A Perfectly Lovely / Perfectly Awful / Awfully Perfect Surprise

Murder for Two (Geffen)userpic=theatre_aclassactLast August, when we saw Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Old Globe, I picked up a copy of the cast album of the new musical Murder for Two. I had heard good things about the musical, although it had never been in Los Angeles (it had, however, been in San Diego). I took a listen, and it sounded like a hoot. Thus, when I learned that it was coming to the Geffen Playhouse (FB), I put a hold date on the calendar and started to watch for tickets. When they came out (this was before the show extended and everything went up on Goldstar), I got two tickets for the day with the best seats: Friday, July 3rd. Thus began the first double-header theatre weekend for July.

Last night saw us wandering Westwood Village, which was a pitiful sight (made the worse by an unexpected migraine (as if they are ever “expected”)). Westwood is a shadow of what it was when I went to UCLA: greed, rising rents, and the wrong mix of stores have left empty storefronts, empty streets, and a lack of character. But there is one thing that stays the same in Westwood — the Westwood Playhouse. Oh, right, it’s now the Geffen Playhouse (FB), and they added a second theatre, the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre. Well, at least the building and the quality are the same. We don’t go to the Geffen often — they don’t always discount shows until the last minute, and their standard prices are typically out of my comfort zone. A suitably unique show — such as Murder for Two — can overcome that threshhold.

Here’s why I’m mentioning all this: Last night I’m sitting in seats I paid much more than usual for, at a show I really wanted to see, dealing with a stubborn migraine headache that didn’t want to go away, … and … this show was funny enough to make me forget about my headache for 80-85 minutes (it was a 95 minute show, no intermission). That’s a compliment. Although it started a little show, it rapidly ramped up and kept going so fast that I was able to ignore the pain in my head.

The basic story for Murder for Two is nothing new or unusual — especially if you watch CBS crime procedurals. A murder occurs in the first few minutes. A green officer is sent to secure the scene for the detectives, and while waiting, he decides to investigate. After questioning everyone, he eventually figures out the murderer. The plot of how many murder mysteries? What’s special about Murder for Two is the execution. That didn’t come out right. Perhaps I should explain.

The cast of Murder for Two consists of… two. Brett Ryback (FB) plays Marcus, the police officer investigating the murder. Jeff Blumenkrantz (FB) plays every other role: including the dozens of suspects and other officers. He is constantly switching personas with nothing more than a simple prop, mannerism, or voice. While doing all of this, the two actors are also accompanying themselves on the piano. This results in a roller coaster ride where Blumenkratz keeps changing the direction of the coaster until you are never quite sure who he is, and the audience (and Rybeck) has to keep up. Now, add to this the fact that the two actors seem to be having fun with the roles, and seemingly delight in trying to crack each other up as well.

The story for Murder For Two (book by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair (FB); music by Joe Kinosian (FB); lyrics by Kellen Blair (FB)), as noted earlier, is an homage to so many locked-room murder mysteries. You have a bunch of suspects in the room. You know one of them did it. You start questioning them one by one. The good thing in Murder for Two is that they didn’t (at least to my discernment — but then again, my head hurt) didn’t telegraph the murderer. You do, of course, know the case will be solved by the good guy, but that’s a given in any story like this. The accompanying music was energetic and funny, and a number of songs were easily earworm material (particularly “A Perfectly Lovely Surprise” and “Protocol Says”); however, none of the songs reached standard level (meaning they can come out of the show and be standards on their own). The primary reason for this was that the music did exactly what it was supposed to do: be integral to the story and be closely tied to the characters.

Let’s look at the pieces we have so far: a very funny book, very entertaining music, and strong comic performances. However, we still can’t render a verdict yet. What are we missing? After all, my wife was much more lukewarm about the show than I — she thought the first fifteen minutes or so dragged; the humor wasn’t quite her thing.

Let’s look at the musical performance, which brings us back to Brett Ryback (FB) and Jeff Blumenkrantz (FB). Both are excellent piano players, and have a style reminiscent of Chico Marx in their ability to exploit the piano for comic effects. This is seen both in the opening of the show (where they fight over the piano) and in the closing bows, where they do a wonderfully comic piano encore.

