Monday, June 27, 2016

"Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson - Deep Philosophical and Anthropological Insights Cloaked As Science Fiction

Neal Stephenson has become my favorite science fiction writer.  Each book I read fills me with new knowledge, causes me to ask new questions, and leads me on a fascinating literary journey.  His ability to do deep research into esoteric topics is impressive.

In "Seveneves," the moon has been hit by an unknown force or object, and has shattered into large chunks.  These chunks keep bumping into one another and further disintegrating.  Scientists figure out that within two years, that process will become exponential and bolides- small meteors - will rain down upon the earth and ignite the atmosphere - wiping out the human race and all other living things.

During those two years, frantic efforts are underway to colonize space, using the existing International Space Station as the hub around which an orbital Noah's arc is created.  Originally, about 1,300 human beings are selected to perpetuate the race and to live in space until the earth is once again habitable.

Through a series of disasters over the course of several years, everyone dies except for seven women. These seven "Eves" become the progenitors of seven new races of mankind, partly through the miracles of genetic engineering. These races multiple and by the time the earth is once again habitable - 5,000 years in the future - they have taken on racial and tribal characteristics that often set them at war with one another.  As they prepare to re-colonize earth, they make some shocking discoveries that they were not the only survivors, and more tension and violence ensues.

Using science fiction as his fig leaf, Stephenson makes profound social, political and anthropological comments about who we are as human beings.  The space colonists have broken into two main warring parties - The Red and the Blue! In the last days of Old Earth, an unbalanced female U.S. President uses tactical nuclear weapons to enforce order.  She forces herself onto the space colonists and because a destructive force in orbit. The author seems to believe that if we had the chance to start over, we would likely repeat many of the same mistakes that got us where we are.

The pace of the narrative began to lag somewhat in the final section when a team returns to the New Earth to investigate some troublesome reports.  ut this is a minor quibble.  The overall experience of this book is just what I have come to expect from Neal Stephenson's fertile mind.



Friday, June 24, 2016

Fiddlehead Theatre Company Sails Into Its New Home At The Shubert Theatre Aboard "Show Boat" - The Maiden Voyage Is A Success

Fiddlehead Theatre Company and Citi Shubert Theatre embarked on a new phase of their partnership as the current Fiddlehead production of "Show Boat" marks their first show to call the Shubert Theatre home.  Based on the enthusiastic response from last night's audience, it is going to be smooth sailing for this theatre company in their new home in the Theater District.

Co-Directors Meg Fofonoff and Stacey Stephens have chosen to present this classic musical as a sumptuous visual spectacle and an aural delight, with a 28-piece orchestra, led by Music Director Charles Peltz, that shows off the Jerome Kern music in a marvelous way.  The perfect blend of the orchestra with the expressive voices of the ensemble represents one of the delights of this production. The impressive Scenic Design of Paul Tate dePoo III gives us the feel of being aboard the river boat Cotton Blossom that plied the waters of the Mississippi offering entertainment to the riverfront towns of Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri - and beyond.

River Boat "Cotton Blossom"
"Show Boat"

Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
Gorgeous costumes by Stacey Stephens define the era in which each scene takes place, covering the period from 1887 to 1927. The feel of being on the river is enhanced by the Lighting Design of Zach Blane, Sound Design of Brian McCoy and Projection Design of Kevan Loney. Choreography by Wendy Hall also serves to anchor the dances in the periods covered during the arc of the story, culminating in a Chicago Roaring 20s Flapper era Charleston.

Based on a novel by Edna Ferber, the story tackles themes of racism and enduring love.  Kern's memorable music is matched by the lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II.  The show contains many familiar melodies, including the timeless "Ol' Man River."

The telling of the story is artfully done in this production.  The opening scene features a bare stage that contains only an old steamer trunk. Kim, an old woman played marvelously by Kathy St. George, reaches into the trunk and pulls out a well worn scrapbook. She begins to leaf through the pages of the book as the orchestra plays the Overture.  At the same time, characters in the story that is about to unfold make brief cameo appearances around Kim. We are seeing, in essence, a Visual Overture to match the one emanating from the spacious orchestra pit of the Shubert. Kim then retires to a corner - downstage right - and remains there throughout the rest of the show.  As she absorbs the pictures and clippings in the scrapbook, we see her react with a host of emotions to the memories that are being evoked, while the actions that spark these emotions are being played out in the center of the stage.  In a sense, we are experiencing the 40-year story arc as seen through Kim's eyes.  Ms. St. George functions as a gifted silent film actress, conveying a broad spectrum of emotions with a Norma Desmond-like "just one look"! It is a brilliant concept flawlessly executed. In a sense, Kim serves as one bank that contains the river of actions that flow during the two acts of this musical.

