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Celebrity Death Watch: Kate Millett wrote the feminist classic Sexual Politcs. Gene "Stick" Michael played baseball and moved into management, primarily with the Source of All Evil in the Universe. Don Williams was a country music singer, as was Troy Gentry. Michael Friedman wrote the score of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Len Wein was a comic book writer and editor, credited as co-creator of Wolverine. Don Ohlmeyer was a sports television executive, responsible for Monday night football. (He was also the mentor of someone I grew up with, who has some very interesting stories about him.) Nancy Dupree was an historian who focused on the history of modern Afghanistan. Jack Kiel created McGruff the Crime Dog.

Jerry Pournelle wrote science fiction and published articles on military strategy. He had actually worked for the company that I am employed by at one time (as well as other companies in the space industry). He was alleged to have been the first author to have written a published book using a word processor on a personal computer. I have absolutely no recollection of having read anything he wrote, but I think I have read anthologies he edited.

Lotfi Zadeh was a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and is best known for his work on fuzzy logic. I am somewhat hesitant to list him because there had been at least two earlier, incorrect reports of his death. But the EECS department is now reporting it, which is a more reliable source than various Azerbaijani sources. Incidentally, it is probably not well known that he was Jewish, at least technically, as his mother was a Russian Jew. (His father was Iranian and, I assume, Muslim, in which case the Muslims would claim him too. Though maybe not, since he apparently went to a Presbyterian mission school when his family returned to Iran from Azerbaijan. None of this actually matters in the least – I just think it’s interesting. And is perhaps an example of fuzzy religious and national identity.)

Birthday: I turned 59 on Labor Day. I really want my life to be in much better order by the time I’m 60.

Speaking of Order: I more or less tore my living room apart looking for what I had done with some theatre tickets. Of course, they turned out to be in the pile that I was positive that they absolutely could not be in. In the process of searching, I did manage to throw out 4 bags full of papers. What is pathetic is how much there is to go.

A Little Night Music: That ticket was for Signature Theatre’s production of A Little Night Music. Signature makes something of a specialty of Sondheim so this was a sure bet. And it was, indeed, a good show. There were lots of familiar performers, e.g. Bobby Smith as Frederik, Sam Ludwig as Henrik, Maria Rizzo as Petra, Will Gartshore as Carl-Magnus, and Holly Twyford as Desiree. I should note that Twyford is known as an actress, not a singer, but was more than up to the role. But the real highlights were Florence Lacey as the acerbic Madame Armfeldt and Tracy Lynn Olvera as Charlotte. Both performers highlighted the humor of some of Sondheim’s wittiest lyrics. Even though this is a show I know well, I still noticed lyrics I hadn’t quite caught before. Overall, this is among the best theatre I’ve seen here.

I do have one complaint, however. The air conditioning was way too aggressive. It wasn’t even hot out. I need to remember to bring a sweater or shawl whenever I go to Signature.

Also re: Shirlington: I had amazingly good parking karma for this trip to Signature, with an available spot right by the stairs / elevator in the closer garage. I believe the reason for this is that it allowed me to do a good deed. There was a miniature Celtic festival going on and a blind woman was trying to find a place to sit to listen to the music. I let her take my elbow and led her to the chairs set up in front of the stage.

Story Swap: Saturday night was our monthly story swap, which is always fun. I have found an Albanian story to tell, which went over reasonably well. Especially the part in which the hero is sent to collect overdue taxes from a church full of snakes.

JGSGW: There was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting on Sunday. The topic was ancestry tips and tricks, but, alas, that was pretty much focused on tips for your tree on ancestry and I don’t keep mine there. I was hoping for tips on more effective searches. And, given that the speaker was time constrained, I didn’t bother asking. I did have some conversations before the meeting which were most useful, so it wasn’t a waste.

I had intended to go to a storytelling show later in the day, but I was too tired. At least I did manage to get grocery shopping done on my way home from darkest Maryland.
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Storytelling at the Lake: Wednesday night was storytelling at the Lake Anne Coffee House in Reston. For complicated reasons, apparently involving window repairs, we were telling outside in the patio area. That’s a bit challenging with people moving around more and noise distractions, not helped by having a hand-held microphone, which was slightly awkward. But it was a good show and I thought the audience was responsive. In other words, they laughed at the right places. (I told "Thank You, Miss Tammy" in which, among other things, I explain why the prince in Swan Lake can’t tell Odette and Odile apart.) Overall, a fun evening.

Big Fish: I saw the musical Big Fish at Keegan Theatre on Sunday afternoon. This is based on the movie, which I don’t remember well enough to judge how alike it is. The story involves the relationship between a journalist, Will, and his traveling salesman father, Ed, and Will’s search for the truth in the fantastic stories Ed did and didn’t tell. This show has only an adequate score, but it is sweet and has lots of feel good material. More importantly, it was well-performed, including convincing performances from Dan Van Why as Ed and Ricky Drummond as Will. I also want to mention the beautiful singing of Eleanor Todd as Sandra (Ed’s wife and true love). And then there is Grant Saunders, who had fabulous comic timing as Karl the Giant. The staging took good advantage of the intimate space. Overall, I enjoyed seeing this and would recommend it.

A Political Addendum: When I linked to my piece yesterday re: Charlottesville, a college friend mentioned that he had a concern that somebody would take advantage of freedom of speech to claim that they had spoken at a particular institution, granting them additional credibility. I think there is a distinction that can be made regarding who the invitation to speak is from. Merely appearing on the campus of a major university is not an endorsement, while, say, being a commencement speaker is. This comes down to the question every institution should ask themselves of "who do we want representing us?" I have enough trust in the values of the institutions I support to believe they would not provide a platform to the likes of David Duke or Richard Spencer or Steve Bannon.

As usual in life, context is everything.
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The King and I: I went with a friend to see The King and I at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night. This is (like most Rodgers and Hammerstein) a musical I have mixed feelings about. There is some glorious music, e.g. "We Kiss in a Shadow." And, of course, "Shall We Dance?" is a nice showy number. But is "The March of Siamese Children" anything more than a way to show off kids so parents will go to the theatre? Louis (Anna’s son) could use a lot more development as a character. And "I Whistle a Happy Tune" simply annoys me, aside from its earworm potential.

Despite those inherent flaws, the production was quite good, with special kudos to Jose Llana as the King of Siam. I also thought Manna Nichols was very good as Tuptim. The choreography made good use of a relatively small space (this was in the Opera House, not the Eisenhower, which also has the disadvantage of less than wonderful acoustics). Could one write a musical nowadays with an internal ballet like "The Small House of Uncle Thomas?"

My only real complaint (aside from my overall lukewarmness towards the score) is that the show was awfully long. I was nervous about the metro schedule, since trains stop running at 11:30 on weeknights now. I may have to limit weeknight excursions to things that are driveable or that I know will end by 10ish.

Chinotto: We had dinner before the show at Campono, which has okay food and is right across the street from the Kennedy Center. The café in the Kennedy Center is dreadful, with mediocre food and high prices. And the friend I went with was driving, so didn’t want to do dinner in Foggy Bottom beforehand. My salad was fine, but the real reason I am mentioning this is that they have chinotto! I know I am the only North American who actually likes those bitter Italian drinks, but the point is that I do like them and they are hard to find here. So it was a rare treat.

Now, if I could only find somewhere that has Schweppes bitter lemon…

Fielding Dreams: I shouldn’t really go out two nights in a row, but the DC JCC had a program on Washington’s Jewish Ballplayers and, given my minor obsession with Jews in baseball, how could I resist? Fred Frommer (who authored a book on Washington baseball, not limited to Jewish players) moderated the event. The other speakers were Phil Hochberg who, in addition to a career in sports law, was an announcer at RFK Stadium, and Aviva Kempner, who is well known for her documentaries, including The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. The big news is that she is now working on a documentary about Moe Greenberg and she talked extensively about him.

Anyway, there were 18 Jews who played major league baseball in Washington, though some played only 1 or 2 games. The number should really be 17 because Buddy Myer, despite being in nearly every Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was not actually Jewish. Most of the players talked about were active in the 1930’s or so, but there were a few I remembered. For example, Greg Goossen played for the Mets for a while, though, of course, their real Jewish star was Art Shamsky. (As far as I know, Ed Kranepool is not Jewish, though he did give a talk at our shul when I was a kid.) It was Goossen about whom Casey Stengel allegedly said "I have a 19 year old player. In 10 years, he has a chance to be 29."

Another familiar player was Jason Marquis, who I saw pitch here several times. The only Jewish pitcher who had a winning career in Washington, however, was Al Schacht, who went 14-10 in the early 1920’s. The other really significant pitcher who was discussed was Syd Cohen, who gave up Babe Ruth’s final home run. But the better story about him is that he played winter ball in Mexico under the name Pablo Garcia. The minor league ballpark in El Paso (where he grew up) is named after him – and his brother, Andy, who was the more successful ballplayer.

The big story, however, was Moe Berg. His baseball career wasn’t exactly impressive, but his career in the OSS made up for it. Apparently, he spoke at least 7 languages – and couldn’t hit in any of them. But his linguistic skills got him sent to Japan with much bigger names and to Switzerland to meet Heisenberg and so on. He was a genuine character and I’m looking forward to Aviva’s movie.

