Thursday, August 30, 2012

Author Frans Johnasson Publishes "The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World"



I am excited to share with you the good news that my friend, author Frans Johansson, has followed up the best seller "The Medici Effect" with a new book:

"The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World"

The book is available today from Amazon and other on-line resources.  I just ordered my copy, and I invite you to do the same.

Here is Johansson's message to his readers and fans:

"Hi friends and colleagues,

Hope you have all had a wonderful summer! Many of you have been very supportive in my writing of a new book and it is finally all happening - the big day has come. The Click Moment is, after years of hard work, finally going live today. Many of you have expressed great appreciation of The Medici Effect - this book, I feel is both more provocative and powerful and I would love your help in spreading the word. I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

First- what the book is about: The Click Moment obliterates the idea that in business you can plan, strategize, and analyze your way to success. Instead, success has far more to do with serendipity and randomness than we’d like to believe. Most of the book is actually spent exploring just how you can harness randomness and serendipity to your advantage. I'm hoping that it will completely change the way we think about success - and how to create it.

Second -what you can do: If you already know you want to buy the book, today would be the day! I am trying to get it moving on Amazon so any sales on that would help. Whether you buy it or not - you can spread the word about the book to all your friends and colleagues. Email, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all ways to spread the word. There is a good amount of information on our book page: 
http://www.themedicigroup.com/the-click-momentAnd here is some early press that has hit so far: http://themedicigroup.tumblr.com/ Fast Company and TheStreet just posted today and that is just the beginning with CNN and PBS and many others coming up later.


Hope all is well with you and thanks for all your help!!!!

Take care, 


-Frans"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Harvard Students Revolutionize Customer Surveys - Presenting PollVautr


I recently had the opportunity to meet two enterprising Harvard students who are Co-Founders of a fascinating company called PollVaultr.   Merrill Lutsky and Erik Schluntz met as freshman last fall in a Harvard class.  Lutsky, who is from Northfield, Minnesota, and Schluntz, from Bethesda, Maryland, quickly discovered that they share a fascination with innovation, invention and entrepreneurship. What started as a class project has quickly "pole vaulted" into a full-fledged business, with beta testing under way in a number of Boston and Cambridge locations.

Over lunch with the duo, I learned that typical on-line customer surveys garner a participation rate hovering around 1% or less.  In early beta tests, the PollVautr system, based on an iPad and four simple questions, is running in excess of 15%.  In addition, PollVaultr customers - typically restaurants, medical offices and other service providers - are able to retrieve analytical reports on customer response and attitudes, allowing them to quickly respond to perceived areas of concern or complaint.  The user experience is so positive that a number of customers who took the survey went to get their friends to try their hand at the survey that typical takes only 15 seconds to complete.

The company is still looking for some additional beta testers in the Boston area.  Let me know if you have a business that would benefit from trying this new approach to sensing the pulse beat of your customer base.  I will be delighted to put you in contact with



Merrill Lutsky and Erik Schluntz were featured in a recent article in BostonInno.  Lauren Landry wrote this article:



"PollVaultr started as an idea in Harvard’s ever popular CS50 class. Merrill Lutsky and Erik Schluntz thought they were just doing what they had to for their final project. Little did they know then they’d be raising$60,000 roughly six months later for their “dead simple tablet surveys.”
Winner of the Harvard College Innovation Challenge’s (i3) HSA Award, PollVaultr is an iPad-based, data-driven point of sale survey platform that allows businesses to collect more feedback, better understand their customers and advance their products and services.
Lutsky admits they had initially thought of using PollVaultr as a social rating system for the dining hall at Harvard. Visitors could tap a screen, see what dishes come recommended and then “pay it forward” on the way out by ranking what they ate. “But then we started thinking about broad applications with that,” Lutsky says, who deems comment cards an inefficient way for stores to collect customer feedback.
The duo entered into Hack Harvard’s winter incubator program, gaining the expertise of, now, Hack Harvard President Lexi Ross. She advised the team to Harvard’s i3, before taking a summer internship at Google in California. Following her leave, the team carried on, working out of the third floor of the Harvard Student Agencies headquarters, where they’ll remain over the course of the summer.
Lutsky says they’re gearing up to begin running live tests on PollVaultr in HSA Cleaners and The Harvard Shop. From now through the end of June, they’ll be going through their beta testing period, all while securing a substantial base of initial users and trying to score partnerships with tablet companies, specifically Apple.
Companies will be able to choose what questions they need answered. For some, Lutsky says the most important question is, “How likely are you to recommend our service to a friend?” because that question correlates to a customer returning to the store, as well as actually referring a friend.
“Businesses want to have a base of loyal customers,” Lutsky says. Once they have that base, they can then maintain it thanks PollVaultr, who’s pulling feedback from users in real-time. “That’s the platform we’re trying to provide here. What effects does a customer’s opinion have on my store, and how can I improve my business?”
Lutsky hopes they can partner with Apple, so they can offer businesses iPads at subsidized prices. For now, stores need to provide both the iPad and the mounting software, although PollVaultr is likely to start offering either a free, one-month trial and then a flat, per-month rate.
Over the summer, Lutsky claims they’ll be seeing how businesses are using PollVaultr — what’s going well, what’s not going well — and then rapidly start iterating. They hope to then conclude the summer by raising a Series A round of funding. “We’re making constant improvements and discoveries,” Lutsky says. And with PollVaultr, businesses will be able to make constant improvements and discoveries, as well."