Kathy St. George as Kim with her scrapbook
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
The opposite bank of that river is the constant presence of Joe, the burly stevedore, played wonderfully by the amazing Brian Kinnard.  At several key junctures during the play, he steps forward to offer a version of "Ol' Man River," each time reminding the characters and the audience that the river of time flows relentlessly forward. "He jus' keep rollin' along"!

Brian Kinnard as Joe
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou

The narrative of "Show Boat" is centered on Magnolia Hawks (Kim Corbett) - her family of origin, her marriage, her career, and her daughter Kim. She was raised as the daughter of Cap'n Andy (John Davin), owner of the Cotton Blossom, and his harridan of a wife, Pathy Ann Hawks (Dawn Tucker). Magnolia fell in love with and married river boat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Jeremiah James), with whom she had her beloved daughter, Kim (Addie Swan as Kim in 1899 and Megan Yates as Kim in 1927).

In a fashion that is appropriate to the period in which the show is set, much of the acting is melodramatic, as is the plot.  This show has endured because the story touches raw emotional nerves, primarily through the memorable Kern and Hammerstein songs.
  • Among the highlights is the aforementioned "Ol' Man River," with Mr. Kinnard's basso profundo voice occasionally being augmented by the chorus. 
  • Magnolia and Ravenal sing the familiar duet "Only Make Believe," in a way that highlights the spectacular vocal talents of Ms. Corbett and Mr. James. 
  • "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" appears at several points in the show, each time with a different meaning and context. The first occasion features Julie (Sarah Hanlon), about to be exposed as a woman of mixed race.  She and Queenie (Lindsay Roberts) and Magnolia combine their voices and their life stories in a wonderfully soulful version of this haunting tune.
Kim Corbett as Magnolia
Lindsay Roberts as Queenie
Sarah Hanlon as Julie
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
  • Among the performers on the Cotton Blossom are the comedic duo of Ellie (Lindsay Sutton) and Frank (Carl-Michael Ogle).  Ms. Sutton gets to shine in the sardonic "Life Upon The Wicked Stage," and the pair strut their stuff wonderfully in "Goodbye My Lady Love."
  • Mr. James and Ms. Corbett show off their vocal ranges and dramatic ranges in the love duets "You Are Love" and "Why Do I Love You."
The gifted ensemble of singers and dancers, too numerous to point out individually, are worthy of another mention.  Their vocal blend is stunning, as is the artistry and athleticism of their dancing and occasion acrobatics.

"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
"Show Boat" is not often presented as a fully staged production.  This is a rare opportunity to enjoy one of the enduring jewels in musical theater history. I encourage you to climb aboard.  The river is flowing, so get your tickets now and don't get left standing at the dock.

Jeremiah James as Gaylord Ravenal
Kim Corbett as Magnolia
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
Fiddlehead Theatre Website



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Huntington Theatre Company Presents Craig Lucas' Ambitious New Play "I Was Most Alive With You" - Through June 26th

This is the theater season of inclusion.  We saw it in spades at the Tony Awards - the top four awards for acting in a musical went to actors of color. During the Tony broadcast, we saw a performance by the cast of "Spring Awakening" featuring actors communicating in ASL, as well as an actor singing from her wheelchair. In keeping with that spirit, the Huntington Theatre Company has mounted an ambitious production of Craig Lucas' new play "I Was Most Alive With You." Mr. Lucas also directs this production of his play.

The dilemma of a gay and deaf young man struggling to come to grips with life's many levels of challenge is certainly a topic worthy of our consideration. I applaud the deaf actor, Russell Harvard, for his heart felt portrayal of Knox. I applaud the playwright for being willing to tackle such a complex and timely series of topics.  And I applaud the Huntington for including this play in its current season.