But the last piece of the puzzle is a technical piece. This show depends on the very clever scenic design of Beowulf Boritt (FB), the sound design of Jill BC Du Boff (FB), the lighting design of Jason Lyons (FB), and the costume design of Andrea Lauer (FB). You get an idea of the cleverness of the scenic design in the opening scenes where the stage is set (so to speak) with the lighting projection from the junk of the stage, but the real cleverness of the scenic design reveals itself in the end. The cleverness of the sound design reveals itself throughout in the excellent and well timed sound effects (that they time so perfectly at all is a testament to the sound design and the board operators). Lighting is similar — it is used in clever ways to illuminate the mood and how it changes in a split second. The last clever design aspects were the costumes: the ability to use small costume aspects or props to change the nature of characters was astounding.

Bringing this all together was the talents of the director, Scott Schwartz (FB); the music director, David Caldwell; the choreographer, Wendy Seyb (FB); and the production stage manager, Cate Cundiff (FB). They got the thankless job of corralling all this craziness, of getting the split second timing required for this farce down, of ensuring that everything was precisely where and when it needed to be. Remaining show credits are: Casting – Calleri Casting (FB); Production Supervisor – Production Core (FB); Understudies – Matthew Wrather (FB) [for Marcus]; John Wascavage (FB) [for the Suspects]; Zach Spound (FB) [for the Suspects].

We’ve followed protocol: we’ve looked at the story, the music, the performances, the technical, and the direction. We’ve considered all the players. The verdict: if you like well-timed and well-performed farcical comedy with silly performances, you’ll like Murder for Two (FB) at the Geffen Playhouse (FB). Luckily, the show — which had been scheduled to close on July 12 — has been extended to August 2. The bad news is that Jeff Blumenkrantz (FB) will be on leave from the show from 7/10-23.   Tickets are available through the Geffen Box Office; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. 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: July is a month of double-headers. Today, our double-header continues with “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), where we get to brave the big 4th of July Block Party at Grand Park (FB). Next weekend is another double: On Friday night, July 10th, we’re seeing Colin Mitchell‘s show Madness, Murder Mayhem: Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Reimagined at Zombie Joes Underground Theatre (FB); Saturday July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.


A Heapin’ Pot of…

Observation StewNo, I’m not talking about the proposal from AEA. Rather, over the last two weeks I’ve accumulated a lot of links, none of which I can coherently theme. So we’re going to do a “refrigerator soup” of links. Let’s dig in…