Building the Next Silicon Valley: Review of "The Rainforest" by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt


A few weeks ago, when  I reported on my attendance at the first annual Global Innovation Summit, I promised a review of the book that served as the launching pad for the conference: "The Rainforest" by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt.

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/2012/07/forbes-reports-on-global-innovation.html

In this fascinating book, subtitled "The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley," the authors employ to great effect the metaphor that a sustainable economic ecosystem is akin to a tropical rain forest in many dimensions.  There have been many attempts to replicate the signal success of Silicon Valley, and most have failed.  Early in the book, the authors share their opinion about why this is the case.

"To explain the differences between highly productive systems like Silicon Valley and most other places in the world, what is most important is not the ingredients of economic production, but the recipe - how the ingredients are combined together.  Human systems become more productive the faster that the key ingredients of innovation - talent, ideas and capital - are allowed to flow throughout the system." (Page 10)

Throughout the book, Hwang and Horowitt emphasize the key role that human interaction and relationships of trust play in overcoming the friction that would otherwise cause economic activity to grind to a halt.

"Leaders who can bridge between social networks to bind greater communities together for common action are essential to building and maintaining Rainforests.  Public subsidies of venture capital are ineffective when fund managers are not culturally attuned to foster symbiotic relationships between investors and investees.  Public attempts to foster innovation that do not focus on changing human behavior are doomed to fail.  To build Rainforests, we must transform culture.

The Rainforest model is more than a metaphor.  Innovation ecosystems are not merely like biological systems, they are biological systems.  Talent, ideas and capital are the nutrients moving through the biological system.  Measuring the velocity of such nutrients can provide us the tools with which to measure the health of an innovation ecosystem by observing dynamic activity over time, rather than static points in time.  When particular social behaviors allow the movement of talent, ideas and capital to be even freer  - as they are in Rainforests - we find that human networks can generate extraordinary patterns of self-organization.

The Rainforest model explains the largely invisible mechanisms that underlie innovation ecosystems like Silicon Valley.  It is not creative destruction alone that is sufficient.  Far more important is creative reassembly, the ability of humans to combine and recombine into ever-increasing patterns of efficiency and productivity." (Page 11)

During the Global Innovation Summit, there was much discussion of an aspect of the book that  I found intriguing.  In a Rainforest, some death must occur among the upper canopy growth in order for sunlight to reach the forest floor and enable new growth.  In ecosystems, some of the old bureaucratic ways of thinking and of doing business must die to allow sunlight to permeate the system to enable sustainable growth.

"Many people praise the notion of 'creative destruction' in the free market.  This is the term that economist Joseph Schumpeter used to describe the process in which new innovations destroy established companies.  In our experience, creative destruction is far from a complete answer.  After all, killing companies is easy compared to growing companies.  The mystery of innovation cannot be answered without understanding creative reassembly - how people interact in ways to generate innovation in the first place.  If creative destruction causes death, then we need creative reassembly to complete the cycle of rebirth." (Page 40)

Another concept that created a stir among the participants at the Global Innovation Summit is the provocative concept proffered by Matt Ridley, author of "The Rational Optimist":

"Innovation is simply a modern form of the Silk Road.  Instead of exchanging goods, we exchange ideas and skills.  Author Matt Ridley writes about 'ideas having sex' to explain the nature of human economic activity." (Page 95)