Despite the many praiseworthy aspects of this play, I found this production a bit overly ambitious. There were simply too many story lines and social issues thrown at me for me to care about all of them. There is bullying, gay identity struggles, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, intergenerational friction, the complexities of sub-genres of the deaf community, religious differences, and family skeletons being exposed. Underlying much of the interaction was the lingering debate within the deaf community regarding lip reading, cochlear implants and ASL as communication tools. To further complicate matters, parts were played simultaneously by speaking actors and shadow actors communicating in ASL.  It slowed down the rhythm of the dialogue to the point where much of the spoken interaction felt stilted. I have no problem with the concept of deaf actors and speaking actors sharing the stage.  It worked beautifully in "Spring Awakening" and in "Tribes." It works less well in this production.

Despite my quibbles as noted above, this is an important play, featuring a hard working and talented cast and creative team.  In addition to the impressive Mr. Harvard, the cast includes:
  • Marianna Bassham as Astrid
  • Steven Goldstein as Ash
  • Dee Nelson as the inaptly named Pleasant
  • Tad Cooley as Farhad
  • Nancy E. Carroll as Carla
  • Gameela Wright as Mariama
The Shadow ASL Interpreters are:
  • Joey Caverly as Ash
  • Amelia Hensley as Pleasant and Mariama
  • Monique Holt as Astrid and Carla
  • Christopher Robinson as Farhad and Knox
"I Was Most Alive With You"
by Craig Lucas
Huntington Theatre Company
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
Through June 26th

As is always the case with any Huntington production, the scenic design by Dane Laffrey is beautiful and effective, allowing the space to be used to host a huge Thanksgiving dinner at the grandmother's home, as well as more intimate gatherings. The set includes a bathroom with a working bath tub.  Lighting by Mark Barton often served to signal the mood of a particular moment in the action of the play, as did the original music and sound design by Daniel Kluger.

The play runs through this weekend, June 26th at the Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts.

Huntington Theatre Website



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Central Square Theater Offers Up A Double Dose of Shakespeare - "Twelfth Night" and "What You Will" by Bedlam - In Repertory Through July 10th

Last season, the Bedlam troupe from Brooklyn took Cambridge by storm with their inventive interpretation of Shaw's "Saint Joan." This season they went double or nothing, offering up two distinct versions of Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night."  Both productions are directed by Eric Tucker. The first version, performed without intermission, runs for two hours.  It is pretty straight forward, except for the fact that the actors perform in street clothes with only a few props and articles of clothing to distinguish which of many characters each of the five actors is portraying at the moment. It feels like an early rehearsal of the play, with each member of the cast adding their own flavor of improvisation of gesture or aside to the audience.  I recall Eric Tucker turning to the audience after a particularly opaque Elizabethan twist of language and saying: "I have no idea what that means."  He and his troupe are walking a high wire, taking sacred texts and juggling them in ways that reflect new meaning and new layers of fun. Fortunately, they never stumble on that high wire, and the winners are Shakespeare's legacy and the audience's improved erudition and quotient of enjoyment.

The play itself is full of misunderstandings, mistaken identity and gender switching.  This troupe builds upon that base and has the five actors playing roles of both genders.  It helps if an audience member already knows the basic plot, but it still fun if you have to figure it out on the fly.

Each member of the troupe is memorable.
  • Director Eric Tucker, plays several roles here, and it is clear that he is the intellectual and emotional heart of this company.  His playfulness belies his passion for making Shakespeare accessible to modern audiences and for modern theater goers to take the Bard seriously.
  • Tom O'Keefe offers up a number of ditties, accompanying himself on the guitar, that lay a wonderful musical foundation under the unfolding action of the play.
  • Kelley Curran is formidable as Duke Orsino, trying to woo the bereaved Olivia, but who eventually falls in love with Viola, one of the twins who survives a shipwreck on the shores of Illyria. 
  • Susannah Millonzi does wonders with her voice as she morphs from one character to another, especially as the dim-witted suitor of Olivia, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
  • Edmund Lewis is memorable as the set-upon Malvolio, self-important steward in the household of Olivia. His two versions of the yellow stockinged and cross-gartered lovesick wooer of Olivia is worth the price of admission.
The second version, which is a pared down 90 minutes, is a stylized version of the essence of the play, performed under the title "What You Will," Shakespeare's original subtitle for his comedy. Each actor is arrayed in white apparel and wears white make-up.  As the action progresses, they take up brushes and apply vibrant colors of paint to the set and to one another.  This version includes high language and low humor.

Susannah Millonzi, Edmund Lewis
Eric Tucker (on floor), Kelly Curran, & Tom O'Keefe
in Bedlam's What You Will.
Central Square Theater
Through July 10th
Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography.