  • Doing Right in Alabama. Alabama has been in the news of late, both for the anniversary of what happened in Selma, and for the actions of the Supreme Court of Alabama with respect to Gay Marriage. Gay Marriage is one of the fronts of today’s civil rights battles, and yet again in Alabama a synagogue is leading the way. Here’s an interesting story about a Reform synagogue in Alabama that opened its doors to any gay marriage when the courthouses refused, and when the churches refused.
  • What is Blue? We’ve all heard about a certain dress that has been in the news. The debate has been about color, and color is an interesting thing. We talk about colors (and sounds) as if they are fixed things, when in reality they are just perceptions — there is no guarantee that what I think of as “green” is the same thing you think of as “green”. What is even more interesting is how language shapes color. Here’s an interesting article on that: We didn’t have “blue” until modern times. The notion is that we didn’t have a word for “blue” until recently, and without the word, it wasn’t perceived as a distinct color at all. Don’t believe me? What color is light in the UV range? Can you name the different shades of UV light? Does something exist if you can’t name it?
  • CSI:Cyber? Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down? A new show premiered last week: CSI:Cyber. I watched it, and I wasn’t that impressed. I never got into CSI:NY or CSI:Miami — they were overly focused on style, and lost the focus on story and substance. I felt the same way with CSI:Cyber — all style, and the substance was technically wrong. I prefer Scorpion if I want a technical non-realistic procedural. But who am I to talk? Here is what 10 other real cybersecurity experts think about CSI:Cyber.
  • What We Don’t Know, Gwyneth Paltrow. For all we think we know about the body, we really don’t know anything. We all know what we think of as bodily organs, without realizing that our skin is an organ, our blood is essentially an organ, and our vascular system is an organ. We worried about germs and tried to become sterile, and are the worse off for it because of our microbiomes (which probably have a greater role in obesity than we realized). Here’s an interesting article on another organ: the fascia. Gwyneth Paltrow brought this to our attention, and although she got the science wrong, she got the concept right — and this yet another organ we missed, and one that may be resposible for a lot of our chronic pains.
  • New Treatment for Migraines. I’m a migraine sufferer. When I’m dealing with a sequence of migraines, I’ll grab at anything. Last time I was in a sequence, I noticed this article about a new migraine treatment under study — image-guided, intranasal sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) blocks. I’ve always thought there was a connection to the sinuses. Quite interesting, and potentially promising.
  • Printing Yiddish. My daughter is a Yiddish scholar; as a result, articles about Yiddish catch my eye. Here’s an interesting article about a dying breed: a yiddish printer who still uses hot lead. This printer rescues old Yiddish letterpresses and uses them to print Yiddish books. You’re probably thinking that printing is printing. But Yiddish printing is more complex: “For the Forverts, and other Yiddish printers, the challenge was to set up the type right to left from a machine designed to go the other way. They did this by tricking out the keyboards and producing fonts that had notches in the right side rather than the left, which was standard. This was effective, but meant that no normal linotype could use them. So, during the drastic linotype cull of the 1970s, Yiddish fonts were the first victims because they were unusable in almost any machine that remained alive.”
  • Saving the Skymall. One last pair of articles for this serving. We’ve talked about saving the printers for a dying language. How about a dying catalog. Here are two articles on Skymall. The first looks at the company that made all of those offbeat products that the catalog made famous. These are the folks that came up with the garden Yeti. Design Toscano releases 300 to 400 items a year, a huge portion of which are designed from scratch by the company’s creative director. One of their main outlets was the Skymall, which is going away. But is it? It looks like Skymall is coming back. ScottVest, a former SkyMall advertiser, has plans to resurrect the company, but with a different business model. “We’re going to include items in the magazine that people actually want to buy”. What a novel concept?!? Of course, we all know that wasn’t the reason Skymall really died.  It was obsolecence of the catalog model. Or was it corporate raiders. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be selling things people didn’t want to buy.



Psst. It’s a Heist. Let’s Sing About It.

Operaworks - The Heistuserpic=ucla-csunTwo or so years ago, we discovered a really interesting program at CSUN. It is called Operaworks, and it’s goal is to make better Opera singers. The advanced artist program, which just concluded, has a slightly different specific goal: to teach opera singers how to “be” on stage. In their training, opera singers are taught to stand and sing in a formalized position. But to be effective in opera, they need to learn how to act — how to move, how to interact with others, how to tell stories with their movements, how to create personas that go beyond the areas. Each year in this program they bring together 30 or so graduate or newly performing singers. They come up with a theme, personas, and then select arias from their repertoires that might fit. They then improvise these areas into a through story, present two performances, and its gone for the year.

Today we saw the second performance. Sorry, you missed it. Try again next year.

This year’s performance was called “The Heist”. It was based on the story of an imaginary crime family called the Mezzos. I certainly won’t be able to tell you the full story, because I simply didn’t catch it all. But let’s try (and note that I’m doing this from memory, and was a bit drowsy from my migraine meds during the first act).

The first act was called “The Family Meeting”. It was essentially a cocktail party where different members of the Mezzo family were interacting. These included Giovanni Mezzo and his wife Holly. After a heist went wrong, Giovanni has gone into hiding. Holly is the mother of Amber Rose, Angela, Annie, Ricardo, and adopted son Angky. Annie lives in the bottle and is a hopeless drunk; AmberRose is the daddy’s girl; Angela is the caretaker of the family; Ricardo is the oldest son, trying to take his father’s place; and Angky, the adopted son who is betrothed to Anastasia, part of the family that killed Giovanni’s father. Also at the party is Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti, widow of Giacomo Carminotti and younger sister of Holly. Rebecca is the mother of Tara, who on her last job killed a bank teller and is suffering from PTSD. Also at the party is Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo, Ricardo’s wife; Baby, who got caught up in the family; and Mark Markson, the family legal counsel and sometimes pianist. As the party goes on, we move from character to character seeing the interplay; the party concludes with the announcement that there is going to be one last heist.

