Monday, September 30, 2013

Mini-Review of "Transatlantic" - A Novel by Colum McCann

"Transatlantic."  I enjoyed this book a great deal.  I love aviation, so starting the story with the transatlantic flight by two young airmen who fly from Newfoundland to the west coast of Ireland had me spellbound from the opening chapters.  The author brilliantly cuts back in forth in time, eventually revealing the commonality among the threads that have been used to tell the disparate parts of the far-reaching story.  From an escaped slave who lands in Ireland to George Mitchell brokering the peace accords that effectively ended "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, this novel shuffles together the two decks of historical fact and literary imagination.  Other historical figures have their moment in the sun in this tale - Frederick Douglas, Jack Alcock. Teddy Brown.  It will be worth your investment of a few hours of pleasurable reading to find out what all of these figures have to do with a humble Irish house maid.

Before writing "Transatlantic," author Colum McCann was already a bestselling writer with a National Book Award to his credit.  This intriguing book will add to that already well established reputation and cause it to soar higher - on both sides of the Atlantic.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Dirty Little Secret of Many Successful Men and Women: Impostor Syndrome

I received an e-mail this morning from a friend.  His message caused me to re-order my priorities for the morning and address his concerns in the form of writing this White Rhino Report Blog piece.  For the personal concern and question that my friend posed are ones that I have heard many times.  My friend works in academia, but the phenomenon he describes can be found among successful men and women in all walks of life. Let me share anonymously an edited version  of my friend's e-mail and question: 

"I just had a meeting with my boss.  He was quite happy with the progress and pieces I've put together so far.  But somehow I managed before the meeting to work myself up about it all and convince myself that I'd be told to start over from square one and none of it would be good enough.  I've had this with other things in academia, telling myself that I'm not good enough and afraid someone will say 'that [professor], nice guy but he really should have stopped at the Masters [level] where he would do no harm.'  I think I left [my previous school] partly out of fear that I wouldn't be able to compete with the other students there, even though I'd just won first place in a grad student competition.

I read an essay by another person who teaches at a university, she diagnosed it as
'Impostor Syndrome.'  The sense that even though you have accomplished things, it is only a matter of time till you fall on your face.  I almost get a sense of paralysis at times, as though it might be better to just not do anything and fail that way. It is strange since I know my value comes from God, not what some other person tells me.

Any thoughts?"

My courageous and self-aware friend nailed it:  Impostor Syndrome.  It has taken me awhile to recognize how widespread this syndrome is among successful individuals.  Most of us have come to accept the fact that the most common  fear among adults is a fear of public speaking - greater even than the fear of death.  But among very successful women and men, a more common and deeply-rooted fear is that one day someone will come up to them, point an accusing finger and shout: "You have been discovered; you are a complete fraud.  You have no business being in your position of power and influence and authority!  Who do you think you are?"

In my business as an executive recruiter, and in my private life, I am privileged to be surrounded by persons who have achieved great success in a broad variety of fields - business, academia, government, military, film, stage, professional athletics, religion, art.  Many of these individuals have become close friends, and many have achieved the highest level of success possible in their fields.  Yet more often than I would have thought possible, in quiet and vulnerable moments, these women and men will ask me - either explicitly or implicitly: "Am I doing OK?" "Did my speech suck?"  "Was my performance passable?" "Are people following me because they have no other choice, or because I am a good leader?"

The Cal Tech Counseling Center has an on-line definition of Impostor Syndrome that summarizes well what I have seen demonstrated among many high achievers:

Impostor Syndrome

Cal Tech Counseling Center - Impostor Syndrome Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. 

It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such. 

Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: "I feel like a fake" "My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don't really belong here," "Admissions made a mistake," etc. The impostor feelings can be divided into three sub categories:

1.  Feeling like a fake: the belief that one does not deserve his or her success or professional position and that somehow other have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes together with a fear of being, "found out", discovered or "unmasked". People who feel this way would identify with statements such as: "I can give the impression that I am more competent than I really am."  "I am often afraid that others will discover how much knowledge I really lack". 
2.  Attributing success to luck: Another aspect of the impostor syndrome is the tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not to your own internal abilities. Someone with such feeling would refer to an achievement by saying, "I just got lucky this time" "it was a fluke" and with fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.   
3.  Discounting Success: The third aspect is a tendency to downplay success and discount it. One with such feelings would discount an achievement by saying, "it is not a big deal," "it was not important." One example of this is discounting the fact that they made it here, which is really a big success.  Or saying, "I did well because it is an easy class, etc."  Or, you might have a hard time accepting compliments. 

I have no silver bullet, magic pill, or panacea to offer.  I know that many of us are haunted by tapes that play in our heads - accusing voices from our distant - or not so distant  - past.  
  • A mother who was never quite satisfied with our grades.  "All A's?  Didn't Johnny get an A+.  Why didn't you?"
  • A father who rejected your choice of major or of profession: "How will  you ever make a living?  Who hires philosophers?  How many actors do you know who are actually paying the bills?  Do you expect me to support you for the rest of my life?"
  • A teacher whose approval you were never able to win: "You certainly are not the student that your big sister was when I taught her!"
  • A boss whose style of managing does not match your own: "I suppose that this report on our project is acceptable, but I would have done it differently.  Can't you put in some more PowerPoint slides?"
  • A  well meaning relative who is worried about your future as a Renaissance Man/Woman.  Aunt Hattie sees you as someone who seems to wander in many different directions at once: "My child, you simply must learn to focus on one thing, or you will never amount to anything!"
And no matter how hard we try to erase these tapes, the echoes still rattle around inside of our heads and hearts and souls.  The only way to silence these ghostly voices is to replace them with newer and more affirming messages.  Whether those new messages are imprinted through counseling or through a network of healthy and loving relationships, it takes work to flip the switch and begin to accept the reality of our success.