The Bedlam folks, as guests of Nora Theater Company, seems to be saying to us, "This subject matter is important.  Let's look at it through two new lenses, and let's have some fun together as we take this journey." This is a journey you do not want to miss.  The two plays are running in repertory through July 10th.  If you arrive at the Central Square Theatre in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, I can almost guarantee that the box office will offer you a discount!

Central Square Theater Website



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reagle Music Theatre Presents "Carousel" Starring Jenifer Ellis - June Is Bustin' Out All Over In Waltham! - Through June 19th

"Carousel" has long been one of my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical.  When I learned that Reagle Music Theatre would open their 2016 season with this show, I was thrilled. When I found out that Elliot Norton and IRNE Award winner Jennifer Ellis would play the role of Julie Jordan, the opening date became a red letter day in my scheduling calendar. She has been paired with the powerful voice and acting skills of Ciaran Sheehan in the role of Billy Bigelow.  That pairing and many other aspects of this production make it one that you will not want to miss.

Let's begin by talking about Ms. Ellis.  In creating her own version of textile mill worker, Julie Jordan, she has taken the warp of courage and resilience and woven those threads with the woof of vulnerability to fashion a character whose fabric is strong and beautiful - and high in thread count! She and Mr. Sheehan showed their strengths early in the show with the arresting "If I Loved You." Her rendition of "What's The Use of Wond'rin" is another heartbreaking aspect of her memorable performance.

Mr. Sheehan comes to Waltham with an impressive Broadway resume, including "Les Miserables" and "The Phantom of the Opera." As an actor and singer, he makes choices that present rough-hewn carousel barker, Billy Bigelow, as more than just a one dimensional angry wife beater.  (It is the courageous and explicit addressing of domestic violence that guarantees "Carousel" its place in the history of musical theater.) We see his pugnacious side quite readily, but he also shows us his softer side in the iconic "Soliloquy" in which he imagines what it would be like to be the father of a little Billy - or, just imagine, a "little girl, pink and white." It is the delivery of this song that separates the men from the boys in terms of actors who portray a convincing Billy Bigelow.  Mr. Sheehan shows himself to be a man among men with this number.

Jennifer Ellis as Julie Jordan
Ciaran Sheehan as Billy Bigelow
Reagle Music Theatre
Through June 19th
photo by Herb Philpott

These two leads are wonderfully supported by an impressive cast of secondary characters and ensemble of actors, singers and dancers. Among the standouts are the following:
  • As Julie Jordan's best friend and co-worker, Carrie Pipperidge, Jessica Kundla is perfect. She paints a lustrous picture of life married to a herring fisherman with her rendition of "Mister Snow." What a gorgeous voice!
  • A highlight of any performance of "Carousel" are the two versions of "You'll Never Walk Alone" - sung first as a solo by Nettie Fowler, Julie's cousin, and then as the Finale at the graduation of Louise, Julie and Billy's daughter. It is one of my favorite songs of all time, and I have high expectations for this number and for the actress who will endeavor to sing it.  Leigh Barrett blows it out of the water! Hers is one of the best interpretations of this song I have ever heard.
  • Kyra Christopher is a student at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Her dancing in the dream "Ballet" had the audience applauding wildly.  It was a tour de force.
  • As Mr. Enoch Snow, Carrie's beloved, Dan Prior appropriately is redolent of both herring and rectitude. His touching duet with Carrie, "When The Children Are Asleep" is another highlight of this production. 
  • Jigger Craigin is Billy Bigelow's friend, a whaler who entices Billy to solve his money troubles in a quick and dirty way. Todd Yard presents him as a scheming and no-account scoundrel. He shines, along with his fellow whalers, in the number "Blow High, Blow Low."
  • Mrs. Mullin, the faded tart who owns the carousel and is in love with Billy, is played very convincingly by Karen Fanale.
  • Rick Sherburne plays the celestial Starkeeper, as well as Dr. Seldon, who is the graduation speaker whose simple eloquence triggers the ensemble reprise of "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Director and Choreographer Rachel Bertone has performed magic in just a few weeks in taking a huge cast of actors, singers and dancers and melding them into a believable community of men, women and children who inhabit coastal Maine in the late 19th Century. The magic is further enabled by the Scenic Design of Richard Schreiber, Lighting by David Wilson and Musical Direction by the always reliable Dan Rodriquez.  Jeffrey Leonard conducts the 18-piece orchestra.

