Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Military Wives Form a Choir to Raise Funds: A Deeply Moving Video

This is a deeply moving video . Here is the story:

You absolutely must see this video. It is taken from a British series where a guy named Gareth Malone takes a group of people and turns them into a choir. This time he's taken a group of military wives whose husbands are all away in Afghanistan and turned them into a choir. Gareth looks about 16 years old but is actually in his mid-30s and a Choir Master for the London Symphony Orchestra, among other things. They wrote a song based on excerpts from letters written by the couples whilst apart and this is the beautiful result. The single is out in the UK on Monday. Thousands have been pre-ordered and all the money raised is going to military charities. Enjoy!
Order the Military Wives' debut album, In My Dreams. Amazon: HMV: Play.com The offic...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Revisiting a Classic: Mini-Review of "O Pioneers" by Willa Cather

I read Willa Cather's "Death Comes for the Archbishop" back in my prep school days because it was on a long list of required summer reading I dutifully read the book, wrote my report, checked off the assignment and moved on. Now, many years down the path towards maturity, I have rediscovered the brilliance of Cather's writing. In the heroine, Alexandra Bergson, Cather offered up a woman who conquered not only the untamed hardscrabble Nebraska landscape but also the rock-strewn acreage of her family and her own long-deferred longings. The tale of one of heart-breaking inspiration - stubbornness bumping up against a more enlightened determination. Alexandra proved to be more solid and capable than any of her male relatives.

Cather draws from the deep well of her own experience growing up on the Nebraska prairie, painting a nuanced portrait of the interplay among the ethnic groups that came seeking their fortunes- the Swedes, Norwegians, Bohemians and French. The interplay of triumph and tragedy makes for a powerful dramatic arc, and kept me reading far into the night to find out the fate of characters I had come to care about. Ninety-nine years after this story was first published, "O Pioneers" still speaks to the pioneer spirit that still stirs in many of us.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two Reviews for "12 Angry Men"

The opening weekend was a success in the eyes of our sold-out audiences. Today we are pleased to learn that the critics were also impressed the the work of the cast and our fine directors and production team.

Here are some of the words offered by

‘Twelve Angry Men’ comes to The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth

The judgments we make about others reveal as much about ourselves as they do about the people being judged. That’s the central premise behind Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men,” onstage now at The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth.

The story takes place in a New York court on a sweltering day in the summer of 1957, directly following the trial of a 16-year-old boy accused of murdering his father. If found guilty, he faces the death penalty. A jury of 12 men must decide his fate.

At first, the decision seems clear. The boy is from the slums and has a violent criminal history. The evidence mounted against him is compelling, and his alibi is flimsy. Before deliberations even begin, 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced of his guilt. But one juror (G. Matthew Gaskell) isn’t so sure. Much to the frustration of the others, he begins poking little holes of reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case.

As the play’s title suggests, tempers run high in the stuffy jury room, creating an uncomfortably tense atmosphere that permeates the audience. As the unnamed jurors spar with each other, snippets of their own diverse backgrounds are revealed, along with the personal prejudices that influence their judgment.

The set at The Players’ Ring consists of little more than one long, wooden table surrounded by wooden chairs. But the personalities that fill those chairs keep the room pregnant with tension. There’s an old man (Al Chase) who empathizes with an elderly witness. There’s a foreign immigrant (Shawn Crapo) clinging to his faith in the American justice system. There’s a young man from the slums (Brian Kelly) who may understand the defendant’s plight better than anyone else.

Then there’s a troubled father (Scott Caple) whose empathy lies with the victim. There’s a garage owner (Todd Hunter) whose vision is clouded by paranoid bigotry. Another juror (Jamie Bradley) seems to care little about the outcome of the trial as long as he leaves in time to catch the ballgame that night.

These latter three offer the production’s most compelling performances. All three characters stubbornly insist on a guilty verdict even as the facts of the case are increasingly called into question. Caple (whose theatric talents include a booming voice) boils in his own misdirected rage. Hunter offers one of his finest performances, filled with convincingly bitter cynicism and hatred. Bradley, as usual, is a dynamic presence capable of mocking humor and explosive fury.

Meanwhile, Gaskell’s character maintains his pragmatic cool even in the face of raucous shouts and threats, gradually brewing uncertainty among the others. Gaskell provides a sensitive voice of reason in a caustic and overstressed environment.

The other actors offer their own distinctive turns, including foreman Dave Ostrowski and jurors Ed Hinton, Eric Doucet, Steve Johnson and Matthew Schofield. Together they represent the American melting pot.

Reginald Rose originally wrote “Twelve Angry Men” for television in the 1950s. It was adapted into a film later that decade and again in 1997. Its Broadway debut came in 2004. Though set more than 50 years ago, the issues of race and class raised in the play, as well as the hazards of the judicial system, are as relevant today as ever.

