Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Styles: Blocking

Last night was all about doors. Doors and sardines.

I was excused from rehearsal Sunday night. Lisa called to tell me they would be marking through the first twelve pages or so. Poirot does not appear until page 15. Would I like to be present as playwright? Of course not, I wanted to be home as an actor who desperately needs to cram his lines.

I have had a few conversations in the past two days with various parents about whether or not this show is appropriate for kids. For my own kids, sure. But then a friend who has a boy in middle school, whose friends joined him came to see The Complete Works at the Hanna and they LOVED IT, wanted to know if they would be into this. I have wondered if it isn't too talky for children. Not scary, not by half. No blood, there is a death by poisoning (oops, spoiler) but, you know, it's is very British.

Well, after tonight's rehearsal I am not worried at all. It's almost like a farce what with all the people popping in and out of doors and quickly changing costumes and voices.

A farce of MURDER.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Styles Court, Styles St. Mary, Essex

Photographer Joan Street has a tremendous collection of on her site, TV Locations UK, documenting locations used in BBC program(me)s. These include sites employed in the production of Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet.

This is Chavenage House, located near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, which doubles as Styles Court in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1990).

These photos are copyright Joan Street, and are used by permission.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Styles: Groundwork

Director Lisa expalins all the wibby-wobbly, timey-wimey ... stuff.

Emily joined us last night, now we are four. It wasn't so much a table session as a sit down, stand up, wander around the room work session. This was good, I have some very definite choreography regarding where Poirot finds clues. We have less then three weeks. I want to know where I am looking, going, crouching.

Trying to make sense of a carefully crafted mystery which has been condensed is a, well, it's a mystery is what it is. Luckily the source material is strong enough (and my adaptation so painfully awesome) that most head-scratchers can eventually be understood. At least I hope so. I continue to cut my lines. Who wrote this play? That's right, I did.

One of Lisa's great concerns at the moment are appropriate accents. Mine is a lost cause, I even started doing Schwarzenegger, no idea where I got on that train. She has promised English accent tapes and an English warm-up exercise, and strongly recommends a steady diet of Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and Doctor Who.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Styles: Tablework

Michael & James

Hmn. Keeping a blog about rehearsals for a mystery play will be tricky. Difficult to talk about choices without giving up the game, as they say. In any event. we began tablework last night for STYLES. Mr. James Rankin joined us for our first read together. This year's outreach tour features five actors (3M 2W) and with the exception of James, we have all done at least one GLT tour. In my case six and I believe this will be Anne's fourth.

The women were unavailable this evening, so it was Director Lisa and Production SM Diana taking turns with the lady voices while the men got to ask questions and work on character ... only James and I only have one character apiece, while lucky Michael has three.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Styles: Set Design

Rehearsal for STYLES begins tonight. This morning I had a costume fitting with Esther, we have decided to go with padding for Poirot. Slipping into a flesh colored "fat suit" and then putting on the pants and vest, I could definitely see how weight ages me. I did not cheer me that, with torso padding, my neck makes sense.

Poirot will have one costume for the entire play, and this is a great delight to me. No throwing things on and off backstage, not for me, not this year. In addition, Poirot does not even appear until page 15 of a 60 page play. Who wrote this play? That's right, I did.

Terry and his team brought the set into our tiny office-turned-rehearsal space in the Hanna Building. It is beautiful. The outreach tour designers truly out-do themselves, every single year. Incorporating a door into the last tour I wrote, this year I insisted upon having two. And a fireplace. And a lot of period furniture. And that's exactly what we got.

Packing this into the van, and carting it all over Lorain, Cuyahoga and Summit County will be a challenge. Thank goodness that this cast includes not one, but two strapping men at the height of their brawn. And Emily. Who wrote this play? That's right, I did.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Funky Winkerbean

Funky Winkerbean, Dec. 13, 1976

In 1972, Akron native Tom Batiuk (b. 1947) created Funky Winkerbean which was the "high school" comic strip alternative to Doonesbury's "college" comic strip. Before either strip developed characters with any deep sense of personality or history, they were really all about the 1970s experience of attending a school.

Reading Funky every day as a kid (and having a few paperbacks in the house) I was impressed most by Les Moore's getting stuck at the top of the climbing rope overnight, Crazy Harry's living in his locker, the hall monitor with a machine gun (imagine that being funny in today's comics) and best of all, the haplessly unhip teacher who tried to stage a "rap session" with "the kids." She asks what anyone wants to talk about and when one student calls out "SEX!" the teacher develops an unstoppable case of the hiccups.

In general, however, it was a gag a day strip, often groaners, but the deadpan faces of the characters (pre-smirk era) taught me how to, you know. Deadpan.

STUDENT: Can I get a pass to the restroom?
TEACHER: Yes you may.
STUDENT: (deadpan) Good. I need a rest.

Wish I could find that one. It was funny.

Recently found this adaptation of a Winnie The Pooh comic, which best illustrates what went wrong with Funky Winkerbean after its angst-ridden 1992 relaunch:

Whew. Didn't know what was going to happen there. Can't wait until tomorrow.

Comic Strip Fan.com
Son of Stuck Funky

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Took time yesterday to clean out my top dresser drawer, which is general repository for ... well, it's the general repository. If it's small, and it was in my pockets, and look useful or meaningful (but not meaningful enough) it ended up in that drawer. I found about a dozen packs of matches from restaurants that no longer exists, hospital wristbands from three childbirths, and a lot of ticket stubs.

There are more ticket stubs in this house, I have a box for dumping and eventually sorting all of my theater programs, and stubs end up there, too. I decided to take everything from my dresser and either find a home for it (matches in the matches drawer in the kitchen) and all of the ticket stubs into the trash.

And then I took them all out of the trash, and put them in a plastic bag. I also wrote them up for you to "enjoy." Feel free to point out any obvious trends.

Jun. 5, 1995
Indians v. White Sox - Jacbobs Field

Jun. 7, 1995
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Jun. 17, 1995
Hamlet - Belasco Theatre

Sep. 2, 1995
Concert for the Hall of Fame - Municipal Stadium

Sep. 19, 1995
Clockers - Westgate Cinema

Apr. 16, 1996
Barenaked Ladies - Lakewood Civic

May 2 & 3, 1996?
Martha Boesing, These Are My Sisters - Red Hen Productions

Sep. 14, 1996
Destiny In Space - GLSC IMAX

Dec. 4, 1996
They Might Be Giants - Agora

Apr. 3, 1997
What the Butler Saw - GLTF

Jun. 14, 1997
Globe Centre Exhibition - Shakespeare’s Globe

Jun. 12, 1998
Wilde - Cedar Lee

Jul. 10, 1998
Cleveland Orchestra - Blossom

Aug. 1, 1998
North By Northwest - Palace Theatre

Sep. 13, 1998
Cabaret - Henry Miller Theatre

Sep. 27, 1998
RRHFM Robert Johnson Tribute - Severance

Feb. 14, 1999
Macbeth - Magical Theatre Co.

Feb. 18, 1999
Rock Hall of Fame

Dec. 22, 1999
Magnolia - Cedar Lee

May 18, 2002
Monsoon Wedding - Cedar Lee

May 23, 2002
Changing Lanes - Medina 16

Dec. 16, 2002
Standin in the Shadows of Motown - Cedar Lee

Dec. 21, 2002
LTR: Two Towers - Shaker Square Cinema

Jan. 4, 2003
Far From Heaven - Madstone Cinema

Jan. 9, 2004
4 Minutes to Happy - CPT

Jul. 5, 2004
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Loews Richmond

Sep. 2, 2004
Donnie Darko - Shaker Square Cinema

Oct. 14, 2004
Shaun of the Dead - Loews Richmond

Nov. 17, 2004
Sideways - Cedar Lee

Dec. 26, 2004
Aviator - Movies 10 (Athens?)

Dec. 28, 2005
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Athena Grand

Dec. 31, 2005
Rock Hall of Fame

Aug. 8, 2006
Indians v. Angels - Jacobs Field

Dec. 2, 2006
Beauty & The Beast - Beck Center

Jun. 11, 2006
London Eye

Oct. 28, 2007
Alloy Orchestra accompanies Nosferatu - Cinemateque

Jun. 26, 2009
East Wing Galleries - CMA

Oct. 12, 2009
Tom Hanks at the Hanna - GLTF

Jul. 22, 2010
Li’l Abner - Mercury Summer Stock, Brooks Theatre

Sep. 25, 2010
Othello - GLTF

Oct. 23, 2010
Kill WIll- CPT

Sep. 18, 2011

The Life of Galileo - CPH

Dec. 2, 2011
A Christmas Carol - GLT

Dec. 14, 2011
The Game’s Afoot - CPH

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I drew cartoons before I knew Doonesbury. But only after knowing Doonesbury, did I start drawing comics.

Feb. 10, 1976

M*A*S*H indoctrinated this boy into a philosophy of relativism and secular humanism. Doonesbury taught me character, plot, humor, subtlety, sarcasm, and yes, it was where I got my news. Creator Garry B. Trudeau (b. 1948) may have ruined comic strips forever because of his flat, static drawing style, showing two people talking to each other but never moving (Calvin & Hobbies had great fun with this once) or worse yet, feeling so insecure about his ability to draw actual people realistically that he chose to depict the same drawing of the White House over and over rather than have to draw Nixon.

Calvin & Hobbes

But he also broke ground in what was generally thought of as the controversy-free zone of the comics page; treating drugs as a subject for humor, introducing the first openly gay character in comics, and in 1975, was the first comic strip to receive a Pulitzer Prize.

In Fall, 1976 Joanie Caucus is the campaign manager for her friend Ginny's run for Congress. They are defeated by the Republican candidate, Lacey Davenport, but the upshot is Joan's acquaintance with Washington Post reporter Rick Redfern, who is in California covering the race. After the election, they both let their guards down enough to begin flirting in earnest, and Trudeau created a legendary series of strips which involved Ginny trying to reach Joanie at her apartment.

On Monday we see the phone next to Joanie's unmussed bed ringing, and pan out of the bedroom window, as in a film. The next day we fly from her house, across town, finally zooming into the bedroom window of Rick's apartment:

Nov. 13, 1976

This technique of creating suspense, and taking time to play out a dramatic plot point was unique in the world of daily comic strips. It is not unique anymore, because Tom Batiuk, creator of Funky Winkerbean uses this form over and over again to ploddingly spell out horrible accidents and life-altering mistakes which have no suspense because you knew they were going to happen months earlier when the doomed character in question said, "Another drink wouldn't hurt," or "what's this lump?"

May 6, 2011

Batiuk actually used the same technique here -- exactly the same, in fact -- 35 years later, when Les has sex for the first time since his wife died. Same slow pan, on a house, to reveal an intimate post-coital moment ... only in this case it looks miserable and unhappy.

May 3, 1988

I did use this same technique myself in my daily strip in college, taking a week to illustrate my protagonist's struggle with insomnia.

May 5, 1988

Friday, January 20, 2012

M*A*S*H (TV show)

On any given Friday evening in early 1976, you could tune into CBS at 8:30 PM to view a brand new episode of M*A*S*H (and then switch over to NBC for The Rockford Files.)

This fourth season of the program marked two notable transitions from the Robert Altman film upon which it was based (the movie having been inspired, sort of, by the book by Richard Hooker) with the departure of two major characters, "Trapper" John McIntyre and Colonel Henry Blake. Characters original to the series now included B.J. Hunnicut and Colonel Sherman Potter (seen right.)

The character of Trapper John was always the sidekick to what had swiftly become the leading role in the series, that of Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce, and upon repeated viewings (countless repeated viewings) Trapper was always my favorite character. I am not sure why any longer, there was not much "there" there, but my emulation of him as a pre-adolescent was probably in keeping with my self-image as sidekick to my more popular best-friends.

The characters of Hunnicut and Potter had much in common, in that they were dedicated family men, much more earnest and much less zany than the philandering, alcoholic characters they were replacing. This was in keeping with the tone of the show, which was moving from laugh-fest into a weekly sermon on everything Liberal. A steady diet of Alan Alda, two episodes every Monday through Friday from 7 - 8 PM on Channel 43, made me the knee-jerk, bleeding-hearted Communist I am today.

This fourth season was particularly difficult for Larry Linville, who played the clownish Major Frank Burns. Portrayed in the film by Robert Duvall, Burns was the subject of scorn and derision for his piety and patriotism, though he did seem menacing in his way and in that context his comeuppance (taken from the camp in a straightjacket after attacking Hawkeye) satisfies. However, by the mid-70s, ridiculing Burns' Christianity and love of country seemed churlish and unsympathetic, and so Linville's Burns degenerated into a wimpy boor of no particular stripe. Just irritating and whiny.

Antony & Cleopatra (1964)
Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival

Larry Linville (Octavius), Anne Murray (Octavia), David Tress (Marc Antony)

Lawrence Lavon Linville (September 29, 1939 – April 10, 2000) is one of few Americans selected to train at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England. Unlike Wayne "Trapper" Rogers and McLean "Henry Blake" Stevenson, who left M*A*S*H with plans of capitalizing on their success as lead performers in other shows (and failing, spectacularly) Linville left when his original, five-season contract expired, because his character simply had nowhere to go. Even Burns' former lover, Margaret "Hotlips" Houlihan, was becoming a more sympathetic multi-dimensional character. Unfortunately for this classically trained actor, his life after-M*A*S*H was consisted largely of unremarkable television appearances where he played much the same guy he did in this program.

During the mid-1960s Larry Linville was a company member at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Lakewood, where he worked alongside his second wife, Kate Greer (Linville was married five times.) Linville not only performed at GLSF, he also directed.
"This is where the full employment is, in the regional theater. And it's good theater. You need both—regional and Broadway. But the regional theater develops the potential playwrights, actors and directors." - Larry Linville in 1965

Cleveland Memory Project - Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles

January 17, 2012

Great Lakes Theater Presents
World Premiere Adaptation of Agatha Christie’s
As Free Touring Production

The play will visit twenty-one venues across northeast Ohio.

Great Lakes Theater (GLT) will launch a world premiere adaptation of Agatha Christie’s THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, a free one-hour touring production scheduled to visit twenty-one neighborhood venues throughout northeast Ohio, to kick off the company’s 2012 series of Surround outreach programming. The play, adapted from Christie’s novel by NE Ohio playwright and Associate Supervisor of GLT’s School Residency Program, David Hansen, features a touring company of five actors and is directed by Lisa Ortenzi. The tour commences on February 14th, continues through March 7th and is designed to support Great Lakes Theater’s upcoming mainstage production of The Mousetrap at the Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, this March. All performances of the touring production are free and open to the public, with the exception of performances at area schools, which are private. The touring play is appropriate for all audiences.

“We are so grateful as a company to be able to bring free, professional theatre to people right in their own communities,” said Daniel Hahn, Great Lakes Theater’s Director of Education about the company’s annual tour. “Whether it’s performing in an auditorium packed with high school students, or visiting our friends at an assisted living facility, or presenting our play at your local community theatre or library, there’s something wonderful about taking professional theatre to the people, and having the opportunity to have an open discussion with our audiences and actors after each and every performance.”

, Agatha Christie’s first novel, features the debut of iconic detective Hercule Poirot, one of fiction’s most beloved characters. The story that launched the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and a precursor to The Mousetrap, Christie’s most famous mystery, Styles abounds with twists and turns to keep the audience guessing until the final moments.

The five-actor touring company features Cleveland actors David Hansen, Michael Gatto, Anne McEvoy, Emily Pucell, and James Rankin. The design trio of Terry Martin (scenic design), Esther Haberlen (costume design) and Richard Ingraham (sound design) complete the play’s production team. Lisa Ortenzi, the director of the touring production, also serves as the Supervisor of Great Lakes Theater’s acclaimed School Residency Program. “Lisa just wrapped up her master’s degree in directing in Chicago, and we are so excited to have her apply her fresh insights into David Hansen’s marvelous adaptation,” said Hahn. He continued, “It has become somewhat of a happy tradition to have the gifted design trio of Terry, Esther and Richard come together on an annual basis to imagine the world of our touring plays, and we can’t wait to see what they bring to this, our first mystery tour.”

is a sixty-minute program that includes an introduction and post-performance discussion. The production is appropriate for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Times and dates are subject to change. Call individual venues for more information.

THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES is part of a series of community outreach programs surrounding Great Lakes Theater’s upcoming mainstage production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap (March 9 – 25, 2012), Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare). Great Lakes Theater’s spring Surround offers multiple educational programs designed to connect the issues in the plays that Cleveland’s classic company produces to the issues in people’s own lives. All Surround events are free and open to the public when at non-school venues.

For more information, visit www.greatlakestheater.org or contact Great Lakes Theater’s education department at (216) 241-5490 x307.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Gulf (2001)

Photo: Anthony Gray
In 2001, Dobama's Night Kitchen produced an ensemble-written piece on a unified theme inspired by the ten-year anniversary of the Persian Gulf War. I wrote one scene about an artist-based protest piece that went off the night before the war started on January 17th. These are some reflections on the original event, and a journal entry from the DNK production.

Originally written January 15, 2011

On midnight, January 16, 1991 I and a few dozen others participated in a performance art piece called Desert Scream, which took place next to Mem Aud. The director/creator of the project stated he was not commenting on this war (which had not yet begun, but would start the following evening, Eastern Time) but about war in general. When war happens, people die. Lots and lots of people. Horrors occur, people are displaced, there is great confusion and the loss of hope. That was the point.

Hundreds witnessed the event. A small number turned out with American flags to protest the protest, but they stood silently and watched, because there were no words to argue with, just images. And, you know, Peter Gabriel, because at that point in history, anybody staging a movement piece used that soundtrack. Everybody.

When the event was over, we the performers left, and the hippies took over. They started singing Give Peace a Chance and, I don't know, Kumbaya.

Okay, that was trite. They didn't sing Kumbaya. Sorry.

Speeches were made. And words failed.

Desert Scream
1991 Version

Originally written February 15, 2001

Saturday there was a large crowd (for this show) roughly sixty people. Included were the subject of Heather's "I'd See You Again" piece, the mother who served and her daughter, then 10 years old, now a student at CSU. They were both tremendously moved. The mother never knew what it was like at home during that time, she had no idea how tumultuous it was for us as well. She has boxes of stuff from that time, but she hasn't looked at any of them. Some are filled with letters from children at home.

Last night, closing night, "Leah's Vet" came. She had mentioned him several times, he was a medic, and she had written a play or two about his experiences but they just didn't fit. But he came anyhow, with his wife, who was also in the Marines during the war, and their young son.

Leah had said, a week or two ago before the show opened, that this man wanted to speak to us, all of us,personally, while we were still working on this. That kind of creeped me out. Leah had remarked that, despite his emotions, how moved to tears he was remembering stories for her, she was also virulently anti-Iraqi. I didn't want any of the actors spooked by the potentially emotive, possibly angry rhetoric that might be shared.

But he was there, and insisted on all of us, the entire company, gathering together so he could speak to us, last night. And what he had to say was how much he and his wife loved the show, how grateful they were that we remembered them. He said Sean's portrayal of "PFC Guttenburg" and his talk about "family" was right on target, and how Josh's "Gulf War Syndrome" series was also very important, how many vets have died from the Syndrome, and how no one cares.

He also invited us all to an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the peace declaration (Sun., Feb. 25) downtown. Rumor has it they will be honoring Leah at the event.

Desert Scream
2001 "The Gulf" Version

I realized some things myself last night. Of course, I discouraged the marketing director from promoting this event through VA halls. I am anti-war, a pacifist, and just assumed what we said was potentially offensive to Gulf War vets.

That was assuming all (or most even) vets haven't also spent the past ten years wondering what happened, and why no one talks about it. Sure, it was a decisive victory, and when they came home everyone was all gung-ho, yippee, all those stupid parades, &c. ... that was a long time ago. They, too, wonder what it was all about, and why no one walks about it. The fact that we decided to mention it at all was enough to make at least these three veterans thrilled. And they were all wise enough to know we weren't dissing them. The government maybe, but not them.

I was so depressed going into this ... a play about a war? What was I thinking? This isn't Guerrilla Theater Company, you can't just sling half-baked generalized opinions around, not about this. But the crew was fantastic. And for once I knew how to get the results I wanted. I wasn't always sure, but I followed my instincts and opened myself up for commentary from people like Sean and others. The format worked, the materials worked, the artists worked.

Despite the small houses (and what did I expect) I am immensely proud of this show. I am proud of all the people who made it, I am proud of myself.

Oh, and I was right about not needed the "Patriotism" monologue. Those vets let us know the show already had "patriotism" written all over it.

Long Time Passing
by Leah Krauss

Sunday, January 15, 2012

October In The Chair

"October In The Chair" "by Lady Anna

The snows came, strong enough to postpone a family road trip to Bellefontaine, but not enough to keep us from making other plans. Cleveland Public Theatre's Big Box series is in full swing, this week presenting an hour-long adaptation of Neil Gaiman's short story October In The Chair.

We have a new friend in town this year, someone who went to grad school with the wife and who found a job here in Cleveland and moved from Boston, here to Cleveland to live and work. We will call her Kim. Kim also happens to be a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and she claims October In The Chair is her bestest, most favorite short story ever. What better night to show her the sights and excitement that is the Gordon Square Arts District?

Good Lord. I am a cupcake.

Speaking of cupcakes, while we were dining and drinking at the xyz (don't ask me what we ate or how good it was, I don't do that) I spotted a cheery band of Millennials sitting in the window, and in particular a woman sitting at the far end furious texting. I recognized her face - it was Amanda from Clue Into Cleveland! I'd never met her before.

I walked up and asked, "Are you a blogger?" We introduced ourselves, and professed our mutual admiration. She admitted Centennial confuses her, and I said that's all right. You just need to know exactly what I am thinking about at any one moment.

I mean, I'm my blog isn't that obtuse, is it? Could be worse. Could be even*cleveland.

I asked if she was going to see the show and she told me no, that they had just come from Progressive Field Snow Days and after warming up with cocktails at the XYZ Tavern they were going back to one of their stylish downtown loft apartments to cook up some locally sourced produce from the WSM.

I made that last part up. They were just going home after.

The Bog Box production was exactly what I wanted to see on a cold January evening, and just why I go to Cleveland Public Theatre. I do not know what to expect, I am always glad to see familiar faces on stage (and in the house) and to become acquainted with new artists.

Unfamiliar with this particular story, it was obviously Neil Gaiman. People representing abstract concepts (in this case, months of the Julian calendar) sit around and tell stories. You're not allowed to do that yourself, Neil Gaiman does that.

Produced by Danielle Hisey, Rose Sengenberger and Benjamin Gantose, this adaptation of October includes plentiful, enjoyable shadow plays. Part of the thrill of seeing a show at Big Box is knowing they have only a few days to knock their technical elements together, and to see how much our artists can accomplish using so little. Sheet, lanterns, ropes, lights and a generous amount of keenly-shaped luan to create sailing ships, mountains and graveyards.

The most delightful moment of the evening for me came when one of my favorite former actor-teachers, the honorable and decent Annie Hickey, playing a bridge troll, had to yell the word "SHIT!" into the face of our ten year-old protagonist.

The ending was a bit confusing -- I mean, not to me, I read Neil Gaiman, and if a live young boy has a conversation with a dead young boy, then that live young boy is either in the process of dying, or will be dead very soon. That's not a spoiler, Neil Gaiman does that. You're not allowed to do that. But the story ended so abruptly in this adaptation, it left me worried for all of the children sitting in the front row, just as I would have been if I had my own kids with me.

Why? Because the certainty of death is something my children understand. Fear of the unknown in this world is what scares them. Watching the boy walk into that decaying house is a symbol I understand. Receiving it on a literal basis (Boy Walks Into Scary House) and being left to imagine the monsters and terrors that await him would have meant for a long night sitting up with my shivering son.

I am very sorry I cannot use my pulpit to further promote this show, you should have seen it. I love seeing kids doing good acting onstage, it was so nice to be in the same room with Anne McEvoy and Robert Hawkes and Annie, as always, and there are some new faces that I am becoming accostumed to that I would like to see again.

They changed the schedule for Big Box this year or last to include a Thursday evening performance and to eliminate the Sunday matinee. You know what? That's right, screw old people, they don't want to see this new-fangled shit, anyways. I've done Big Box a few times and it is a drag to follow two sold-out evenings with a Sunday house of 10. Check out the complete BIG BOX 2012 schedule!

Afterthe show, our happy trio ambled up the frozen Cleveland boulevard to imbibe bourbon soda pop at Luxe.

Bonus: New specs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Eliot Ness Campaign Sign

1938 campaign sign on building at 36th Street and Cedar Avenue, Cleveland
Frank J. (Frank John) Aleksandrowicz, Photographer
Summer, 1973

Recently came across this photograph, which I entirely love. The title is inaccurate, Eliot Ness did not run for Mayor of Cleveland until 1947.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Styles: First Read-Through

Remember that photo shoot?

The rehearsal process for The Mysterious Affair at Styles, like all of our outreach tours, will last between two and three weeks. However, to get a head-start Director Lisa invited us to have a first read-through yesterday morning. Our acting company, which includes Anne, Emily and Michael were present, James had a conflict prior to scheduling this event. Tim stepped in to read in his place.

I am also THRILLED that we have Diana with us again this year to act as Rehearsal Stage Manager. She worked with us for Decameron last year, keeping strict account of entrances, exits, costumes, props, and, well, everything really.

Reading the entire script took 62 minutes. We would shave off several minutes if Diana weren't reading every single stage direction ... but we will add minutes to realize all of that acting business. Lisa has asked for an additional 10 minutes of cuts. Not sure if that is possible, but at least I have a couple weeks to work over the piece before rehearsals begin in earnest.

Poirot's conclusion appears to be the most obvious place to shave seconds, if not minutes. Reading it aloud, I felt I was repeating several revelations, each one perhaps in the context of a different revelation, but there has to be a way to tighten the resolution. Big "Ah-HAH!" moments are all well and good, but there should only be two or three of them.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rock Hall, Revisited

Happy 65th Birthday, Sir.
Photo: Janet Macoska, Cleveland (1976)

Took the boy to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum today. Always been a big supporter of the Rock Hall, glad it's here where rock and roll, well, you know. Has always been really popular. Moondog Coronation Ball, Alan Freed. Brooklyn High. You know.

My wife and I checked out the hall shortly after it opened in September 1995. As the years have progressed, aspects of the hall remained firmly in the mid-90s. The 500 Most Influential Songs exhibit featured only a half-dozen tunes from that decade, and none since. The opening film, Mystery Train is an excellent short film, which shares, without narration, the different forms of early 20th century, American roots music which came together to inspire rock and roll by mid-century. But it was followed by another film (which felt much longer) called Welcome to Rock and Roll which attempted to describe the lasting legacy of rock, but was really an irritating collection of white, male artists (many now dead) lecturing us about why rock music is so important.

The upper floors change all the time, and is where most temporary exhibits are displayed, but the vast, main floor stayed in this time warp. No longer. Along with his new drum set, we gifted the boy tickets to the Hall (the boy is six, in reality he gets in free, we gave him the idea of going to the Rock Hall) and I was delighted to discover upon exiting Mystery Train that the second film had been eliminated! The other theater wasn't even there.

The Early Influences exhibit used to be a gallery of photos and a lot of reading about the pioneers of popular music. It now features touch screens to choose music by these artists, and for a time I thought I was never going to get the boy away from them. He wanted to hear everything from Woody Guthrie, and was seriously bopping to Willie Dixon's I Ain't Superstitious. I did my best to explain when he asked what Waist Deep in the Big Muddy is about, but the reasons for our involvement in Vietnam (and our enchantment with The Smothers Brothers) was a little complicated when there were so many pleasing diversions to be attended to right then.

A small boy is not so interested in artifacts; costumes and hand-written lyrics. When DMC's glasses were pointed out to him, he stated flatly, "I know, I saw them in a video." That's good enough, breathing the same air as Run's Adidas (His! Ah! Didas!) does not impress. The boy was much more enamored of the interactive exhibits, the escalators, and anything that had to do with technology that he could grasp and appreciated.

For example, guitars do not interest him. John Lennon's mellotron would be interesting, only you can't tell by looking at it how it works (it is actually quite fascinating) he was more into bass drum heads with the band's name painted onto them, and the exhibit featuring the advancement of sound reproduction from the wax cylinder to the iPod. He could also listen to Funkytown a thousand times straight, but didn't we all?

Concluding our tour in the Hall of Fame, watching short films of all of the artist, the boy observed, "They all smoke."

Yes, son. They do. That's rock and roll. And if you so much as touch a cigarette, I will kill you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"I'm Bob Feller!"

The following play script is by David Hansen © 2012.

Time: July 1936

Enter a young CITIZEN wearing a ball cap and carrying a mitt.

Hey little feller, where are you headed?

League Park to see the Indians beat the tar out of St. Louis!

Looks like you’re a real fan.

CITIZEN points to his ballcap.

For real, sister. You see this “C” on my cap? That “C” stands for Cleveland and it’s a logo I can be proud of!

(raising a hand)
And HOW! Seventeen year-old rookie right-hander Bob Feller pitches his first professional start, and whiffs 15 against the St. Louis Browns!

I knew I could win if my stuff was working.

Gee, Bob, were you nervous about breaking Dizzy Dean’s strike-out record?

It wouldn’t have made any difference because I gave all I had. Now, excuse me, I have to get back to work.

Back to work?

Yeah, between practices the rookies have to sell peanuts.

You’re a great feller!

I’m Bob Feller!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Governor Jim Rhodes

James Allen "Jim" Rhodes
(September 13, 1909 – March 4, 2001)

In 1976, the Governor of Ohio was Jim Rhodes. His entire term encompassed a twenty-year span, from 1963 to 1983. Ohio already had term-limits on the books, and so in 1970 Rhodes ran for Senate instead but was defeated in the primary, and the Democratic John Gilligan (who, seriously, I have never heard of) was elected governor of Ohio for one term the early 70s following Kent State. By 1975 Ohioans had remembered how much they just really like Republicans as governor, and Rhodes won a legal argument that term-limits only applied to little people consecutive terms.

Until today, I believed that James Ford Rhodes High School was named for this governor, but that's a different guy. Drew Carey graduated from Rhodes High, and I have in recent years conducted workshops with students there in preparation for the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition. Again, none of this has to do with Governor Rhodes. I just really like Rhodes High.

Ohio State Route 32 is named after the Governor Rhodes, the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway. This highway is awful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Providence has smiled upon us."

The following play script is by David Hansen © 2012.

Time: 1936

A dark scene, with no introduction from the VOICE. Lights slowly fade on a man tied to a post. There is a sack over his face. He is weeping copiously. His wrists are bound, wrenched up behind him, behind the post. He is stripped to the waist, revealing several distinctive tattoos. A butterfly on his shoulder, crossed flags and "W.C.G." under his right forearm, an arrow pierced heart on outer right upper arm, left forearm there is a dove and the names "Helen and Paul."

Two figures enter from both sides of the scene, walking towards each other, then turning to walk towards the audience, then turning to walk towards each other again. They are both dressed in black robes, with black hoods topped with pirate hats, complete with skull and crossbones. They are members of the Black Legion.

They are downstage, in front of the TATTOOED MAN/WILLIAM GUSTER, facing each other. The way they have entered suggests a ritual. One man reveals a gun, and places the barrel against the other man’s chest.

Do you swear to maintain and uphold the holy secrets of the Black Legion?

I do.

Do you swear to uphold the laws of God as set down in the Holy Bible?

I do.

LEGIONNAIRE 1 Do you swear to defend and protect the Constitution of the United State of America?

I do.

Do you swear to protect the sanctity and decency of American Womanhood?

I do.

Draw your weapon.

A stylized movement, one draws, they step back raising their guns at each other’s heads, then step in and embrace in a fierce “man hug.”

Every Legionnaire called into Dark Service must prove their dedication through an act of purification. In order to purify your soul, you must purge from this world a soul most foul.


LEGIONNAIRE 1 suddenly presses his pistol against the TATTOOED MAN’s head.

You will be silent!

TATTOOED MAN withholds a pathetic whimper.

You can begin.

William C. Guster, the charges against you are severe. You have been accused of beating your wife, sleeping with colored whores, profaning before your children, and most egregious of all offensives, of conspiring to impose the Communist form of gum’mint on the people of Hamilton County.

This is insane! I never hurt my wife, I never cheated on my wife --

If you continue to deny the charges set forth by this sacred council we will have no recourse but to enact the ultimate penalty.

LEGIONNAIRE 2 walks around the rear of the TATTOOED MAN.

I know who you are! I know your voice!

LEGIONNAIRE 1 clubs the TATTOOED MAN over the head with the butt end of his pistol.

LEGIONNAIRE 2 pulls out a garrotte and wraps it around the TATTOOED MAN’s neck, pinning him to the pole, strangling him, and cutting the cord into his neck in a gout of blood.

The TATTOOED MAN struggles briefly, but between the blood loss and inability to breathe it is short work.

The LEGIONNAIRES drop to their knees and pray.

Oh Holy God, sweet Jesus, bless this sacrificial offering, which we render unto you. Keep the Fatherland pure. Bathe us in your holy light. Make us anew this and every day.


They rise and look upon their work.

Good Lord. Almost took his head clean off.

Welcome to the fold, brother.

What do we do with him?

Enter THIRD LEGIONNAIRE with a large sack.

Now begins the final stage of your initiation.

Strip your robes, and dress in these vile garments. Strike the head from this corpse, wrap it in his pants and jump the next train to Cleveland. Dump them in the middle of the city in the gully by the tracks.

Why there?

Providence has smiled upon us. Someone has been disposing of corpses in the hobo jungles of the Cuyahoga. Our contribution will only lend to the mystery.

Hiding in plain sight, no one will know him.

LEGIONNAIRE 2 puts his pistol to his own chin.

Strength in obedience.

Strength in obedience.

They begin to untie the dead body, as lights fade.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Criticism Is Dead. Long Live Criticism!

William F. McDermott
Plan Dealer Theater Critic 1921-1958

37 years, bitches.

In August, the Plain Dealer began a national search for a new "full-time theater critic" which has become something of a joke among the writers there. They have flown a few potential candidates into town for interviews, and the paper even sent representatives to PlayhouseSquare to meet with members of that organization -- the nation's second-largest performing arts facility -- and its newest tenant, Cleveland Play House (two major advertisers) to reassure them that there would be soon be someone on staff whose main responsibility would be to cover the theater beat in Cleveland.

Not that the theater scene was the main responsibility of Tony Brown. He, like everyone else in their shrinking bullpen of writers, was recently called upon to cover ... well, everything. Anything, really. Brown was also writing travel pieces and covering the trial of a serial killer at the time he was let go. The Plain Dealer isn't in the business of creating paid positions any more, buying out contracts from writers left and right, and shrinking benefits for everyone who remains. Besides, since June they have gotten along just fine handing out assignments to fashion editor Andrea Simakis, columnist and reporter Joanna Connors, can't-live-with-him-can't-fire-him columnist Donald Rosenberg, and freelancer Christine Howey.

In July Bob Abelman, critic for the News-Herald assured me that:
The theatre critics who write for smaller, more localized newspapers have and will continue to cover Cleveland theatre. The papers and their websites and blogs may not have the reach of the PD, but they are well positioned to offer the same coverage--and more--and take more creative risks. Cleveland theatre is being covered.
The paper Mr. Abelman writes for, the News-Herald, originates out of Port Clinton, and has a circulation of 2,910. However, spare-time critics like him and Roy Berko reach three times that number posting their work on blogs and through reposts on Fred's List.

It is, in fact, the online posting of reviews (and everything else) that has brought us to this pass. If the past fifteen years have proved anything, it is that no one ever bought newspapers to read the columnists. Well, they did, decades ago. But the idea that people would spend money to get any one specific person's opinion on anything has been a lesson hard-lost. Newspapers were purchased for the want ads and when these became freely available on Craig's List, subscriptions to papers like the Plain Dealer cratered.

Do we need a well-paid, professional, educated, savvy, full-time theater critic in Cleveland? The audiences should demand one (or at least one) because they write better, they establish long-term relationships with artists and companies, they can afford (time-wise) to see everything, to have the long-view, to judge growth (and its opposite) and to present a point of view and a consistent personality that the reader can judge themselves. And as Mr. Brown often reminded us, he was writing for his readers, after all, and not for the artists.

Do the theater companies need a full-time critic? Hmn. Tricky. Like a lot of artists, I am concerned that lack of attention to the arts by the media will kill interest in the theater. But media does still pay attention to theater -- a lot of attention. However, it is the new media, the personal media, the websites, blogs, and social networks through which theater companies connect with their audience, in a personal and sometimes exciting way.

Great Lakes Theater recently reported a 11% increase in ticket sales for the 2011-12 season. Eleven percent! Without a full-time theater critic at the Plain Dealer.

Here's the big question ... Why do you see plays? Why do choose this play or that play to see? Did you read a critical review? See an advertisement? Get something in the mail? Or was it because a friend recommended it, someone sent you a YouTube video, you saw a friend of a friend's comment on Facebook?

Does it matter, after all, who it is that recommends a show, so long as somebody does?

UPDATE: For the past several years, the most-awesome, daily, local NPR arts program "Around Noon" has started the New Year with a week-long series looking back at past year in the arts. Each day, for the entire program, critics and journalists are invited to comment on the year in books, dance, music, moves and theater. In Tony Brown's absence, "Around Noon" chose not produce a Best of Theater 2011 program.