Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston Strong – Army Strong: Some Additional Thoughts on the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings

This picture has become one of many iconic images that show the devastation and the courage that were in evidence in the moments just after the twin explosions ripped through the heart of Boylston Street just yards from the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon.  When  I first looked at this photo, I knew right away that the two men giving aid to the fallen victim had to be among those representing Team Red, White & Blue at the Marathon.
 Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

I have been aware of Team RWB’s mission and its effectiveness from its inception, being familiar with several of the key founders and leaders, including Mike Erwin and James McBride.  It was only a few days after the Boston Marathon that I learned that one of the soldiers pictured above is a friend of mine.  Not only did he not allow his name to be given to the press, he was even quiet about his heroism among his circle of friends.  I will honor his desire to remain anonymous, but I will presume to speak about the kind of heroism that he reluctantly represents. 
My soldier friend had volunteered to be one of a relay team of runners to aid a blind athlete in completing the full Marathon course.  The soldier and the runner he was accompanying were near the Finish Line between the two bomb sites when the explosions occurred just seconds apart. 
Having served in combat, this active duty Army officer had come to the Boston area for graduate studies.  As some who had experienced several deployments in war zones, he fully expected that life for him and his family in Boston would be more normal and peaceful.   Yet when a war zone erupted around him on the race course, he immediately switched back into combat mode, diving into the carnage and offering first aid and triage.  He was one of many heroes who put aside thoughts for their own safety to come to the aid of the fallen.
Here is how the Boston Athletic Association, the Boston Marathon’s parent organization, described the situation in a press release:
“Others were as reluctant to step into the spotlight. One is simply being referred to as ‘the man who gave the shirt off his back.’
An active-duty service member, he was at the finish line as the bombs exploded Monday. He was photographed wrapping the red shirt he wore during the Boston Marathon around the bloody leg of a woman at the blast site. He does not want to be recognized. He wants only prayers for the victims.
‘That’s him: ‘This is not about me. Focus on what’s important.’ That’s just who he is,’ said Larry Olson, spokesman for Team Red, White & Blue, a veterans advocacy group who had 17 participants in the marathon, including the man who offered his shirt to stop the woman’s bleeding.”
Several days after the Marathon, my friend and another Army veteran planned to attend a Red Sox game, and asked me to join them.  They were several innings late in arriving at Fenway Park, which I thought strange, because these warriors are usually quite punctual.  I learned that on the way to Fenway, my friend had received a text from one of the victims he had helped at the site of the bombings.  This person was in his hospital room with several family members who were visiting.  They had done some research and had discovered who it was that had helped him.  The patient asked my friend to come to his bedside so he could thank him and introduce him to the family.  Pretty good excuse for missing a few innings of baseball.  
Boston Strong – Army Strong!
My friend is one of the many nameless heroes – first responders, police, firemen, EMTs, doctors, nurses, soldiers, Marathon volunteers, runners and civilians  - who saw a need and responded quickly and selflessly.  We are blessed to call them our neighbors.

Boylston Street recently re-opened.  Yesterday I made the trip from Arlington St. up to Massachusetts Avenue, pausing to visit the Memorial that has been set up in Copley Plaza.  I also stopped in front of the two bombing sites.  Hundreds of people were strolling, taking pictures, dining and drinking in the many fine establishments that line Boylston.  The City is inching back to a more normal pace of life.  
Boston Strong! 
We rightfully take pride in our city’s resilience.  As we do so, let’s continue to remember to be thankful to those who served on Patriots’ Day, and who continue to serve.  And let’s continue to be more patient, courteous, kind, thoughtful and present with one another – to friends, family and strangers alike.  Being strong can sometimes mean being gentle!
God bless.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Time To Keep Living - A Life Lesson From Pippin's Grandmother - Some Birthday Reflections

If you have been reading any of my Blog posts in the past few months, you will be aware that the Broadway hit, Pippin, has become one of my favorite shows of all time.  I can't stop thinking about it, talking about it, and even singing about it.

Today is the 40th anniversary of my 26th birthday!  Why do I choose to express it in that manner?  Well, a few days ago I was a having a conversation with a young friend.  Somehow the subject of my age came up, and my friend said: "Yes, but you live life as if you are 26, so your chronological age is insignificant!"  I love that thought, and have taken it to heart.

In the first act of Pippin, the young prince's grandmother is philosophizing with him about their very different perceptions of time.  The grandmother, Berthe, mother to Charlemagne, launches into the iconic song "No Time At All" with lyrics and music by the brilliant Stephen Schwartz.  I can only use these lyrics with precision once in my life, so I am pleased to share them as some of my thoughts for today:

Oh, it's time to start livin'
Time to take a little from this world we're given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all....

Here is a secret I never have told
Maybe you'll understand why
I believe if I refuse to grow old
I can stay young till I die
Now, I've known the fears of sixty-six years
I've had troubles and tears by the score
But the only thing I'd trade them for
Is sixty-seven more....

Oh, it's time to keep livin'
Time to keep takin' from this world we're given
You are my time, so I'll throw off my shawl
And watching your flings be flung all over
Makes me feel young all over

In just no time at all....

Thank you to family and friends for making life such a joyous adventure, and for sharing it with me in so many meaningful ways.

God bless.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Timely Look at the Monsters That Would Seek To Frighten Us – Company One Presents “She Kills Monsters” at the Boston Center for the Arts

Over the weekend, I was privileged to attend the Press Opening performance of “She Kills Monsters,” presented by Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre.

I have waited a few days before offering my thoughts on this remarkable play and production.  I wanted to have an opportunity to sort out my feelings in the wake of Monday’s Marathon bombings and the aftermath.  I wanted to be sure that I was able to articulate those thoughts and feelings in a Blog piece before returning to the more “normal” activity of reviewing a play.   I think I have enough of a sense of perspective now to offer by thoughts on “She Kills Monsters” seen in retrospect in light of the attack on our city.
In that larger sense, this play is here for us at a perfect time, for its themes speak directly to the challenges that we face as a community and as individuals in light of the “monsters” who chose to attack us and try to diminish us.

Here are some ways in which I see intersections between the play and our real life tragedy.

  • teenager named Tilly dies along with her parents in a car accident, leaving behind an older sister, Agnes, who had never really understood her little sister.  Agnes is experiencing a combination of survivor’s guilt and regret at never having taken the time to explore who her little sister was.
  • Agnes becomes aware of a notebook that contains a private scenario for a Dungeons and Dragons game that Tilly had designed as a way to cope with her status as a geek and outsider.  In that private game, Tilly has created a character with powers to fight the “monsters” that haunt her in real life – cliquey cheerleaders, an insipid guidance counselor, and the usual assortment of denizens of a high school who can make life miserable for a kid who is slightly different.
  • Agnes grows throughout the play as she is catapulted out of her comfort zone and into her sister’s fantasy world and quest.  In the process, she faces real fear and learns to understand both her departed sister and herself in new ways.
  •  Like Agnes, many of us have been wrenched from our comfort zones this week and forced to face the consequence of having been attacked, instantly losing loved ones whom we may not have fully appreciated while they were with us.
  • We have been forced to reflect on what is means to come to really know and to value another human being, as well as to consider how to appropriately grieve a tragic loss.
  • Like Agnes, we also need to wrestle with the painful questions of how to move on while confronting the lingering demons and monsters of fear, doubt, regret and uncertainty.

The playwright, Qui Nguyen, has crafted a brilliantly designed play.  I was not sure what to expect, having known a bit about D&D from my sons who were big fans of role-playing games.  The best things I can say about the script without giving away too many details is that the author sets up the audience brilliantly for a wrenching roller coaster ride that runs the full spectrum of emotions.  I laughed uproariously at the intentionally sophomoric presentation of the high school kids creating and playing out their quest in Tilly’s private D&D scenario.  And then the tables quickly turned from comedic to poignant as Agnes begins to process the depth of her loss.  She has an ever-deepening sense that she never really took the time to know, or to even see, Tilly for who she was.  And she grieves the loss of her sister and the opportunities she let pass when Tilly was alive.  A writer who can make me laugh and cry within moments is either very manipulative or very clever.  I choose to applaud Nguyen’s cleverness and sensitivity.

The company of actors assembled by Director Shira Milikowsky brings Nguyen’s script to life in a wonderful way – full of energy, camp, irony and passion.  Throw in wonderful puppetry effects, great scenic (Erik D. Diaz) and lighting design (Justin Paice), and you have a formula for a moving night at the theater.
Jordan Clark as Tilly and Paige Clark Perkinson as Agnes anchor a cast that creates just the right balance between parody and tragedy.  Mike Handelman also stands out as Chuck, the Dungeon Master. They are ably supported by a strong ensemble that includes Noam Ash, Jamianne Devlin, Jacqui Dupre, Adobuere Ebiama, Meredith Saran, Stewart Evan Smith, Jordan Sobel and Katee Tredway.

As we continue to bind up our wounds inflicted by the still faceless and nameless “monsters” who chose to attack us on Monday, a few hours of reflection and entertainment in the company of Company One could be quite therapeutic.  “She Kills Monsters” - I recommend it.

