Election-Free News Chum Stew

Observation StewTake a deep breath. Three days and the national nightmare begins — but at least we won’t have the ads, the fake news stories, and the FB battles. To hold you over, here’s a bit of news chum I’ve accumulated over the last few weeks:

  • Math and Knitting. Two articles related to mathematics and knitting. The first article is about a couple that have focused on knitting mathematical objects: Together they have knitted and crocheted about 90 mathematical afghans, as well as other mathematical objects. The other article is on illusion knitting: Knitting that takes advantage of the 3-D nature of knitting to show different images depending on how the knit object is viewed. The simplest kind of illusion knitting uses one color of yarn. From the front, you see a swath of, say, green. From the side, you see an alternating checkerboard of green squares. Or take the knit below, which appears to be a multicolored grid straight-on but from an angle reveals circles within the grid.
  • Food Triggers. Two articles related to food that can trigger medical problems. The first looks at a group of proteins that have  been identified as the possible cause of non-gluten wheat sensitivity. This group, called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs)  are a small group, representing about 4 percent of wheat proteins, but they’re powerful. The scientists found that consuming pure ATIs can cause all manner of nasty reactions throughout the body, triggering inflammation not just in the gut but also in the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain. That same inflammation can exacerbate autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease. The second article looks at why some foods trigger migraines. It turns out it isn’t only the food, but the microbes in the mouth. The research team analyzed 172 oral samples and nearly 2,000 fecal samples taken from the American Gut Project, and sequenced which bacteria species were found in participants who suffered migraines versus those who did not. And it turns out, the migraineurs have significantly more nitrate-reducing bacteria in their saliva than those who don’t suffer these headaches.
  • Paying Rent. This went around a few weeks ago, but its still fun: London is still paying rent to the Queen on property rented in 1211 (it seems they didn’t know about “lease-to-buy”). The rent? A knife, an axe, six oversized horseshoes, and 61 nails. Further, no one knows where the property is anymore. Each fall, usually in October, the city and the crown perform the same exchange, for no particular reason other than that they always have. You have to admire the Brits.
  • Popcorn. Here’s another interesting piece of history: why do we have movie popcorn? One didn’t always eat popcorn at movies, but it came into vogue during the depression. At that point, people began to expect it, and theatres realized they had a moneymaker.
  • Internet Problems. Have you found the internet harder to read of late? Even after you take out the election posts, is it hard to read? There could be an answer. Scientists believe that what is making the Internet harder to read is a trend towards lighter and thinner fonts. Where text used to be bold and dark, which contrasted well with predominantly white backgrounds, now many websites are switching to light greys or blues for their type. “If the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails the open access by excluding large swaths of people such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low quality screens.”
  • New Cars and Car Washes. Have you bought a new car of late? Ever take it to the car wash? Many new cars won’t work in car washes because the additional safety equipment locks the wheels even when the car is in neutral. Those cars need special configuration to go through a car wash, and it isn’t just a “car wash” button — but it is buried in the manuals. The issue is automatic parking brakes, which put on the brakes, even if in neutral, to prevent the car from rolling into people or things. It does this if it detects things near the car.
  • Homelessness and Cars. Sigh. The city has passed an ordinance to prevent people from sleeping in cars or RVs in residential districts. This is an example of a law that the privileged pass against the unprivileged, instead of helping.
  • Jacob Neusner Z”L. A passing you may have missed: Jacob Neusner, one of the top Jewish scholars of our generation. Neusner almost singlehandedly created the modern study of Judaism. In doing so, he revolutionized our understanding of the history of Judaism and our perception of what Judaism can mean to Jews today. I know I was reading Neusner’s books when I was at UCLA in the 1980s.

Memorial Day Stew

Observation StewThis has been a busy weekend, what with theater, working on the highway pages, cleaning the house, and hunting for a replacement car after my accident. But I do accumulate links, and they need to be cleared out periodically. Before we do, please take a moment and remember those who have given their lives so that we may have the freedoms we have in this country. Despite our flawed political candidates, the flawed presidential selection process, and the divisions created by entrenched political parties, we still have more freedoms in this country than many elsewhere in the world; many have given their lives to protect those freedoms, and to ensure others are free as well.

(pauses for a moment)

Here are the news chum links I’ve accumulated since my last news chum post:

Lastly, (a) remember to read and comment on my potential replacement cars (remember the car is for me and how I live, not how you think I should live); (b) remember that the Hollywood Fringe Festival starts Tuesday, and you should pick your shows now; (c) that tickets are now on save for November’s new Faire: Nottingham Festival (no word on Tumbleweed Township tickets yet); and (d) you have the ability to help Spring Awakening be on the Tony Awards.