After presenting detailed examples of how the various Rainforest dynamic interact with each other, the authors distill the essence into Seven Rules of the Rainforest:

Rule #1: Thou shalt break rules and dream

Rule #2: Thou shalt open doors and listen

Rule #3: Thou shalt trust and be trusted

Rule #4: Thou shalt experiment and iterate together

Rule #5: Thou shalt seek fairness, not advantage

Rule #6: Thou shalt err, fail, and persist

Rule #7: Thou shalt pay it forward

(Page 156)

Throughout the book, Hwang and Horowitt emphasize the importance of cultural diversity as a necessary ingredient for growing a Rainforest.  Initially, the distrust that is common to all mankind of those who are different from us causes friction, but as trust grows, the diversity tends to dissipate friction and adds to efficiency and effectiveness of the organism.  One aspect of diversity that I found compelling was the concept of Diaspora:

"One of the most  powerful tools for generating diversity is diaspora.  We do not just mean ethnic diaspora, such as Jewish or Chinese people spread around the world.  We mean diaspora in the broadest sense, as in boundary-crossers -- people who have left one group to join another.  This might include immigrants, emigrants, university alumni, former co-workers, or former collaborators.

People who are boundary-crossers can simultaneously serve as role models, cultural translators, and trusted channels for cross-boundary relationships.  They can translate between the social norms of different cultures.  They can 'speak' the cultural language of people both inside and outside a network.  Wherever we have worked, people who are active in diaspora networks have always served as leaders to build Rainforests in their native communities." (Page 208)

Among the most interesting individuals I met at the Global Innovation Summit were a woman from Rwanda and a man from South Sudan - both of whom had lived in exile for 40 years as their respective countries suffered from a string of tumultuous disasters and conflicts.  As members of a diaspora, they traveled and interacted with a wide variety of cultures, and picked up skills that they are now employing to help create Rainforests in East Africa.  In the same way, my work in Haiti has led me to collaborate with members of the Haitian diaspora who bring to the task of rebuilding Haiti a broader perspective and fresher ideas than those who have known only life on the island of Hispaniola.

This book has served as a catalyst for dozens of fruitful conversations among friends of mine in the past month.  I encourage you to read it if you have any interest in innovation.  In  addition to offering much in the way of practical insight, the authors also bring a literary sensibility to their task that is rare among "business books."

Enjoy!

Al






Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Return Visit to Verona - Another Take on "Romeo and Juliet"

At the end of last week's review of "Romeo and Juliet," being presented at the Boston Center for the Arts, I made the concluding statement:

"In order to test my theory about being moved out of a zone of comfort, I plan to see the play at least one more time to give the two lovers another chance to enter my heart - and then to break it"

The review generated quite a few comments and a lot of conversation - among patrons of the arts and among cast members.  One reader asked the question:

Rob Kaplan said...


"Did you end up going back?"

I did, indeed, go back, and several individuals have asked for my comments.

The second time around, I sat in a different part of the theater,and attempted to watch the play de novo.
I stand by my assessments from the first viewing - with one exception. Clearly, now being accustomed to the concept of a Romeo and a Juliet who defy common stereotypes, this time around, they did touch my heart, and I found myself moved at their deaths.

You have one more week to  judge for  yourself.  The show resumes tomorrow evening and plays through the weekend.

Enjoy

Al

Friday, August 17, 2012

From the Fringe - Review of "Inexperienced Love"



Inexperienced Love


I had my first taste of the 16th annual New York International Fringe Festival last evening.  I saw two shows, and have already committed to return to see two more shows next weekend.  If you are not familiar with the Fringe, it may surprise you to learn that previous Fringe festivals have helped to launch shows like Avenue Q and Urinetown onto Broadway.  The first show I saw last night was a show that had its embryonic beginnings in Pittsburgh in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama.  "Inexperienced Love" has the fingerprints of the very talented Jacob Tischler all over it; he serves as composer, lyricist, book writer and lead actor for the musical.

"The show is an original musical focused on uncovering the true definition of love. Despite it’s familiar theme, each of the three story lines is unique. The music stays true to the voice of each narrative, leap-frogging from sweeping duets to spitfire comedy to sex-driven gospel. Two lovers confront each other, two introverted high school students lose themselves to their hormones, and one audience member becomes a prospective fiance. 

