📰 Politically Astute

userpic=trumpAnd what is the first box under the tree, Santa? Such sparkly red and blue wrapping, but the colors seem to want to stay away from each other? How odd. Oh, look, you got me some political news chum. Just what I … wanted …

 

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🗯️ Losing a Game of Nuclear War, With No Final Strike

Back when I was in college, one of the games we had in the UCLA Computer Club was Flying Buffalo’s Nuclear War. This is a card game where the players launch missiles at each other. If an opponent wipes you out with missiles, you can attempt to shoot off whatever is left in your arsenal to wipe them off the face off the map. Good times! But the game had a catch: If you lost your population due to a well played propaganda campaign, there was no chance of a final strike. You were wiped off the map, without retaliation.

Back when I was in college, we were in the middle of a cold war with Russia. They were our enemy. We had just come out of the era of Richard Nixon. The Russians were the bad guys, and there wasn’t any equivocation about that. After all, it was Khrushchev who said “We Will Bury You?” Even post college, politicians would distance themselves from Russian politics and Communism. Often, the strongest politicians to do so were the Republicans: “Better dead than Red”.

Then the Soviet Union fell. The wall came down in East Berlin. We established relations with Russia. We believed we had won the Cold War. But the Russians remembered. They still promised to bury us. Russians are patient.

Then came Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. They figured out how to play the media game. Taking advantage of C-SPAN and the power of talk radio, they played up the tribalism and separation. They turned the ability to compromise and work together for the nation, despite differences, into partisan warfare. They turned it into a battle of Us vs. Them. This was a battle we saw during the Clinton presidency, during Bush 43, during Obama. The partisanship grew.

The Russians were also watching.

Then came the election of 2016: the first election where social media was significant (yes, it was there during Obama, but not like this). The Russians knew how to use propaganda. They manipulated social media to convince blacks not to vote — that neither Clinton nor Sanders were on their side. They launched a pro-Jill Stein blitz to siphon votes away from Clinton for the folks that couldn’t stand Trump. They whipped up Trump supporters with memes, and launched a specific campaign to elect Trump to office. They used every major (and even minor) social media platform to do this. They have continued to do this, spreading disinformation about the Mueller probe. They continue to run interference for Trump.

Was there collusion? The Russians are too smart to leave evidence of it, unless they specifically want to bring someone down. But that’s not their goal: their goal is to bury us — to destroy to US. They have already achieved their goal to do that: elect Trump, and destroy trust in the US. They didn’t need collusion, when people work towards the same goal without explicit cooperation.

Although we might have won that battle and outlasted the first USSR, that doesn’t mean that Russia didn’t remember. Russia and China are indeed burying us and destroying us by exploiting the very strengths of our political system — a free press and voting — to achieve their goals of electing a leadership too inexperienced and narcissistic to stop them, by electing a leader who cares only about himself. Essentially, by electing a Russian Oligarch, one of their own.

But what is most galling about this are those who are still Trump supporters, those who still espouse the Trump line, share the Trump memes, spread the same negative lies on social media from the same Russian-controlled and influenced sources. These are Conservatives — the party that hated the Reds, hated Russia, hated large deficits, believed in the power of the US military and working together with our allies against the Russians and Communist influence. These are the people that should be most up in arms about how they were manipulated. Instead, they roll over and say “Scratch my belly. More more.” As long as the Russians keep their party in power, they no longer care about the nation. It is tribe before country, party before patriotism.

It is insulting, and makes a mockery of their party.

It has also made me question my Conservative friends to continue to repeat these memes and these lies, who have not rebelled against the abduction of their once Grand Old Party. They have “drunk the kool-aide” and used it to wash their brains. I hate to say this — and I’ll still try hard to correct them — but we may need to write them off.

It is up to us — those who care about this nation, and those who see this propaganda attack for what it is — to fight back. We must say “enough”, and expose Russian involvement. We must investigate, investigate, investigate, and bring down those who are misusing and abusing the freedoms we have in this nation, or using power power for personal gain, or violating the laws. We need to figure out how to stop propaganda while still preserving a free press, to answer the question of when misinformation and leading information crosses the line.

Most importantly, in 2019 and beyond, we must not play into the propaganda games. We must spread truth, not disinformation. We must work for and elect candidates who will work for American interests, and not those of Russia  (especially when those Russian interests are hidden behind purported American patriotism). We must take our country back.

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🎭 People and Connections | “Come From Away” @ Ahmanson

Come From Away (Ahmanson)It’s been a year, hasn’t it. In 2018, we’ve seen the growth of hate in our society. From shootings to xenophobia, from tribal politics and the detesting of anyone on the other side of the political spectrum. From families being torn apart, from having leadership in our country that is tearing people apart. These are sad, sad times.

