Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Great Actor Writes about a Great Writer - Review of "Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World" by Simon Callow

This year of 2012 marks the Bicentennial celebration of Charles Dickens' birth. Appropriately enough, the literary world has sent forth a torrent of new works about Dickens. Included among these new works early this year was "Becoming Dickens" by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, which I reviewed earlier. Simon Callow, one of Britain's finest actors, is almost apologetic in offering his own contribution to the growing oeuvre of Dickens commentaries. He need not have been apologetic at all. His focus on the theatricality of Dickens' writing and his life is a welcome addition to the collected tributes, throwing a new kind of light on the man and his legacy.

Callow has spent decades marinating himself in every aspect of Dickens. For several years, he has been performing a one man show entitled "The Mystery of Charles Dickens." I had the privilege of seeing him perform this play just a few weeks ago in London. That performance served as a wonderful prologue to this book, "Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World."

In much the same way that Dickens' memorable characters leap off of the page directly into the reader's heart and imagination, so does Dickens leap off the pages of Callow's thoughtful treatise. He captures every nuance of the troubled - nay, haunted - genius of the man, enabling the reader to enter into the many worlds that Dickens inhabited and walked through in his short lifetime.

The reports of the theatrical Readings - the first ever by a famous author - in Britain and in America, are high points of the book. In his own stage interpretation, Callow reprises excerpts from the Readings to great effect, and he captures them on these pages vividly.

In much the same way that the literary world was moved to paroxysms of weeping in learning of the death of Little Nell in "The Old Curiosity Shop," Callow's description of Dickens' death moved me to tears - as if I had just learned of the passing of a cherished friend.

One of the subtle gifts that Callow renders in this book is to shine a light upon some of the lesser known Christmas stories. He pointed the way for me to discover and to read the remarkable "Dr. Marigold."

If you love Dickens (why would you be reading this review if you do not?), you will love this elegant and eloquent tribute to his intimate association with the theatre and theatricality.



A Ghoulish Delight - Go See Happy Medium Theatre's "The Night of the Living Dead" Tonight

If you have not yet solidified your plans for how to spend this Halloween evening, then arouse yourself from the dead and go see Happy Medium Theatre's staged reading of "The Night of the Living Dead."  It is a ghoulish delight.  "Staged reading" usually signifies actors standing or sitting statically on stage with scripts in hand.  Such  is not the case with this performance.  The actors are moving all over the space, acting out their parts with equal measures of delight and camp.  Over-the-top performances are de rigeur  for this fun romp through the resurrected classic story.  In last night's performance, the cast members were having the time of their lives, improvising around the sudden thunder storm that raged outside the windows of the Factory Theatre - nature attuning itself to the violence being portrayed within the dusty brick walls of the old piano factory.  It felt like a "Rocky Horror" event, with audience members yelling out at the cast and commenting on the action.

Broadway's smash hit, Newsies, has a beloved character known as "Crutchie."  Not to be outdone, this production of "Night of the Living Dead" has its own "Crutchie," as played by Chrishtian Mancinas-Garcia.  There is wonderful "mad scientist" monologue by Devon Scalisi, clearly inspired by Peter Seller's in "Dr. Stangelove."  Michael Underhill's Police Chief, with undertones of Casey Affleck's South Boston accent, is worth the price of admission.  Joey C. Pelletier is his usual arch and amusing self in several roles - zombie, newscaster, one man Greek chorus.

This is fun stuff - a great way to spend All Hallows Eve at the theatre.  If you come in costume - all the better.

Happy Medium Theatre proudly presents a special Halloween treat: 

The Night of the Living Dead (A Staged Reading)

Starring: Elizabeth Battey, Deirdre Benson, Mikey DiLoreto, Terrence Patrick Haddad, Robyn Linden, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, Lesley Anne Moreau, Bob Mussett, Joey C. Pelletier, Devon Scalisi, and Michael Underhill

The Night of the Living Dead: Chaos descends upon the world as the brains of the recently deceased become inexplicably reanimated, causing the dead to rise and feed on human flesh. Speculation rests on a radiation-covered NASA satellite returning from Venus, but it only remains a speculation. Anyone who dies during the crisis of causes unrelated to brain trauma will return as a flesh-eating zombie, including anyone who has been bitten by a zombie. The only way to destroy the zombies is to destroy the brain. As the catastrophe unfolds, a young woman (Robyn Linden) visiting her father's grave takes refuge in a nearby farmhouse, where she is met by a man (Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia) who protects her and barricades them inside. They both later discover people hiding in the basement, and they each attempt to cope with the situation. Their only hope rests on getting some gasoline from a nearby pump into a truck that is running on empty, but this requires braving the hordes of ravenous walking corpses outside. When they finally put their plans into action, panic and personal tensions only add to the terror as they try to survive.