Traveling On Our Stomach

userpic=levysThey say an army travels on its stomach. We’re traveling as well, so are some articles related to what we eat:

  • 24601. In Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean was punished for stealing a loaf of bread. He should have gone to Italy. The Italians have decided that the hungry should not be punished for stealing small amounts of food. Five years ago, Ukrainian national Roman Ostriakov was homeless in Genoa when he was caught stealing cheese and sausage worth less than $5, the Telegraph reports. He was fined $115 and sentenced to six months in jail in 2015, a sentence that he appealed. On Monday, the Italian Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Their opinion: “People should not be punished if, forced by need, they steal small quantities of food in order to meet the basic requirement of feeding themselves.”
  • Care Packages. One of the ways that soldiers in WWII won over the hearts of the populace was through care packages. Care packages were a vital lifeline for thousands of displaced families in post-World War II Europe. May 11 marks the 70th anniversary of the first delivery. The packages were shipped by CARE, a humanitarian group formed by 22 American aid and religious organizations. The first packages sent to Europe were surplus military rations left over from the war. When those ran out, CARE started putting together its own packages. At first, the boxes came furnished with just the basics — rice, beans, powdered eggs and milk. Soon, CARE started customizing packages to suit regional tastes. There were parcels tailored for Asian palates (with beans, miso and soybean oil), a kosher CARE package delivered to Jewish refugees and an Italian package (which came with spaghetti and assorted spices). NPR has a really interesting article about these packages.
  • Have You Met My Friend Harvey. If you were a traveler, however, your best choice for food was the Harvey House, operated by Fred Harvey. Boing Boing has a pointer to a nice article on this railroad dining empire. This caught my eye because OERM just opened a new Harvey House museum. The article itself is very detailed and quite a good read.
  • Salt of the Earth. Here’s an interesting piece about when to use that fancy, pricy, salt, and when not to do it. For me, I don’t fine-finish that many dishes that I think the fancy stuff is useful… but my wife has a different opinion.
  • Alternatives for What You Crave. One of my migraine groups posted this handy chart, about alternatives for those cravings you get when you have a headache. As a PS for those not familiar with migraines, here’s information on the four phases of a migraine.

Chum for a Sunday Afternoon: Drums, Drives, Drugs, Dust, Dresses and More

Observation StewI’ve been on travel for my daughter’s graduation, and so I haven’t had a lot of time to write about the articles I’ve seen. I’ve got two themed collections of chum that I’ll write up after last night’s theatre review (not sure when I’ll post them). But first, here’s the stuff that wouldn’t theme, but that caught my eye:

  • Bang. Bang. Bang. Anyone who has attended Drum Corps, or likely even seen a band will recognize this name: Remo. The news in recent weeks included an obituary of the man behind the name: Remo Belli, who invented the synthetic drum head. Before Remo, drums were animal skins, highly variable. As the obituary notes: “Belli was a young professional drummer in the 1950s, backing singer Anita O’Day and others, when he grew frustrated with the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, which could wilt or expand depending on the weather. In 1957, he and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drumheads made of a resilient polyester film manufactured under various brand names, including Mylar, made by DuPont. He dubbed that first product the Weather King, a signal that it was durable no matter the atmospheric conditions of the gig, unlike finicky cow-skin drums.” Since then, his product has become the standard.
  • Long Commute. This article caught my eye because it deals with Las Vegas and teachers. Specifically, there is a group of teachers who live in Las Vegas, and commute daily to teach in the small community of Baker, at the gateway to Death Valley. Why? Pay, of course. The starting salary for teachers in Baker is $44,000. In Las Vegas it’s $34,000, though it will be $40,000 next year after a new contract takes effect. At the same time teacher shortages are ravaging America’s cities, however, rural schools have arguably been hit hardest. Teacher turnover is high, and many small towns are finding it hard to attract teachers. While many are attracted to Baker because of the pay, they stay because the work is satisfying, the way teaching should be but often isn’t in large urban school districts. Class sizes are extremely small: compared with the 30-50 in the large school districts, we’re talking 4-10.
  • Hacking the Brain for Fun… and to Relieve Pain. In our life, pain is a constant. My wife deals with arthritis; I deal with migraines. What do you think we would do for a good solution for the pain? Here’s an intriguing direction: A group is playing with a non-chemical solution that involves hacking the Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears. It travels down each side of the neck, across the chest and down through the abdomen. ‘Vagus’ is Latin for ‘wandering’ and indeed this bundle of nerve fibres roves through the body, networking the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It is made of thousands and thousands of fibres and 80 per cent of them are sensory, meaning that the vagus nerve reports back to your brain what is going on in your organs. Research shows that a high vagal tone (strength of your vagus response) makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Low vagal tone, however, has been associated with chronic inflammation. Said inflammation has been connected with arthritis and migraines. This article talks about using an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve to reduce pain. Fascinating.
  • Pain and Empathy. Chemical painkillers  can be insidious. For example, we all believe Tylenol (acetaminophen, paracetamol in the UK) is safe; safer than aspirin or other NSAIDs. But there have been numerous reports that even the slight overdose can cause serious liver damage, and slight overdoses are easy because it is in so many products because it is believed to be safe. Here’s another danger from Tylenol: In research published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University describe the results of two experiments they conducted involving more than 200 college students. Their conclusion: Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States, can reduce a person’s capacity to empathize with another person’s pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. In fact, I’m on it right now (just took two Excedrin). Ask me if I care ;-).
  • It’s a Gas — Porter Ranch Causes . One group I do emphasize with are all the folks in Porter Ranch, the community next to where we leave. Not only did they have to deal with the Aliso Canyon gas leak for numerous months, being relocated and such, but they are still having problems even after the leak was sealed. They have now figured out why. Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials say its test of dust in Porter Ranch homes turned up the presence of metals, including barium, that could have caused the kinds of health symptoms some residents have reported experiencing even after the big gas leak was plugged. County officials said there appeared to be  a pattern — or fingerprint — of metals to which all of the homes were exposed. Those metals were barium, vanadium, manganese, lead, strontium and aluminum. The county health official said the barium was in the form of a salt known as barium sulfate, which is not radioactive. It was found at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, which is in the Santa Susana Mountains directly north of Porter Ranch homes. Barium sulfate is added to the fluids that are used in the course of oil well drilling. As I said when the leak first started, this is going to be a clusterf*ck of tremendous proportions — unfortunately, one that will affect our synagogue and many friends and neighbors.
  • Taking Offense at Everything. There are more folks these days that are just finding any hint of skin or sex offensive. We’ve all seen the bathroom wars, where a subgroup of men either believe that men will just choose to dress as a lady to go into a ladies restroom to attack women, or that some woman dressed as a man will go into the mens room and see their shortcomings. Here’s another one: a female weather reporter wearing a beautiful black beaded dress on-air was handed a grey cardigan because some viewers complained they could see her bare arms. This didn’t happen in some backwater area either — this was in Los Angeles folks. Geez, get a life folks. If something offends you, change the channel. If you can’t control your urges, that’s your problem. ETA: Then again, perhaps it was all a joke. Perhaps. ETA#2: Yes, it was a joke.
  • Cell Phones and Theatres. Here’s a very nice piece on Broadway vs. Cell Phones. It explains why they are such a problem. First, taking pictures is making copies of a copyrighted design (yes, the show and all the design elements are copyrighted, and represents significant artistic work). Second, the light these devices emit can distract the performers on the stage, and can distract and disturb other audience members. Thirdly, if they  make noise, the noise can do the same: distract and endanger performers, and disturb the audience. Power them off, or silence them and put them in airplane mode. Why the latter? The signals sometimes interfere with wireless microphones.
  • Replacing Ikea. In Burbank, California, Ikea is moving down the street to an even larger facility. So what is going to happen to the existing facility? What will happen to the dying mall next to it. A report this week gave the answer. Crown Realty is proposing to build a six-story, mixed-use project with 765 apartments and about 40,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level of the current Ikea space. They also envision converting the site into a community gathering area where an outdoor ice rink could be built and a farmers market could be held. As for the neighboring mall, one of the major proposed changes will be redesigning the entryway at San Fernando and Magnolia boulevards. A section of the second-floor roof will be removed to create an open-space feel and an escalator will be installed to allow pedestrians to get to the upper level from the street. Other amenities — such as the food court, children’s play area and elevators — will be moved around to create a better flow and atmosphere in the mall.
  • Yiddish in Poland. Lastly, in honor of my daughter’s graduation, here is a map of the Hebrew and Yiddish language frequency in Poland based on the Polish Census of 1931. Those of you who know her will understand.



Thanksgiving News Tetrazzini: Squash, Migraines, Latrines, Lastpass, and more…

userpic=turkey,turkeysThanksgiving is over, and I’m sure you’re wondering what you’re going to do with the leftover: the drips and dregs of turkey links. You’ve had it to here with sandwiches, and aren’t in the mood for stew. How about some news chum tetrazzini?

