob Sidney (★FB) Lt. Torasso / Fosca’s Father; Rene Ruiz (FB) Sgt. Lombardi; Ted Barton (FB) Lt. Barri, Andrew Rudy Galindo (FB) Maj. Rizzoli; Tyler Joseph Ellis (FB) Ludovic / Pvt. Augenti; Alexandra Melrose (FB) Attendant / Fosca’s Mother; and Julia Aks (★FB) Ludovic’s Mistress / Attendant. Most of the military officers you couldn’t tell apart, even with the program, but I did like the ones playing the cook, and the one who had the horses who made the jokes all the time.

This really wasn’t a dance musical, although there was a lot of military precision marching between scenes and to move stuff on and off the stage. The choreography was by Rhonda Kohl (★FB).

Musical direction (and new orchestrations) were by Darryl Archibald (FB).  Original orchestrations were by Jonathan Tunick. The on-stage but behind-the-scrim orchestra was conducted by Ron Colvard, and consisted of Ron Colvard Keyboard; Catherine Biagini (FB) Cello; Rachel Coosaia (FB) Cello / Music Contractor; Phil Feather (FB) Flute / Clarinet; Ashley Jarmack Flute / Clarinet; Isabella Mija Reyes (FB) Violin; Stefan Smith (FB) Viola; and Corinne Sobolewski (FB) Viola. Given that there wasn’t a trumpet in the bunch, I’m guessing the numerous trumpet bursts were sound effects.

Speaking of sound effects: Those sound effects must have come from the sound design of Martin Carrillo (FB), which in general worked well. Turning to the other members of the production and creative team: The scenic design of Tesshi Nakagawa: Chairs, a multi-purpose table/bed, a multi-level set. It worked well, and showed why this piece is effective in intimate theatre. This design was supported by the lighting design of Jared A. Sayeg (FB) (who is always reliable); I particularly noted the red lighting in the penultimate scene. Period was established more by the costumes of David Kay Mickelsen (FB), which seemed appropriate period for whatever period it was. The supporting properties were designed by Jenny Smith Cohn (FB) and Jesse Soto (FB). Rounding out the production team were: Dyoni Isom (FB) Assistant Director; Nicole Arbusto Casting Director; Trixie Eunhae Hong Production Stage Manager; and Mary Popoff Asst. Stage Manager.

Stephen Sondheim’s Passion continues at Boston Court (FB) in Pasadena through April 19. Tickets are available online. They do not appear to be listed on Goldstar at this time. I found the show quite good as a chamber musical, but expect a slower more, well, passionate musical. Then again, go in with no expectations, for as they say in the show, “if you have no expectations, you can never know disappointment.”

A COVID19 note: I’m getting increasingly worried about theatres cancelling shows due to the COVID19 fears. So please, folks, wash your hands, and don’t attend the theatre if you have symptoms. Call the box office and see if you can exchange your ticket or get a refund. I’m sure they would rather do a refund than risk having to cancel a series of shows because someone was sick. Want to learn more? Listen to this ScienceVs podcast as you drive to your show.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd weekend of March brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB). The second weekend of May brings a concert performance of Randy Newman’s Faust at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). The third weekend of May brings A Man of No Importance at Actors Co-op (FB) . The fourth weekend are currently open, but I”m eyeing a production at the Fountain Theatre for our synagogue’s live theatre group during that time. The fifth weekend will bring Ann at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

 

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🗳 Biden or Bernie? Making a Decision to Move the Needle Forward

Boy, they are dropping like flies. They’re dropping left and … left and … left and … far left. So, unless you’re in Tulsi‘s camp, you’re left with two old white men: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. I know some Sanders supporters that indicate that they will not vote for Biden (although these points should be considered). I know people reluctantly voting for Biden who are unsure they could vote for Bernie. I have two things to say, especially to those groups:

  1. Ultimately, the progressive policies you want will come from Congress. Laws need to be a changin’, and that starts with Congress — which is why a Democratic (and progressive) Senate and House is critical. If Biden got a progressive bill from Congress, he would likely sign it. If Sanders got a bill that didn’t reflect his specific policies, would he sign it? I’m not sure. But here’s the key thing: If we don’t have both houses as Democratic, no progressive bills will be landing on anyone’s desk. What is important is moving that needle forward, even if it doesn’t go as far as we would like. The NEXT Democratic president can get it over the goal line if it is closer (and I’d love to see a pledge from both Bernie and Biden that they would be one-term presidents, given their ages). So we need to make sure we take BOTH houses.
  2. There’s a meme going around that makes a great point (which I’ve slightly modified): You’re not voting for President. You’re voting for who replaces Ruth Bader Ginsberg. You’re voting for the next Secretary of Education. You’re voting for who nominates Federal Judges. You’re voting for saving national parks. You’re voting for clean air and clean water. You’re voting for scientists to be allowed to speak about the climate crisis. You’re voting for what the President says on Twitter, and the image that is presented by the President of this nation to the world. You’re voting for housing rights. You’re voting for LGBTQIA people to be treated with dignity. You’re voting for non-Christians to be able to adopt and to feel like full citizens. You’re voting for the Dreamers. You’re voting so there will be Social Security and Medicare when you retire. You’re voting for veterans to get the care they deserve. You’re voting for rural hospitals. You’re voting so that someone else can have health insurance. You’re voting for PBS and the National Endowment of the airs. You’re voting to have a President that doesn’t embarrass this country in the community of nations. Your voting against an administration that only allows congruity with what they are thinking or saying, whether it is right or wrong, constitutional or not. You’re voting to restore us as a nation that respects the checks and balances in the constitution.

No Democrat is perfect. The nominee will not be perfect. They won’t pass your purity test. Both of them have non-problems that Trump will exploit as if they were real problems (Biden has the Ukraine; Bernie has that pesky “Socialist” label). Yet either of them will be better than four more years of Trump. Either of them will help move the nation to a more progressive point. Perhaps it may not be fully to where you want the nation to be. But remember the Pirkei Avot, which notes, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” We may not be able to elect that perfect candidate, and our nominee may not be whom we want to be. But we need to vote for them, in order to help make progress on the work. The subsequent administration can finish the job. We all know that voting for Trump, or sitting on our hands and not voting, will do nothing to move that needle forward. Further, if you do a partial ordering comparison of the candidates, any Democratic candidate is better than Trump (assuming you are not a Trump sycophant, in which case I’m unsure why you’re reading this).

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Something great to remember this election.

P.S.: For those who are arguing that the moderates lost against Trump, given Hillary’s performance. You’ve fallen for the Trump narrative. Remember: Hillary Clinton WON the popular vote by a significant margin. She lost the Electoral College because of how she managed the ground game, writing off key states and losing their electoral votes. The issue is not the strength of the moderates or the progressives, but the strength of the machine, and the importance of not writing off ANY state in advance. We need to ensure that the Democratic nominee campaigns in all states, and gets out the Democratic vote in all states. Do that, and the Democrats will win — and that’s from the top to the bottom of the ticket.

P.P.S.: Please don’t construe this post as saying you should vote Biden (or vote Bernie) at this point. Until we reach the convention, campaign for the candidate you feel will be the best at the top of the ticket. But remember that the top of the ticket is only part of the story, and the essential thing is to get a Democrat in office to replace Trump, and to take a majority in both houses. Once we are past the convention, we need to remember that our goal is to move the needle forward, not to complete the work … and that either Biden or Bernie is better than the Donald.

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🗯️ Nice Doggy

Back in high school, lo those many many (many) years ago, I learned a phrase with respect to my favorite board game, “Diplomacy”: “Diplomacy is the art of saying “nice doggy” until you find a big enough stick.”

This phrase came into my head with the news of Mayor Pete dropping out of the Democratic primary field, and Joe Biden having a decisive win in the South Carolina primary. It connects with my reticence over Bernie Sanders as an eventual nominee. Let me explain.

