Category Archives: Bob’s Theatre Reviews

JOE KINNISON’S IMPROV—THE WRITER AND ANGLER ON HIS NEW HOW-TO BOOK: ‘NEXT-LEVEL BASS FISHING’–FROM SKYHORSE ·

JOE KINNISON is on the hook for our latest interview, talking with SV’s Bob Shuman about getting started in bass fishing, enjoying the peace, beauty, and intellectual challenge of the sport, and sharing insights from the world’s top Bassmaster anglers:  Christiana Bradley, Tyler Carriere, Destin Demarion, Pam Martin-Wells, and Brandon Palaniuk. 

 

Joe Kinnison “sincerely promotes fishing for everyone.” His previous book is Oh’Fish-Al Innsbrook Fishing Guide, on fishing technique tailored to a lake resort community in Eastern Missouri. Joe is an officer in a St. Louis fishing club, and he has several bass tournament wins. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SOEPA). 

 

What did you hook your first fish with—and what are your first memories of fishing?

When I was in primary school, my parents bought a small farm. The farm was all of the way at the end of a miles long gravel road. A small neighborhood organization took up a collection to maintain the road, along with a well that served water to the community. The well was a short walk up the road from our site, and a roughly two acre, kidney-bean-shaped pond was just downhill from the well on common ground. The pond was difficult to approach. It was surrounded by weeds and generally not well kept. Still, we decided to try fishing in the pond one summer day. After trampling enough weeds to get to the water’s edge, we baited hooks with bobbers and worms and started casting. In what seemed like no time, we were reeling in bass, many of which were good size, at least to a kid. Nearly every cast produced a fish, and I remember getting worn out, more than feeling that we’d caught all we could.

What kind of bait do you use today?

I use artificial baits today, and I change baits depending on the forage of the lake and the season of the year. I have had some of my best fishing days, in terms of volume, fishing a lipless crankbait. A lipless crankbait is a fairly heavy lure which is shaped like a fish. The fishing line ties to about the center of the fish’s back which makes the lure wiggle as it moves. A lipless crankbait can be cast a long distance, and the lure is retrieved at a regular rate. I use the lure to cover flats, which are large, shallow sections of lakes. I have had some of my most prolific fishing days dragging a lipless crankbait up the deep edge of a flat and long distances over the submerged surface of the flat. When the fish bite this moving lure, they tend to bite hard. The long length of fishing line from the long cast gives the hooked fish room run, and surge, and jump.

How has your technique changed over the years—and what crucial insight did you have about it?

When I moved to St. Louis, I started getting together with a small group of anglers. We jokingly called ourselves the Bassin’ Assassins. About once a month, we would travel to a group of ponds on a friend’s farm. We were not a very experienced group, but the ponds were seldom fished. These bass would bite almost anything. I started by throwing an inline spinner, which is really more of a trout lure than a bass lure. The bass bit it anyway. Since the ponds were a forgiving environment for an up-and-coming angler, I started experimenting. What I learned is that I preferred to fish slow, rather than just rip baits along a path and try for a reaction strike. I liked making the bait appear natural and move like a real crayfish or a worm. I later learned that this style of mimicking prey is called finesse fishing. Finesse fishing is the method I most prefer. It is slower, it gives a good feel for the fish, and being able to tempt a fish with what it believes is actual food is rewarding.

Why do you think people give up on fishing—and is there a way to keep them going with the sport?

I have met many people who like catching, but don’t necessarily like fishing. I think most people get excited to have a fish on the line. They get to steer the fish, reel it in, control it, and grab its lip. Although that’s the excitement of the sport, catching does not always happen. Moreover, sometimes when it does happen, the fish do not fight, or they are too small to be challenging. During most fishing trips, there is a period of time when the fish are not biting. Those are the times when most people give up on fishing, finding it boring. Those that stick with the sport seem to be the anglers that start seeking solutions when the fishing is idle. They start changing lures, alternating retrieve cadences, or switching colors. They start to notice changes in water color or wind direction or sun angle. Those that begin to understand the natural elements that impact the catching. These are the ones that keep going with the sport. I think the best way to learn the types of things that matter to fishing success is to spend time on the water with someone who loves fishing, not catching.

You interviewed five professional anglers, affiliated with Bassmaster for this book—were there any commonalities to their experience and stories?  Are most people who fish helpful to the newcomer?

