Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wolf Hall (book)

I received a copy of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall for Christmas. This has been my summer reading, and I just finished it.

Here is my review: I am giddy over the fact that this is merely the first book of a trilogy.

Upon learning of this novelization of the life of Thomas Cromwell, which is to say, the reign of King Henry VIII told from the point of view of one of his councilors, it occurred to me a shame I had not read it prior to my directing Shakespeare's Henry VIII last summer. However, though the two cover the same ground in history -- which is to say, this first novel does, the next two will tell the story of that which came after -- they tell the story from such differing view points that it may have proved a distraction and in no way improved the choices I made in directing the play.

After all, Shakespeare's Wolsey is the antagonist. Mantel's Wolsey, from the point of view of her protagonist Cromwell, is a much-beloved father figure and mentor. And I worked very hard, and successfully, I believe, to limit the number of definable, named characters in Henry VIII, and as a result there was no one named Cromwell in my production at all, his lines greatly limited and put in the mouths of others.

Bryan Ritchey as Cardinal Campeius ... but also kind of Thomas Cromwell.

It comes as no surprise at all that this book has already been optioned by BBC/HBO as a miniseries. The main character is far too charismatic not to hold a high-profile production together, you could see everyone from Colin Forth to Paul Giamatti vying to play Cromwell, and attract enough stars to play virtually all of the supporting characters. Mantel's dialogue is irresistible, adaptation seems almost unnecessary.

Dad was pleased to hear I enjoyed it so much, he offered to get me Bring Up The Bodies for my 48th birthday, which was four days ago.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Connelly Theater

Three weeks from today, our company will be in New York City, holding a technical rehearsal for Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) at the historic Connelly Theatre. A former opera house, this 99-seat theater has many attractive features, including its horseshoe-shaped balcony!

The theater space is only one part of a great, Lower East Side institution, the Cornelia Connelly Center, which provides education and a promising future to underprivileged girls.

This space has powerful, positive juju! Three years ago, 34 West Theater Company presented their acclaimed two-person show My Name Is Ruth at the Connelly as part of FringeNYC 2010, where it was given an award for Overall Excellence in Playwriting.

The acting company was comprised of Magdalyn Donnelly and Jeffrey Querin, each a former Great Lakes Theater school residency program actor-teacher. Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) features two other former GLT actor-teachers, myself and Annie Hickey!

And Annie is getting married tomorrow, to another actor-teacher! Even more good fortune!

The entire company is very excited to know we will be working in a classy, downtown, proscenium theater, just perfect for presenting this stylish production. Tickets went on sale today, if you are in New York next month, please come and join us.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Boy Camp 2013

For four years now, the female contingent of our little family has gone on an all-girl retreat the second weekend of July leaving the two of us to be dudes on our own for a couple days. I chronicled this last year, and while certain traditions hang, others get created as we go.

Friday evening we made our pilgrimage to Freeway Lanes in Solon, joined once more by Dr. Dean and Mr. Boy and I was killing until halfway through the second game when I just blew it out. The Dr. can attest, I was on fire, but then handed him my mojo which was entirely fair.

Mr. Boy (not to be confused with my son, who is simply "the boy") and I seem to have entirely identical taste in music. He was encouraging the boy to break out some moves but that usually just leads to my son grabbing the nearest boy in the room around the neck and wrestling him to the floor.

I took a picture of my food.

Lately, not just this weekend, we have been dining outside, on the side porch. Some days this is because every available surface in our house is covered with books, bills or fall preparatory materials, but even when they aren't it is a habit we have grown fond of.

Saturday morning I made whole wheat pancakes with (frozen) blueberries, with syrup, a little whipped cream and what was left of the blackberries from City Fresh. The rest of the morning was spent reading and coping with the boy's recent absolute, unabated obsession with Clash of the Clans.

The boy has coach-pitch baseball at noon on Saturdays, which is pretty grueling. In spite of my having remembered to find and apply sunscreen, I still found a slight burn on my scalp from that gap in the back of my ballcap. Geez.

Earlier this week the wife and kids has visited friends out in Chagrin and came home with a bunch of big tomato plants, all ready to put in the earth. After several days of getting mightily watered by recent storms in their little travel cups and boxes, and then wilting in the unforgiving heat, I figured this was as good a time as any for the manly business of gardening.