Much as we may hate to admit it, America is not a country that loves, it is a country that hates. It started out in racism, and hasn’t yet moved past it. Oh, we Liberals like to believe that we have moved past it. We like to believe that the struggles for women starting in the early 20th century, the battle for civil rights in the 1960s, and the battles for gay rights in the 2000s have settled the issue and we have moved past the racism. But one look at Trump, and what his followers espouse on the Internet will quickly abuse one of that notion. Hate is rampant. Explicit and implicit bias is still there.

Further, we like to believe that we can wave a magic wand and it will disappear. Just by picking the right presidential candidate, we can move past all this hatred and usher in that perfect progressive society. We’ll do that by picking a perfect candidate, one that has no racist or problematic history. One wave, and (poof) society will be great again. After all, we saw how racism disappeared when we elected President Obama.

Diplomacy is the art of saying “nice doggy”, until you find a big enough stick.

Fact The First: The most important thing this election is to ensure a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House, with as large a majority as possible.

Fact The Second: The second most important thing this election is to elect a Democratic president and remove Trump, his croneys, and his sycophants. Why second? Because if we get the first, we have the means to at least remove Trump and his cronys, and hopefully get a more moderate Republican administration.

Fact The Third: The Democratic election majorities at the ballot box must be sufficiently large that the election cannot be contested; large enough that even if they throw out some number of votes, the election still gives a Democratic result.

The corollary of this third fact is that we must therefore convince the moderate Republicans (those who are fed up with Trump) to vote for Democratic candidates, in sufficient numbers to get that majority. That means we must run candidates that are not only palatable to the Democratic base, but to those in the middle. We want a repeat of the 1964 election, in terms of landslide against Trump and his policies.

Combine these facts, and you’ll find yourself saying “Nice Doggy”. We are not going to elect Bernie and magically get his splendiferous agenda. We’re not going to elect Liz and get all those plans. We’re going to get a compromise shaped by the House and the Senate, one that will likely be closer to the moderate policies — because it must be able to pass the House and Senate.

Saying “Nice Doggy” has shaped the field. It is why all the top candidates now are old white men — because old white men aren’t as scary. Well, Bernie might be in the fright mask, but I digress. It is why the Democrats might be coalescing around a moderate, even if Bernie ends up with the most delegates (but not a majority). Remember the implication of that: most delegates, but not a majority, means the majority of the party WANTS SOMEONE ELSE. They just couldn’t unify on precisely who — they just know who they don’t want it to be.

Saying “Nice Doggy” for the election also means the stick is coming. When the election is over, and an acceptable ticket is elected (Biden/Abrams, Sanders/Harris, etc.), then the work can really begin — the work of addressing the structural racism and classism in this country. But we can’t do anything if Trump and McConnell remain in charge. Hell, we can’t do anything even if Sanders is elected, and McConnell remains in charge.

Thus endeth this rant. And I didn’t even mention Amy.

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🎭 And We Ask Ourselves, “Why?” | “Columbinus” @ Edgewood College

Columbinus (Edgewood College)As I indicated in my last writeup, being I’m out of town on vacation doesn’t mean that the live performances stop. Being out of town solo also affords me the ability to see the type of show that my wife would find to be too dark. Last nights show was one of those: Columbinus, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli. Columbinus is a docu-drama about the Columbine High School Massacre, where two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher, and injured many many more. As I said: A dark subject.

Columbinus is not a fictional dramatization. Rather, using an ensemble of young people, it follows the events in their lives before, during, and after the shooting. We first meet the cohort of students as they wake up, and we learn the “who” of who they are: the jocks, the science nerds, those off to the sides, etc. This takes up perhaps the first half of the first act. We then start seeing the growing alienation and ostracizing of two of the more angry students, leading up to the first incident of vandalism and “mischief”. The second act sees the attempts at rehabilitation failing, and those two students — now explicitly identified as Dylan and Eric — starting to plan their attack. We then see the attack — both through the 911 tapes and the stories of survivors from the library. Lastly, we see the aftermath on the other students and the parents.