  • Squashing It. Let’s start with some food: winter squash, to be specific. All squashes are not the same, and here’s how to know when a squash is at its best. Acorn, butternut and Hubbard squash — just a few of the season’s delights — fill different culinary niches. And, although they’re all typically picked within a month or so of each other in early fall, the optimal moment to eat them can differ quite a bit.
  • The Writing on the Walls. Here’s an interesting exploration of the meaning of the writing on latrine walls in the military. Quoting a paragraph in the article: «Superficially at least, the latrinalia resembled a YouTube comments section. There were the wild accusations of servicemen with vague vendettas: “Cpt. Franklin is a pussy and doesn’t give a shit about you.” There were sweeping political pronouncements: “Kill all politicians.” Misattributed appeals to authority in defense of ill-defined ideologies: “Only the dead have seen the end of war. —Homer.” And of course, there was the passionate, ongoing discourse between the “FTA,” or “Fuck the Army,” crowd, and those who rushed to the loyal defense of their beloved institution: “You’re a pussy.”»
  • Alexander Who?. The talk of Broadway this fall is Hamilton, the hip-hop Broadway musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. It’s got surprising traction, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Here’s what you’re missing by only listening to the show.
  • Theatre Rules. Another theatre article (alas, I didn’t get to the magic three) that covers 8 rules that every theatre person should know. I knew many of these, but didn’t know the origins of them. For example, “breaking a leg” is not a wish for bad luck, and not whistling is for your safety.
  • He said, Sheepishly Here’s one I couldn’t make up if I tried: There’s an Austrian shepard who sings Yiddish to the Syrian refugees that he rescues. This shepard drives them through dirt-paved roads to his home in Austria, a remote cabin in the woods without running water. His risks could land in him in jail, but he clearly believes it’s worth the reward. It’s personal. His Jewish father fled to Britain before World War II, escaping persecution. He draws comparisons between his father’s plight, like the plight of so many Jews during Nazi rule in Europe. “It makes me cry again and again if I think of my father, of his situation, and of other immigrants–and I put it together with these people.”
  • Password Managers. I’m a password manager convert. I used to write them down in 4pt type and keep them in my wallet, but a password manager has made it easy to make my passwords stronger, with better protection of the passwords. Still, there are flaws in password managers, such as Lastpass, which I use. But I still use it. Why? This article says it all: “There is no bug-free software and any future research on other password managers would likely have similar results,” wrote the researchers. In the case of Lastpass, they responded by fixing the issued, and implementing new security measures in response to the research. No approach is perfect — the goal is to reduce risk. Another security researcher recently showed that it was possible to steal the user passwords from another manager, KeePass, which doesn’t upload anything to the cloud. Remember: Any password manager is safer than the current password practices used by most folks.
  • A Migraine Game. The latest new game round up from BoardGameGeek had me intrigued with the first item: “Let’s start with Hannah Shaffer‘s 14 Days, which bears the subtitle “A Game About Life With Migraines” and which originated from the designer’s own experience: “I didn’t know how to talk to the people around me about how migraines were impacting my life. This game exists to help break through some of the silence and stigma around migraines, as well as other types of chronic pain.” 14 Days was funded on Kickstarter in July 2015 and due out before the end of 2015.” I contacted Hannah: you can preorder either a box or a PDF version now. The game intrigues me; I’m curious about the game play. I may order the PDF version, or wait for some reviews. It may be a good way to explain chronic pain.



How Much Would You Be Willing to Pay for a Cheap Vacation?

Timeshare (Eclectic Company Theatre)userpic=theatre2If you’ve ever walked down the Las Vegas Strip or along a beachfront walk in Hawaii, you’ve run into them: the salescritters in the little booths, enticing you to come and see a timeshare presentation. In exchange for your time, you’ll get something valuable: tickets to a Vegas show, tickets to a luau, a flat screen TV, a free vacation. Perhaps you’ve succumbed to their offer. Perhaps you’ve gone to a free show. Perhaps your the lucky owner of a timeshare now.

I can say this as the owner of a timeshare, although not one I purchased personally. Back in the mid-1970s, my parents purchased an interval at one of the first timeshares in Maui, the Whaler on Kaanapali Beach. While they were alive they went regularly, or rented it out. I was there for my honeymoon, and regularly went with them in high school and early college days. I inherited it after they died, and have been there… once (this year, for my 30th wedding anniversary). Why? The primary reason is cost: although staying there is free (well, it really isn’t: you have HOA dues), getting there is not. Airfare for two to Hawaii, plus rental car, adds up fast. So the years we haven’t gone we’ve exchanged our interval, usually for someplace in driving distance (Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Tucson, Escondido, Sedona). The first time we exchanged for Las Vegas, we did exactly what most people do: went on a timeshare sales presentation to get tickets to a show. This is so common there are loads of websites talking about the tactics that timeshare salescritters use (and here), and how to get your free stuff for free (example, example, example, example), and most importantly, how to say “no”. So, when I was at The Colony Theatre (FB) recently, and picked up a postcard with the following description, I was intrigued:

Trying to change his life and save his marriage, Tom takes a job as a timeshare salesman. He learns the latest sales techniques, and hypes himself up several times a day with the “One Minute Sales Talk”. As he struggles with his learning curve and the ethics of the Timeshare industry, he is tricked and threatened by his co-workers, harangued by his boss, and seduced by the sexiest salesperson of all. Tom perseveres, learning new sales skills and maybe even a new career. However, just as he begins to become a competent salesperson, a disgruntled Customer pulls a gun, shoots the sales manager, and takes the Timeshare showroom hostage. Tom must now use his new sales skills to convince the gunman to let everyone live. It’s life and death capitalism, and now Tom must close this big sale, or die.