We worked as a team, ripping up a great, long path of weedy mint, hoeing and mulching and finally planting them in four great towers. The work took longer than it may have as every time the boy found a worm he needed to put it in the compost barrel, which I believe currently has a 1:1 ratio of worms to compost. I don't know. I am afraid to look.

In the meantime, we entirely forgot to eat. Late lunch/early dinner was had at the new Katz Club Diner. We were big fans of the original Dottie's Diner, which was open briefly around the time the girl was born. That was a decade ago, and in the meantime several concerns have tried to make a go of it. I stuck my head in a couple times and the decor alone told me those people had no idea what they were doing.

The rumors are true, the place is beautiful, the food is good, and its entirely too expensive if you are the kind of person who liked to spend hours drinking of coffee and smoking cigarettes at Chucks. This is not that kind of diner.

The boy was entirely taken by the style and structure of the dining car, pointing out the features which told him this was once a real train car, and not just an imitation. His words, "This is a very welcoming place. It's beautiful, makes you want to come back." Really, my eight year-old talks like that.

We were both satisfied with the Reuben I ordered, and the homemade chips and fires, though he chose to add mayo and vinegar to his chicken salad sandwich, which he believes didn't have enough "pop" for his taste. I admit it was mild, but I found it flavorful, not overpowering. We're looking forward to sharing this place with the ladies some time in the near future. I hope it succeeds.

To conclude the evening, we furthered the boy's Marx Brothers education by taking in the bravely plot-free Monkey Business (1931) which features the absolute worst hand-to-hand combat ever recorded on film.

Poor Thelma Todd. She really was hilarious.

Now, it had been my intention to rise this morning at the not unreasonable hour of 6:00 am to do some much-needed writing, but after one slap of the snooze bar I had to ask myself, and I am waking up at 6 am on Sunday because why, and just turned the alarm off.

Sunday has been low-key, as it should be, reading, playing video games, watering tomatoes, feeding gerbils (no really) finally getting down to learning the rules to Ticket To Ride, before heading to the Lantern Theatre for this year's family-friendly, historical fiction drama John Henry, written by colleague and neighbor Eric Schmiedl.

John Henry (center) and friends.

Anybody can enjoy these plays Bill Hoffman and his crew at the Lantern Theatre offer (last year's Boy Camp we saw Singin' On The Ohio, which I am happy to say will be revived starting next month) but I strongly recommend them for my friends with elementary school aged kids. They tell good, interesting stories, with a lot of great history and very enjoyable characters.

And really, that's it. For the weekend, I mean. The boy is off into the neighborhood riding bikes with the local kids and I am going to sit on the sideporch with a beer and book. That's Daddy Camp.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Double Heart: Talespinner Children's Theatre

Last night we presented Double Heart at Talespinner Children's Theatre, our final performance before heading to FringeNYC. The evening was a rousing success, and quite a celebration.

It has been several months since we last had the opportunity to share this show with an audience, and while reaction had always been positive, it truly felt like this evening's crowd (who included, after all, some dear friends family and close supporters) was in tune with the production on all levels, reveling in the bawdy humor, delighting in the dance and swordplay, and moved by the high emotions.

This set will look very nice at the Connelly.

One of the great challenges for the folks at FringeNYC is to schedule roughly 10 shows in each space (200 shows in 20 spaces) and part of that means being able to tell them exactly how long the show is, with little variation more or less. We need to set up and tear down our show in no more than 15 minutes to make room for the next production.

We told them it runs 60 minutes. Tonight's performance, with lots of audience reaction, ran about 58 minutes! Good call.


During curtain call we recognized a few of those without whom this entire production would not be possible. Tonight's show couldn't have happened without the great assistance of the entire crew at Talespinner. Their spring production of The Emperor's Ears closed yesterday, and they cleaned up the space and painted stage so we could be there tonight.

Next we thanked Great Lakes Theater, for commissioning the work, producing it, and providing costumes, the set and so much support in our endeavor to give the show new life in New York.
Finally we thanked our Kickstarter backers and others who have provided much-needed financial support and asked them to stand and be recognized. It must have been at least half of the audience who stood, and we thank them and those who could not be present so much for helping us make it this far.