The show has four more performances, this Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Get yourself to Waltham before the end of the weekend.  You do not want to miss this clambake!



Friday, June 10, 2016

Mini-Review of "The Who & The What" by Ayad Akhtar - Conflict Erupts As a Muslim Woman Questions The Place Of Women And Of The Veil In Islam

With this play, "The Who & The What," Pulitzer Prize winning author, Ayad Akthar, continues to dig deeply into his own heritage as a Pakistani-American born into a Muslim family.  As he has done with his play "Disgraced," and his novel, "American Dervish," he has created characters who wrestle with issues of identity.  This grappling mirrors the wrestling that Mr. Akhtar himself has engaged in regarding complex questions of how to maintain his embrace of his cultural heritage while questioning many of the theological and social tenets of his family's Muslim faith.

In this play, Zarina is writing a novel which examines the Prophet Mohamed's marriages, and the origin of women wearing the hijab - the veil.  Her traditional father and sister are shocked by her lack of devotion to the accepted hagiographic image of the Prophet.  There is plenty of conflict to be fleshed out as Zarina's questioning voice places a strain on her devotion to her faith and to her family.

This play is a quick read, but will leave a lasting impression.



Thursday, June 09, 2016

North Shore Music Theatre Presents "Funny Girl" Starring Shoshana Bean - Henry Street Brooklyn Comes To Beverly

"Funny Girl" has owned a piece of my heart ever since I first heard a recording of Barbra singing "People." The movie version remains one of my all time favorite films. Yet until last night, I had never seen the stage version of the show.  It is seldom produced, and for good reason. Ms. Streisand casts a long shadow, and it would take a lot of chutzpah for another actress to stand emotionally naked on a stage and belt out songs that have Barbra's DNA embedded in them. Fortunately, North Shore Music Theatre has found in Shoshana Bean a bagel among the onion rolls, and her Fanny Brice is thrilling and deeply moving.

Shoshana Bean as Fanny Brice
"Funny Girl"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through June 19th
Photo by Paul Lyden
The play opens with Ms. Bean as Fanny Brice sitting in front of her dressing room mirror ready to go on as the star of the Ziegfeld Follies.  It is a pivotal moment in her life, since she is awaiting the return of her beloved husband, Nicky Arnstein (a very fine Bradley Dean) after an absence of eighteen months. As she sits "reflecting" on her life and love, up pops a tableau of her mother and the other Henry Street mothers at a table in Mrs. Brice's Brooklyn saloon. We have been transported back to the beginning of Fanny's career. The mothers are playing penny ante poker - 3 cent limit! An important theme is dealt to us early, and the cards are laid on the table: Fanny's life will be one long gamble with ever-rising stakes.  She is often all in; Nicky Arnstein is usually bluffing.

From the opening strains of "If A Girl Isn't Pretty," Susan Cella as Mrs. Brice establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. As the busybody mother of married daughter, Sadie, Mrs. Strakosh is played with aplomb by Sandy Rosenberg. As the song morphs into an early frustrating audition for Mr. Tom Keeney's show, we get a first glimpse of Eddie Ryan, played with great charm and dancing and singing chops by the multi-talented Rick Faugno. Fanny convinces Eddie to stay up with her and teach her the dance routine so she can make a good impression at the call-back audition with Mr. Keeney.  We can tell from Ms. Bean's rendition of "I'm The Greatest Star," that the role of Fanny has been perfectly cast.  It is not that we will not compare her with Barbra, but that comparisons are not relevant. For Shoshana is telling her own version of the Fanny Brice story, and "it shines in every detail like a ring you're buying - retail"!

Nicky Arnstein - Fanny's first ruffled shirt - comes along and helps her to negotiate a very generous salary for her role in Keeney's show. She is smitten, but as a plain girl from Henry Street, has no illusions that Arnstein will ever be anything but a golden memory.  When she intones for the first of many times the line "Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein - I'll Never See Him Again," we begin to anticipate her inevitable heartbreak.  And each time she repeats this motif as her story unfolds, our hearts break with hers just a little more.

Eddie would like to date Fanny, but she makes it clear that they will only be friends.  He ruefully accepts, and becomes her lifelong friend, coach, and canary in the coal mine, trying to warn her of impending dangers. Mr. Faugno's mastery of this role is a highlight of this production.