Arias in Act One were: Adele’s Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Annie Sherman as Annie Mezzo]; Czàrdàs (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Rebecca Peterson as Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti]; O wär ich schon (Fidelio | Ludwig van Beethoven) [Anastasia Malliaras as Anastasia Basso]; The Tower Aria (The Turn of the Screw | Benjamin Britten) [Tara Morrow as Tara Mezzo-Carminotti];  La Promessa (Giacchino Rossini) [Lauren Corcoran as Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo]; Dearest Mama (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Cristina Foster as Baby]; Una Furtiva Lagrima (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti) [Ricardo Mota as Ricardo Mezzo]; Steal Me, Sweet Thief (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angela De Venuto as Angela Mezzo]; When The Air Sings of Summer (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angky Budiardjono as Angky Mezzo]; Don’t Say a Word (Dead Man Walking | Jake Heggie) [Holly Seebach as Holly Mezzo]; and I Go To Him (The Rake’s Progress | Igor Stravinsky) [AmberRose Dische as AmberRose Mezzo]. Mark Robson was at the piano.

The memorable performance in Act One was Annie Sherman as the drunk Annie Mezzo — she was just a delight to watch through the entire act, both as the drunk and how she interacted with others.

Act Two is the actual heist, and takes place at the Bank. The characters we meet here are Erin Desjardins, a student about to graduate from high school and her French cousin, Rachelle Desjardins; Manon Elias, a Kim Kardashian-type at the bank with her boyfriend, commercial real estate giant Andrew Gold. Mary Silverstein, the bank manager and Magdaline Small, the bank teller;  Katherine Sullivan, a high-school English teacher; Noel Strand and Sean Faust, the bank guards; Kelly the bank heist manager and her new robber Crystal; and Karlos Keys, a security guard who enjoys playing piano more. Most of the act is the interaction between the characters. When the heist occurs, the manager is forced to open the silver vault. Katherine organizes the guard and the others to overpower the watchman, and they storm the vault. During the melee, Samantha Mezzo is shot.

Arias in Act Two were Laurie’s Song (The Tender Land | Aaron Copland) [Erin White as Erin Desjardins]; O Mio Babbino (Gianni Schicchi | Giacomo Puccini) [Rahel Moore as Manon Elias]; En Fermant Les Yeux (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Andrew Zimmerman as Andrew Gold]; Nun Eilt Herbei (The Merry Wives of Windsor | Otto Nicolai) [Kelly Rubinsohn as Kelly]; Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen (Guiditta | Franz Lehar) [Crystal Kim as Crystal]; Je Suis Encor (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Rachel Rosenberg as Rachelle Desjardins]; Come Now a Roundel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Benjamin Britten) [Magdaline Small as Magdaline Small]; The Silver Aria (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Mary Harrod as Mary Silverstein]; Prendi, Per Me (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti); and Chacun Le Sait (La Fille Du Régiment | Gaetano Donizetti) [Katherine Sullivan as Katherine Sullivan]. Pianists were Nola Strand and Kelly Horsted.

Notable performances in Act Two were Crystal as the naive thief and Erin White with her opening song. My wife liked the clueless bank manager (Mary Harrod) and Rahel Moore as the golddigger.

Act Three takes place at the hospital afterwards. The characters we meet here include the hospital personnel: Sangeetha Ekambaram the head nurse; Brenna Johnson, an RN; her husband Dr. Joe Johnson; and Eric Zingermann, the intake clerk who dreams of a bigger career on the concert stage. We also meet Sarah Westbrook, a gold-digging bored housewife who has secret assignations with Dr. Joe; Megan, a local hypochondriac; Alice Beurre a new bride and her maid of honor, Beth; Marina, the new clown doctor, and Tascha, whose father was injured picking strawberries. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Samantha Mezzo, who was shot in the heist. This act is mostly the interactions between the characters, concluding with Samantha’s death.