Following the performance, audience member and Kickstarter backer Rob D. went on Facebook to post the following:

Things I really enjoyed about Double Heart after seeing it tonight:
  • The momentum of the performance was terrific. It made those costume changes look effortless.
  • The play's masterful blending of traditional Shakespearean theater elements with modern touches
  • The story's deft handling of delicate subject matter, which added depth and drew the audience in closer to the cast
  • The cast's energetic and convincing presence on the stage, and especially David's comedic timing
Rob summed up, "NYC is in for a treat."

Thank you, Rob. Last night, that audience was the treat.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Free performance of DOUBLE HEART this Sunday!

Video stills can be amusing.

This weekend, we will be celebrating our successful campaign to GET DOUBLE HEART TO FRINGENYC by offering a free, one night-only performance. Sunday July 7 at 7 PM (7/7 @ 7) we will present Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) at the Reinberger Auditorium -- home to Talespinner Children's Theatre -- 5209 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland. It's free, no reservations required.

Since I last posted on the blog about our impending production at FringeNYC, we have learned a number of details, including where and when we will be performing!

VENUE #6 - The Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, NYC

SAT 8/10 @ 5 PM
SUN 8/11 @ 2:30 PM
WED 8/14 @ 8:30 PM
THU 8/15 @ 7 PM
SAT 8/17 @ NOON

So if you can't join us this Sunday in CLE, please check us out in Lower Manhattan next month. 

Susan Petrone's DOUBLE HEART video interview for CoolCleveland!

Monday, July 1, 2013

8 (play)

I was raised a bigot. Pretty much everyone I knew was. It was the 1970s, I lived in suburbia, and hatred and ridicule of homosexuality was the social norm.

There were a few moments of education, like Billy Crystal’s Jodie in Soap -- which we watched religiously (I was nine years-old) and Good Lord, I saw the pilot episode of the TV sitcom Hot L Baltimore. But these were outliers -- as I have described in the past, I experienced A Chorus Line at the age of eight and saw a bunch of freaks.

As an insecure and weak adolescent, I was often tagged with homosexual insults. They were common. I remember when I was a sophomore, and I decided, for a change, to actually take care of my appearance, get a haircut, buy some stylish clothes. The specific reason was two-fold, I had a crush on a cute freshman, and I had just seen Footloose.

There was this complete douchebag who sat behind me in Spanish. That day he appraised my sartorial choices by calling me a “flamer” in front of his friends. You will notice I still remember that.

But that just means I didn’t want to be called that. I have called others worse, and much worse. When it comes to gay epithets, we are all Paula Deen.

Marriage means “one man-one woman” to you if you have only known that since birth. Homosexuality was not necessarily something you were against, but something of which you were ignorant. As with most of my kind, acceptance and understanding has come through familiarity, of association. It helps when you have an earnest desire to learn.

This is why I bristle when folks suggest the President is pandering to special interests or flip-flopped when he says his opinions have “evolved” regarding gay marriage. Any straight, young male born as late as the 1960s and raised in a Judeo-Christian household would have found the idea of two guys marrying incomprehensible, and if any of them grew up to be tolerant, loving, and welcoming to homosexuality, it would have required a significant “evolution”.

This is not a defense. This is an explanation, and it is an apology. People are raised this way, what is important is that people can, in fact, change. However, I will not ape those who espouse, for example, that back in the day people didn’t know any better -- for example, that slavery was a necessary evil. Ask yourself if you want to be enslaved, any human being can figure that one out. It was wrong. Hate is wrong. It is not be excused, but we can move forward.

Rehearsal on the stage of the Allen
(Photo: Kory)

On Sunday, I was privileged to be in the ensemble for a performance of Dustin Lance Black’s docudrama 8, a dramatization of the un-broadcast court proceeds of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case which struck down Proposition 8, California’s anti-marriage equality amendment. The Perry v. Schwarzenegger case was upheld by the Supreme Court last Wednesday, paving the way for a continuation of gay marriage in that state, and so this staged reading of 8 was considerably auspicious.

I played the role of David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, and a sadly deluded man. He had the great misfortune to evolve his positions on marriage equality while on the stand in a court of law while presumably the star witness … well, the only witness, really, defending Proposition 8.