But even in the worst of times, there are glimmers of the humanity that make us special, that gives us hope that — just perhaps — people can be better.

The play we saw last night, Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), provides us that hope. It was just the right thing to be reminded of as our last live theatre of 2018.

For those unfamiliar with the story behind Come From Away: It tells the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. A small town of perhaps 7,000, it was at one time a major airport with the responsibility of fueling any trans-Atlantic flight. But by 2001, jets had rendered that function obsolete, and they had perhaps a half-dozen flights a day.

Then 9/11 happened. Then the US airspace was closed, and every flight destined for the US was diverted to the nearest airport. For 38 jets from across the world, that airport was YQX, Gander. With no notice, this small town saw its population double, and a need to accommodate, feed, and take care of passengers from these 38 planes for almost a week.

They stepped up. They did. They made friendships. They demonstrated the human spirit of caring and compassion. They didn’t asked to be paid, or for any compensation.

Come From Away is this story. Authors, composers, and lyricists Irene Sankoff and Devid Hein take the thousands of citizens of Gander, and the thousands of airplane passengers, and tell their story with just 12 actors. Under the direction of Christopher Ashley, it becomes a theatrical fugue or theatrical tapestry, weaving together different voices / threads that come together, when viewed at a distance and as a completed whole, that ultimately is captured in the refrain, “Welcome to the Rock”. It is that phrase, “welcome”, that is at the heart of this piece — and that welcome is successful because it is part and parcel with the notion of respecting the Come-from-aways because, ultimately, they are Islanders as well.

It is an attitude that society can do well by remembering. It is an attitude that we saw before the show, when getting coffee after our dinner. My wife was fighting with the Starbucks app, and the person behind us just paid for her coffee. She, in turn, will pay it on. Just think about what our society could be if instead of the hatred that permeates everything today, we had the kindness of the citizens of Gander.

I liked the story here. I liked the message here. I liked the music here (especially the jam session at the end).

Dear Evan Hansen, the show that preceded this at the Ahamanson, had at its heart the message that no one should be forgotten, no one should be alone. It was a message that resonated in our alienated and isolated society of today. But Come From Away gives a stronger message: “Welcome”. Even if you are different. Even if we fear you. Even if you are a Bonobo monkey. We care about you, and you will get through this — no, we will get through this together.

We’re in crappy times. But we will get through this together, through the simple act of welcoming the stranger. What better sentiment to be sharing at this time of year. Don’t build the walls to drive us apart, but say “Welcome, come in, have some tea, and the whisky is in the cabinet downstairs.”

Go see this. You will be uplifted.

The cast for this was truly an ensemble cast — a collection of threads of different sizes and shapes and colors, all of whom were strong. This cast consisted of:

With an ensemble cast, it is hard to single out folks. To a person, the actors seemlessly transitioned from character to character — a slight costume change, a slight voice change — and — boom — a new person. It was a remarkable transaction, which showed the remarkable talent of this team. There are a few I would like to especially commend. Becky Gulsvig’s Beverly characterization was really great, and an inspiration to women considering male-dominated careers. I also liked Kevin Carolan’s Mayor Claude. But all of them were great (and I got a kick discovering that we had the entire cast of Daddy Long Legs in this show).

Standbys were: Julie Garnyé (★FB, TW); Marika Aubrey (★FB, TW); Jane Bunting (FB), Adam Halpin (TW), Michael Brian Dunn (FB), and Aaron Michael Ray (FB, TW).

The on-stage band was spectacular, especially during “Screech In” and the closing playoff. I wish they had an album out there of Newfoundland music. The band consisted of: Cynthia Kortman Westphal (FB[Music Director, Conductor, Keyboard, Accordion, Harmonium]; Isaac Alderson (FB) [Whistles, Irish Flute, Uilleann Pipes]; Kiana June Weber (★FB) [Fiddle]; Adam Stoler (FB) [Electric / Acoustic Guitar]; Matt Wong (FB) [Acoustic Guitar, Mandolins, Bouzouki]; Max Calkin (FB) [Electric / Acoustic Bass]; Steve Holloway (FB) [Bodhran, Percussion]; and Ben Morrow (FB) [Drums / Percussion]. Other music credits: Cameron Moncur [Assoc. Music Director]; David Lai (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Andrew Barrett for Lionella Music LLC [Electronic Music Design]; Zach Redler (FB) and Ryan Driscoll [Music Preparation]; August Eriksmoen [Orchestrations]; Ian Eisendrath [Arrangements, Music Supervision].