To close, let me steal some wisdom from a new musical I recently reviewed: "SHIDA," written and performed by the astonishingly gifted Jeannette Bayardelle:

White Rhino Report Review of SHIDA

In  the play, Shida has reached bottom - tapes are playing in her head from years of abuse and a downward spiral  Having once experienced early success in life - getting accepted into NYU after growing up on the streets of Queens - she has given into the destructive voices and has almost died from an overdose.  Her friend Jackie sings to her this new message of hope and affirmation - gently at first and then bellowing out the message so it cannot be ignored:

"Shida,  Shida, Shida, Shida
You're a fighter - a survivor - an overcomer
You're a winner.
Don't you forget who you really are;
Don't be blinded by the wound or the scars . . . 
You've been blessed with the gift of a brand new day!"

Shida The Musical Musical - Listen to four of the songs - SHIDA excerpts

In his e-mail earlier today, my friend included the phrase: "I know my value comes from God."  I would be remiss if I did not at least briefly mention that there is often a spiritual dimension to the process of replacing the accusatory tapes with more affirming ones.  My theology tells me that God is everlastingly at war with forces of evil - personified in Satan.  Scripture describes him as "The Accuser," and he will often whisper - sometimes shout - words of doubt and accusation.  God's words of Grace, acceptance and affirmation are among the most powerful tools and antidotes for the symptoms of Impostor Syndrome.  You may not share my theological persuasion, so I encourage you to grab onto the spiritual antidote that you find most effective.  "Just sayin' . . ."!

I would welcome comments from those who read these thoughts of mine - and of my catalytic friend.

God bless.


Huge Shout Out to the Chorus of "Pippin" For Receiving The Equity "ACCA" Award!

Yesterday, Actors' Equity Association announced that PIPPIN has received the seventh annual “ACCA” Award for Outstanding Broadway Chorus. Presented by Equity’s Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs (ACCA), the ACCA Award is the only industry accolade of its kind to honor the distinctive talents and contributions made by the original chorus members of a Broadway musical.

The Chorus Stars of Pippin

Many of the leads of Pippin have received individual recognition - and rightfully so.  Now, the incredibly gifted members of the Chorus are getting some equally well deserved recognition.

Let me single out by name those I recognize in this picture (Sorry for any inadvertent omissions):
  • Gregory Arsenault
  • Lolita Costet
  • Colin Cunliffe
  • Andrew Fitch
  • Orion Griffiths
  • Viktoria Grimmy
  • Sabrina Harper
  • Olga Karmansky
  • Bethany Moore 
  • Brad Musgrove
  • Stephanie Pope
  • Philip Rosenburg
  • Yannick Thomas
  • Molly Tynes
  • Antony Wayne
The Producers of Pippin have just announced that tickets sales have been extended through August, 2014.  The fun will continue for at least one more year.  Order your tickets now for the best show on Broadway.  

"Time to start living"!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hub Theatre Company Presents "Goodly Creatures" - Through October 6

I have written in the past in The White Rhino Report about how blessed we are in the Boston area to have such a rich and wide assortment of resident theater companies.  Adding to that already robust list is a new company formed this year: Hub Theatre Company.  They are currently presenting their third production: "Goodly Creatures," written by New England playwright, William Gibson and Directed by John Geoffrion.

The play is rich in historical exposition, telling the story of the struggle among Governor Winthrop, the local  Boston clergy and the pious lay leader, Anne Hutchinson.  In the Director's notes in the program, Mr. Gibson is described as a typical "Yankee" playwright.  He is indeed that: direct,sparse, historically grounded and strongly opinionated.  Clearly, the author wants the audience to sympathize with the character of Anne Hutchinson, and to excoriate the rigid and hypocritical clergy - the Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends who have been ordained to lead the Massachusetts Bay Colony in matters of faith.

The play treats very clearly with the shades of gray that exist theologically between a view of the Christian faith as grounded in the Old Testament and the rigid Law, or leaning more toward the New Testament emphasis on Grace.  In much the same way that in "Les Miserables" Javert personifies the Law and Jean Valjean Grace, so in this play the Clergy and Governor Winthrop are emblematic of the Law and Anne Hutchinson is a beacon of Grace.

This production is set in Boston's historic First Church on Marlborough Street.  This congregation is a direct descendant of the congregation depicted in the play.  I learned a great deal of Boston history that I had not previously been aware of.

Leading the cast is the extraordinarily gifted Nancy Finn as Anne Hutchinson.  Whenever Ms. Finn is on stage, there is a glow that emanates from her character, whether or not she stands in a literal spotlight.  She is conducting a masterclass in acting.  Because the performance space is intimate and the audience is very close to the actors, she very appropriately modulates her tone and volume of speaking to convey the right emotion without overwhelming the audience with too much intensity or too many decibels.

Also standing out among the cast are the following:
  • Phil Thompson as Governor Winthrop
  • Jack Schultz as Rev. Cotton, Anne's one time teacher and eventual ex-communicator
  • Robert Orzalli as Rev. Wilson, the splenetic and stuttering Pharisee and Anne's bete noire
  • Morgan Bernhard as Governor Vane
  • Brashani Reece as Mary, a woman whose stillborn child delivered at the hands of midwife Anne leads to charges of witchcraft and God's judgment.
One of the most effective scenes in the play is that in which Mary labors - in every sense of that verb - to bring her baby safely into the world. The scene was staged in a way that was both visceral and tasteful.  The overall effect was powerful.

As with any new theater company, this production is not without its growing pains.  I have already mentioned the excellent work by many of the actors.  Some of the lesser characters and the younger actors who portrayed them could have used a stronger hand by the director.  There were too many examples of bombastic shouting totally out of proportion to the size of the performance space.  Several of the characters were portrayed as pure black and white - with no range of emotion or variety of facial expression.  But these are minor quibbles.

The overall effect of the play is strong and positive.  I recommend it to anyone who loves good theater, appreciates Boston history, and wants to support the arts.  The play runs through October 6.



ALL* Performances are Pay What You Can
Learn more about our philosophy here.

First Church in Boston
66 Marlborough St, Boston MA
Take any Green Line train to Arlington or Copley - the church is on the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley Sts
The First Church is fully handicapped accessible.


Hub Theatre Boston Website

Heroes Among Us - Profile of "Bill" - An Ideal Chief of Staff Candidate

The issue of finding meaningful jobs for veterans is much in the news.  Most of us are well aware of the struggle that many of the men and women just returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are having in securing post-military jobs.  There is an additional layer of difficulty for those whose service occurred a few years ago - in the early stages of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom or even before.  More often than I care to recall, I have had prospective employers reject phenomenally well-qualified candidates because they cannot understand how the work they did in the military translates into solving problems and leading teams in the corporate world.   I see The White Rhino Report as one organ for educating readers and encouraging them to see military veterans through different lenses.

Many of these men and women, because of their extraordinary range of hard and soft skills, would make tremendous Chiefs of Staff in support of a CEO, CFO or Chairman of the Board.

I am pleased to offer a profile of one such candidate.  "Bill" represents the dozens of men and women in my network of candidates who are looking for the appropriate opportunities to deploy these skills in support of the right C-Level leader.

For those wondering what an ideal COS candidate might look like, consider the following profile…we’ll call him “Bill”.  This is the sort of candidate that can be a true “force multiplier” when injected into the right organization.

After graduating near the top of his class from West Point, Bill started his career as a helicopter pilot in the Army, drawn by the lure of being in the “thick of things” leading soldiers on missions that mattered.  By the age of 28, he had led combat units in Kosovo and played a key role in the 2003 Battle of Baghdad. After cutting his teeth in a crucible that few have the chance to experience, he attended an Ivy League business school program armed with an unparalleled set of leadership and problem-solving skills. 
In the years after obtaining his MBA, Bill sought out a series of high-intensity, high-impact roles in his search for challenges that would enable him to make an impact. In his first assignment, he was sought out by the CEO of a well-known consumer products company and charged with bringing structure to an “unmanaged” portion of the business that lurked within the organization’s matrix, but for which no one had responsibility.  A year later, he had wrung over $12M of savings out of the problem and set the company on a trajectory to realize multiples of that in the years ahead. 

With a major accomplishment under his belt and a desire to gain perspective, Bill then was drawn to a top tier consulting firm for the next four years. This gave him the opportunity to interact with leading executives and board members across a variety of industries while continuing to challenge him with projects of increasing impact.  Whether it was increasing operational efficiency, restructuring companies, or developing strategies, he thrived on the excitement of parachuting into corporate problem areas.  On the “tip of the spear” in tackling big problems, he honed skills that ranged from the aggressiveness of a pit bull to the sensitivities of a diplomat.  In a few short years, he had gained a wealth of perspective, but still had a burning desire to solve ever bigger problems.  So when he was asked to lead the turnaround of a small medtech company with a technology that could solve one of biggest challenges facing healthcare today, he jumped at the opportunity to be CEO. 

Over the next two years, Bill was faced with the two-headed challenge of turning around a company and getting it financed so that the clinical trials could move forward.  He successfully maneuvered the company through the turnaround, navigating challenges such as revamping the intellectual property portfolio, negotiating deals to clean up the capitalization table, and getting the company out of a multi-billion dollar hostage situation with a critical supplier.  While the turnaround progressed, the macro level fundraising landscape continued to deteriorate, with 2012 being called the worst investing environment since 1995 for early stage medical device companies…especially those companies with more stringent levels of regulatory approval.  With a fixed NIH grant budget and the FDA proving to be a moving target for his combination product, he was faced with the reality that his company now needed to achieve additional milestones on its own before being financed. Refusing to give up, he laid out a multi-year survival plan, secured another multi-million dollar NIH grant to move the company forward, and stepped out of the day-to-day operation.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +

"Bill" - and many gifted leaders like him - are ready and eager for their next "deployment."  If you know of a company that could use the broad range of skills outlined above - either in a Chief of Staff or senior leadership role, please make them aware of Bill's story, and encourage them to contact  me.

I look forward to connecting Bill with his next employer.




Monday, September 23, 2013

A Very Personal Memoir of Growing Up Catholic In Northern Ireland - Review of "That's That" by Colin Broderick

I have read many accounts of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland.  I have always had a personal interest in the affairs in Ulster, having visited there for the first time in 1968 as "The Troubles" were aboil.  I had never read anything quite like "That's That," Colin Broderick's very personal account of growing up with the sectarian violence as quotidian white noise that played in the background of each encounter and relationship in his boyhood and young adulthood.

Born in Birmingham, England, Broderick and his family moved to Tyrone County, Ulster where as a Catholic, he grew to adulthood with an intense understanding of what it meant to be a second class citizen in a land occupied by British soldiers and local Protestant militia.   As he spent time with a large coterie of cousins and uncles, he began to understand at the core of his being why the IRA was so intent on ridding the North of British soldiers and British occupation.  Through very personal and self-aware reflection on the experiences he had over the years, Broderick shows the pressure and rage building within him.  A stint working in London only added to his sense of outage and injustice at the plight of fellow Northern Irish Catholics.

The climax of the book comes as he is about to take up arms and join the IRA in the struggle.  A surprise encounter with his mother, with whom he had had a very rocky relationship, led to a complete change in direction that saw him head to a new life in America.

A quotation from the book describes movingly the author's experience and that of anyone who has grown up in a war zone - whether the battlefield is global or familial:

"We lose our childhoods by degrees.  Inch by inch, time and circumstances steal the last of our innocence.  Some of it will fall away unnoticed; some of it will be ripped forcefully from our fingers, other morsels of it we will bury in shallow graves, until only the shadow of youth exists, drifting in our wake like an abandoned ghost."  (Pages 114-115)

Broderick speaks with a voice and with an accent that deserves to be heard by anyone who seeks to understand the complexities of Northern Ireland - or of the human condition.


Review of "Living With Shakespeare" Edited by Susannah Carson

Collections of essays are usually not at the top of my list of literary genres to devour.  Yet, the subject matter of "Living With Shakespeare" intrigued me enough that I ordered the book.  How grateful I am that I did so.  Equally grateful are the scores of women and men to whom I have already recommended this fascinating book.

One of the beauties of this collection is the broad range of writers, actors and directors who have been asked to write about how Shakespeare has impacted their careers and their lives.  On one end of that spectrum are the classically trained members of the Royal Shakespeare Company and similar serious theater companies.  On the other extreme are those who have taken a more whimsical look at Shakespeare - his language and his oeuvre.  The overall effect is to "demythologize" Shakespeare and make him and his work more broadly accessible and enjoyable.