Speaking of Baseball: Jackie Bradley made an awesome catch Sunday night, robbing Aaron Judge of a home run. That is exactly how I like to see my Red Sox deal with the Source of All Evil in the Universe.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I had, for some reason, been given an opportunity to do another Zero-G flight, for free this time. But there was a lot of paperwork to fill out – enough for a 100+ page book. I got hung up on a question asking me to check off which conditions I had, which including being blind, blonde, or blinde.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Vin Garbutt was a British folk singer, best known for protest songs. Sam Panopoulos invented Hawaiian pizza, which should be protested. Adam West was Batman. Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a cofounder of SWAPO and more or less relegated to minor ministries within the Namibian government after independence. Samuel V. Wilson directed (and reorganized) the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1970’s. Rosalie Sorrels was a singer-songwriter. A. R. Gurney was a playwright, best known for The Cocktail Hour. Bill Dana was a comedian, best known for his Jose Jiminez character, which seems horribly dated and racist nowadays. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of Germany, including 8 years prior to and 8 years after the 1990 reunification. Stephen Furst was an actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House. Baldwin Lonsdale was the president of Vanuatu. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder of ArtScroll publications, an influential publisher of Jewish texts. Frederick Leboyer popularized a natural childbirth approach. Gabe Pressman was a television reporter in New York. Michael Nyqvist was a Swedish actor. Michael Bond created Paddington Bear.

Business Trip #1: I got back from New York in time to unpack and pack for the first of two back-to-back business trips. That one was to Colorado Springs for an annual meeting. I flew out from DCA via ORD, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked okay. I was even able to have a sit-down dinner at a Chili’s in the airport. I waited forever (about 7 minutes) before being given water. Fortunately, once I called the server out on that, she was efficient. That was not the case a couple of nights later at a diner in Colorado Springs, where I was tempted to leave, citing the need to go to the police station and file a missing persons report for my server. There is something of a stereotype about women eating alone being bad tippers. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Anyway, the work stuff was reasonably productive, though, as is typical of this sort of thing, most of the value was the conversations in the hallway between presentations. Connections are, as always, everything.

The Weekend In-Between – Awesome Con: I had made plans to go with a friend to Awesome Con, which is a comic con type of thing at the D.C. Convention Center. I am not a science fiction / comic book type for the most part and am fairly pop-culture illiterate. My primary interest was people watching and I do find it intriguing how much effort people put into cosplay and such. We spent most of our time on the sales floor, though didn’t manage to cover all of it. I bought a fairly spectacular hat because the friend I was with is an evil person who refused to talk me out of it. I also bought a couple of gifts which I won’t talk about until they are given. We did also go to a panel on women in geekdom, which was less focused than I was hoping for, but still reasonably interesting. I later found out that another friend of mine was there (i.e. at that same panel) but I didn’t see her.

Overall, the event was overwhelmingly huge, which I found something of an energy drain. They also did a terrible job of signage and a pretty egregious set-up for food, with most of the food stands having no nearby seating. If I go again in the future, I might try to do more planning and focus on panels more. And maybe get more sleep in the week beforehand.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The next day, I had tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about this show, but never seen it (or heard the music) before. The premise is a concert by Hedwig, the victim of a botched (and not really voluntary) sex change operation. There are various references to (and sort-of glimpses into) a much larger concert being given at the same time by Tommy Gnosis, who turns out to have an interesting history with Hedwig. That relationship drives some of the transformation behind the story.

Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. There is an interesting mix of music and some mildly funny lines. And there is no doubt that Euan Morton (who played the lead) is very talented. But I thought the whole thing was heavy handed and not well pulled together. I also want to note that the lighting was completely irritating. Incidentally, I ran into a couple of friends, who were puzzled by the whole thing. We concluded we are just too old and clearly not the target demographic for this material.

Business Trip #2: Unpack, do laundry, pack. Such is my life at times. I was off to the Bay Area for a one day meeting. It was actually pretty interesting and included a high bay tour, which is always one of my favorite things to do. But quick trips like this are always pretty exhausting. I should note that I had originally been scheduled to fly out on American through DFW, but weather delays let me persuade them to put me on a non-stop on United to SFO. I did come back on American (via CLT), which featured just as much service as is typical of them (i.e. next to none). The highlight of CLT was spotting a plane painted in PSA livery. I used to fly PSA quite a bit between L.A. and the Bay Area, but they were bought by USAir a lot a lot of years ago.

Book Club: I got back in time to make it to book club. This meeting's topic was A Man Called Ove. I believe it was the first time that everybody liked a book. If you haven't read it, do. It's quirky and funny and touching in equal measures.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The only thing on my calendar this past weekend (well, aside from catching up on sleep) was seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Signature Theatre. I really know this show from its original cast recording of over 45 years ago – and will admit that it is not one I particularly like. I remain unimpressed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, but, then, it was an early experiment with rock opera and the form hadn’t really been figured out. (ALW, of course, never did figure it out, but others have.)

Signature is always a good place to see musicals for several reasons. Among those are a number of performers, including Nastascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene and Bobby Smith as Pontius Pilate. I was also impressed with Karma Camp’s choreography and thought the lighting and projections were used in interesting ways to create the sets. Overall, I’d say this was a good production of a flawed show.
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This was the weekend of June 9th through 11th. Yes, I am behind. Live with it.

Part 1 - 31 Chambers Street: I decided to leverage off a flyertalk-related trip to New York and took a vacation day, enabling me to get up to the city early enough to spend some time at the Municipal Archives. The main thing I was looking for was the death certificate for my great-grandfather, Henry Schwarzbord. I also obtained the death certificate for Rose Lebofsky, my great-uncle Nathan’s first wife, and the marriage certificate for another great-uncle,Willi Lubowsky (aka Wulf Chlebiocky). None of those actually told me much that I didn’t already know, but did confirm some transcription errors on Family Search. And I am somewhat of a completist regarding documentation.

Part 2 - Soup Do: Soup Do is an annual flyertalk dinner event, held the Friday night before the Brooklyn Reality Tour. It’s basically a lot of people in the back room of La Bonne Soup, eating dinner, and talking about travel and frequent flyer miles and such. There’s a prix fixe dinner available (though only 2 of us at the table I was at did it). I thought it was a good deal – salad, soup, dessert, and a glass of wine for about 30 bucks once you add in tax and tip. The wine was so-so, but the salad, onion soup, and crème caramel were all quite nice. And, of course, the point is the conversation, which was lively and entertaining.

Part 3 - the Brooklyn Reality Tour: This is an annual flyertalk event, focused largely on food and conversation. We started with Smorgasburg, which provided an early lunch stop. It was hard to choose among all the options, but I went with a Peking duck bao (a bit messy) at someone’s recommendation and the very trendy (and delicious) halo-halo, which consists of ube ice cream with dragon fruit, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, blackberries, red mung beans, coconut, mango, and a little almond milk. Then we drove over to an overlook of the Verrazano Narrows, before going on to Coney Island. We drove around various neighborhoods, including Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Sheepshead Bay. We attempted to go to Floyd Bennett Field, but the hangar with the display of historic aircraft had closed early, so were foiled in the sightseeing attempt. More driving around included Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza, and, of course, Dan’s childhood home and elementary school, because you do that sort of thing when you run the tour. We had a bakery stop at Butter and Scotch, which had excellent pecan pie. I bailed at L&B Spumoni Gardens, since I had theatre tickets, but the rest of the tour included a pizza dinner there and the traditional sunset over Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Part 4 - Pacific Overtures: Pacific Overtures is my favorite Sondheim score, so I would have been interested in this revival at Classic Stage Company even if it didn’t have George Takei playing the Reciter. He does have a nicely resonant voice, but the real highlight of the performances for me was Megan Masako Haley, playing Tamate and, later on, a girl mistaken for a geisha. Much of her role was silent, but she was very expressive and elegant, highlighting the simplicity of the production. I thought that the overall aesthetic felt essentially Japanese, which is pretty much the point. I was disappointed in them having cut "Chrysanthemum Tea," which has one of Sondheim’s absolute best internal rhymes ("it’s an herb that’s superb for disturbances at sea") but they did an excellent job with the other songs. "Please Hello" is proof that Sondheim’s talents at pastiche, for example. And "A Bowler Hat," is my single favorite Sondheim song of all time, as it reveals character so effectively by showing Kayama’s transformation as he absorbs Western culture. This was a lovely production, with fine voices and was well worth seeing.

Part 5 - Welsh brunch at Sunken Hundred: Sunday morning had me back in Brooklyn for brunch at Sunken Hundred, a Welsh restaurant. This was part of the "around the world in 5 boroughs" project that one flyertalker started. I had crampog, which are oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes, which came with a blueberry and fenugreek compote and rosemary butter. I also tasted a small piece of a scone. The food was fabulous and I would happily eat there again.

