🗯️ 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.

Share

🎭 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.

Share

🎭 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.

Share