Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More Willies!

So I'm looking at the digitized back issues of the New Yorker to see what they said about the first American production of WAITING FOR GODOT - the one that starred Bert Lahr (yes, the Cowardly Lion.) They had alot to say, but more about that later because I was surprised to bump into our old friend Willie the Whaler!

I blogged about Willie yesterday, but I thought his ad was kind of a one-off, really I didn't think about it too much. But I found him in the December 7, 1940 issue, the May 19, 1956 issue and the February 25, 1961 issue. The Willie the Whaler ad campaign went on for at least 21 years!

This is Willie in 1940, obviously influenced by WWII:

And here he is in 1961:

Clearly the guy who owns the ship on which Willie toils is a sadist, since what Willie is saying here, I believe, is that this is his punishment for helping himself to the on-board alcohol provisions. Although another possible reading is that the owner is deeply homophobic.

You can see in this ad that the hotel in which the Whaler Bar was located changed its name from Midston House to Hotel Lancaster. It changed its name again, as the New York Times explains on September 11, 1983:
When it was built in 1923, the Midston House, at the corner of 38th Street and Madison Avenue, was conceived as a club-style hotel, with much of its space devoted to lounges and public rooms.

But in a major renovation in the early 1960's the lounge space was converted into a street-level restaurant and the coffee shop was expanded.

At that time, the hotel was renamed the Lancaster.

The 60-year-old hotel is again undergoing a face lift, and it again is getting a new name, Madison Towers. ''We are not trying to recreate the interior design of the old hotel but capture some of that elegant atmosphere,'' said Mary Diem, vice president and managing director.

The architectural firm of Laurence Werfel and Associates is responsible for much of the $5 million renovation project. So far it has restored the structure's brown sandstone facade, installed a marble floor and new furnishings in the lobby and done a floor-by-floor redesign of most of the hotel's 300 rooms.

Workmen are now putting the finishing touches on the renovation of the Whaler Bar and the mezzanine banquet and meeting rooms.

The hotel still exists and is now called Jolly Madison Towers - the Jolly being a hotel chain, nothing to do with a Jolly Roger. And amazingly, the Whaler Bar is still there:

I really want to check this out. And looky what I found on eBay - Whaler Bar matches.

AND a postcard

I feel very compelled to buy these - they're cheap and it's what Willie would want.

Monday, November 29, 2010

more cartoon cut-ups

Well I meant to read the entire run of The New Yorker with some method to my madness - say chronologically - but that is not alas how Nancy G rolls.

I decided to see what they had to say about "The Catcher in the Rye" when it was released, but the piece they did in the August 11 1951 issue is not so much a review as a recap of the entire book. The writer does love the book, which is funny because according to the October 1, 2001 issue of the New Yorker:
The Catcher in the Rye” was turned down by The New Yorker. The magazine had published six of J. D. Salinger’s short stories, including two of the most popular, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” in 1948, and “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor,” in 1950. But when the editors were shown the novel they declined to run an excerpt. They told Salinger that the precocity of the four Caulfield children was not believable, and that the writing was showoffy—that it seemed designed to display the author’s cleverness rather than to present the story. “The Catcher in the Rye” had already been turned down by the publishing house that solicited it, Harcourt Brace, when an executive there named Eugene Reynal achieved immortality the bad way by complaining that he couldn’t figure out whether or not Holden Caulfield was supposed to be crazy. Salinger’s agent took the book to Little, Brown, where the editor, John Woodburn, was evidently prudent enough not to ask such questions. It was published in July, 1951, and has so far sold more than sixty million copies.

Read more

Here is a sample of the "review" along with a cartoon.

Having read the book several times I'm less interested in the article than the cartoon. In the cartoon we see a television salesman in the rain, his TV screens declaring that the Yankees game is rained out. This cartoon reveals the existential irony of modern technological devices - yes, television salesman, your television tells you what you already see with your own two eyes - it is raining and therefore the baseball game is rained out. Oh modern Ozymandias!

Here is another sample, with ad:

I'm not sure what I find more disturbing - herring in wine sauce in a jar - or that they are quote party snacks unquote.

This cartoon from the same issue is disturbing on many levels, and not just the hats:

The New Yorker helpfully provides a page with links to all the stories it published by Salinger. The one I find most interesting is Slight Rebellion Off Madison since it is an early incarnation of Holden Caulfield and has not been published anywhere else. Unlike Catcher it's written in third-person:
The next day was a Thursday and Holden took Sally to the matinee of "O Mistress Mine," which neither of them had seen. During the first intermission, they smoked in the lobby and vehemently agreed with each other that the Lunts were marvellous. George Harrison, of Andover, also was smoking in the lobby and he recognized Sally, as she hoped he would. They had been introduced once at a party and had never seen each other since. Now, in the lobby of the Empire, they greeted each other with the gusto of two who might frequently have taken baths together as small children. Sally asked George if he didn't think the show was marvellous. George gave himself a little room for his reply, bearing down on the foot of the woman behind him. He said that the play itself certainly was no masterpiece, but that the Lunts, of course, were absolute angels.

"Angels," Holden thought, "Angels. For Chrissake. Angels."

Here's a clip from the issue, with the piquant "Willie the Whaler" ad.

In the context I assume "crinkum-crankum" means whale. The origin of the term is pretty interesting, according to Sex-Lex, the dictionary of sexual terms:

crinkum crankum:
Obsolete, late 18 th -early 19 th century term for the vagina , the vulva , and the interlabial-slit , based on the original meaning of the word, a narrow, winding passage. Defined by Captain Francis Grose in Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) as: ' A woman's-commodity .' See vagina for synonyms.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire

I have a shout-out to Joni Mitchell's Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire, from her 1972 For the Roses in JULIA AND BUDDY:


A pre-emptive strike against a broken heart? Nobody can live that way. You might as well be dead.


The thought has occurred to me:
“Do you want to contact somebody first? Leave someone a letter? You’re gonna come now or you’re gonna come later.”


I guess Schopenhauer had a line for everything.


That’s Joni Mitchell.

The song is usually described as "about a heroin addict" which is true - and certainly the title is a reference to shooting heroine - but what struck me most when I first heard the song, I guess I was about fourteen, was the reference to suicide. It struck me at the time, and still does, as an impressively succinct and poetical way to refer to suicide - and you wouldn't be sure what she's talking about except that she mentions the suicide note - "leave someone a letter" - followed by the indisputable reality of suicide vs. death: you're gonna come now or you're gonna come later. Not killing yourself is only staving off the inevitable.

I have Buddy mistake the lyric for something from Schopenhauer (they had been arguing about Schopenhauer) which is perfectly understandable because Schopenhauer pointed out the same thing, on many occasions, and with unusual clarity for a philosopher - but never as poetically as Mitchell does.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mergatroyd blog

The Mergatroyd Productions web site is now a blog

good issue of the New Yorker

Every now and then the New Yorker will come out with an issue that is overflowing with great articles. The November 29, 2010 issue is definitely an example:
  • The Fun Stuff: Drumming like Keith Moon. by James Wood - great appreciation of Keith Moon
  • Puppetry by Hendrik Hertzberg - scathing piece that I blogged about a couple of days ago about the latest Glenn Beck foray into demagoguery. Best metaphor simile ever:
    Call us oversensitive, but when our efforts are shanghaied like a nineteenth-century sailor and forced to work as a deckhand aboard a ship of lies, we can’t help getting our hackles up.
  • What Good Is Wall Street? Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless. by John Cassidy - a very timely examination of the social worth of Wall Street - I already thought this was an important article - but now even more so since I saw Inside Job.
  • Dead Certain - The Presidential memoirs of George W. Bush. by George Packer - incisive review of Bush's memoir.

  • “Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1.” by Adam Gopnik - long and thoughtful piece about the recent release of Mark Twain's autobiography. I especially agree with his comments about "the Evasion" section of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - I've said very much the same thing in the past:
    Which makes the novel's botched last third all the more exasperating - those chapters in which Huck falls back in with Tom Sawyer, who conceives a tedious, romantic plan to "rescue" the already emancipated Jim. One wants to defend the ending... but it's indefensible, callow and dull, and the only explanation is that Twain's show-biz instincts - Tom Sawyer's a hit, everyone likes him, that shtick is gold - got the better of him.
    Although I will note that the bit with Tom and Huck hiding the silverware from Aunt Sally was pretty funny - I laughed out loud the first time I read it. Twain knew funny, even if he didn't know how to end the Great American Novel.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Inside Job

If you have not seen the movie Inside Job yet, run out now and see it. This is an incredibly important movie.

You will be incredibly annoyed though, I guarantee it, and want to jump into the movie and kick people's asses - especially the asses of Lawrence Summers and Glenn Hubbard.

Nobody had to tell me what an idiot Lawrence Summers was - I knew it since his "women are less good at math/science" speech at Harvard when he was its president. I've blogged about that several times, most relevantly in October 2008.

But the biggest asshole award goes to Glenn Hubbard. According to Wiki:
A supply-side economist, he was instrumental in the design of the 2003 Bush Tax cuts[7] -- an issue which split the economics profession on ideological lines, with those leaning left opposed and those leaning right supportive. See Economists' statement opposing the Bush tax cuts.

The script of Inside Job is available from the movie's own web site: Here is a section with Glenn Hubbard - btw the narrator is Matt Damon:
GLENN HUBBARD: I've taught at Northwestern and Chicago, Harvard and Columbia.

NARRATOR: Glenn Hubbard is the dean of Columbia Business School, and was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush.


CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think the financial services industry has too much, uh, political power in the United States?

GLENN HUBBARD: I don't think so, no. You certainly, you certainly wouldn't get that impression by the drubbing that they regularly get, uh, in Washington.


NARRATOR: Many prominent academics quietly make fortunes while helping the financial industry shape public debate and government policy. The Analysis Group, Charles River Associates, Compass Lexecon, and the Law and Economics Consulting Group manage a multi-billion-dollar industry that provides academic experts for hire.


Two bankers who used these services were Ralph Ciofi and Matthew Tannin, Bear Stearns hedge fund managers prosecuted for securities fraud. After hiring The Analysis Group, both were acquitted.

Glenn Hubbard was paid 100,000 dollars to testify in their defense.


CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think that the economics discipline has, uh, a conflict of
interest problem?

GLENN HUBBARD: I'm not sure I know what you mean.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think that a significant fraction of the economics discipline, a number of economists, have financial conflicts of interests that in some way might call into question or color –

GLENN HUBBARD: Oh, I see what you're saying. I doubt it. You know, most academic economists, uh, you know, aren't wealthy businesspeople.


NARRATOR: Hubbard makes 250,000 dollars a year as a board member of Met Life, and was formerly on the board of Capmark, a major commercial mortgage lender during the bubble, which went bankrupt in 2009. He has also advised Nomura Securities, KKR
Financial Corporation, and many other financial firms.

But to get the full flavor of exactly how much contempt Glenn Hubbard has for anybody who would dare question any possible conflicts of interest he might have:


CHARLES FERGUSON: I'm looking at your resume now. It looks to me as if the majority of your outside activities are, uh, consulting and directorship arrangements with the financial services industry. Is that, would you not agree with that characterization?


GLENN HUBBARD: No, to my knowledge, I don't think my consulting clients are even on my CV, so –

CHARLES FERGUSON: Uh, who are your consulting clients?

GLENN HUBBARD: I don't believe I have to discuss that with you.


GLENN HUBBARD: Look, you have a few more minutes, and the interview is over.


CHARLES FERGUSON: Do they include other financial services firms?


CHARLES FERGUSON: You don't remember?

GLENN HUBBARD: This isn't a deposition, sir. I was polite enough to give you time; foolishly, I now see. But you have three more minutes. Give it your best shot.

Why should the mighty Glenn Hubbard have to discuss such things with a peon?

transcript of NPR interview with filmmaker Charles Ferguson

Well this is an unusual situation for me - I want to see three movies released within a 3-month period. Inside Job, Fair Game which I plan to see on Tuesday and the remake of True Grit which comes out in early December. Both Inside Job and True Grit feature Matt Damon, who is looking mighty fine as a Texas ranger:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

my traditional Thanksgiving meal

Today is Thanksgiving and that means the traditional meal at the French bistro in TriBeCa, Capsouto Freres oh la la! I've been doing this with family and friends every year (with two notable exceptions) since I moved to the NYC area.

You haven't had a Thanksgiving meal until you've had a pumpkin souffle. And I have never had a less then excellent bottle of wine there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The New Yorker is righteously angry at Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck has surpassed Rush Limbaugh for the title of Biggest Scum of the Earth:
A grainy photograph shows a grim-faced, middle-aged man glancing furtively over his shoulder. Who is he? The black background again, and this:


More titles, each fading to the next, as the percussive heartbeat grows ominously louder:


Call us oversensitive, but when our efforts are shanghaied like a nineteenth-century sailor and forced to work as a deckhand aboard a ship of lies, we can’t help getting our hackles up. You don’t have to be a professional semiotician to see that the Glenn Beck promo is intended to leave the impression that George Soros, the hedge-fund investor and funder of anti-totalitarian and liberal causes, is an anti-Semite; that he was somehow complicit in the Holocaust; and that he is an enemy of Israel. These are lies—lies told by innuendo, but lies all the same. The promo’s shard of truth is that “The World According to Soros” was indeed published in The New Yorker. Its author was Connie Bruck. (“Bruc” is a Fox flub, not a Fox fib.) The quotes from it, though accurately transcribed, are made to function as lies by being placed in an utterly mendacious context. Bruck’s article is the “source” of these smears only in the sense that the brooks of the Catskills are the “source” of New York City’s sewage.

Read more at the New Yorker

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My zombie play

I'm thinking of writing a zombie play next. But my zombie play will be very different from most movies about zombies. And probably most plays about zombies too, but I've only seen one play about zombies, because there are not many of them, which stands to reason because if there's anything sillier than a movie about zombies it's a play about zombies.

Zombies are so much less threatening than human beings that your script has to be incredibly contrived to make zombies scary - you have to make sure that the humans are vastly outnumbered and/or isolated and/or incapacitated and/or kind of stupid. Because all the zombies I've ever seen portrayed are slow, stupid and easy to kill. Under normal circumstances any reasonably well-funded small-town police force would be able to take out a battalion of zombies with very little trouble, and no police casualties.

And it isn't just that the living, unlike the undead, are responsible for the Holocaust or nuclear weapons - it's because the living are so unpredictable. The living have the element of surprise in their favor. Zombies are entirely predictable. It's just silly to have zombies be a big scary threat in anything, unless you don't mind far-fetched plot contrivances.

So in my play there is a zombie invasion, but the biggest problem is how to dispose of all the zombie carcasses in the most sanitary yet environmentally friendly way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Miss Willow

So few people besides me have ever seen Miss Willow I sometimes feel compelled to post proof of her existence lest I be accused of only having one actual cat and one hallucinatory cat.

Miss Willow is very shy of people, being semi-feral due to being rescued from a crazy cat lady from the NYC suburbs who had a big place and lots of land and no interest in neutering her cats.

Miss Willow has rules. For example, I'm allowed to pet her, but not pick her up. She also has the "one-hand rule" - that is, you may not put more than one hand on her at any time, lest you get any ideas about picking her up. Getting her to the vet is a holy living hell and an all-day project.

But usually she's much more low maintenance than Mr. Fuzz, who pesters me whenever I'm home to play with him - mostly he likes to play with his real-fur mousies - I throw a mousie and he fetches it. But sometimes I throw a paper airplane and he likes that too.

Miss Willow has a few games that she invented. One game she likes to play is "capture the tail" in which she sits just far enough away from me so that she can wag her tail and hit me with it. I have to capture the tail by grabbing it as it sweeps by to hit me, every now and then, but I have to let go almost immediately or she gets annoyed. But if I don't at least try to capture the tail she also gets annoyed. So those are the rules of "capture the tail." It's not an especially sophisticated game, I'll grant you, but whaddya want, she's a cat.

Another game she likes is "Q-tips." I have a box of Q-tips that I use as emergency mousies when I run out of them and Mr. Fuzz is frantic for playtime, and believe me, he goes through ALOT of mousies in a week and we often do run out at incovenient times. But Miss Willow likes Q-tips too - she doesn't fetch them, she just likes to take them out of the box and throw them off the table. Again, Milton-Bradley is never going to come calling for her ideas and she'll just have to live with that.

But who cares, she's so cute!


Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN is one of the greatest plays ever written. I just cannot see how anybody could watch it and not be moved.

That is not to say that critics at the time of OUR TOWN's first production didn't have gripes. This is Robert Benchley's review from the February 12, 1938 issue of The New Yorker:
Jed Harris will probably kill me for calling "Our Town" conventional, for he has gone to a great deal of pains to make it unconventional, almost too great pains at times. He has produced it on a bare stage (which is almost getting to be old-hat by now) and he has eschewed such petty aids to illusion as props. He even refused to pass out programs until the last act, with the result that I got no program. Frank Craven, in the manner of the old Property Man in "The Yellow Jacket", moves what chairs and tables there are and draws the curtains, commenting during the action from the corner of the proscenium and telling us when to go home. In the minds of all concerned it was evidently considered a "departure," if not an "experiment."

But the fact remains that if it were not for Mr. Wilder's inspired words, "Our Town" would be just another of those series of episodes in small-town life of the early nineteen-hundreds dealing with the lives, loves and deaths of the average American of that day. It happens to be a poignant and affecting record, but playing it half in speech and half in dumb show, half with real chairs and half with imaginary lawn-mowers and string beans, adds nothing to its value. To me, as a matter of fact, it was an almost irritating affectation. The use of pantomime in such detailed routines as flapjack-making is a silly procedure at best, suited more for charades and other guessing games, and a serious script has a hard time standing up under the disadvantage of having the audience trying to guess what in the hell the characters are supposed to be doing with their hands. That several of Mr. Wilder's scenes emerge refulgent from all this sign language and wigwagging is a great tribute to his powers as a writer and dramatist. It is all very charming when the Chinese do it, but Mr. Wilder did not write a charming play and we are not Chinese.

That a great many people were not as bothered as I was by all this Ersatz is attested by the fact that I have found few who were not honestly affected by "Our Town." I was affected, too, some of the time by the slightly unfair use of "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" and other nostalgic hymns in the clinches (a ruse for which I am a sucker) and some of the time by the honest and sympathetic performances of the actors, especially Mr. Craven's (his whole soul was in it, you could feel that) and those of his son John and Miss Martha Scott, the latter, I imagine, the personification of the girl that every man fell in love with at least once when he was young. The scene in the graveyard on the hill, with the dead chatting about the weather bolt upright in their chairs and the living hiding their lack of understanding under wet umbrellas, is a haunting and genuinely imaginative piece of staging. Incidentally, there is no pantomime here.

There is no doubt that any season could count itself proud to bring forth "Our Town." For my part, I wish that I could have given my whole attention to it.
Benchley seems to think that the decision to make the actors pantomime is a director's choice, and not part of the script; that Wilder's words are good in spite of the staging.

I was also surprised that there was a play that preceded OUR TOWN that employed a stage manager character - according to Amazon, THE YELLOW JACKET was a Chinese play from 1913. But Benchley considers Wilder's use of "Chinese" techniques inappropriate.

Benchley does praise the play, and even mentions other people are emotionally affected by it - but I should hope so being one of the greatest plays ever written. But even so, Benchley still has complaints.

Speaking of which, I have a few complaints about HAMLET.

It always bothered me, in Act V Scene 1 the way Hamlet leaps out of hiding to fight with Laertes. It's mainly bothered me because Hamlet comes off as such a big baby and all-around jerk - the explanation he gives to Horatio in V2 is:
But, sure, the bravery of his grief did put me
Into a towering passion.

But it finally dawned on me what the real problem is.

Horatio says "What a king is this!" in disapproval of the trick that Hamlet played on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in switching their names with his and sending them to be executed by the king of England, but in fact Horiatio should have said that line after Hamlet explains his behavior at Ophelia's grave.

What Hamlet did to R&G was a clever bit of business and certainly worthy of any king - after all, they colluded with Claudius to send Hamlet to his death. That Hamlet would give them stone cold payback is by-the-book royal politics.

And the contrast between tricky Hamlet and big jerk Hamlet couldn't be more obvious - Hamlet explains his graveyard behavior right after after he tells Horatio about his dirty trickster work. Obviously Hamlet CAN have self-control when he wants to. He didn't sneak a peek into the packet that R&G were carrying and then immediately attack R&G - he came up with a plan, carried it out, and until the whole pirate ship escapade happened (Act IV scene 4, Horatio gets a letter from Hamlet that describes it) had to pretend he didn't know about the conspiracy between Claudius and R&G.

Hamlet also manages to sneak back into Denmark so stealthily that only Horatio knows about it - and only because Hamlet chose to tell him. He makes a big deal about how stealthy he needs to be. So what does he do with this careful tactical advantage? He throws it completely away by leaping out of hiding in front of the entire Danish court, and not because he was beside himself over Ophelia, but rather because Laertes was a little too showy in his brotherly grief.

I might have even assumed Hamlet's huge blunder was about Ophelia if Shakespeare had just let it go without comment - but no, instead he has to actually have Hamlet provide an explanation for his stupid action that makes him sound like a petulant jerk.

If Hamlet was a serious king-type guy he would have kept his trap shut, raised an army and attacked Claudius. We already know he's loved of the distracted multitude, a fact that Claudius admits is what is keeping him from having Hamlet executed in Denmark - hence the trip to England.

And Hamlet has plenty of reasons to attack Claudius now - not only proof enough for himself, via "The Mouse Trap", that Claudius killed his father, but he discovered an actual plot against his own life. Princes have attacked reigning kings for far less than that.

So why did Shakespeare do that? Not because he wants us to think Hamlet is a lousy solidier - at the end of the play Fortinbras, who knows something about soldiering, say:
Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally:

No, I think Shakespeare needed to end the play in Act 5, and having Hamlet wage civil war on Claudius would not expedite matters. And he knows he is sacrificing the integrity of Hamlet's character in order to achieve a plot point, which is exactly why he DOES include that lame explanation for why he had Hamlet leap out and spill the beans. He had an attack of playwright's conscience.

This is "Fridge Logic" and the fact that it took me thirty years to notice it is a tribute to the rest of the play which is tightly plotted and entertaining and absorbing.

But OUR TOWN as far as I have yet discerned has no sneaky short-cuts like this. Which is why OUR TOWN is a better play than HAMLET. Which pretty much makes it the greatest play ever.

I can't look at an issue of any pre-1960s New Yorker without marveling at the inscrutability of its cartoons, so here's one from this "Our Town" review issue:

Now even given that during this time-period glasses were thought to make one unattractive ("men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" Dorothy Parker wrote in those days) I don't see what the joke is here. One women doesn't want to hook-up with the less attractive guy. Yeah, OK, hardy har har.

UPDATE: Hmmm... on further scrutiny it occurs to me that maybe the joke is that they look so much alike wearing similar hats, coats etc. so that the glasses are the only significant difference. That seems plausible. Maybe. I guess I missed it because I work all week long with blueshirts and they all dress as much like each other as possible so total male sartorial conformity seems completely normal to me.

The cartoon is by Syd Hoff, better known (at least better known to me) as a children's book author and illustrator. He wrote the classic Danny the Dinosaur.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


So I saw THE LIBERTINE on Friday night because Claire Warden was performing in it. Claire was great of course, and most of the acting was very good. But the staging was to die for. They did some amazing work with lacquered panels on casters. I was quite impressed.

It was a shame that all that effort and accomplishment went into a not very good play.

Now admittedly any play that goes out of its way to say "look how bawdy we are!" rubs me the wrong way, and from the moment the play opens with that obligatory bawdy-time cackling (HAAAH-hah-hah-hah-hah!) I knew this was Not My Cup of Tea.

But the real problem is the plot: a rich alcoholic psychopath drinks himself to death at an early age.

The play opens with the main character, John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester declaring that we won't like him. And it's true - not only did I not like him, I didn't care when he died.

The entire play is mainly a string of scenes to show us just how saucy Jack is. This gets tiresome real fast. The only interesting relationship he has with anybody is with the actor who becomes a sort of protege. But they get a few disjointed scenes over the course of the play that deliver no emotional resonance.

I don't think THE LIBERTINE is supposed to be a cautionary tale - that would certainly not be considered in any way cool or fashionable these days - but it could so easily be seen as one. I mean yeah he drank too much and he spent lots of time with prostitutes, so he ended up a drunk with syphilis. Duh.

I call him a psychopath because the character in the play - and I don't know how close this is to the real guy - has exactly the same characteristics displayed by the psychopaths in the case studies in the book "The Mask of Sanity": he has a variety of emotions but none of them are deep, he betrays every single person he's involved with, from his wife to his mistress to his friends, to the King, but in spite of that, his charm and ability to fake emotions gets them to defend him again and again. He lies whenever it's convenient and has no remorse about it. And he's bored all the time and so always has to "go too far" just to keep himself entertained.

Those case studies were definitely fascinating, at first, but after the third or fourth one they become routine because the behaviors of psychopaths are so much alike. And that's what THE LIBERTINE is like - at first kind of fascinating with all the saucy bawdy naughty shenanigans - but eventually routine and meaningless. Really, he couldn't die fast enough for my liking.

I guess somebody must enjoy this stuff or they wouldn't do it. But what they get out of it I just don't understand - it's not like the world is lacking in bawdiness - anybody with an Internet connection could get the most intense depravity at the click of a mouse. At this point a non-ironic cautionary tale would be the most unusual, "edgy" and surprising thing any theatre group could do.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

busy busy weekend & predestination

Well my old friend Dan is in town, on tour to promote his new CD so I had to see him play tonight, and I also had to see Claire Warden perform in THE LIBERTINE tonight (review later) and then my mom is coming for a very rare visit to NYC. My daughter and I asked her what sights she wanted to see in town. Her response - St. Patrick's Cathedral. Catholics are obligated to go to Mass every Sunday - although you can do a Saturday evening and it counts towards Sunday - or they go to Hell, I think. Unless they go to confession and get forgiveness in time.

It was the whole confession thing that set me on the path to atheism. When I was about twelve I thought: "so as far as God is concerned, if you got hit by a car before you made it to church to say confession, you deserve Hell, but if you make it in time, you'll go to Heaven - since having said your confession you'll be sin-free. But God, being omniscient, would know that this would happen in advance, and so knew you would not make it into confession on time. So what is the point of all this activity when in the end, and for eternity, you are either in Heaven (perhaps with a stint in Purgatory if your sins weren't too awful) or Hell?"

I didn't bother trying to talk to a priest or a nun because in my experience they got angry if you asked too many questions. In first grade I wanted to discuss the nature of God and I asked Sr. Martin Joseph if God was in some aspects similar to Samantha in Bewitched and she just about had an attack of apoplexy at the question. Although she was an especially unstable individual, it's true and at one point in my first-grade year got into a scuffle with a first-grade boy and swung him around by his arms. The boy's parents took him out of the school immediately (Our Lady of Fatima in Cornwells Heights PA if you're interested) but Sr. Martin Joseph hung on until the end of the school year - but when I returned for second grade she was outta there. I heard she dropped out of the nunhood pretty soon after that.

You can see why the Church would establish a weekly Mass obligation - because they collect money from the congregation during Mass. I always wondered why Protestants dropped that feature, but I think I have an idea now, having to do with my 12-year-old questions about God's omniscience and damnation and confession.

The Calvinists state the most explicit belief in predestination, although Lutherans and other Christian sects buy into the concept to some degree. Predestination means that God has decided in advance whether you are going to Heaven or Hell, and there is nothing you can do about it. I think that predestination was devised in order to address the logical incompatibility between "free will" and an omniscient god. The Calvinists in effect (although they deny it) simply dispensed with free will.

Now this would appear to thwart one of the most socially useful aspects of religion, to get people to do good and not bad out of fear of Godly judgment. The Calvinist response, according to Wikipedia is: "God's irresistible grace will make his elect live in a Godly manner and not vice versa."

So from the Calvinist (and other "Reformed" Christian sects) if you do bad things it is a clear sign that God has not elected you for Heaven and you are one of the damned. If you do good things - like give money to the church - it is a sign you are one of the elect. This method of social control works best in a small tight-knit society where everybody knows who is living in a "Godly" manner and who is not.

So how can Calvinism survive in a large non-tight-knit society?

According to a recent study many religious people don't know much about religion especially compared to non-believers - this would tend to preserve Calvinism and other predestination groups since, without a clear understanding of the tenets of their own denomination, Calvinists will tend to assume their tenets are similar to those of the larger Protestant sects, including Godly judgment based on "works."

And then there is the tendency of people to simply accept whatever religion they were raised with.

Another factor though is that Calvinism is a very small sect to begin with - according to the Pew Forum Statistics on Religion in America Report it is (under the name "Reformed") only 0.3% of the total Protestant population. They don't appear to lose any members from childhood to adulthood, but they don't appear to be gaining any converts either. Which would make sense.

In any case, thanks to modern technology, it's no longer necessary to compel the church membership to show up in person in order to get money out of them. Sending out Godly email reminders works well too, I imagine. And then you could post who gave what on the church web site. This could be a real benefit to Calvinism and the creed of predestination.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst

Ralph Fiennes as Onegin
I've run out of hot Regency men and must resort to the Russian version.

Fiennes is bald now - how depressing.
Many of the best regency-period romance novel titles are alliterative. And by the best I mean unintentionally funniest.

Ardent Lady Amelia
Arrogant Lord Alistair
Dreadful Duke
Errant Earl
Heartless Lord Harry
Husband for Christmas
Improper Duenna
Incorrigible Rake
Lord Wicked Wolf
Petronella's Waterloo
RIghteous Rakehell
Torpid Duke
The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst

And speaking of romance literature - , somebody wrote an entire novel that is basically kinky fan fiction based on Jane Eyre: Reader, I Married Him - "St. John, who fears he’s lost his nerve as a con man, becomes Jane’s lover with reenactments of her sadistic Lowood School memories, and love sets him off on a new adventure in pursuit of Jane."

I don't know if I could read such heresy...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cassandra reading

We had a very good reading of the first 30 pages of THE CASSANDRA DIRECTIVE at NYCPlaywrights last night, and I have the perfect cast now, with Carolyn Paine, who was Willow in my SODOM AND GOMORRAH: THE ONE MAN SHOW, playing Chrissy the writer who has a crush on her roommate; Renee Cole as Dana the roommate/aspiring actor who ends up playing Cassandra the ladybot - she executed a perfect "Queen wave" in my monologue MOTHER'S DAY (starring Claire Warden, my future JULIA); and Amanda Thickpenny as the mousy producer Nora, played Maxine in my NEW RULES. Mike Durell, who played Eric in NEW RULES was Tommy the director and did a perfect hissy fit in the role; and Mike Giorgio, who played Oliver in SODOM AND GOMORRAH was quite good as Lee, the annoying actor who hero-worships Tommy.

I didn't get alot of laughs though, although that might be in part because half the audience was old men, and they prefer plays about old men sitting around talking about numismatics. I did get a laugh on this line - but I should hope so, if you can't get a laugh about masturbation it's time to hang it up:


Maybe Nora really does have a crush on Tommy. Does he have a girlfriend?


Well, on his Facebook profile it says “it’s complicated.”


A geek and his hand – what’s so complicated?

The women especially like the play - they each told me since the reading how much they enjoyed it. Well what's not to like? The female characters aren't saps (well Nora is at first, but she eventually breaks out) or personality-free killing machine ladybots or other typical shit roles that female actors are given. We're doing the next 30 pages at NYCPlaywrights in December. By spring I expect it will be ready to go.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cardinal's Mistress

Wow, turns out The Cardinal's Mistress was written by Benito Mussolini.

And reviewed by Dorothy Parker in the September 15, 1928 issue of The New Yorker. An excerpt:
On the memorable day that "The Cardinal's Mistress" arrived in the office of this lucky magazine, I was the girl who pled, "Please, teacher, may I have it to take home with me? Honest, I don't want a cent of money for reviewing it. I'll do it free of charge; I'll even pay handsomely for the privilege." Well, of course, they wouldn't hear a word of that - or at least I hope to heaven they didn't - but I got the book. I had all sorts of happy plans about it. I was going to have a lot of fun. I was going to kid what you Americans call the tripe (les tripes) out of it. At last, I thought, had come my big chance to show up this guy Mussolini. A regular Roman holiday, that's what it was going to be.

Well the joke was on me. There will be little kidding out of me on the subject of the Mussolini masterpiece, for I am absolutely unable to read my way through it. I tried - the Lord knows I tried. I worked, to employ the most inept simile in the language, like a dog. I put on my oldest clothes (first carefully hanging my second oldest in the cupboard), denied myself to my bill-collectors, backed the bureau against the door, and set myself to my task. And I got just exactly nowhere with that book. From the time I cracked its covers to that whirling moment, much later, when I threw myself exhausted on my bed, it had me licked. I couldn't make head, tail, nor good red herring of the business.

In fairness to the author - and I would strip a gear any time in an effort to be square toward that boy - it is in my line of duty to admit that with any book on the general lines of "The Cardinal's Mistress," I start 'way back of scratch. When I am given a costume romance beginning "From the tiny churches hidden within the newly budding verdure of the valleys, the evensong of the Ave Maria floated gently forth and died upon the lake," my only wish is that I, too, might float gently forth and die, and I'm not particular whether it's upon the lake or on dry land. I go on to read of a lady whose "half-closed eyes understood the sorcery of poisonous passions," and my one longing is to close those eyes all the way for her. And then I get into a mess of characters named the Count di Castelnuovo and Don Benizio and Carl Emanuel Madruzzo, Cardinal and Archbishop of Trent, and secular prince of the Trentino, and Filiberta, and Madonna Claudia - and everything goes black before my eyes. I know that I am never going to understand who is who and what side they are on, and I might just as well give up the unequal struggle.

Well maybe I won't read "The Cardinal's Mistress" after all...

Fun fact about Dorothy Parker from Wikipedia:
She grew up on the Upper West Side, and attended Roman Catholic elementary school at the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, despite having a Jewish father and Protestant stepmother. She was asked to leave following her characterization of the Immaculate Conception as "spontaneous combustion".

Here is another baffling New Yorker cartoon from the same issue:

I think the joke is that the President of the United States is on the radio.

And I even found a semi-inscrutable ad in the same issue...

I will guess that in this case the cigarette is supposed to be a substitute for a good stiff drink. Because she just discovered her fiance is gay.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

free plug for The New Yorker

When I first subscribed to the New Yorker, lo these fifteen or so years ago, I thought it was a good bargain. Not only did it have good, often great writing, but it was a weekly. I adored getting a magazine once a week, especially back fifteen years ago before everything was on the Internet.

And speaking of which - thanks to the Internet the New Yorker is an even better value - more than twice as worth it as it was fifteen years ago because the archives of the entire run of the magazine - from 1925 - is available to subscribers online. And what's really neat is that the archives are images of the original magazine, not just text. So you can see all the antiquated advertisements. Like this one, which is kind of poignant considering it's from the July 20, 1929 issue, just three months before the big stock market crash:

Your boat is apparently a yacht. The radio probably cost almost as much as the boat.

Many of the advertisements from the 20s are very elegant line drawings, but there's no mystery. They're trying to sell you silk stockings, or a Packard automobile or Spud cigarettes.

But the cartoons are absolutely inscrutable... I mean... wha?

Wikipedia tells me that Payne Whitney was a famous rich guy of the time... but I still don't get it.

Until I checked out the back issues of the New Yorker online I had always thought Dorothy Parker's book review column was called "Constant Reader" but it was actually signed by Constant Reader and called "Reading and Writing." It was in the October 20 1928 issue in which she reviewed A. A. Milne's book and famously ended it with: "And it is that word 'hummy' my darlings, that marks the first place in "The House at Pooh Corner" at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."

This is the cartoon that appears on that same page... whah???

I guess the joke is that she's asked for a book about a cardinal who has a mistress. And the guy behind her is embarrassed? Maybe?

I was curious to see what the New Yorker had to say about the Beatles over the years, but was disappointed that for the most part it was pretty uninspired stuff. But I found this little slice-of-Beatle-life interesting, from the February 22, 1964 issue:
The ones they screamed loudest for were Ringo, the drummer, and Paul, who was doing most of the singing because George, who usually does most of the singing, had laryngitis or something.

Afterward, I went around backstage to the dressing rooms where the Beatles were changing their shirts. 'I'm soaking,' said the Beatle named John. 'Got a ciggy? John and Ringo and George left in their limousine for the Plaza, where the Beatles were staying, but Paul got left behind, so I climbed into a taxi with him and one of the public-relations men. At first, there was a taxi full of Beatle fans behind us, but it got swept away by traffic. Paul said that the Beatles had never had an audience at a rehearsal before and that it made them feel good to be playing before people instead of just into space. Then Paul said New York traffic was bad but London traffic was just as bad and Paris traffic was worse, because Frenchmen were maniac drivers. Then the public-relations man said he had lost fifty pounds, and Paul said he couldn't tell how much that was unless it was translated into stone.
Apparently the writer confused John with George because anybody who knows anything about the Beatles knows that George was most certainly not at any time in the history of the Beatles in the running for the Beatle who usually does most of the singing. But at least the cartoons were much more scrutable by the 1960s. In fact the cartoon that is on the same page as this Beatles piece would not be entirely out of place in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Although the couple would probably be a bit more attractive.

But there's so much more over the years - there's the Salinger story Hapworth 16, 1924, which was never published anywhere but in the New Yorker; there is the legendary Vietnam articles; there are all the contemporary reviews of plays and novels and movies, and on and on. Right up to the present day, and the hugely important article on the Koch brothers which I blogged about the week it was published.

So I guess I will have to read every issue of the New Yorker now.

And "The Cardinal's Mistress."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cassandra Directive, Take 2

I decided to redo the Cassandra Directive "video clip" in JULIA & BUDDY to make it work better with the rest of the script. And also, the original movie that inspired "Cassandra Directive" is just so full of funny stuff, I couldn't resist using some of it.

One of the most ridiculous things about the original movie was that although the android ladybot in the movie was all bad-ass techno-awesome, she suddenly wants to have sex with a human guy - and is apparently entirely anatomically able to do so in the usual way. Well I guess if you're going to make an android killing-machine, capable of fighting a bunch of soldiers carrying giant space blasters with a single light saber, why not make it a multi-tasking device? Why NOT have a killer droid/sexbot? Kind of like a Swiss-army-knife class android. I think she could also turn into exact replicas of people, ala the T-1000 android in Terminator II. Maybe after they have sex she could turn into a pizza.

I admit I skimmed both the movie and the script so maybe there was some reason given for why an android suddenly develops human desires - and actually I seem to remember the android tells the human guy she's in love with him, not just wants to have sex with him. But since it was so easy to miss, there could not have been much of an explanation. It was no Blue Fairy and Pinocchio moment.

Probably, as with most "science" fiction movies, it was just thought to be something that was cool to have - an android killing machine who suddenly falls in love - and who cares about narrative logic?

Well, bad science has never bothered fan boys as this Bad Designs in Star Wars post demonstrates.

The one about the Stormtroopers uniform reminds me of the Stormtroopers 9-11 - the ending when they try to drink.

Another really stupid uniform concept - have all the female stormtroopers - and only the female stormtroopers - wear uniforms that completely expose their bellies and backs. No that wasn't done in Starwars, as far as I know. This is from another movie by the same House of Genius that brought the world the inspiration for The Cassandra Directive. The best part about the flesh-exposing lady stormtrooper uniforms is that they are fighting a bunch of space zombies. Flesh-eating space zombies. Although I think that any zombie is flesh-eating by definition, but then, I'm hardly an expert.

I'm thinking the designer of the lady stormtrooper uniforms had to be a space zombie. Let's face it - zombies have a busy schedule of hunting down and eating people - taking the time to peel clothing (not to mention protective armor-type material) off human flesh before a meal is just so time-consuming!

At least the movie music for the video clip part of J&B is easy. There's only so much you can do with a piano, though, being a percussion instrument, since most people associate "space" music with synthesizer-based sounds. Although I guess if I could write something with lots of high-pitched super-fast arpeggios on the black keys it would be a decent facsimile - but then I'd have to hire a real pianist.

This is the very brief musical intro for the "video" clip. I was going for something both portentous and goofy in under 30 seconds.

Cassandra Directive, Take 2
(A video clip of Buddy in a low-budget independent movie, “The Cassandra Directive.” He is playing the Deputy. He is dressed as a cowboy and speaks with an American south-western accent. He holds a large space-blaster type weapon, and talks to a human-like robot named Cassandra. We can’t see her but we can hear her.)


Howdy there purty lady. Whud they say your name wuz? Oh yeah – Cassandra. Hey Cassandra, they say you can see into the future. Is that true?




Well guess what? So can I. I got a prediction for you. You and me is gonna have sex.


That is an incorrect statement.


Is you saying you don’t wanna have sex with me?


I am an android. I do not require sex.


That’s not what I hear. I hear you’re one of them Corvette class lady androids – that means you gots fully operational lady parts. What’s the use of having them if you don’t use them?


I do not know the intentions of my creator. I merely possess pre-cognition, I do not possess omniscience.

(Buddy whistles.)


You got a pre-cognition too? I want to see that!


Pre-cognition means that I can see into the future.


I knew that, smartypants! Anyway, I don’t think you can even see into the future.


Through a strange quirk of design, nobody believes my predictions.


Well you can believe my prediction: you and me is gonna go somewhere cozy and we’s gonna have sex.

(He points his space blaster at her.)


In a moment I will sever your hand from your arm with my light saber.


Aw you gots to be kidding me. See this here space blaster I’m holding? I’m pointing it at you and I gots my trigger-finger on the trigger. I’m about to blast you to Kingdom Come iffin you don’t cooperate. Now come along little Corvette class ladybot – I’m a-gonna take you fer a test drive.

(There is the sound of a Star Wars-esque light saber being unholstered and then the sound of the Deputy’s hand being severed from his arm at the wrist. He drops his space blaster and howls in pain.)



Go to your fate, which is to be eaten alive by mutant space vipers.

(The video clip ends. End of scene.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

blah blah blah visions blah blah blah

I went to see my pal Bruce Barton perform in the Secret Theatre production of ST JOAN and he was very good as the Inquisitor, giving an awesome rendition of the Inquisitor's big speech.

And thankfully Bruce has such great diction and powerful delivery that you could hear every word he said, which was a welcome change from most of the other actors. I looked at the online text of ST JOAN and there were many lines I don't remember anybody speaking - but not because they didn't say them - not only did the director decide to do the play without any cuts, he actually inserted bits from the published work's Preface at the beginning of each scene, where Shaw goes on and on about his opinions of Joan of Arc. As if Shaw wasn't already too verbose, too tell-don't-show! The production was three and a half hours long.

By the time ST JOAN was written, in 1923, Shaw had long since been canonized as a Great Man of the Arts and nobody could tell him to edit anything. Had someone tried, I'm sure he would have dismissed them - never has anyone been so in love with his own words.

Although he does get some drama into the play, it's in spite of all the talky-talky talk. He could have easily condensed the first scene without losing any information and greatly improved the story-telling to boot, and the fourth scene is entirely unnecessary - not only could all of the plot information be conveyed in the Inquisitor scene, but scene four itself is a thundering bore: its main purpose is to allow Shaw to make political digs about England.

But really scene four is the quintessence of this play - some men talking about Joan of Arc. All the exciting battles happen entirely off stage, and Joan's character development is entirely off-stage too. Shaw seems to have been interested in Joan as a character, if the Preface is any indication, but precious little of that interest makes it to the stage. She's scarcely more than a symbol and virtually one-note: "I have visions. I believe in my visions. My visions are from God."

While watching the play, it occurred to me that a truly interesting take on the JOAN OF ARC tale might be to play it entirely straight - I mean, what IF the omniscient omnipotent ruler of the universe cared whether or not the house of Valois or the house of Plantagenet ruled France?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

I decided I am going to take advantage of the piano that is provided on request for those who do Friday Night Footlights at the Dramatists Guild for incidental music for the JULIA & BUDDY reading - and I decided to play it myself. Partly because it would be too expensive to hire a professional pianist to sit there and do about four segments of one-minute long pieces, and also because it would be nice to play in public just once. I've been playing piano since I was seven but never had the interest in putting in all the hours necessary to be an accomplished player, and have remained content at the low-intermediate level. And so I have never performed in public.

This isn't really "public" since those in attendance will mostly be friends and well-wishers, and the music is of course incidental, but you can't start at Carnegie Hall can you? Nevertheless, I'm putting in several hours a week into practice sessions - although it would help if I finished composing the pieces. But I guess all playing time is helpful even if it is just fiddling around and improvisation.
And to get to Carnegie Hall you take the N, Q or R trains.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Katha's party

Well Katha Pollitt's NYAAF Benefit Party had a huge turn-out - it was SRO. Although she did promise deviled eggs and yet there was nary an egg to be found. I had to settle for crudites and wine - they had an excellent white wine served by political and social theorist Steven Lukes (Pollitt's husband) who seemed very charming. Although British men invariably seem charming - what is up with that? It can't possibly be the accent alone! Somebody needs to do a study.

She has a big apartment by New York standards, up there on the Upper West Side, the Mecca of liberal America. But even so I couldn't look at all the pictures on the wall - and she had lots of interesting stuff - because of all the people in the way.

Not surprisingly, she knows alot of authors - poets, novelists and journalists - writers from the Nation, the Village Voice and the New Yorker were on the invite list. I didn't end up speaking to any of them though - I got into a conversation with a couple of abortion doctors and a pro-choice issues media consultant, and learned all kinds of things about abortion issues.

I asked the doctors what I always ask abortion doctors - did they ever do abortions for women who were anti-choice? And they always have the same response - yes. These anti-abortion women are convinced that although abortion is wrong for all those irresponsible sluts that get knocked up and then use abortion as a form of birth control, their abortions are special cases, and medically necessary.

Then a month later they are back picketing the abortion clinic.

Such shameless hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me.

Anyway, it looks like they got a good response and lots of donations, so good job Katha & co.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

perhaps the hottest Rochester yet

the new "Jane Eyre" movie trailer is online. And as New York Magazine says:
In Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester, the heroine's tortured, much older love interest, is not particularly handsome. In the new forthcoming film adaptation of Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is played by Michael Fassbender. So, automatically, we know slavish faithfulness is not on the table. But we're not really complaining — have you seen Michael Fassbender?

Also what they say: "Hello Mr. Rochester!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

another red letter day for NYCPlaywrights

Well if I had any doubts about changing the way NYCPlaywrights works, tonight's slate of plays erased them utterly.

Tonight's lineup:

  • A short play that recalled The Honeymooners but with Freudian terminology inserted seemingly at random.

  • Another short play by the same author that was basically two men doing monologues that describe the subtext of a job interview, in the most repetitive manner possible.

  • A short play in which a woman's description of being raped as a child is lightly tossed off as an amusing anecdote.

  • Another play by the same author in which a couple on the verge of breaking up is brought back together through shared vehicular homicide. The dramatic issue of the play is "will they stop bickering about his annoying poems that she doesn't want to read." So glad that was resolved.

  • An excerpt of a play about Christopher Marlowe that the author has dragged into NYCPlaywrights meetings repeatedly for over a year, and it has never gotten even a tiny bit better. There are so many things about this play that are wrong, but the one that bugs me the most is that even though the author actually quotes the Marlowe line about loving tobacco and boys, he nevertheless makes Arbella Stewart the great love interest of Marlowe's life.

    ASIDE: Straight men should not be allowed to write plays about Christopher Marlowe - while they do mention his homosexuality, they can't bring themselves to actually portray his homosexuality. The other play I saw about Christopher Marlowe was also written by a straight man, and he had Marlowe on his deathbed thinking not of any lovers, but of his two sisters.

    And both of these Marlowe playwrights stuck Shakespeare into their plays. There's absolutely no reason, biographically, for Marlowe to have any dealings with Shakespeare - at the time of Christopher Marlowe's death, the most celebrated English playwright was... Christopher Marlowe. There's no point in including Shakespeare unless you have something to say about Shakespeare - but if you do have something to say about him, then make the play about him. If you stick him in a play about another playwright you'll only remind the audience - hey, this playwright isn't as good as Shakespeare.

    I only survived the reading of this misbegotten Marlowe play because I knew that it would be the last time I would ever have to hear it.

  • The only play of the evening by a woman was a 10-minute play that was almost an exact re-write of a piece she did a year ago - but this one wasn't quite as good. Not that the other was a masterpiece, but what was the point???

  • And finally and most horribly, an old man play about penises. Oh sweet baby Jesus.

    At least there was a short play by Michael Jalbert in the line-up. It wasn't my favorite play by him - many of his short plays are very good - but it was decent and not a horrible travesty of the craft of playwriting like every other piece read.

    But I'm so happy that come 2011 I won't have to spend every Tuesday enduring mostly awful, idiotic "plays." And after ten years I so deserve it.
  • Tuesday, November 09, 2010

    Why Bill Maher is wrong about this

    Bill Maher chided Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for having a rally that wasn't about anything.

    He's wrong because the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was clearly an answer to Glenn Beck's Rally, right down to the name (Beck's was the Rally to Restore Honor.)

    And Beck is clearly Jon Stewart's bete noir - the fact that he's done at least four parody segments of Glenn Beck on The Daily Show - and Stewart almost never steps out of his "news host" schtick - makes that quite clear.

    Certainly the right-wingers think that the Stewart rally was liberal, that's why they use any excuse to attack it as Roy Edroso points out.

    And even Maher himself acknowledges the opposition, when he gloats that the Stewart rally was twice as big as the Glenn Beck rally.

    No, the Sanity Rally is what is known as a "dog-whistle" - we all know that "Sanity" means opposed to the Tea Party craziness. Krugman discusses the dog-whistle phenomenon and complains that Obama is not only bad at using the dog-whistle, he's actually anti-dog whistling.

    I would say that Stewart and Colbert are good at dog-whistling. Even though they attacked the media explicitly, they are by no means condoning false equivalency - Stewart said so in his immortal gospel number response to Bernie Goldberg :
    You like to pretend, Bernie Goldberg, that the relentless conservative activism Fox News is the equivalent of the disorganized liberal influence you find on NBC, ABC and CBS. Fox News, you may be able to detect a liberal pathogen in their blood stream, however faint. But Fox News is such a crazed overreaction to that threat. You’re like an auto-immune disorder. I’m not saying that the virus doesn’t exist in some small quantity. But you’re producing way too many antibodies.

    And he also recently congratulated Chris Wallace for the Republican electoral wins, commented something along the same lines, that Fox is much more disciplined and on-message than any other "news" organization.

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    Tea and Toasties

    Well Lady Mendl's Tea Salon lived up to expectations and a good old tea-sodden Anglophilic time was had by all. We had to walk around Gramercy Park and Union Square for quite awhile in the cold to work off all the tea and scones and cakes.

    Then today I updated my Doollee.com entry and the updated-affirmative response included the address of Doollee creator and proprietor Julian Oddy - so I had to check it out on Google maps and he lives on a charming street in Dorset. The pub next door offered "toasties all day" on its sign and I had to ask Julian what it was. His response:
    Take two slices of white bread, butter them, add cheese and ham to make a sandwich then toast > toastie

    Interesting facts about Doollee.com - the name is based on the way Oddy's grandchildren pronounce his first name. The web site was created by him in 2003, in his spare time, as a project to teach himself HTML. He's not involved in theatre, but his wife is.

    Also, clearly Julian Oddy is good people, as demonstrated by his obvious disdain for right-wingers in this comment in the Guardian back in May.

    I first heard of Dorset, like so many English place-names, via Monty Python - the Council Ratcatcher Sketch:
    Ratcatcher: Wainscoting ... Wainscoting ... Wainscoting ... sounds like a little Dorset village, doesn't it? Wainscoting.

    (Cut to the village of Wains Cotting. A woman rushes out of a house.)

    Woman: We've been mentioned on telly!

    The Royal Oak of Weymouth, Dorset. Julian Oddy says it's a lovely pub.

    Sunday, November 07, 2010

    cool women day

    Today has turned out to be cool women day - I'm taking my daughter to tea for her birthday at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon. My daughter is cool, of course, and Lady Mendle, or rather Elsie de Wolfe was quite a character, even getting a shout-out in the song "Anything Goes" although it's at the end and you rarely hear the whole song:
    If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction
    Instruct Anna Sten in diction,
    Then Anna shows
    Anything goes.
    When you hear that Lady Mendl standing up
    Now turns a handspring landing up-
    On her toes,
    Anything goes.
    Just think of those shocks you've got
    And those knocks you've got
    And those blues you've got
    From that news you've got
    And those pains you've got
    (If any brains you've got)
    From those little radios.
    So Missus R., with all her trimmin's,
    Can broadcast a bed from Simmons
    'Cause Franklin knows
    Anything goes.

    And on top of that, Katha Pollitt invited me to her place. It's for an abortion-rights fundraiser, but still - I'm going to Katha Pollitt's place - whoohoo!

    Katha and I go way back actually - the first time I had contact with her was in 1998, when she emailed me - because I helped set up a web site for an abortion-rights-fundraising group and my email address was on the site. She was interested in learning more about the group.

    We've had contact off and on since then, not always in perfect harmony (some of her views of Disney's "The Little Mermaid" annoy me, for one example), but I think she's one of the greatest minds being published today - not only her political essays in The Nation, but also personal essays and poetry. She's right up there with Paul Krugman in my personal pantheon. Expect a report on this blog later in the week on the fabulous fundraiser.

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    Fair Game

    I can't wait to see the movie Fair Game, about the Valerie Plame affair. AKA The Empire Strikes Back - the empire in this case being the Bush administration.

    This is the article that provoked the retaliation:
    What I Didn't Find in Africa

    By Joseph C. Wilson 4th
    Published: July 06, 2003

    WASHINGTON — Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

    Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

    For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.

    It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.

    In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
    more at the NYTimes

    Friday, November 05, 2010

    JB tracking

    I created a label for Julia & Buddy for this blog. One of the nicest things about having a blog is that it's a kind of journal and you can see how things progress over the course of even several years.

    I talk about J&B pretty often on this blog and you can even see when I first came up with the idea for the play - I blogged about my response to the movie of the play THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT (alas the movie is no longer available for free online) and decided that rather than pay to produce that play, I would write my own.

    So almost a year goes by until I mention the play again I say I'm only 30% done - and also that it's a full-length.

    A few weeks later I say I finally worked out the entire plot of the play - but what I don't mention is that it's become a one-act.

    A couple of weeks after that and I mention it's ready for production and that I'll probably put it into the Midtown International Theatre Festival which I did.

    And now it's come full circle and is a full-length, albeit short full-length again. I don't know if I'll do the MITF again this summer, or just do my own production. I'll have to think about it...

    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    Team Mongoose!

    such a bargain!

    I schlepped down to the Red Hook Brooklyn IKEA to buy some things with which to furnish my living room and got a great deal - 33% off - on this floor model leather left-handed chaise. The model is discontinued in the US but seems to be available in the UK still as you can see in the IKEA UK catalog where they spell chaise lounge "chaise longue", apparently.

    Normally I don't like to talk about bargains or furniture (unlike my co-workers, who talk about virtually nothing but) but - such a bargain! Also, I've never owned a chaise - lounge OR longue - and this strikes me as Cleopatra-esque, which I love.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2010

    Meshes of an Afternoon

    I finally figured it out - there was someone dressed in a hooded robe with a mirror face in the Village Halloween parade and when I saw it I thought - "what movie have I seen this in before???"

    See for yourself:

    I finally remembered today - in art college they showed us Meshes of an Afternoon - I haven't thought of that movie since art college - but that crazy mirror-face character stuck in my mind.

    Not only can you watch "Meshes" in its entirety for free on Google video, you can also watch the infamous Un Chien Andalou - infamous because of the cut eyeball imagery; Eraserhead; Nosferatu; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Night of the Living Dead; AND Kenneth Anger's "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome" featuring Anais Nin.

    Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece" is also available!

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010

    Village parade

    I don't have time to put all the video bits together yet, but here's a small sample.