This show is backed by team almost completely comprised of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama students. The piece was conceived in 2010 during an annual event called Playground, a festival of created work fostered by the CMU Drama Program. Since then, it has been produced as a fundraiser event in Vermont, and returned to CMU by popular demand."

So, the question is: As an audience member seeing this show for the first time, what did I experience?  In short,, "I experienced love." I love this show!  How do I love this show?  Let me count the ways:

  1. I love the concept of three disparate young couples wrestling with a bouillabaisse of emotions, conflicts, insecurities, hopes, dashed dreams, awkward moments, raging hormones and ham-fisted gropings for connection - for love and for self-awareness.
  2. I love the energy and vulnerability of  the cast.  It is a strong ensemble, and their solos, duets, trios and full cast numbers advance the telling of the individual and collective stories.  Each actor is worthy of mention.
    1. Tischler as Jake is the heart of the show.  Jake opens the book of the show by literally opening the dictionary to define "love."  And we are off and running.  His look, his affect, his singing and speaking voice, his physical presence all are perfect for this character who is in search of himself and of the chance to regain his lost Penny.
    2. Casey Layne Anderson as Penny is a revelation.  Her over-the-top portrayal of a penny that has been taken out of circulation reminded me very much of one of the pretzel-wielding German bar maids  in the iconic number "Springtime for Hitler and Germany" in "The Producers."
    3. Jon Jorgenson as Frank is too focused on his career ambitions to give Emma the kind of attention she craves.  Jorgenson has a beautiful singing voice and a tall and imposing physical presence.  My one quibble with him is that on a couple of occasions during the show, the actor seemed to be standing in a set pose downstage left as if he were concertizing in a recital as Jon rather than telling a story of a real situation as Frank.
    4. Olive Harris as Emma establishes a strong sense of character who is often frustrated at Frank's placing her needs second or third to his duty to take care of Jake, who is reeling from Penny's rejection of him, or to Frank's propensity to give into the impulse: "It seemed like the right thing to do"!
    5. Emily Koch as Ruthie is the nerdy fish out of water who eventually takes the bull by the horns and tracks down Jameson when he is too shy and scared to show up for a first date they had set.  A highlight of her performance is the trio "I Want a Man," with Penny and Emma in which she reveals that Jameson's sexual hang-ups have prompted her to try out lesbianism for size.
    6. Trevor McQueen as Jameson is wonderful.  This former childhood Broadway actor - "Annie Get Your Gun" with Bernadette Peters - almost steals the show as Jameson.   He soliloquizes about his cornucopia of phobias and self-doubts.  His hair alone - and Ruthie's blunt response to its absurdity - is worth the price of admission.  Their duet, "Not Pretty," is heart-rending.
  3. I love the promise of Tischler as a Broadway composer and lyricist.   I see the seeds of a young Sondheim - in the music, the lyrics - especially in the patter songs - and in the slightly cynical view of relationships that has become a hallmark of Sondheim shows.  Yet Tischler, perhaps because of youth and still smoldering optimism, spreads his schmear of cynicism on this bagel of a show with a light touch and with a wink and a smile, instead of the sneer that we often get from later stage Sondheim with his litany of dark and dysfunctional relationships in shows like "Company," "Marry Me a Little," "Sweeney Todd," "Merrily We Roll Along," and "Sunday in the Park with George."
  4. I love the simple and minimalist set of dozens of heart-shaped mylar balloons and a few movable chairs. The balloons are emblematic of the over-inflated expectations of the six characters that love would somehow be easy to find and to sustain.  The fact that these static objects are eventually employed as weapons in  a lover's tiff is brilliant staging.  The way in which the balloons subtly swayed back and forth as the ambient air circulated unpredictably through the performance space serves as a nice reminder of the way in which the six characters' hearts are often tugged by invisible currents of unpredictable emotions and irrational actions.
  5. I love Tischler's use of foreshadowing.  His opening reading from the dictionary seems effective, but a bit pedantic in the moment, but takes on a whole new level of meaning when the audience learns what Penny said to him in their moment of break-up when he admitted: "I don't know what love is!" -a distinctly anti-Forrest Gump moment.
  6. I love the author's deep understanding of adolescent angst and endemic "emotional acne."  Each character seems drawn from life, and each gesture, movement, argument, quip, retort and aside adds to the sense of believability of them as real people.
  7. I love the moments when I, along with many other audience members, erupted in belly laughs at the silliness or poignancy of the characters' actions and inner thoughts.
You have two more opportunities to see this show at the Fringe - Saturday, 8/18 and Wednesday,  8/22.  Go on-line now and get your tickets.  