A New England Premiere by Qui Nguyen 
Directed by Shira Milikowsky
Fight Direction by Robert Najarian
April 13 – May 11, 2013
After the totally-weird Tilly dies, oh-so-average Agnes doesn’t know what to make of the geekery her sister left behind. In an effort to understand the gulf between them, she embarks on a quest of Tilly’s own design, rife with hostile faeries, randy ogres, awkward high schoolers, and broadswords. Will Agnes discover her inner badass, or will the bugbears get her first? Qui Nguyen, resident playwright of Brooklyn’s Vampire Cowboys theatre, serves up a comedic nerdgasm – an homage to the outcast in all of us.

Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre
539 Tremont Street
South End, Boston, MA

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some Personal Reflections on the How We Should Respond To Events Surrounding the Boston Marathon Bombings

I have been wondering how to process my thoughts and emotions after Monday’s horrific events at the Finish Line of our beloved Boston Marathon.  I have volunteered at the Marathon for the past 15 years, so I feel a close personal connection.  Part of my job as a volunteer is to help to greet the Elite runners before the race as they come with their coaches to bring their special hydration bottles so that our team can place them on the race course at the appropriate spot at the appropriate special water stop.  So, I have come to know many of the lead runners.  I also am part of the team that mans the Elite water tables at the 40K stop, about a mile from the Finish Line.  I often get a smile of recognition from the runners that I know as they sprint past me as they pass this final water stop.  I was on my way from the 40K Stop towards the Finish Line when I heard the news about the bombing.  Bottom line – I feel a close personal connection to this world class race and this world class city.

The first few hours after the event were full of numbness and anger and pain and denial and wondering what would come next.  I began to feel encouraged when I learned that the MFA (Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts) had offered to open the museum for free access to the community.

MFA admission will be free today. We hope the Museum will be a place of respite for our community.

The Museum’s galleries and special exhibitions will be open. Drop-in programs, including art-making activities, tours, and story hours for families and children, will also be available.”
I wrote on FaceBook: “Let the MFA and the arts in general be a place for solace, reflection and healing.”

I just received this e-mail letter from Spiro Veloudos which embraces the same spirit I was wishing for.  I am pleased to share it with readers of The White Rhino Report:

An open letter from Spiro Veloudos

President of the Producers Association of New England Area Theatres 


My Friends, Colleagues and Patrons

The horrendous events surrounding the Boston Marathon have given us all great pause. We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences and prayers to the victims of Monday’s events. Those events have caused us to reflect on our community and our companies.

I have been reflecting on the events of 9/11 in regard to this week’s tragedy. On 9/11 the Lyric was rehearsing Sunday in the Park with George. We called the company and gave them the option to NOT come in. Only one person (then a spot operator but now still a friend) didn’t come in. Her brother was in the military. Upon later reflection, we all thought that being together, doing something that we love in preparation for an audience, was extremely healing for us.

Last night, we began rehearsals for On the Town. There was a very emotional moment during that rehearsal as we began our work on the wonderful song of love and loss, Some other Time. This morning I received a picture of Leonard Bernstein, the composer of On the Town, with the following words:

This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.

      Leonard Bernstein

Just exchange the word music for theatre and I think you have what most of us in Boston Theatre are thinking today.

The Lyric Stage Company will, during this weekend’s performances of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, be taking collections for, a clearing house for donations, created by Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino, which are being solicited in support of the victims of Monday’s tragedy. Our neighbor, The John Hancock Insurance Company, has committed to $1,000,000 for the fund. Assuredly we will not even approach that figure, but as all of us in the not-for-profit sector understand, “every dollar counts”

As President of The Producers Association of New England Theatres, I am asking my brother and sister theatres who are currently in production to do the same. It is my hope and challenge that not only the NEAT theatres, but all theatres — commercial or not-for-profit, mainstream and fringe, large or small  — will also consider doing a similar appeal. Individuals can also make a contribution directly to the website:

Terrorism wins when we stop living our lives. The week following 9/11, every theatre and performing arts group assembled in what was a parking lot (now the W Hotel) in the theatre district. We raised our voices to sing “God Bless America” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” two songs that mark what I certainly believe in and live for.

On behalf of the Board and Staff of The Lyric Stage Company we offer our sincerest sympathies to the victims of this truly senseless act.


Spiro Veloudos

The Producers Association of New England Area Theatres


Producing Artistic Director
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

In like manner, the worldwide sports community have opened their arms wide to our city.  The Yankees had fans at The Stadium sing our iconic Red Sox anthem, “Sweet Caroline.”  It seems to be a small and symbolic gesture, but somehow it feels like one small suture in the long process of binding up our wounds.
The City of Boston has a very strange vibe today – part war zone, part ghost town, and part small village.  As was the case for a short while in NYC after the 9/11 attacks, individuals are far more aware of the need to reach out to one another with a word, a smile, a gesture of support.  It did not take long for the city of New York to return to a more “normal” approach to living lives of more quotidian isolation and hustle and bustle.   It is my hope and prayer that here in Boston, we can learn from our brothers and sisters in NYC.  I pray that we will see the opportunity to build bridges of trust and humanity and love to one another – not merely in the few hours and days after we came under attack, but for the foreseeable future. 

Our city has indeed come under attack, and many of us are feeling – individually and collectively – as if we are struggling up our own Heartbreak Hill.  Let us not allow the forces of hatred and darkness to overcome our common decency and humanity.  At the end of the day – at the Finish Line of our race together, let it be declared that LOVE was the winner.

Being there for one another and living in a more connected and loving fashion with one another is not a short term challenge.  Dare I say that this challenge is not a sprint; it is a MARATHON!  Keep pressing on.

Allow me quote part of a familiar passage written by the Apostle Paul to his followers at the Church in Philippi:

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me . . .” (Philippians 3:13, 14a)

God bless.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents the New England Premiere of "By The Way, Meet Vera Stark"


On Sunday, I joined a house full of enthusiastic audience members for the Press Opening of the New England Premiere of "By The Way, Meet Vera Stark," written by Lynn Nottage.  The play is being presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  The work is written in a complex format, mixing live action scenes from the 1930's and 2003 with film and video clips shot to appear as if they also had been recorded in the 1930's and the 1970's.  The over-arching theme is the "peculiar institution" that was the system that limited the careers of Black actresses in Hollywood, marginalizing them to playing slaves, maids or performers.  In Nottage's nimble hands, the play evokes deep thinking amid the many laughs as the gifted actors and actresses present their own caricatures of caricatures.  I found the play very engaging and moving.
Upon reflection, it strikes me that the theme of the play struck a very personal note, so please allow me a personal side journey before I return to describing the nuts and bolts of this fine production.

In the lobby of the Lyric Stage Company's performance space on Clarendon Street, the company has mounted a photo montage of Black women who acted in Hollywood during the "Pre-Code Era."  As I perused the display, several familiar faces jumped out at me - Josephine Baker, Theresa Harris, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen and Ethel Waters.  It was my tangential connection to Ethel Waters that gave me the emotional context for connecting with the substance of this play.  Ethel Waters not only performed in films and on  Broadway, she was an acclaimed singing star on the Harlem Circuit, and made a major impact on the Harlem Renaissance.  One of her co-stars at the Apollo Theater and elsewhere was the singer Frances Austin.  Years later, in the 1950's and 1960's, Frances made her home in my hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts, where she worked as laundress for a wealthy family.  She also sang in the choir of the Baptist Church that I attended.  I took violin lessons from the woman for whom Frances worked, and I had many opportunities while waiting for my lesson to hang out in the laundry room while Frances would tell me stories of her days in show business.  More than once we combined on a duet version of Ethel Waters' iconic hit: "His Eye Is On The Sparrow." 

So, you see, my personal history with Frances Austin as a "Mammy" figure in my life set me up to resonate with the story of Vera Stark.

The cast members in this play are required to play multiple roles, and they handle them with panache and aplomb.  Kami Rushnell Smith is saucy and memorable as Vera Stark, pushing the boundaries of a character who grows in a number of ways during the arc of the story.  Hannah Husband plays Vera's boss and eventual "co-star," Gloria Mitchell, "America's Little Sweetheart."  She brings just the right combination of melodrama and vulnerability to a role that could have been played as a cartoonish figure, but is much more than that in Husband's capable hands.  Terrell Donnell Sledge is Leroy and Herb, and is believable as both men, who are quite different from one another.  Lyndsay Allyn Cox plays both Lottie and an academic named Carment Levy-Green.  Her performances in both roles are pitch perfect, especially when embodying the author's send-up of a meretricious academic.  She plays her roles with a wonderful stage presence and superciliousness.  Kris Sidberry is hilarious as the chameleon Anna Mae who tries to pass as Latina, and as the dashiki-wearing activist and feminist, Afua Assat Ejobo.  Kelby T. Akin is Mr. Slasvick and Brad Donovan, a TV show host. Gregory Balla is the egotistic film director, Maximillian Von Oster and stoned-out 70's rock musician, Peter Rhys-Davies.  These two men round out a very capable ensemble cast.

left to right - Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Lottie,
Kami Rushnell Smith as Vera Stark,
Kelby T. Akin as Slasvick
Kris Sidberry as Anna Mae

At the end of the day, while offering up hilarious pillorying of the Hollywood system, racial stereotyping, slick TV talk shows, fatuous academic poseurs, and anyone else who might be tempted to hide behind a mask or a false identity, the play asks serious questions.  This is a solidly directed and acted production of an intriguing play.  You have until April 27 to take advantage of your own opportunity to "Meet Vera Stark."