Lastly, turning to the remaining creatives and the production team. The wonderful movement and dance was the creation of Kelly Devine.  Beowulf Boritt (FB)’s scenic design was simple: trees, chairs, and such. What made the characters even more was Toni-Leslie James‘s costume design and David Brian Brown (FB)’s hair design. Joel Goldes (FB) was the dialect coach. The design elements were supported by the sound design of Gareth Owen (FB) and the lighting design of Howell Binkley (FB). Other production credits: Shawn Pennington [Production Stage Manager]; Geoff Maus [Stage Manager]; Margot Whitney (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Daniel Goldstein [Assst. Director]; Richard J. Hinds (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Telsey + Company [Casting]; Erik Birkeland [Company Manager]; Michael Rubinoff [Creative Consultant]; Juniper Street Productions [Production Manager]; Alchemy Production Group [General Management]; and On The Rialto [Marketing Strategy].

Come From Away continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 6th. It will uplift your soul. Go see it. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Theatre; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

***

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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

All that is left in December is the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment.

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🎭 Decision Paralysis in Camelot | “Clarissant” @ Little Candle/Atwater Theatre

Clarissant (Little Candle Productions)What a December it has been, from running off to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a week for a conference, then planning a desktop refresh at home. It was nice to get back to my home away from home: small theatres.

Shortly before we left for the conference, I received an email from Betsy at Little Candle Productions (FB) about their new World Premier (Little Candle mission is doing world premieres) of the play Clarissant, by Hailey Bachrach (TW), directed by Allison Darby Gorjian (FB). Betsy described it thusly:

The heroes of the Round Table are dead and gone.  The divided kingdoms turn to a reclusive princess in the barren islands of northern Scotland, the last survivor of the royal line, to take power and to lead Britain out of darkness.  Her name is Clarissant.  Her mother, Morgause, was King Arthur’s sister and a wicked sorceress whose power continues to choke Camelot from beyond the grave.  Rather than wear the crown offered to her, Clarissant uses the magic of her ancestors to try desperately to bring back the golden days when her brothers lived to serve the great King Arthur.  Is it truly her destiny to rule Britain?  Or the final step in her mother’s curse?

This sounded interesting (although I would miss opening night), so I asked my wife. She was interested as well, so I arranged for a reservation. Last night, we made our way out to Atwater Village to see the show.

I don’t know what I was expecting going in. Some type of Camelot story, perhaps, from a feminist perspective. What we got was something interesting — and certainly not bad — but not quite what I expected.

The structure of Clarissant is focused on the decision paralysis of Clarissant, the daughter of Morgause, who is next to be Queen of the Northern Isles — and by implication more perhaps. But Clarissant is convinced that the death of all her brothers, who were all Knights of the Round Table… and the subsequent fall of the Kingdom of King Arthur after the deaths of Guenivere and Lancelot, were the result of a curse placed by Morgause. This is because the women of the Morgause line are all sorceresses. If the line is cursed, then she doesn’t want to be Queen, because that would just continue the curse. So she attempts to use her magic — which is in the form of conjuring stories of the past — to fathom the answer. She’s not strong enough, so she draws in Lyonor, wife of her youngest brother Sir Gareth, and Lynette, wife of her next to youngest brother Sir Gaheris.  Through the three of them, we learn the stories behind the downfall of Camelot, and how all of her brothers lived, and more importantly, how they died. We also learn the role that her mother, Morgause, played in all of this.

This was a complicated lineage. King Arthur was apparently the brother King Lot, who was married to Morgause. Morgause, however, slept with Arthur, creating Mordred (3rd brother). Gawain was the oldest and first to leave. Agravain was the second brother, and next to leave. One was involved in the battle that killed Lot. The other explosed Lancelot and Guinevere. It’s all very complicated, not helped by the fact that the actors were playing multiple characters, and all kept switching around playing the ghost of Morgause.

I left with the feeling that it was too long, but I also didn’t find myself looking at the program. My wife also felt it was a bit long. Thinking more on it, the problem was the central mechanism and theme of telling a story. If I want to hear a story, I listen to a podcast. I go to live theatre not to be TOLD a story, but to SEE a story. That portrayal need not be realistic — realism is for the movies, and imagination for the theatre. But it needs to be acted: action and words and character depth and interplay need to make up for recital. This play needed more building up of the characters as individuals you cared about, and less recital. More importantly, other than the political ramifications, I needed to understand why this was all so significant for our main character, Clarissant. We learned precious little about her during this play, other than the fact that she couldn’t make a decision. So while I think the underlying idea was intriguing, how the playwright (who was at our performance) translated that idea to the script and thence to the stage could use a bit of work. But, hey, this was a premiere: the starting point of the work.

There was a feminist message in this play, but it came not from Clarissant but from Lynette — and Clarissant completely missed picking up on the point. King Arthur was asked what it was that women wanted, and Lynette answered: Sovereignty. They want to be in charge of their own lives, dictating their course, not driven by the men in their lives or curses. That’s a key point, and something that needs to be made stronger throughout the story. Clarissant’s decision paralysis regarding her assumption of sovereignty essentially buried the lede.