Fishing is a welcoming community, especially to kids. In my experience, anglers are like golfers, in that they are happy to recount the elements that led up to their par, what club, what distance, what line, and so on.  For anglers, it may be what reels and cranks, what location, or what technique. While some anglers protect their secrets, most are quite open in sharing their experiences. As for the professionals, the most common element of their stories is that they each had a mentor. Be it a grandfather, brother, or family friend, each angler had a generous fishing enthusiast take them under their arm and give them experiences on the water. Although fishing is the second most popular outdoor sport, fishing can seem to be a small and not mainstream community. Really, it’s not. You just need to find a friend.

What does a fisherperson do during the off-season?

The off-season for professional fishing may not be what you think, the off-season is actually in the fall. Professional tours start as early as February, and the season ends in July. While that is the professional ranks, I make the point in my book that I am far from a professional caliber angler. For me, the off season is what you might expect, winter. I live in the Midwest, and I am not a big fan of cold. Some of my peers travel to Arkansas each year to fish for trout in the Ozark mountain streams. Personally, I like the heartiness and the fight of bass, so I stick with that type of fishing. I give my boat a good cleaning about Thanksgiving time, and I park it until the Easter season. I spend the winter reading and writing.

Please discuss the issue of releasing fish after they are caught. Why would or wouldn’t you do this—is it ever required?

Choosing to either keep or release a bass is a thorny issue, and there are passionate opinions on both sides. Large and smallmouth bass are not good eating fish. They are edible, but they would not be a first choice among diners. As such, keeping these fish for food is not the norm. For most of my fishing tenure, catch-and-release has been the preferred method. Recently, however, lake management views have been changing. Bass tend to be the apex predators in most lakes. With few adversaries, the fish tend to overpopulate. When a bass population gets too large, sufficient food is not present to support all of those fish. The fish tend to grow to approximately the same size and compete for what nourishment is available. These fish tend to thin. The industry calls such fish stunted. The bulk of the fish population of a lake can be unhealthy, starving. Some of the new thinking is that small bass should be removed from lakes and rivers to try to prevent the stunting problem. With small bass being particularly hard to prepare as food, the question becomes what to do with them. Dead fish are better used for garden fertilizer or even left on the bank to feed birds and raccoons. Some animal rights people believe that culling small fish is inhumane. Other animal rights people believe that starving a population of fish is inhumane. There are good arguments on both sides. I am a believer that catch-and-keep is the best policy.

What is fish body language and how does knowing about it help when fishing?

Even experienced anglers generally do not know that largemouth bass can change color. The fish have the ability to express the green and black pigments in their skin, or they can mask those pigments. It would not be unusual to catch really green-looking bass on one trip, and then catch really white-looking bass on another trip on the same lake. Coloration depends on how deep the bass are swimming and how much vegetation is in the water. Bass express their pigments when they are in the weeds. The green shades make them harder to find. The suppress their pigments when they are in deep or open water. More whiteness makes them harder to see by other fish looking from the bottom toward the surface. The pigment provides information to the angler. If you reel in a white-ish bass, it does not mean the animal is unhealthy. Instead, it means the animal came from a deep, suspended position to bite the lure. In that way, the coloration of the bass tells you at what depth the fish are feeding. This is valuable information for the angler.

How would this book have been written if you worked on it ten years ago—what has changed in the field?

I do not think this book could have been written a decade ago. Like many pursuits, fishing has undergone tremendous technological change in the last ten years. In that period of time, the industry has developed high resolution sonar equipment, invisible fishing lines, and previously unheard of lure presentations like umbrella rigs. Due to the improvements in the technology, most anglers have been focused on trying new gear. The new gear has been effective in improving catch rates, especially for offshore fish. As the technology has been assimilated, in my experience, questions remained unanswered. For example, if we both have all of the greatest gear, what makes an angler on the Bassmaster Elite tour different from me? In looking for that explanation, it became clear to me that soft skills separate anglers who already possess the latest technology. It really comes back to the human elements to determine success. Mentorship is a factor. It is also sensory skills, creativity, and organization that make the true difference.

What do you discuss in the book that isn’t typically covered in fishing books?

This may sound mundane, but one of the things that I discuss is how to get on the water. Some of the nation’s best fishing lakes are overwhelmingly large. It can be a difficult problem just to get started, and no one tells you that perspective. I point readers to where to launch their boat, where to get a guide, where to stay overnight, and where to grab dinner. Such practical things are often omitted in fishing books. Beyond the practical, few other fishing books will inform readers about things like sensory training and improvisation techniques.

How long does it take, on average, for someone to feel confident in fishing?

Getting confident in fishing can take a while. I cannot really identify a precise timetable, but I would say about five years will not be far off. As with any sport, some people have a natural gift for fishing. They may be particularly aware of nature or unusually observant. These folks usually start fast. For the fast starters as for the rest of us, eventually the angler will have an outing where they catch nothing. A reliable bait does not work or no fish reside in a confident “honey hole.” At these times, whatever confidence the beginning angler has fails. What restores confidence is going back out on the water and trying different lures, different techniques, and different locations until one finds and catches the fish. Having to adapt to different conditions and different quirks is what ultimately makes a successful angler. One would have to have experienced several shut-out situations before becoming assured that success could be achieved under most  fishing conditions.  Personally, going onto a lake knowing that I can effectively fish crankbaits, or spinnerbaits, or soft plastics, or swimbaits is what ultimately gave me confidence. That and being able to consistently out-fish my brother-in-law.

Do you honestly believe that both sensory training and improv training really make a difference to an angler?

Both of these disciplines sound “new agey,” and “fluffy,” as in not tangible. I refer people to a scientific study of a baseball team that employed sensory techniques. The results were measurable. In the book, I tried to translate some of the sensory training ideas to outdoors pursuits. I have tried these sensory exercises, and I believe that they have helped my fishing. My most memorable response to suggestions for sensory training was an angry one. A very experienced angler chastised me for trying to teach people what for him was just being “in the zone.” I guess he had some natural abilities, and he was upset that I was teaching people how to make the best of their lesser gifts. Improv is also a tentative conversation for most anglers. People seem to think that I’m trying to get them to try out for Second City Comedy or something of that ilk. No, I’m trying to provide permission and instill a process for experimentation. Sometimes just knowing it’s okay to cast a jig with a purple streamer or a crankbait with a worm weight ahead of it on the line is acceptable as long as it is purposeful.

You really make the sport sound approachable and fun.  How were you able to do that?

Two teachers in particular had an influence on my life. A high school English teacher was a fiend for economy of language. Second, a college professor once lowered a grade on a paper saying that I turned in ten pages because I did not have time to write eight pages. He wanted editing and economy. I brought those sentiments into my professional life, and I became a big advocate for clarity and simplicity. I believe that writing in that fashion makes most topics approachable.

Fishing can get really complex, and the industry is heavy on jargon. I have heard professional anglers take more than a full minute just to tell you the details of their rod, reel, line, and lure combination. I do not think it needs to be that complicated. One of the things that I really liked about the anglers that I worked with is that they too kept it simple. For example, one only used two lure colors, among the hundreds of choices. If the pros can reduce the options to two, so can weekend anglers.

Finally, fishing is fun. Something about the man versus beast situation is primal. Fishing is a rite of passage. Getting proficient at fishing is really just calling upon skills you use in other areas of your life and channeling them productively into this particular pursuit. Most people have the life skills that enable at least some measure of success at fishing. I am hoping to draw these out of people so that they enjoy the peace, beauty, majesty, and intellectual challenge of the sport as I do.

Thanks so much, Joe, for talking with Stage Voices.

View Next-Level Bass Fishing at AMAZON

Photo permissions (from top): Skyhorse; Joe Kinnison; Tyler Carriere 

(c) 2021 by Joe Kinnison (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

SHAKESPEARE AT THE DELACORTE: ‘MERRY WIVES’ ·

MERRY WIVES
By William Shakespeare
Adapted by Jocelyn Bioh
Directed by Saheem Ali
Featuring Abena, Shola Adewusi, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Pascale Armand, MaYaa Boateng, Phillip James Brannon, Brandon E. Burton, Joshua Echebiri, Branden Lindsay, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Jarvis D. Matthews, Jacob Ming-Trent, Jennifer Mogbock, Julian Rozzell Jr., Kyle Scatliffe, David Ryan Smith, and Susan Kelechi Watson

By Bob Shuman

Shakespeare in the Park returns to the Delacorte with a new version of The Merry Wives of Windsor, called Merry Wives, which is suited less for the outdoors than for small screens, reflecting the cramped quarters of the last 16 months: the neighborhood and its regulars; the local laundromat and fading signs for Biden-Harris.  COVID goes unmentioned, despite the fact that one former cast member had tested positive (social distancing protocols are in place), amid street drumming, lip-syncing, helicopter propellers (not part of the show, although overhanging air-conditioners are), and hair-braiding salons.  The Public’s staff has never seemed as accommodating (many thanks) or probably given as thankless a job, in asking audiences to keep their masks on;  despite a rainy weather forecast, Oscar Eustis, the artistic director, is emphasizing how the theatre belongs to the audiences in his introductory speech—volunteers and employees at Shakespeare in the Park have, over time, displayed de rigueur meanness with the bourgeoisie–and taxpayer largesse. After a year in the dark, because of the pandemic, this summer’s production, still wants to cancel, in accordance with current societal trends, dealing those in attendance an adaptation, which ultimately asks the public, and artists, what it will take to pull beyond sit-comming the Bard and art, and envisioning work as something other than variations on the broken record of one-party New York political thinking.  