A suggested donation of $3 to $5 will gain our victims entry to the reading...and maybe a little bit of wine too! To reserve a seat, email Mikey DiLoreto at

The Factory Theatre/Sloan Community Room (Upstairs from the Theatre)


Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of "The Big Truck That Went By - How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster" by Jonathan M. Katz

Jonathan M. Katz makes a major contribution to the growing library of works describing Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010.  The author, the only American journalist permanently assigned to Haiti when the earthquake hit, tells the story from the vantage point of a participant observer.  The house where he lived in Petionville was destroyed, and he barely escaped with his friend Even.  So Katz tells his own tale as well as the tales of those he knew and came to know over the next year.

It strikes me that in telling this story, the author must have found it both painful and therapeutic to recall the personal and national losses that accumulated once the earth stopped moving.  Having lived in Haiti myself in the 1970's, and having returned three times since the earthquake, I found Katz's descriptions and conclusions accurate, fair and - as is almost always the case when Haiti is the topic of conversation - disappointing and discouraging.  Haiti seems to bring out the worst of the "law of unintended consequence" on the part of those from outside of Haiti who promise to help.  The help is either not forthcoming, or tied up in so much red tape that the aid seldom makes it to the level of the Haiti people so in need of opportunity to make a safe and sustainable life for themselves.

With journalistic precision and deep personal insight, the author chronicles the string of failures to respond to the opportunities after the earthquake to "build Haiti back better."  Political intrigue, cover-ups by the UN and other NGO's when the cholera epidemic killed thousands of Haitians, the circus that surrounded the election to replace President Preval are all themes that weave themselves through this book.  I have seen the conditions in Petionville and the settler camps, and the descriptions and explanations that Katz offers are right on the money.  Thankfully, he has chosen to abandon any attempt at journalistic objectivity.  His love for Haiti and its people, and his frustration over their chronic condition, comes through loud and clear in this memoir.  As he describes his own struggle with PTSD, his decision to extend his stay in Haiti for a year after the earthquake seems even more noble.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Katz met a young woman with whom he now lives in Brooklyn.  In describing a phone conversation with Claire, he captures the essence of what it means to love Haiti:

"But I knew, in the first words she spoke when I picked up the phone, that no matter the particulars, there was something inside both of us that had just come together, deep and true.  They were words you can truly understand only when you realize that to love Haiti is to come away bruised; that loving Haiti is to love something that may not even love itself, but that it's still love after all."  (Page 196)

Truer words were never spoken.

If you love Haiti - or would like to have a better understanding of this special and enigmatic place, then this book is for you.  I hope to meet Mr. Katz in Haiti someday to compare stories.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Review of "The Storyteling Animal - How Stories Make Us Human" by Jonathan Gottschall

I am a huge believer in the power of story as the most impactful form of communication.  Jonathan Gottshall's book, subtitled "How Stories Make Us Human," is a wonderful addition to the body of work that examines the art of storytelling.  In a sense, the author is a pioneer, offering for the first time a unified theory of storytelling, explaining why human beings are hard-wired to tell and listen to stories in all of their forms - oral tradition, books, films, plays, myths, dreams, children's games, fairy tales and video games.  Gottschall presents a compelling case for the fact that stories help us, as human beings, navigate life's complexities in much the same way that pilots learn to anticipate airborne challenges through the use of flight simulators.

The book is a wonderful weaving together of art and science - neuroscience, evolutionary biology and psychology - to explain the strong hold that stories have over us.  Stories have the ability to change both our perception and our behavior.  It has been demonstrated experimentally that individuals who read fiction are more empathetic than those who do not.

If you have interest in stories and their telling, this is a book that needs to go to the top of your list.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Invaluable Resource for Kickstarter Campaigns: "The Kickstarter Handbook" by Don Steinberg

I am quite familiar with Kickstarter.  I have helped to fund several artistic projects, including a few albums.  So I was intrigued when I became aware of the new book, "The Kickstarter Handbook."  Don Steinberg has compiled a very useful and very user-friendly step-by-step guide to designing, launching and managing a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The pages are full of honest testimonials from those who have launched both successful and unsuccessful campaigns using Kickstarter.  I was pleased to see that the author quotes liberally from a project I was already very familiar with.  Documentary film maker Bill Lichtenstein maintains an office in the same building where I have my office, so I had followed with great interest his campaign to raise $104,000 for a film entitled "The American Revolution," documenting the history of Boston FM radio station WBCN.  Why that figure?  You can find WBCN at 104.0 on your FM dial!