There was also the casting question: There was a conscious decision to cast every role in this story, except the walk-on servant role — with women. Why? Men could have played the brothers. There were a few points where those actors got to portray the two Queen’s — Guenevere and Morgause and Ragnelle — but that wasn’t the bulk of the characters. So why women as the brothers? There was some message that was being sent with that casting, but I just couldn’t figure it out.

So, overall: how did this score? It wasn’t a clear hit out of the ballpark, but it wasn’t a miss either. It was a good start. There was an interesting story buried behind all that recitation, but it needs some tightening. More importantly, it needs some stronger motivation for Clarissant herself — why this, why now? What’s her stake? Something more is needed, but figuring it out is as easy as, well, determining whether one is cursed.

I thought the performances themselves were good. In the lead position was Paula Deming (TW, FB) as Clarissant. Deming captured the decision paralysis of the character well, and brought a mild, meek, and milquetoast vibe to her — which fit her indecision well. After all, Clarissant didn’t have the strength of leadership of her mother —  her questioning of the curse was in essence a question of confidence in herself to lead. Had she had the strength, the curse wouldn’t matter because she would shape her own story. The meekness that Deming brought was a reflection of the characters inability to move her story forward, and to only live in the past — the story of what happened. As such, it was a good performance.

As her sisters-in-laws, Lynette and Lyonor, Karissa McKinney (FB)  and Linzi Graham (FB) were also strong. I particularly enjoyed Graham’s performance — she brought a sardonic side-note that was just really fun to watch. It made her character, well, have more character. McKinney’s performance was a bit softer — much more of a reserved character who was still finding her voice. Together, the three were strong together.

The remaining women in the cast played multiple characters: brothers of Clarissant as well as other characters in Camelot. In general, the two characters they played were distinct enough in voice and characterization that they were distinguishable from each other, although the depth of characterization (more a writing than a performance issue) was less. For Olivia Choate (TW, FB), I remember less her Sir Gawain and more her Lancelot — in particular, her interactions and battles with Kym Allen (IG, FB)’s Gareth. Speaking of Allen, I really liked her Gareth — she brought loads of character and spirit to the youngest son; her Ragnelle (wife of Gawain, IIRC) was also very strong. Swinging back to the 2nd son, Sir Agravain, Dawn Alden (FB) brought an interesting swagger to him; she also got to portray Guinevere. That latter portrayal is what I remember more — in particular, her scene in the 2nd act with Lynette and Lyonor. Very touching. Continuing the swing, lets go back to the 2nd youngest brother, Gaheris, played by Renée Torchio MacDonald (FB). For MacDonald, what I remember is her scene with McKinney’s Lynette when Gaheris was heading back to the northern island, but didn’t want his wife to come. Well played. MacDonald also played a knight. This brings us to the middle brother who would be king: Whitton Frank (FB)’s Sir Mordred, as well as her King Arthur.  Both characters were strong and quite distinct. As Mordred, I remember Frank’s scenes with both Morgause  and Clarissant, bringing both a strength and vulnerability to the brother. As Arthur, there was more the sense of the king and an inner strength.

Rounding out the cast was Mac McKinney as a Servant.

Turning to the production side: Kate Woodruff (FB) and director Allison Darby Gorjian (FB)’s scenic design was suitably dark, as appropriate for a hidden room in a dank castle. There was a tree that served as a holder-of-swords, shredded tapestries, and lots of fake candles (what did they do before those candles with LEDs and wavering wicks). There was also a nice fire pit. It worked well. Needless to say, it was well integrated with the Prop Design of Andrew Maldonado (FB). This design was more than the candles; it was the sticks used for fighting staves, as well as other accouterments of the castle. Also establishing the sense of place were the costumes of the aforementioned Betsy Roth (TW, FB). They looked sufficient; I can’t speak to historical accuracy with a sense that has been corrupted with too many versions of the musical Camelot. However, they established place and character as best they could; with some actor’s shapes, it was harder to hide the feminine nature of the performer. Luckily, the performances permitted the requisite suspension of disbelief. Rounding out the design team were Katie Powell’s sound design and Rob Van Guelpen (FB)’s lighting design. The sound design consisted mostly of sound effects, which worked well. Lighting was simple, augmenting the aforementioned candles. It might have been a little dark, but that fit the mood.

Closing out the production team was David Chrzanowski‘s movement and fight choreography, which was suitably exciting. The production was directed by Allison Darby Gorjian (FB); Andrew Maldonado (FB) was the stage manager.

