Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hello, Stranger: Conducting The "Dr. Chase Experiment"

In last Sunday's New York Times Sunday Review, Michael Norton and Elizabeth W. Dunn wrote an article about breaking the unwritten rules of not making eye contact or talking to strangers during our daily commute - bus, subway, elevator, walking.  I loved the article, and made a note to myself to write a future Blog piece about it.  That "future" Blog piece became very present when I received an e-mail a few minutes ago from my friend, Jason Nochlin of GaggleAmp.

Those who know me well will often ask a mutual acquaintance they are meeting for the first time the question: "How did you meet Al - was it the Red Line or the Green Line of the T?"
So, I guess I am notorious for striking up conversations with strangers and turning those strangers into friends.  My sister, Di, often jokes about my gregarious nature and ironically says: "Someday, I hope you can find a way to break out of your shell!"

The Sunday Times article summarizes recent studies that show the real benefit of "breaking out of one's shell."  Based on the latest research, it turns out that our tacit rules and unspoken social conventions about not talking to strangers leads to unhealthy emotions and unhappy work days.  The article recounts an experiment conducted by social scientists in Chicago.  A control group was told to conduct themselves as they normally would during their commute; members of a test group were paid $5 to strike up conversations with strangers.  Members of each group reported on their emotional state at the end of the day.  Typically, psychologists and sociologists tell us that the daily commute is the least emotionally fulfilling part of a person's day, yet the test group in this experiment reported dramatically more positive emotions throughout the day as a result of having reached out to break the ice with a stranger.

My friend Jason wrote: "I think this should be called the "Dr Chase" experiment :)"

Let's take Jason's challenge and conduct a "Dr. Chase experiment."  I encourage you to do two things. First, read the full article linked below.  Second, pick a series of days in the next week in which you will determine to reach out to at least one stranger during your normal commute.  Make note at the end of the day if there is any discernible difference in your mood, energy level, outlook on life, etc.  Please report back to me with your results - in person, by e-mail or phone or in the comment section below.

I am heading for Fenway Park - by way of the Red Line and then the Green Line.  Let the commuters beware!


N Y Times: "Hello Stranger"

Mini-Review of "Midnight In Europe" by Alan Furst

Here in Boston I have a favorite Persian restaurant called Moby Dick House of Kabob. Since I am a regular customer, Moti, the owner and chef, knows my tastes.  So, I do not order from the bill of fare, but simply wait for her and her staff to bring me whatever is fresh and special on the menu that day.  I know it will always be made of the finest ingredients available, lovingly and skillfully assembled to produce a delicious taste and a nourishing meal That is what it feels like for me when I pick up the latest Alan Furst offering; familiar ingredients leading to a delicious and satisfying literary meal.

In his latest novel, Furst visits the last days of the Spanish Civil War, with much of the action taking place in and around Paris and aboard a Mexican tramp steamer making its way from Odessa through the Black Sea and on to Valencia.  There are the usual spies, thugs, prostitutes, hotel concierges, chefs, waiters, bartenders and petty government officials, with just enough nobility and aristocrats to add some spice to the stew.  We follow Cristian Ferrar, a Spanish emigre living in Paris and working for a New York based law firm.  He gets drawn into a net of intrigue in trying to help the Spanish Republican forces acquire weapons before they collapse under the weight of Franco and his fascist allies.

If you know Alan Furst and his work, this novel will be right up your alley.  If you want to discover a writer who can make WWII era Europe breathe again, then I commend to you "Midnight In Europe."



Review of "The Good Doctor - A Father, A Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics" by Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Ph.D.

This brilliant little memoir has all of the inter-generational intrigue of Turgenev's "Father's and Sons."  Dr. Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Ph.D. addresses the many ways in which the practice of medicine has changed between the time his father, Dr. Phillip Lerner, went to medical school in the 1950s and the current climate in which Barron practices as an internist and a medical historian.

What I love most about this book, "The Good Doctor," is the author's transparency and honesty about his own shifting views of his father and his father's ethics.  Often, Dr. Lerner the Younger would read his father's copious journals and make black and white judgments and pronouncements about his father's outdated and paternalistic approach to treating patients.  And then he would find himself in parallel situations in his own practice and would re-think his position, understanding at a deep level that there are many shades of gray when it comes to treating family members and making end of life decisions.

This book will be of interest to a broad audience - those who are interested in medical ethics, physicians and patients who want to be aware of subterranean currents in the doctor-patient relationship.  This very well written book makes a major contribution to opening dialogue in the area of medical ethics.  I look forward to discussing it with a number of my friends who are young physicians and medical students.



Underground Railway Theater Tackles Climate Change - "Sila" by Chantral Bilodeau at Central Square Theater

As part of its ongoing partnership with the Catalyst Collaboration @MIT, Underground Railway Theater is presenting the World Premiere of "Sila," a play written by Chantal Bilodeau and directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian.  The word "Sila" is the Inuit word for "breath."  The play addresses the issue of climate change, and is set in the Canadian Arctic on Baffin Island.

This play is the culmination of many years of cooperation among a broad variety of stake holders who feel strongly that the message of the dangers of climate change needs to be widely disseminated.  The result is a visually impressive production that has many strong elements working for it, but one that is not always an artistic success.

Let me begin by accentuating the positive.  Scenic Designer Szu-Feng Chen has done a remarkable job of turning the stage at Central Square Theater into a chilling arctic wonderland.  lbulana Borovci's costumes enhance the effect, as do the Lighting Design by David Roy and Sound Design by Emily Auciello.  Completing the polar effect is the wondrous puppetry, with a team of puppet designers and puppeteers working magic with a mother and cub pair of polar bears.  Think "Lion King" or "War Horse," and you have an idea of the beauty of these puppets.  David Fichter, Will Cabell, Brad Shir, Matthew Woellert and Penny Benson all played a role in bringing these creatures to life.

The culturally diverse cast of seven plus two puppeteers works hard to tell a complex story of vanishing ice, vanishing species and an endangered Inuit culture on Baffin Island.  The reason that this play was not a complete success in my eyes is that I felt that the playwright was trying to do too much at once - too many subplots, too much preaching and speechifying and too many cliches.  It is clear that Ms. Bilodeau has a deep affection for Baffin Island, its people and its fragile ecosystem.  Her heart has driven her to try too hard to get the audience to share those deep feelings.  Despite some cracks in the script, this play is compelling to watch, and is worthy of audience support.


Kuvageegai - Jaime Carrillo
Leanna - Renaltta Arluk
Jean - Nael Nacer
Thomas - Robert Murphy
Veronica/Monca - Sophori Ngin
Daughter - Theresa Nguyen
Raphael - Danny Bryck

Shadow Puppeteer - Gabrielle Weiler
Bear Puppeteer - Skye Ellis

April 24 - May 25, 2014
by Chantal Bilodeau
directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
World Premiere
Produced by Underground Railway Theater
A Catalyst Collaborative@MIT project

Central Square Theater Website

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Miller Time At The Plaza Black Box - Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Good Television," Written by Rod McLachlan and Directed by David J. Miller

Jenny Reagan, Ben Lewin, Christine Power, and Tasia Jones 
in Zeitgeist Stage’s GOOD TELEVISION. 
Photo by Becca A. Lewis Photography  

I am frequently reminded  of how blessed we theater lovers are in the Boston area to be able to partake of a wide variety of excellent live theater on a regular basis.  It is almost an embarrassment of riches.  The latest jewel to be added to this overflowing treasure chest is Zeitgeist Stage Company's current production of "Good Television."  Playwright Rod McLachlan first play is a complex and very satisfying examination of the many layers that can be deconstructed in evaluating reality TV and its impact on its subjects, audience members and those who produce such viewing fare.  For several years, McLachlan's wife was a producer on the show "Intervention."  He based much of his research fort his play on the things she would share with him when she would come home from a shot. 

This play is only nominally about Reality TV; is is so much broader and deeper than this subject.  The play is a High Definition look at Real Lives as illuminated through the gel of Reality TV.  Another way of saying the same things is that the topic of Reality TV is merely the lens that allows us to peer deeply into the lives of the eight characters who demand our attention, curiosity and understanding.  The play is brilliantly written by McLachlan.  His few freshman mistakes are hardly noticeable amid the complex changes that take place within individual characters and within a kaleidoscopic mixture of characters who bump up against one another - literally and figuratively - in ever-shifting ways.  Through his direction and scenic design, David J. Miller has created a landscape upon which each of the actors is free to roam - exploring their evolving wants and needs, and struggling to overcome that obstacles that keep popping up that would prevent them from realizing their dreams.

The ensemble cast has been carefully assembled, and each deserves recognition here:
  • Benjamin Lewin starts the ball rolling with a mesmerizing and gripping opening monologue as Clemson, a teenage meth addict who is trying to get cast in a reality TV show that will pay for his rehab at an in-patient facility.  Lewin is a Brandeis student who is wise and insightful beyond his years, imbuing Clem with nuanced tics and shakes and verbal idiosyncrasies that paint the character in vibrant colors.  This virtuoso performance is predictive of great future success for this actor.
  • Jenny Reagan is Clem's older sister, Brittany.  She is masterful in creating a character with a surprisingly robust set of layers.  She is anything but the "poor white trash" that she may appear to be on the surface.  The character undergoes mind-bending changes during the course of the two acts of this play, and Ms. Reagan steers her Brittany through a minefield of emotional challenges that turn an apparently helpless victim into a vibrant conquering heroine.
  • Tasia Jones is Tara, a neophyte assistant producer who wears who newly minted MFA degree from USC like a badge of honor.  This wet-behind-the-ears idealist gets a quick education in reality and Reality TV when things get "kinetic" in the video shoot in Aiken, South Carolina.  Ms. Jones does a very nice job portraying her character's emotional and professional journey.
  • Christine Power is Connie, a former substance abuse therapist tuned TV producer/consultant.  The changes that Connie undergoes are surprising, for they are inverse to the metamorphosis that Brittany is undergoing.  Their emotional see-saw act is an important anchor to the dramatic arc of this play.  Ms. Power is - well, powerful - in portraying the full spectrum of emotions from control freak to freaking out.
  • Shelley Brown as Bernice runs the show as Executive Producer or Runner, and is juggling a dizzying array of projects while playing referee among strong personalities who often disagree about how to proceed in selecting "appropriate" addicts to film and what to do with the volatile footage once they have been filmed.  She occasionally allows her tender elements to leak through the tough shell that she wears as her daily attire.
  • Olev Aleksander is  Mackson, older brother to Clemson and Brittany.  He has abandoned his siblings and his dying mother to seek his fortune working at a local TV station in another state.  Mackson is another character who undergoes dramatic changes as reality smacks him in the face.  Mr. Aleksander shows excellent range is portraying both a bullying blowhard and a humbled and repentant older brother.
  • William Bowry is Ethan, brought in to replace Bernice on the TV show as she prepares to leave for greener pastures at Fox TV.  This smarmy young Brit seems willing to do anything to get footage that will make for "good television," yet turns out to be more complex than he first appears - like all of Mr. McLachlan's characters in this play.
  • Bill Salem is MacAddy, the abusive father who abandoned his family has not been seen or heard from in many years.  His sudden return to the family's double wide trailer triggers a cascading series of events and revelations that are volcanic in their impact on the family - and on the audience.  Has MacAddy really sobered up and is serious about wanting to make amends with the help of Jesus, or is this another scam?  Mr. Salem does a wonderful job of keeping us guessing.

Jenny Reagan, Ben Lewin
in Zeitgeist Stage’s GOOD TELEVISION. 
Photo by Becca A. Lewis Photography  

One of the things I like most about this play is that there are no absolute blacks or whites.  No character is completely villain or hero.  Ambiguity reigns throughout, and the audience must wrestle with how to feel about each character.  Only Brittany is a truly likable character, yet I found myself caring about the fate of each one of the characters.  This is a tribute to excellent writing, directing and acting.

"Good Television" will run through May 17.

Wednesdays and Thursdays @ 7:30 PM, Fridays @ 8 PM, Saturdays @ 4 and 8 PM, Sundays @ 4 PM with Talkbacks following the performance Tickets: $25 Advance Sale; C$30 Day of Performance Senior/Student: $20 Wednesdays Pay-What-You-Can - $7 Minimum The show runs 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission

Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont St in Boston’s South End

 Direction:David J. Miller

Olev Alexander
William Bowry
Shelley Brown
Tasia Jones
Ben Lewin
Christine Power
Jenny Reagan
Bill Salem

Scenic Design: David Miller
Lighting Design: Jeff Adelberg
Sound Design: David Wilson
Costume Design:Jez Insalaco
Stage Manager: Will Carter
Publicity Photography: Joel W. Benjamin
Production Photography: Richard Hall/Silverline Images.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mini-Review of "Zero Six Bravo" by Damien Lewis - Setting The Record Straight About Some Remarkable Special Forces Warriors

In the hours leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, an elite group of 60 British Special Forces personnel were lifted into northern Iraq. The mission of M Squadron was to effect the surrender of the Iraqi Army's 5th Corps, comprised of more than 100,000 troops!

This book, "Zero Six Bravo," recounts the events that transpired that turned Operation No Return into one of the most remarkable stories of survival and evasion of forces trapped behind enemy lines since World War II.  In the early reporting after these men had been airlifted out of Iraq to safety, they were roundly criticized for "running from the enemy" and abandoning equipment that was later used for propaganda purposes.  Damien Lewis sets out to tell the true and heroic story of what happened to these 60 men as they encountered opposition that the intelligence briefings had told them not to expect..

The book reads like a screen play, and contains many cinematic details and descriptions that enabled this reader to picture exactly what was unfolding as they made their way across the unforgiving desert terrain of northern Iraq..  Each of the main characters (whose names have been changed for security considerations) emerges as a distinct personality.  The overall effect is a fascinating and engaging narrative account of an historic Special Forces mission.



Friday, April 18, 2014

Broadway Review: "The Realistic Joneses" by Will Eno at The Lyceum Theatre

Toni Collette as Jennifer & Michael C. Hall as John

Phioto by Joan Marcus

It is not often that the New York Times theater critics gush about a show, but they did just that when reviewing Will Eno's new play, "The Realistic Joneses."  So, I guess I am not being very original in echoing the comments of critics who have gone before me in praising this show. There is much to like about this thought-provoking and laugh-inducing play.

As a playwright, Will Eno is difficult to categorize.  He seems to walk a tightrope between hyper-realism on the one extreme and theater of the absurd on the other end of the spectrum. The result in this case is a play that feels like a series of Second City improv pieces followed by blackouts, or a string of Saturday Night Live skits - if you want to think about SNL in its Golden Age of Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, John Belushi et al.  The dialogue among the four characters - two couple both named Jones - is often convoluted and full of non sequiturs and interruptions, punctuated with strange rhythms.  The characters often blurt out shocking statements - things most people only think but never say out loud in polite company.

The play works on many levels because the fabric holds together well.  Eno writes with an acerbic and sardonic voice, but with a twinkle in his eye that makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way.  Under the direction of Sam Gold, the four cast members create memorable characters whose chemistry is often awkward (intentionally) but very palpable.

Toni Collette plays Jennifer, who is struggling to help her husband, Bob, cope with a rare degenerative neurological condition. Her job is frustrating because Bob, played brilliantly by Pulitzer Prize-wining playwright Tracy Letts,, is choosing denial as his coping strategy.  He is on medical leave from his job with the local government procuring supplies for the highway department.  The second set of Joneses move in next door and life becomes interesting.  Marisa Tomei is Pony, desperately trying to figure out life and her quirky young husband., John, played by Michael C. Hall.  Like Letts and Collette, Tomei and Hall bring wonderful physical and verbal idiosyncrasies that make their quirky characters breath with authenticity..  The younger Joneses have come to town because John is in the early stages of the same disease that is a ticking time bomb in Bob, and he has sought out the best specialist in the field who offers some hope through experimental treatment.

CMarisa Tomei as Pny & Michael C. Hall as John 

Phioto by Joan Marcus

I tend to see metaphor in everything, so I may be over-reaching in some of my observations. but here goes.  Eno seems to be saying many things beneath the level of the syncopated dialogue and physical awkwardness that hovers as a gray fog over much of the action.
  • The neurological condition with which both Bob and John are afflicted seems to be a metaphor for the four characters' inability to connect with the others in ways that are satisfying.  There are some synapses firing that are not making their intended connections.  Jennifer is lonely because Bob chooses not to be honest with himself or her about his illness.  Michael is isolated from Pony because he is keeping her in the dark about his condition, and she senses that something is wrong and some key ingredient is missing in their lives and in their marriage.
  • As a result of these missed connections, John reaches out awkwardly - in stilted conversation and in bizarre touch - to Jennifer, who is simultaneously perplexed and pleased.  In parallel, Bob and Pony lean on each other to momentarily fill the empty spaces.
  • The set by David Zinn is a brilliant use of the soaring Lyceum stage.  The versatile set doubles as the back yard of Bob and Jennifer, the kitchen of John and Pony, and the parking lot of a grocery store where John and Jennifer share their awkward moment.  The lifelike trees create an almost bucolic and pastoral setting,  A dead squirrel shows up on the verge of the woods.  Eno seems to be saying that things may look safe and cozy, but hidden dangers lurk that could prove deadly.
  • The blackouts that abruptly end each scene reflect the emotional blackouts that each of the four characters experiences throughout the play.
  • John's job is apparently that of a "handy man" or a "Mr. Fix It," but he can't manage to fix anything, much less himself.
  • John and Pony claim and try to repair an old lamp that it turns out has been discarded by Bob and Jennifer.  "One man's junk is another man's treasure."  This aphorism may be true not only of instruments of illumination , but of relationships and of individuals that one may view of "trash" and another as "treasure."
 Tracy Letts as Bob & Marisa Tomei as Pony

Phioto by Joan Marcus

Just which of these Joneses are "realistic"?  They each have something to hide, yet are not averse to blurting out thoughts that "normal" people usually keep to themselves.  Through the device of giving his characters unorthodox speech patterns, Eno throws a harsh light on the banality of much of our everyday conversation and interactions with one another.  That may be his ultimate gift to audiences that see and enjoy this play.  Watching the "Realistic Joneses" struggle to connect with each other may serve to prompt us to be more "Real" in dealing with those in our lives who are important.  Maybe the degenerative disease of being at an emotional distance from those in our lives with whom we strive to connect is a reversible condition if we will only reach out - however awkwardly we may do so.

Like all great comedy, the action in this play blossoms from the soil of tragedy and pathos.  While it makes is laugh, it also makes us think. It would be unrealistic to expect anything less from such a talented creative team.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boston 2013 Through The Eyes Of The Runners - Review of "4:09:43" by Hal Higdon

This week marks the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.  There have been many moving tributes and services of remembrance, and more are scheduled to follow.  The ultimate tribute will take place on Monday when the world's attention will be focused on the running of the 118th Boston Marathon.  Terrorism has been thwarted once again; fear has been squelched.

Yet the events of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2113 are still fresh in the minds of many of us who were at or near the Finish Line that glorious spring day when two explosions shattered the celebrations that were taking place among those who had completed running Boston.  Hal Higdon, a long time runner and Contributing Editor to Runner's World, has done a masterful job of collecting and curating the on-line reflections of many runners who were on the course for last year's running of the Boston Marathon.

He weaves together vignettes as we follow individual racers through their day - beginning at the hotels, and continuing to Boston Common where runners boarded over 350 buses to head to Hopkinton.  We visit them at the Athletes' Village, the Starting line, and the eight communities through which the 26.2 mile marathon course wends it way.  As part of the narrative of the book, there are many reports of how the runner's experienced the moments before, during, and after the twin explosions threw Boylston Street into chaos.

A quotation near the end of the book captures some of the poignancy of that day and of the runners' recollections:

"[Janeen Bergstrom] had run the marathon listening to her iPod.  Just before making the turn off Hereford and onto Boylston, Bergstrom pushed the forward button, searching for a song to motivate her for the final sprint. 'I was searching for the theme from Rocky,' she would recall,'but could not find it.'  Instead, the song she landed on just before the bombs exploded was 'Stayin' Alive.'" (Page 123)

This book, "4:09:43," makes a major addition to the growing collection of works that have been assembled that help our communities - the Boston community, the running community - come to find some way of dealing with and accommodating the many emotions that run through us on this first anniversary of that signal day.  Healing from such a tragedy is not a sprint - it is an emotional marathon.  This book offers a refreshing cup of cold water along that long race course to healing.

One note to the author and editors, which explains why I have given the book four stars rather than the five it would otherwise have earned. On page 127, the author described the fourth fatality from the day's events as "an MIT security guard."  Officer Sean Collier was a member in good standing of the MIT Police Force - not a security guard.  He deserves to be remembered for who he was, and it is my hope that in subsequent editions of this book this error will be corrected.

Bring on the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.  Boston Strong!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One Year Later - Remembering In Song: "I Don't Have A Song For That" by Ben Johnston and Jordan Lucero

I am about to head to the Hynes Auditorium, a few yards from the Boston Marathon Finish Line to participate in a Memorial Service on the first anniversary of the Marathon Bombings.

As I run out the door, I want to share a video that was just released on YouTube.  "I Don't Have a Song For That," was inspired by the events around the Marathon bombings.  Ben Johnston and Jordan Lucero co-wrote this piece, and Evan Chapman arranged the orchestration

I have come to know and respect Ben Johnston, a 2006 graduate of West Point, Army veteran and current student at Berklee College of Music.

Let this moving song and its meaning wash over you, and remember those who are gone and those who have survived.

Boston Strong!

YouTube video of "I Don't Have A Song For That" by Ben Johnston and Joran Lucero

Share this song broadly among those you know would appreciate its spirit and its message.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Review of "Broken Patterns" by Anita M. Harris

I attended a recent book signing event at which author Anita M. Harris gave some of the background that led to her revising and publishing a Second Edition of her landmark book, "Broken Patterns" first published in 1995.  She recounted an experience she had with someone who was interviewing her who had asked, in effect, "What was your agenda in writing this book?"  Having already sampled several of the chapters of the book by that time, I jumped into the fray and offered the following comments, which comprise the gist of my review:

The author is not coming from a place of having an ax to grind or an agenda to push.  Her research is driven by an honest inquiry into how professional women who entered predominantly male fields of work in the 1970's and 1980's were doing in balancing the demands of their lives, and how they viewed their lives in comparison with the lives of their mothers and grandmothers.

It is clear in reading the 40 in depth interviews that make up the core of this book that Ms. Harris brought to the task a great sensitivity and intellectual curiosity.  As a result, many of the women she interviewed found themselves expressing deep thoughts and emotions that they had not previously been aware of harboring.  A pattern emerges that generations of women who were primarily "Stay at home wives and mothers" would often be followed by a generation of women that sent many of its members to the work force.  The author sees this pattern as neither linear nor cyclical, but rather "spiral."

Many of the women she interviewed expressed strong love and respect for the lives that their mothers had led, yet also expressed equally strong desires not to emulate or repeat the patterns of their mothers' lives.

This well-conceived study and well-written book sheds light on a topic that continues to evolve as society changes and opportunities and choices for women increase and proliferate.  Old patterns are being broken and replaced by new patterns informed by individual choices and cultural consent.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

An Astounding World Premiere At The A.R.T's OBERON - "The Shape She Makes" by Susan Misner and Jonathan Bernstein

My personal track record is rather spotty when it comes to really appreciating "Experimental Theater." While I like to tell myself that I am open to new ways of telling stories, at the core of my being I guess I am a bit of a traditionalist.  So when I read that the new show at A.R.T.'s OBERON, the World Premiere of "The Shape She Makes," is a fusion of movement, dialogue and music, I was not quite sure what to expect.  What I did not expect was to be blown away by the creativity of this piece and by the gut-wrenching emotional impact in this beautifully crafted and told story.

What is "The Shape She Makes" about?

"An ensemble of ten fuse movement and dialogue in this intriguing world premiere theatrical hybrid that explores the continual impact of childhood experiences on our adult lives as Quincy, a precocious 11-year old seeks to understand what she’s inherited from her absent father and neglectful mother. Featuring music composed by Julia Kent and Son Lux."
Co-Creator of this piece, Susan Misner, pictured below with Sean Martin Hingston, explained to dramaturg, Fiona Kyle, part of the thinking behind the creation of this fusion piece:

"It takes us from a nightclub to a schoolyard as we follow stories of precocious young Quincy and undervalued substitute schoolteacher Ms. Calvin.  Quincy's bright personality is coupled with a mathematical mind that perpetually investigates the world around her as she searches for clues about her absent father.  Ms.Calvin, overweight and tethered to her aging mother, strives to accept herself while struggling to make a change in her life.  Misner, also the choreographer of "The Shape She Makes," began this play's journey by asking, "Can people truly change?"

The action of the play unfolds using a combination of dance movements that flow from gestures that take place in normal conversation and interaction, and then are stylized, underscored with the music written by Julia Kent and Son Lux.  Several moments stand out in terms of how creatively the movement elements are used to enhance the telling of the story.  Ms. Calvin struggles with food addiction.  There is a scene in which several cast members represent a refrigerator that keeps opening to entice Ms. Calvin to come inside and gorge herself on the contents  The moment is breathtaking.  In a similar vein, Quincy's father makes a brief visit to her after many year's of absence.  During this sequence, his struggles with alcohol are portrayed with a pas de deux that involves pushing and pulling, fleeing and retreating.  It is a very graphic depiction of the powerful pull of addiction.  During this same sequence, he is forced to choose between his love for alcohol and his love for his daughter.  He chooses booze, and his cradling of a bottle as he might have cradled an infant child is heart-rending.  That scene in which he must choose is an emotional watershed in this piece.

As the arc of Quincy's story begins to intersect with the arc of Ms. Calvin's story, things begin to fall into place for the audience.  Mathematics and calculation are leitmotifs that run throughout this piece. Both Quincy and her father are mathematical prodigies, two of only eight people in history to achieve a perfect score on the Brackstone Test.  Yet they have a very difficult time mastering the calculus of living.

Under the direction of  Jonathan Bernstein and the choreography of Ms. Misner, the troupe of actors and dancers, listed below, are breathtaking in the mastery of their craft and the ways in which they use their voices and their bodies to bring this complex story to life. The music and projections move the narrative along seamlessly.

I sat near a very seasoned theater critic, who has a reputation of being very hard to impress. This person was as deeply moved as I was by this piece.  The rest of the audience concurred, bringing the cast back for a second series of curtain calls.

Make some calculations and find a way to get to the OBERON before this show closes on April 27.  This is one of those rare "NOT TO BE MISSED" works of art.

Susan Misner and Seán Martin Hingston
 in #TheShapeSheMakes ART.

The Creative team
Conceived bySusan Misner
Jonathan Bernstein
Music Composed byJulia Kent + Son Lux
Choreographed bySusan Misner
Written + Directed byJonathan Bernstein
Scenic DesignSara Brown
Costume DesignSarah Cubbage
Light DesignDan Scully
Sound DesignM. L. Dogg
Projection DesignDarrel Maloney
Music SupervisionMary-Mitchell Campbell
CastingTara Rubin Casting
Stage ManagerTaylor Adamik
Michael Balderrama,
Mary Cavett,
 Nina Goldman
,Deidre Goodwin,
Seán Martin Hingston,
Benjamin Howes,
Susan Misner,
Sydney K. Penny,
 Jermaine Maurice Spivey,
Finnerty Steeves
Additional staff
Assistant DirectorSarah Johnsrude
Associate ChoreographerMary Ann Lamb
Assistant ChoreographerJaime Verazin
Assistant Stage ManagerCatherine Agis
Associate Sound DesignerElliot Davoren
A.R.T. Production DramaturgFiona Kyle
Voice CoachJeremy Sortore
Production AssociateRuth Lichtman
Production InternsKyra Atekwana
+ Joey Longstreet
 + Sam Moore
Tara Rubin Casting
Tara Rubin, CSA
 Eric Woodall, CSA 
Merri Sugarman, CSA
Lindsay Levine, CSA
Kaitlin Shaw, CSA
Scott Anderson

This work will run at the OBERON through April 27.

American Repertory Theater - The Shape She Makes

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review of "Cambridge" - A Novel by Susanna Kaysen: A Poignant Fictional Follow-Up To "Girl Interrupted"

Susanna Kaysen is well know for her very personal memoir, "Girl Interrupted."  In "Cambridge," she offers a kind of fictional prequel, following the girlhood of Susanna until about the time that the author herself would have lived the nightmare covered in "Girl Interrupted."

Susanna is the older daughter of a Harvard academic family.  Her father is a left-leaning (shocking for Cambridge!) professor of economics whose opinions are valued in many places around the globe, so the family travels often during Susanna's formative years.  While it is clear that this girl is seldom ever comfortable in her skin or in any place she goes, she has constructed an imaginary happy home nest in Cambridge, Massachusetts  - her nesting place - to which she longs to return from the family's several peregrinations to the cradles of Western civilization.

She is unhappy in Cambridge, England, in Italy, and in Greece.  She hates school, and she conducts a silent civil war with her mother, partly because she and her mother are so much alike that the mother always knows what she is thinking and feeling.  This situation is intolerable to her, because she wants to be more like her father.

Susanna is not a very likable narrator or protagonist, but her descriptions of persons, places and situations are so insightful and interesting, that I was compelled to keep reading.  It certainly did not hurt that with the exception of her time in Greece, she is describing in vivid detail places that I know and love: Cambridge, Florence, Cape Cod.

Her description of the unexpected and troubling sudden appearance of menarche is particularly poignant.  It becomes very clear as Susanna nears adolescence that there are small grindings in her personal tectonic plates that will eventually lead to the full blown earthquake that will land the author in Harvard's McLean Hospital as a teenage girl.

Ms. Kaysen's writing is beautiful and evocative.  Here is a particularly lyrical example from the description of Susanna's family visit to Mycenae in Greece:

"I knew something too, even if I wasn't sure what it was.  The difference between this place and a regular place was like the difference between knowing a melody and then hearing it played by an orchestra.  Everyday life was just one line of song that ran from yesterday through today and into tomorrow, going along a narrow path.  And then - these crazy places in Greece!  Suddenly huge symphonic chords whose bottom notes boomed so far down that there was no knowing where they came from.  The noise of time was enormous,but the places themselves were quiet.  Like the underworld - noting there except the click of crickets." (Page 238)



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Raising The Ante On Hiring Veterans - Vistage's Bold Approach

A Vistage
Private Advisory Board

If you are a business leader, you are probably already aware of Vistage.  Since 1957, Vistage has made a difference by bringing together groups of successful executives across a broad array of industries. The goal: more success. Each group is designed to help members help each other improve their businesses and their lives.  Each group is lead by someone Vistage calls the "Vistage Chair."  Typically, these men and women have been CEO's of multi-million dollar companies - but not always.  And that is where the story gets interesting.

Vistage has discovered that military veterans with some business experience and great skills in communication and facilitation make excellent Vintage Chairs.  Vistage has reached out to White Rhino Parnters for our help in significantly ramping up the number of military veterans who will be selected and trained as Vistage Chairs all over the U.S.

How will you know if you should consider learning more about this unique opportunity?

  • You have served with distinction as a military officer or senior enlisted
  • You have spent some time in the business world
  • You have well-honed communication skills
  • You are comfortable communicating with C-Suite executives
  • You have skills in facilitating groups without needing to be the "Answer Man" or "Answer Woman"
  • You want to be able to continue to make a difference in the lives of top performers - just as you did as a military leader.
  • You want the autonomy of building and running your own leadership practice under-girded by a team that has been leading the way in executive coaching for over 50 years.
  • You want to continue to lead at a high level, yet have a flexible schedule that you control.
If this sounds like you, what should you do to take the next steps of explorations?
  1. Click on the link below to the Vistage website and learn more about the company and how the Vistage Chair operates.
  2. Send me an e-mail with an MS-Word version of your resume and we will schedule a conversation.  
  3. If we agree that you may be a good fit, I will introduce you to the Vistage team to continue the process.
Feel free to pass this information along to men and women in your networks who may be qualified and interested in pursuing this unique leadership opportunity.

Vistage Website


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Architects An Interesting Second Season - Review of "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg

Hub Theatre Company of Boston has drawn up an interesting set of plans to launch its second season.  First off the drawing board is Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain." The title refers to a terse and enigmatic notation in a journal that is read in 1995 by the children of the architect who wrote these words in 1960.

In Act One, we see the three grown children of two architects who were partners in the 1960s. Walker and Nan are brother and sister; Pip is the son of Theo, their father's long dead partner.  The three adults share a complex and strained relationship, due in large part to Walker's clinical depression and lingering melancholia and taciturn nature.  In Act Two, we flash back to 1960 and see how Ned, Theo and Lina also shared an awkward triangular relationship.  We drop in on the action during the "Three Days of Rain" in New York City.

Playing dual roles, John Geoffrion, Tim Hoover and Marty Seeger Mason are excellent in each portraying two very different characters.  They are crisply directed by Daniel Bourque on a set by Marc Ewart that evokes the ethos of the time frames in which the two acts are set.

The Hub Theatre Company is Boston its identity and finding its place in the world of Boston theatre. This play works well at all levels, and is the one I have enjoyed the most of all the productions I have seen that have been mounted by Hub.  The future looks bright.

I encourage you to come out to enjoy the play and to support Boston's only professional theatre company that is always "Pay-What-You-Can."

The show will run through April 19 at First Church in Boston, 66 Marlborough Street in Back Bay.



 S E A S O N   T W O   -   2 0 1 4

Three Days of Rain
by Richard Greenberg    directed by Dan Bourque
first church    april 4-19

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield    directed by Lauren Elias
club café    aug 2014

6 Hotels
New England Premiere!
by Israel Horovitz    directed by Daniel Bourque and John Geoffrion
(venue tba)    nov 2014

Hub Theatre of Boston Website

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Future of Acting In Boston Is In Good Hands - The Boston Teen Acting Troupe Presents "The Dream of the Burning Boy"

I have often remarked about the fact that those of us who live in the Boston area and love theater are surrounded by an embarrassment of riches.  This is true at all levels - fringe, small companies, medium size companies,and full-bore Broadway quality Equity houses.  We are are also blessed that many members of the next generation of stage actors are being trained within the 617 area code.  We have Boston Conservatory,  Emerson, Suffolk, BU, Northeastern all training young men and women who will someday grace the stages of local Boston area theaters as well as those in New York and beyond.  I have recently become aware of a treasured local resource that gives young actors a jump start on this training and acting experience: The Boston Teen Acting Troupe.

This past weekend, I attended a performance of the troupe's New England Premiere and Teen Premiere of David West Read's intriguing play, "The Dream of The Burning Boy."  The troupe trains and performs under the inspired leadership of Co-Artistic Directors Jack Serio and Catherine Spino and Managing Director Ritchie Sullivan.

ack Serio directs this premiere, marking this his ninth production with The Boston Teen Acting Troupe. Past credits include "All My Sons, Red, Dog Sees God" and "God of Carnage." While I will not review specific actors from this company, I will say that the overall quality of the ensemble is excellent.  I love the quotation from the Boston Metro reviewer who said: "You know that one kid in every high school drama club that just blows everyone away? All the members of the Boston Teen Acting Troupe are those kids." I could not agree more.  This troupe is performing at a level well above what one has come to expect from high school drama.  They are tackling plays that confront complex problems and that demand nuanced understanding of character, story and performance.

I encourage you to come out to Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion to see this play and to support this troupe.  What a great opportunity to see the future of theatre in the present!

"The Boston Teen Acting Troupe was founded in January of 2011 with the goal of bringing enriching, engaging and edgy theatre to teens, as well as providing an outlet for Boston teenagers who are serious about their craft, whether that is acting, directing or design. The Boston Teen Acting Troupe's goal is to eliminate the cliché of "bad high school theatre" by producing challenging plays not normally seen performed by young actors. Since 2011, The Boston Teen Acting Troupe has produced ten completely teen run shows in a variety of Boston and Cambridge theaters. Coverage in The New York Times and on National Public Radio have created a fan following for the fledgling theatre group."

THE DREAM OF THE BURNING BOY runs through Saturday, April 12th, 2014. Regular single tickets are $25.00, with discounts for students and seniors. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM. Tickets may be purchased through the Boston Theatre Scene box office, by phone at (617) 933-8600, or online at There may also be tickets available at the box office the day of each performance, though advance reservations are recommended.

Boston Teen Acting Troupe


LARRY - Max Gustafson
STEVE - Sam Vita
KYLE - Ronan Smith
DANE - Garrett Sager
RACHEL - Barbara Woodall
CHELSEA - Evy Oliverio
ANDREA - Devan Callahan

Thursdays @ 7:30PM
Fridays &; Saturdays @ 8PM
Saturdays @ 2PM

The Calderwood Pavilion
is located at

527 Tremont St.
Boston's South End

Monday, April 07, 2014

Review of "Romancing The Brand" by Tim Halloran

Tim Halloran knows marketing and branding.  After many years with Coca-Cola, and having taught at Emory and Mercer Universities, he now runs Brand Illumination.  This book, "Romancing The Brand," is clear and concise and full of examples of how brands have either succeeded or failed at wooing customers to establish a passionate relationship with the product and the brand.

Throughout the book, the author paints a picture of companies working to create an ever-deepening commitment on the part of customers in a progression he calls "laddering."  The progression is logical and each chapter builds upon the one preceding it.

Know Yourself
Know Your Type
Meet Memorably
Make It Mutual
Deepen The Connection
Keep Love Alive
Making Up
Breaking Up and Moving On

Along the way, Halloran shares fascinating behind-the-scenes insights into branding decisions made by a wide variety of companies.  The most interesting stories were those involving the branding of Mamma Chia, Sprite, New Coke (Coke II), Dos Equis, Smart Water, Geritol and the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.  I particularly enjoyed the vignette about Coke trying a very innovative program called the "Coca-Cola Happiness Machine."  A special machine with a person inside would randomly dispense flowers, pizza, extra bottles of Coke - to the surprise and delight of the customers trying to make a single bottle purchase.

In an age in which many companies are trying to use social media to demand attention, it is nice to hear about examples of innovative companies that still value the establishment of an intimate human relationship with the customer.



Sunday, April 06, 2014

A Perfect Opening Day Celebration At Fenway Park (Except For The 9th Inning)

I was so moved by the Opening Day ceremonies at Fenway Park on Friday that I determined to try to capture the essence of the event in a Blog post.  And then I read Chad Finn's piece on  I realized that he had seen the event through the same eyes that I had seen it and had felt many of the same emotions that had given me chills.  And he told the story in such an engaging way that I knew I could not do much to improve on his version of the iconic moment.

Here are some of his thoughts as laid out in his piece:

"Dr. Charles Steinberg, the maestro and mastermind of these celebrations, got it right again, and that cannot be an easy thing to do. Opening Day 2005 was the completion of the catharsis, the blueprint for how to celebrate. Finally, the championship flag we thought we may never see was draped over the Green Monster. Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts came back to celebrate one last time with the teammates they'd left behind. Mariano Rivera was in on the joke, the ever-gracious most-respected opponent. It could never be better.

Yet in 2008 -- the tribute to the unsung machine that the '07 champs became -- it was pretty damn close. The tears in Bill Buckner's eyes told us that the forgiveness sent his way so long ago finally had reached him. Johnny Pesky was still with us. Ol' Yaz even managed a couple of smiles. It was a swell time, original enough from three years prior to stand alone. 

But this? This today? Well, I wondered. It would easy for it to devolve into saccharine sentiment. It would be easy to be redundant. Instead, it was perfect. Perfect. And if you could not see it that way, it's time to wipe the clouding cynicism from your eyes." 

Click below to read the entire article:

Later in his article. Mr.Finn describes what to him and to me was the most moving moment of an afternoon filled with gems to be treasured in memory forever.  The Red Sox players had received their rings and lined up in center field to grab the rope that they would all pull on together to raise to the top of the flagpole both the American Flag and the World Series banner.  Once they had hoisted the flags, they were joined by Boston firefighters from Engine 33 and Ladder 15, and together the Sox players and firefighters gently lowered the flags to half staff in tribute to their comrades who had fallen last week in the tragic fire that raged just a few blocks away from the Fenway neighborhood.

It was a stellar moment in a ceremony filled with class, dignity and the proper sense of proportion that walked the fine line between celebration and somber remembrance.

The Boston Pops under maestro Keith Lockhart added their special sauce to the Dropkick Murphys' "Shipping Up To Boston,"  Mayors Menino and Walsh combined to thrown out the first pitch accompanied by players from the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox who hoisted the eight championship trophies local teams had won during Menino's incumbency.  In light of the former mayor's declining health, it was another poignant moment.

It was a special day.  Now, if we can just find a way to beat the mighty Brewers, everything will be fine in old Beantown.