In brief, he has spent his life arguing single parenting as one of the great ills of modern society, and championing two-parent marriage. When asked, under oath, if two gay parents were better for children than one parent, he had to say yes. He knew it to be true that adoptive parents can often -- due to the fact that while anyone can fuck, not everyone qualifies to adopt -- be not merely as good as, but better than biological parents. (He didn't use those exact words.)

Following the performance I was praised for being a right clown in last night’s show, a complete airhead. One man called me a dumb blonde. My walk of shame from the witness stand was called by one a “Charlie Brown” walk. Such compliments were the capstone to a tremendous, if brief experience working with a large number of Cleveland artists I truly admire.

Someone else who made the evening powerful was Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club. God, he does his job well, namely to facilitate civil, open discussion. He is not afraid to ask the challenging questions, but he’s just so good at keeping everyone on track, and respectful.

I do not like post-show discussions, as a rule. Following the public reading of a new work, they can be entirely counter-productive. Following an issue-oriented play, they generally sound like a roomful of people saying “I agree” and patting each other on the back for over twenty-minutes.

So I was intrigued to hear that The Reverend Jimmy Hicks would be a member of the panel. In 2003, as a member of Cleveland Heights City Council, he sat in opposition to our creating a domestic partner registry (and doesn’t that term sound arcane.) Four days after the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA and Prop 8 and we were going to have an actual voice of opposition in the house!

To everyone’s credit, especially the Reverend’s, opinions were aired without rancor. There was one point where Rev. Hicks suggested recent school massacres were the direct result of prayer no longer being permitted in schools, a moment of great tension which was diffused with ease and humor by Mr. Moulthrop who, as I said, is really good at his job.

The night ended with Rev. Hicks standing his ground -- he cannot interpret the Bible his way and sanction gay marriage. That evening’s production included video of actual Vote Yes on 8 television advertisements from 2008. That term, “Religious Liberty” was used, one which became more familiar during the 2012 as it pertained to birth control of all things during the Presidential race.

Religious Freedom, as I see it, is the codification of religious doctrine into secular law. Love of God can be a powerfully positive thing, I see it in the people closest to me who believe. But the laws of God bind us to ancient hierarchies, which put certain classes of people in their place, including women and homosexuals. For years the Bible was used to justify and in fact enshrine slavery.

As the American experiment continues, the people work to undo the binds of ancient hierarchy, that is what freedom truly means. If establishing new, expanded freedoms threatens religious teachings, perhaps it is because the Bible isn’t about freedom.

I mean, really ... who ever said the Bible was about freedom?

The comparisons between Loving v. Virgina and Perry v. Schwarzenegger were on full display last night, though there are those who are unhappy with the comparison. I remember a Doonesbury cartoon from the mid-1970s where it is discovered that Andy is gay. Clyde says, “I hear you’re gay,” and Andy responds, “That's right, and I hear you’re black.”

Clyde explodes, “Yeah, but that’s normal!”

Andy says, “Didn’t used to be.”

Click on to enlarge.

The gay rights revolution has not been without horrible violence -- nothing filmed or put on video like schoolgirls denied access by National Guardsmen or crowds being hit with water cannons, but more often secret murders and lonely suicides and assaults too numerous to be known. But sitting onstage, the Allen Theater nearly full, knowing the audience had gathered to see and support a play not just about gay rights but about gay marriage, I truly felt we were reaching the climax of -- though by no means the conclusion to -- America’s Lavender Civil War.

The day after Election Day 2004, I overheard a colleague on the phone to a friend. He was truly unhappy -- not just because Bush defeated Kerry, this was much more personal. An anti-gay marriage amendment (Ohio Issue 1) had passed in the state of Ohio, one which stands today. It passed by 62% of the vote.

“It’s like they hate us,” he said. He sounded like he was about to cry. That’s what it feels like to be in the minority. I am trying to imagine what it might have been like back in 2004, if last night’s roles were reversed and it was Dustin Lance Black in a theater full of Ohio Issue 1 supporters, as the lone voice of marriage equality among a few hundred proponents of “religious freedom”. You will excuse me for finding it difficult to believe he would have been treated with the deference and respect Rev. Hicks received in the Allen last night.