I was so intrigued I hunted down tickets (hmmm, succumbed for the sales pitch); thus, last night saw me at The Eclectic Company Theatre (FB) for a performance of their new comedy, Timeshare, written and directed by Steve B. Green (FB) [who we last saw onstage in “Green Grow the Lilacs].

The store of Timeshare is pretty much as detailed in the pitch above. In the first act, we’re introduced Tom, his Sales Manager Frank, and his co-workers in the New Jersey sales office: Jack, the fast talking salesman more interested in telling stories of his sexual conquests; Christine, the New Jersey “goil”  who has learned how to use sex and attitude to close sales; and Mike, the ex-jock co-worker more interested in getting a timeshare of Christine. We’re also introduced to the tactics of the industry. We see these tactics  in how salescritters are motivated both by team pep talks and individual sales talks in front of a mirror. We also see them in a series of vignettes with customers coming in and being “sold” by salesman, to varying degrees. These customers include a couple clearly there only to receive the flat-screen TV — antagonistically so (Martin and Maria); a single mother cashier with her baby (Tiffany); an older couple where she is interested (because of what she can wear), but her husband is a realist and only sees the cost (Ira and Melanie); a couple of New Jersey playas (Bart and Amy); and an older couple where she would love to travel, and he is pressured (Neil and Gretchen). What the salescritters don’t know is that Neil has just been “downsized”, and the pressure of the sales presentation causes him to snap (Falling Down” style), pull out a gun, and shoot the sales manager and one of the customers. Thus endeth Act I. Act II consists of the sales staff working to convince Neil to give himself up. It’s hard to describe, but it permits one to see these people bettter. Most importantly, it provides the opportunity for Tom (who is the lead character in all of this) to grow as a salesman.

Before going into the performances, let’s assess the book and its realization by the director. In general, I liked the story quite a bit: it reflected my experience with timesale sales presentations quite well, and had a large number of very funny lines (none of which I can remember this morning, alas (thank you Mr. Migraine)).  The problems — and I usually don’t say this — were primarily directoral. I felt the interstitial music between the various scenes in Act I was overdone and cheesy (this isn’t a book problem; it’s a directoral decision), and made the scenes come across more as a sitcom or an episodic cartoon (think the scenes with the Sheriff and Bart in Blazing Saddles). It would have been much better to just have silence there. I was also unsure whether there might have been one too many individual customer scenes. Two could have been combined (perhaps with different salescritters). They just seem to go on a pinch long, although I can see storywise why they were there and what they were showing. This could have just been due to the transition style.

Additionally, the pep talks had some staging problems. It wasn’t clear, especially in the beginning, that the talks in front of a mirror in the bathroom were in a bathroom; they initially came across more as a talk to the audience. This could have been addressed through better scenic design; lacking that, some performance queues (such as combing hair, washing hands) might suffice. The group pep talks had the sales manager walking away from the sales staff and walking up and facing the audience, which suspended the belief that it was a pep talk. Judicious rearrangement and restaging could have made it so both the sales manager and the sales team were partially facing the audience. The second act seem to have resolved the staging and pacing problems (except for the final pep talk, which had the problem above).

The problems noted above weren’t major failures — they certainly didn’t make the show bad or unwatchable. But they created some unnecessary distractions that — at least to this untrained layperson — could have been corrected with a little tweaking.

Whatever the staging problems, the performances more than made up for it. In the lead was the handsome and personable Tony Pauletto (FB). Pauletto played the role with charm, and really came across as a down-on-his-luck man who grabbed at the timeshare sales opportunity, but really didn’t want to be there (and didn’t have the salesman in him). This is something I related to, as the ability to do sales is a skill that I don’t have. It was interesting to watch how the actor transformed over the course of the evening into a real salesperson. I would say that indicates there is hope for those of us who can’t do sales, but I wouldn’t consider being transformed into a salescritter necessarily a good thing 😃.