You may see a future Broadway actor or composer or producer on stage at the Players' Theatre in the East Village.  I do not make that prediction lightly.  I saw the show last night in the company of the talented Cott brothers - Casey and Corey.  Casey is a current Carnegie Mellon School of Drama student, and Corey is a recent grad.  Corey had been cast in "Inexperienced Love," but had to back out when he was recently cast to replace Jeremy Jordan as the lead in the run-away Broadway hit "Newsies"!

INFO ABOUT Inexperienced Love

Inexperienced Love
Take this fast-paced plunge into the mystery of love. Following three dynamic story lines, the musical explores the romance, discoveries, and pitfalls of this puzzling emotion. Hearts shatter, candy is eaten, and you might even become betrothed.
Venue: Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street
Prices: $15.00 - $18.00
Performance Dates: August 12, 2012 - August 22, 2012
Box Office/Info:             866-468-7619      
Producer: iLove Productions
Author: Jacob Tischler
Director: Benjamin Viertel

 SAT 8/18 @ 7:30-8:40PM
WED 8/22 @ 10:00-11:10PM

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Angels at Fenway - Many Fitting Tributes Being Offered in Memory of Pesky


August 14, 2012 


"He's also one of the only people in baseball to have a part of a ballpark named after him. Fenway's famed 'Pesky Pole' -- the right field foul pole -- was given the nickname by Sox broadcaster Mel Parnell. A former teammate, Parnell was poking a little fun at Johnny's lack of power -- he hit just 17 home runs, and only six at Fenway -- every one of which went out past the right field foul pole, now the shortest distance for a home run in major league ball." 
 
Author Bill Nowlin in Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston's (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948 
 


The Red Sox have announced that they will observe a special Moment of Silence in memory of Johnny Pesky prior to this coming Tuesday's game against the Angels.  How fitting; angels will be present in the park in more ways than one!

Al

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pesky Joins Departed Teammates in the Field of Dreams - Rest in Peace


News came to us today of Johnny Pesky's death at age 92.

http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120813&content_id=36616400&vkey=news_bos&c_id=bos

All of Red Sox Nation will miss the man who in many ways became the face of the franchise.  During the recent 100th Anniversary celebration at Fenway, Pesky made an appearance, weakened and confined to a wheel chair.  Each of the former players found themselves drawn to him, stopping by to offer a word of greeting,  to pat him on the shoulder, to hug him, to shake his hand - to seek his papal blessing.  It reminded me of the way in which baseball's All Stars flocked to a feeble Ted Williams during the preliminary ceremonies to the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park.

Pesky was one of the protagonists in David Halberstam's acclaimed book, "The Teammates." The book describes and celebrates the lifelong bond that united Red Sox teammates Pesky, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio.  Today, only Doerr remains to carry the torch for the teammates that have joined those playing the boys' game in The Field of Dreams.

For many years, the iconic foul pole in right field at Fenway Park has been known as Pesky's Pole.



I will miss Pesky in a personal way.  For the past nine seasons, I have been privileged to serve as part of a small cadre of volunteers who work at Fenway Park's Autograph Alley.  For the first few seasons, Johnny Pesky was one of the most popular former players who would come to sign autographs and share stories with Red Sox fans of all ages.  I knew of Pesky's Croatian heritage - his parents had emigrated from the Balkans - so I would take delight in greeting him in Croatian: "Vanya, kako ste?"  He would grin from ear to ear.  I had many opportunities to sit and listen to him spin yarns of his playing days, as well as his decades as coach, manager and general elder statesman for Red Sox Nation and Major League Baseball.  In his later years, he would talk about how much he missed his beloved wife, Ruth, who had died in 2005.  I pray that they are enjoying their reunion today in the Lord's presence.

I will greatly miss old "Needle Nose," but rejoice that I was honored to know him.

Here are a few earlier White Rhino Report postings that mention Pesky.

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/search?q=Pesky


Requiescat in pace, Vanya!

Pońćivao u miru, prijatelju.


AL

A Worthy KickStarterProject - Mark Oxman's Film "Sing Along"


I have come to appreciate the power of Kickstarter as a "force multiplier" using crowd sourced funding to empower artists in kicking off worthy projects.