Clarissant continues at the Atwater Village Theatre, under the production eye of  Little Candle Productions (FB), until December 23. All performances are “Pay What You Can”. Tickets are available through their website. Although improvement is possible, this is a good and interesting production of new work, and that always makes it worth seeing. For those of enjoy the Camelot milleau, this is certainly worth seeing. For those that want to support women in the theatre — both on stage, at the author’s table, and on the production team — this is also worth seeing. Looking back, I enjoyed it.

***

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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend appears to bring what will be our last theatrical outing for 2018 — unless something changes: Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Other than that, December is open while we recover (other than the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🛣️ Headlines About California’s Highways – November 2018

We’re coming up on the end of 2018 — just one more month left. November saw a significant election result for California’s highways — the defeat of Proposition 6. As a result, SB1 will continue to funnel funds to improve highways, transportation, and transit throughout the state. November also saw me finish the second traditional update of the year. Most of these headlines are in that update; headlines being held for the first traditional update in 2019 will be indicated with ¤. With that, here are your headlines for November:

  • Important Events in Caltrans History. A timeline of Caltrans.
  • Overwhelming support of South Shore Community Revitalization Project at TRPA meeting. A standing room only crowd was in the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) board room on October 25, 2018 for an updated presentation, and plans for the next steps, of the U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project, commonly known as the Loop Road. It reroutes Highway 50 from its current location in front of Heavenly Village and the casinos to behind Raley’s, the Village Center and Harrahs Tahoe.
  • After warning Modesto about risks, Caltrans goes down another roadModesto’s auditor advised city officials in a July memo not to use Meyers Nave — the law firm Modesto hired in 2014 to serve as its city attorney — for the legal work on a roughly $100 million project to realign and upgrade a stretch of Highway 132. Monica Houston wrote that doing so could expose the city to the risk of fraud, waste and abuse. But it turns out Caltrans was not so steadfast, and it appears it may have been a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing at the transportation agency. Houston’s memo is one of the reasons that her work is under scrutiny..
  • Rural groups: Rethink proposalMembers of the Association of Rural Town Councils hope the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will delay the public hearing for the proposed Centennial mas­ter-planned community to allow time for a more com­plete traffic study. The L.A. County Region­al Planning Commission voted Aug. 29 to recommend the project for approval to the board of supervisors. The board is expected to con­sider the project in De­cember, although a date has not yet been set. Proposed on about 12,300 acres along Highway 138 west of 300th Street West, Cen­tennial calls for 19,333 homes on the 150-year-old Tejon Ranch at the far reach­es of the northwestern Antelope Valley.

Read More …

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🎭 The Third Time You Die | “Remembering Boyle Heights” @ Casa 0101

Remembering Boyle Heights (Casa 0101)Whenever I have a two-show weekend, the shows seem to synchronize and theme. When we saw the Austin Lounge Lizards and She Loves Me, the theme was synchronicity, for the last time we saw the Lizards is when we saw She Loves Me. When we saw Dear Evan Hansen and A Bronx Tale, the theme was “the choices that we make”. For The Accidental Activist and Finks, the theme was “accidental activism”. Last weekend, when we saw Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) and Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB), the theme was “fighting death”.

During Remembering Boyle Heights, they said something quite profound: The first time you die is, well, when you physically die. The second time you die is when you are buried, and your physical body is gone. The third time you die is when you are forgotten. Steambath was about someone fighting the first time you die. Remembering Boyle Heights was about fighting the third time you die: it was a play dedicated to the mission of remembering what the community of Boyle Heights was, fighting the changes that are working to destroy the community, and starting the project of preserving Boyle Heights and its unique history.

For those unfamilar with the community, Boyle Heights is a community just E of downtown Los Angeles, on the east side of the LA River, between downtown and City Terrace and East LA (which is actually county land). To the north is Lincoln Heights; to the south is the city of Vernon. It’s intersected by the 101, 5, 10, and 60 freeways. First the home of the indiginous Tongva, and then the Spanish and Mexicans, it eventually became home to Andrew Boyle. After that, it became the working class community that everyone who couldn’t live elsewhere due to red-lining or restrictive covenants lived: the Jews, the Japanese, the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Russians …. . It was a working class, a bit socialistic. It is where the bagel machine was invented, where Cantors Deli got its start, and where the first hispanic city councilman got his start. It was home to the Breed Street Shul,  one of the first major synagogues in Los Angeles.

For me, when my dad first moved to California, he moved to City Terrace. For the longest time he kept ties with the community, keeping bookkeeping clients on the “eastside” (I’d even help him pick up and sort the paid bills). I remember visiting the Villanueva’s at Mi Tienda, and the folks at the La Victoria Candy Company (both appear to be gone now). I can’t remember the others.