Part 7 - Ernest Shackleton Loves Me: I am not sure where I first saw this show advertised, but the name itself was enough to sell me, given my interest in polar exploration. (Though, for the record, I think Douglas Mawson was even more impressive than Ernest Shackleton.) And it’s a musical – well, just take my money! The premise is interestingly bizarre – a 45 year old woman seeking a relationship finds love with the long-dead explorer via a dating website. It’s probably just a fantasy from her single-parenthood induced sleep deprivation, but they act out various parts of the Endurance expedition and Kat learns about optimism and standing up for herself. Both Val Vigoda as Kat and Wade McCollum as Shackleton (and other male roles) were clearly having fun in this very quirky show. Overall, there was a lot of laugh-out-loud humor and lively music (sea chanteys! Yes!) And they even used Frank Hurley’s actual photos and footage. I could quibble about the script making Shackleton’s journey to South Georgia too much of a solo effort, but, then, this wasn’t titled Frank Worsley Was the Best Navigator Ever. I thought this was a lot of fun and am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Part 8 – Ben’s I grew up going to Ben’s Kosher Deli in Baldwin. The one in the city is not as good (and, definitely, not up to the 2nd Avenue Deli) but it is conveniently located close to Penn Station for pre-train dining. I got a tongue sandwich and stuffed derma. The former was good, but the latter was quite disappointing, with overly salted gravy. The service was also decidedly mediocre. It wasn’t a horrible meal, but it didn’t fully satisfy my Jewish deli needs. Fortunately, I have at least one more trip to New York planned this summer.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Glenna Sue Kidd played for a number of teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. William Baumol was an economist and came up with a theory about why services will always increase in price, unlike goods. William David Brohn arranged and orchestrated music for a number of Broadway musicals, notably Ragtime for which he won a Tony. Powers Boothe was an actor, primarily on television. Stan Weston designed G.I. Joe. Henry Chung was the owner of Henry’s Hunan, a well-known San Francisco restaurant (now a small chain) that is credited with bringing Hunan cuisine to the U.S. Baba Chuck Davis founded the African-American Dance Ensemble.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Ella Raino Edwards, better known to most of us as just Ellaraino, was a storyteller and actress in Los Angeles. She was a powerful presence. She apparently died in mid-March, but I only just heard about it.

I knew Trisha O’Tuama from the early days of the net. She was active in several Usenet groups (e.g. soc.women and talk.bizarre) and also on a couple of mailing lists I was on. She was provocative and didn’t take any crap from anyone. I met her in person only a couple of times and she wasn’t at all abrasive then. Even though we hadn’t interacted much recently, I will miss her.


Errata: People I grew up with have corrected me on teachers. Second grade was Mrs. Redman and fourth was (initially) Mrs. Hundt. The gym teacher was apparently Miss Parkman.

Kaleidoscope: On Friday night, I saw Kaleidoscope at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church. This is a new musical by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, the latest in their "bold new works for intimate spaces" series. The story involves a Broadway star on her final solo tour. Except she is suffering from dementia and can no longer remember her lines. So her daughters and her granddaughter keep the tour going at home. Florence Lacey did a fabulous job as Evelyn Throne, who is confused about what is going on and sees her memories as a kaleidoscope of disjointed images, which she can’t put together into a cohesive story. This sounds depressing, but there was plenty of warmth and humor to balance things. The music was lovely, too, though I wish there had been a song list in the program. The most memorable song was "One More Walk Around the Garden," in which Evelyn progresses from walking on her own, to using a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair as the song goes on. I must have gotten something in my eyes. I have recommended this theatre highly before and this is yet another wonderful show there.

EU Open House: Saturday was the annual European Union Embassies Open House. I went with my friend, Cindy, and we started at the Embassy of Spain. They had an exhibit on architecture, but the real point of these events is food and swag. In this case, they were charging for almost all of the food. (We did get some free bags of Spanish potato chips.) The food was cheap, though – three bucks for a plate of vegetable paella and another 2 for a glass of wine. And it was definitely worth it.

We moved on to the Embassy of Poland. I was interested in a project that is digitizing a book signed by Polish residents in the 1920’s as a gift of friendship to the United States, though I didn’t find any familiar names on the couple of pages I looked at for Tykocin. There was a 1920’s theme overall, with appropriate costumes and music. They also had free food samples, with sauerkraut and mushroom pierogie, plus cake.

Lithuania had a small area on culture, mostly involving choral singing and folk costumes. They had quite a lot of food, including some delicious borscht. There were also potatoes, sausages / dried meat (which I ignored), herring, cheeses, brown bread, and Lithuanian beer. I continue to believe that my ancestors left largely in search of hops. (Sorry, but I am not a fan of the lighter, sweeter beer styles.)

Those three embassies are close together, but our next stop was further, so we wanted to get a shuttle bus. They had neglected to put up a sign for the bus stop, so there was some confusion involved, but we did eventually succeed in getting to the Embassy of Malta. That one was, frankly, not all that worth it. They had a guy lecturing in a too small, too hot room, and a film playing in another room. They did give us little packets of Maltese date and pistachio cookies as we left, however.

We took another shuttle over to the Embassy of Portugal. They had a bit of a line and we waited a while to get in. Fortunately, it was well worth it. They had better (or, at least, larger) tote bags to add to the ones we’d collected. And they had a drawing where you could win a basket of food and wine, though most people (each of us included) just got a t-shirt. As for food, they had bread and cheese, custard tarts, and, best of all, port wine.

We split up at that point because we wanted to go to different embassies. I went to the Embassy of Hungary, where the main exhibit was an outdoor one on Hungarian dog breeds, the most appealing of which is the Kuvasz. As for food, most of what they had was for sale, though they did have good cheese biscuits for free.

I could probably have made it to one or two more embassies (depending on lines) but I was tired and decided to just go home, where I promptly napped for a couple of hours.

Objects of Wonder: Sunday’s venture was to the National Museum of Natural History for a Chavurah event. Objects of Wonder is as much about how the museum handles its collections as about the objects themselves. There were a wide range of things to look at, including stained samples of types of wood, a stuffed lion, a painted house from a native American community in the Pacific Northwest (complete with an associated story on an audio loop), and pretty much samples of everything the museum offers, with the exception of dinosaurs and mummies. (Given my dislike of mummies, this was no loss.) I think the most bizarre bit of information was that they estimate the age of whales by the thickness of their earwax.

After going through that exhibit, we checked out another one nearby, with winners of a competition for nature photography. I particularly liked a photo of a leopard descending a tree. There were also some great polar bear photos. My animal biases may be at work here.

Then we went out to lunch. We ended up at Tadich Grill, which was a bit pricy, but good. I had some excellent arctic char. The weather was lovely and we sat outside enjoying it. All in all, a lovely day out.

What I Didn’t Do This Past Weekend: I didn’t get any housework done, though I did manage grocery shopping. And I didn’t get enough sleep. Sigh.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Aaron Hernandez played football for the New England Patriots before his arrest in a murder case. Lawrence Hogan served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, where his son is currently the governor. Cuba Gooding, Sr. was a soul singer and the father of actor, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Erin Moran was an actress, best know for Joanie Loves Chachi. Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I have intended to read for many years but never gotten around to.

Fun Home: The touring production of Fun Home, a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel is playing at the National Theatre and I saw it last week. The story is fairly simple – Alison is gay and becomes a lesbian cartoonist. Her father is gay and commits suicide. (That is not a spoiler. She says it in the first few minutes of the show.) The interesting thing is how the story is told, with adult Alison narrating the action and two younger versions of herself acting appropriate parts of it. Almost all of the focus is on Alison’s relationship with her father, which is ironic given the Bechdel-Wallace test. There are two other female characters – her mother and her first lover - and most of what she talks about with them is that relationship.

I will admit to having had some skepticism, because this is the sort of premise that could lead to a preachy or dull show. But it is neither. We all have coming of age discoveries to make and we all have evolving relationships with our families and we all learn things about our parents that may make us reassess those relationships. Small Alison (about 9 years old) is a cute and lively kid, longing for Dad’s attention, yet recoiling when it comes in the form of asking for help at the family funeral home (which is the source of the title). Medium Alison (a college freshman) felt exactly right for that confusing age and got one of the best songs as she enters a relationship and sings about changing her major to Joan. I also through that Abby Corrigan, who played Medium Alison, was a particularly strong performer. Robert Petkoff was also notable as Bruce, Alison’s father, who was somewhat trapped by his times and didn’t know how to deal with that. He’s not particularly likeable, but it’s also obvious he causes himself as much pain as he causes to other people.

I should also note that Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori’s music were enjoyable. There is a nice blend of serious and silly among the songs. One of the things I have been known to whine about is musicals where the music serves no real purpose. Here, it does illuminate character and emotion. I do wish, however, that the program had included a song list.

Overall, I highly recommend seeing it while it’s here.


March for Science: Saturday was the March for Science. I had mixed feelings about the whole thing, largely because a lot of the discussion on their facebook page was treating the whole thing as cosplay and focused on silly signs and so on. The real issue, in my opinion, is Trump’s failure to appoint people to key science roles, e.g. science advisor to the President, NASA director, NOAA director. But a friend was in town for it. Notably a long-time friend, who is used to my snarkiness and contributes a certain level of his own snark. We skipped the speeches, met for lunch at a Thai restaurant, and then went over to catch the end of the rally part and march from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. The weather was crappy (chilly and rainy) but I had a poncho and he had a jacket and rain hat and, as my Dad used to say, people are more or less waterproof. So March we did, along with snide comments about signs that were off-message, as well as admiration for some clever ones. The chanting got nicely loud around the EPA building. If nothing else, we got a good walk out of it.