Rick Faugno as Eddie Ryan
Soshana Bean as Fanny Brice
"Funny Girl"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through June 19th
Photo by Paul Lyden
As is always the case at Bill Hanney's NSMT, the blocking for the in-the-round production is impeccable. Director and Choreographer James Brennan makes sure that each important moment is broadcast to all sections of the audience, with movements and turns that are wedded to the action of the story and not forced or artificial. Jule Styne's iconic music is given life by the band led by Music Director Mark Hartman. Lyrics by Bob Merrill still shimmer and sting: "When a girl's incidentals are no bigger than two lentils, to me it doesn't spell success!"

The scenic design by Stephen Dobay is brilliant, as are the costumes by Mark Nagle, Lighting by Jack Mehler and Sound by Charles Coes.

The ensemble is terrific, with fine dancing, singing and acting.  They are: Brittney Morello as Emma, James Van Treuren as Flo Ziegfeld,  Richard Vida as John and Purdie Baumann, Courtney Brady, J.D. Daw, Brandon Haagenson, Kimber Hampton, Brooke Lacy, Kathleen Lamagna, Con O'Shea-Creal, Ellen Peterson, Emily Jeanne Phillips, Robbie Smith and David Visini.

"Funny Girl" will run through June 19th.  This is a show you do not want to miss. I suggest that you get your tickets ASAP.  You would not want a sold out performance to "Rain On Your Parade"!

NSMT Website



Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Review of "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed" by Philip Hallie - How Goodness Happened In Le Chambon During WWII

Until I read this book, "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed," I had not been aware of the heroic acts undertaken by the citizens of the French village of Le Chambon during WWII to save the lives of many Jews.  Author Philip Hallie has meticulously researched what happened during the years of the German Occupation of France when Le Chambon transformed itself into an unlikely City of Refuge for those fleeing Nazi persecution.

Pastor Andre Trocme was the pastor of the Protestant church in this village high in the Haute-Loire region of  South Central France.  Based on his faith and his interpretation of the teachings of Jesus, he was convinced of the value of each human life and of the importance of non-violence in fighting against evil.  Through his teaching and sermons on Sundays, as well as his mentoring of thirteen small group leaders, called  responsables, he inculcated his personal beliefs into the ethos of his church and his village.

Using primary sources and many interviews with those who lived in Le Chambon during the years of Nazi Occupation, Professor Hallie leads the reader through an understanding of what happened, and an understanding of why it happened in Le Chambon and not in neighboring villages. Pastor Trocme and his wife, Magda Grilli Trocme, are at the center of this real life drama, along with Assistant Pastor Edouard Theis. The book is divided evenly between rehearsing the facts of what occurred in Le Chambon, balanced with discursive philosophical explorations of the ethics and theology behind the acts of kindness that were undertaken at great risk for strangers.

The book is tremendously uplifting in that it highlights courageous acts that are little known outside of the small circle of those who study the history of the Holocaust or the German Occupation of France.



Practical Wisdom From Seth Godin - "Um" and "like" and being heard

I subscribe to Seth Godin's daily Blog, and read it religiously.  Today's post really struck a chord with me, and I knew I had to share it with readers of The White Rhino Report.

Seth is addressing the deterioration of language, and how poor verbal communication skills negatively impact one's personal brand.

"You can fix your "um" and you probably should.
Each of us now owns a media channel and a brand, and sooner or later, as your work gains traction, we'll hear your voice. Either in a job interview or on a podcast or in a video.
For a million years, people have been judging each other based on voice. Not just on what we say, but on how we say it.
I heard a Pulitzer-prize winning author interviewed on a local radio show. The tension of the interview caused an "um" eruption—your words and your approach sell your ideas, and at least on this interview, nothing much got sold.
Or consider the recent college grad who uses thirty or forty "likes" a minute. Hard to see through to the real you when it's so hard to hear you.
Alas, you can't remove this verbal tic merely by willing it away."
I encourage you to click on this link and read his simple solution to eliminating these verbal tics.

Seth Godin Blog

The deterioration of verbal communication has long been a pet peeve of mine.  Each "um" and "like" I hear is like the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.  Try as I might not to do so, when I hear someone consistently use these verbal fillers, I immediate make negative judgments about their intelligence and worthiness of my further attention and time.

These sloppy verbal habits are as destructive to the enterprise of meaningful communication as Donald Trump is to the enterprise of political dialogue.