Arias in Act Three were: Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Hamlet | Ambroise Thomas) [Megan Supina as Megan]; O Mon Fernand / Kommit Ein Schlanker (La Favorite | Gaetano Donizetti) / (Der Freischütz | Carl Maria von Weber) [Alice Chung as Alice Beurre / Elizabeth Sterling as Beth]; Je Veux Vivre (Roméo Et Juliette | Charles Gounod) [Sangeetha Ekambaram as Sangeetha Ekambaram]; Pauline’s Aria (Pique Dame | Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky) [Marina Kesler as Marina]; Madamina, Il Catalogo é questo (Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart) [Brent Hetherington as Dr. Joe Johnson]; Svegliatevi Nei Core [Giulio Cesare | George Frederick Händel) [Tascha Anderson as Tascha]; Ouvre Ton Coeur (Georges Bizet) [Sarah Dudley as Sara Westbrook]; Things Change, Jo (Little Women | Mark Adamo) [Brenna Casey as Brenna Johnson]; and Emily’s Aria (Our Town | Ned Rorem) [Samantha Lax as Samantha Mezzo]. Eric Sedgwick was the pianist.

Notable performances in Act Three were Megan as the hypochondriac. My wife liked Brenna Casey.

Turning to the technical side, umm, well they didn’t say much. Sean Dennehy was the Stage Director, Julia Aks was the Assistant Stage Director, and Ann Baltz as the Artistic Director.

Look for the next Operaworks production in July 2015. You can sign up for their mailing list at http://www.operaworks.org/.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. 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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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.


Solving Problems

userpic=mad-scientistThis belated lunchtime news chum post looks at some recent (or at least new to me) articles about solving problems:

  • The Engineer Shortage. You hear everyone say there is a shortage of engineers, and we need fewer liberal arts majors and artists, and more technicians. Well that’s just wrong thinking. The world needs its artists as well.
  • Migraines. Headaches are a pain. I know. I get them. So I read with interest how the FDA has approved a TENS-headband to reduce the frequency of migraines. The device uses a self-adhesive electrode to apply electrical current to the skin, which can be felt as a tingling sensation. The current stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for facial sensations and has been linked to migraines. I do know that, at least for my headaches, one measure is the sensitivity of that nerve — I can just lightly touch the area where the top of my nose meets my eye socket, and if I’m headachy, it is much more sensitive. I’d be willing to give this device a try.
  • A Privilege to Pee. San Francisco is addressing a big problem at one of their parks with the pPod, which has no relation to the iPod. The pPod is a custom-made, open-air urinal that San Francisco is installing at Dolores Park to help deal with the hordes of male hipster inebriants that descend on the popular Mission spot on weekends. It is a 7-foot-tall, semi-cylinder mesh screen surrounding a concrete pad and drain that empties into the sewer system. The pPod will be open at the back for easy wheelchair access – with no doors or locks.



Heading It Off

userpic=headacheI’ve written before, numerous times, about how I’m a migraine sufferer. I’m lucky that my migraines are not severe; they are just dull and annoying. I rarely get any aura; my tell is my eye watering and a single-sided headache. Thankfully, I don’t usually need to hide in a dark room, away from stimuli, curled in a ball as many sufferers do. I can usually continue to work, perhaps at a degraded level, through them. They are, however, frequent and annoying.

My current regime uses a beta blocker (propranolol) and a muscle relaxant (tizanidine) as preventatives, and rizatriptan as my abortive. When I saw my neurologist a few weeks ago, she suggested adding another abortive to the mix: an old-line tricyclic antidepressant. They evidently have an off-label use to help block pain receptors. She recommended either nortriptyline or amitriptyline. I indicated I would research them, because I always have a concern of the effect of any medication on my ability to drive the vanpool, and on my mental acuity (which I need for my job). That’s a primary reason why I’ve never considered either topiramate (Topamax) or divalproex sodium (Depakote) as preventatives — both have significant impacts on mental alertness. Propranolol does just fine, and has the additional side effect of helping keep my blood pressure lower.