I first met film maker Mark Oxman when we were both early and enthusiastic supporters of the musical "Prometheus Bound."  For his upcoming film, "Sing Along," he has assembled a remarkably talented cast of several young Broadway veterans.

His video updates for his Kickstarter contributors are among the most creative and entertaining I have ever  seen.  It bodes well for the film to follow.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/669602215/sing-along-a-short-film-starring-broadway-actors?ref=search

As of last evening, the amount pledge on Kickstarter for "Sing Along" just nudged it over the minimal goal.  More funds will make for an even more creative film with better production values.

I encourage you to click on this link, get a sense of Mark Oxman's creativity and energy, and jump on the bandwagon of early contributors to a film that will be exciting to watch.

Al

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?" - A New Production of Romeo and Juliet Dawns at Boston Center for the Arts



A new production of Romeo and Juliet dawns this weekend at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theater.  There is much to love about this version of the classic love story, as directed by Paula Plum and presented  by Happy Medium Theater.  Plum, a veteran of many Boston stages, as well as film, radio and television, has returned to her roots in Boston "Fringe" theater, and has cast a number of young and talented actors who have graced the stages of many of Boston's intimate performance spaces. 

Let me enumerate some of the highlights that shone especially brightly for me as I took in last evening's preview performance.
  • Ms. Plum's direction is nearly flawless.  Using a wonderfully simple and practical set designed by Bryan Prywes, the set changes were lightning fast, allowing the pace of the show to proceed in a way that kept most of the audience fully engaged.  The Director did a great job of infusing into the sensibilities of each member of this ensemble cast the truth that Shakespeare's antiquated language was not something to fear, but rather a treasure to embrace.  The Elizabethan language flowed naturally from the tongues of the cast members and made the story feel real and contemporary.

  • The combat scenes, under the steady hand of Fight Captain, Michael Underhill, were choreographed and enacted beautifully. I found myself cringing on several occasions because the wounds being inflicted seemed so real.

  • Among a strong ensemble cast, several performances stood out.
    • Joey C.  Pelletier as Mercutio.  Joey needs no spotlight, for wherever he wanders upon the stage, that area is lit by the inner incandescence of the actor.  His Mercutio is sometimes almost manic in his speech and mannerisms, and is always mesmerizing.  Knowing the story well, I grieved when his character was killed off early in the play, for I wanted to experience more of his perfect blending of physicality and emotionally-charged speech.
    • Kiki Samko as Prince - Casting a female actor in this traditionally male role was a bold and brilliant choice.  Ms. Samko's presence is authoritative and regal, serving to both open and close the action with commentary on the steep price of hatred that snuffs out the fragile flame of young love.
    • June Kfoury as Nurse - This keystone role is played to perfection by Ms. Kfoury - blending low comedy and bathos in just the right mixture.
    • Jesse Wood as Paris - As he always does, Mr. Wood creates a  three-dimensional character  worth caring about through a combination of physical presence, movement, vocal inflection and protean facial features.
    • Michael Underhill as Tybalt - Mr. Underhill's Tybalt embodies the pent-up rage simmering just beneath the surface of the members of the feuding clans, the Capulets and the Montagues.  His gaunt facial features set in a permanent grimace seem chiseled by the very hand of Revenge.
    • Johnnie L. McQuarley as Romeo - While Mr. McQuarley is quite a bit older than the 15 year-old Romeo, he imbues the character with enough adolescent volatility to be credible as a love-sick teenager.  He radiates passion and frustration in a high voltage performance.
    • Mikey DiLoreto as Benvolio - Mr. DiLoreto has a very distinctive style of acting that works perfectly for the catalytic role of Benvolio.  A certain air of supercilious superiority gives him the  gravitas to serve as Romeo's alter ego and apologist.

  • There are several small moments in this production that glisten like nuggets of 24-carat gold.
    • The brief scene in which Romeo implores the Apothecary, played with an appropriate sepulchral air by William Schuller, was magical.  I have always paid especially close attention to this scene ever since the Royal Shakespeare Company used it in an iconic fashion in the "play within the play" in their acclaimed production of "Nicholas Nickelby."  The scene is full of memorable lines spoken with appropriate gravity, and includes a very nice shtick wherein Schuller fumbles protractedly among the many pockets of his apron to find just the right poison to fulfill Romeo's deadly purpose.
    • The early scene in which Nurse prattles on endlessly about her memories of Juliet as a child - much to the consternation of Lady Capulet, played nobly by Tina Blythe.  She recalls her days as wet nurse to Juliet, and how she weaned her from the comfort of the breast:
      • "When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
        Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
        To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug!" 
        (Act I, Scene 3)
You may have noticed that I have not yet mentioned Juliet, played earnestly by Lauren Elias.  The reason for this omission is that I found myself unconvinced that a spark of passion existed between this Juliet and her Romeo.  The lines were all presented flawlessly, yet they did not form a cord that bound the two lovers to each other in a way that was able to move me.  Hence, the death scene felt almost anticlimactic.