Please join me in fighting against the dumbing down of language in our everyday discourse with one another.  I encourage you to ask someone you trust to let you know if you are unconsciously guilty of interjecting "um" or "like" or "you know" into your conversations. Then follow Seth's guidance to replace these verbal tics with brief moments of silence until you can mentally assemble the next cogent sentence.

If you have been in my presence for any length of time, you may have observed me correcting someone who exhibits these negative habits.  I do it as a favor to friends I know are intelligent, but whose level of verbal sophistication does not match their cognitive abilities. I was fortunate to learn from a whole series of excellent teachers who stressed the power of correct communication, so I feel a responsibility to "pay it forward."

Please, do not sell yourself short.  If you are indeed "wicked smaht," then talk like someone who is "wicked smaht"! Ya know?

Thanks for listening.


Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Brown Box Theatre Project Presents "Brilliant Traces" by Cindy Lou Johnson - Through June 12th

Brown Box Theatre Project is currently presenting "Brilliant Traces" by Cindy Lou Johnson at the Atlantic Wharf performance space at 290 Congress Street.  It will run through this weekend, and then move on to three locations in Maryland. This organization exists to offer live theater to underserved populations, often turning public spaces into performance venues, and offering free admission.

The title of this play is drawn from a poem by Avah Pevlor Johnson that serves as a prelude to the script; it includes these lines:

"Let me dance with devils on dead stars.
Let my scars leave brilliant traces."

This two-hander deals with two individuals whose scars are exposed through the course of their forced encounter. Henry Harry (Spencer Parli Tew) works on an oil rig, and when not working, retreats 200 miles to his hermit's cabin in a desolate part of Alaska. He eschews contact with other human beings in part because of unhealed wounds from a personal tragedy. In the middle of a fierce blizzard, his isolation is broken by a desperate knock on his cabin door by Rosannah (Laura Menzie).  She has been driving mindlessly for days, have fled her wedding in Arizona.  Her car dies in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, and she finds Henry's cabin.

He does not want her there, and she does not want to be there, but circumstances have thrown them together, and they have to find ways to cope and to communicate while the blizzard continues to rage outside - and inside! When she tries to escape into the whiteout that prevails outside, he physically restrains her until she regains her senses, and realizes that it would be suicidal to go back outside in the storm. As they make small talk around tasks of cooking and staying warm, their individual scars and "traces" reveal themselves.  Rosannah has felt indistinguishable all of her life - having been lost in the whiteout of neglect on the part of her father. Henry has suffered an unspeakable loss, and he lives inside his mind in a continuous blizzard of recrimination and self-hatred.  The individual pathologies that these two human beings bring to this rustic cabin (beautifully designed by Ben Lieberson) result in often bizarre behavior, ranging from neurotic to bipolar to OCD.  Ms. Menzie and Mr. Parli Tew do an excellent job of portraying the wild swings of emotion that their characters exhibit.

Spencer Parli Tew as Henry
Laura Menzie as Rosannah
"Brilliant Traces"
by Cindy Lou Johnson
Brown Box Theatre Project
Through June 12th
The playwright seems to be asking the question, "Can two deeply flawed and scarred human beings find ways to move beyond their hurt and forge meaningful connections with each other?"  It is painful watching them try to individuate themselves in the midst of their personal whiteouts of mental confusion. The play, directed by Kyler Taustin, is a fascinating psychological study. Costume designer Chelsea Kerl has created costumes that have us believing that Rosannah has spent days in her besmeared and bedraggled wedding dress, and that Henry is as comfortable as can be in his frontier garb. Lighting is by Bridget Collins and Sound by Thomas Blanford.

There is a down side to Brown Box Theatre Project's choice to use public spaces for performance. The set has been built in the lobby of the office building at 290 Congress, but during performances, the space is still accessible to the public.  The dish room of the restaurant next door is separated from the performance space only by a thin curtain, and noises of rattling dishes and wait staff conversations often overwhelmed the speech of the actors.  In addition, children entering the lobby space were heard talking loudly at several points during the play.  I was not always able to discern whether sounds I was hearing were part of Mr. Blanford's brilliant soundscape, or whether they were bleeding in from external sources. My ADHD could not handle the external disruptions, and I found myself frequently so distracted that I felt like I missed the emotional impact that the play should have had for me. I am not sure how the production team can address these concerns, but they served to make the overall experience less than it should have been given the fine work being done by the actors and creative team.

The play will run this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are free, with donations being accepted after the performance.

Brown Box Tickets