As Tom, the hard-sell sales manager, Jon Mullich (FB) was fun to watch. I had been familiar with Mullich solely from his wonderful artwork he had been posting to the pro99 group on Facebook (examples here); by lucky happenstance this show provided the opportunity to meet him and see him on stage. Mullich has quite a skill with comedy and comedy movement: watch him twitching in Act II after he has been shot. He was also able to do a nice turn of character, as demonstrated when he pivoted from his manic salesman mode to being a loving father. In short, he was very fun to watch. Hopefully, I’ll see him more (and not just on Facebook) — I had never connected that he was the evil mastermind behind USS Pinafore that I had seen quite a few years ago at Crown City.

The remaining timeshare salescritters were Sarmarie Klein (FB) [Christine], Kerr Lordygan (FB) [Jack]; and Travis Quentin (FB) [Mike]. Klein’s Christine was pure New Joisey, down to the accent and the attitude. She was a delight to watch, especially how she used her sexuality and looks to play and manipulate both the other salescritters and the customers (as an aside, I’ve never been able to understand how women can cross their legs that tight or wear heels that high — it must be horribly uncomfortable). Her interactions with all the salescritters were well played, and it was interesting to see how she was able to bring out the different personalities when talking to Tom (who she was sexually interested in) vs. Mike (who she clearly wasn’t) vs. Jack (who she just seemed to not see). Lordygan I’ve known from the pro99 Facebook group; it was nice to see him on stage. He had the sexually-obsessed slime role down well; he made you believe that you would want to wash your hands after meeting him. Well played. Quentin’s Mike came across as the typical jock interested in only one thing; it was hard to see why he was there as he appeared to have a worse sales technique than Tom.

Most of the customers that we meet are caricatures, archetypes of the types of folks that frequent timeshare presentations. The only ones we really get to know are Bart and Amy (Zachary Davidson (FB) and Madelyne Heyman (FB)) and Neil and Gretchen (Paul Messinger (FB) and Marbry Steward).  Davidson and Heyman were the playas, putting on a gangster attitude.  They captured this well in both style and dress (although I have no idea how one can move in a skirt that tight), which made the ending transformation quite endearing. The two made a believable couple. [As an aside, I hadn’t noticed Madelyne’s last name before, and now wonder if she’s connected to the Heyman side of my father’s family — although based on her FB page, I don’t know of any family in her hometown. If she reads this and is connected to the Heyman’s from New York, let me know]  Messinger and Steward were essentially the antagonists of the story (well, Messinger’s Neil was); they essentially drive the transformation of Tom’s character. Messinger captured the downtrodden downsized worker well: he personified a character who believably snapped, and then found himself in a situation he was unprepared for. His reactions as he tried to cope with that situation were great to watch, although the ending was perhaps predictable as there wasn’t a good alternative resolution. Perhaps that was a writing problem (there should have been a possible other out, making the ending more poignant and more of a commentary on where society is taking us); nevertheless, Messinger portrayed it well. Steward’s role was smaller but equally important: she represented the anchor to Messenger’s breakdown. She captured that slightly kooky new-age anchor well, and provided wonderful voice-acting in the latter parts of Act II.

As noted earlier, the other customers appeared only in the vignettes in Act I: Maria and Martin (Victoria Yvonne Martinez (FB) and Gerard Marzilli (FB)), the customers only there for the flat-screen TV; Ira and Melanie (David Datz (FB) and Randi Tahara (FB) [understudy for JC Henning (FB)]), the older couple where she was interested in the travel, but he was the realist interested in the cost; and Tiffany (Alyssa LeBlanc (FB)), the single-mother cashier. Of these, two stand out in my memory: Martinez was wonderful as the no-nonsense Maria, focused not on the sales pitch but on the flat-screen; and Tahara’s Melanie, who was going along with her husband only for the fashion she could wear.

Understudies († indicates they had non-understudy roles) were: Alyssa LeBlanc (FB)† [Christine]; David Datz (FB)† [Neil]; Gerard Marzilli (FB)† [Jack], Zack Pappas [Bart / Martin]; and MZ Runyan [Tiffany].

On the production and technical side…. the set design by Marco De Leon (FB) worked reasonably well in portraying a timeshare office, given intimate theatre budgets. I had only two notes with respect to it. First, the backstage access to the restroom needed better camouflage,  as seeing either the door or the ladder was disconcerting, if not distracting. Second, as noted earlier, the design could have established the bathroom a little better: just the top of a bathroom faucet and a “Lave su manos” sign was insufficient. The sound design by MZ Runyan was good, although the volume of the intermission music was a little loud. The lighting design by Yancey Dunham (FB) worked well to establish scene and mood; I’ll note that Leko that was illuminating the bathroom seemed to have a little flicker. Poster and postcard design was by MZ Runyan and must have been effective — it brought me in 😄. Program design was by Jon Mullich (FB), who I thank for including actor URLs (although there is a typo in Marco’s URL). Other production credits: Music Compilation – Maureen L. O’Connell; Music/Sound Editing – Edwin Stauss; Propmaster – Victoria Yvonne Martinez (FB); Production Advisor – JC Henning (FB); Production Stage Manager – MZ Runyan; Producers – Steven B. Green (FB) and Rochelle Perry (FB).