Boyle Heights is also a community fighting gentrification. Art studios are moving in due to the low rents, and landlords are following, raising rents and kicking out the working class families, and changing the multicultural nature of the community. That, in fact, is how this immersive theatre production starts. The theme is set with some opening numbers: the songs “Mal Hombre” and “Mi Tierra”, a monologue about artists being kicked out due to gentrification, and another monologue about Mariachi Plaza and how the gentrification is hurting that community,

Then the show begins. It is organized as a tour with seven stops. The first is a Gentrification Town meeting (that invites audience participation), wherein the actors portray all the sides in an argument about the benefits and detriments of gentrification. The second stop introduces us to what Boyle Heights is and a bit of its history. The third stop explores the various foods, culture, and music of Boyle Heights, with ample attention to the Jewish, Japanese, and Hispanic nature of the community and how they blended and worked together. The fourth top looked at the social, faith, and political aspects of the community, including all the political and labor actions. The fifth stop explored Roosevelt High School and the culture of the school in the 1920s and 1930s. Then came WWII; the sixth stop explored the impact of the Japanese removal on the community. The last stop explored (briefly) post-WWII and the rise to power of Edward Roybal to the LA City Council. After the show we had a panel discussion on the food and fashion of the community and the show, with special panelists Shmuel Gonzales (FB) and someone who does fashion whose name I can’t remember.

As you can see from the above, this wasn’t your typical show with a plot, characters, and a through story line. It was more of a history and culture lesson about the community. In fact, it is planned as the first of many such shows; they want to continue the story as the community evolved from the 1950s — the exodus of the Jewish families to West LA and the Valley, the interplay of the Hispanic and black communities; the growth of other Central American cultures, and the gentrification and preservation battles.

In many ways, this show evoked memories of This Land, which we saw at Company of Angels at the end of 2017. That show told the story of a plot of land in Watts, a community in South LA, and how it had been passed from the Togva to the Mexicans to the Whites to the Blacks to the Hispanics … and was being gentrified again. It demonstrated how our cultures could learn from one another and cooperate. The history of Boyle Heights is the same: different people from different backgrounds finding the common ground and becoming friends, not dividing apart and segregating.

So while, when viewed as purely theatre, there were some minor structural and performance problems, those faded into insignificance when compared to the message and the story that was being told. Los Angeles does have a racist history that must not be forgotten, but it also has a rich and diverse multicultural story to tell — a story of different cultures coming together in communities like Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Watts, Inglewood, Pacoima, Arleta — working class communities where it was hard work that mattered. As an (amateur) LA historian, this show was a pure delight. As someone with a connection to Boyle Heights, … well, it was even better.

The performance side was truly an ensemble piece, with everyone working together. The cast consisted of: Michael Berckart (FB), Joe Luis Cedillo (FB), Jose Alejandro Hernandez Jr. (FB), Yvette Karla Herrera (FB), Ángel Michel Juárez (FB), Megumi Kabe (FB), Marcel Licera (FB), Jackie Marriott (FB), Roberta H. Martínez (FB), Allyson Taylor (FB), and Raymond Watanga (FB). All were great. I particularly liked the per-tour performances of Juárez, Herrera, and Cedillo; the general tourguide and Jewish father of Berckart (who we saw in Paradise); … oh, they all were great, come to think about it. Each had their own special moments.

Turning to the production side: the set design by César Retana-Holguín (FB) was simple — benches and chairs and some artwork on the side, augmented by the projection design of Masha Tatarintseva (FB) as well as live video shot throughout the show. Establishing place and time even more were the costumes of Abel Alvarado (FB) — they were reasonably period and culturally appropriate (Ashley Montoya (FB) was the wardrobe supervisor). The sound design of Xavi Casanova (FB) and Vincent Sanchez (FB) provided the appropriate sound effects and music, and Kevin Eduardo Vasquez (FB)’s lighting design established the mood.

The production was written by Corky Dominguez (FB) and Josefina López (FB), and directed by CD. Andrew Ortega (FB) was the Asst. to the Director. Our friend Shmuel Gonzales (FB), the “Barrio Boychik” who gives tours of Boyle Heights, was the Production Consultant. Xavi Casanova (FB) was the Production Stage Manager, and Georgina “Gina” Rios Escobar (FB) was the Asst. Stage Manager. Josefina López (FB) is the Founding Artistic Director of Casa 0101; Emmanuel Deleage (FB) is the Executive Director of Casa 0101.

Remembering Boyle Heights continues at Casa 0101 (FB) until December 16th.  Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website; discount tickets (in combination with dinner) may be available on Goldstar. If you are a lover of Los Angeles, and especially if you love Los Angeles history, this is the show for you.