This week, I’m in a headache cycle (nearly daily, vs. weekly), and so this morning I reviewed the side effects of both nortriptyline and amitriptyline. Both can make one drowsy, and each has potential side effects that aren’t appealing. I’ve also looked at the reviews for each as a migraine preventative (N, A). Both have a lot of positive reviews. Still, I’m hesitant about anything that monkeys with brain chemistry. So, on the off chance anyone reading this has used them, I’d like to know your experiences. This will serve as input to deciding whether to just keep with what I’m doing, or to add one of these.



My Life as a Barometer

I haven’t done an update on my migraines in a while, so I figured one was due. Part of this was prompted by an interesting article I saw in the papers today–more on that later.

Basically, my headaches have been about the same in intensity, but slightly greater in frequency. If you don’t remember, I tend to get dull headaches on one side: no sensitivity to light or aura, but my eye waters and occasionally they get really bad. For a while I had them somewhat under control, where under control means a light headache every 2-3 weeks.

Recently (read over the summer) they had gotten more frequent, to the point of a light headache every couple of days, or when I was lucky, one a week. Not debilitating, but more distracting. I had noticed that they were worse on nights I had trouble sleeping. On the theory that sleep was related, I had a sleep study done. It showed that I have apnea… and so, as of Saturday night, I have a CPAP machine. Hopefully, once I get used to that, the frequency of headaches will go back down.

What actually prompted this post was an article about a women with 20 year headaches, which they just cured. Her symptoms for her almost continuous headache: “…a headache pretty much every day, and it just varied in severity – whether it was kind of a low-key one that I walked around with or more intrusive…”. The specific symptoms? Dull pain on one side of the head, mixed with periods of severe, shooting pain, eye-lid droop, watery eye and reddening of the eye on that side, and a stuffy nose. It turns out the condition is called Hemicrania continua, and is easily treatable by a well-known strong NSAID, indomethacin.

Now, I have no idea whether this would apply to me. After all, the Wikipedia page indicates the headache is continuous (which mine isn’t)… although the WebMD page notes “Some patients will have these headaches steadily for months or years. In others, the pain will go away for weeks or months.” The more significant factor is noted on the Wikipedia page: “The factor that allows hemicrania continua and its exacerbations to be differentiated from migraine and cluster headache is that hemicrania continua is completely responsive to indomethacin. Triptans and other abortive medications do not affect hemicrania continua.” My headaches do respond to Triptans.

Still, I’m printing a copy of the article, and will ask the neurologist the next time I visit her. It can never hurt to ask.


Oh, My Aching Head

For a change, I have some lunchtime news chum to share–all relating to migraine headaches:

  • Preventing Migraines. New guidelines have been issued regarding using drugs as migraine preventatives. To my eye, there’s not much new here, except perhaps some new drugs. I’ve known for a while that Topamax, Depakote, and propranolol can work as preventatives; I’ve avoided the first two because they can also slow down your thinking processes (Topamax is nicknamed Dopamax for a reason). Still, the list appears to contain some new recommendations. It doesn’t mention that muscle relaxants may also be useful. I know, with respect to migraines, I’m one of the lucky ones: I don’t get aura (only rarely), I don’t have light sensitivity, and I don’t have to go hide in a dark room (well, only very rarely). However, mine are hemispherical (just on one side) and frequent (about every 2-3 weeks).
  • Brain Freeze. An interesting study has shown a connection between brain freeze and migraines. Brain freeze occurs as the blood vessels going to the brain dilate and constrict in order to prevent cold blood from going to the brain; this sensitivity to this is the reason that migraine sufferers are more likely to get brain freeze.
  • Migraines and Racism. Here’s another interesting study. As I noted above, one of the migraine preventatives is propranolol (it is also a common treatment for high blood pressure). A recent study has shown that people who take propranolol are less likely to be racist. A new Oxford University research study found that Propranolol, which works to combat high blood pressure, anxiety, migraines, and a number of heart ailments, affects the same part of the central nervous system that regulates subconscious attitudes on race.

Music: Presumed Innocent (Marcia Ball): You Make Me Happy