This book is a "must read" for anyone who is serious about using Kickstarter appropriately and effectively.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review of "Click Moment" by Frans Johansson - Follow-up to "The Medici Effect"

Frans Johansson's watershed book, "The Medici Effect" changed my life.  It gave me categories and language to  understand what I already instinctively understood about intersectional thinking.  The book served as a springboard for many conversations with clients, as well as serving as the intellectual fodder for several leadership conferences I sponsored.  I was eager to see what Frans would come up with in his follow-up book.  I was not disappointed.  "The Click Moment" builds on the intellectual capital of "The Medici Effect" and offers copious examples of situations in which a company or an individual has seized a "click moment" opportunity in an unpredictable world.

In the chapter entitled "How to Create Click Moments," the author discusses the topic of "Luck" in impacting whether a person or an enterprise will achieve consistent success.  He cites the work of psychologist, Richard Wiseman.  "He was interested in whether people who considered themselves lucky behaved any differently from people who considered themselves unlucky. (It turns out that roughly 50 percent of us consider ourselves lucky, 14 percent unlucky,and the rest neither one.) . . . Wiseman learned that extreme conscientiousness can be a strong deterrent to getting lucky.  Conscientiousness is strongly associated with focused achievement.  It is the type of behavior that insures execution, but that also allows us to miss the great ideas, projects, improvements or connections that keep popping up around us.  Unfortunately, by rigidly pouring all of our effort into one approach, we miss out on the unexpected paths to success.  In this sense, it is quite possible to 'try too hard.'" (Page 119)

The tactical take away from these insights are the following four principles that the author explores in depth:

1) Take Your Eyes off of the Ball
2) Use Intersectional Thinking
3) Follow Your Curiosity
4) Reject the Predictable Path

"Similarly, each of us has our best chance of creating click moments by searching in fields, industries, and cultures that are different from our own - something I call intersectional thinking.  In 'The Medici Effect' I went into great detail about why these intersections can be so fruitful, but here I will simply say that diversity is the key to unleashing surprising and game-changing insights." (Page 122)

Johansson is building a very successful career - as an author, speaker and consultant - in teaching us and encouraging us to think differently so that we are well positioned to act differently and more effectively.  This latest book is his gift to those who are intellectually flexible enough to try out new ideas and practices.



Friday, October 19, 2012

Why Things Bounce Back - Review of "Resilience" by Andrew Zolli & Ann Marie Healy

I enjoy studying leaders and leadership.  I recently read that among the most desirable traits in successful CEO's is the ability to bounce back from defeat: resilience.  So, when I saw the title of Andew Zolli's (with Ann Marie Healy) new book, I jumped at the chance to read it.  I was not disappointed.

The book is a tour de force of accounts of individuals and systems that are able to bounce back from unavoidable and unexpected shocks.  The topics covered and the examples given range from biological and ecological systems to businesses to communications networks to individuals and communities.  By the end of the book, the authors have addressed with great effectiveness the question: "What causes one system to break down and another to rebound?"  The answers are necessarily complex, but can be summarized in the following way: "By encouraging adaptation, agility and cooperation, this new approach can not only help us weather disruptions, but also bring us to a different way of being in and engaging with the world."

I find that the authors' conclusions fit well with the recently published "The Rainforest - Building the Next Silicon Valley" by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt.  Using a different matrix, they uncover similar principles.

This seminal work will help launch a new field of study into the broader ramification of resilience across multiple disciples.



A Welcome Service to Veterans Looking for VA Home Mortgages - Jack Amberg as Secret Weapon

I have known Jack Amberg for many years.  A West Point grad living in the Chicago area, Jack is a tireless advocate for the men and women who  have served in our nation's military.  He recently shared with me some exciting news that I thought worth sharing with readers of The White Rhino Report.  Jack, from his base in Chicago, is now able to service clients in all 50 states.

You cannot go wrong having Jack in your corner as you look to find housing solutions as you transition from the military.

