Thursday, October 31, 2013

Closing The Loop - Red Sox Victory Brings Healing: Boston Strong!

Last evening, in the moments just before the Boston Red Sox secured their franchise's eighth World Series title, I sent the following message to my FaceBook friends:

"Closing The Loop: I made a deliberate choice to watch the 9th inning at Boloco on Boylston Street. It is the place where I watched the TV coverage of the Marathon bombing. It is equidistant between Fenway Park and the Marathon Finish Line."

Once I had seen Big Papi receive the MVP trophy in honor of his historic performance in the 2013 World Series, I felt a compunction to head to the Boston Marathon Finish Line a few blocks away.  I was one of thousands who felt that same draw.  When I arrived at the spot in front of the Boston Public Library, I found this iconic image.  Someone had carefulyl laid a Red Sox jersey atop the Boston Marathon logo at the Finish Line.  How apropos!  The Red Sox this year - as individuals and as a team- have been a significant part of the healing of the city from the events of the Marathon bombings.  The two athletic events have long been tied together on Patriots Day.  They are even more tightly entwined now.

This was far more than a victory for a baseball team.  This was the apotheosis our our deepening our ties to one another as a community.

Go Sox!

Boston Strong!



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Going Gaga Over My Trip to Europe for My Son's Wedding - A Potpourri

Mr. and Mrs.  Timothy Michael Chase
Photo by Raluca Chase, Kalura Photography
I have just touched back on U.S.soil for the first time in two weeks.  It was a memorable fortnight, indeed. In no particular order of significance, here is a potpourri of memories and encounters from the trip that took me to NYC, Berlin, Krakow, London, Wallington, Dusseldorf and back to NYC and Boston.

  • Let's start with the primary reason for the trip: my son, Timothy Michael Chase, being married to the lovely Katarzyna (Kasia) Adamek in St. Anne's Cathedral in the Old City of Krakow, Poland.  The wedding, as I mentioned in a brief FaceBook posting while on the fly, felt like a royal wedding:
  • There were horse-drawn carriages for the bridal party and families, taking us from  the church through the historic Rynek Marketplace in the center of medieval Krakow.
  • There was the reception, held in an old Austrian fort high above the city at the memorial mound for Tadeusz Kościuszko, military hero from the American Revolution and several Polish military engagements.  How appropriate to choose the memorial site of a hero who unites Polish and American history as the setting for a party to celebrate this contemporary Polish-American union between Thymn and Kasia.
  • The setting was gorgeous and prepossessing.  The food, which kept coming until about 5:00 AM, was stupendous.  Kasia's family own a chain of very fine pastry shops throughout the Krakow area, so you can imagine the cornucopia of delights that spilled from the platters onto every white linen-draped table.
  • The Polish vodka, of infinite varieties of flavors, flowed as it should at a Polish wedding reception.
  • In the wee hours of the morning, while it was still dark, a large percentage of the wedding guests made the climb to the top of the Kościuszko Mound in a torch light parade and an unparalleled view of the city at night.

  • Shortly thereafter, after we had returned to the fort, we were beguiled by a unique show by fire twirlers performing on stilts and in masks using fire and fireworks as the colors with which they painted the night.
  • Polish weddings do not last just one day.  So, the next day, the families and close wedding party participants met for a luncheon, followed by a half-day long music festival that Thymn had organized with many of his musician friends from Poland, England, Scotland and the U.S.  The festival was a roaring success.
  • Thymn  had asked me to sing, so my oldest son, Ti, and I reprised an old duet we had sung together many years ago: "River In  The Rain," from the Broadway show "Big River."
  • Thymn had also helped me to learn a popular Polish wedding song about a white teddy bear called "Biały miś."  Apparently it was a big hit.  Every Polish woman in the audience came out of her seat and basically formed a mosh pit at the front of the hall.  And the end of the number, I gave the white teddy bear to my daughter-in-law, the newly minted Mrs. Chase, as the audience chanted: "Bis, bis," which apparently means the equivalent of "Encore".  But, I had bent my tongue around enough Polish phonemes for one night, so I practiced the dictum:  "Always leave the audience wanting more." Thymn assured me that I could have a very lucrative career as a Polish wedding singer should I so choose.
  • The next few days involved visiting with family and Polish friends and American friends who had traveled from afar for the wedding festivities.
  • I bid farewell to Krakow and loved ones and winged my way to London via Berlin on the surprisingly efficient and friendly Air Berlin.  It was my first encounter with this rapidly growing carrier, and I will use them again in the future.

  • I had a bit of a layover in Berlin while awaiting my flight to Heathrow.  The Berlin Airport has an unusual set-up in that each individual gate has its own security and immigration station.  I tried entering the gate area for my flight,  but there was an earlier flight to London not quite ready to depart, and the gate area was full, so I was told to wait in the outer lobby.  I found a seat  and began reading the book I was working on at the time.  
  • I noticed an energetic group of young Germans sitting around me, talking excitedly amongst themselves.  When I asked if they were also going to be flying to London, they looked at each other and one of them replied coyly: "No, we are waiting for a friend."  I bent my attention back to my book, but my curiosity had been aroused, so after a few minutes, I said: "Eight people seems a lot to meet a friend.  Where is your friend coming from?"  Once again, they exchanged conspirational glances, and then another member of the party leaned in toward me and whispered.  "We are waiting for Lady Gaga.  She is expected on this inbound flight from  London and will be landing at the gate that you are departing from."  It turns out that they had met her before,  and had won tickets to the concert to be held in Berlin the next evening.  
  • "Do you know something of Lady Gaga?", they asked incredulously of the old White Rhino.  I sang a few bars from her song "Poker Face."  Their jaws dropped, and then an hour and a half of fascinating conversation ensued.  Eventually, my flight was called for boarding, and as I left them, they were checking in with the gathering gaggle of paparazzi who were also there to catch a glimpse of the notorious singer.
  • So, I was alerted that she would most certainly pass by the other side of the glass partition that separates the departure lounge of Gate 42 from the arrival lounge.  I had my iPhone camera ready, and was rewarded with this shot of the tastefully attired superstar..
    Lady Gaga Arrives in Berlin

  • As she passed by me, I blew her a kiss, and pantomimed the phrase "POKER FACE."  She broke into a huge grin, and the others in my departure lounge applauded and said:  "She really likes you."
  • The flight to Heathrow from Berlin was otherwise unremarkable.

  • My main purpose in visiting London was to spend some more time with Ti and Raluca and their three children - and also to take in some London theatre on the cheap.  When I learned that James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave were starring in  a version of "Much Ado About Nothing" directed by Mark Rylance, I knew I had to find a way to see the show.  I managed to score a very inexpensive seat, and watched with delight as these two old war horses of the stage and screen traded barbs and quips and witticisms penned by The Bard hundreds of years before Lady Gaga drew her first breath.
  • I have learned that unlike Broadway audiences, London theatre audiences tend not to congregate at the Stage Door of the theatre to pester the actors for autographs and poses.  I do not collect autographs, but I do enjoy giving immediate feedback to actors whose performances I have particularly enjoyed.  So, after the final curtain calls, I betook myself to the Stage Door of the Old Vic.  After a few moments, a youngish man appeared and looked around and said: "Does anyone want something signed by Mr. Jones or Ms. Redgrave?  They are going to go straight to their cars once they come out of the door, but I will bring in programs to be signed, etc."  
  • I replied, "I do not have anything to be signed, but I did want to thank Mr. Jones for the essay he wrote in a recent book."  "What book?"  "Living With Shakespeare."  I reviewed an advance copy on Amazon and on my Blog.
Review of Living With Shakespeare

  • The young man replied, "I had something to do with that project.  You are talking about Susannah Carson's book,right?"  
  • "Yes indeed.  What is your role here, if I may ask?"  
  • "I am  Mr. Jones' personal assistant."
  • "How does one get such a position?"
  • "Pure nepotism; I am his son."
  • The conversation continued, and soon Mr. Jones the Younger was heading back into the theater to help bundle up Mr. Jones Senior for the ride back to his hotel.  He promised that I would have a chance to have a quick conversation with the man behind the voice of Luke Skywalker's father.  He was true to his word.  As James Earl Jones exited the historic Old Vic, his son, Flynn, steered him in my direction.  I recounted my experience of seeing him perform Iago, my recollection of his  performance and that of Mr. Plummer, and my appreciation for the essay he had penned for the new book.  He laughed heartily when I acknowledged the correctness of his observations about Iago.  I told him that I would be pleased to send him a copy of my Blog review of the book.  He turned to his son and said, as he climbed in to ride shotgun in a mini-van that had come for him: "Get this man's name so I can properly thank him."
    James Earl Jones
  • The next day, I received an e-mail from Flynn Jones that contained the following statement: "It was actually really good meeting you just now."  I assume that this means that not all encounters with audience members are filled with delight.  My next item on the "To Do" list today is to send to both Messieurs Jones that Blog review cited above.
  • The rest  of the time in London included some more delightful time with my grandchildren - at the Science Museum and in the home where they are currently staying south of London.  On Sunday I was able to worship with my son, Ti,  and the family at St. Patrick's Anglican Church in Wallington, Sussex, London, where he serves as assistant vicar.
  • I found another cheap ticket to see the new stage version of the Irish novel and film, "The Commitments."  Thoroughly enjoyable. Keep your eyes open; it may come to  Broadway.
There is more I could tell,  but jet lag is telling me that enough is enough for now.

I am back in Boston in time to be close to Fenway (no tickets to Game #6) for a possible celebration tonight.

Go Sox!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Mini-Review of "The Crooked Mirror - A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation" by Louise Steinman

The timing of the publication of this book, "The Crooked Mirror," could not have been more fortuitous for me.  As I write this review, I am getting ready to board a plane to Krakow for the wedding of my son and his lovely Polish fiancee.  The book has given me a new perspective for understanding the continuing work of reconciliation that is going on to bring about rapprochement between Poles and Jews who escaped the Holocaust or who are descendants of those who suffered in one of the many death camps and concentration camps that the Third Reich built upon occupied Polish soil.

The book will also  serve as a catalyst for my continuing conversations with my son, daughter-in-law and her Polish Catholic family.  In previous trips to Poland, my son and his fiancee have taken me to places that Louise Steinman has written about in this memoir of her personal involvement in this reconciliation movement.  Her intimate descriptions of Krakow and its wonderfully preserved old city brought back memories and made me even more eager for this next trip to take place.  Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau gave rise to many of the same emotions and questions that the author chronicles as she described her own visits there.  Our visits to the Kazimierz ghetto - the cemetery, the recently-opened Holocaust Museum, Oskar Schindler's factory - all evoked deep thought and feelings.  My future daughter-in-law is a fine painter who occupies a studio loft in a building next door to the well known Fabrika Schindlera Amelia.  Her father owns a chain of very fine pastry shops, one of which is located in Kazimierz.  So, my own in-law's Catholic lives are closely interwoven with the Jewish history of Krakow and of Poland.

Ms. Steinman's family hailed from the small town of Radomsko, to which she has often returned looking for clues about how to feel about the loss of her family, about the role that Poles may have played in the Holocaust, and how mutual forgiveness and understanding can be achieved.  Much of her searching has been directed by being made aware of an English translation of the Yiddish "Sefer-yizkor li-kehilat Radomsk veha-seviva" - The Memorial Book of the Community of Radomsk and Vicinity.  In the wake of the Shoah, memorial books were written for many towns to ensure that the memory of those whose lives had been snuffed out in the Holocaust would remain alive for future generations.

The author is very transparent about the difficulties that she has had - and continues to have - making sense of the myriad of facts surrounding what happened in Poland during WWII. Were the Poles complicit in helping the Nazi to exterminate Jews?  Or were they courageous in sheltering Jewish children and families to ensure the survival of at least a remnant of those who had lived in Poland for many hundred of years beside their Christian neighbors?  This book is full of stories from both ends of the heroism-villainy spectrum.

Ms. Steinman's personal journey - geographic and emotional is part of a larger movement to seek true understanding and forgiveness across the chasms that were created between Poles and Jews by the seismic events of the Holocaust.  This book is a welcome addition to the tools for dialogue that are being produced.

Here is a link to some earlier Blog articles I have written about Krakow and Poland that are relevant to this topic.

White Rhino Report - Krakow+Holocaust Posts


Friday, October 11, 2013

Talent Search - NYC Based Opportunity for Senior Engineer/Architect - Distributed Web Experience

Please forward this job description to anyone in your network who may be both qualified and interested.

Our client is an elite team of scientists and engineers with significant experience in cyber defense and security, across a spectrum of enterprises from national defense projects to digital bank robbery.

They are looking for a senior level full stack engineer/architect.

Here is a brief job description

We are looking for senior application engineers with skills in node.js and NoSQL databases. We are a funded tech startup that specializes in providing internet security for ad tech.

Our node/mongodb application processes a large amount of data daily. Experience with fast and scalable/distributed systems is a must, as well as experience with NoSQL unstructured datasets.
·         Mid to expert level in node.js (or equivalent language)
·         Javascript ninja level (or equivalent language)
·         Mongodb/NoSQL
·         Exposure to queuing & pub/sub systems (Redis, ZeroMQ, RabbitMQ, etc.)
·         Advanced understanding of web application space (HTTP, SSL, scalable web architectures, RDBMS and NoSQL systems, security)
·         Advanced understanding of scalable application design and data modeling
·         Experience with multiple programming languages and web application frameworks

The ideal candidate will bring the following sort of experience:
Someone who has architected a distributed web scale system that processes a high volume of web transactions (i.e. Twitter, Google, any ad tech company, etc.  The job description calls for node.js programming expertise, but equivalent language experience at the distributed web scale level is acceptable.  If you are someone who has done it at scale in one language, we assume that you can easily pick up any other language that is needed.
Compensation competitive and based on level of experience
This position is based in NYC.

Qualified and interested candidate, send MS-Word version of resume and detailed cover letter to Dr.  Al Chase:

Monday, October 07, 2013

Why More Startups Should Consider Adding a Chief of Staff to Support the CEO

I was delighted when, a few months ago, Melissa Wingard-Phillips contacted me to ask if we could spend some time discussing the role of Chief of Staff.  In the course of researching the COS role, she had found an on-line version of the White Paper that I have written on the "The Underutilized Role of Chief of Staff"

Chief of Staff White Paper Blog Posting

In the intervening months, Melissa has done a great deal of research and thinking about the role of COS.  I am pleased to offer her current thoughts on the role in this guest author piece.

Why more startups should consider adding a Chief of Staff to the CEO

by Melissa Wingard-Phillips, Guest Author

Chief of Staff is an interesting role, particularly in the corporate context and more so in the world of technology startups.  In political and military contexts, COS is a standard and well-understood role.  Although it has become more common in large corporations, the responsibilities range from very tactical to very strategic depending on the organization and executive.  In the startup community however, COS as a role is essentially a blank canvas.  I have interviewed over a dozen VCs and startup CEOs recently on this topic.  One VC dismissed the concept immediately because there are only two roles in a startup: build stuff or sell stuff.  Obviously a COS has no place in that model and would be viewed as frivolous overhead. 

And yet, there are examples of where this role has been quite successful in a startup context.  Sarah Imbach became Reid Hoffman’s Chief of Staff in 2004, just a year after LinkedIn was founded.  According to one of LinkedIn’s Board members, Greylock’s David Sze, “[Sarah] drove the initial efforts on areas as wide-ranging as setting up corporate sales and subscriptions to building out our remote customer support operations.”  She was “responsible for all day to day operations for LinkedIn, CFO, acting VP Product, and responsible for HR, Sales, and Customer Operations.”  Sarah was Reid’s COS from 2004 until 2007 when Dan Nye joined LinkedIn and Sarah became VP of Revenue and Customer Operations.  Sarah clearly added tremendous value during LinkedIn’s early days.

The success of that relationship inspired Mark Organ, founder of Eloqua and now of the cutting-edge advocacy marketing company, Influitive He hired Fraser Stark as his COS when Influitive had just 40 employees.  As he thought about his company, Mark decided Influitive needed him to be a “super-CEO” and Fraser has allowed him to do just that.  Six months in, Mark’s leadership team, board members and employees all report a better experience working with him.  Decision making, communication and accountability have all improved and Mark has increased his direct reports from 7 to 10 with higher quality management.  Which startup would not benefit from those outcomes?

My own interest in the COS position began when I was invited to interview for two very different versions of the role.  During my conversations, it became clear that both companies needed assistance in further defining and clarifying the role.  My initial research led to Dr. Al Chase’s revised COS White Paper which was extremely helpful in my development of an initial set of tools to support the COS hiring decision.  Recently however, a VC I interviewed who has known me 13 years asked “Why use an ambiguous title like Chief of Staff rather than say you are looking for a COO or a VP of Ops role?” 

There are a number of reasons but the primary one is that I want to encourage discussion of the COS role as an option in the startup community.  Startups and their investors will benefit greatly from considering COS as a strategic hire early in a company’s life cycle.


Someone asked Ben Horowitz whether CEOs were born or made.  I love his response: “That’s kind of like asking if Jolly Ranchers are grown or made. CEO is a very unnatural job.”  When talking about whether to hire a professional CEO, Reid Hoffman calls the CEO’s office “the loneliest place in an organization”.  Having run a company, I can attest to the fact that it is a lonely and unnatural position.  No matter where you fall on the Founder vs. professional CEO debate, you likely agree that no CEO arrives in the position completely ready.  Even the best generalists will have difficulty doing everything well at the same time.  Running the traps from tactical to strategic and back again is exhausting.  If you want to focus CEO time where it is best used and reduce the loneliness and exhaustion that are an inevitable part of the job, hiring a COS is a good option.


A number of the reactions to my suggestion of the COS role were that the role I described was covered by the COO, the VP of Ops, the CFO, the VP of HR or, in one case, the even more ambiguous Portfolio Program Manager.  Very early on, as the founding team expands to become the early leadership team, the roles needed are relatively straight-forward.  Enough finance, sales, or marketing activity is happening to warrant addition of a senior team member.  Using the Inc. CEO Project’s 5 Hats framework, such functional additions to the senior team permit the CEO to limit the amount of time she wears “the Player hat”.  But what happens when a gap appears that does not fit well in a function or crosses multiple functions?  Growth by definition creates operational gaps and misalignments within a company. These gaps and misalignments then inevitably shift and change over time. The CEO may need or want help with the constant assessment of where a company is, where it wants to be and, most importantly, how best to close the gaps and bring the alignment that will enable achievement of the next level.  Some of these issues require CEO attention but many do not.  A COS will know which is which and handle the latter category.


There is considerable evidence that evaluation of multiple alternatives leads to superior decision making.  In a startup, when the inevitable gaps arise, the most common option reviewed is the addition of a COO.  The organization may also organically shift so gaps are covered by a CFO, VP of HR or other senior team member.  If a company does start down the COO path, they are likely to encounter some aspect of the debate in the industry as to whether the COO role is appropriate to startups. This debate is well covered in Mark Suster’s post, although he advocates against the role.  Interestingly, the reasons put forth advocating for the role could easily fall in the remit of a COS, avoiding other issues of chain of command and lack of CEO involvement. 

Whether a company decides on COO, COS or another solution to closing gaps and focusing CEO time, the very process of assessing and selecting among several options will lead to a better outcome.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +

I want to thank Melissa for sharing her thoughts so eloquently.  She and I are partnering together to evangelize the role of Chief of Staff more broadly in corporate America (and Canada!) and beyond.  If you are in a leadership role - operational or Board member- in a company that may consider creating a COS role, then please contact me.  Melissa and I would be happy to consult with you in fashioning the role and helping you to identify and to hire the right person to fill that role.


A New Romeo & Juliet by The Actors' Shakespeare Project Set In A Perfect Context - Dorchester's Strand Theatre

I am responding to this new version of Romeo and Juliet both as a lover of live theater and as an observer of the Boston urban scene.  The Actors' Shakespeare Project, under the co-direction of Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows, has put together a production that fits our city and our time.  The choice of venue - the recently renovated Strand Theatre in Dorchester's Upham's Corner neighborhood, was brilliantly conceived.  Mayor Thomas Menino has proven to be a great supporter of the Boston arts community and of the arts as a force for healing in the city's neighborhoods.  He is largely responsible for the forces that came together to fund the renovation of what he has called "Boston's Apollo Theater"!  

It was not lost on me as I watched the action of Shakespeare's tragedy being played out on that stage that the gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets was a poignant example of art imitating life.  Not too many months ago, in this same general area of Dorchester, the police intervened - as they so often are called to do -  to stop violence being perpetuated between members of the Hendry Street gang and members of the Woodward Avenue gang.
George Rizer for The Boston Globe
How appropriate is was, then, that as I prepared to enter through the front entrance of the Strand Theatre, I saw an ambulance parked at the curb - real time Dorchester foreshadowng the violence that I was about to see portrayed in imaginary fair Verona.
This production is stunning in its originality and in its execution.  Using a simple and elegant set designed by Janie E. Howland, the Co-Directors have blocked the action so that it spills over into the aisles and the upper reaches of the historic theater.  Several dozen audience members sit upon the stage, and are included in the action of the play in sometimes whimsical ways.
The cast is universally impressive.  The Elizabethan language never trips up any of the actors, and the addition of hip-hop street attitude and clothing moves the ethos of the play to 21st Century urban America.
Allow me to call out a few of the actors who stand out amid the very capable ensemble.

  • Jason Bowen as Romeo delivers the range of emotion and action called for by Shakespeare - violence and tenderness fighting for domination within his spirit.  The spark of passion ignited between him and the fair Juliet is believable and pitiable.  
  • Julie Ann Earls has created a Juliet whose occasional childish outbursts and tantrums tell the audience how much of a little girl still scampers under the more mature surface of this young star-crossed bride.
  • The casting of the role of Nurse is always crucial in any production of this tragedy, for her comic relief keeps the action from descending into bathos.  Paula Langton is a revelation in this iconic role, "milking" the role for all it is worth without resorting to scenery chewing.
  • Veteran Boston area actor Ken Baltin as Capulet is at his best when alternately coldly disowning Juliet for her disobedience and then tenderly welcoming her back when she seems to have relented from her stubbornness.
  • Lady Capulet is wonderfully played with imperious sangfroid by the regal Miranda Craigwell.
  • Paige Clarke as Benvolia stands out as a presence on stage who will not be ignored.  In each scene in which she appears, she holds the audience spellbound with her attitude and energy.
  • Maurice Emmanuel Parent fairly exudes rage as Mercutio, as does Omar Robinson as Tybalt.

Trevor Olds is credited in the program as "Violence Designer," and he clearly was busy, for there is much kinetic action taking place throughout the course of the play.

This play is only part of The Actors' Shakespeare Project and its mission to use drama for healing and education.  A concurrent art show is on display in the theater lobby and adjoining rooms, and members of the troupe are working with ten Boston area schools to expose the students to the wonders of Shakespeare and his relevance for life in today's world.

This production will run through November 3rd.  It is worth a trip to the historic Strand Theatre.



Romeo & Juliet
Strand Theatre
Boston, MA
October 2, 2013 - November 3, 2013
The Strand Theatre
Dorchester, MA
by William Shakespeare
co-directed by Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows
"Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear."
-Romeo & Juliet, I.5
Setting the bar for all love stories to come, Romeo &; Juliet is the iconic and universal tale of passionate young love, unfettered violence, soaring poetry, bawdy shenanigans, and a tragically heartbreaking denouement. The fate of the two young lovers rests on the dramatic intersection of intransigence, revenge, and the clash of generations as the play hurtles toward its inevitable end. Join ASP as we inaugurate our 10th Anniversary Season in a timeless production at Boston's inimitable Strand Theatre.
Featuring ASP company members:
Jason Bowen*
Paula Langton*
Maurice Emmanuel Parent*
Additional Cast:
Ken Baltin*
Paige Clark
Miranda Craigwell
Julie Ann Earls
Antonio Ocampo-Guzman
Omar Robinson
Ben Rosenblatt*
Designers include:
Susan Dibble (choreographer)
Kathleen Doyle*** (costume)
Arshan Gailus (sound)
Janie E. Howland*** (scenic)
Trevor Olds (violence)
Jen Rock (lighting)
Annie Thompson (vocal coach)
Post-Show Discussions at the production venue immediately following each Sunday 2pm matinee.
Post-Show Discussion Schedule
October 6: Directors Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows
October 13: Maurice Emmanuel Parent*
October 20: Paula Langton*
October 27: Jason Bowen*
November 3: Director Bobbie Steinbach
*A Member of the Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States
***Member of United Scenic Artists Local 829
Actors' Shakespeare Project's production is part ofShakespeare for a New Generation, a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Imaginary Beasts Presents Angela Carter's "Hairy Tales" at Boston Center for the Arts

I can always count on Imaginary Beasts and Director, Matthew Wood, to present plays that are both intriguing and obscure.  In the case of the current production of Angela Carter's "Hairy Tales," that promise is delightfully fulfilled.  Originally written as radio plays, "The Company of Wolves" and "Vampirella" have been adapted by Wood and his team as fully realized stage plays. It was an evening full of surprise and memorable imagery.

Michael Underhill as Hero
Photo by Roger Metcalf

The first of the two one acts plays, "The Company of Wolves" reminded me a great deal of the back story of Little Red Riding Hood.  While ably performed, with wonderful folk choreography by Kiki Samko, this play was less engaging to me than the second play, so I will confine my detailed remarks to describing "Vampirella."

It is quite possible that I enjoyed the second play more because I had used the interval of Intermission to think about the genre of drama that was being presented, and to adjust my response to the plays accordingly.  Both plays are presented in a style fit for the Halloween season - macabre with lots of references to werewolves, vampires, the undead, and general creepiness.  The images and characters are drawn expressionistically, almost cartoonishly.

Originally presented over the radio, Ms. Carter's tales required the radio audience to employ vivid imagination to create the images and characters - to fill in the missing pieces.  During Intermission, I was reminded of a frequent childhood experience of storytelling.  My sister, brother and I would cue up the recording of "The  Count of Monte Christo," turn off all the lights, and allow ourselves and our imaginations to be transported to the dreadful Chateau d'If off the coast of Marseille.  So this was the mode and mind set in which I approached viewing the second play, "Vampirella."

Perhaps I was more engaged with this play, as well, because of the setting in the hauntingly beautiful and terrifying Carpathian Mountains that transverse Hungary and Romania - in the iconic Transylvania region - home to Vlad the Impaler and ground zero for the vampire mythology.  I have spent a great deal of time in that fabled land.  The plot of "Vampirella" is a wonderfully entertaining hodgepodge of Dracula meets Rocky Horror, with some cannibalism, necrophagia and necrophilia thrown in for good measure.

The cast got into the spirit of the production with just the right mixture of horror and camp.  Michael Underhill, as Hero, is a naive Englishman on a bicycle tour of the enchanted land of the Carpathians.  His pantomiming of the bicycling exertions is hilarious.  He is taken in by the beauty and mystique of the undead Countess, played as a bifurcated character - part real and part imaginary - by Poormina Kirby and Amy Meyer.  In this case, because of the fine work of these two actors working in tandem, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the character is intriguing on  many levels.

Poormina Kirby and Amy Meyer is The Countess
Photo by Roger Metcalf
The rest of the cast fill out the telling of the tale very ably.  William Schuller as The Count does the best work I have ever seen him do.  I mentioned earlier the cartoonish nature of some of the characters.  Think of one part Mr. Burns from The Simpson's and one part The Count from Sesame Street.  It would be fair to call his performance here "stilted," and that would be a compliment as he raises his acting to a new level.  Kamelia Aly is memorable as Mrs. Beane, a Scottish governess overseeing the young Countess.   Her back story of escaping from the Highlands is a fun diversion from the main action, but in keeping with the macabre theme of the play. Joey Pelletier as The Lantern Bearer brings his usual entertaining and outre style of character development to the role.  Filling out the ensemble are Lorna Noguiera and Erin Butcher as Shade.

Using simple props and minimalist set design, including a very versatile bit of sail cloth, the Imaginary Beasts tell a haunting and amusing tale.  The plays will run through October 26 at the Plaza Black Box Theater at Boston Center for the Arts.



Saturday, October 05, 2013

A New Resource For Those Traveling to Haiti - The Guest House in Petionville

If you have spent any time visiting in Haiti, you know that the accommodations for visitors range from the hideously expensive on the one extreme to the barely habitable on the other end. Choices that are safe, clean, comfortable, affordable and with easy access to the airport are few and far between.  Into this void has stepped my friend, Pastor Louighins Jean of Petionville. 

So, I want to make you aware of this wonderful new resource for those traveling in groups to Haiti.  My good friend, whom many of you have met, Pasteur Louighins Jean of Evangelical Baptist Church of Meyotte has opened a stunningly beautiful new guest house in Petionville.

Please take the time to check out these photos.  It is more gracious than most of the places where many of us have stayed, and the financial arrangements outlined below seem very reasonable.

Here is a quick testimonial from our friend , Jaresiah Derosiers of  Plymouth, Massachusetts, who has stayed at this facility.

“This June while in Port Au Prince I stay with a pastor by the name of Jean Louighins. He has a beautiful guesthouse about 30 mins from the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in an private residential area call Vivi Michel.

My time spent in Louighins' guesthouse was beyond enjoyable and because of this I have decided to share my experience. If you have ever travelled to Haiti you will certainly value the quality Louighins' guesthouse offers. If you are traveling to Haiti and would like a comfortable, clean, and quiet place to stay while in PAP, Pastor Loughins' guesthouse will certainly do. 

They food was great and they also offer transportation to and from the airport as well as chauffeurs if needed during your stay.

Let me describe the amenities:

  • The architecture of the guest house is impressive. It was built about a year after the 2010 earthquake in accordance with "earthquake-resistant" structural specifications. The property is enclosed by what my estimates say is a twelve foot high wall. The exterior feeling of the four, two story homes on the property is one of a European retreat. There's a large courtyard which is paved with stone, and planted with local flowers and banana trees. 

  • The interior is more modest than the large scale entrance, but it is certainly elegant in its own regard. The floors are tiled, windows screened, and bed's are comfortable. The simple amenities such as electricity, treated running water that you can brush your teeth with, wifi if needed, cold drinks and refrigeration, bureaus and closets, provided bedding and towels, full-size mirrors and locking doors are all things you can expect to find at Louighins guesthouse.

  • The bathrooms were all extremely clean and came fully loaded with a flush toilet, sink, and shower that always worked.

All of this to say, I have nothing but wonderful things to share about the facility and the Pastor. Pastor Louighins has a personality that walks with the Spirit of fraternity and love. Some things you will notice about Loughins when you meet him is his joy, honesty, and intelligence. Pastor Louighins is a self-made Haitian success and entrepreneur, who give all of the glory to God. 

My stay with Loughins was truly a delightful experience! Feel free to contact him if you have any questions (English, French, or Kreyol)”

Here are some details for those who would like to consider using this facility when you travel to Haiti.  If you are traveling well beyond Port-au-Prince, this would be a great place to spend your first night in Haiti before heading to Cap Haitien , Jacmel, Cayes or Jeremie.

If you anticipate traveling as part of a group, be aware that this facility can house up to 36 persons at one time.

Cotedih Haiti Guest House
Address: 12, Vivy Mitchell, Route de Frères, Pétion-Ville, Haiti
Region: The Caribbean> Haiti> Ouest Department> Port-au-Prince

1. Two meals a day
2. Housing
3. Free Internet
4. Free parking
5. Transport from the airport to the Guest House
6. Business center
7. Sale of products of Haiti

Price Range:
$ 10 per person for round trip from airport to Guest house
$ 55 per day per person, taxes included

NB: It is 25 or 30 minutes from the airport and in a safe place

: Louighins Jean
Tel: (509) 3673-8319

Manager: Hazer Pierre
Tel : (509) 3888-9139




Friday, October 04, 2013

Wuthering Heights Meets Operation Enduring Freedom - Review of "Abide With Me" by Sabin Willett

In his stunningly beautiful and tragic novel, "Abide With Me," Sabin Willett  bows deeply to "Wuthering Heights," and then goes on to tell his own tale of a 21st Century Heathcliff.  Roy Murphy grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a double wide trailer in a small Vermont town of Hoosick Bridge in which everyone knows everyone else's business.  His level of taciturnity makes even Calvin Coolidge appear garrulous by comparison.  He keeps his own counsel, seldom communicates verbally with family or friends, yet possesses the ability to influence people by the strength of his will and his incredible tenacity and stubbornness.

While in school and while they were still kids, Murphy falls in love with Emma, the daughter of the most prominent and wealthy family in town, owners of an iconic decaying Victorian mansion, known as "The Heights," that sits on a hill overlooking the town.  The father of the family has died in mysterious and suspicious circumstances, and the families finances have taken a dramatic downward turn.  The friendship between Roy and Emma takes place largely in stealth mode, with them finding escape in the lakes, streams and woods that surround the town.  When the town's people and Emma's family learn of the illicit teenage romance, they are concerned and scandalized.  Why would the most attractive and sought-after girl in town mess around with someone from that neighborhood - and Roy Murphy of all people?

Emma eventually goes off to Yale, thinking she has left behind her brief walk on the wild side.  Roy enlists, goes off the Afghanistan and becomes a war hero.  His return to Hoosick Bridge and the smoldering of the love that he still harbors for Emma, despite her love for another man, is the stuff of the narrative of this novel.  The story is written with elegance and pathos.  Drawing deeply from the well of Emily Bronte's tragic tale, this story of a modern Heathcliff and his refusal to accept defeat in love is spellbinding and deeply moving.

I found myself unable to put down the book until I knew what was going to happen next.  The action is both inevitable and surprising.  The characters are beautifully wrought, and I found myself rooting for the unlikely anti-hero to prevail,



Thursday, October 03, 2013

Red Sox and Boston Come Full Circle - Let The Playoffs Begin

Photo by Matt Stone, Boston Herald

Anyone who knows me understands that my mind is geared to think in images and metaphors.  When I saw this picture just now, I knew I had to share it and the thoughts it engendered.

A few weeks ago - before any of us knew for sure that the Red Sox would clinch a post-season berth, I wrote a Blog piece: "A Quick Shout Out To This Resilient Team . . "  I am astounded at how many people continue to find and read this piece - even a month after its initial posting.

Clearly, this year's edition of the Boston Red Sox have captured the hearts of Red Sox fans and Bostonians of all stripes in a way that stands in stark contradistinction to the very unlovable 2011 and 2012 "chicken and beer" ball clubs of Josh Beckett, Bobby Valentine and their ilk.

In  a recent interview, Manager John Farrell was asked if any particular moment in the long season stands out for him as one that would define this team. He said that there were many special moments in a season that saw the Red Sox achieve the best record in the American League and tie the Cardinals for the best record in the Major Leagues.  But the one moment that stood out for him was the moment in which the team stood on the field in Cleveland for a moment of silence the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings.  The team's subsequent response in taking part in the healing that needed to occur to our civic psyche will stand as an important part of the legacy of the 2013 Boston Red Sox.  Individual players have reached out to victims - visiting in hospitals and rehabilitation centers.  The organization has honored   numerous victims and first responders before games many times in the months that have passed since that Patriots' Day.  So, it is altogether fitting and proper that the members of the team should form a circle for stretching right next to the "B Strong" circle that had been sculpted into the lush greensward of the Fenway outfield.  The joy of watching them come full circle - from World Series Champs in 2004 and 2007 - to last place disappointments in 2012 - to "The Beasts of the AL East" in 2013 - has been enacted in parallel with our city regaining its footing after being shaken by the terrorist attacks in April.

Big Papi: "This Is Our F**king City!"

Our strong rivals and excellent ballplayers - the Tampa Bay Rays - roll into town today and will take the field against the hometown team on Friday afternoon to kick off the American League Divisional Series. Let the healing continue, and let the games begin!

Go Sox!



Review of "The Speaking Story" by Ben Faw and Michelle Chen - Dedicated to Children with Speech Related Challenges

My friend, Ben Faw, is a second year MBA student at Harvard Business School.  Earlier this year, he and a team of five of his HBS colleagues formed a "company," called Inspired Reading with the following mission: "To inspire and motivate children with common childhood disorders and developmental challenges through the use of creative content and social media."

This book is the first step in fulfilling that mission.

Ben is a West Point graduate, Army Ranger and former Aide-to-Camp in support of a general officer.  He also suffered from a speech disorder as a child.  Despite his successes as an adult, Ben has not forgotten the pain of being a childhood stutterer, and has chosen to make himself vulnerable and to tell his own story in this  children's book, "The Speaking Story."  In partnership with his co-author, Michelle Chen, Ben tells of his frustrations in learning to expresses himself verbally like other children.  He tells of those who made fun of him, and how that felt.  He also tells of those who helped and supported him, and how they accomplished that feat of being an advocate.

This gem of a book "speaks" for those who cannot yet speak clearly for themselves and is dedicated to: "children with speech related challenges and those who inspire and encourage them."

Who do you know who would appreciate receiving this book as a gift?  Giving them that gift will speak loudly and clearly of your love and support.

To follow the progress of Inspired Reading, Join me in following them on  FaceBook and Twitter:

FaceBook: Inspired Reading
Twitter: @InspiredReading


Review of "Eleven Days" by Lea Carpenter - A Look Into Naval Special Warfare Through the Eyes of a SEAL Team Mother

Since the much-publicized capture of Osama Bin-Laden by SEAL Team Six, Naval Special Warfare has been much in the news and casual conversation.  Those of us on the outside looking in think we have some idea of who these super-warriors are and what they do, but we only know the smallest tip of the iceberg.  In her moving novel, "Eleven Days," Lea Carpenter allows us to look a little more deeply into the heart of that iceberg.

The story is told through the eyes - and heart - of a single mother whose warrior son has gone missing on a mission for the SEAL Team that he belongs to.  As the story unfolds with flashbacks, we get a sense of Jason's thoughts and feelings as he goes through the arduous training that all members of NSW go through, beginning with the well-know BUDS/S in Coronado, California.  In parallel, we learn of the "training" that the mother undergoes, learning what questions to ask and which ones not to ask, how to deal with the daily dread of getting "that phone call" or "that knock on the door."

A few months ago, I reviewed a remarkable book by Ben Fountain, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk."  (See link below)

Fountain has this to say about "Eleven Days":

"What Dennis Johnson did for the Vietnam War in 'Tree of Smoke,' Lea Carpenter does for Iraq and Afghanistan in her superb 'Eleven Days.'  She drills deeply into the culture and lore of special operations warfare, and just as deeply into the minds of the people - the military-intellectual complex, if you will - who ultimately determine the American way of making war.  But at the core of this extraordinary novel is the love of a mother for her child."

This is a story well worth reading as it allows us to add one more piece of the complex puzzle of understanding the warriors who protect us and those they leave behind as they serve.



Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Mini-Review of A Brilliant Tale of Two Families Enmeshed In Dysfunction - "& Sons" by David Gilbert

If John Irving says that he likes a book, that means two things to me: I am going to read the book, and I am also gong to love it.  Mr. Irving did not steer me wrong in this case.  "& Sons" is a masterpiece of weaving together the stories of two families whose idiosyncrasies and fatal flaws keeping colliding generation after generation.

David Gilbert has penned a novel about fathers and sons that would make Turgenev proud.  The book has the depth and complexity of a classic Russian novel, and all of the glitter and gutter that New York City has to offer.  The story begins with a funeral, and foreshadows that this would not be the last funeral to play a role in the narrative of this sweeping saga. There are allusions to J.D. Salinger as the recluse novelist, A.N. Dyer, struggles to deal with life, fame and his untamable family.  Phillips Exeter, of course, plays a role, as do several neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn that span the socio-economic spectrum that is The Big Apple.  The multiple layers of relationships among the various siblings is one of this book's strong suits.

This is a "must read" for those who appreciate beautifully written sophisticated story telling.