Brunch and Batteries: I had a chavurah brunch to go to on Sunday. Unfortunately, when I went out to go to it, my car battery was dead. I took a cab over (and got a ride home), but it was still stressful. The food was pretty good and the conversation was good, so it was worth it. When I got home, I called AAA and they brought a new battery and installed it. It's still annoying, but not horribly painful.
fauxklore: (travel)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chelsea Brown was an actress on Laugh-In. Roy Sievers played baseball for several teams, notably the Washington Senators in two of their incarnations. Paul O’Neill founded Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Tim Pigott-Smith was a British actor. Joanne Kyger was pretty much the only female poet of the beat generation. Eugene Lang was controversial as a businessman, since he was arguably a patent troll, but redeemed himself by founding the I Have a Dream Foundation and funding not only scholarships, but additional support, for poor public school children.

The big name of recent deaths is, of course, Don Rickles. I have to say that I never really cared much for insult comedy he specialized in.

Parade: I went to see Parade, Jason Robert Brown’s musical about the Leo Frank case, at Keegan Theatre on Friday night. I saw a different production of this show (at Ford’s Theatre) a few years ago. My conclusion is essentially the same. The score is excellent, but the book suffers from the failure to take a consistent point of view. Except for Tom Watson, the villains are more opportunists than anything else. Britt Craig is trying to revive his journalistic career, while Hugh Dorsey is trying to win the gubernatorial race. Frank, himself, comes across as (not surprisingly) puzzled over what Is happening to him. The change in his relationship with his wife, Lucille, is also an interesting aspect of the show. As for the performances, I thought that Michael Innocenti was quite good as Leo Frank, though he had some trouble with pronouncing the words of the Sh’ma at the end. Eleanor Todd as Lucille and Timothy Hayes Lynch as Governor Slaton were also quite good. But the real scene stealer was Malcolm Lee as Jim Conley. I should note that I had seen Lee perform before – as the Dryer in Caroline or Change at Creative Cauldron. He’s a performer I will have to watch out for more in the future.

United Airlines: So there have been two United Airlines (really Continental – since ALL of the management of the combined company are ex-Cons, but that’s a point of interest only for airline geeks) "scandals" in the news. Both of which are really illustrations of the abuse of social media.

Let’s take "leggings gate" first. The way this was portrayed is that United kicked two girls off a plane for wearing leggings. Except, that isn’t actually what happened. They denied boarding to two teenagers who were traveling on an employee’s pass. That pass has conditions, which include a dress code. You can argue the propriety of that dress code elsewhere, because it is beside the point. The two kids, who knew the rules, left with no comment. An unrelated family behind them in line included a ten-year-old girl wearing leggings, her father (wearing shorts), and her mother. The mother saw the teenagers told to leave and concluded that her daughter needed to put on a dress over the leggings – despite nobody from the airline having claimed that. A professional outrage blogger at another gate witnessed the incident and – again, with no actual knowledge of what had happened – took to twitter. Much unjustified outrage followed.

Let me try a fictional example to explain the absurdity of the story. Suppose the New York Yankees offered to give me a first class plane ticket to anywhere I wanted to, with the condition that, since I would be representing them by accepting this ticket, I would have to wear a pink sleeveless NYY tank top. I show up dressed, instead, in respectable clothes, i.e. a long-sleeved blue Boston Red Sox shirt. They are perfectly within their rights to deny me boarding.

Today’s outrage is a little trickier. The story is that a flight from ORD to SDF (that is, Chicago O’Hare to Louisville) needed four seats for a deadheading crew. The flight was full and had boarded. They asked for volunteers, offering a $400 voucher (plus an overnight hotel stay, as there were no other flights that night) and then upping the offer to an $800 voucher. Nobody volunteered. So they went to the Involuntarily Denied Boarding (IDB) procedure. The deadheading crew are in a "must fly" situation, so four passengers have to be IDB’d. There is a pre-determined order for who gets chosen, based on status, fare basis, time of check-in, etc., with specific exemptions for disabled passengers and unaccompanied minors. Those people are compensated at 400% of the fare they paid, up to a maximum of $1350. That is paid as a check, not a voucher.

The third person they called refused to deplane, saying he was a doctor who had to tend to patients in the morning. (I have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. Nor does it matter.) He continued to refuse to leave, so law enforcement was called. Apparently, the cops handled him roughly and two passengers got that on video. Outrage ensued.

As far as I am concerned, the cops (who are not employees of COdbaUA – or, technically, Republic, as this was an Express flight) are legitimately being targeted for their roughness. Apparently, at least one of those cops has been placed on leave while the incident is being investigated. But the passenger was clearly in the wrong in refusing to deplane. (He also probably made things worse by going limp when grabbed by the cops. Which is rather bizarre under the circumstances, but who knows what his personal history with police is?) And the airline was correct in calling the police to remove him. In this case, the story is focused on the wrong party, almost entirely out of ignorance and (I suspect) prejudice.

Now, UA’s social media team is undeniably inept in responding to these things. That is also an entirely different matter.

I will continue to fly United when its routes and fares make sense for me.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Bill Walsh was not only a copy editor for The Washington Post, but wrote three cleverly titled books on the subject of copy editing - Lapsing Into a Comma, The Elephants of Style, and Yes, I Could Care Less. Phil Garland was a New Zealand folk singer. I particularly recommend his song "To the Tall Ships" (with lyrics by Joe Clark). James Cotton played blues harmonica. Derek Walcott was a Caribbean poet and Nobel laureate. Lawrence Montaigne was an actor with numerous television and movie appearances, as well as being in the original cast of Shinbone Alley. Felicia O’Dell was the internet celebrity chef Auntie Fee. Chuck Berry was a rock and roll superstar, but you didn't need me to tell you that. Jimmy Breslin was a columnist for Newsday and Son of Sam’s favorite penpal. David Rockefeller headed Chase Manhattan and chaired the Museum of Modern Art. I have reservations about his foreign policy activities (which may have, for example, helped trigger the Iran hostage crisis) but there is little doubt that he was a significant philanthropist with broad interests. Martin McGuiness was an IRA leader who became a peacemaker. Colin Dexter wrote the Inspector Morse series of mysteries. He also wrote a book about how to solve cryptic crosswords.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mary Joan Trafton was a colleague and a close friend. We started working for Milo at the same time and, over the course of numerous business trips, discovered compatible ways of thinking. This was especially true on trips to Boulder, where we realized that High Crimes, a mystery bookstore, would be open late when they had a signing. She was always willing to try out new restaurants and we spent lots of evenings exploring the crème brulees of Boulder. We had similar senses of humor, which included things like buying Milo a pointy-haired boss wig, which he wore when he did our performance reviews. She had been ill with cancer for a while, so her death was not a surprise, but it is still always painful to lose a friend. I am still waiting to hear what the arrangements will be and hope I will be able to go to whatever ceremony happens. At the very least, Suzanne (our other partner in crime) and I will do something.

Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing: I saw this new show at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Elva Miller was a real person, who achieved a brief career in the mid-1960’s as a horrible singer. Debra Monk portrayed her and did an excellent job of both the bad singing and the moments when we glimpse her self-perception. Boyd Gaines played her husband, who was convalescing in a nursing home after a stroke. He was also convincing in a role that focused on his frustration over his condition. Then there is her niece, Joelle, played by Rebekah Brockman, who is torn between the fear that she is part of a group exploiting her aunt and the knowledge that Mrs. Miller is having fun with the whole experience. There is some generation gap material and some more serious topical material (e.g. re: Vietnam). But the real point is about following dreams. That makes Mrs. Miller surprisingly sympathetic. I will note, however, that I dearly hope nobody ever decides to produce a cast album of this show!

Story Swap: Our monthly swap was on Saturday night and was, as usual, fun. I took advantage of the late arrival of our teenage tellers to perform X. J. Kennedy’s poem, "In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day." Later on, I told "Tia Miseria." There was the usual wide mix of stories and, later on, snacks and conversation.

World Storytelling Project: Yesterday being World Storytelling Day, I announced a project to learn a story from every country in the world. I am using the U.S. State Department list of independent countries, which has 195 countries on it. Obviously, I already know stories from some of these (and have personal stories from a few.) This is not the sort of thing I intend to put any particular deadline on, but it should be a fun challenge. And, yes, I have picked out a story from Afghanistan to tell.

Note to Coworker Down the Hall: Close your door when you are having a conference call, damn it!
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have thoughtful brilliance to write, but this ain't it. However, I have done a few things lately...

Celebrity Death Watch: William Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist. Alan Jabbour was a fiddler and founded the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Dick Gautier is best known for having played Hymie the Robot on Get Smart, but I want to note he was also Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway (and, in fact, won a Tony for that role.) Anthony Armstrong-Jones was better known as Lord Snowden, a photographer and the one-time husband of Princess Margaret. He was, by all accounts, better as a photographer than as a husband. Vicki Lansky wrote the cookbook, Feed Me I’m Yours. Brenda C. Barnes was the CEO of Sara Lee for several years. Loalwa Braz was a Brazilian singer-songwriter. Maggie Roche was a folk-rock singer, who performed primarily with her sisters. Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte were both baseball players from the Dominican Republic, who died in car accidents on the same day. Eugene Cernan was an astronaut and, notably, the last man to walk on the moon. Mike Connors was an actor, best known for playing Mannix. Bob Holiday was an actor and played Superman more than any other actor, including starring in the musical, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. John Hurt was an actor, most famous for starring in The Elephant Man. Mary Tyler Moore was an actress, most famous for her television roles (especially as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) but also on Broadway and in film. In Minneapolis, there is a statue of her tossing her hat in the air. Harold Rosen led the team that built the first geosynchronous communications satellite. Etienne Tshisekedi was the head of the opposition party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, including a couple of brief stints as Prime Minister. David Axelrod was a jazz / fusion musician, composer, and producer.