Whether the defendant is in fact guilty is beside the point. More important are the implications of putting a young man’s life in the hands of a group of flawed human beings with unique experiences inseparable from their point of view. Directors Dan Stowell and Kaitlyn Huwe do an admirable job of transporting the audience back to the late ’50s without abandoning the present.

“Twelve Angry Men” runs through March 4 at The Players’ Ring, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, 603-436-8123. Show times are 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. on Sundays (2 p.m. on Sunday, March 4). Tickets are $12 to $15.

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Here is the review from

Twelve angry men sit around a table arguing, cajoling, compromising, even threatening; a teen's life hangs in the balance.

The table, set at an angle, center stage at the Players' Ring theater seems enormous. It crowds the room, giving the sense it's pushing back on the audience, which is exactly why the Ring is a perfect place to stage the American classic "Twelve Angry Men." The audience is in the pressure cooker along with the dozen jurymen.

Every emotional strain and shift rolls off the distinct characters, charges the air and affects everyone in the cramped room, thanks to 12 solid to superb performances.

Co-directors (first-timer) Daniel Stowell and Kaitlyn Huwe do a nice job with blocking and action. But the core reason for the play's success is their knack for casting; right person, right role.

Each performer transmits the basic humor of his character with ease. Even the less-seasoned actor emanates the right ethos, whether belligerent, arrogant, or timid.

The play's description in a nutshell: 12 jurors are in deliberation stage of a murder trial in which a teen is charged with murdering his father. Initially only Juror No. 8 believes there is reasonable doubt.

G. Matthew Gaskell gives a strong performance as staid, Juror No. 8, a man of conviction who picks his way through the evidence and carefully directs each inquiry for its greatest impact.

Three Jurors, No. 3, played by Scott Caple, No. 7, Jamie Bradley, and No. 10, Todd Hunter are the angriest, each with their own brand of prejudice. Each is a standout both for his volatile, large roles and the strength of the actor's performance. You really don't like these men, some even less than others. It's hard to get beyond the dislike to see it's craft at work that makes it so effective.

Both Eric Doucet and Shawn Crapo aptly play less seismic, but equally powerful characters. Doucet is the "logical one," who prides himself in his even, detached approach, all visible in Doucet's subtle, detailed performance.

Crapo, as Juror No. 11, is the smoothest performer on stage. His Middle Eastern, thoughtful, secure, heartfelt character is played to perfection.

All the cast members give their character the right touch, Newcomer Steve Johnson's portrayal of Juror No. 6, sort of Mr. Workingman, is truly smart. Kudos also to Dave Ostrowski, Foreman; Ed Hinton as No. 2, Brian Kelly as No. 5, Al Chase, as No. 9 and Matthew Schofield, as No. 12.

The one drawback opening weekend was the frequency of stumbled lines. It's very unlikely, given the talent that will continue into week two.

All of the supporting arts are well appointed, sound and music design, by Jacquelyn Benson, lighting by Ed Hinton, and set by Stowell and Gaskell.

"12 Angry Men," (appropriate and even advised for mature tweens and teens), is a night of strong performances, great theater, entertainment and thought — one can hardly go wrong with this combination.

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I have been told that some of this weekend's performances are already nearly sold out, since if you plan to come to Portsmouth, do not delay in securing your tickets.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Let's Play Two"! Review of "The Might Have Been" by Joseph M. Schuster

I loved this book! It is the debut novel by Joseph M. Schuster. The writing reminded me of some of the best baseball stories already in the pantheon - Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe" and Malamud's "The Natural." The author leads us through the plagued career of Edward Everett Yates. Yates got to have his "cup of coffee" in the Big Leagues with the Cardinals. In a gut-wrenching episode, he hits for the pure cycle(single, double, triple and home run in that order) in Montreal before tearing up his knee trying to make a heroic catch in the outfield. The icing on the cake of disappointment is that the game was rained out before it had gone 5 full innings, so statistically, his rare achievement at the plate never happened. With the injury in Canada, Everett's playing career is over, despite attempts to come back. But he cannot walk away from the game, and spends thirty years languishing as a coach and manager in the lowest levels of the minor leagues and independent leagues.

This is a gritty tale of broken bats, broken bodies, broken relationships and broken dreams. The owners, players, coaches, wives, girl friends, family members who make up the roster of Everett's world offer their own share of Pyrrhic victories and disasters. The author does a nice job of highlighting the tension that exists between those whose approach to evaluating the game and its players is purely driven by statistics and SABERMETICS and those who trust their eyes and their gut.

Schuster has found just the right voice for allowing the reader to feel and taste and smell each of the major episodes and settings in the innings of Everett's life. As the end of the book approached, I found myself wishing that I had more of the author's works to devour. I felt like Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, renowned for his passion and joy about the game of baseball when he blurted out: "Let's play two!"