"A known entity for you.  My name is Jack Amberg and I served our nation for 26 years as an Enlisted Soldier, a Cadet at West Point and an Officer Soldier in the US Army.  I now have the privilege of continuing to serve my fellow Veterans by being an expert in VA mortgages so that they don’t have to be.  I can explain the steps needed and information you’ll have to provide in simple, easy to understand terms.  I focus on accomplishing the mission and I maintain my value set when it comes to stewarding other people’s money.

As you transition, your VA mortgage benefits are a tremendous tool to improve the quality of your life.  If the price of your new home is at or below $417,000, (some states vary) you can purchase your home with nothing down.  There is a VA funding fee but this can be rolled into the loan, or if you have service connected disabilities, the funding fee is waived.  You can re-use benefits.  You can refinance later without having appraisals etc.

If you are getting a big house, the price of the home can be up to $1 Million, there is a VA Jumbo Mortgage Option.  There is a down payment of 25% but rates are generally 3/4ers to 1% lower than regular jumbo rates.

As a Federal Residential Banker, I am authorized to conduct business in all 50 states.  Someone who is focused on assisting you to reach your goals….

Rates are normally 3/4ers to 1% lower and down the line, that can make a big difference when paying off a mortgage.

Finally, I am based in the Western Suburbs of Chicago.  I can act as a ‘sponsor’ if you will if you intend to relocate to Chicago.  I am happy to talk about our city and area including quality of life and employment opportunities.  I can find you a realtor who can get you into any type of neighborhood you want…from kid friendly to no kids at all.

Let me know how I can serve you."
Jack Amberg, MBA, Mortgage Banker
The Federal Savings Bank
1823 Centre Point Circle
Naperville IL 60563 I USA
cell: (630) 995-5244
(630) 780-1628
fax: (312) 628-8483
NMLS# 698289

Happy Medium Theatre Gets into the Halloween Holiday Mood with "The Revenants" at The Factory Theatre

I was not quite sure what to expect as I took my seat in the intimate confines of the Piano Factory's funky Factory Theatre.  I knew that the show had something to do with playwright Scott T. Barsotti's take on the coming Zombie Apocalypse.  I am familiar with the work of Happy Medium Theatre and of director, Mikey DiLoreto, so I knew there would be some surprises.  I was not disappointed.
The mood is set even  before the play opens with an atmospheric preview by one of the characters we will come to know as Outside Zombie.
I do not want to give away too much of the plot, but I will offer this summary from the website:
"The show focuses on two married couples barricaded in a basement during a violent uprising of the undead. As supplies run low and hopes dwindle, it is revealed that two of the spouses are infected and getting…hungry. Faced with the true meaning of commitment, husbands and wives must ask of each other: When does love die?"
As is almost always the case with Happy Medium Theatre productions, the acting was at a high level.  Tim Fairley as Gary and Audrey Lynn Sylvia as Karen play the two uninfected spouses who are watching over what remains of their respective undead spouses, chained to the basement wall.  These two characters, with one minor exception, care the weight of all of the play's dialogue.  William Schuller as Joe is/was Molly's husband and Lizette M. Morris as Molly  is/was Gary's wife.
As the two healthy survivors of numerous zombie attacks, Gary and Molly react in a variety of ways to the building crisis.  The inarticulate revenant spouses moan and hiss and bark and sporadically attack - presenting an ever-present backdrop to the action and dialogue between the two survivors.  It becomes clear as the play develops that both Gary and Molly feel that they married the wrong person - that they should have acknowledged their love for each other years ago.  But now it is too late - or is it?
It is at this philosophical level that the playwright shines.  He is really asking the question, "Who is really dead and who is really alive here?"  The zombies chained to the back wall stand as a metaphor for marriages that were neither fully alive or fully dead, and of lives lived in less than fulfilling ways.  At one point near the end of the play, Gary blurts out, "I think I am the most dead person in this room."  
I would have wished for the writing to be better at the dialogue level.  I found the string of unabating f-bombs between Gary and Molly to be both tiresome and unimaginative.
All  four of the main actors were believable and effective in their roles, with a special nod going to Schuller, who's Zombie Joe was haunting in its gaunt gaze and tormented affect. As the dramatic arc careened toward the climax, I found myself experiencing the telltale chills that accompany a well told horror tale.

There are two more opportunities to see the show -tonight and Saturday at 8:00

Directed by Mikey DiLoreto, and starring: Tim Fairley, Lizette Marie Morris, William Schuller, and Audrey Lynn Sylvia; with Deirdre Benson and Barbara DiGirolamo.
Performances October 11th — 20th, 2012 at the Factory Theatre 
791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm