Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Regeneration Theatre's AS IS, tranformative love during NYC's AIDS epidemic





William M. Hoffman's 1985 play AS IS, which won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and an Obie for Playwriting, uniquely personalized the AIDS crisis. Regeneration Theatre's revival movingly reminds us how acutely personal "political" can be.

Imagine what it would be like in our politicized time if members of an "outsider" group were getting sick and dying from an unknown virus?  Even this winter of 2018, no one is talking about the fact people are dying from flus not covered in shots--a strange and scary development. So what was it like in New York, when AIDS began sickening young gay men? Everyone knew or worked with someone. But no one openly talked  about it, until the "Gay Plague" grew to encompass so many people it could not be ignored. Intolerance grew with the public's fears.

Disclosing you had been diagnosed with HIV virus was akin to a leper ringing a bell. People did not literally bolt doors and throw rocks, but the stigma was huge. Sickness meant lost jobs and medical care, housing, and often family. The Calvinist streak in the American character justified discrimination,"Gays are perverts and deserve it." "They brought it on themselves." No one wanted to work or live with  a person with AIDS. Such attitudes were common, even when babies were born with HIV.

AS IS focuses less on the ostracism and political fight for medical treatment than extraordinary love and friendship amid the crisis. The main characters, Rich (Brian Alford) and Saul (Robert Maisonette) are at the end of a long-term relationship when AS IS opens. But when Saul learns Rich has the virus, he asks him to stay. Despite Rich's affair, Saul's committment is intact. Like any good marriage, behind the habit,  is humor, understanding and love. Rich's a charming idiosyncratic writer/poet. Saul, a funny photographer, earthy and direct. They had shared meals and comfortable sex, a Paul Cadmus painting and a circle of friends. Separately, Rich's illness had cost him his job and medical coverage. With savings spent on medical bills and no rent, Saul, the practical mainstay, would make life work. 

Why had they ever separated?   A real strength of Regeneration's production is how it recreates the post Stonewall world of quick pick-ups, ephemeral romance and gritty sex. Adventurous, exploratory, ecstatic, or perverse, AS IS shows how a group that came of age hiding "forbidden" sexual longings, went wild in the open gay bars, clubs, trysting places--where freedom was an aphrodisiac. Pat (Rick Calvo), Barney (Mario Claudio), and Chet (Daniel Colon), in clever staging, make these temptations human and palpable.

For Saul and Rich, this freedom is not regretted but fond memories of youth and erotic discovery mostly over once they found each other. Rich's dalliance and Saul's pain disappear in the daily crisis they manage--sometimes well or not. Saul's emotional strength is heroic, yet as Rich's disease progresses,  he also succumbs to desperation. Then something transformative occurs beyond the "Acceptance phase" mirrored in their support group. There's a kind of grace in these men.

Though the world seemed against AIDS victims, AS IS shows how people helped each other, lovers, friends and complete strangers. There's the AIDS hotline where Pat and Barney, patiently answer frightened callers and talk of changed lives. Volunteers were crucial in the crisis, as they are in AS IS.
The play is framed by a Hospice Worker played by the luminous Jenne Vath, who goes from would-be saint to atheist angry at God. Hers is a fierce and brilliant mercy.

Also notable is Colin Chapin, as a hapless but sincere brother and Aury Krebs' compassionate friend. Sara Minisquero did affecting character work, as a silent business partner in a hard trade bar and a voluble wife infected with AIDS along with her unborn child.

The director of this play, Marcus Gualberto, made this material fresh in a time, where health care, as a human right is questioned, along with compassion for the sick. In AS IS human dignity is a reality worthy of respect.  A triumph of this play is to make the lives well-lived the significant story. Having experienced this time myself, as the friend who served as family, I was greatly moved by the kindness and accuracy of this production.

(Below Brian Alford and Sara Minisquero)B

S.W.














Friday, February 2, 2018

Imperfect Love, a serious comedy, basis of 1998 film Illuminata, perfect for 2018's sea change of real vs. fake





Imperfect Love by Brandon Cole was the basis of Illuminata, a 1998 film he cowrote with John Turtorro and, in an unusual quirk of fate, the play first made into a film is now at the Connelly Theater in New York (thru February 18th.). I found it unexpectedly timely for 2018, though it first appears a period piece.

We currently ride a wave of social and technological change, where the old verities, values and attitudes have suddenly become suspect, called to question, even irrelevant.  In Imperfect Love, the 19th century verities about love, the roles of men and women, class and status were celebrated in a mythic theater driven by tumultuous passion and poetry. As Imperfect Love begins, the old plays have lost ground to the  new nordic realism of Ibsen and Strindberg. Plays of the mind, psychologically driven, are replacing the "elevated"emotion of the Italians.

This clever play surfs the wave, shifting from mythic reality to our modern psychological age. Imperfect Love opens with the "set" pieces of the era, the prima donna Eleonora Della Rosa, (modelled on Eleanora Duse), her long-term lover, poet/playwright Gabrielle Torrisi (based on D'Annunzio and played by Rodrigo LoPresti)), a commanding leading man and two contrasting clowns--one a provocative firebrand, the other a sensitive devoted to the leading lady. All play against a sumptuously painted mural of a theater in Rome.

What opens as a comedy from a different time evolves another dimension. The "gods" of this set-up are the offstage producers with the power to open or close the play. The dilemma is the playwright and actress' long term affair and the play he's written for her. The complicated actress played with high tragicomedy by Cristina Spina, is her own mythic creation. Actress, woman, lover, she supposedly seeks a life of emotional/spiritual resonance from art, yet she's also an ambitious careerist. Her drives are the fulcrum of the play.

Yet they are in comic concert with Gabriele Torrisi's tortured playwright, full of position and found wanting by all--personally and professionally. Genius or has-been, faithful lover or betrayer (with no less than the mythic Sara Bernhardt)? Rosetti, Byron might understand the function of his lines, stepping stones for his lady's emotions, as he interprets their divine passion.

Reality and confusion are choreographed by the two clowns. Are these buffoons writing Rosa's lines, filling-in for the playwright, or not? You're never sure. The play is everything and their family, but also their bread and butter, And is Rosa, like any worthwhile muse, actually giving (not just inspiring) her lover the lines? This may be a last stand for the mythic theater of love, but  the buffoons put us in existential Beckett country with their hilarious machinations.

Is the show being cancelled? Have the ciritcs killed it, is the playwright no good, about to run off to Paris? Will Rosa dump all for Ibsen? Do the owners exist? On the cusp of a sea-change, all are revealed as careerists with real ambitions, ruthlessness in a world of Imperfect Love. The clown Marco is played by Ed Malone and Beppo, by David O'Hara. They are incidentals completely pertinent in our world of Fake vs Real News. Smart of Michael Di Jiacomo, director to delineate the boundaries.  My congrats to Brandon Cole for this play making it to the stage at this time.

SW






Monday, January 22, 2018

MAY DAY ALERT! Dixon Place Presents THE WAPSHOT WHATEVER, Tuesday, May 1st at 7:30


Dixon Place presents The Wapshot Whatever Tuesday, May 1st. at 7:30, mainstage production.
Finally, complete show!  This is a lingo play about the computer programs inside the box. In this 1 hour version, the human world is the shadow place outside. Directed by Vincent Santvoord with Sara Minisquero, Chelsea Rodriguez, Nathaniel Taylor-Leach, and Danny Tay.

Random Dialler Worm, circuit boards, the inhuman souls of an Off-shore Server and a Rogue Program bundled together. The secret life of your devices? Ever wonder what happens, after you have shut down? 

Sparks fly, when a Rogue meets an Off-Shore Server. Then there's a Dialing worm, App book, Data miner and more in this unnatural play. 1 performances only. Below is excerpt.
The Wapshot Whatever

Setting:  Stage lit with white light.  A vaguely human appearing form in black coat, covered in computer wires. As it walks and rants, small lights go on amid electronic pops.
Time:  Infinite now

                                                                ROGUE PROGRAM
      The wapshot legend has broken down.  For whatever am I going to the office, barely paid so wolf's at the door blowing me down--chomping mouth says you can't make it. Try as you might little piglet, you're another sausage for the gin mill, the spirit mill.

ROGUE  daintily sits crosses legs, sits on floor.

       We want authenticity in pre-packaged tinsley lives that have no real people in them. We want escape. Celeb glamour, see pretty people have flaws unlike you whose whole life is a flaw. So says….

ROGUE wonders answer to this and stands to ponder.

       Have not, whap nut. Am I a homeless geek, a sexy disadvantaged youth, a sad-eyed girl from the homelands?  I am also no corporate executive or a hybrid working girl, middle-aged muse. Whatever!  Provocateur. Dark panicky incoherence of a rogue program in the universal computer.  A home in every port.  My sweethearts upload me and never know I look into the hearts of their on-line anxieties, searches, and blogs pursuing content. I'm the nebulous nothing of information technology when everything is present.

ROGUE sighs sadly

       I love a little fool server off the Aussie coast. She serves island hoppers, giving weather warnings, hurr and him-a-caines coming to a shore near them. She's a dear one…
Rogue pushes switches on himself. Out comes a  petite server program, wearing a white suit with black blinking wires.  She talks in proud bursts.

                                                                    SERVER PROGRAM

      Aruba, the Canaries, Singapore, Florida Keys, Sardinia, Manhattan Island.  Day or night I'm the bellweather, the urgent voice with updates on Calvin or Marie, Andrew and Elizabeth. I see the Eye approaching, gangway, flee cars, houses. Find cellars!  Shivery, underground they heed me or, or too late clinging to palms, losing grip, are blown out to sea. .

Monday, January 1, 2018

Peter Cherches' STAR COURSE--The growth of celebrity culture in an America eager to see stars in the flesh




"In the century before television brought stars into our living rooms, celebrities crisscrossed the nation, bringing entertainment and perspectives to towns large and small. Peter Cherches, through his careful research and engaging prose, brings the stars and impresarios of the nineteenth-century lecture circuit back from the dead and gives us a front-row seat. This is an important book." - David T.Z. Mindich, author of Just the Facts: How "Objectivity" Came to Define American Journalism and chair of Temple University's journalism department
Peter Cherches, best known for his witty, probing fictions in the  minimalist vein, such as Lift Your Right Arm and Autobiography Without Words, also has a Ph.D. in American Studies. In STAR COURSE, he has written a unique book for anyone interested in the origins of celebrity culture. It begins in a 19th-century America with no TV and radio, let alone Internet. Here are audiences, which  distingush between moral entertainment--uplifting enlightening lectures appropriate for respectable people--and Puritanical ideas of theater as ungodly, lowlife entertainment to excite the senses. The Lyceums, a kind of continuing education, offered useful entertainment, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, dramatic readings by Charlotte Cushman, though Shakespeare was occasionally snuck in with hypocritical ad copy, as a dissertation on jealousy or revenge.  
The Lyceum Movement, which lasted 15 years, evolved into the "star courses" (star was a theater word), which brought a wider range of people, such as humorists, like Mark Twain, Thomas Nast, cartoonist, Henry Ward Beecher, star cleric, Henry Morton Stanley, African explorer. Popular women lecturer's included Anna Dickinson, impressionist Helen Potter, Brigham Young's 19th wife, among others. Cherches gives an idea of the attractions and performances of these Stars, more often than not solicited and signed by journalist James Redpath, whose successful Lyceum Bureau supplied talent for the Star Courses. He and other bureaus began the use of public relations to promote their tours. 
As Star lecturers criss-crossed the country, people came not surprisingly to see the famous in the flesh, rather than buy the lecture in book or pamphlet form. And, in the case of Thomas Nast, his lecture tour was hugely poplar because of his ability to draw engaging caricatures. Some of these performances prefigure the content of TV and radio, such as the talk show host or news reader, famous for being themselves.
Cherches' history of celebrity culture uniquely looks at human behavior, impresarios, the content of Star performances, the rise of public relations and the enlarged transportation network, to show how the lecture platform worked as a kind of pre-internet mass media. Popular mass entertainment was a fact of life as America entered the 20th century. Cherches, also a performer, accessed archives and newspaper accounts to recreate a little known but pivotal chapter in the story of American popular culture. And, without the index, it's about 100 pages. Star Course is definitely worth the read. Even the index.
S.W.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Congrats, Micah Harris! 1/20/18 launch of "Only Small Things Are Good," https://www.facebook.com/micahhharris/videos/2043386275905486/


Congrats, Micah Harris!
1/20/18 launch day and Book Party.
If you can't make the party go to www.micahharris.com for more info and videos below.
https://www.facebook.com/micahhharris/videos/2043386275905486/

ALL info about this event, ttps://www.facebook.com/events/200649817153156/  
Join us on Capitol Hill on January 20 for an open house to celebrate the official release of Only Small Things are Good. You’ll have a chance to hear from author Micah Harris, chat with early readers, and pick up your own signed copy. Feel free to invite a friend!
The doors will be open from 4-6 p.m., with a brief author introduction and Q&A beginning at 4:30. Hope to see you there!
If you can’t make it to the launch, visit www.micahharris.com to see what people are saying about the book, watch a brief intro video, and to order your own copy.

A new interview.  http://humanepursuits.com/only-small-things-are-good/

"Every other country is a place, a race, a language
 but America is an idea and if the idea dies we become a collection'
of parts that used to be a whole thing-
like the parts of a car that has
lost its bolts."
--From Only Small Things are Good.

About this book:
Q. It is interesting how the style shifts from a boy in the natural world to a man thinking in memos, bullets, and footnotes. I also like how you intertwined the stories of Joel’s life at the Pentagon and his childhood in rural Texas and how they meet at the end. Was that a plan?
MH. Yes. This is where Plato’s Republic comes in. Its framing question is what does a “just soul” look like? A soul is local and, according to Plato, so small we must model it on a larger scale if we hope to see it well. Plato spends much of the Republic considering the functions of a “just city.” My novel is the reverse. America is too large to see so I’ve modeled it in a person, a family, and a community.




Another excerpt. "The core of power is credibility. The key to credibility is communication, and the first rule of communication is that you listen tremendously to learn who the other person is. The second rule is that you must know who you are. And the third rules comes after the first two: you must tell yourself generously to that person. If that sounds easy, it means you've never tried."

Advance praise for ONLY SMALL THINGS ARE GOOD
“I can’t remember the last political novel I read with any enjoyment. But Harris’s writing is smart and deeply attentive to the importance of language itself in human relations, and his characters all have functioning hearts, even if bruised or buried. I’m pretty sure Joel is more conservative than I am, and I rooted for him, which felt good.”
– Dr. Devon Miller-Duggan, author of Alphabet Year, Professor of Creative Writing, University of Delaware

“Only Small Things Are Good draws you in with its hilarious, too-true notes on the travails of a Washington policy staffer but it keeps you hooked with Joel’s family story and increasingly essential questions about our country and our life together. Anyone who wonders what life is really like for us much-maligned beltway insiders, or misses worthwhile political discussions, should read this book. It left me wanting to urge nearly everyone in my office, ‘read this, and then we’ll really talk.’”
– Jessica Rodgers, Foreign Affairs Officer, U.S. Department of State
“Only Small Things Are Good is the Iliadic tale of a hero who, despite the tidal wave of events put upon him by the gods, remains determined to see his task through to the end. I’ve spent my time down range and I can only say: I wish everyone at the Pentagon had a friend named Sam-Bob. I hope you laugh or groan (or groan/laugh) as much as I did over this book.”
– Matthew Thomas, former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry
“Small Things offers a deft rendering of how policy is made in our nation’s national security bureaucracy, and of how a prophetic voice may be betrayed while speaking truth to power. As an academic who has worked in these institutions, I would highly recommend this novel to the seasoned Washington D.C. policy wonk and I would also extend this recommendation to everyone who seeks a better understanding of the civil servants—the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters—who are the backbone of these institutions.”
– Dr. Elizabeth (Libby) Turpen, President and Co-founder of Octant Associates LLC

Another short excerpt from Only Small Things are Good.

The Unwritten Rules

Last year I started work in the office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and, in that place, I found five facts, lined and balding i n a row, each coming from the one before like a series of Russian dolls, and all of them judging the occupants of my desk.

1. Something is broken about my world.
2. People expect me to fix it.
3. I can't fix it but...
4. I can possibly make it better by trying, and...

5. My job is to try.
Excerpt from Only Small Things are Good

"The Unwritten Rules

A bolt lies loose in the oil under your government, and the reason it broke and fell down there instead of holding things together like it should have done, is because this bolt is a bolt, and bolts are dead. Governments should be run by the living.

My name is Joel Alden. I became what I am in a mechanic's shop where the wrench slips and you skin the knucles of God's hand that He gave you for the purpose of working. You curse not at all and the good people of the earth pay you a hard dollar for the trucks that were set right by your labor. I grew my handshake hard there, and my voice took such a tone that you cannot doubt but I have told you straight all that I have told..."


"...a novel that offers a lively portrait of the realistic and fantasy life of a Pentagon staff officer."--Madelyn R. Creedon, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense.

In Micah Harris’ new novel, Only Small Things Are Good (January 20, Pagescape Press), Joel Alden, a low-level employee at the Pentagon, unexpectedly finds himself at the nexus of power. Raised in a devout, rural Texas family, Joel grew up working on the farm and later as a mechanic in his dad's shop. His people gave him a sense of what is real and true. He was also raised with a mission to protect the weak. That mission and his faith sent him to Africa to alleviate suffering. He returned an agnostic.

In this novel, less about politics than the reality of how government works, Joel’s origin story is interwoven with that of the present day realist, who brings the craftsmanship of a mechanic to his job at the Pentagon. Yet, in the Pentagon, he spends frustrating days writing memos for actions and initiatives that may never happen. Then he reads a memo that grips him, about the repatriation of released detainees and religious “deradicalization” studies, required by their home countries and funded by the U.S.

Joel’s critique and proposal to improve this program, attract the attention of his President. He asks Joel to take some time to describe what makes us American and how we might repair this thing. Joel is overwhelmed. Can one person speak such a truth and set a wrong right?  Does he have anything meaningful to say?

Joel asks for the help of his perceptive ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend “Socrates.” But their abstract philosophical conversation pales against the good sense of Joel’s housemate, who has actually served in the military. Joel also pays a visit to his family and realizes the distance between his life, working in the Pentagon, and the lives of people who work hard in small towns. In the end,  can Joel's truth have meaning for a president isolated by layers of bureaucracy from his people?

A beauty of this novel is Harris' voice. With echos of John Steinbeck and David Foster Wallace, this novel is at once earnest and self-deprecating, sincerely seeking what's true with personal footnotes both funny and explanatory. The novel is a kind of universal wish fulfillment fantasy about having the chance to talk truth to power.  This thoughtful novel unifies divisions in a tale of America as it is and might be. .

About the Author

Micah Harris grew up on a West Texas ranch then moved to Washington, DC. Over the past 12 years he has worked in the Senate, the White House, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He holds an MA in Liberal Arts from St. John's College and works as a consultant for the Department of Defense. Only Small things Are Good is his first published novel.

Pagescape Press

Pagescape Press is a publishing cooperative. Originally founded as a virtual publishing house specializing in e-book editions, it now offers paperback versions of selected titles as well. It features works of literary merit, including poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, in the arts, sciences, and humanities. A list of its titles can be found on its website at www.pagescapepress.com.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

“Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” presented Nov. by Regeneration Theatre-Reviewed

 “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”
Regeneration Theatre, November 2017



"I think the play is interesting and, in some ways, ahead of it’s time. It tries to cover a lot of issues; perhaps too many. But that is so brave for the late 1970s. Some of the attitudes seems dated, but overall the themes of acceptance, and forgiveness make me feel we should have hope. These women are in a very traditional and conservative environment, and if the most religious and bigoted among them can accept this great change in someone she knows, then anybody can. Or at least I would like to believe so. And that is the main reason I wanted to explore this piece in an age of gender fluidity, fighting against prejudice and traditionalism." 

--Barnaby Edwards (Producer)
I love that this theatre's focus is on re-examining shows that were influential and even controversial in their times. Looking at them through a 2017 lens reveals a different perspective.  I had seen Kennedy's Children Off Broadway, also directed by the excellent Erin Soler, and found the revival surprisingly more on target than the original. I never saw "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" on Broadway but vaguely remember the movie with Cher. I had mixed reactions to that film and this play.

Ed Gracyzk set "Jimmie Dean" in a West Texas town in the mid-1970s. It takes place in a dusty old five and dime store. The occasion is the 20-year reunion of the James Dean fan club, and the  local filming of Giant. Mona, who's spent her life in the store, brings everyone home, including an unexpected visitor. The store owner is strait-laced devout Juanita, who I believe is Mona's mother.  Monica Rey plays her with dead pan sincerity. There's also Sissy, Mona's best friend, who did the decorations. Sassy and "in your face," Sissy appears very opposite Mona's pretentious "airs" and nervous anxiety.  Sissy did the decorations that turned the store into a shrine for Mona's icon James Dean. She has a sense of humor about it unshared by Mona--entirely possessed by a religious fervor. Ariana Figueroa's Sissy makes the outrageous truthful. She becomes a kind of moral center for the play, pointing out what's real and not. 

When a yellow Porche comes to this particularly uninviting spot, it is a matter of passing speculation to Mona, though Sissy, Juanita and other celebrants don't miss the driver, a tall well turned out woman, who knows too much about them. I've read enough southern literature, Flannery O'Connor came to mind, to know the terrain. There's the fevered religiosity of southern women to romance, especially failed chances. Brittle Mona fairly echoes Tennessee Williams' Blanche, as she weaves the fable of her life, the college education she gave up to stay home, her transcendent moment being noticed to be an extra on Giant, and the glorious evening on earth, which had given her life meaning! Of course she's not a credible narrator. 

While Mona, a painfully earnest Nicole Greevy, tells Mona's story, her younger self, and those of , young Sissy and a gentle boy named Joe, tell the real story of what actually happened. It's a shocking story that somehow seems much less so in 2017. Time seems to have made this more familiar, and somehow a but lurid, like a TV drama. What had dramatic punch in the 70s, is not a surprise.

Joe and Sissy and Mona were friends, who dressed up and sang like a girl group. Mona and Joe were besties and Sissy had sex on the gravestones. Oh, and did I tell you there's a boy, Mona's son, called Jimmy Dean, after his dad, who she thinks is retarded?( Imagine he could never match up to his namesake so she invented this? Never explained) Amid the recall of fun times, the rituals of the fan club, we see the ghosts of the past play out the town's brutalization of Joe. With a status lower than the dogs, Joe has to leave the town, his friends, and most of all, Mona.  

2,000 saw The Laramie Project, a play about reactions to the murder of a Univ. of Wyoming gay student. Based on the true story, the play blasted open the vein of virulent homophobia in the West. "Come Back to the Five and Dime" exposes the context. The rigid class system based on family standing , while underneath fear driven racism and homophobia. The deluded pretense of class and virtue are Mona's display, in a time when refined people didn't openly acknowledge unacceptable truths. The play was in a way a death knell for repressed 1950s cultural mores and a herald for the new worlds of 1960s-70's' emotional openess and sexual experimentation.

In Jimmie Dean, Mona is hiding behind her pretense of a conventional life, while her ghost of a double enacts real passion for Joe. Her failure in life, pointed out by the stranger, is her failure to acknowledge real love.  Sissy looks for deeper meaning in the tawdry life she's accepted and then sees it.  Juanita even sees her retreat from truth about her husband. In the end, only Joe the outcast, is the master of his fate. As the old friends unite, they meet their pasts and reconcile--until the next reunion in 20 years. In the end, they celebrate not James Dean, the icon, but Mona's son, who's driven off in the yellow Porche to a new life. A perfect tribute. You get the boy will be his own person, no matter how others try to limit him.

The cast of this production were on target for the pathos and self-delusion, as each hears what really happened and must deal with it. Joe and the "Stranger," Joanne, were played by Elliot Frances Flynn and Chris Clark. Flynn's speechless vulnerability and Clark's dignified self-possession were very effective. Young Mona, Lynnsey Lewis, and young Sissy, Sonja Gabrielsen, were credible in difficult roles; not ghosts but people enclosed in some odd parallel world. Kristin Sgarro's Stella May and most of all, Rebecca Miller's Edna, livened the party with physical humor truly intrepid.

S.W.


Next from Regeneration is As Is, running Feb 1-11, 2018. at the Workshop - http://asis.bpt.me

William M Hoffman's 1985 play highlights the often forgotten heroes but essential people that are part of the American healthcare system and keep it going against unimaginable odds, the workers in the system, the families of the sick ans their friends. 

In an age where everything has become politicized at the expense of the sick and in need, this story of fear, rejection, and acceptance in the early stages of the AIDS crisis in New York City has resonance and messages for us today about the importance of recognizing that we are all human, with very human needs and deserve the dignity each of us hopes to receive.

--Barnaby Edwards,

Monday, November 13, 2017

THE WOMAN WHO SMASHED CODES, the unsung heroine of America's "secret war" who decrypted nazi spies



"[Elizebeth Friedman] was a tireless and talented code breaker who brought down gangsters and Nazi spies...a fascinating swath of American history that begins in Gilded Age Chicago and moves to the inner workings of our intelligence agencies at the close of WWII." 
Los Angeles Times

I am joining the praise for Jason Fagone's excellent nonfiction, THE WOMAN WHO SMASHED CODES: A True Story of Love, Spies and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. Elizebeth Smith Friedman's story is as unlikely as real life and full of surprises--outlandish and entirely plausible. Her impressive achievements were of course co-opted by male authority. An old story, but among those men was J. Edgar Hoover, whose gumshoes could track gangsters though not the boats of rum runners.  He had no unit skilled at decrypting codes, though the coast guard did. Elizebeth's rare skills and the unit she trained, invisibly brought down the profiteers. Then her group's work escalated with WW2 and the stakes became more dire. 

Nazis spies and allied cryptologists, the Coast Guard on one side of the Atlantic, colleagues at Bletchley on the other, worked to win the "secret war." As South America came into play, a beachhead in the Americas for the Third Reich, Elizabeth decoded the networks and individuals involved, as well as the infernally complex Enigma machines.  She did not just crack an Engima machine's code, but even figured out the wiring of advanced machines she never saw. Her achievments in advance or simultaneous with Bletchley mattered little to her. Elizabeth shared information as it occurred. So it was immediately useful.

Her beginnings and that of the science of cryptology began on an eccentric tycoon's estate outside of Chicago. It was here that Elizebeth, a young Quaker schoolteacher, was hired to find secret messages thought to be embedded in Shaekspeare's plays. William Friedman, a Jewish biologist, tasked with raising new crops, fell in love with Elizebeth and gained a life long code- breaking partner. 

Theirs was a marriage of equals, though William was the celebrated "genius." The female half of the "Adam and Eve" of the National Security Agency, may have superceded him with her own innovations, but it mattered not to her.  Love and support were essentials for this marriage, rivalry wasn't part of their story. In one incident, where she attracted publicity, she learned being a press darling made her less effective in the world of secrecy.  

The history begins with  Elizebeth at 84, as she's interviewed by a young woman, a government employee recording her history--also that of the beginning of the NSA. Characteristically modest, Elizabeth was a bit flustered as to why she is of interest. William's writings were well known. In this fascinating history, Fagone shows the fantastic that was not known--including the workings of an original mind.

For Elizebeth doing the job well was the reward for solving puzzles with significant outcomes in the real world. her story joins that of Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, whose contributions, though hidden, affected history. Fagone also shows how her  lack of recognition--no titles, awards-- cost her later in life.  Being a loving caretaker and mother, a good neighbor were no less valuable to her than a WW2 career she kept secret. But barely surviving on reduced funds was a serious hardship.

When files of WW2 were finally declassified this story could be told. It's inspiring for girls who aspire to a technological career or bookish ones, who like young Elizebeth, was more interested in literature than science. The love story and the marriage of equals was very moving.  I found it amazing that William never forgot his success was shared and that he preferred working with his wife, over the mythology of solitary genius. Yet it's his name on their books. Jason Fagone's THE WOMAN WHO SMASHED CODES may be the only book about Elizebth Smith Friedman.

A note, they left their library to the Thurgood Marshall Library, where it could be read by the public.

S.W.  



  

Monday, October 30, 2017

FUTURE NOIR: The Making of: BLADE RUNNER Reveals Dystopian Visions, Inspired Personalities, Heroic Battles (Art vs. Commerce) behind the Influential Science Fiction Classic



FUTURE NOIR: The Making of Blade Runner (Dey Street Books, HarperCollins) by Paul M. Sammon has a headline that's not  hyperbole--The Fascinating Story Behind the Darkest, Most Influential Sci-fi Film Evermade. 

Though 594 pages, I found this book obsessively interesting, though I'm not a Blade Runner fanAn art history and fan book, this revised and updated version of FUTURE NOIR delivers new interviews of  Sean Young and Rutger Hauer, and the longest interview Harrison Ford ever did on Blade Runner. The original interview with Ridley Scott is pretty good. The book also delivers talk about Ford's inexplicable antipathy for Young, Daryl Hannah's uncanny insight into being a replicant, the backgrounds of every actor, as well as the contributions of set, prop, costume designers and mechanics. It also gives a intriguing peek into Blade Runner 2049.

The author, Paul Sammon, investigates the genesis of the film from Phil Dick's book and early scripts with tidbits of synchronicity, like securing the title Blade Runner from William Burroughs. It is a lot of fun to be on  Sammon's Blade Runner set, where visionary designers and builders, inspired by Ridley Scott's visions, make leaps of creative thought. Some crash and burn, others bring another twist to their futureworld of 2019.

Sammon  provides useful hindsight about Blade Runner's impact on moviemaking and  popular culture over the past twenty years.Writer, filmaker and Hollywood insider, Sammon has credits on iconic art film Blue Velvet and pop confection Conan the Barbarian. He's no stranger to the necessities of both art and commerce. With wry humor, he relates Ridley's excesses, sublime and absurd, and the vetoes of exiting producers. He narrates the seessaw of art vs. commerce with a knowing irony.

For me, the most interesting revelations were the actual drawings by Ridley Scott, which became the visually dense, detailled world of Blade Runner. Scott's approach, well illustrated in this book, answered my questions about both the wildly unfaithful translation of  Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep and why he came to welcome it.

From the dedication of FUTURE NOIR:

"When it comes to Hollywood I had an automatic flinch reaction."
--Philip K. Dick

"Sometimes the design is the statement."
--Ridley Scott

It was a surprise to me that Dick's worst nightmare was fulfilled (though I am unsure if he knew it).  A  major film of his book was being made by a director who never read it. Yet Sammon fairly relates the perspectives of both men. As an art school grad, who's worked as an illustrator, I understand Scott's training to think in images. But around 1981, the same year Scott began to shoot Blade Runner, I began work as a publicist for a science fiction press. A couple years before, I had begun my own dystopian novel,, Paradise Gardens.

The appearance of the world of my book is not far off from Scott's. In that politically conservative era, psychiatric hospitals were closed, tossing mentally ill people into the streets. New Wave bands, late 70s early 80s, investigated the forms and textures of sound, language, style. Post punk fashion, art and music, were about layering. Textures, colors, shapes, eras,were repurposed for ambiguous often apocalyptic content. Some of Bladerunner's look seemed derived to me from art culture, bands like Devo, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, Basquiat paintings, Madonna/Lauper's looks.

Scott was brilliantly improvising from his era to a futureworld, where dystopian cities were ultra cosmopolitan, densely packed with diverse peoples and artifacts. Extrapolating from what was actually happening culturally, he made his visionary futureworld as consistent and detailed as the real world.  Blade Runner seemed a layered psychic experiment, projecting Scott's art cultural present forward in time and place.

I read Phil Dick's "paranoid fiction" and believe Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep reflects the 60's, when humanism seemed under attack by corporations; the military industrial complex of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of King, Kennedys, the Nixon sell-outs (In 1961 his cronies in life  insurance were given management of our health care). In Dick's fiction, the "little guy" was trying to preserve his humanity. In Androids having a real animal, a sheep, was a status symbol, because with animals we human beings are part of a natural order. Androids Replicants) were cold souless corporate products,which can replace people and serve those in power.

In Ridley's late 70s early 80's aesthetics, the loss of human values in Blade Runner era was a foregone condition. He takes the mix-up of people and replicants, machines that are becoming more human than many people. They are a kind of receptacle for "humane awareness," and in his story this may be due to their ahort lives and hyper awareness of death. (Man is supposedly the only animal with awareness of his own death, considered a defining characteristic of the human condition). This idea in regard to the replicants is emotionally consistent with Ridley's world, but could be confusing for literal audiences.

When I saw this film, I was overwhelmed by the dark emotional affect, sadness, nostalgia for what mankind had lost. There was also fear it was inevitable that humans would not survive, except those with money to flee to other planets. 2017 doesn't yet resemble Scott's future world but we face very real existential challenges. Our environment is almost beyond recall. I am very curious how Blade Runner 2049 will deal with that or not.

In 2017, my novel Paradise Gardens, was published in an updated and illustrated new edition. While I am glad some people are reading it, I think Phil Dick's Time Out of Joint, may best fit our present. In this book, a man in two different eras, must discover where he actually exists. Another prescient book about identity on the internet is Vernor Vinge's True Names. Both were, I believe, late 50s early 60's novels with clarity that bears rereading.

Sammon's FUTURE NOIR reveals that when Phil Dick and Scott finally met, they liked each other. Scott even decided to show him the film and Dick became completely supportive, He said that Scott had somehow absorbed what he had been feeling and thinking in his futureworld. Of course both of them were probably preoccupied by the same dystopia. There had to have been a synchronicity (emotionlly and mentally). Meaning became Scott's vision of Dick's future world.

In the making of the film, everything took much longer than anyone expected. Accidents were constant, some happy, others disastrous. The reception of the film was initially negative, in inverse proportion to the cultural impact of the movie. Phil Dick, finally excited about the release of the movie, died just before the release. The experience of FUTURE NOIR captures the particular trajectory of Blade Runner, as a work of art.

I liked how this book shows how a commercial film can act as a collective crucible for creative thought. It also shows what happens when it runs amuck--at odds with the realities of time, budget, personalties and expectations.

S.W.

P.S. Saw the sequel 2049 this weekend. And it seems settling the "look" as a far more physically degraded futureworld (instead of a dystopian cultural wonderland) has freed the focus of the film.
Now it's all about the drama of the 2 Blade Runners. I liked that Harrison Ford's character is played as human, though it's still ambiguous. Ryan Gosling and Ford make this into a most satisfying buddy film. The two are terrific and the contrast of Replicant and human, clear in the beginning, almost reverses. The poignancy of Pygmalion becoming the creator is a familiar theme. I found it perversely  comforting in this dystopian setting. I could see another follow-up, a utopian tale of Replicant society, with idealized human values on an alternative earth.








Monday, September 18, 2017

Photo/review SHE- MOON rehearsal. Performed 9/24 @THE MUSE, burlesque, aerialists, performance celebration of woman as goddess,

(PHOTOS FROM REHEARSAL AT END OF POST)
Advance review
SHE-MOON
A Show About Butts
Artists in Residence at The Muse Brooklyn
September 24th 7:00pm

Many women struggle with being authentic. How they are perceived, defined and expected to act can conflict with their real desire and experience. She-Moon celebrates female essences-- what’s hidden, taboo, ecstatic and ridiculous. And what cannot be ignored, your butt. In Matthew Phillips’ gymnastic piece, which may be the evening’s most outrageous, it’s the focus that lets him soar lyrical and crash to Earth. In Victoria Myrthil’s Goddess of Light, it seems a fun rhythmic part of a celestial plan.
At the dress rehearsal I saw, all were extraordinary in ways you could not anticipate. The aerialists were fascinating. Torrie Rose (Moon) was impossibly fluid in lovely movements that seemed to follow her own inclination. Ariel Iasevoli was charismatic as The Dark Side of the Moon. She brought an intensity to her chain dance that both riveted attention and kept you at a distance.
Emma Miller’s Clown Goddess went for obvious and satirical pokes at how we look at butts and their plasticity on our bodies, not to mention the sounds they make. Then there’s Sara Minisquero’s Goddess of Self Love, who evokes a kind of everywoman’s reactions to both stuffing a butt too big in clothes and the reverse. She takes it all off, in a well fought liberation of her female form.

SHE-MOON owes a lot to the musicians. Carissa Matsushima, Music Director, MAUDE GUN – Molly Murphy, Jenni Messner, April Centrone and Andrew Lasky. There is also a passionate song by Maddy Campbell, director of SHE-MOON (Blood Moon Goddess), who brings this inspired performance together.
  
The National Theatre of MatMadia presents:
SHE MOON
a show about butts
Artists in Residence at The Muse Brooklyn
September 24th at 7pm
Tickets: $20 at door/$15 presale
The Muse Brooklyn, 350 Moffat Street, Brooklyn
The National Theatre of MatMadia is proud to present SHE MOON: A Show About Butts at The Muse Brooklyn. SHE MOON, an ensemble creation, is directed by Maddy Campbell.

SHE MOON offers all forward-thinkers to look behind – well- at the behind! This lively performance-art piece celebrates the Femme – and Feminine – Dariaire. If you are female or identify as(s) one.

SHE MOON incorporates aerial, dance, storytelling, music and magic, and rocks out with the punk band, MAUDE GUN with Carissa Matsushima. The cheeky ensemble company shares their parable and stories with the audience and to the Moon … because she always listens.
Doors open at 7:00 p.m. with a Moon Market and Goddess Party at the newly renovated Muse outdoor space. In the hour-long crack-of-time prior to the performance, aerialists entertain and free champagne flows. The Moon Market is full of artists and artisans including baked goods, spiritual services, tarot readings, art and much more. Moon Goddesses will be waiting to bless you with bubbly to the music by Carissa Matsushima. Discounts at the door for those dressed as Moon Goddesses. SheMoon supports local LGBTQ- and People-of-Color-owned businesses.
Bottomline: Using the parable of A Woman’s Ass, we will to celebrate women’s bodies through stories of oppression, repression, joy and sorrow.
MEET THE TEAM
MADDY CAMPBELL (Director, Butt Nymph, Goddess of The Blood Moon) is a classically trained, experimental actor, singer, playwright based in NYC. Recent credits includes starring in a show she wrote at The New York Fringe Festival, The Coward and The Induction of Lady M(Greenpoint Gallery)..
MATTHEW PHILLIPS (Butt Nymph, Butt Plug Goddess) is a director/ interdisciplinary performer based in Brooklyn. Recent credits include The Coward at Fringe NYC and Facets, an interactive Lecoq gallery show directed by Sophie Ameiva. His drag persona Laurel Fixation performs regularly at the House of Yes, Bizarre Bushwick, and the Brooklyn Muse.
SARA MINISQUERO (Butt Nymph, Goddess of Self Love)is a Burlesque Perfomerer known as Bona Sara. She is also an actress, stage manager, dramaturg and producer. Credits include Step 1 Theatre Project, Bizarre Bushwick (Stage Management), and White Rabbit Productions.
VICTORIA MYRTHIL (Butt Nymph, Goddess of Light)is a native Brooklyn artist. As an actor her talents vacillate between stage and screen working on various genres ranging from comedy to comedia and drama to experimental.  Victoria has toured internationally with Trey Anthony Studios in the stage production of Da’ Kink in My Hair and can be seen in various on screen projects.
EMMA MILLER (Butt Nymph, Goddess of Shit) is a New York based actor experienced in new and devised work. Recent credits include creator and clown in CT Feels Funny at Lady Fest at The Tank (2017), Violet Hunter in Red Monkey Theater Group's Sherlock Holmes: Adventure of the Copper Beeches at Lyndhurst Mansion, Vera Claythorne in And Then There Were None, and co-creator and actor in original sketch comedy show Singin’ and Talkin’ with Christopher Walken.
ARIEL IASEVOLI (The Dark Side of the Moon) is an aerialist, creative visionary, and movement specialist.  The native New Yorker has performed and practiced Pole since 2007.
TORRIE ROSE (The Moon) Is an aerialist and fire spinner. Torrie fuses technique with artistry to create a well rounded performance. Specializing in lyra, her flexibility and flow meld seamlessly. Based in New York, Torrie trains primarily at the Muse Brooklyn. Her performances range from cabaret style to nightlife events to burlesque. Torrie traveled with King Cole Circus during the summer of 2016 as an Aerial Showgirl. She excels at creature portrayal, fully embodying any character she is given.  In more traditional roles, Torrie demonstrates beautiful lines, as well as excellent flexibility and a captivating presence.   
CARISSA MATSUSHIMA (Music Director) is a multi- passionate performing artist who just released a single with her band Carissa & The Voodoo Lilies, available on Spotify, iTunes etc. When she's not performing with the band, she is a manager at Daya Yoga Studio, dances with Leah Moriarty in her company Beat Piece, and co-hosts a jam session called The Healing. Other NYC based companies she has worked with are David Gordon's Pick Up Company, Ni'Ja Whitson's The NWA Project, The Dance Cartel, Built4Collapse, and The Nettles. She has performed music at Rockwood Music Hall, Caffe Vivaldi, Maxwell's Tavern, Roulette, and The Way Station.
KATE SONELL (Developer, Assistant Director) is a queer NYC based theatre artist. Kate’s work ranges from ASM with PUFFS at New World Stages to Props Master at National Theatre of Matmadia’s The Coward: A Madcap Fairytale at the 2016 NYC  Fringe Festival to Developer and Performer in Free the Arts Festival, currently in it’s inaugural year.
MAUDE GUN (Band) two chicks in brooklyn who love ornate storytelling mash together acoustic folk and post-punk to bring you irreverent song-cycles like CLAUDIA, THE WORD. the harmonies are electrifying, the word-play is gratuitous; the characters are wry and the sound-paintings are effing mythical. the chicks, molly (aka DIESEL) and jenni (aka ANGELFACE), cut through some heavy Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism by crafting detailed imagined worlds.  
THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF MATMADIA The National Theatre of MatMadia, co-founded by Maddy Campbell and Matt Phillips, is a collective of Brooklyn based artists focused on putting fun, absurd and monstrous ideas on stage. With a base in clowning and bouffan combined with classically trained actors, we delve head first into extreme physical acting, fire performance and drag. Our stories use 'the mystique' to explore themes about mental illness, ‘fucking with gender’ and the psychedelic. Known to ‘not pull any punches’ our work is violent, messy and monstrous.
Image by: Stevie Rayder
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