Play ball!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Review of "The Silent Oligarch" by Chris Morgan Jones

Chris Morgan Jones clearly understands the disparate worlds that make up the universe of his debut novel, "The Silent Oligarch." He has worked in business intelligence, and has served as an adviser to governments in the Middle East, Russian oligarchs, New York banks and London hedge funds. He draws on his insider's knowledge of all of these realms to craft a well-told saga of the efforts to take down a Russian oligarch who sits as a minister in the Kremlin and is skimming billions into his own off-shore coffers. The complex dance that takes place between the oligarch and his minions and the investigative team that seek to take expose and ruin him is a beautifully choreographed bloody ballet worth of the Kirov or Bolshoi. The oligarch, a rival business tycoon who is suing him, a London lawyer and a cynical investigative journalist serve as the four cornerstones of the plot that careens from Russia to Monte Carlo to London.

The plot is complex and very plausible; the major elements could be found in the headlines of any of today's best newspapers. The writing is crisp, the characters are well drawn and nicely developed. I thoroughly enjoy this novel and look forward to more from the pen of this talented writer.



Learning Even More about Dickens - Review of "Becoming Dickens" by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

I have long been deeply interested in Dickens - the author and the man. I believe I have read all that he wrote for public consumption. I had done a number of London Walks that have Dickens as their themes. I saw Emlyn Williamson several occasions as he did his acclaimed readings reprising Dickens' tours of the U.S. I have read many of the classical Dickens biographies. In other words, I felt as if I already knew Dickens pretty well, so I was wondering what Robert Douglas-Fairhurst could add to my store of knowledge and understanding. He brought a great deal.

By focusing on Dickens' formative years - as a man and as an writer, the writer of this biography helped me to envision the progressive formation of Dickens' ideas, themes, fears, prejudices and obsessions. I see this new works as an excellent supplement to prior biographies. The author gives us a sense of how Dickens the man was impacted by the Victorian London in which he came to manhood, and how Dickens the author influenced the late stages of Queen Victoria's reign. The book does a particularly good job of taking watershed moments in Dickens' life - his time int he blacking factory - and demonstrating how that indelible experience informed many of his plot lines and fictional characters.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"12 Angry Men" Update - Opening Night Tomorrow, Friday, February 17 - Tickets Are Going Fast

In a few hours, I will head up I-95 for a final dress rehearsal of "12 Angry Men." We open tomorrow night at 8:00 at Portsmouth, NH's Players' Ring.

Here is an excerpt from today's Portsmouth Herald Spotlight article about the play:

Brownwater Productions presents "Twelve Angry Men" by Reginald Rose at the Players' Ring theater in Portsmouth, Feb. 17 through March 4. Shows are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. Sunday, March 4.

On a sweltering August night in New York City, 12 men are locked in a jury room to decide the fate of a 16-year-old kid from the slums. A murder case that appears open and shut. Eleven vote guilty. One refuses to go along. The clock is ticking. Can the one hold out, and persuade the rest to put aside prejudices and agendas and simply look at the case?

"Suppose you were the one on trial?"

"I'm not used to supposing. But I'll try one. Suppose you talk us all out of this and the kid really did knife his father?"

"Twelve Angry Men" is a blistering character study of the American melting pot and the judicial system that is supposed to keep it in check.

Written by Reginald Rose and directed by Dan Stowell and Kaitlyn Huwe, starring Jamie Bradley, Scott Caple, Al Chase, Shawn Crapo, Eric Doucet, G. Matthew Gaskell, Ed Hinton, Todd Hunter, Steve Johnson, Brian Kelly, Dave Ostrowski, and Matthew Schofield.

Tickets are $15 General and $12 Students/Seniors.

The Players' Ring, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, (603) 436-8123,

We were told last night that some of the performances are already almost completely sold out. I can tell you from an insider's perspective that this play promises to be one that people will be talking about for quite awhile on the NH Seacoast.

If you plan to attend, I encourage you to go on the Player's Ring website (click on the title above) and buy your tickets now so that you are not disappointed by "Sold Out" signs the day of the performance you had hoped to attend.

See you in Portsmouth.



Review of "Gypsy Boy" by Mikey Walsh

In the past few years, there have been literary scandals in which it has been revealed that stories reported to be memoirs of deeply troubled individuals have been made up out of whole cloth. So, any discerning reader much approach a pseudonymous work with some degree of skepticism. Having laid that caveat on the table, I must say that I found "Gypsy Boy" to be both deeply troubling and deeply moving. The degree of violence that made up the every day life of "Mikey Walsh" is almost unimaginable. From the age of five, the young boy from a historic Romany family living in England experienced savage beating from his father - all aimed toward preparing him to inherit the crown as one of the Gypsy communities top bare knuckle fighter. But Mikey was wired differently than other Gypsy males, and suffered humiliation of every sort - physical, verbal, emotional and sexual.

As a teenager, he finally found a champion who helped him to escape from this dark world. he writes now as an adult looking back on his troubled past with equal parts loathing and nostalgia. I agree with other reviewers who have likened Walsh's memoir to "Angela's Ashes" and "Running with Scissors." He shines a light into a dark corner of the world that is seldom accessible to outsiders. His courage and honesty are laudable and illuminating.