Professor Irwin Corey was an interesting comedian, parodizing a certain sort of intellectual and billing himself as "the world’s foremost authority." More importantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, so his death earned me 15 points in the game.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: John Shipman, known to many as Groot, passed away on January 31st after a short battle with an aggressive cancer. He was a kind and generous man, a lover of good music and good food, and proud of his influence on students at New Mexico Tech. I don’t get to Albuquerque often, but will miss having dinner and conversation with him when I do.

Storytelling: I told Border Crossings, a story about travel and weddings and the like last Saturday night as part of the Better Said Than Done show at The Auld Shebeen. It went well. You can watch the video and see for yourself.

A Visit to Lebanon: The most recent embassy event I went to (via my alumni association) was last Monday night at the residence of the Ambassador of Lebanon. The food was tasty, with a wide mix of dishes, including particularly notable fattoush. There were also good Lebanese wines. The talks were by the charge d’affaires and by the president of the MIT Alumni Association and were quite positive about the future of Lebanon. Good food, an interesting setting, and intelligent conversation always makes a nice evening out.

Business Trip: I went out to California last week for a meeting in San Diego. I took advantage of the trip to spend part of a day at the corporate mothership in Los Angeles, which was fairly productive, as were the discussions I actually took the trip for. The travel was rather annoying since it got set up a bit last minute, meaning I ended up with window seats, instead of my preferred aisles. (On short flights, I like windows, but not disturbing people in order to get up is a higher priority.) The flight to LAX was particularly cramped. And the wifi wasn’t working, so there was no entertainment. The drive to San Diego was not as bad as it might be, but there were some rough spots, especially since I left later than I’d planned to. Mostly, I got held up by an accident around San Clemente and then things just crawled through La Jolla getting to my hotel. The main result was that I concluded that the same person who designs United’s economy class seats designed the seat in the Kia Forte I had. That is, poor padding and no lumbar support. I flew back from SAN, with a connection at LAX. Actually, I didn’t fly back – I flew to EWR, since I had pre-existing plans in New York. About which more in a minute.

I was also able to get together on Thursday night with an old friend for dinner and a nice, far-reaching conversation.

Jewish Soul Food: Since I got to New York after midnight, I slept in on Saturday morning. That meant skipping breakfast and having an early lunch. The matzoh ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli is fairly good, though since when does chicken soup have dill in it? The half a tongue sandwich I also had was sheer perfection. Add in a full sour pickle and this addict got her fix for the next several months.

Milk and Honey: The purpose of the trip was seeing York Theatre’s mufti (i.e. semi-staged, street clothes) production of Jerry Herman’s first musical, Milk and Honey. I was familiar with only a couple of the songs from this show and concluded the score really needs to be known much better. It’s lively, very clearly Jewish music (since the object was to make a sort of Israeli equivalent to Oklahoma), and simply a delight. The performances were wonderful too, especially Alix Korey as Sylvia Weiss, the role originated by Molly Picon. I also really liked how they handled the parts of the staging that involved animals. The show is probably unrevivable for a number of reasons, but I still enjoyed it immensely. I’ve seen several shows at York and I continue to be impressed.

Not That Jewish: This is Monica Piper’s one-woman show at New World Stages. It is billed as comedy, but it’s really storytelling. I was expecting something of a comic rant about Judaism, but this was a more serious and deeper exploration of what being Jewish means if someone is not particularly religious. There are dark areas – failed relationships, parents dying, single parenthood, breast cancer. But there is a lot of humor along the way. And the piece got pulled together well at the end. Overall, I’m glad I saw it.

Trains: Amtrak was surprisingly efficient going home. The Washington Metro, not so much, as they had scheduled track work that shut down the Orange Line from Eastern Market to Foggy Bottom. Normally, I’d get off Amtrak at New Carrolton and just ride the entire length of the Orange Line, which is slow, but means I don’t have to shlep luggage. This time, I took the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, Yellow Line from Gallery Place to Pentagon, Blue Line from Pentagon to Rosslyn, and then the Orange Line home. I’m exhausted just typing that. And the next Safe Track surge approacheth, sigh.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Charles J. Colgan was a long-time member of the Virginia senate and founded Colgan Air. Mario Soares served as President and Prime Minister of Portugal for a couple of decades. Nat Hentoff wrote for The Village Voice and The Wall Street Journal, primarily about jazz music and politics. Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani served a couple of terms as the President of Iran. Clare Hollingworth was the British journalist who broke the news of the outbreak of World War II.

Sister Frances Carr was one of the last three Shakers. There are now only two members of the sect at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. I have a long-standing interest in the Shakers (and other 19th century Utopian communities), who I admire for their philosophy of "hands to work, hearts to G-d." Their combination of egalitarianism, craftsmanship, and innovation is intriguing and their music is a huge influence on American folk music in general.

Om Puri was an Indian actor, who also appeared in a number of British and American movies, e.g. East is East. I am highlighting him because I had actually thought of putting him on my ghoul pool list, but didn’t because I thought he had died a couple of years ago. I should have googled him to check. Oh, well.

For the record, my list of people I predict will die in 2017 is:
20. Buzz Aldrin
19. June Foray
18. Beverly Cleary
17. Robert Mugabe
16. Gord Downie
15. Irwin Corey
14. Shannon Doherty
13. Valerie Harper
12. Tommy Chong
11. Frank Langella
10. John Cullum
9. Tommy Tune
8. Queen Elizabeth II
7. Javier Perez de Cuellar
6. Jimmy Carter
5. Dick Van Dyke
4. Sidney Poitier
3 James L. Buckley
2. Birch Bayh
1. John Paul Stevens


Titanic: I went to see Titanic at Signature Theatre on Saturday. Because of the snow, I used metro plus bus, which worked well enough, especially since I was lucky enough to not have to wait for the bus at all.

As for the show, the performances were excellent. I want to particularly note Sam Ludwig as the stoker, Frederick Barrett, who gets a couple of great songs – one comparing working on the ship to working as a coal miner and one proposing (over the wireless) to his girl back home. Tracy Lynn Olvera was also notable as a social-climbing second class passenger. I also thought Katie McManus was very good as the forthright third class Irish immigrant, Kate McGowan.

The show is grand and the second act (after the iceberg) is moving. But, there are both too many and too few subplots. It’s hard to care about characters when you’re switching between lots of them with each song. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way around that without making the show 4 hours long. I also have to admit that I didn’t really care for most of the score, which was rather more operatic than my tastes. There were exceptions, e.g. "The Proposal / The Night Was Alive" and the lively "Ladies Maid." I also want to note that Yeston apparently believed the myth that the band played "Autumn" while the ship sank (which is, I suppose, better than the "Nearer My G-d to Thee" myth), while historians now claim the actual hymn played was "Oughten."

By the way, every attendee gets a boarding card describing a passenger. I got Mr. William Cruthers Dulles, a 39 year-old first class passenger. They provide a web page to look up the fate of your alter ego. He died in the sinking.

JGSGW Meeting: I was really interested in the topic for Sunday’s meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, which had to do with how to get reluctant relatives interested in talking with you. How interested? Well, when I went out to drive to darkest Maryland for it, I found my car had a flat tire and I paid for a taxi to get there. (I got a ride home from friends.) I’m not convinced it was worth it. I did pick up a few tips, but most of the talk was stuff I already knew.

And, sigh, I still have to find time to get the tire replaced.

Hidden Figures: Finally, last night I went to see Hidden Figures, the current movie about African-American women who worked as computers for NASA, performing mathematical computations in the early days of the space program. The story is a compelling one, involving three women doing their very best to make things happen, despite all the obstacles (both racial and gender) thrown in their paths. It’s not a word I use often, but I found it inspiring and highly recommend seeing it.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Hiroshi Arakawa was a Japanese baseball player and later managed the Yakult Swallows. Edwin Benson was the last native speaker of the Mandan language and made an effort to teach the language to children in North Dakota. Bob Krasnow co-founded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Javier Echevarria Rodriguez headed Opus Dei, a controversial part of the Catholic Church and a favorite target of conspiracy theorists. E. R. Braithwaite wrote To Sir, With Love. Alan Thicke was an actor and talk show host, probably best known as the father on Growing Pains. Thomas Schelling was a Nobel prize winning economist, specializing in game theory and complex systems. Henry Heimlich invented the Heimlich maneuver. (Note: he did not die of choking.) Zsa Zsa Gabor was an actress and socialite, who was at least as famous for having had nine husbands.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Another former colleague passed away earlier this month. Bernie Klem had an office catty-corner from mine, despite which we had an occasion on which we both flew from L.A. to Washington for me to give him a briefing. My favorite story about Bernie is the time he was checking into a hotel that asked him for a government ID to get the rate within per diem. He just said, "I'm traveling undercover" and they gave him the rate!

Three Holiday Parties: I have survived the party season, with minimal stress. My condo complex party has been less interesting since the Scottish guy realized that it wasn’t formal and, hence, gave up wearing his kilt to it. On the other hand, the food is good (as long as you get there early enough to get some of it) and the conversation can be interesting. It’s never a bad thing to get to know your neighbors at least a little bit.

The second party was at work and the stress level is lower now that they cater it, instead of doing pot luck. They were doing partial pot luck for a while, with folks doing appetizers and desserts, but they went full catered this year. They had okay Italian food with the definite highlight being the tiramisu for dessert. As for the white elephant gift exchange, my contribution was a hot cocoa gift box from Penzeys, which consists of cocoa, two hot chocolate mixes, a jar of cinnamon sticks (well, actually, cassia, but normal people are not as snobbish about this as I am), and bay leaves. Don’t ask me to explain the latter, because I can’t. Unfortunately, it got chosen towards the end, so it’s hard to say if it would have gotten stolen. I ended up with a set of teas and an infuser, along with hot chocolate sticks and a Trader Joe’s shopping bag.

The final party was at my former great-grandboss’s house. That one was pot luck and I find it intriguing that the offerings included Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy’s chili. I brought a Mediterranean pasta salad, for which I will offer a recipe below. There was good conversation and entertainment, in the form of our hosts (and their daughter) singing and me telling a couple of stories. The downside was that the party was in Manassas and, oy, that is a long drive. At least the morning ice storm was long since over and the roads were in good shape.

Flyertalk Dinner: I posted that it had been a while since we’d had a get-together, expecting people to suggest something after Christmas. But it turned out that a lot of people were free on Thursday night. We went to Sine Irish Pub in Pentagon City, which is always reliable. It was cold enough out to justify eating things like shepherd’s pie or fish and chips. And, of course, there was the usual travel conversation.

Silver Belles: This was a cute little holiday musical at Signature Theatre. The premise is that the Silver Belles of Silver Ridge, Tennessee put on an annual pageant for the local orphans. But now their leader, Oralene, had been struck dead by a bolt of lightning (which also, not coincidentally, destroyed her still) and they are struggling to put the pageant together. Oralene gets to influence things from beyond the grave.

There’s a lot of Southern-inflected humor and quirky characters and reasonably lively music. Donna Migliacci was excellent as Oralene. I want to particularly point out her expressive reactions to the crazy things the rest of the Belles do. There was also great chemistry between her and Dan Manning, who played her husband, Earl. The other outstanding performance is by the always wonderful Nova Payton. However, it bothered me that she as the one African-American performer was playing the sexy, vamp role.

I’m not big on either Christmas fare or country(ish) music, but I still thought this was worth seeing. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the umpty-umpth version of A Christmas Carol.

Carousel: Finally, I went to see Carousel at Arena Stage. I’ve always been lukewarm towards this musical. There is some lovely music, e.g. "The Carousel Waltz," but I have trouble with the whole "he’s your man, so you put up with him even when he hurts you" stuff. In short, I think Billy is a jerk and Julie is an idiot. And, yes, I understand the psychological damage abuse does and why Julie behaves the way she does, but it still annoys me.

The performances are excellent, with Nicholas Rodriguez as Billy Bigelow, Betsy Morgan as Julie Jordan, and Kate Rockwell as Carrie Pipperidge. It is also a pleasure to see actual dancing on stage. But, overall, I find the story too off-putting. If I have to see a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, give me South Pacific.

Le Catch-up

Dec. 1st, 2016 05:05 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Oy, am I behind. But I won’t get caught up by kvetching alone, so here is an attempt at catching up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Yaffa Eliach was a Holocaust historian. Robert Vaughan was an actor, best known for playing Napoleon Solo on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Little known fact is that I had a Napoleon Solo doll when I was a kid and he had a wonderful relationship with Barbie, often helping her escape from Russian spies and wild animals and so on. Leon Russell was a musician and songwriter. Gwen Ifill was a journalist, primarily on PBS. Mose Allison was a jazz pianist. Whitney Smith designed the flag of Guyana, which I mention only because he is claimed to have coined the word "vexillology," thus enabling Sheldon Cooper’s "Fun With Flags" shtick on The Big Bang Theory. Ruth Gruber was a journalist and humanitarian. Sharon Jones was a soul singer. Ben Zion Shenker was a rabbi and composer of over 500 Hasidic niggunim. Florence Henderson was an actress, best known for portraying Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. Ron Glass was also an actor and associated in my mind with his role on Barney Miller. Grant Tinker was a television executive, including heading NBC in the 1980’s. And, of course, he was the husband of Mary Tyler Moore before that. Michael "Jim" Deiligatti invented the Big Mac. Brigid O’Brien followed in the tradition of her father, Pat, and acted.

Leonard Cohen was a singer-songwriter, who I’ve always thought of as the Poet Laureate of Depression. That isn’t intended as a negative statement. It just means that there are times when you need to wallow in despair and his music suited that mood perfectly.

Melvin Laird was the Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 (under Richard Nixon). While serving in Congress, he supposedly convinced Spiro Agnew to resign the Vice Presidency. He had a lot of influence on how Pentagon budgeting is done. Most importantly, he ended the Vietnam era conscription and initiated the All Volunteer Force.

Jay Forrester was, essentially, the founder of system dynamics. I will admit to qualms about the application of systems models for economic analysis, but his work did enable the growth of systems thinking in the world at large. Hence, he made a difference in the opportunities I’ve had in my career.

And then there was Fidel Castro. He was a dictator and it’s clear that he oppressed the Cuban people. On the other hand, his commitment to education and health care was real. That doesn’t balance out the evils of his government, of course. I will note, however, that the U.S. has had a lot less animosity against lots of dictators who are at least equally bad. How much do you hear about Teodoro Obiang Nguerna Mbasogo, for example? Admittedly, Equatorial Guinea )see, I saved you from having to look him up) isn’t 90 miles from Florida, but the point remains that the treatment of Cuba has not been entirely rational. I am hoping that Fidel’s death may work towards normalizing things. I do still hope to go to Cuba at some point, since my grandfather lived there in the 1920’s and my grandparents met and married there.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Milt Eisner was a member of my chavurah. He was a retired statistician and a puzzle person, who competed at least a few times in the ACPT.

Condo Association Meeting: Our annual meeting was right after election day. It wasn’t too painful. And they had good brownies.

WBRS Reception: Then came the William Barton Rogers Society reception. This is an MIT related thing and a reward for a certain level of donation. It was at the Mayflower, which is less impressive than one might think. They served heavy hors d’oeuvres. The speaker was John Lienhard, who is the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. He was reasonably entertaining. But, really, the value of these events is the opportunity to have intelligent conversations before the main speaker.

Housecleaning and Swap Hosting: Hosting a story swap forced me to do a certain amount of house cleaning. It is fairly appalling to turn up coupons that expired two years ago and such.

Anyway, there was a small group at the swap but it was still enjoyable. I was particularly pleased that Margaret told a First Nations story that is, apparently, in the novel Mrs. Mike, a book I remember entirely for some gruesome medical details involving: 1) diphtheria and 2) amputation.

JGS 36th Anniversary Luncheon: The meal was just okay, but the talk, by Arthur Kurzweil, was excellent. He was entertaining and inspiring. I have commented in the past about genealogy in terms of connectedness to my family’s history and I’ve also thought about that connectivity when I go to shul, admittedly all too rarely. (That is, by the way, why I prefer a more traditional service.) Anyway, as always, it is all about stories and he told good ones.

Book Club: We had a good discussion of How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which involves a Japanese war bride. But I am getting increasingly annoyed at the racism (and other general narrowmindedness) of one person in the group. Sigh.

Work: Work has been particularly hectic lately. I was at a full day class one day and have been in endless meetings other days. The telephone is also both my chief tool and the bane of my existence. I’ve also been suffering a lot of IT hell, with issues on three of the four systems I use. However, I suppose it is worth it as I did get a very positive performance review.

The Secret Garden: I went with a friend to see The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. This is one of my favorite Broadway scores of all time. Really, almost the whole score is earworm worthy. I do still think that the book, even as somewhat rewritten here, is probably incomprehensible to anyone who have never read the original novel. But who cares when there is such luscious music with songs like "Lily’s Eyes" and "Where in the World" and
"How Could I Ever Know?" (They did, alas, cut out "Race You to the Top of the Morning.") I should also mention the excellent performances, including Anya Rothman’s as Mary Lennox,, Josh Young as Neville, and, especially, Michael Xavier as Archibald and Lizzie Klepmperar as Lily. (Note, too, that Daisy Egan, who played Mary Lennox on Broadway in 1991 and won a Tony at it, plays Martha, but that’s not an especially showy role.) Anyway, if you live here, go to see this show. If you don’t, you could do worse than to listen to the original cast recording a few thousand times.

Martinique: Finally, I went to Martinique this past weekend. It sounds unlikely, but Norwegian flies from BWI to Martinique and Guadeloupe at very low fares, so why not? I stayed at the Hotel Bambou in the Trois Islet area, which was decent enough for the price. They were very friendly, but the wifi in the room didn’t work well and, while the price included both breakfast and dinner, the dinner buffet was not very good. One expects better of a French colony.

Anyway, it was an easy ferry ride to Fort de France, the capital, where I was eager to see the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, which is very impressive indeed. It was built in France in 1889, then disassembled and shipped piece by piece to Martinique. Schoelcher, by the way, was the major abolitionist writer of the French West Indies. I spent a couple of more hours meandering around the city, which has some interesting architecture (somewhat akin in New Orleans). The Grand Marche was another highlight, especially as there was a lively band playing in front. Overall, it was worth a few hours meandering around.

My rule of thumb for travel is that I need to do something every day, so my Sunday venture was to Musee de la Pagerie, which was the birthplace of Empress Josephine. There was a special exhibit about the history of jazz, but it was dense words, entirely in French, so I didn’t read much of it. The actual museum has pictures of Josephine, along with a few of Napoleon, as well as a few artifacts, many of which I gathered are reproductions. There is also a sugar house (the family was in the sugar cane business) and attractive grounds.

Other than that, I spent time swimming, both in the pool and in the sea. And lazing on the beach. I walked up to the casino, which is remarkably unimpressive, and to the Creole Village shops, which are likewise.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough but not especially exciting trip.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Ralph Cicerone headed the National Academy of Sciences from 2005 until this past June. Rick Steiner was a Broadway producer, notably of The Producers. Janet Reno was the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the U.S.

Klezmer Brass All Stars: I only made it to one concert of this year’s Washington Jewish Music Festival, largely due to the inevitable schedule conflicts. Fortunately, I was able to make it to see Eleanor Reissa, Frank London, and the Klezmer Brass All-Stars. Frank London is, of course, the Klezmer trumpeter of our age and has collaborated with a large range of musicians from many cultures. Performing with Eleanor Reissa is pretty mainstream for him, but that was fine. Eleanor Reissa is well-known as a Yiddish singer and, while her running joke of pretending she was translating for those in the audience who spoke only some relatively unlikely language (e.g. "this is for our Swahili friends") grated on me a bit, the woman can sing. I particularly liked her sultry rendition of Fargess Mir Nit. I also need to point out that Michael Winograd was there on clarinet, because he’s a pretty big name on his own. The concert had the title Vilde Mekhaye (which translates to Wild Ecstasy) and that was pretty accurate.

Freaky Friday: I went to see the new Disney musical, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre this weekend. I don’t remember the original movie well enough to say how true to it the musical was, but it did follow the same basic story of mother and daughter switching bodies and learning about each other in the process. The music and lyrics are by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, who were also responsible for Next to Normal (and If / Then, which I didn’t see).

This was fairly frothy, but it was fun. The music was often lively, though some of the rhymes in the lyrics were a bit strained. The real key to this was the performances by Emma Hunton (daughter Ellie) and Heidi Blickenstaff (mother Katherine), who were both perfectly on the mark. And, as the song "Busted" reveals, not quite as different from one another as it might seem. Remembering back to my teenage years and my relationship with my mother then, I thought the dynamics seemed very realistic. Overall, while there was nothing revolutionary here, it was an entertaining few hours, which is about what I want out of a musical.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Kevin Meaney was a comic actor. Sheri S. Tepper wrote science fiction under her own name and mysteries as B, J. Oliphant and as A. J. Orde. I am intrigued by the titles of a few of the pamphlets she wrote for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, which include "The Great Orgasm Robbery" and "So Your Happily Ever After Isn’t." Colin Snedeker invented the washable crayon. Jack Chick published fundamentalist Christian tracts, which you have almost certainly seen as his followers seemed fond of leaving them on parked cars. Tom Hayden was a member of the SDS who grew up to marry Jane (and divorce) Jane Fonda and to serve in the California Assembly and, later, state Senate. I lived in his district for a while and was always happy to vote against him. Bobby Vee was a pop singer, best known for "Take Good Care of My Baby." Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Everest.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was at a story swap at the home of someone I worked with about 8 years ago. Only one other storyteller showed up, but then left, leaving me alone in the living room with a television on. Three dogs came into the room and one settled in next to me and began telling me how it wanted me to pet it. Sooner or later, I fell asleep on the floor, with this dog next to me. When I woke up, it had turned into a rather attractive man. It was morning and more people began arriving. The man began explaining how he had become a werewolf.

Party weekend: Last weekend was just filled with socializing. Well, okay, two events. One was a friend’s book launch party on Saturday afternoon. Then, on Sunday afternoon, there was a get-together with some flyertalk friends. Both were lots of fun, with good conversation and good food. Which is pretty much what parties should be about.

Speaking of That Book Launch: Jessica Piscitelli Robinson has written a novel titled Caged. I admit that urban fantasy isn't a genre I normally read, but since I know her and all, I bought it and pretty much devoured it. There are lots of things I could quibble about, largely because I am somewhat of a purist on the subject of vampires, but she has a knack for chapter endings that leave just enough hanging to make one want to keep reading. And I do like novels with strong female characters. If you like a real pageturner and can handle a certain amount of gore, I recommend it.

Ruthless: I saw Ruthless at Creative Cauldron on Saturday night. This small theatre in Falls Church has become one of my favorites over the past year or so and this production hit the mark again. It’s a rather silly show, with lots of insider references to musicals (and movies). The story involves a talented young girl, Tina Denmark (ably played by Sophia Manicone), her mother, Judy (played by Katie McManus, a local favorite), and Sylvia St. Croix (played by Alan Naylor), who shows up to mentor Tina. There are other characters, too, notably Lita Encore, Judy’s adoptive mother (played by Kathy Halenda), who sings the showy and hysterical "I Hate Musicals." But the focus is on Tina, who will do anything for the lead in the school play. And then there are the secrets lurking in Judy’s past and Sylvia’s… The book is a bit predictable, but this was an excellent cast and the company made great use of the small space.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Sir Neville Marriner was a conductor, probably best known for founding the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Bing Thom was the architect who designed, among other things, the Mead Center for Arena Stage here in Washington. Brock Yates was an automotive journalist and the creator of The Cannonball Run (both the actual race and the movie). Jacob Neusner was a Conservative Jewish scholar and notable the volume of his publications.

Oscar Brand was a folksinger and, more significantly, a popularizer of folk music on radio and recordings. He was one of the original organizers of the Newport Folk Festival. We had a couple of his record collections when I was growing up and they definitely contributed to forming my taste.

The Wild Party: I went to Baltimore on Saturday to see Iron Crow Theatre’s production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, which a friend’s daughter had a part in. It’s an interesting show, based on a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. The same season Lippa’s adaptation played off-Broadway, Michael John LaChiusa had his version playing on Broadway and I’d be very interesting in seeing that version. Anyway, the story is very dark, with the abusive relationship between Queenie (ably played by Allison Bradbury) and Burrs (played by Justin Michael Mazzella, the only Equity member of the cast). I also want to add kudos to Valerie Holt as Madelaine True, who gets the comic relief in the song, "An Old-Fashioned Love Story." My major quibble is that Lippa’s music doesn’t completely fit the jazz age setting, but much of it is enjoyable despite that. All in all, it was well worth seeing.

JGSGW Meeting: Sunday was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting. This month’s theme was "Ask the Experts." Unfortunately, the limited time meant that there wasn’t a huge amount of depth to the Q&A. So I can’t say that I learned anything much new. But the schmoozing is always worthwhile.

Another Genealogy Note: The New York City Marriage Index, recently made available due to the fine work of Reclaim the Records, has filled in a couple of odds and ends for me. There are actual certificates to obtain and some information still missing, but progress is progress, however slow.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Joyce Carol Thomas wrote over 30 children’s books. Aboud Jumbe was the President of Zanzibar from 1872-1984. S. R. Nathan was the President of Singapore from 1999-2011. Choo-Choo Coleman played for the Mets in the 1960’s. Oddly enough, actor Marvin Kaplan, who also died recently, voiced a character named Choo-Choo in the Top Cat cartoons. This might not be a good time to ride on trains, lest there be other choo-choo demises.

Jack Riley played Elliot Carlin, the neurotic patient on The Bob Newhart Show. Irving Fields played piano and wrote such lounge music as "Managua, Nicaragua," as well as recording Jewish comedy songs. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was a Shoah survivor who went on to found Hineni, a major center for bringing people back to their Jewish heritage. John McLaughlin hosted a political talk show. Joe Sutter was the chief designer of the Boeing 747. Doris McLemore was the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language. Fred Hellerman had been the last surviving original member of The Weavers.

Bigger news, of course, is the death of Gene Wilder. Most of the news stories highlighted his performance as Willy Wonka, but I think his best work was for Mel Brooks, in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. He had a distinctive comic style, which I sometimes found a bit too manic for my tastes, but was often genuinely funny. I am, by the way, rather peeved about people saying that now he is reunited with Gilda Radner. He had been married twice before her and, more significantly, remarried after her death. Karen Boyer was with him for the last 20-something years, including caring for him after he was stricken with Alzheimer’s. It is pretty offensive to ignore that.

In the world of politics, Islam Karimov was the "president" (really dictator) of Uzbekistan. I have a particular fascination with Central Asia, with Samarkand and Bukhara high on the list of places I want to visit, so it will be interesting to see what happens there now that he is dead.

Finally, Phyllis Schlafly was a conservative activist. One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I will make an exception in her case to point out her hypocrisy in opposing women’s rights while working as lawyer herself. The thing I think is most memorable about her is her fictional debate with Joanie Caucus in the Doonesbury comic strip. I consider that a reason not to wear salmon. (Aside from, of course, the fact that I look terrible in salmon.) Anyway, she was pretty much opposed to everything I believe in, so I wish her politics vanished with her. But I have little hope of that.

A Political Mini-Rant: I am mildly annoyed to see t-shirts and such that advertise the Democratic candidate as Hillary, vs. Clinton (or, preferably, using her full name). It seems to me disrespectful to call a woman by her first name, while a male candidate is referred to by his surname. I do realize that part of the advertising is to distinguish her from Bill, but that sort of distinction wasn’t really used in the case of the younger Bush.

Cirque du Soleil – Kurios: I went to see the current Cirque du Soleil show at Tyson’s Corner with a couple of friends on Friday night. Kurios has a definite steampunk aesthetic in its design of sets and costumes, with the usual exquisite attention to details that Cirque is known for. That makes it more than just the incredible acrobatics, though the circus skills are decidedly impressive. For example, the guy who balances on a board stacked on balls and cylinders, including a bit on a moving swing, was very impressive. And the trampoline group was breathtaking. More surprisingly, the contortionists were showy without being creepy. The only act I didn’t particularly care for was a mime act in which a woman from the audience was pulled on stage to sit on a sofa while the mime acted out various animals. All in all it was an excellent show. I did wish I had realized how close the tent was to the metro station, as I could have saved myself $25 in parking.

Jelly’s Last Jam: Saturday I saw Jelly’s Last Jam at Signature Theatre. It was rather different from what I was expecting. I assumed it would be more or less a jukebox musical, highlighting Jelly Roll Morton’s songs. While it did have several of his songs, the show was much darker, focused on his own ambiguity about race, with his claims to have been a Creole and not an African-American, leading to his racist behavior towards people who should have been his friends and supporters. That gave the show a lot more depth and I thought it was well worth seeing. I also want to note the performance of Mark Meadows in the title role. He is known as a jazz musician and, while he had not acted previously, I thought he was convincingly expressive. I was also impressed by Felicia Boswell as Anita. I was less impressed with my seat, which was in the nightclub section on the floor, making it awkward to see some of the action.

My Birthday: I made it to 58. I didn’t really do anything to celebrate my birthday. Well, I did go to knitting group, avoid housework for the day (after being fairly productive at home on Saturday), and eat chocolate lava cake for dessert.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I only went to four shows this year, which was a trade-off between the ticket discount for getting a show package and juggling other schedule things.


Show #1 – Do Not Disturb: I’m not really a big opera person and I actively dislike farce. So why did I go to see what appeared to be an operatic farce? Well, I am a fan of the Victorian Lyric Opera Company, who put on this show under the moniker "The Forgotten Opera Company," which they apparently use as an alter-ego for producing contemporary works.

Anyway, this 90 minute opera tells the story of a young lawyer, Ethan Rosenblum (played by the composer, Sean Pflueger), who calls in sick to take his girlfriend, Emma, to a resort, where he plans to propose to her. His boss, George Rosenburg, also shows up at the resort, where he is having a tryst with a judge named Virginia. His cover for the affair is that he is taking his niece, Roxanne, back to college. But Sandra, George’s wife has hired Roxane to try to get proof of the extra-marital affair. Throw in a desk clerk who spends all his time looking up trivia on his cell phone and, therefore, gets Rosenblum and Rosenburg confused, and you have classic farce, with guests being taken to the wrong rooms and so on.

The music was rather atonal and, frankly, not to my taste. But the lyrics were sufficiently Gilbertian to make this amusing. The real highlight was the quality of the performances. Sean Pflueger obviously wrote the role of Ethan to play up his strengths. Alexandra Friendly was impressive as an increasingly frustrated Emma, while John Boulanger did well as the unlikeable George and Stephanie Kruskol was a convincingly millennial Roxanne. The best performance was by Michelle Kunz, as the sultry judge, whose antics with a gavel were suggestively over the top. All in all, this was a fun show.


Show #2 – Perfect Liars Club: Four people tell stories. Three are true and one is a lie. The audience gets to interrogate them and tries to decide who the liar is. This was the fringe edition of a monthly D.C. event, which has featured several storytellers I know. The first teller was a Cambodian woman named Davine, who told a rambling and disconnected piece involving a potential arranged marriage, a fortune teller, and a sexually charged relationship with someone she reencountered after a decade. Then came Cait, whose well-told piece involved meeting a third cousin in Ireland and exploring a potential relationship with him, despite his interest really being in how marriage would enable him to get a house he wanted. A guy named Andre told a story about teaching in Hungary, getting invited to a pig roast, and possibly being coerced into smuggling over the Croatian border. Finally, a man named Mike told of an encounter with Donald Rumsfeld and what he wanted to say to him but didn’t.

The interrogation was pretty wide ranging, but, frankly, the tellers who were more polished (Cait and Andre) remained so, while Davine and Mike still came across as nervous. Given the impressions they made while performing initially, this didn’t really help with in figuring out who the liar was. I voted for Cait, largely on the grounds that it’s easier to be more polished with a lie. The audience went mostly for Mike, with a significant minority for Davine. Alas, the liar was Andre.

Overall, this show was reasonably entertaining, not least because of Cara Foran’s emceeing. But the quality of the storytelling was highly variable and I think this sort of thing works better in a bar environment than it does on a stage in a library basement.


Show #3 – Ready to Serve: This is the show I was more or less obliged to see, as Ellouise Schoettler is a friend and I know she is an excellent storyteller. This piece, one of many she has done for the Capital Fringe over the years, had to do with women who went to France as nurses in World War I. The conditions they worked in were deplorable, with freezing bunkers as wards (and dormitory) and no hot water. And, of course, there was the emotional stress of dealing with men who had had limbs blown off or were gassed or were just sick. (Remember, far more people were killed by disease in WWI than by the war itself.) Ellouise painted vivid word pictures through the eyes of one (composite) woman and frequently used simple repetition to emphasize the horrors of the conditions. Overall, a very well-done piece with stories that need to be heard more often.


Show #4 – Romanov: I will admit that I chose this show largely because it was a convenient location and time to fill out the four-pack of tickets I’d bought. Of the shows that met the time and location criteria, a pop musical about the end of the Russian dynasty sounded fairly appealing. The idea was that the 4 sisters (Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia) and their brother Alexei have come back for one night only to give a concert telling their story. I can’t say there was anything there I didn’t already know, but it did turn out to be pretty entertaining, with surprisingly catchy songs. Composer and co-lyricist Danny Baird played Alexei, the hemophiliac tsarovich, while his lyric-writing partner, Meghan Stanton, was Marie and directed the show. The other sisters were played by Catherine Purcell (Olga), Alicia Osborn (Tatiana), and Allie O’Donnell (Anastasia). This was pretty much an ensemble piece, though each performer did get a highlight number. The final song,"Romanov," was a bit of an earworm, though the real musical highlight was "The Next Room.”" This was decidedly fringy and not mainstream theatre, but I think they said that about Hamilton at first, too. Baird is clearly talented, though Lin-Manuel Miranda he’s not. Still, it was worth the investment of a little over 45 minutes.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
So what else is new?

Celebrity Death Watch: Noel Neill played Lois Lane on the 1950’s Adventures of Superman series. Abner Mikva was a representative from Illinois and, later, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Max Ticktin was a leader of both Hillel and Chavurah Judaism (playing a key role in Fabrangen, here in D.C., for example), as well as teaching at George Washington University.

Elie Wiesel deserves his own paragraph. I first encountered him when I was 13 or 14 and read The Town Beyond the Wall. This was the novel that got me started keeping a commonplace book (that is, a collection of quotes), because I felt compelled to copy down his condemnation of indifference. I went on to read several of Wiesel’s other works and, of course, he was a highly visible voice of witness regarding the Shoah. In short, he was one of the reasons I feel the obligation to tell the stories of my family. Memory is important.

The Bridges of Madison County: I have neither read this novel nor seen the movie adaptation, so I can’t say how true to the source material this musical, which I saw last week at The Kennedy Center, is. The great surprise of the evening was that composer Jason Robert Brown was conducting the score himself and I found it interesting to watch his conducting, which was fluid. As for the show, I thought the first act dragged a bit, but the second act really caught me. I did seem to have gotten something in my eyes during parts of it. Overall, I liked much of the score and still have "One Second and a Million Miles" stuck in my head. I do, however, wish there was more actual choreography. As for the performances, they were all at least okay, though Elizabeth Stanley’s Italian accent seemed uneven to me. The highlights were the comic relief provided by the neighbors, played by Mary Callanan and David Hess. Overall, it was worth seeing.

DNA: I sent in my sample to Family Tree DNA several weeks ago and got results back a couple of weeks ago. The first match I had was with a (known) second cousin once removed. Figuring out potential relationships is tricky as so many people don’t really list info in their profiles, and I am probably guilty of not having filled mine out enough either. Anyway, my haplogroup on the maternal side is V7a and my ancestry is claimed to be 98% Ashkenazi Jewish and 2% North African, which is not especially surprising. I need to invest some time in understanding all this and how to sort through the 700+ matches I have.

Long Weekend: I had grand plans for organizing and decluttering. Well, at least I did laundry and went to knitting group. (I did go through some things, but, sheesh, there is an awful lot of crap of stuff in my place.)

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