***

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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). It will  also bring Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Other than that, December is open while we recover (other than the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🎭 The First Time You Die | “Steambath” @ Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Steambath (Odyssey Theatre Ensemble)Back when I was 13, there was a production on TV that I remember to this day (although I can’t remember if I saw the original airing or a repeat): the play Steambath, written by Bruce Jay Friedman, was broadcast on our local PBS station (it might even have still been NET) station, KCET. Why was this broadcast notable?  Well, it could have been the subject: death and limbo and God as a Puerto-Rican steambath attendant. It could have been the talent: Bill Bixby, Valerie Perrine, Herb Edelman, Jose Perez, Stephen Elliott, Kenneth Mars. But for most 13 year old boys, it was the fact that KCET showed it uncensored, and you got to see Valerie Perrine’s tits (and, yes, that’s how they are referred to in the play — she doesn’t like the term “knockers”).  It is available on DVD, but I did find one scene on YouTube — and that scene demonstrates how stereotypical it was, and how reflective it was of its times. There are jokes that today would be insensitive — it is in many ways a period piece.

I mention all of this because Saturday night, we saw Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). Yes, it had its dated aspects. But it was also laugh out loud funny.

Steambath is a comedy, but it is also a philosophical, perhaps even theological piece. When the play opens, we’re in a steambath. An older man, Tandy, has just arrived. He starts talking (as one does in a steambath) with the oldtimer there, who is constantly complaining about a man sitting on an upper bench in the steambath, being … well, gross. Spitting, clipping his toenails, etc. We also meet the other men in the bath: two gay men (or, as they are referenced in the play, the “fags”, as the term “gay” wasn’t common then), and a stockbroker. A woman comes in, takes off her towel, showers, and leaves. This gets the discussion going. Eventually, the woman returns; her name is Merideth. There’s lots of discussion back and forth while we get to know the characters, and for some, we start to get the notion this isn’t what it seems. Eventually, they figure that out as well. Specifically, they come to realize that they are dead. Tandy asks who is in charge, and he is pointed to the Puerto Rican steambath attendant. The attandant comes in, goes to a console, and starts doing god-like stuff: directing cars to crash, people to get shot, etc. Eventually, Tandy confronts him and gets him to prove that he is God. This proof takes up the remainder of the first act, and is very very funny. Pick a card type funny.

The second act gets a bit more serious, as our characters tell their stories, and one by one leave the steambath to go…. on. Tandy refuses to do so — he doesn’t accept his death. He’s trying to argue to God that he has turned his life around, and he deserves to go on. But God eventually shows him that he hasn’t changed as much as he thought, and he, too, eventually goes through the door.

At the play we saw the next night, they said something very profound: The first time you die is, well, when you physically die. The second time you die is when you are buried, and your physical body is gone. The third time you die is when you are forgotten. This play was about the first time you die.

Even with the what are now politically incorrect jokes, the play was very very funny. Under the direction of Ron Sossi (FB) and the choreography of Dagney Kerr (FB), the characters came to life and action was well paced. It didn’t help that God was extremely talented and funny, which is no surprise given that God was portrayed by Paul Rodriguez (FB) (who alternates in the role with Peter Pasco). Rodriguez inserted his own brand of funny, including adding some jokes that he admitted were from the future, and the characters probably wouldn’t understand. There was one particularly crude one about Monica Lewinsky, for example.

In the other lead positions were Jeff Lebeau (FB) as Tandy and Shelby Lauren Barry (FB) as Meredith (who had a well-secured towel). Both were excellent. Lebeau brought a nice warmth to Tandy creating a likable character who you didn’t want to see leave — he really did give the sense of a man who had turned his life around. Barry was also likable as the young woman into clothes, shopping, and the 1970s lifestyle; she proved a good sounding board for Lebeau’s Tandy.

In the next tier were John Moskal (FB) as the Oldtimer, and Robert Lesser (FB) as Bieberman, the other old man whose habits irritated the Oldtimer so.  Both captured their characters well. Moskal was great as the man who had been everywhere and seen everything, and thought that he knew everything. Lesser’s Bieberman captured the annoying quite well in the first act, and had an interesting story in the second.

Rounding out the steambath “residents” were Brian Graves (FB) as the Broker, and DJ Kemp (FB) and Devan Scheolen (FB) as the “Young Men” (i.e., “fags”).  Graves main role is to be athletic and concerned about business and he pulls that off quite well. Kemp and Scheolen get to have a more musical turn (you’ll get an idea if you watched the YouTube clip from the TV version). They portray the characters well and as written, but that characterization is a very early 70s view of homosexuals played for the humor. Just understand that’s what you’ll be getting, and you’ll enjoy their performance.

Rounding out the cast were Yusuf Yildiz (FB) as Gottlieb, the attendant for God; Anthony Rutowicz (FB) as the Longshoreman / Detective, and Shay Denison (FB) as the Young Girl. The latter two are smaller roles in the second act; Yildiz’s role is larger and is primarily a straight-man to Rodriguez’s comic God. He does that well.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative side: Gary Guidinger (FB)’s scenic design is simple and, well, a steambath — with copious “steam”. It is supported by Josh La Cour (FB)’s props — which are particularly good, especially the ice cream sodas. Mylette Nora‘s costumes are primarily towels, but they are very well secured. Christopher Moscatiello (FB) sound design provides great sound effects, and Chu-Hsuan Chang‘s lighting design effectively creates the mood. Other production credits: Margaret Starbuck (FB) and Alex Weber (FB) were assistant directors; Izaura Avitia was the stage manager.

Steambath continues at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) through December 16. Tickets are available through the Odyssey Website, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Although the show is dated and politically incorrect, it is also very very funny and well worth seeing.

***

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), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend brought Remembering Boyle Heights at Casa 0101 (FB) in Boyle Heights, which I’ll write up tomorrow. December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). It will  also bring Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Other than that, December is open while we recover (other than the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment).

January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB).  There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.

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. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🛣️ Changes to the California Highways Website – October/November 2018

What did you do over the Thanksgiving weekend? Me? I didn’t eat turkey; instead, I finished updating the California Highways web pages with all the changes accumulated since the end of June.

You can thank me later. For now, read on, McDuff.

After two updates that added maps to every route page, it’s time to do a regular update. As I’ve written before, I’m do some remodeling around here. Over the past year, the site has been moved to HTTPS: all the time, and (as noted) maps will be added. I’ve gotten a book on Responsive Design, and after I read it, I’ll be moving the site to a responsive design, together with some basic graphic changes of the headers and menus. I have no plans to change the content or my method of content generation. As always, I’m on the lookout for a good WSYWYG with “Tags Mode” HTML editor that I like (both of the ones I use, HoTMetaL Pro and Amaya are abandonware). You can see my thoughts on what I would like from the redesign here; it also explains how the site is generated.

Moving on to the updates: 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 also reviewed the the AAroads forum. This resulted in changes on the following routes, with credit as indicated [my research(1), contributions of information or leads (via direct mail) from Tom Fearer​ (​Max Rockatansky)(2), Andy Field(3), Mark F/AARoads(4), Gonelookin/AARoads(5), Alex Nitzman(6), Joe Rouse(7), Chris Sampang(8), Sparker/AARoads(9), Jim Umbach(10), Joel Windmiller(11): Route 1(1,2), Route 2(1), Route 4(1,2), I-5(1,2), US 6(2), Route 8(1,2), Route 9(1,8), Route 11(1), Route 12(1,2), Route 14(1), I-15(1,9,6,10), Route 16(11,8,9), Route 20(2), LRN 23(2), Route 24(11,8,9), Route 25(1), Route 26(2), Route 28(2), Route 29(1), Route 30(8), Route 31(9), Route 32(1), Route 33(2,9), LRN 34(2), Route 36(1), Route 37(1), Route 41(1), Route 42(1), Route 44(8), Route 49(1,2), US 50(1,2,5), Route 51(2,9,7), Route 52(1), Route 57(1), Route 58(1,2,8), Route 60(1), Route 61(1), Route 65(1,2), Route 74 (including the Mid-County Parkway)(1), Route 76(1), Route 79(1), I-80(1,2,9,7), Route 82(1,8), Route 84(1), Route 85(1), Route 88(2), Route 89(1,2), Route 92(8), US 97(2), Route 99(1,2,11,9), US 101(1,9), Route 108(1,2), Route 110(1),Route 111(1), Route 118(1,9), Route 122(9), Route 128(1), LRN 129(1,2), Route 132(1,2,9), LRN 136(1,2), Route 138(1), Route 141(6), Route 155(1,2), Route 156(1), Route 161(2), Route 163(1), Route 166(1), Route 174(2), Route 188(2), Route 190(1,2), Route 196(9), Route 198(1), Route 201(1), Route 202(2), I-210(1), I-215(1), Route 211(1,2), I-215(1), Route 216(1), Route 221(1), Route 229(2), Route 237(1), Route 238(1,9), Route 241(1,4), Route 249(9), Route 263(1), Route 267(2), Route 275(1), Route 276(1,2), Route 283(1), Route 299(1,2), US 395(1), Route 371(1), I-380(1), I-405(1), US 466(2), I-580(1), I-680(1), I-710(1), I-780(6), County Sign Route E2 – Capitol Southeast Connector(3,8), County Sign Route E15(2), County Sign Route E18(2), County Sign Route G1(2), County Sign Route J16(2), County Sign Route J22(2), County Sign Route J28(2), County Sign Route J29(2), County Sign Route J37(2), County Sign Route J41(2), County Sign Route N2(1), County Sign Route N3(1).

Noted the useful responses to an AAroad query for when I move to the “one highway per page” as part of Phase 3 of the site refresh.

Updated the Chronology based on the Caltrans chronology.

Read More …

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