Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Long Crimson Line - Harvard and the Military: Saluting Our Nation's Newest Officers

On occasions when a particular Blog post seems to be a good fit for both the White Rhino Report and The White Rhino Partners Chronicle, I will post that article in both places.

This piece appeared earlier today in White Rhino Partners Chronicle.

The Long Crimson Line - Harvard and the Military: Saluting Our Nation's Newest Officers

I have just returned from Harvard Yard, where four members of Harvard College's Class of 2013 took the Oath of Office to become officers - two Marine 2nd Lieutenants, One Navy Ensign and one Air Force 2nd Lieutenant.  Congratulations go out to the following:

  • USMC 2 Lt. Brian Fuey of Portland, Maine
  • USMC 2 LT. Gavin Pascarella of Corona, CA
  • USN Ensign Colin Dickinson of Garden City, NY
  • USAF 2 Lt.  Courtney Diekema of Holland, MI
Also honored was Midshipman Christian Yoo of Bronxville, NY, who will be commissioned at a future date.

The ceremony was poignant in a number of aspects.  On the one hand, Harvard University and the military have had a long tradition of partnership gong back to the days of the Revolution.  Monuments abound on the verdant campus to Harvard war heroes - on both sides of the River Charles and the bridges that span the stream. On the other hand, in the fervent anti-militarism that arose on many college campuses during and after the Vietnam War, Harvard expelled the military from the campus - denying ROTC and military recruitment from taking place within the ivied walls.  In the past few years, the pendulum has slowly swung back to a more balanced position, and with the steady encouragement of Harvard alumni who have served their nation as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, ROTC is once again alive and well at Harvard.  Much of the credit goes to the courageous stand of Harvard's 28th President, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust.

Dr. Faust was present at today's ceremony - her presence and words offering a signal indication that Harvard women and men who choose to serve their country in the military are once again held in high esteem by this hoary institution.  In her very moving remarks, Dr. Faust quoted liberally from a commencement address that had been given in 2011 by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.  Here are some of Admiral Mullen's words which Dr. Faust shared this morning:

"Yes, you all understand quite well the sacrifices demanded by military service. 
What I am suggesting is that we in uniform do not have the luxury anymore of assuming that our fellow citizens understand it the same way.  Our work is appreciated.  Of that, I am certain.  There isn’t a town or a city I visit where people do not convey to me their great pride in what we do.  Even those who do not support the wars support the troops. 
But I fear they do not know us.  I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle. This is important, because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them.  Were we more representative of the population, were more American families touched by military service, like that of the Hidalgos or the Huntoon families, perhaps a more advantageous familiarity would ensue.  But we are a small force, rightly volunteers, and less than 1 percent of the population, scattered about the country due to base closings, and frequent and lengthy deployments.
We’re also fairly insular, speaking our own language of sorts, living within our own unique culture, isolating ourselves either out of fear or from, perhaps, even our own pride.  The American people can therefore be forgiven for not possessing an intimate knowledge of our needs or of our deeds.  We haven’t exactly made it easy for them.  And we have been a little busy.  But that doesn’t excuse us from making the effort.  That doesn’t excuse us from our own constitutional responsibilities as citizens and soldiers to promote the general welfare, in addition to providing for the common defense. We must help them understand our fellow citizens who so desperately want to help us."

Dr. Faust went on to add that because of the fact that our military constitutes only 1% of our population, most of us do not understand the burden that our veterans bear - the full price that they pay for having served us and our nation.  She issued a challenge for each of us to do more than merely saying a perfunctory: "Thank you for your service," to our men and women who have served, but to dig deeper and to find concrete ways to offer help in facing the challenges of re-entry into the civilian world.  She also took time to share brief stories of some of the women and men currently studying at Harvard who are veterans, including current students at the College, Law School, Business School, Kennedy School and School of Medicine.

Once the new officers had repeated their Oath of Office and received their Commissions, they presented Dr. Faust with a very symbolic gift: an engraved empty cartridge shell of very large caliber - perhaps a mortar round.  How fitting, for surely she has been on the receiving end of plenty of flack and "friendly fire" for her vocal support of welcoming the military onto the Harvard campus once again.

It was a wonderful days for our nation, for a storied university and for the families and friends of the new officers.

Serve with honor, my friends!

Al Chase

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Donovan Campbell Returns With "The Leader's Guide" - A Call for Servant Leadership

Donovan Campbell has built upon the success of his first book, "Joker One," and has turned his focus to examining the nature of effective leadership. "The Leader's Code - Mission, Character, Service and Getting the Job Done" is all about developing a mindset and a heart for servant leadership.

Readers of the White Rhino Report will recognize Campbell  from our review of "Joker One."  Campbell was also a keynote speaker  at The White Rhino Intersection.

White Rhino Report Review of Joker One

The author uses stories from his own experience in the Marines Corps and in the world of business - sometimes to point to success and at other times to confess to failure on his part to always act like the kind of ideal leader he is advocating for in this book. Campbell's transparency is one of the great strengths of this work.

The organization of the subject matter is logical and helpful. Campbell breaks down effective leadership into its component parts - Mission, Humility, Excellence, Kindness, Discipline, Courage, Wisdom, Virtue. Within each chapter he shares vignettes from the lives of leaders - either as examples to emulate or to avoid. He then offers questions that encourage the reader to engage in personal reflection on t he topic covered in the chapter, and then he caps off the chapter with a succinct summary.

This book is a much-needed addition to the growing stack of books that purport to teach leadership. This author has lived and continues to live what he preaches in the book, which sets it apart from many of the other volumes in this genre.

I recommend this book strongly to anyone who aspires to lead others with integrity and effectiveness.  I have been privileged to have known Donovan Campbell since his days as an MBA student at Harvard Business School, from which he graduated with top honors as a Baker Scholar.  I have seen him wrestle with both the theory and the execution of the principles outlined in this book. This is not ivory tower theorizing, but real leadership lessons refined in the cauldron of the battlefields of war and of business. 



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Landfill Harmonic: "The Recycled Orchestra" - A Remarkable Story of Music and Reclamation

The Recycled Orchestra

My friend, Rick Mavrovich, just made me aware of this remarkable project.  In a garbage dump in Paraguay, musical instruments are being fashioned from trash and lives are being reclaimed.  The project is described below in the Kickstarter campaign description.

A heartfelt & moving story of how instruments made from recycled trash bring hope to children whose future is otherwise spiritless.

Landfill Harmonic reveals a mind-boggling, inventive effort to change that - musical instruments made from trash. In the barrios of Paraguay, a humble garbage picker uses his ingenuity to craft instruments out of recycled materials - and a youth orchestra is born. Music arises and children find new dreams.

About Landfill Harmonic

A film about “The Recycled Orchestra”, a group of children from a Paraguayan slum who play instruments made entirely of garbage. It is a beautiful story about the transformative power of music, which also highlights two vital issues of our times: poverty and waste pollution.   
The world generates about a billion tons of garbage a year.  Those who live with it and from it are the poor – like the people of Cateura, Paraguay.  And here they are transforming it into beauty.  Landfill Harmonic follows the orchestra as it takes its inspiring spectacle of trash-into-music around the world. 
Production began in 2010 when we traveled to Paraguay to film the children and the orchestra. We returned to the village in 2011 to film and check on the progress of three young children who recently entered the orchestra. We then resumed filming in 2012. We will also continue to follow the story in 2013. Landfill Harmonic shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments, but more importantly, it brings witness to the transformation of precious human beings.

Favio Chávez: Director of the “Los Reciclados” orchestra

Check out the Youtube video that gives an overview of this inspiring project. - Landfill Harmonic

This link will take you to the Kickstarter site that gives a more complete description of the project and its broader vision.  The Kickstarter program has been fully funded, so this link is for information only at this point.

Landfill Harmonic Description

I am sending this article to friends around the world hoping that they may be inspired to use the same ingenuity in their developing world communities.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Some Fascinating Thoughts On The Burial of Tamerlan the Terrorist - from The New Yorker by Daniel Mendelsohn

Painting by Nikiforos Lytras, Antigone in front of the dead Polynices (1865),
National Gallery of Greece-Alexandros Soutzos Museum.
The current issue of The New Yorker contains an absolutely fascinating article by Daniel Mendelsohn entitled : "UNBURIED: TAMERLAN TSARNAEV AND THE LESSONS OF GREEK TRAGEDY."  In the article, the author contrasts the Greek warriors' ethos of respecting the enemy dead as still worthy of burial with the recent controversy surrounding the disposition of the body of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  I thank my friend Kahlil Tawil for making me aware of the article.  Thanks to Mendelsohn's thoughtful words, we have history and art to help us to enter into dialogue about a painful and controversial issue.  Perhaps now the conversation can rise above irrational emotionalism and consider thoughtfully both side of the argument.

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MAY 14, 2013

“Bury this terrorist on U.S. soil and we will unbury him.”

So ran the bitter slogan on one of the signs borne last week by enraged protesters outside the Worcester, Massachusetts, funeral home that had agreed to receive the body of the accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev—a cadaver seemingly so morally polluted that his own widow would not claim it, that no funeral director would touch it, that no cemetery would bury it. Indeed, even after Peter Stefan, a Worcester funeral director, had washed and shrouded the battered, bullet-ridden body for burial according to Muslim law, the cadaver became the object of a macabre game of civic and political football. Cemetery officials and community leaders in the Boston area were concerned that a local burial would spark civic unrest. (“It is not in the best interest of ‘peace within the city’ to execute a cemetery deed,” the Cambridge city manager, Robert Healy, announced.) While the state’s governor carefully sidestepped the issue, asserting that it was a family matter, other politicians seemed to sense an advantage in catering to the high popular feeling. “If the people of Massachusetts do not want that terrorist to be buried on our soil,” declared Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, “then it should not be.”
And so it went until late last week, when—due to the intervention of Martha Mullen, a Richmond, Virginia, woman who’d been following the story, a practicing Christian who cited Jesus’s injunction to “love our enemies” as her inspiration—Tsarnaev’s body was finally transported to a tiny Muslim cemetery in rural Virginia, and interred there in an unmarked grave. Until then, the corpse had languished for over two weeks—not only unburied but, in a way, unburiable. In one of several updates it published on the grisly affair, the Times quoted Ray Madoff, a Boston law professor who specializes in “what she calls the law of the dead,” about the case. “There is no precedent for this type of thing,” Madoff told a reporter. “It is a legal no-man’s land.”
A legal no-man’s land, perhaps, but familiar territory to anyone even casually acquainted with the Greek classics. From its epic dawn to its tragic high noon, Greek literature expressed tremendous cultural anxiety about what happens when the dead are left unburied. In part, the issue was a religious one: the souls of the dead were thought to be stranded, unable to reach the underworld without proper burial. (And without a proper tomb, or sêma—a “sign” or grave marker—a dead person could not hope for postmortem recognition, some sign that he or she had once lived and died.) The religious prohibition had civic consequences: refusal to bury the dead was considered an affront to the gods and could bring ritual pollution on the community. The right of all sides to bury soldiers who had fallen in battle was a convention of war; burial truces were regularly granted. In myth, even characters who act more like terrorists than like soldiers—for instance, the great warrior Ajax, who plots to assassinate his commanding officers but ends up dead himself—are deemed worthy of burial in the end. Which is to say, even the body of the enemy was sacrosanct.
This preoccupation with the implications of burial and non-burial haunts a number of the greatest works of Greek literature. The opening lines of the Iliad, the oldest extant work of Western poetry, refer with pointed revulsion to the possibility that the bodies of the warriors who died at Troy could become the “delicate pickings of birds and dogs”; indeed you might say that getting the dead buried—even the reviled, enemy dead—is the principle object of the epic’s grand narrative arc. Fifteen thousand lines after that opening reference to unburied corpses, the poem closes, magnificently, with a scene of reconciliation between the grief-maddened Achilles—who has daily defiled the unburied body of his mortal enemy, Hector, dragging it back and forth through the dirt before the walls of Troy—and Hector’s aged father, the Trojan king, Priam. In a gesture of redemption for himself as much as for the Trojans, Achilles finally agrees to release the body for burial. The gigantic epic ends not (as some first-time readers expect) with the Wooden Horse, or the Fall of Troy, but with the all-important funeral of the greatest of the Greeks’ enemies—a rite of burial that allows the Trojans to mourn their prince and, in a way, the audience to find closure after the unrelenting violence that has preceded. The work’s final line is as plain, and as final, as the sound of dirt on the lid of a coffin. “This was the funeral of Hector, tamer of horses.”
As for the Odyssey, it, too—for all its emphasis on its fantastical, proto-sci-fi adventures—reveals a telling preoccupation with this issue. The great adventure epic features an extended visit to the underworld, where, among other things, the flitting shades of the dead express anxiety about their own funerals (and where Odysseus learns how he himself will die, many years hence, “from the sea”); precisely at the poem’s midpoint, Odysseus dutifully halts his homeward journey—and the epic’s narrative momentum—to bury, with full honors, the body of a young sailor who has died in a clumsy accident, as if to say that even the most hapless and pointless of deaths merits the dignity of ritual. And in the work’s final, culminating book, Homer slips in the information, ostensibly en passant but of course crucial, that the bodies of the hated suitors—whose gory deaths we are, to some extent, invited to savor, given their gross outrages against Odysseus and his family—were duly permitted to be retrieved by their families for burial.
* * * 
But no work of ancient literature is as obsessed with unburied bodies as Sophocles’ “Antigone,” a tragedy first produced in Athens around 442 B.C.: the entire plot centers on the controversy over how a community that has survived a deadly attack will dispose of the body of the perpetrator of that attack—the body, as it happens, of a young man who had planned to bring destruction on the city that had been his home, who “sought to consume the city with fire…sought to taste blood.”
The young man in question is Polyneices, a son of the late, spectacularly ill-fated king Oedipus who, after a power struggle with his brother Eteocles, fled the city, eventually returning with an invading army (the “Seven Against Thebes”) to make war on his homeland. At a climactic moment in the battle, the two brothers slay each other, but the invasion is ultimately repelled and the city saved. In the opening lines of the play, we learn that the body of Eteocles, the defender of the city, has been buried with full honors, but, according to a decree promulgated by the new king, Creon (who is the young men’s uncle), no one, under pain of death, may bury or mourn Polyneices, whose corpse is to be left “unwept, unsepulchered, a treasure to feast on for birds looking out for a dainty meal.” (The particular horror, expressed from the Iliad on down, that humans could become the food of the animals we normally eat ourselves is noteworthy: a strong signal of a total inversion in the scheme of things of which the unburied body, the corpse that remains above rather than below ground, is a symptom.)
Creon, like the Senate candidate from Massachusetts, cares a great deal about public opinion, as we later learn; but it’s certainly possible to argue that his edict is grounded in a strong if idiosyncratic morality. When confronted about his rationale for enshrining in the city’s law what is, after all, a religious abomination, the king declares that Polyneices’ crime against the city has put the young man beyond morality—that while burial of any dead is a religious obligation, it is impossible to imagine that “the gods have care for this corpse,” that one might ever see “the gods honoring the wicked.” As he sputters his final line in this debate, you sense that he is acting out of a genuine, if narrow, conviction that evil men do not merit human treatment: “It cannot be.” (“It should not be”: so Representative Markey, apropos of the burial that offended the sensibilities of Massachusetts voters.)
But just as strong as Creon’s convictions are those of his niece Antigone, sister to both of the dead young men—Eteocles enshrined in his hero’s tomb, Polyneices lying naked on the ground, his nude, weapon-torn body exposed to the elements, to the ravenous birds. From the moment she appears on stage, outraged after having heard about the new edict, Antigone’s argument is for the absolute imperative of burial—indeed, for the absolute. For her, burial of the dead is a universal institution that transcends culture and even time itself: the “unwavering, unwritten customs of the gods … not some trifle of now or yesterday, but for all eternity.” (She mockingly asks whether these can be overruled by the mere “pronouncements” of Creon.) This conviction is what leads her to perform the galvanizing action of the play: under cover of night she goes to the desolate place where Polyneices’ body lies out in the open and performs a token burial, scattering some dirt on the body.
It is to this symbolic burial that a terrified soldier—one of the guards whom Creon had set around the body, to make sure no one would inter it—presumably refers later on, when he anxiously reports to Creon that someone has performed the rite. Enraged, Creon orders the man to go back and “unbury” the body: to strip off the thin covering of dirt and expose the corpse once more to the elements. It is upon his return to the foul-smelling site that the soldier discovers Antigone, who at that moment is arriving, and who cries out in despair when she sees the denuded corpse. She is taken prisoner, has her great confrontation with her uncle (from which I quote above), and, in one of the diabolically symmetrical punishments so beloved of Greek tragedians, is herself buried alive as punishment for her crime of burying the dead—walled into a tomb of rock, to expire there. (By not actually killing her, Creon, who has the master bureaucrat’s deep feeling for the small procedural detail, hopes to avoid incurring ritual pollution.)
There she does die—imperious to the end, she hangs herself, rather than waste away as anybody’s victim—but not before Creon has been persuaded of the folly of his policy. As often happens in tragedy, the persuasion takes its final form as a heap of dead bodies: not only Antigone’s but those of Creon’s son, the dead girl’s fiancé, who has slain himself over the body of his beloved, and Creon’s wife, too, who kills herself in despair at the news of their child’s violent end. The king who had refused to recognize the claims of family is, in the end, made horribly aware of how important family is.
“The claims of family” is just one way to describe what Antigone represents. The titanic battle between her and Creon is, in fact, one of the most thrilling moral, intellectual, and philosophical confrontations ever dramatized; inevitably, it has been seen as representing any number of cultural conflicts. Certainly in the play there is the tension between the family and the community, but there is also that between the individual and the state, between religious and secular worldviews, between divine and human law, feminine and masculine concerns, the domestic and political realms.
But perhaps a broader rubric is applicable, too. For you could say that what preoccupies Antigone, who as we know is attracted to universals, is simply another “absolute”: the absolute personhood of the dead man, stripped of all labels, all categories—at least those imposed by temporal concerns, by politics and war. For her, the defeated and disgraced Polyneices, naked and unburied, is just as much her brother as the triumphant and heroic Eteocles, splendidly entombed. In the end, what entitles him to burial has nothing to do with what side he was on—and it’s worth emphasizing the play is not at all shy about enumerating the horrors the dead man intended to perpetrate on the city, his own city, the pillage, the burning, the killing, the enslavement of the survivors—but the fact that he was a human being, anthropos. (This tragedy is, indeed, famous for expressing a kind of astonished wonder at what human beings are capable of, accomplishments for which Sophocles uses the ambiguous adjective “deina,” which means both “terrible” and “wonderful”—“awesome,” maybe, in the original sense of that word.) This is why, during her great debate with Creon, while the king keeps recurring to the same point—that Eteocles was the champion of the city, and Polyneices its foe, and that “a foe is never a friend”—such distinctions are moot for Antigone, since the gods themselves do not make them. “Nonetheless,” she finally declares, putting a curt end to another exchange on the subject, “Hades requires these rites.” The only salient distinction is the one that divides gods from men—which, if true, makes all humans equal.
* * * 
It was hard not to think of all this—of the Iliad with its grand funereal finale, of the Odyssey strangely pivoting around so many burials, and of course of “Antigone”—as I followed the story of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s unburied body over the past few weeks. I thought, of course, of canny politicians eyeing the public mood, and of the public to whom those politicians wanted to pander. I thought even more of the protesters who, understandably to be sure, wanted to make clear the distinction between victim and perpetrator, between friend and foe, by threatening to strip from the enemy what they saw as the prerogatives of the friend: humane treatment in death. The protesters who wanted, like Creon, not only to deny those prerogatives to an enemy but to strip them away again should anyone else grant them—to “unbury the body.” I thought of Martha Mullen, a Christian, who insisted that the Muslim Tsarnaev, accused of heinous atrocities against innocent citizens, be buried just as a loved one might deserve to be buried, because she honored the religious precept that demands that we see all humans as “brothers,” whatever the evil they have done.
This final point is worth lingering over just now. The last of the many articles I’ve read about the strange odyssey of Tsarnaev’s body was about the reactions of the residents of the small Virginia town where it was, finally, buried. “What do you do when a monster is buried just down the street?” the subhead asked. The sensationalist diction, the word “monster,” I realized, is the problem—and brings you to the deep meaning of Martha Mullen’s gesture, and of Antigone’s argument, too. There is, in the end, a great ethical wisdom in insisting that the criminal dead, that your bitterest enemy, be buried, too; for in doing so, you are insisting that the criminal, however heinous, is precisely not a “monster.” Whatever else is true of the terrible crime that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is accused of having perpetrated, it was, all too clearly, the product of an entirely human psyche, horribly motivated by beliefs and passions that are very human indeed—deina in the worst possible sense. To call him a monster is to treat this enemy’s mind precisely the way some would treat his unburied body—which is to say, to put it beyond the reach of human consideration (and therefore, paradoxically, to refuse to confront his “monstrosity” at all).
This is the point that obsessed Sophocles’ Antigone: that to not bury her brother, to not treat the war criminal like a human being, would ultimately have been to forfeit her own humanity. This is why it was worth dying for.
* * * 
Sometimes, a less elevated instinct, a raw practicality, could lead the characters in Greek plays to a version of the same conclusion: that because we will all want to be treated like human beings at some unimaginably low moment—because we all die—we must treat the “monsters” thus, too. This, too, is a possibility worth considering right now.
It is, in fact, the point of the tart ending of another play by Sophocles—one he wrote about Ajax, the good soldier turned evil terrorist. At the end of this tragedy, written not long before “Antigone” was composed, a conflict arises over whether the body of the criminal should be buried. His enemies—Agamemnon and Menelaus, the leaders of the Greek expedition, whom Ajax had plotted to murder—insist, of course, that his body be cast forth unburied, like the body of an animal, “food for the birds.” (Again.) Yet unexpectedly, there springs to his defense a man who also had been his enemy. That man is Odysseus, who in a climactic confrontation with the two Greek generals—who are his allies and commanding officers—persuades them that to pursue their hatred after death would be grotesque. Rather typically for this type, the swaggering Agamemnon worries that to relent would make him appear “soft”; but Odysseus, wily as he always is, argues that “softness” is nothing more than justice—nothing more than acting like a human being. Then he makes his final, stark point, one with which, you suspect, even Creon wouldn’t argue:
AGAMEMNON: You will make us appear cowards this day.
DYSSEUS: Not so, but just men in the sight of all the Greeks.
GAMEMNON: So you would have me allow the burying of the dead?
DYSSEUS: Yes; for I too shall come to that need.

Or, as Antigone put it, “I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living, for in that world I shall abide forever.”
Daniel Mendelsohn is the author, most recently, of “Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture,” a collection of his essays for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award. His other books include two memoirs, “The Lost” and “The Elusive Embrace”; a translation of the complete works of C. P. Cavafy; and a study of Greek tragedy. He teaches at Bard College.

New Yorker: Unburied Tamerlan Tsarvaev

Monday, May 20, 2013

The White Rhino Report Spawns A New and Complementary Blog

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new and complementary Blog that will stand beside The White Rhino Report.

See below for a link to the URL of the new Blog - White Rhino Chronicle:

URL for White Rhino Partners Chronicle

With this inaugural post, I introduce a new Blog - White Rhino Partners Chronicle - that is being created as a complement to The White Rhino Report.  From now on, I will use this Blog to highlight issues that are primarily relevant to the professional part of my life - recruiting, career counseling, leadership development, Renaissance Men and Women in the business world, transitions from military leadership to leadership in the private or social sectors, professional book reviews.  In addition, I will use the Blog to make readers aware of specific searches that we are undertaking, or to share success stories from recent searches, consulting engagements and career counseling relationships.

I will continue to write posts in The White Rhino Report that are of a more personal nature - the arts, sports, fiction book reviews, faith, travel, language.  On occasion, when an article stands at the intersection of both worlds, I will cross-publish that article in both Blogs.

Over the next few months, I will republish in WRP Chronicle articles previously posted in the The White Rhino Report that I deem worthy of repeating or refreshing.  I look forward to continuing to dialogue with readers of both Blogs.

If you would like to be aware of new article in both Blog, feel free to add WRP Chronicleand The White Rhino Report to your RSS reader.  Or, send me a note and asked to be notified on new posts.  I will continue to post links to new articles on FaceBook andLinkedIn.

Thank you for your loyalty and readership.

Al Chase

Friday, May 17, 2013

Shipshape on The Lyric Stage - Review of "On The Town

Phil Tayler, Zachary Eisenstat, John Ambrosino
by Mark S. Howard

On the left bank of the Charles River audiences are being treated to a wildly entertaining production of "Pirates of Penzance."  On the right bank in the Back Bay, the Navy has landed for 24 hours on the town in New York, New York.  I guess we can conclude that the Boston/Cambridge theater scene is shipshape at the moment.

At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos once again manages to squeeze a great deal of action and entertainment onto the poop-deck sized stage, utilizing in this production additional spaces in the aisles and upper reaches of the house.  "On The Town" has opened for a run that will last through June 8.  If the enthusiastic reaction of last night's full house audience is any indication, this show is going to prove popular and tickets may be hard to come by.

"On The Town" is a fascinating show at many levels.  The story was originally a ballet by Jerome Robbins that Bernstein decided to turn into a musical with Betty Comden and Adolph Green not only writing the book and lyrics, but appearing on stage as two of the characters.  The finished show feels like a ballet still struggling to emerge from its balletic chrysalis to grow into a full-fledged musical.  Given the historical context, 1944 was early in the development of the musical theater genre, and there is a still a lot of music hall revue feel to the musical numbers rather than the more sophisticated plot-advancing numbers that would emerge in the next decade, beginning with Rogers and Hammerstein's  "Oklahoma."  Many of the Bernstein musical motifs that would fully flower later on in "Candide" and "West Side Story" are in evidence as buds just beginning to bloom in "On The Town."

Here is the simple plot: three navy swabbies who are buddies hit the streets of New York in the summer of 1944 on a 24-hour shore leave and are determined to each find the girl of his dreams.  Then there is also the more complex and subtle subplot: these three sailors are Jewish at a time in history when Jews were struggling to survive.  More about the subplot theme later.

The creative team at the Lyric have created a credible microcosm of Manhattan in the '40's using video projection and vintage photo projection (by Seághan McKay), simple props, a wonderfully cartoonish Yellow Cab, and stunning period costumes (by Kathleen Doyle).  Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg has assembled a zestful group of musicians who render beautifully the 40's style music with a hint of Klezmer effects (again with the Jewish subplot!).  

The cast explodes with energy, managing the sweeping full extension leg kicks and jaunty bell kicks of the Ilyse Robbins choreography (based on the original Jerome Robbins ballet) in cramped quarters that do not in any way manage to cramp their style.  Let's begin with the nautical trio of Ozzie, Chip and Gabey.  Ozzie is played with just the right mixture of neanderthal bravado expected of an "anthropological specimen" and awestruck wonder at being in NYC by Zachary Eisenstadt.  Phil Tayler adds depth and texture to Chip, the organizer who thinks he has the whole day mapped out for them, using a guide book that is a decade out of date. One of the visual and dramatic highlights of the show is the duet that Chip sings with Hildy, the randy cab driver who Shanghais the sailor and takes him for the ride of his life.  Their rendition of "Come Up To My Place" while lurching in the Yellow Cab from one spot to another is memorable visually and vocally.  Michele A DeLuca as Hildy dives deep into her family heritage in the Bronx to come up with her interpretation of a character that must have scandalized audiences of the 1940's.  Hildy is a female cabby whose meter is always running!  Once she gets Chip to actually come up to her place, she delivers one of the show's iconic numbers, dripping with the gravy of double entendres - "I Can Cook Too."  Given DeLuca's mastery of New York attitude, I had expected her rendition of this number to be a bit more provocative and raunchy.  I am hoping that as she settles into the role, she will allow the temperature gauge on her oven to be turned up just a few degrees hotter for this number.

Phil Tayler, Michele A. DeLuca.
by Mark S. Howard

Then there is Gabey, played as if he were born for this role by John Ambrosino.  Boston audiences know John's work in "Avenue Q," "Rent" and countless other productions.  Those who have not yet seen him perform are in for a treat.  Think of a young Frank Sinatra in "From Here to Eternity" with a touch of Matthew Broderick in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and you will begin to approximate the charm that allows Gabey to win over the iconic "Miss Turnstiles" - Ivy, played beautifully by Lauren Gemelli.  When it looks as if Gabey will not be able to have his promised date with Ivy, his buddies and their girlfriends try to cheer him up with the jaunty song "Ya Got Me."  He is not buying what they are selling, and his forlorn, hangdog expression sitting at a table in the nightclub is the very picture of despair.  The expression fits the mood that he had set earlier in the show with his lament "Lonely Town."  In the words of another member of the cast, Ambrosino's voice is "like butter."

Zachary Eisenstat, Phil Tayler, Michele A. DeLuca, John Ambrosino, Aimee Doherty
By Mark S. Howard

The rest of the cast fill their roles ably and with just the right forties flair.  Aimee Doherty stands out as Claire,  the repressed anthropologist who gets "Carried Away" in falling for Ozzie, much to the eventual chagrin of her long suffering fiance, Judge Pitkin.  The cuckolded judge is played by J.T. Turner with a ridiculous patience that gives way to vengeful superciliousness.  His "I Understand" is a highlight of the show.  Sarah deLima as the ditsy and dipsomaniacal voice teacher Maude P.  Dilly is a hoot in her bohemian garb and pedagogical indiscretions.  Additional delights are offered by singers and dancers Pim van Amerongen, Rishi Basu, Cameron Benda, Kayla Bryan, Lisa Dempsey, Christina English, Caleb Dane Horst, Lenni Kmiec, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Daniel Forest Sullivan, Jeremy Towle and Ceit M.  Zweil.

At last evening's performance the audience was almost equally divided demographically between those who may have been alive in the '40's and those who are still in high school.  Both ends of the age spectrum seemed equally delighted with the goings on upon the Lyric stage.  Younger audience members seemed fascinated and titillated at the naughtiness and boldness of these ghosts of a long ago generation that seemed so much more innocent on the surface than our more liberated age.  The silverbacks among the audience surely were remembering both their own youth and the ethos of the time.  As the play reaches its denouement,  it is 6:00 AM.  The 24-hour leave is over, and our three sailors return to their ship - and to a very uncertain and dangerous future in a Navy that is still at war in Europe and in the Pacific.  And the older audience members would have been subliminally aware of the subplot.  These three Jewish sailors represent 6 million European Jews who also face an uncertain and dangerous future as the Holocaust rages on.  "On The Town" entertains, but it also provokes deep thought and reflection.



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On The Town
Book & Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, which includes one intermission. 
Box Office: 617-585-5678 |
Meet Chip, Ozzie, and Gabey – three American sailors with one day in New York City to see the sights, meet a special someone, and have the time of their lives. The light and humorous score of Leonard Bernstein (Candide, West Side Story) melds perfectly with the sharp and witty book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin in the Rain, The Will Rogers Follies) to create an uplifting and exuberant musical experience including such memorable songs as “New York, New York” and “I Can Cook, Too.”
“Gloriously bright, witty, and off-the-wall!” – New York Times
Join Us For P.S.: On Sunday, May 19 at 5pm, join us for the P.S. On The Town event, with choreographer Ilyse Robbins. RSVP recommended but not required. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Loeb Drama Center at the A.R.T. Has Been Overrun With Pirates - To Everyone's Delight: Review of "Pirates of Penzance"

A Chicago-based theatrical troupe that call themselves The Hypocrites set sail for Boston Harbor with a mission to scrape the barnacles off of the keel of the good ship HMS Gilbert & Sullivan. They piloted (or pirated!) that vessel up the Charles River to Harvard Square where they slapped on a new coat of pastel paint and some glitter.  They now set sail from the Loeb Drama Center nine times each week until June 2 on a thoroughly delightful cruise to nowhere - and everywhere.

This delectable production is the brain child of Saugus-born Sean Graney, Artistic Director of The Hypocrites.  He describes his vision for the show in this way: "Pirates is completely hopeful, yet with such amazing precision of wit it manages to comment on the faults of society without the heavy hand of judgment."  As director for the show, he does indeed wield a light and deft hand.  Surely Mr. Graney must have been born close to the brackish banks of the Saugus River near where it debouches into the Atlantic Ocean.  So, in a sense he has come home - geographically and artistically.  His take on the often calcified G & S Pirates of Penzance is salty and campy - irreverent without being disrespectful. It is a pastiche rather than a parody of the more staid D'Oyly Carte productions of yesteryear.

The Pirates make their entrance.
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Emily Casey, Sean Pfautsch, Matt Kahler, Ryan Bourque, Dana Omar.
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

In keeping with the vision and philosophy of A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus to involve the audience members as much as possible in each A.R.T. show, the Loeb has been transformed into a beach party. There is a dock that extends to downstage right, with action taking place in every nook and cranny of the theater.  Patrons have a choice of buying tickets to sit in traditional seats, or in the Promenade Section - basically on stage and in the middle of the action.  I chose the Promenade, and for the entire performance, cast members were promenading behind me, in front of me, gently moving me aside so they could mount the bench upon which I sat.  Other audience members took their place in beach chairs, on picnic chests or inside kiddie swimming pools.  It sounds chaotic, and it is - but in a fun way.  From my place in the Promenade, I could see Director Graney sitting on the floor taking in the frenetic action.  I could not tell during the course of the evening who was having more fun - Graney or the grinning audience members.  Each time I looked around at the faces of the men, women and children in the audience, there was laughter and sheer joy.

 In center Robert McLean (Pirate King), Matt Kahler (Major General), Zeke Sulkes (Frederic).
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Pirates of Penzance has a plot that is as gossamer thin as the wedding veils that appear in the final scene of the operetta, but it does not matter.  It is the wit of the puns and the patter songs and the relentless energy of this wonderful ensemble cast that make this evening at the theater a day at the beach.  Basically, Frederic, played with panache and an eye patch by Zeke Sulkes, has been mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate rather than a pilot!  The fateful mistake was made by Ruth, played wonderfully by Christine Stulik, young Frederic's one time governess and nurse, who promised Frederic to the Pirate King, played by Rob McLean and then joined the group herself.  McLean's telescopic cigarette holder is a fun addition to the action.  Many years later, Ruth has fallen in love with the 21 year-old Frederic, who thinks he may love Ruth, but he is not sure because he has not seen another female face.  He has no way of knowing that this "Gothic ruin" of an Old Maid of a certain age is not quite as winsome as she claims to be.  Frederic's eyes are opened when the lovely daughters of a Major General show up.  The iconic role of the Major General is handled with appropriate bluster and roguishness by Matt Kahler, who is, indeed "the Very Model of a Comic Major General."  The daughters, played by Kate Carson-Groner, Emily Casey and Dana Omar, are bedecked in coral-like bathing caps and frilly petticoats and skirts..  Complications ensue involving Leap Year and an over-weaning sense of DUTY.

This truly is an ensemble piece, so allow me to highlight the other colorful members of the cast who have not already been mentioned.  Each cast member doubles as part of a roving band, with chimes, guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, flutes, clarinets, accordions and other noise-makers (like the kiddie pools) being employed to underscore the familiar Arthur Sullivan tunes, harmonies and rhythms. Shawn Pfautsch, Doug Pawlik and Ryan Bourque each add their own piratical idiosyncrasies to the proceedings.

The ensemble.
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

One of the beautiful aspects of this production is that it seems to be equally delightful to families with small children as well as to sophisticated theater aficionados and lovers of Gilbert & Sullivan.

American Repertory Theater
in Association with the Loeb Drama Center
The Hypocrites’
by Gilbert and Sullivan
in a new adaptation by Sean Graney & Kevin O’Donnell
directed by Sean Graney
Loeb Drama Center
May 10 — June 2

Go - bring friends and family.  Be prepared to be both entertained and tickled.  I hope you enjoy this show as much as I did.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Succeeding As Civilians - A Recent 60 Minutes Segment About Veteran Entrepreneurs

A friend just made me aware of this recent 60 Minute Segment.   The show aired this past Sunday, and anchored by CBS reporter Sanjay Gupta, the segment addresses the needs of returning veterans to learn the basics of business before launching themselves as entrepreneurs.  The show does an excellent job of addressing the frustrations of wounded veterans in securing jobs, and the hope that is provided by the innovative Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Veterans, now being offered at several business schools and in on-line configurations.

Succeeding As Civilians

May 12, 2013 4:00 PM
Disabled veterans are getting help finding work in a tough job environment. Air Force veteran Mike Haynie has created a course to teach vets how to launch their own businesses. Sanjay Gupta reports. - 60 Minutes - Succeeding As Civilians

The report makes clear that there is a need to scale this program and those like it beyond the hundred who are being served to the tens of thousands of returning vets who need these services.

Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Veterans

I encourage you to watch the video, and then to ask yourself the question: "Is there something I can do to help to scale this program to make it available to vets in my community?"


Monday, May 13, 2013

Soaring to New Heights at the Boston Center for the Arts - SpeakyEasy Stage Company's Boston Premiere Production of "In The Heights"

It is a wondrous thing that the iconic “A Train” stopped by Boston Conservatory to pick up a load of talented passengers on its way to Washington Heights! The cast of the current SpeakEasy Stage Company’s  Boston Premiere production of  “In The Heights” features, by my count, no fewer than eleven actors who are either current BoCo students or recent graduates.  The other performers come from a variety of backgrounds, including Broadway, National Tours and Off-Broadway credits.  The resulting mixture of energetic young talent and more seasoned veterans is a tasty pico de gallo mixture that Sunday’s Press Opening audience found irresistible.

I have come to expect nothing less than excellence when I walk in the door to enjoy any SpeakEasy Stage Company production.  They did not disappoint this time around.  Let’s begin by talking about the foundation upon which this soul-stirring production is built.  The musical was conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book and lyrics and created the role on stage of Uznavi, the protagonist and ringmaster/rapper.  (The fascinating derivation of the name “Uznavi” is revealed as the narrative unfolds).  Ms. Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book, which very deservedly was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  She also won a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical.  Under the imaginative direction of Paul Daigneault  and inhabiting the picture-perfect set designed by Jenna McFarland Lord, the cast transforms the proscenium stage in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA into a very credible facsimile of Washington Heights, with its sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and complex interplay of hope and despair.

How do I even begin to do justice to describing the work of this cast?  There are no weak links; each member of the ensemble gives of her all or his all in every gesture, every sneer, every smile, every note.  The principals each deserve to be highlighted, so I shall try to do so.

Diego Klock-Perez is captivating as Uznavi, the struggling bodega owner.  Much of his dialogue and soliloquy are in rap format.  I am not a huge fan of that particular art form, so I was wondering how I would handle a show that is in part driven by rap exposition.  Diego won me over.  I was on the edge of my seat seeking to absorb not only the content of the message but the strong ethos behind it.  Señor Perez nails this part, and is in many ways the epicenter of the production.

Nina and Benny

The luminous Santina Umbach plays Nina, the great hope of the neighborhood, who has returned to NYC from Stanford University after losing her academic scholarship.  How does she tell her parents and her neighbors that she has failed?  And what does she do with Benny, the young African-American employee of her father’s car service, for whom she has feelings?  Played by Jared Dixon, Benny is just the right mix of dangerous street smarts and vulnerable diamond in the rough.  The chemistry between Umbach and Dixon is palpable and very believable.  Their nascent romance against racial odds brings a wonderful West Side Story element to this tale – complete with balcony scene.  Their balcony duet “Sunrise” opens Act 2 on a high note, their voices and spirits blending seamlessly.

Carolyn Saxon anchors the neighborhood’s sense of family and community as Abuela Claudia – everyone’s grandmother figure.  She cooks, she advises, she reminisces, she plays the lottery.  Her hauntingly beautiful song, “Pacienca y Fe” (“Patience and Hope”) is an emotional highlight of the play.

Uznavi and Abuela Claudia

Nina’s parents, the Rosarios, are torn over how they should address their daughter’s setback at Stanford.  The marital tension is palpable, and convincingly portrayed in word and song by two strong actors - Tony Castellanos as Kevin and Nicole Paloma Sarro as Camila.  They each have a signature song that advances the plot and deepens the sense of place and history.  Kevin’s “Inutil” (“Useless”) is a heart-rending cri de coeur.  And Camila’s “Enough” throws down the gauntlet to both husband and daughter to find a way to reconcile their differences.  The song left the audience breathless.

Three women work in the beauty salon that is ground zero for neighborhood gossip.  The three of them are perfect in their portrayals, played with zest and gusto by Jasmine Knight as Carla, Alessandra Valea as Vanessa, and the incomparable Merissa Haddad as Daniela, the proprietress of the shop.  All three women shimmer in their roles, with Daniela being given a little more freedom to strut her stuff with attitude and fire.

Jorge Barranco’s portrayal of Sonny, the malcontent young cousin who works in Uznavi’s bodega, is a source of constant delight and wonder.  His mischievous faux innocence and over-the-top attempts at seducing every señorita within the 10033 Zip Code are right on target.

Adding texture to the neighborhood are Anthony Alfaro as the Piragua Guy, and Sean Jones as Graffiti Pete.  Alfaro struggles to sell his shave ice treats – a throwback to the “old country” – amid a mounting threat of competition from the Tastee Freeze truck.  Graffiti Pete at first appears to be a nuisance with his omnipresent spray painted messages, but in the end, his work of art becomes pivotal to the denouement of the plot.

Christian Bufford, Sarah Crane, Lauren Csete, Melanie Porras, Chris Ramirez and Adrian Ruz round out the cast of neighborhood denizens, and they add a nice picante zest to the proceedings through their dancing and singing.

I must add that during Sunday’s performance, the power to the light board appeared and disappeared intermittently.  The cast soldiered on as if nothing had happened, and the technical glitches did not in any way detract from the audience’s enjoyment of the show.  Whenever the energy provided by N-Star to light up the stage proved to be unreliable, the incandescent  energy generated by the all-star cast more than made up for the lack of candle power.  The cast handled it all with “Pacienca y Fe” (“Patience and Hope”)!

This is a show that must be seen.  Ticket sales have been robust, and the run of the show has been extended through June 16.

Book your tickets now and be lifted to new heights of empathy and understanding of those who have come to this country to make a new life and a new dream, but who hang on with all of their might to the customs and memories of the old homes in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.  Ascend to The Heights!