The presentation is strong, with VERY strong language and VERY strong material. This is certainly a show where guidance is required — if you at all sensitive to violence, racial language, hatred, and gun violence, this isn’t for you. So why SHOULD you see this show?

The answer, I think, is in addressing the question of “Why?”. Often, when I see shows, they dovetail with something else I’m doing. In this case, I was listening to the Earwolf podcast Factually!, and Adam Conover’s interview with Celeste Kidd of UC Berkeley regarding how we form our beliefs. One point made is that humans often believe strongest in the first thing that we here, especially if it fits our preconceived notions. If it fits, and we think it covers all the facts, we are no longer curious and no longer accept other answers. That clearly is the case when we look at school shooting violence: the subject is so uncomfortable and scary that we often don’t want to dive deeper into the causes of the problem. So we tend to latch on to the first plausible solution and answer: it is the access to guns; it is anger from videogames; it is mental illness; it is bullying; it is …

One of the things that Columbinus does is show that, perhaps, it isn’t just one factor. As you watch the show, there likely wasn’t a factor that, if absent, would have stopped the shooting or stopped some form of anger in violence. It was a number of factors coming together that created the problem. It also demonstrates that there isn’t just a single factor in the solution set. There are numerous pieces to the risk reduction puzzle, ranging from limiting access to guns to increased mental health care, to reducing the stigma of receiving threatment for mental health, addressing the anger in society. Each of these pieces of the cause and solution puzzle are vital to building the complete picture.

The performance of the ensemble in this production, under the direction of Audrey Lauren Wax, does a skillful job of realistically portraying a wide variety of students. Their performances build through the production allowing the audience to connect with the various types of students at the school. While listening to the conversations during the intermission, I was hearing that impact. I heard patrons referencing the fact that they were the loner in high school, that they identified with the jock or the nerds, that they saw themselves in those kids.

Overall, I found this a compelling production. Was it entertaining? I hesitate to say that, as how can one find a real-life tragedy “entertaining”. Illuminating might be a better term, and that term fits with one of the functions of theatre in society. LIve performance and story telling exists not only to entertain us, but to inform us. From the first performances by early man of the hunt, providing warnings and guidance to other hunters, or philosophical productions that explored the meaning of why we do what we do, theatre has illuminated society and forced us to ask us “Why?”. This is one of those productions, and for that reason, I think it is something that (if you can handle the subject matter) is worth seeing.

The ensemble of this piece does an excellent job. The ensemble consisted of: Joe Bondurant (FB), Noelle Grapentine-Benton (FB), August Hirschboeck (FB), Ryan Jorenby (FB), Alan Lau-Brown (FB), Ariana Manghera (FB), Shawn D. Padley (FB), and Emma Sorenson (FB). Special acknowledgement goes to Joe Bondurant (FB) and Shawn D. Padley (FB), who do a wonderful job of capturing the anger, illness, and backstory of the protagonists of the story. But the entire ensemble is excellent. (Edited to correct the actor who played Dylan)

On the production and creative side, the staging was well done (especially for the college level). There was a simple set of some movable lockers and fencing, with a black board in the background, and what looks like a gym floor (but with chalkboard paint). There are movable tables and chairs, and appropriate props for the story. All of this was designed by Christopher Dunham, supported by the props from the props crew of Noelle Grapentine-Benton (FB) and Margo Skolaski. The costumes, designed by Mary Waldhart (FB), seemed appropriate for the period and the situation. Movement was orchestrated by Kristin Roling Choreographer and Alan Lau-Brown (FB) Fight Captain. About the only quibble was with one aspect of Alice Combs (FB) lighting design: during the Guidance Counselor visits, some of the yellow leikos were going on and off for no reason to support the story. Maddie Budner (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects. Rounding out the production credits: Rachel Seizer (FB) Assistant Director, Stage Manager; Lily Pero (FB) Asst. Stage Manager; Cassie Carney (FB) Hair and Makeup Designer; Jade Proctor (FB) Video Designer; Audrey Lauren Wax Box Office Manager; Ariana Manghera (FB) Dramaturg; Patricia Hersch Original Dramaturgy; PJ Paparelli Conception; and loads of students in the various supporting crews and work studies.