Over the few weeks I was working my way through the 33 essays, I carried the book  with me everywhere I went - to meetings, on the subway, to the tennis court!  On several occasions, the context of a conversation called for me to pull out the book and share an excerpt.  The passage I most enjoyed sharing is taken from Ben Kingsley's essay:

"Since acting is so essentially expressive, it's about getting close to other human beings, real or imagined.  It's about overcoming the distances between us, and it's about exploring our affective and intellectual potential.  n our world, however, technology is taking over and getting in the way.  The antidote is not just Shakespeare,it's each other.  It's the joy of that landscape which we mustn't allow to shrink - and yet it seems to be shrinking with every generation.  So I find that my biggest hope for the future is that we don't sacrifice human contact.  There's no substitute for it, either in life or in art." (Page 55)

Actor Brian Cox makes a strong statement about the paradoxes of life that Shakespeare explores throughout his career as an actor and a playwright:

"The ultimate paradox, of course, is that even though we're all going to die, we've all got to live in the meantime. - and so all of Shakespeare's plays are, in some form, a debate about existence.  Why?  To what end?  How do I create my life?  And he asks these questions in all sorts of modes: theologically, romantically, spiritually, hedonistically, and politically.  Shakespeare is such a great friend because he's constantly - and with as much patience as insistence - throwing the important questions at us.

I think that Shakespeare wasn't a long liver because he had lived in the middle of these paradoxes for so long that he simply didn't have the endurance to keep it up.  He got worn out by the endless debate, I believe, and his life became tragic.  But that's what the artist does: he enacts that debate.  Actors such as myself do it night after night in a form of ritual sacrifice that's performed on behalf of others.  We pretend to be you, and we reflect back to you what it is to be human so that hopefully you come away with a slightly different perspective  on your own life." (Page 218)

Joining Kingsley and Cox are the likes of Julie Taymor, James Earl Jones, Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Germaine Greer, Joyce Carol Oates, James Franco and other familiar names from the worlds of stage, screen and books.

I was particularly taken with Mr. Jones' essay, since he wrote about his portrayal of Othello opposite Christopher Plummer as Iago. Jones took issue with the way in which the director had interpreted the role of Iago and how he had Plummer play the role.  I remember seeing the show at the old Wang Theater in Boston.  I was too young and too in experienced in the ways of Shakespeare to make any negative critical judgments about the performances.  I was just thrilled to be able to see Jones and Plummer live and on stage.   But in retrospect, Mr. Jones' comments seem right in terms of the portrayal of Iago as a bit "over the top."

This book marks a singular addition to the long shelf of Shakespeare commentaries.  As I finish this review, I am getting ready to mail my copy to an actor friend who is about to appear in the "Scottish Play" at Lincoln Center.  I know that this volume will enrich his evocation of the role that he will play, and thereby, will enrich the experience that the audience will have as Shakespeare continues to live and speak to us in the 21st Century.



Friday, September 20, 2013

"All The Way" at The American Repertory Theater - A Winner By Acclamation

The Loeb Drama Center was abuzz with anticipation last evening as patrons of the arts, civil rights leaders, politicians, academics and regular citizens convened to see how the latest A.R.T. production would portray the enigmatic Lyndon Baines Johnson.  The level of excitement was further ratcheted up by the fact that the role of LBJ was being played by Bryan Cranston, late of "Breaking Bad" fame.  Governor Deval Patrick was there, as was Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the definitive biography of LBJ.

It did not take long for us to realize why the advance reports about this play, receiving its East Coast premiere, were so enthusiastic.  The entire run of the play has already sold out (check the A.R.T. link below to learn about some standing room availability.)

American Repertory Theater Events

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, "All The Way" chronicles the first year of LBJ's "accidental presidency" following the Dallas assassination of JFK.  The writing is simply brilliant - simultaneously elegant and raw, much like the protagonist.  LBJ was a colossal figure of Shakespearean stature as he stood upon the American political stage.  He was no less colossal in the portrayal of him presented last evening on this historic Cambridge stage.  Schenkkan has captured the ethos and inherent conflicts of the man and the political animal who became our nation's 36th President.  Under the inspired direction of Bill Rauch, returning to Harvard where he cut his directorial teeth as an undergrad at Harvard College, the play unfolds in a way that struggles brilliantly to answer at multiple levels the over-arching question: "What does LBJ want out of life?"   

In an opening scene, the newly elevated President is being measured for some new clothing, and he specifies that the tailor should leave extra room "in the bung hole" and in the crotch so he can move comfortably.  How appropriate.  From the outset, we have the crudeness of LBJ on display, as well as his personal desire to have room to maneuver without overly constricting hindrance from the likes of Lady Bird, Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar Hoover or Congress.  And the role seems "tailored made"  for the protean acting talents of Bryan Cranston.  He is simply magisterial in his command of the role - and of the stage.  He shines brightly, yet does not in any way overshadow the rest of the impressive cast.  Each role has been careful cast with actors who bring their A game to each scene.

The set is cleverly and beautifully wrought by Christopher Acebo.  As needed, it evokes the House or Senate Chamber, the Oval Office, a church, the floor of the Democratic Convention, and a hotel room.  As with all good A.R.T. productions, aisles and walkways are used by the actors in ways that heighten the dramatic effect.  The overall effect is greatly enhanced by Jane Cox's lighting design, Paul James Prendergast's sound design, and Shawn Sagady's projections.  The action of the play is sometimes set at center stage, often in the corners of the set, and  - in one stunning scene - down an aisle in the midst of the audience.  As the actions moves around the set, the look and feel of the blocking and staging reminded me very much of the way in which the various political  factions were portrayed in the film "Lincoln."

There are several motifs that emerge and recur throughout the two acts of this a play:
  • LBJ's ability to put the "Texas twist" on those he wanted to influence or needed to intimidate.  His ability to get politicians of all stripes to acquiesce to his wishes was legendary.
  •  The tension between his desire to support Civil Rights and the desire not to be perceived as beholden to MLK or other Civil Rights leaders.
  • His cyclical tendency to feel paranoia and to respond as if "nobody loves me."
  • His desire to be seen as more than just "the accidental President."
  • The need to establish himself on his own and move out of the shadow of JFK
  • The growing specter of the conflict in Vietnam.
  • The nature of compromise - the line between personal morality and the greater good.
A lingering image that will stay with me is presented during Act II.  A body has been exhumed in Mississippi, and although LBJ is depicted on stage as being in a different place, the juxtaposition of the grave and LBJ makes it appear as if the body has been laid at his feet.  The stunning image is emblematic both of the bodies of those who died during times of racial strife in the U.S., and foreshadowing the bodies of those who will eventually die in Southeast Asia.  It is a thrilling and chilling moment in the play, for that singular image unites two important components of Johnson's presidency - Civil Rights and Vietnam.

Among the gifted cast, several actors deserve special mention.  Many of the cast members play multiple roles.
  • Betsy Aidem is Lady Bird Johnson and Katherine Graham.  She shines in a scene when she finally stands up to her bullying husband, and confronts and comforts him.
  • Reed Birney is both Hubert Humphrey and Strom Thurmond.  He channels "The Happy Warrior" with remarkable sensitivity.
  • Dan Butler plays George Wallace, Walter Reuther, et al.  His versatility is remarkable.  I had no idea until I re-read the program that the same actor had played both roles.
  • J. Bernard Calloway is the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy.  I knew Rev. Abernathy personally, and seeing Calloway on stage in this role made me believe that MLK's right hand man had come back to life.
  • Crystal A. Dickinson is very believable as Coretta Scott King and as the "illiterate" Mississippi delegate Fannie Lou Hamer.
  • Brandon J. Dirden as Martin Luther King, Jr. shares much of the limelight with Mr. Cranston's LBJ. The two figures are like two satellites orbiting around each other, both repelling and attracting.  Mr. Dirden's eloquence and range of emotion are highlights of this production.
  • Peter Jay Fernandez as Roy Wilkins represents the cautious end of the Civil Rights movement spectrum, often seen in sharp contrast to the firebrand young leaders such as . . .
  • Stokely Carmichael played with appropriate rage by William Jackson Harper.
  • Dakin Matthews carves an impressive figure as Senator Richard Russell, with whom LBJ was often at loggerheads.
  • Michael McKean played J.Edgar Hoover convincingly without resorting to camp stereotyping.
  • Christopher Liam Moore painted a sympathetic portrait of LBJ's long-suffering and conflicted aid, Walter Jenkins.
  • Richard Poe was memorable as the orotund Senator Everett Dirksen.
Let me add a couple of small personal notes that will indicate why my evening at the A.R.T. was so special.  During intermission, I had two encounters that added to my enjoyment of the occasion.
  • I re-connected with Doris Kearns Goodwin, whom I had met on several earlier occasions.  When I asked her how she was enjoying the play, and how the writing jibed with her personal knowledge of LBJ, she gushed about how accurate and moving she was finding the play to be.
  • As I returned to my seat, a gentleman was waiting to take his seat near mine.  I asked him how he thought the play was going, and he made some brief positive remarks.  Then he asked me what I thought: "I am loving it.  I am struck by how much the look and feel of the play reminds me of the way in which Lincoln's political colleagues were depicted in the film 'Lincoln.'"  He replied: "That is really interesting you should say that.  I am Bill Rauch, the Director.  When I saw 'Lincoln' with several of my friends, we exclaimed, 'They have filmed our play!'"
"All The Way" is clearly one of the best plays of this young theater season in Boston.  It gets my vote, and got the vote of last night's audience - by acclamation.  Every member of the audience was quick to leap to their feet for the curtain call.  I predict that this play will go "all the way" - to Broadway!



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"The Other Place" at The Central Square Theater

I have been racking my brain to know what to say about this play.  On the one hand, I commend the playwright and The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater for tackling the difficult topic of dementia.  On the other hand, I found myself underwhelmed by this play that addresses the topic: "The Other Place" by Sharr White. Part of my dilemma in not knowing what to say about this play is that the play and the writer have garnered a number of awards, so clearly there have been others that have seen things in the play that I either did not see or did not appreciate in the same way.

The plot involves a brilliant research scientist who has been working on a drug to attack the plaque in the brain that causes premature dementia.  As she makes the rounds of medical meetings selling her new drug, Dr. Smithton experiences a medical "episode."  Her knowledge of family medical history causes her to self-diagnose it as a brain tumor, when it is fact the first clear evidence of early onset of dementia at age 52.  The rest of the play shows her wrestling with increasing paranoia towards her oncologist husband whom she images is divorcing her.  She wrestles, as well, with vivid hallucinations, mostly involving her daughter who ran away from home as a teenager and never returned.  She dreams of returning to her safe haven - their vacation home on Cape Cod that she terms "The Other Place."

Debra Wise, Artistic Director of Underground Railway Theater, plays the role of neurologist Juliana Smithton.  Ms. Wise soldiers on bravely, displaying the range of emotions that the playwright has provided her character from a limited palette - anger, paranoia, sarcasm and confusion.

The character of her husband, Ian, is played by David DeBeck.  He also does his best with a character that has been written as not much more than three or four shades of gray.

Angie Jepson plays three roles - the daughter, Laurel, Dr. Cindy Teller, and a woman who inhabits the Cape Cod home that used to be Juliana's "Other Place.".  These three characters were not very well differentiated - in the writing or in the acting.

Rounding out the cast is Jaime Carrillo, who also plays a trio of small roles.

There are several pivotal moments in the play that should have evoked a deep emotional response in me as an audience member.  I found myself in the same situation as the character Morales in "A Chorus Line": I felt nothing.  I found this to be strange, since this is an issue that hits close to home; several family members have dealt with dementia.  I should have been touched, but was not.  To be fair, at the curtain call, several members of the audience rose in ovation, so clearly the play reached some of us.  I wish that emotionally, I had not been in "another place" and unable to be moved in the same way.

The play clearly has value, and has been cast with true professionals.  Directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, it is worth seeing for anyone who wants help in addressing the issue of what it may be like to have a family member who is afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer's.

September 12 - October 6, 2013
by Sharr White
Produced by The Nora Theatre Company & Underground Railway Theater

Central Square Theater website

Monday, September 16, 2013

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Tribes" by Nina Raine - A Tour de Force Examination of the Art of Communication

Author and marketing guru, Seth Godin, has published a book entitled "Tribes," in which he examines mankind's innate need for us to organize ourselves in affiliate groups with whom we can identify and "hang out."  His focus is on  the business applications of this phenomenon.  In her play of the same title, Nina Raine expands the canvas and paints word pictures of how the need to affiliate in tribes impacts every aspect of life.  The writing is of the highest order - on a par with the writing of Bruce Norris in "Clybourne Park" and of Tracy Letts in "August Osage County." The playwright is the grand niece of Russian novelist Boris Pasternak.  The familial proclivity to create memorable characters and to use words with the precision of a scalpel or the brute force of a sledge hammer is in evidence from the opening salvos thrown back and forth by the members of a family that could well be named The Dysfunctionals!

Anchored by the patriarch, Christopher, this small tribe of beloved enemies find ever more cruel and creative ways to put down one another with merciless verbal assaults, innuendos and benign neglect.  Young adult children Daniel and Ruth have moved back home after having failed in their respective attempts to fly from the nest.  They drag themselves back to the "devil they know" and place themselves directly in the cross hairs of their father's incessant attacks on their careers and on their persons.  The family is rounded out by the long-suffering mother, Beth, who late in life aspires to a career as a novelist.  She is writing a murder mystery about a failed marriage!  Finally, there is Billy, the youngest son who was born deaf and whom the family has raised to lip read - but not to sign.  Christopher has been a professor who has turned writer, opining in dense language about semiotics and language, all the while being patently incapable of communicating in anything other that verbal attack mode.

The play is as much about theme as it is about plot.  The themes and meta-themes that Ms. Raine explores cut to the very heart of the human condition.
  • What is the nature of communication?  What are its obstacles, barriers, limitations?
  • What does it mean to affiliate with a tribe - a family, the "Deaf Community," the world of intellectuals, those who are not "Northerners"?
  • The tendency within each individual tribe to create hierarchies and pecking orders
  • What does it mean to be born deaf?  What does it mean to become deaf?
  • What are the qualitative differences and relational  and emotional implications of spoken communication vs. sign language?
  • To what degree is music a form of communication and emotional connection?
  • Is missing someone the same as loving  that person?
These  themes are explored in the myriad combinations of interactions that take place within the family, and between family members and Sylvia, Billy's girl friend.   As the child of deaf parents, she grew up learning sign language.  Now, she herself is gradually going deaf, and these factors lead to complications in her life and in her roller coaster relationship with Billy.  After years of assimilating into the hearing world as best he can, Billy meets Sylvia and their relationship helps him to see his family in a new light  He challenges his hearing family to communicate with him on his own terms. The scene in which he confronts them is the emotional heart of the play.

SpeakEasy Stage continues to attract creative talent of the highest order.  The set, designed by Christina Todesco is a sumptuous evocation of the family home.  It is set in the middle of the audience in a "theatre in the round" - or, more accurately, "theatre in the square" - configuration.  The effect is that the audience feels as if it is sitting at ringside at a tag team wrestling or boxing match.  Director M. Bevin O'Gara has blocked the action brilliantly, so that each quadrant of the audience has a chance to be near each of the characters at some point during the two act play's action.

Each character is beautifully drawn and skillfully played.  Here are the dramatis personae:
  • Daniel, played by Nael Nacer, is the oldest son who is devolving into a stuttering, stammering psychotic.  The incessant voices in his head speak more loudly and clearly than any of the family members in their attempts to communicate with him.  Billy's newly expressed independence disrupts a cycle of co-dependency that sends Daniel spinning out of control.
  • Beth is the mother who means well and is trying establish an identity for herself while preserving the integrity of her home and family.  Like the mother in "Glass Menagerie,"  her efforts to protect her fragile progeny prove to be less than successful.  Adrianne Krstansky is perfectly cast, setting the right tone whether clothed reluctantly in a garish kimono, running through the house in her under garments or standing at an ironing board symbolically trying to smooth out the wrinkles of her emotionally disheveled family.
  • Christopher, the misanthropic and verbally abusive father whose love-hate relationships within the family are matched only by his vitriol for all of those outside the family tribal boundaries.  He uses language - not as a means to communicate, but as a weapon and as a defense, erecting a verbal and intellectual barbed wire fence that snags anyone with the cheek to try to insinuate herself into the family.  Patrick Shea is chilling in his portrayal of cruelty, hubris and total emotional tone deafness.
  • Ruth is the daughter whose attempt at a career as an opera singer never hits a high note.  Kathryn Myles is wonderfully woeful as a young woman stepping gingerly to find her place in the world and in the minefield of her family.
  • James Caverly plays Billy.  Caverly is a deaf actor who brings a poignancy and genuineness to this role that cannot be too highly praised.  His performance is the glue that holds the action together, and which holds the audience in his hands.  His progression from sheltered hot house plant to an individual able to stand on his own is a powerful portrayal.
  • Erica Spyres plays Sylvia beautifully as the catalyst and mirror that allows Billy to see himself in relationship to two tribes - his family and the Deaf Community.  Her use of sign language draws the audience in.  Her struggle to deal with her approaching deafness is a poignant note that echoes throughout the play.
Projections designed by Garrett Herzig, Sound designed by Arshan Gailus and Lighting designed by Annie Wiegand all serve to enhance the exploration of the themes outlined above.

The final scenes from each of the two acts are deeply moving.  Act I fades out with Sylvia at the family's baby grand piano playing Debussy's Clair de Lune.  The denouement of Act II has Daniel and Billy confronting one another.  All other forms of communication having failed miserably, the two of them resort to the most primal of communications means - human  touch - to bridge the chasm that has opened up between them.

This award-winning play deserves a large and enthusiastic Boston audience.  I encourage you to come along with members of whatever tribes you affiliate with.  You will find much to discuss among yourselves as you leave the theater challenged and changed.

The play runs at the Boston Center for the Arts through October 12.

SpeakEasy Stage Website



Monday, September 09, 2013

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Ushers In Its 40th Season With A Rollicking New England Premiere Production of "One Man, Two Guvnors"

As I anticipated the Press Opening and New England  Premiere for "One Man, Two Guvnors," the play that opens the 40th season for The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, I had no idea what to expect.  I knew that the play had been a huge hit in London and on Broadway, playing to critical acclaim and to enthusiastic audiences.  But that was all I knew.  Two hours and many belly laughs later, I knew a great deal more.  The play, the work of British playwright Richard Bean, is a wondrous mash-up farce born from the tradition of Italian commedia dell'arte meeting English Music Hall tradition and slapstick comedy in the style of "Noises Off."  

Under the direction of Lyric Artistic Director, Spiro Veloudos, the cast kept the audience laughing and guessing through the two acts that were often interspersed with classic Music Hall tunes.  This play does not just break the proverbial fourth wall - it demolishes it.  Audience participation is de rigeur throughout the play.  Although set in England's Brighton, a few clever twists in the script make it appropriate to Boston's own Brighton/Allston neighborhood.

Matthew Whiton's scenic design cleverly solved several logistical problems of staging a play written with six set changes in the intimate performance space that is the Lyric.  Tyler Kinney's costumes drew from the classic commedia dell'arte stock costumes as well as the 1963 British styles of Carnaby Street and Seville Row.  Catherine Stornetta as Music Director not only leads from the keyboard a talented group of musicians, but she also arranged much of the music that holds together the disparate parts of the play.

The cast?  Delightful and talented.  I must begin with the "One Man" - Francis Henshall played by the very gifted Neil A. Casey.  His "fight scene" is worth the price of admission.  With superb comic timing, he plays the modern Harlequin, using his faulty intellectual faculties to create innumerable scrapes for himself that he must fight his way out of.  Trying to simultaneously serve two masters in order to earn enough money to feed his voracious appetite, he stumbles from one pratfall to another.

McCaela Donovan (who seems to be everywhere these days on all the important Boston stages) plays Rachel Crabbe, one of Henshall's Two Guvnors.  She spends much of the play disguised as her recently deceased twin brother, and is delightful, as always.

The other Guvnor is Stanley Stubbers, played very ably by Dan Whelton.  Stubbers is in love with Rachel, but he has killed her twin brother and is in hiding from  the law.  He is a terrific foil for Henshall and his shenanigans, which lead to the mistaken impression by Crabbe and Stubbers that the other is dead.  The confusions that ensue are in the best spirit of Shakespeare's comedies.

John Davin plays a superannuated and deaf factotum whose pratfalls are one of this shows delights.  Aimee Doherty plays Dolly, the bookkeeper and would-be femme fatale who is about to be whisked off to Majorca by Henshall.  The cast is rounded out with fine performances by Larry Coen as Harry Dangle the Solicitor, James Blasko as Policeman, Tiffany Chen as the dim-witted Pauline Clench, Harry McEnemy V as Gareth, Davron S. Monroe as Lloyd Boateng, Chuong Pham as Barman, Dale Place as gangster Charlie "The Duck" Clench, and Alejandro Simoes as the histrionic Alan.

Joining Ms. Stornetta in the elevated orchestra "pit" are Eric Gaudette on guitar and banjo, Daniel McDowell on bass and Brian Flan on percussion.

At one point, I turned to the critic sitting stoically next to me and whispered "What do you think?"  He responded, "Well, it's not exactly my cup of tea, but you are obviously enjoying it, and your laughter is helping me to enjoy it, as well."

There you have it - playwright, director, musicians, actors, technicians and audience members and even the odd critic all conspiring together to make a memorable and enjoyable evening at the theater.

"One Man, Two Guvnors" will play through October 12.

For tickets, and to see the upcoming shows for the rest of the Lyric's 40th Anniversary Season, click on the link below.

Lyric Stage Website



Saturday, September 07, 2013

A Quick Shout Out To This Resilient 2013 Edition of the Boston Red Sox - Rounding The Club House Turn

I do not want to wait until we know the outcome of the regular MLB season or the playoffs before making a statement about this year's Red Sox team.  Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the World Series, this edition of the Bosox have given us many years' worth of memories and thrills.

Here, in bullet point format and in random order are some of my memories from this season that still has the rest of September (and some or all of October) still to unfold for the Fenway

The prompting for this Blog post comes from a conversation I had this morning with my good friend, Mike Cooper.  Coop and I met - appropriately enough- at Fenway Park in June of 2001 when he was the shortstop on the West Point Baseball Team.  At the end of this morning's conversation, Coop asked me why I thought this year's Red Sox team was so different from the disappointing teams of 2011 and 2012.  I rattled of a few things that came to mind immediately.  Here is the list:

  • The Red Sox eliminated the cancer that was Bobby Valentine and replaced him with the healing leadership style of John Farrell, who come back to Boston having already won the respect of the players from his very successful tenure as Pitching Coach under the regime of Manager Terry Francona.
  • They excised the cancer that was Josh Beckett, packaging him in a deal with Carl Crawford, Andrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto.  Both the Red Sox and the Dodgers benefited from this blockbuster trade.
  • Having freed up many millions of dollars in the trade with the Dodgers, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was able to judiciously add players who are now important cogs in the well-oiled machine that is the 2013 Red Sox roster.
    • Among those players are Shane Victorino (The Flyin' Hawaiian), Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli.
  • Players who had been part of last year's team have raised their level of play considerable.  Among those on this list would be:
    • Daniel Nava, David Ortiz (Big Papi, fully healed from his Achilles tendon injury), Dustin Pedroia, John Lackey who shows no after-effects from is Tommy John surgery, Jared Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Players being called up form Pawtucket and Portland to make contributions, plus mid-season acquisitions before and after the July trading deadline
  • It feels like elements of the '67 Impossible Dream Team and the '04 Idiots. Never say die attitude, come from behind lightening, reliance on speed, and contributions from the last man on the bench or in the bullpen. Great leadership from the Manager and the GM.
Here are some moments that stand out in  my memory:
  • Neil Diamond appearing on the field on the day after the Marathon Bombing to lead the crowd is his kitschy and iconic "Sweet Caroline."
  • Big Papi proclaiming a Boston Strong moment on that same day, challenging the FCC regulations with his never to be forgotten: "This is our F**king City!"  The guys who sell T-shirts in Kenmore Square make sure we never forget that moment or that colorful phrase.
  • Shane Victorino's walk-off single in the 10th inning against Tampa Bay on April 13.
  • Nava's 3-run HR to beat KC on the April 21, the day after the Marathon Bombings.
  • April 26, 8-4 victory over Houston Astro's that included - 4 HR - Ross (2), Papi, Middlebrooks.  1st Red Sox W for Dempster; Ellsbury 200th steal of his career.
  • May 10, 5-0 victory over Toronto - Near perfect game by Lester - only base runner came with 2 out in the 6th - a double
  • May 26 - 6-5 victory over the Indians - 
    4 run 9th inning by the Red Sox to regain share of lead in AL East with Yankees
  • June 4, 17-5 victory over Texas Rangers - 
    Sox scored in each of the first 7 innings - 13 extra base hits!  Jackie Bradley, Jr.  1st ML H
  • The 4 pinch hit home runs by Jonny Gomes  to tie a Red Sox club record!
  • 6-1 victory over the Yankees capping A-Rod's ignominious return to Fenway.  Record level of decibels set by the booing each time he showed his face.
  • Two days later, Dempster drilled A-Rod.
  • The 15 inning victory over Seattle Mariners capped by a walk-off single by Drew.
Add to that the countless come-from-behind victories, walk-off home runs, Uehara's incredible string of 27 batters faced and retired in a row - a virtual Perfect Game out of the bull pen! 

It is not over until the Fat Lady sings, but I can hear her warming up in the bullpen.  This will be a fun next few weeks.

Stay tuned.  More thrills and memories are on their way.

In the meantime, celebrate what has been a wonderful 5 months of baseball.

They are a likable group of baseball players - even with those crazy beards that look like outtakes from the film, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Go Sox!


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Unique Career Opportunity for a Uniquely Skilled Individual - Chief Relationship Officer - Boston or New York

My friend, Bob Glazer,has built a very successful digital strategy and marketing firm called Acceleration Partners.  Because Bob is unique in his view of the world and of the business world, he has built a company that is strong on relationships and connections between and among people.  So it came as no surprise to me when he decided to add an executive position to his growing company that he is calling a Chief Relationship Officer.  A brief description the position and of the company follows.

Please forward this information to anyone in your network who may be interested and qualified.  That person will be someone who is hard-wired to connect people to one another because it is their passion and it is their nature.  This person could be based in Boston or New York.


About Acceleration Partners:
Acceleration Partners is a digital strategy and marketing firm focused on profitable online customer acquisition for high-growth consumer businesses. Committed to changing and raising the accepted standards of performance marketing, Acceleration Partners creates and implements programs that deliver measurable, sustainable growth through transparent, high-value tactics  We are a team of high-energy, performance-driven professionals who are passionate about partnering with innovative and dynamic companies to help drive their growth. We thrive on achieving lofty goals, collaborating with cool people, and working in an environment where success is measured not in hours but in results.

The Role:
The Chief Relationship Officer (CRO) is an executive-level position that oversees, both strategically and tactically, the development of beneficial relationships for Acceleration Partners that will, over time, lead to growth of the company’s sales funnel and revenue.   The role will also be a critical element of developing AP’s talent network that will serve both external and internal recruitment efforts.  

  • A genuine “giver's gain” personality. You are the type of person who frequently makes mutually beneficial introduction with nothing personal to gain
  • 5-10 years’ experience
  • You love people and love to help
  • A deep Rolodex, with contacts in marketing, e-commerce and venture capital
  • Experience with professional services a plus
  • Experience with hiring and interviewing.
·         Ideally served as the leader of business development, strategic alliances, strategic partners and/or key account management within a complex ecosystem.
  • Ability to travel up to 20%, avg. 1-3 days per month
  • Professional and polished
  • Advanced Excel capabilities and comfortable with formatting, formulas, customizing reports, etc.
·         Has read and can quote from “How to Win Friends Influence People” and “Never Eat Lunch Alone”


·         Identifying and developing mutually beneficial relationships with industry “influencers”, existing clients, prospective clients, the investor community and other key individuals that are deemed relevant to the AP ecosystem. 
·         Mapping, owning and facilitating APs relationship eco-system.
·         Coordinating with the AP Operations Manager to develop and manage a light system for candidate tracking, client / partner / prospect hiring needs, and internal hiring needs.
·         Facilitating the matching of appropriate candidates with clients, partners and prospects, as necessary.
·         Running exclusive networking and client/partner appreciation events in key cities.
·         Being the liaison for priority clients to assist them with reasonable requests outside of AP’s typical engagement structure.
·         Developing ROI metrics based on relationship-building activity and subsequent revenue generation
·         Serving as an external-facing point of contact for press inquiries and speaking opportunities
·         Overseeing the sales pipeline in conjunction with Managing Director and VP, Client Services.
·         Possessing comprehensive marketplace knowledge as it relates to AP’s client base and eco-system
·         Participating in senior management meetings and strategic planning
·         Assisting in the development of a case study for this role as a cutting edge best-practice for the services industry.


·         Acquisition of XX new clients and inquires that can be traced to relationships initiated or developed by the CRO
·         The continued growth and development of the AP eco-system, captured in a well-organized database with superior knowledge management (institutional memory)
·         Track and cultivate a “placement network” of individuals who obtained a job through the efforts of AP. “Live” the role of a Chief Relationship Officer – continue to define its meaning and construct

The attributes of the CRO
The CRO is a remote position, with group work days in Needham, MA approximately once per week. Semi-frequent travel is required, with San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York being the most common destinations. Attendance at large conferences with a concentration of clients / partners / prospects / investors (e.g., Internet Retailer, eTail, etc.) is also expected.

Compensation is competitive and commensurate with years of experience and executive level of responsibility.

Interested and qualified candidates only send resume and cover letter to Dr. Al Chase:

The cover letter should address your reasons for pursuing this unique position, and should include one or more examples of significant connections you have made between individuals or groups of people that have accrued to the benefit of all parties.