Timeshare – A Dark Comedy continues at The Eclectic Company Theatre (FB) through December 13. Tickets are available by calling (818) 508-3003 or visiting the Eclectic Company Ticketing Website. There are no discount tickets on LA Stage Tix, but may be available through Goldstar. I found the show enjoyable; you might as well.

Valley Village Discovery of Note: A block away from the theatre I discovered an intriguing music venue: Kulak’s Woodshed (FB), which appears to be a music venue for songwriter/artists to perform and have their performances webcast. In a sense it is like McCabes (FB) or Boulevard Music (FB), but smaller and seemingly for the more up-and-coming. It looks like someplace I’ll want to keep an eye on (as it is much closer, at least time-wise). It also seems to fit the spirit of Woodsongs (FB)’s  Woodsong Coffeehouse movement — they should connect there to get some additional publicity. On the other side of Eclectic Company is the wonderful Russian Dacha (FB) restaurant — we ate there before Uncle Vanya, and it was great to eat there again.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music 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: The last weekend of November sees us back at Zombie Joes Underground (FB) for the intriguingly-titled “The Jew That Saved Christmas“. December starts with High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) (running December 1-4), followed by “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on December 5. During the week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference sees us at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) for Theatre 68 (FB)’s production of Who Killed Santa?, which sounded so warped as to be either extremely funny or extremely stupid– should be fun to watch! The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December is held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the REP schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9, and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There are also “holds” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) for either January 2 or 16 (pending tickets on Goldstar) and “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) (pending confirmation we’re doing a mini-subscription). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, but February 28 has a hold for The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) (pending confirmation we’re doing a mini-subscription). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.


You know I love that organic cooking…

userpic=caduceusLet’s continue the trend of using lyrics in titles, although many of us will start singing just from the title line alone. Let’s see if this helps:

You know I love that organic cooking
I always ask for more
And they call me Mr Natural
On down to the health food store
I only eat good sea salt
White sugar don’t touch my lips
And my friends is always begging me
To take them on macrobiotic trips
Yes, they are

Tonight’s collection of news chum has to do with the intertwined topics of food and medicine, including some studies that indicate that some of what we thought might be completely wrong:

  • Oil Me Up. Oil Me Down. For years, what has been the mantra: Vegetable oil good. Butter bad. Grapeseed oil good for high heat. Olive oil best raw. Oh, and never never never go for that palm or coconut oil. Turns out, what we know about cooking with oils may be completely wrong. Based on some recent studies, scientists are now warning against the dangers of frying food in sunflower oil and corn oil over claims they release toxic chemicals linked to cancer. These leading scientists are now recommending food be fried in olive oil, coconut oil, butter or even lard.  Scientists found that heating up vegetable oils led to the release of high concentrations of chemicals called aldehydes, which have been linked to illnesses including cancer, heart disease and dementia. This goes along with some other research that is showing that whole milk may be much better for you than low-fat or skim.
  • GMO Salmon Safe. This week, the FDA approved consumption of genetically modified salmon. Now, I love salmon as much as the next guy, but even this gave me pause. Do I want to eat it? Turns out, genetically modified salmon appears actually to be safe to eat. The article goes through a number of the fears, including the complaint that it endangers consumers’ “personal health,” that it “could cause human allergies,” and that it’s been approved based on “insufficient safety testing.” In the case of GE plants, these scary what-if arguments are unfalsifiable, based on speculation about chemical properties and ever-expanding demands for longer study periods and bigger samples. The GE salmon was initially submitted for FDA approval 20 years ago. The agency declared it safe in 2010 and then spent another five years reviewing objections. Thursday’s statement says the FDA has concluded that the salmon is “safe to eat” and is “as nutritious as food from other non-GE Atlantic salmon.” It also says the genetic change is “safe for the fish itself.” There are loads of links in the Slate article, so decide for yourself.
  • Overweight Bad? Here’s another study of interest that shows that being moderately overweight may not be as bad for your health as once thought. I’ll emphasize moderately. Being overweight is now believed to help protect patients with an increasingly long list of medical problems, including pneumonia, burns, stroke, cancer, hypertension, and heart disease. Researchers who have tried to show that the paradox is based on faulty data or reasoning have largely come up short. And while scientists do not yet agree on what the paradox means for health, most accept the evidence behind it. “It’s been shown consistently enough in different disease states,” says Gregg Fonarow, a cardiology researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. They aren’t sure why.  My thoughts: it isn’t being overweight — it is really that we’re miscalculating what a healthy weight is. In fact, it could very well be that, just as in the next item, what is a healthy over- or under-weight value may vary by the individual.
  • Diets are Individualistic.  It turns out that what may be the best diet for one may not be the best diet for another. Researchers Eran Elinav and Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science have just published the results of a large, comprehensive study in the journal Cell that found people can metabolize the exact same foods in very different ways. What this means is that a healthy diet for one person may not be healthy for another person. Rather than recommend a cookie-cutter solution to weight problems, the researchers say, doctors could be more effective by recommending a personalized nutrition plan to a patient, based on the way that patient metabolizes certain foods.  Again, this doesn’t surprise me: obesity and health is increasingly being shown to be dependent on  our individual gut biome, which we’ve been systematically destroying.
  • Bed May Be Bad. We start to move away from the food a bit now. Here’s an article on a study that sleeping in (as you do on the weekends) may be bad for you. Disruptions to routine sleeping patterns can increase the danger for developing metabolic diseases for example diabetes and heart disease, according to a brand new study. New research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh demonstrates that societal jetlag as basic as getting up late may also be bad for health. Social jetlag refers to a mismatch between an individual ‘s socially-imposed sleep program and their natural circadian rhythm. Researchers said societal jetlag is understood to relate to obesity and other cardiovascular conditions, yet the connection to healthy individuals is fresh. Doesn’t surprise me at all: I tend to get less migraines if I keep my sleep cycle regular.
  • Potential New Migraine Preventative. Scientists may have finally come up with an effective migraine preventative. This is wonderful news. We’ve started to have drugs that can stop an attack in progress. Prevention? We’ve adapted blood pressure drugs (which I use), depression medications, epilepsy meds, and even Botox to try to prevent them. It doesn’t always work (I know I go through periods where I’ve got light migraines almost every other day). However, neurologists believe they have identified a hypersensitive nerve system that triggers the pain and are in the final stages of testing medicines that soothe its overly active cells. These are the first ever drugs specifically designed to prevent the crippling headaches before they start, and they could be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next year. If they deliver on the promise they have shown in studies conducted so far, which have involved around 1,300 patients, millions of headaches may never happen. The work focuses on the trigeminal nerve system, long known to be the brain’s primary pain pathway. Studies in animals indicated that in branches of the nerve that exit from the back of the brain and wrap around various parts of the face and head, overactive cells would respond to typically benign lights, sounds and smells by releasing chemicals that transmit pain signals and cause migraine. The heightened sensitivity of these cells may be inherited; 80 percent of migraine sufferers have a family history of the disorder. This makes sense to me: when my migraines started, I could touch near my nose and feel it around to the back of my neck — in other words, the trigeminal nerve was over-sensitive.
  • Addressing Blood Pressure. Another concern of mine is blood pressure. I’m on a combination of meds to get it down, but I’m still routinely in the 140-130/90-80 range, and they now want a target of under 120/80. Here’s a great article I ran across on other things to do to lower blood pressure. I’m trying to lose weight and exercise, but it is hard when you’re getting home at 5:30p and want to have dinner by 8pm.
  • The Brain GPS. I’ve always said that everyone is experts in remembering something, and my particular expertise is spatial and temporal. I can remember the layout of rooms I haven’t been in for 20 years. I have maps in my head and innately know where I am (except in the twisty maze of roads near John Wayne Airport). I invariably come back in the kitchen when there is just 10 seconds on the timer. Turns out: there is a brain GPS, and it helps with our memories. A recent animal study found that special brain cells that track an animal’s location also can track time and distance. This could explain how rat and human brains are able to organize memories according to where and when an event occurred. The cells, called grid cells, appear to be “laying down the sequence of space and time that provide a framework for events that are unfolding,” says Howard Eichenbaum, an author of the study and director of the Center for Memory and Brain at Boston University.

Going back to the song, have you figured it out yet. Perhaps some more will help:

Oh, but at night I stake out my strong box
That I keep under lock and key
And I take it off to my closet
Where nobody else can see
I open that door so slowly
Take a peek up north and south
Then I pull out a Hostess Twinkie
And I pop it in my mouth
Yeah, in the daytime I’m Mr Natural
Just as healthy as I can be
But at night I’m a junk food junkie
Good lord have pity on me

Speaking of Junk Food, how about a run for the border. In this case, I’m talking a specific Taco Bell, “Numero Uno”, which was saved from demolition and moved last night from Downey to Irvine. That is south of the border. Well, at least south of the Orange Curtain.


Swabbing the Rest of the Deck

userpic=pirateNow, mates, time to swab the rest of the deck. The cookee said that he couldn’t use these tasty chunks in the stew — they just didn’t blend right. He says we should throw them overboard:

Music: Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County (2010 Studio Cast):Brotherly Love” (Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey)