Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review of "No Book But The World" by Leah Hager Cohen

Leah Hager Cohen has written a very sensitive novel that tells the story of a brother and sister whose unusual bond stems from their upbringing as the children of parents who fought against raising a family that would conform to society's norms.  They ran a free-form school that encouraged the children to govern themselves and to take charge of their learning experiences with minimal interference from the "educators.".

Ava, "The Bird," is the older sister and narrates the piece, sometimes speaking with the voice of other characters- her brother Freddy, her husband, Dennis, her best friend, Kitty. Freddy is "different" - developmentally delayed and apparently falling somewhere on the autism spectrum.  But the non-conforming parents refused to allow anyone to diagnose or to put a label on their "special" Freddy, so we are not certain exactly what ails him..

The story is told as Freddy has been charged with a serious crime, and Ava rushes to his aid.  Deep philosophical questions are woven into this narrative.  To what degree is Ava responsible for helping her little brother, who is now an adult?  Was he capable of committing the crime of which he is accused? To what degree did the parents, Neel and June, hamper the development of Ava and Freddy  by their unbending commitment to raise them as "outsiders"?

As the narrative weaves back and forth between real time and flashbacks to Ava and Freddy's childhood, we get a growing sense of what makes Freddy and his "tics" tick.  Cohen provides wonderfully detailed descriptions of people and of places, especially of the secret world that Freddy, Ava and Kitty made for themselves in the woods: "Midgetropolis."

The landscape of this novel is littered with broken and incomplete human beings, but each individual is presented in such a way that one sees Ava's (and the author's) deep empathy for those who do not conform to society's idea of "perfect."  At its heart, this is a story about bonding relationships that overcome enormous hurdles that would keep individuals from understanding and accepting one another - even in the face of tragedy.

This quotation that occurs near the end of the story seems to best encapsulate the author's intent in writing this moving story:

"For why are we here if not to try to fathom one another?  Not through facts alone, but with the full extent of our imaginations.  What what are stories if not tools for imagining?" (Page 294)



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Exciting Opportunity For The Right Public Relations/Communications Professional - Seattle or Scottsdale

TASER International, Inc. has retained White Rhino Partners to help them to find an extraordinarily talented Public Relations/Communications Manager to oversee communications for their growing division.

The position can be located in Seattle, or a second choice would be Scottsdale.

See job description below.  Please forward this information to individuals in your network who may be interested and qualified.  The ideal profile would be a former military officer, service academy grad with an MBA from a top-tier program who has knowledge of PR and existing relationships within the tech press and business press.

Public Relations Manager – Seattle or Scottsdale

TASER International, Inc. is looking for a seasoned public relations professional who can play an instrumental role in the following related areas: 

1) and AXON Flex: TASER is looking for the right individual to build and execute a public relations program that will raise significant awareness among key influencers about TASER’s cloud/SaaS & Video offerings. The cloud and video portfolio includes (hosted digital evidence management system) & TASER’s on officer video product suite (AXON Flex & AXON body). 

2) Mobility: The candidate also needs to develop a strategic program that raises significant awareness of TASER’s mobility offerings, tying this program to larger initiatives driven by the company. In our video and cloud strategy, mobility is a critical area of focus with offerings like AXON Mobile (companion app to cameras) and EVIDENCE Mobile, an evidence gathering mobile application. 

Key Responsibilities: 

• Build and execute strategic PR programs that map to business priorities and are complimentary to larger TASER initiatives 
• Partner closely with analyst relations, investor relations and other functions within corporate communications and marketing to ensure consistency in message delivery and maximum impact from programs 
• Manage PR agency teams with an emphasis on prioritizing activities, closely managing quarterly budgets and delivering metrics-based results 

Preferred Qualifications: 

• 5-8 years of experience in public relations, either in house, agency side or both 
• Cloud experience: public/private/hosted 
• Mobility experience 
• Has strong media contacts within IT/tech/trades as well as business press 
• Enterprise & Government and midmarket experience 
• Excellent writer 
• Excels at executive communications 
• Understands the role metrics can play in showing the value of the PR function 

Additional Considerations:

·         MBA from a top tier program preferred
·         Experience as a military officer a plus
·         Compensation is competitive for the market place in the Seattle and Scottsdale areas.
·         Qualified and interested candidates, send resume and cover letter to: Dr. Al Chase at White Rhino Partners -

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Craving For Travel" Opens on 42nd Street- It Is Worth The Trip To See This Amazing New Comedy by Greg Edwards & Andy Sandberg

The traditional profession of Travel Agent is melting away as fast as the polar ice caps and disappearing like the glacier atop Mount Kilimanjaro.  The travel industry's global warming, generated by on-line services like Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, et al., has reduced the number of viable travel agencies to a mere fraction of those that existed twenty years ago.  The ones that remain and thrive do so because they offer extraordinary service to very wealthy clients or extraordinarily demanding clients.

It is against this backdrop that Jim Strong, one of America's leading travel consultants, challenged playwrights Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg to translate his experiences dealing with exclusive travel clients into a comedy play.  The recipe: take two actors playing the roles of two travel agents and thirty needy and demanding travelers, shake vigorously, and pour into a One Act container and serve with a twist of irony to an audience thirsty for entertainment that comes to them from the First Class Cabin.

Here is the set up: "Gary and Joanne, rival travel agents and former spouses, are vying for their industry’s most prestigious honor: the Globel Prize. With their reputations on the line, they’ll tackle any request, no matter how impossible, and any client, no matter how unreasonable. Full of overzealous travelers, overbooked flights, and hoteliers who are just over it, 'Craving For Travel' reminds us of why we travel, and everything that can happen when we do."

Michele Ragusa as Joanne
Photo by Joan Marcus
I was among an enthusiastic crowd of theater-goers who braved New York City's latest blizzard to attend last night's performance of "Craving For Travel"  It would have been worth it to plow through ten foot snow drifts and hurricane force winds to see this show.  What an enchanted evening of laughs triggered by clever and nuanced writing by Edwards and Sandberg, spot-on directing by Mr. Sandberg and comedic acting on the part of Michele Ragusa and Thom Sesma that reminded me of the very best work of Mike Nichols and Elaine May.  In my book, that is high praise.

Thom Sesma as Gary
Photo by Joan Marcus

The writing is ironic, with frequent and hilarious allusions to pop culture icons.  The Kardashians are in for a rough trip, as are Patty Lupone, the matriarch of the Neiman Marcus clan, a Russian oligarch who is a master forger, a hysterical poodle owner who needs to get "Cuddles" to Paris ASAP to the doggy bedside of her dying bitch.  A bombastic "Ugly American" Senator needs to be rescued from the Aussies he has angered when he cast aspersions on the manhood of beloved Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. A formerly loyal customer has fallen prey to the charms of the Travelocity Gnome and keeps calling Joanne asking for help in being bailed out of an escalating series of travel disasters in Beijing.  And so it goes.  Embedded in the writing are subtle and clever allusions to "Les Miserables" - a leitmotif of dialogue lines that include: "Storm the barricade," "Bring him home," etc.

The set for the play consists of two travel agency offices - Bolton Travel and Jetaway Getaways.  The design by Charlie Corcoran is perfect.  The two offices are separated by a subtle partition, and we sense both the geographic separation and also the similarities between these agencies run by the former spouses.  Gary has inherited Bolton Travel after the death of his father, and is hounded throughout the play by phone calls from Florida from his hovering and smothering mother who wonders why he is such a failure as a businessman and as a man.  Joanne, after her divorce from Gary has ventured off on her own to found Jetaway Getaways.

Thom Sesma and Michele Ragusa
Photo by Joan Marcus

The reason that this play works to such perfection is the split second timing that allows these two actors to transform themselves at supersonic speed from Joanne or Gary to whatever character pops up in a ever-changing kaleidoscope of telephone conversations with needy clients of every stripe or with travel destinations pitching their services.  Jamaica and Lithuania send-ups spice up the show.  The changes in character and in conversation coincide with carefully cued lighting changes, designed by Jeff Croiter.  As the separate threads of conversation begin to weave together, we find Gary and Joanne cleverly using one client's crisis to solve another client's dilemma.  There is a touching  and fascinating sub-plot of Gary trying to help a feeble female client plan a 60th anniversary trip to Casablanca for her and her ailing husband, since the couple had first met while watching the film.  They want to visit "Rick's Café Américain ."  Gary's creative solution to the mounting complications is a wonderfully poignant high point of the play.

I cannot say enough about the protean talents of Ms. Ragusa and Mr. Sesma.  Each of the 30+ characters is created instantaneously and believably through a combination of accent, verbal tics, posture, nasal tonality, timbre, pitch, facial feature configurations, and change in speaking rhythm.  In the hands of lesser actors or a less capable Director, this play could be a bumpy ride for the audience.  As configured and as cast, this show is a Pleasure Cruise.  Audience members have been upgraded to a balcony suite with a panoramic view of the whole waterfront of the travel industry and the denizens that inhabit it.  Book yourself onto this vessel while there is still a chance.  The play runs through February 9 at the Peter J. Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues).

Readers of the White Rhino Report are eligible for special reduced ticket prices of $39 by using code CFTREFER at TicketCentral .com

Craving For Travel Website



Friday, January 17, 2014

Talent Alert - Multiple Senior Software Opportunities in Burlington, MA - Rte.128 area

Red Alert!  A company in Burlington, Massachusetts has asked for our help in finding senior software mangers and directors.  This is a solid, stable global enterprise that is growing out its e-mail, database, data warehousing, software development and QA teams.

The three positions were are most anxious to fill are:

  • Manger, Client Services
  • Director of ETL/BI
  • Software Quality Engineering Lead
Each of these positions requires 10-15 years experience in software,development, e-mail or database environments.  In addition, there are specific skills and familiarity with specific tools and programs that are outlined for each job.

Please have anyone who is interested and qualified for any of these roles contact me, and I will provide a more detailed job description..



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Company One Shines A Light On a Dark Secret: "We Are Proud To Present A Presentation . . ." At ArtsEmerson, Paramount Theater Black Box

Namibia.  Before it was known by that name, this African nation was colonized by Germany and named Southwest Africa, or German Sudwest Afrika.  The indigenous peoples in this land fared about as well under German rule as North America's indigenous Native Americans fared when the Europeans landed on these shores.  Under German rule between 1884-1915, 80% of the members of the dominant Herero tribe perished.  Genocide is the only word that can come close to describing what happened during those years on The Dark Continent.

Brooklyn-based playwright, Jackie Sibblies Drury learned about this chapter of Namibia's history and was astounded that the truth of the genocide was not more widely known.  It was in response to this discovery of the near total destruction of the Herero people that she decided to write this play and to tell their story to the world.  The full title of the play is "We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero Of Namibia, Formerly Known As Southwest Africa, From The German Sudwestafrika, Between The Years 1884-1915."

Rather than writing a play with straight exposition, Ms. Drury chose a riskier and more bold approach.  The play is written and carefully scripted to feel as if the actors comprise an Improvisational Theater troupe in rehearsal figuring out the best way to tell the story of the Herero.  They have available to them only a handful of historically verifiable primary documents, including letters written by German soldiers sent to their wives awaiting their return back home in the Fatherland.  The point of view of the Herero people cannot be verified with written documents, but only surmised from the oral tradition that has been handed down by the few survivors of the German hegemony.

During the course of the "rehearsal," many questions are raised and complications arise among the six actors. three White and three Black. Here are some of the philosophical and historical questions that emerged for me as I took in the stream of data and emotions that were being poured out as if from the nozzle of a fire hose:

  • To what degree  is the history of the Herero genocide verifiable?
  • In the absence of documents, how can their story be truthfully and adequately told?
  • Can it be told only by Black actors?
  • Given the availability of the letters from the German soldiers, can we extrapolate from the facts of daily life conveyed in these letters to gain a sense of what life was like in German Sudwestafrika - for the German ex-patriots or for the Herero tribesmen?
  • To what degree is human experience in a particular time and place a universal experience that can be shared globally?  Or to what degree is it unique to that time and place and understandable only to those who have walked a similar path?
  • Was this early German Holocaust a "rehearsal" for the Holocaust of World War II? 
  • If as an actor I play the role of a sadistic German oppressor, does that fundamentally change who I am as a person?
As the "rehearsal" progresses, many of the stereotypical elements of drama class and improvisational theater are on display - petty arguments about who will play which role, deep questions about a character's motivation and back story.  Are  these questions appropriate, or are they narcissistic personal indulgences in the face of the overwhelming tragedy of the subject matter?

As the players continue with their presentation, the tensions mount, violence erupts, lines blur, relationships are strained to the breaking point, and things fall apart in stunning ways.  The audience is left to ponder the question: "What just happened?"
This is not a play for the faint of heart.  It is not a play to be "enjoyed," but rather a gut-wrenching and intellectually challenging journey of reflection and self-examination to be experienced.  As the actors in the troupe struggle with their roles, with themselves and with one another, there are some very humorous moments - and there are some very troubling moments.

The actors are superb in presenting the "presentation" and playing multiple layers of roles - accessing multiple levels of emotions.  They have been well selected and well directed by Company One veteran, Summer Williams.  They are:

Lorne Batman - Actor5/Sarah

Elle Borders - Actor6/Black Woman

Brandon Green - Actor 2/Black Male

Joseph Kidawski- Actor 3/White Man

Marc Pierre - Actor 4/Another Black Man

Jesse James Wood- Actor 1/White Man

Brandon Green, Jesse James Wood
Lorne Batman, Joseph Kidawski
Elle Borders, Marc Pierre

Liza Voll Photography

During the audience Talk Back session that followed the formal play, someone asked the question: "What was this play about?"  One of the Company One staff members shared the fact that the playwright had once responded to a similar question by answering: "The play is about whatever you think it is about."

As the play progressed, I found myself watching the players, and at the same time, observing other audience members.  Generally, audience members of my Baby Boomer generation looked and acted bemused, confused, and uncomfortable with the non-linear and non-traditional drama that was unfolding before us and around us.  Younger members of the audience and those who were clearly "theater people" were loving it, basking in the inside jokes about actor's preparation for a role and riding the waves of chaos that washed over some of us.  In talking with some other "critics" after the play, I can predict that the reviews will cover a broad waterfront of opinion.  I found the evening to be deeply moving, incredibly informative and challenging  and a very worthwhile investment of my time, emotional energy and "mind share."  

Now that you have a sense of what to expect (I have left some secrets still to be revealed when you see the play yourself), I encourage you to consider "presenting" yourself at Emerson's Paramount Theater in Downtown Crossing to view "We Are Proud To Present A Presentation . . ."  The show will run through February 1.

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

The personal and political, humorous and harrowing collide in this exhilaratingly irreverent play from Boston's own Company One Theatre. A rehearsal room descends from collaborative to absurd as a group of idealistic actors attempt to dramatize the little-known first genocide of the 20th century. But as the ensemble wrestles with this remote story, tensions mount, and their exploration hits much closer to home than anybody expected. One of The New York Timestop ten plays of 2012, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation... is an innovative, fast-paced and uncomfortably funny take on race, empathy and the devastating consequences of our best intentions.


Founded in 1998, Company One Theatre was recently named "Boston's Best Theater Company" by The Improper Bostonian and "One of the most inspiring and innovative theatre companies on our national landscape” by the American Theatre Wing. Company One Theatre’s mission is to change the face of Boston theatre by uniting the city’s diverse communities through socially provocative performance and the development of civically engaged artists. The award-winning company has been instrumental in bringing younger and more diverse audiences to see and participate in socially and politically relevant theatre.


JAN 10 - FEB 01, 2014

  • Location The Jackie Liebergott Black Box at the Emerson/Paramount Center
  • By Company One Theatre
  • Title We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915
  • Written by Jackie Sibblies Drury
  • Directed by Summer L. Williams
  • A co-production with ArtsEmerson andCompany One Theatre
  • Series Pioneers
  • Ages 14+
  • Running Time 90 minutes with no intermission

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nora Theatre Company Presents Terry Johnson's "Insignificance" at Central Square Theater

The current offering by the Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theater in Cambridge is Terry Johnson's "Insignificance."  The play opened in London in 1982 to great critical acclaim.  This production of the play is directed by Daniel Gidron.

The action is set in 1953 - The Joe McCarthy Red Scare era.  The action is set in a period hotel room, and involves four characters:

  • The Actress  (Stacy Fischer) - who just might be Marilyn Monroe
  • The Ballplayer (Alexander Platt) - who just might be her dumb jock ballplayer husband, Joe DiMaggio
  • The Professor (Richard McElvain) - who might be Albert Einstein
  • The Senator (Barry M. Press) - who might be old Joe McCarthy himself
The two acts involve discussions and interactions among various combinations of these characters - a ménage à quatre if you will, or a human quadratic equation.  It is clear that the playwright is asking his characters - and his audiences - to wrestle with some deep philosophical questions.  The philosophizing is done in the context of a bedroom farce, so I felt a bit of cognitive dissonance in trying to make sense of the whole thing.  There is a prolonged scene in which the philosophy of Solipsism is massaged from several angles.

As should be the case in any drama, each character wants something.

  • The Actress wants a baby and wants to be appreciated for her mind as much as for her physical beauty.
  • The Ballplayer wants his wife to be available to him alone, and not to the cloying, clutching, adoring public.
  • The Professor wants to finish his work of solving the riddle of the shape of the cosmos, and to escape the guilt that he feels over the use of his theories to perfect the atomic bomb.
  • The Senator wants to trap the Professor and get him to testify before the House Unamerican Activities Committee, name names and admit his Communist sympathies.

As the action of the play progresses, each character is frustrated in their quest and suffers a loss of some kind - a miscarriage of something not brought to fruition. While the playwright's style of humor is not exactly a perfect fit for my tastes, I appreciate the complexity of his ideas and vision.  The cast members, all veteran Equity actors, are excellent in portraying the roles that Johnson has created.  The audience members clearly appreciated their efforts at telling this story.

This is the kind of play that requires some thought and reflection on the part of an audience member.  I find that in the 48 hours since I saw the performance, I have discovered additional meanings in certain actions and scenes.

The play will run at Central Square Theater through February 9.

 Click below for tickets and information:

Central Square Theater Website



Bill Bryson Hits Another Home Run - Review of "One Summer: America, 1927"

A few weeks ago, I was browsing among the stacks at the cavernous Harvard Coop bookstore.  I stopped in my tracks when I saw that Bill Bryson had written a  new book, "One Summer: America, 1927."  I knew I had to have it.  I have been devouring Bryson books  as fast as I can get my hands on them.  Among his titles that have delighted me over the past several years are "A Walk in the Woods," "In A Sunburned Country," "At Home: A Short History of Private Life."

I knew that the Summer of 1927 had been  remarkable because the New York Yankees team that season was considered one of the best teams ever assembled on a baseball diamond.  I had no idea of the other achievements and events that stacked up one upon the other during that summer.

Among  the events that Bryson chronicles in this new book are Lindbergh's non-stop flight from New York to Paris, Babe Ruth's quest for a new home run record, President Coolidge's retreat to a three-month long vacation near Mt. Rushmore that coincided with the beginning of the work on the iconic presidential sculpture in that remote site.  Then there were the rash of terrorist attacks by anarchists, the famous trial of Ruth Brown Snyder for the "Sash Weight Murder"of her husband, the dramatic Dempsey-Tunney boxing match, Al Capone's cozy relationship with Chicago Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson, the continuing impact of Prohibition, Sacco and Venzetti's executions and the protests that preceded and followed that event, tennis star Bill Tilden's winning streak, the use of radio for live broadcasts of sporting events, and the decision made by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York along with the central banks of England and France to lower interest rates.  Bryson makes the case that this decision set the wheels in motion for the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  In addition, some of the most severe weather ever recorded - floods, tornadoes, heat waves  - led to death and destruction over much of the nation.

Part of Bryson's gift as a writer is that he weaves together non-fiction information in a way that makes it read like a suspense novel.  At several points along the way in this book, he highlights the interplay among the events and characters that made the Summer of 1927 such a signal  time in America.  Several themes emerge in this book that become leit motifs:

  • The corruption and incompetence of public officials at all levels of government
  • The spirit of adventure in the new world of aviation that led to public acclaim for the aviators and public acceptance of aviation as a viable transportation choice.
  • The role of sports in American life - especially baseball and boxing
  • The widespread deleterious effects of Prohibition and the Volstead Act.
  • How laissez faire was President Coolidge's approach to the Presidency, especially in contradistinction to the pro-active work that Hoover and then FDR would do in trying to pull the country out of the vortex of The Great Depression.
My parents were children during the Summer of 1927, so it was enlightening for me to imagine them and their families reacting to the events that Bryson describes so graphically in this book.  If he keep hitting literary home runs like this for a few more years, he may come close to Babe Ruth's home run record!



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

SpeakEasy Stage Company Paints A Vibrant "Color Purple" - A Stunning and Soul-Stirring Production

"The Color Purple" is a work of art - or, rather, a series of works of art in three genres - that captured my attention the first time I saw the Steven Spielberg-directed film of Alice Walker's watershed novel.  I betook myself to the movie theater seven different times in 1985 to let the different shades of color of that story wash over me and sweep me away.  The story of Miss Celie, her sister Nettie, Sofia, Shug Avery and the men who complicated their lives is one over which I feel an almost proprietary interest.  In the late 1980's , I had the rare privilege of spending a day with Oprah Winfrey and discussing with her the role of Sofia that she had created so memorably on the screen.  So, when I learned that a stage version would be coming to Broadway in 2005, I held my breath wondering if they would be able to transfer the magic and the pathos of the story to the stage.  Under the watchful eye of Oprah, Quincy Jones and others, they succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.  I saw the Broadway version a number of times.  Imagine my delight when I learned that SpeakEasy Stage Company would be featuring this musical as part of their 2013-2014 season.
Lovely Hoffman (Celie)
Aubin Wise (Nettie) 

It is never completely fair to compare a Broadway production - with its vast financial resources - to a local production in Boston, but I will say that I enjoyed the SpeakEasy version of this wondrous story every bit as much as I enjoyed the Broadway offering.  Director Paul Daigneault has woven together a wonderful cast composed of local Boston actors and a few who hail from the South where the action of the play is set.  The Musical Direction, under Nicholas James Connell and the Choreography of Christian Bufford add elements to the story telling that are beautifully in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the times and places that they depict.  Jenna McFarland Lord has designed a marvelous set, centered on a barren tree the roots of which delve downstage and over the lip of the stage towards the audience - saying tacitly to the expectant audience members: "This is a story about Black folks in the South, but if you let it be, it can be a universal story; it can be your story, too."  An upstage inclined ramp serves to suggest that each entrance and exit upon that ramp is emblematic of someone's journey in life.  The corrugated metal plates that line the Proscenium suggest not only Harpo's juke joint, but also denote the poverty and simplicity of life of the play's characters.  The simple lighting design by Karen Perlow and Erik Fox provide visual clues that something dramatic is about to transpire when the burlap backdrop or the Proscenium frame change color.  For example, as Miss Celie reluctantly goes off to live with her abusive husband, Mister, the hue of the backdrop changes to blue, ushering in a season of "the blues" for Celie.

The ensemble singing of the cast is spine-tingling, especially in the opening number "Mysterious Ways" and the closing number "The Color Purple."  The rollicking Gospel sounds had audience members joining in and clapping hands.  It became a service of worship and praise celebrating the resilience of the human spirit. Among the excellent ensemble, several individual actors deserve special mention.

Lovely Hoffman  as Celie is the epicenter of the story and of this production.  The script has been edited down to eliminate some of the exposition around other characters, so this production is even more focused on Celie's pilgrimage through life than earlier versions of the story.  Ms. Hoffman is a relatively inexperienced actor, but one would  never know it from the way in which she totally inhabits the role of Celie.  From her first scene, she has the audience in the palm of her hand.  It seems as if the actor has within her a very finely tuned dimmer switch.  When she lost her connection with her sister, Nettie, whatever inner light that Celie had harbored was nearly extinguished.  The dimmer switch was reset near zero.  She was crushed in body and spirit.  One had the feeling that Celie was slowly sinking into herself - living in emotional despair and exhibiting a physical implosion.  But when Shug Avery came into her life and reversed the polarity of her verdict about Celie, then a change began to show.  Initially, in a drunken stupor, Shug pronounced: "You sure is ugly!"  Celie was so used to being called "ugly" by Mister that she hardly reacted.  But soon, as Shug began to see Celie's true character and experience her selfless care for others, Shug proclaimed that Celie was "beautiful."  As the astonishing nature of that word began to sink into Celie's ears and mind and heart and soul, the slightest hint of a smile began to shine from her mouth.  The dimmer switch had been nudged a notch toward the bright end of the scale.  As the story progresses, each time that Celie experiences some tenderness or kind word or healing touch, the dimmer switch moves another notch toward the incandescent.  By the end of the story, as Celie sings her anthem, "I'm Here," she has attained full radiance.

Crystin Gilmore as Shug Avery brings the grittiness and grace of her native Memphis to this role.  As she emerges from the bathtub. her naked backside turned to the audience, there is a dignity and self-confidence in her pose that is a celebration of the human form rather than an occasion for embarrassment or discomfort - for the actor or for the audience. In the scene with Celie described above, her lilting hymn of praise to Celie's latent and hidden beauty, "Too Beautiful For Words," is one of the emotional high points of the show.  Likewise, her duet with Celie, "What About Love?" is a riveting pivot point in the plot and in the women's  shared journey.

Valerie Houston, another Memphis native, brings the bigness and broadness and boldness that is required of a proper Sofia.  Her much anticipated pronouncement and song, "Hell No!" resonates within the heart of any woman who has been victimized by domestic abuse.  Her roller coaster ride of pride, humiliation and return from near death is portrayed with great skill by Ms. Houston.  He coming alive at the dinner table is one of the iconic moments in the show.  "Sofia's back!"

Carolyn Saxon is church soloist and leader of the trio of church ladies who serve as resident Greek Chorus and Gossip Mongers.  Her full-throated Gospel voice is a wonderful vocal anchor for the ensemble numbers and for her solos.  She returns to the SpeakEasy stage after her wonderful turn as Abuela in last season's "In The Heights." 

Maurice Emmanuel Parent tackles the difficult role of Mister with great professionalism and aplomb.  He must convey a dramatic turn from abusive monster to repentant ex-husband searching for ways to find expiation and to make amends for the hurt that he has caused.  That his conversion and redemption into a contributing member of the community is believable is a tribute to this fine actor's craft.  His "Mister Song," sung from the barren tree, gives the audience reason to believe that new leaves may be able to sprout from what had been a dead and petrified stump of a human being.

Jared Dixon, another veteran of SpeakEasy's "In The Heights," returns to Boston to create the role of Harpo.  This is another difficult character to portray, for there are conflicting elements of the buffoon, the hen-pecked husband, the entrepreneur, the philanderer, and the loving spouse.  Mr. Dixon handles all of these facets of Harpo's character with great artistry.  The duet that Harpo sings with Sofia as they are reunited, "Is There Anything I Can Do For You?" is one of the highlights of the show,

Crystin Gilmore, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Valerie Houston,
Anich D'Jae, Jared Dixon, David Jiles, Jr., Cliff Odle,
and Lovely Hoffman
The Color Purple.
Photo by Glenn Perry Photography.

This is essentially a story about disenfranchised Black women living in the South in the 1920s and struggling to survive abuse, neglect, racism, and poverty.  The fact that this story can cause an old White man from Boston living in the 21st Century to weep with empathy and identification with the universality of this story is a tribute to some wondrous story telling on the part of each  person who has added their own lavender, violet, lilac, mauve or mulberry brush strokes to the painting of this lovely purple portrait.

I was not the only one moved by the performance I attended.  As soon as the lights dimmed to signal the end of the play, all of the audience members sprung to their feet in unison to signal their approbation of the artistry that had just been exhibited on that stage.  SpeakEasy Stage Company is staging a vibrant "Color Purple"; you do not want to miss it.



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Book by Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Based upon the novel written by Alice Walker and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture
All her life, Celie has known only hardship and cruelty. Her abusive father married her off at the age of 14 to a callous man who separated her from her only true friend in the world, her sister Nettie. But with every reason to despair, Celie clings to hope, and the promise that love will lead her to healing and joy.
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
The Color Purple contains adult themes and brief nudity.
The show runs through February 8.  For tickets, click on the link below:

Mini-Review: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay - A Singular Addition to the Growing Corpus of Books from Those Who Served in Iraq and Afghanistan

Phil Klay has collected a series of vignettes that shine light of different spectra across the shadows that encircle many of the men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An enlisted mortuary worker shares the grim reality of his unspeakable job of collecting body parts and personal effects to be shipped home to loved ones who had been awaiting a bear hug rather than a body bag, a caress rather than a casket. The role of chaplain is explored from two very different directions. One soldier shares his frustration at how uncomforting the canned words of a chaplain can sound when a soldier has just seen his closest friend die in his arms. In another vignette, a chaplain shares what service on the battlefield feels like from his perspective.

Those of us who have never traveled across continents and experienced being under enemy fire can never fully grasp how that experience changes a person, but books like this nudge us a bit closer to a deeper level of understanding and empathy with those who have served in this way.



A "MUST READ": Daniel Pink and Rob Ten Pass Present "Johnny Bunko - The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need,"

Daniel Pink is a National Treasure!  His books, "A Whole New Mind," "To Sell Is Human" and "Drive" are works that I have recommended to hundreds of people, and have given copies of these works to dozens of family members and friends.  In this new little book, "Johnny Bunko - The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need," Pink has teamed up with artist Rob Ten Pas to present his ideas in classic Japanese manga style. This is, in effect, a non-fiction graphic novel, aimed at the generation that has grown up on this genre.

In "Johnny Bunko" Pink and Ten Pas have drawn insights from Pink's earlier works. They present in a very creative form six key principles for success in building a satisfying career - and life.  Several of these principles on the surface sound and feel counter-intuitive and fly in the face of the cant advice that young professionals often received from well-meaning parents, teachers and mentors.

1. There is no plan
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses
3. It's not about you
4. Persistence trumps talent
5. Make excellent mistakes
6. Leave an imprint.

The book is tremendously practical and instantly applicable to anyone who finds herself or himself in a job that is less than  fulfilling.  As I read the book, I began to think of several of my friends to whom I am eager to pass this book along.

The book can be read easily in one sitting, and will make a life-long impact on those wise enough to head its words.

To re-discover reviews of previous Daniel Pink works, click on this link:

White Rhino Report Daniel Pink Posts



Imaginary Beasts Spins Pure Gold with Winter Panto 2014: "Rumpelstiltskin, or All That Glitters"

The ancient theatre tradition of Pantomine or Panto is well known in the UK, but less well known or understood in the Colonies.  Under the leadership of Artistic Director Matthew Woods, Imaginary Beasts presents an original Panto each Winter, based on a traditional story that is appropriate for children yet known by all adults.  Winter Panto 2014 is "Rumpelstiltski , or All That Glitters."  This production glitters in every conceivable way.  And I did not even have to conduct a "straw" poll to come to this conclusion!  Allow me to explain.

Panto is fun.  It is clever.  It is brilliantly silly.  It is high camp.  It invites and demands audience participation. It elicits prompted frequent  "Boo - Hiss - Boo" from the audience when a villain is nigh, and it evokes spontaneous giggles and guffaws when the children respond to the wondrous silliness of a bear and a bee fighting over honey, or when an adult gets the double entendre that buzzes over the head of the younger members of the audience.  It is a mash-up of allusions to popular culture and popular songs - from Abba, to Sondheim to "Goldfinger" to "What Does the Fox Say?"!  There are alliterations and limericks galore. You can also expect a plethora and plenitude of polysyllabic punning, punditry and Pant-asmagorical proceedings pleasingly provided by pulchritudinous performers!

The cast members are clearly having fun in their scenery chewing, over-the-top posturing that is all part of the history and charm of Panto.  Men in dresses, glitter and wigs, and women in armor are all part of the schtick. The ensemble is a wonderful amalgam of some of Boston's best young artists:

Bryan Bernfield is Birtle, The Bard - Birtle's heart is far from brittle.

Beth Pearson is Bumble, the Humblebee - to Bee or not To Bee!  The buzz on her performance is very positive.

Cameron Cronin is Bruin, The Bear - Gloriously inarticulate in turning every phrase into the name of a food item.

Mikey DiLoreto is Lady Marmalade - If only the Elliot Norton Awards had a category for most frightening wig!

Molly Kimmerling  is Lady Glory - Helps the audience look out for the endangered sleeping infant.

Amy Meyer is Lady Honor - Shares her sister's glass eye to peer into the distance and into the future.

(Together these three are The Weird Sisters, who serve as commentators, spell-casters and visions of delight!)

Daniel J. Raps is Hark, The Herald - His entrances and exits become increasingly dramatic

Kiki Samko is Prince Florin - Best thighs in  the Kingdom

William Schuller is King Guilfroy the Good - Regally manipulated by the sneering Wantinvain.

Michael Underhill is Sir Wantinvain - One could envision him tying a young damsel to the railroad tracks

Noah Simes is Mistress Curdle - Boasts a basso profundo falsetto to die for.

Sarah Gazdowicz is Curdle's daughter, Myrtle - Trying to escape the clutches of Mommy Dearest.

Joey C. Pelletier is Dame Gilda Lilly - Joey always excels and delights in gilding the lily!

Caroline Rose Markham is Marigold - she blooms in this heroine role.

Matthew Woods is Rumplestiltskin - as the dwarfish villain, he stands tall in this role!

Kiki Samko (Florian), Bryan Bernfield (Birtle)
Matthew Woods (Rumplestiltskin),  Cameron Cronin (Bruin)
Caroline Rose Markham (Marigold)
Photo by
Roger Metcalf

Together, they spin a tale or a "yarn" that is pure gold.  The sold-out Saturday matinee audience was a wonderful  admixture of families with young children, young professionals, die-hard theatre lovers, and a sprinkling of those of us old enough to have gone to high school with Rumplestiltskin.  Each audience segment seemed equally enchanted and entranced, but were responding to and savoring different pieces of the pie.  The requisite audience participation that is built into the piece sometimes leads to hilarious and spontaneous moments.  At one point in the story, a character responds to some confusion she has caused and says: "I think I will take a couple of steps back and start over."  She takes two giants steps toward stage right.  Immediately, a young audience member says to his Dad in a "stage whisper," "Hey, she took two steps forward; she didn't take any steps backwards!"  Audience and actors alike erupted in laughter. Such is Panto.

If this past weekend's sold-out house is any indication, tickets will be at a premium for the rest of the run of the show, which ends on February 2.  Don't get shut out.  Click on the link below to  order tickets.



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Rumpelstiltskin, or All That Glitters
...the topsy-turvy tale of a strange little man who helps the Miller’s daughter spin straw into gold - but will it cost a happy ending? Add to the classic story a Prince on a quest, a Dame in distress, and a multitude of merry misfits, and you have the perfect way to jumpstart your January!  
Don’t miss this once-a-year opportunity for children and adults alike to revel in the magic of theatre! 

At the Plaza Black Box Theatre 
at the Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont Street, Boston MA 

January 11 – February 1, 2014, Fridays - Sundays

Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, 
Saturdays at 1:00 & 4:00 pm, 
Sundays at 2:00 pm
Two Pay-What-You-Can performances Thursdays, January 23 & 30


General Admission: $18-22
Children 10 & under: $10
Group rates and certain discounts are available—inquire at box office.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Sobering Words of Advice for Transitioning Military Veterans As You Enter The Job Market - Sultan Camp's Article

In a recent edition of Business Insider, recruiter Sultan Camp offers a very provocative article entitled: "Thank You for Your Military Service - Here Are 9 Reasons Why I Won't Hire You."  Written from his perspective as a headhunter who places military veterans in a variety of roles, he offers nine warnings that should serve as a cautionary tale to each veteran who is preparing to enter the job market in what is still a challenging economic climate.

I will share the 9 Topics, and trust you to click on the following link to dig deeper and read the full article.

  1. You Can’t (or Won’t) Accept That You’re Starting Over
  2. You Believe You’re Unique (Just Like Every Other Transitioning Person That Day)
  3. Your Resume Is Longer Than the CEO of Our Company’s (or Shorter Than a Recent College Graduate’s)
  4. You Didn’t Proofread Your Resume
  5. You Don’t Have a LinkedIn Profile (Or, Even Worse, It’s Not Complete
  6. You Think Social Media Is For Kids or Sharing War Stories
  7. You Didn’t Prepare For The Interview
  8. You Wrote a Thank You Note (But Only to Say Thank You)
  9. You Don’t Know What You Want to Do

    Full Business Insider Article Link
Let me add my own observation to Mr. Camp's excellent advice.  I would add Points #10 and #11:

#10. You did not utilize your network of contacts assertively enough or strategically enough to open doors for you.

#11  \Prepare to tell your "story" in short narrative vignettes, telling what you have done to solve a problem or seize an opportunity and telling how you have utilized your hard skills and soft skills to accomplish something meaningful.  Weave these stories into the interview.

Among the 9 Points that this article makes, I would highlight #3, #4, #5 #7 as particularly crucial.

#3 For most military veterans, a two page resume is appropriate, using the Harvard Business School format.  It should be results oriented with data to back up claims of productivity rather than just a list of activities you have performed.  You should be telling a story of what you accomplished, not just what you did with your time.

#4 Ask at least one other trusted person to join you in reading and re-reading and proofreading your resume to weed out errors and fine-tuning sections that are not clear and concise.

#5 LinkedIn - a full Profile with recommendations and endorsements is an absolute necessity in this job market.  If you need help, I refer you to a fine book written by my friend, Dave Gowel, "The Power In A Link"

#7 Prepare for the interview by learning all you can about the company, the job, the culture, the background of the people with whom you will be interviewing.  Use your network connections and their connections to learn all that you can so that you can make the case for yourself as someone who can solve the problem that needs to be solved by filling this open position.

Think of all of these steps of preparation as battlefield assessment, coming up with a battle plan and executing that plan.  If a job offer does not result, then do an "After Action Review" to see what lessons you can learn so that you are better at interviewing the second, third and tenth time around.

This is a battle you can win, but it takes preparation, courage, resilience and team work.

Best of luck in finding the next meaningful place of service  and employment.


Monday, January 06, 2014

A Production That Works At All Levels - Review of "Working" at the Lyric Theatre Company of Boston

CAST: Tiffany Chen, Christopher Chew, Shannon Lee Jones,
Cheeyang Ng, Merle Perkins, Phil Tayler

Photo: Mark S. Howard

Let me begin by simply stating that the current production of "Working" that is running at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through February 1 works at every level - it WORKS!.  It is a lovingly assembled ensemble piece that tells multiple stories in ways that envelop and move the audience.

Let me offer a metaphor for how I experienced this show.  I see the product that is offered on the Lyric stage as the end of a long assembly line.  Many individuals have their fingerprints on the the finished product that emerges.  The assembly line can be traced all the way back to the Chicago of forty years ago when Studs Terkel published his ground-breaking opus "Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do."  In this book, Terkel shared with his readers the results of interviews he had conducted with men and women from dozens of professions and jobs.  Terkel emerged as an eloquent philosopher and apologist for the heretofore largely invisible working class.  A few years later, the assembly line rolled on as Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso were inspired to adapt Terkel's work into a musical, incorporating a variety of musical styles and voices to represent the diversity of the workers whose stories they chose to tell.  Joining Schwartz in writing songs for the show were James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead.  Through the years, as the American workplace has evolved and new jobs have been created, the musical has been adapted to reflect the new reality.   The version being presented at the Lyric, under the insightful and inspired direction of Ilyse Robbins, dates from 2011 and includes new additional songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Adding finishing touches near the end of the assembly line are an amazing ensemble cast of three men and three women, Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg, Set Designer Anne Sherer, Costume Designer Rafael Jaen and Lighting Designer John Malinowski.  The final product that emerges from this long assembly line is both a tool and a work of art that lands in the lap of the audience members.  As a tool, it is a narrative spotlight that illuminates and makes visible the lives of working women and men who in our daily lives are largely invisible and anonymous.

The play, told mostly through song and brief commentary, uses the six actors to portray roles along a broad spectrum of workers - cleaning lady, community organizer elder care worker, ex-newsroom assistant, fast food worker, fireman, flight attendant, fundraiser, hedge fund manager, housewife, interstate trucker, ironworker, millworker, nanny, project manager, prostitute,  publicist, receptionist, retiree, school teacher, stone mason, student, tech support, UPS delivery man and waitress.

The multi-ethnic and multi-generational cast wonderfully reflects the diversity of the work force whose members they portray.  Each actor has at least one moment that stands out as a highlight of the show.

Tiffany Chen is very believable as an exasperated flight attendant who just wanted to get out of Kankakee to experience the broader world.  She is very effective, as well, as the Nanny in the deeply moving song "A Very Good Day."

Christopher Chew creates many memorable characters, but I can only highlight a couple of them here.  His retiree, Alzheimer's patient in "A Very Good Day" is astonishing.  His rendition of "Fathers and Sons" is the emotional heart of this piece.

Shannon Lee Jones is a school teacher whose career spans forty years of dramatic changes in culture and teaching techniques.  As a waitress, she serves up a presentation of "It's An Art" that is almost a show-stopper and deserves a generous tip!
Cheeyang Ng shows protean versatility as a fast food worker, stone mason, deranged unemployed worker, and a tech support worker whose thick sub-continent accent is deliberately almost incomprehensible.  His "The Mason," sung with Phil Tayler, is a surprisingly gentle and evocative ballad of an artisan who takes great pride in his workmanship.

Merle Perkins moves from the role of housewife to prostitute to cleaning lady while all the while illuminating the common thread of humanity among these hard-working women.  Her song, "Cleanin' Women," sung with the Ms. Chen and Ms. Jones, is a highlight of the show.

Phil Tayler creates a very credible long-haul trucker, as well as a down-to-earth fireman who takes pride in his work.  In the previously mentioned song "The Mason," his choice of gentle vocal technique contrasts eloquently with the hardness and heaviness of the song's subject matter.

Ms. Robbins has brilliantly blocked the actors in the various tableaux that highlight both their connectedness with one another and their sometime isolation.  In the the mesmerizing song "A Very Good Day," she has placed the old man and his caretaker on the base stage level - stage left, and the Nanny at an upper level -stage right.  The two characters represent caretakers at both ends of life's journey.  Everything else that happens in the play takes place between these two poles.

Allow me to share one final comment.  The guest who accompanied me to this performance has seen quite a few plays.  He indicated that he found himself more moved by this play than by any other.  He then asked me: "How long is it playing?  I want to come back and experience it again."

I encourage you to "Work" your calendar so that you too can experience the wonder of this worthy and memorable production of "Working."



From the book by Studs Terkel.  Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso. With additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg. Songs by Craig Carnella, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor.
Directed & Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins
Music Direction by Jonathan Goldberg
Running time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
Box Office: 617-585-5678 |
Working contains adult language and some descriptions of adult situations.  Recommended for high school age and above.
From the everyday lives of “ordinary” working people comes a musical that is anything BUT ordinary! Adapted by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell, Wicked) from Studs Terkel’s magnificent oral history, Working reveals the hopes, dreams, joys, and concerns of the average working American by following them through one 24-hour workday. Schwartz wrote the songs along with James Taylor, Lin-Manuel Miranda, (In the Heights) and others, creating an inspired eclectic, tuneful, moving, and uplifting score.
Working’s celebration of even the most seemingly marginal contributions as intrinsic elements of nation-building gives it stirring resonance.” -- NY Times

Lyric Stage Website