If you can handle the subject matter, Columbinus is well worth seeing. Tickets are available at the door or through the Edgewood College Theatre Online Ticketing. Alas, my usual discount ticket outlets don’t work in Madison.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

I have one more show in Madison (although I may not be writing it up):  MST 3000 at the Overture downtown.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB). The second weekend of May brings a concert performance of Randy Newman’s Faust at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). The third weekend of May brings A Man of No Importance at Actors Co-op (FB) . The fourth and fifth weekends are currently open, but I”m eyeing a production at the Fountain Theatre for our synagogue’s live theatre group during that time.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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🛣 Headlines about California Highways – February 2020

February. A short month, but not so short on the highway headlines. Yes, even when I’m in the land of WisDOT, I’m posting headlines about my oh-so-warm California. Note that a few of these articles have less to do with highways, and more to do with things I need to remember for my website, such as the upcoming changes to Chrome related to images not served with HTTPS:.

[💰 Paywalls and 🚫 other annoying restrictions: LAT/LA Times; SJMN/Mercury News; OCR/Orange County Register; VSG/Visalia Sun Gazette; RDI/Ridgecrest Daily Independent; PE/Press Enterprise; TDT/Tahoe Daily Tribune; SFC/San Francisco Chronicle; MODBEE/Modesto Bee; SACBEE/Sacramento Bee]

  • Is Highway 154 Really the Blood Alley We All Think It Is?. Late last year, a 51-year-old Santa Barbara man was heading west on Highway 154 near Cachuma Lake. It was 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, and the weather was clear. According to witnesses, the driver was gunning his Lexus and trying to pass other cars along a bend of the two-lane road when he lost control and slammed broadside into an oak tree. He died at the scene. Officials said it was only dumb luck that no one else was hurt.Community reaction matched what’s often expressed after a serious 154 crash — the highway is too dangerous, authorities aren’t protecting the good drivers from the bad ones, and the problem has gotten worse over the years.
  • Public Feedback Sought on State Route 20 Project in Nevada County. Caltrans is hosting an open house in February to seek community comments about a proposed safety improvement project on State Route 20 in Nevada County. The event will be Monday, February 10, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Eric W. Rood Administrative Center, Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 950 Maidu Avenue in Nevada City. Community members can view project displays and review materials, including environmental documents. Caltrans staff members will be available to answer questions and receive comments from the public.
  • Omega Curves Project on Route 20. (Twitter) Caltrans is seeking public feedback on an upcoming safety improvement project on SR-20 in Nevada County. Learn more about the Omega Curves Project at our upcoming open house Monday, February 10 from 5 – 6:30 pm.
  • Improvements Coming Soon to I-5 in South County. Today, nearly 360,000 motorists travel I-5 daily between SR-73 and El Toro Road. Transportation planners expect traffic volumes to grow 25 percent by 2045. To address this travel demand, OCTA and Caltrans are working together to implement the I-5 Widening project from SR-73 to El Toro Road. Construction will be done in three segments. Crews began work on the first segment from Oso Parkway to Alicia Parkway in 2019.
  • 💰/PE $210 million 10 Freeway fix underway between Beaumont, Palm Springs. Caltrans is launching a major $210 million pavement renovation project on the 10 Freeway, from Beaumont to Palm Springs. The work to repair and replace brittle sections of decades-old concrete is spread 17 miles between the 60 Freeway and Highway 111. Drivers will have to factor the project into desert travel plans through 2022, when work is scheduled to wrap up, officials said Wednesday, Feb. 5.

Read More …

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