I asked myself why this was the case, and why I failed to bond with the Director’s casting choices for the lead roles.  And it slowly came to me why I was reacting as I was.  In preparation for directing this production, Ms. Plum watched film and video of many of the great past productions of this play, including the much-acclaimed 1968 film by Franco Zeffirelli.  For many of us, the images from that film represent the ideal of what Romeo and Juliet should look like.


Mr. McQuarley and Ms. Elias bring a decidedly different kind of physical beauty to their roles.  It occurs to me that Ms. Plum may have cast them against type to force us in the audience to "plumb the depths" of our preconceived notions of what young love may look like in this day and age.  In a sense, she "placed wormwood on the nipple" to wean us off of our expectation that beauty can only take on certain limited forms.  And so we are stretched beyond our comfort zone - the comfort we found at Zeffirelli's breast.

In order to test my theory about being moved out of a zone of comfort, I plan to see the play at least one more time to give the two lovers another chance to enter my heart - and then to break it.

Join  me in watching this fascinating production.

Enjoy!

Al

August 10-25, 2012
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 730pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
All Sundays and Saturday 8/18 and 8/25 at 2pm

Press Night is Saturday, August 11 at 8pm

TICKETS
General Admission: $24
Preview Performance Friday, August 10: $12
Wednesday Industry Nights and all Matinee performances: $12

Boston Center for the Arts
Plaza Theatre
537 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116

BOX OFFICE CONTACT:
Phone: 617 933 8600
TTY: 617 424 0694
Email: boxoffice@bostontheatrescene.com

CAST (Alphabetical)
Michael Anderson: Lord Capulet
Brian M. Balduzzi: Balthasar
Tina Blythe: Lady Capulet
Mikey DiLoreto: Benvolio
Lauren Elias: Juliet
Mark Estano: Gregory/Page
June Kfoury: Nurse
Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia: Abram/1st Guard/Citizen
Johnnie L. McQuarley: Romeo
Joey C. Pelletier: Mercutio
Kiki Samko: Prince/Chorus
William Schuller: Sampson/Apothecary/2nd Guard
Sharon Squires: Lady Montague
Audrey Lynn Sylvia: Servant/Peter/Sister Joan
Michael Underhill: Tybalt
Arthur Waldstein: Friar Lawrence
Jesse Wood: Paris

CREATIVE TEAM

Director: PAULA PLUM
Production Manager: Vicki Schairer
Assistant Directors: Melanie Garber and Lizette M. Morris
Stage Manager: Michele Teevan
Assistant Stage Managers: Renato Luna Dezzone and Becca Kidwell
Technical Director: Bryan Prywes
Costume Designer: Jillian Clark
Wardrobe Assistant: Erica Desautels
Lighting Designer: Daniel Chavez
Lighting Assistant: Michael Underhill
Marketing Manager: Robyn Linden
Scenic Designer/Set Construction: Bryan Prywes
Scenic Assistant: Shelley Barish
Sound Designers: Melissa deJesus and Chris Larson
Props Artisan/Master: Bryan Prywes
Fight Choreographer: Angie Jepson
Fight Captain: Michael Underhill
Choreographer: Kiki Samko
Board Operator: Michele Teevan

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A Novel That Offers Food for Thought Regarding Middle East Policy: Review of "The Last Israelis" by Noah Beck



Noah Beck has written a fascinating apocalyptic tale that sees the destruction of Israel as the logical outcome of the current policies being promulgated in the Middle East, especially with regard to Iran's nuclear weapons program. As tensions in the Middle East come to a boiling point and approach Armageddon, the Israeli submarine, Dolphin, is sent out to sea and given orders to head towards Iran. During the Dolphin's more four weeks at sea, the world goes to hell in a hand basket. The Israeli Prime Minister lapses into a coma, the American President fails to respond to a final Israeli request to intervene in Iran before their nuclear capabilities are fully operational, and Israel comes under massive attack on all fronts. While the Dolphin makes its way to within target range of Iran, conflict rages above the surface and under the water.

