A Truly Intellectual Discourse

I am reminded again what a visionary and talent Steve Allen was.

Perhaps I should explain. Back when I graduated high school in 1977, Steve Allen started a series on KCET (our PBS channel) called “Meeting of Minds”, where he would bring together four historical figures for a roundtable discussion. Disguised as theatre, this was education. Those speakers from the past spoke to the problems of the 1970s and 1980s, reminding people how we could learn from history. Alas, the program has never made its way to DVD, it existed as memories… and scripts.

Luckily, the good folks at Working Stage (led by Dan Lauria) decided to do something about it, and have (with the blessing of the Allen family) brought “Meeting of Minds” back to life. Tonight they did their second production of an episode. Tonight’s was episode #1, and featured Gary Cole as Steve Allen, Danica McKellar as Queen Cleopatra, Joe Spano as Father Thomas Aquinas, Steven Culp as Thomas Paine, and Bill Smitrovich as President Theodore Roosevelt. I should note this was a staged reading: the actors had the scripts in front of them, and there were occasional line hesitations and restarts. That goes with the territory of a staged reading.

Watching the performance, I was reminded of the vision of Steve Allen, and how the history echoes what is happening today as well. Consider the following exchange:

ROOSEVELT: I also persuaded the big lumber corporations to adopt selective cutting techniques so that future generations would have timber in this country.
ALLEN: Well, I imagine all of this must have made you even more of a national hero.
ROOSEVELT: Don’t you believe it. The people often didn’t know what I was trying to do for them, and the big interests and their lackeys in Congress responded with hysterical charges…”

Exchanges like this resonate today with the hysteria in the healthcare debate.

Consider the following, referring to Roosevelt’s work in ensuring pure unadulterated food:

ALLEN: What accusation were made against you, Mr. President, when you tried to protect the public in this controversy?
ROOSEVELT: Oh, we were all called Socialists, among other things.

Sound familiar?

Dialogues such as these are remarkable for teaching history in the guise of theatre. Dan Lauria talked a bit about the effort of reviving this program: they plan to do a episode monthly, and would like to get universities to invite their group to present episodes on campus. They would record the episodes, and get them broadcast on NPR. He mentioned that actors are calling him to get involved: Keith Carradine (who was in the audience) has already indicated a desire to play Thomas Jefferson, and Lou Diamond Phillips was interested in playing Emiliano Zapata. He also indicated they have name writers lined up (I heard David Mamet mentioned) to write new episodes. This is an effort I really hope gets off the ground. He indicated that the next episode should be at the Steve Allen Theatre on October 5th (which is a Monday, so I’m not sure the date is correct).

As a theatrical staged reading: This was thoroughly enjoyable. As education: this was great. As a reminder of my college years, where I touted this program reguarly, it was priceless. Kudos to the folks at Working Stage, the Center for Free Inquiry, and the Steve Allen Theatre.

Other notes on the night: My wife got the opportunity to talk to Danica McKeller, and complimented her on her book on how girls can do math, and how important math education is. If you didn’t know, McKeller is a graduate of the UCLA Math Department (we both have BS degrees in Math, although I went on to an MS in Computer Science). I also got the opportunity to meet rialtus and his lovely wife, and got to introduce ellipticcurve to Meeting of Minds. All wins in my book.

Upcoming Theatre: We have a bit of a break before our next theatre: currently the next weekend devoid of theatre, and the following weekend brings not a theatrical event but a concert: Tom Paxton at McCabes on 9/13. The following weekend also has no theatre, but brings Rosh Hashana and the birthday party for a rediscovered childhood friend. The following weekend (9/25) sees us back at the Pasadena Playhouse for “The Night Is A Child”. The first weekend of October brings “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the REP on 10/3 @ 8pm and hopefully another “Meeting of Minds”. Either the weekend of 10/10 or 10/17 will be “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum (HotTix go on sale 9/3; the show runs 9/24 through 11/15). The following weekend (10/24) will bring “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Halloween weekend is open. November brings Thomas the Tank Engine at OERM, TMBG for Erin at UCLA, and somewhere in there, M*A*S*H at REP East. As a reminder, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.