Beck has done an excellent job in assembling a motley crew of sailors that represent every possible ethnic and religious expression of the Israeli melting pot. Their inherent mistrust of one another and their different world views make for lively action as the submarine loses contact with Naval Command and must decide whether or not to execute an order to launch nuclear warheads at Iranian targets.

My one regret with this ambitious work is that I wish that the author had fully trusted the action of the novel to make the political points he clearly wants to make. When the action moves the plot forward, the novel is engaging and well written. It is when the action slows to a crawl and the crew members engage in speechifying that the book gets snagged on the reef of the author's submerged political agenda. Beck clearly feels strongly about the danger that Israel may one day disappear if someone does not take a firmer stand against Iran. I would have preferred that he had stuck with "showing me" rather than "telling me" through extended conversation and contrived debates among the submarine crew

Having pointed out this foible, let me say that the overall impact of the story was powerful and very readable. Beck has something to say, and for the most part, he says it well. I look forward to his next works.


Let me add my observation that the reluctance on the part of some of the crew of the Dolphin to execute the launch order is a very plausible plot twist.  There have been many documented reports of crews trained to launch nuclear warheads have had difficulty with the enormity of their assignment when it comes time to turn the key and push the button.  This part of the plot adds a realistic and disturbing literary thermal layer of realism.


Enjoy!


Al

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Lament for Jolly Old England - Review of "Lionel ASBO" by Martin Amis



I do not take it as accidental that Martin Amis has chosen as the sub-title of his latest novel: "State of England."  I have not read his previous offerings, but I surmise that in this brilliantly dismal tale he is commenting on the troubled state of things in the UK at many levels. The eponymous protagonist, ne'er-do-well rogue Lionel ASBO, has legally changed his name to reflect the most frequent of the criminal charges filed against him: "Anti-Social Behaviour Disorders."  His nephew, an orphaned mixed-race young gent by the name of Desmond Pepperdine, is the true hero of the story, but he is not without his flaws.  Caught up in a complex web of incest, the reader must constantly ask: Is Des an innocent victim here, or a co-conspirator?  When will the seedy past come to light, and who will suffer?

Uncle Lionel, while in jail, wins the lottery and is "set for life."  It becomes clear that money is not sufficient to create a thick enough patina of respectability to cover over Lionel's lower-class roots set in the mythic London borough of Diston, redolent of dystopia.

Pit bulls, wolves and foxes play a significant role in the story - suggestive that the barrier between full-on primal urges ruling our world and our psyches on the one hand and maintaining a modicum of civilization on the other hand is as diaphanous as a window curtain.  Strange sexual urges float in the atmosphere of Diston; GILFs, MILFs, DILFs, and S&M all play a role in the crazy plot line.

Three female characters serve as bookends for the author's view of England and its prospects for the future.  After Uncle Li wins many millions in the lottery and is dubbed by the tabloids as "The Lotto Lout," one of the many "gold diggers" who finds her way into his life is "Threnody," a would-be poetess.  A  "threnody" is a song, hymn or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person.  This novel, then, is Amis' lament about the death of traditional English culture, wailed plaintively as he decamps from the UK to resettle in the U.S.  Threnody, as Lionel's significant other, represent the worst of the worst.

On the other extreme are tho two positive female influences in Desmond's life - his wife, Dawn, and his daughter, Cilla, named after his departed mother.  Cilla, almost from the moment of her premature birth, bestows a beatific smile on all that she observes and meets.  Almost overwhelmed and devoured by the twin pit bulls who have been fed into a rage on steak and Tabasco sauce, she escapes to offer hope for a "new dawn" in England.

Playing in the background of the novel and of Desmond's grandmother's story are Beatles' songs - emblematic of the pervasive cultural influence of the Fab Four - for good and for ill.   Gran Grace's sons are named for Beatles and Beatles' hangers-on. The title and topic of the Beatles' song playing at the moment always matches the action in the novel.  Case in point: As Gran deflowers her teenage grandson, she does so to the beat of  "When I'm Sixty-four."

The novel, as you may imagine, is in many ways disturbing and discouraging.  Yet, Amis allows us a denouement that strongly suggests hope for Des and his family - and by extension, for Jolly Old England and humanity.

Enjoy.

Al