The performers are ebullient, however, playing West African immigrants in South Harlem—and, as a homecoming to the theatre, the vehicle, with a popular Shakespearean character, who receives his just desserts for premeditated womanizing, is a sunny, colorful, becoming segue back into live work, even if these creatives  seem to have been binging on “Roadrunner” cartoons, as artistic inspiration.  Were our times not so dangerous (speaking now beyond infectious diseases), a light review could be left, guiltlessly, but Merry Wives, is also “shrunk,” like clothes might be in Mistress Ford’s laundry, simplified with easy stereotyping, which can impose meanings and facilitate inaccurate appraisals of communities and original art (recall that one of Verdi’s outsized masterpieces, Falstaff, is based on the same play, more complex and psychologically examined). The issue of how adaptors and adaptations change meaning by becoming overly obvious, direct, and simplified—by changing words and calling it free speech–is worthy of examination, where even a play by Shakespeare might be misapprehended and erased, for our own good.

In Central Park, on July 14, the predicted rain never comes, although it is explained that a cast member had been injured the night before, reminding of the almost forgotten physical reality of theatre and the Herculean effort of putting up plays, especially after a postponed opening and at this time.

Merry Wives may be all it wants to be.  And, for the moment, after so long, maybe it is all it needs to be.

with AbenaShola AdewusiGbenga AkinnagbePascale ArmandMaYaa BoatengPhillip James BrannonBrandon E. BurtonJoshua Echebiri, Branden LindsayEbony Marshall-OliverJarvis D. MatthewsJacob Ming-TrentJennifer MogbockJulian Rozzell Jr.Kyle ScatliffeDavid Ryan Smith, and Susan Kelechi Watson

MERRY WIVES
By William Shakespeare
Adapted by Jocelyn Bioh
Directed by Saheem Ali

Tickets are reserved through the Public in online lotteries

Visit the Public 

© 2021 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

A CALL FOR NEW ARTS NORMS IN THE U.S. ·

By Bob Shuman

In a 2019 BBC interview on “Free Thinking, the actress Patti LuPone succinctly noted that the U.S. does not have a National Theatre, nor does it celebrate the work of any dramatic writer, as does Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company. She also feels, having starred on both Broadway and the West End, that producers, and others in Britain, are more interested in the merit of work, rather than huge corporate profit, which affects the caliber of the American scene.

U.S. entertainment unions (SAG-AFTRA, AEA, and others), additionally, can cause confusion for artists—as is happening now with disagreements over streaming media—whereas their counterparts in the U.K. and Canada  find workable solutions for artists instead of roadblocking.  Theatrical product has become uniform—whether that is in terms of political view, names involved, areas of diversity attached to projects, and types of events and stories produced. American theatremakers, themselves, who may believe they are powerless, also, can side with entertainment fiefdoms, which may make them less individually creative.  The phenomenon of gatekeepers in entertainment, and in an industry like publishing, has long become accepted, sabotaging, instead of fostering, the work of practitioners, and subjecting them to rote mechanisms of exclusion.

Others in the professional hierarchy may profit by yoking artists to schemes in which they continue to pay for the hope of market exposure—in an undetermined future.  LuPone mentions that, despite the professional labyrinths, “some shows get through,” which is a little like hearing doctors say, “Some patients live.” However, a 3/28/19 article on Bloomberg captures the importance of American artists and their real power:  the Arts actually “contribute(d) more than $800 billion a year to U.S. economic output, amounting to more than 4 percent of GDP.”  To help demonstrate what this means, “The contribution of the arts to America’s economy is equivalent to nearly half of Canada’s total GDP, and bigger than the economic output of Sweden or Switzerland. Indeed, the arts account for more of U.S. GDP than industries such as construction, transportation, and agriculture.”

Governor Cuomo, fortunately, has expressed his understanding of our arts impact.  On 1/12, as reported in The New York Times, he stated, “New York urgently needs to revive its arts and entertainment industry if it is to recover from the coronavirus pandemic,” despite the fact that American artists waited six months longer than their counterparts in other countries for relief (15 million dollars was released for them in December).  Of course, the need is not specific to one group:  According to the Washington Post, on 1/21, 900,000 people filed for unemployment in the previous week, adding to the 16 million people already receiving benefits.  This does not take into account the needs of those who may have worked part-time, in gigs, or other temporary work, or those undetected and invisible, deemed ineligible for government aid, which can include artists.   

Solutions, nevertheless, can be found for those left behind.  Although the arts, as economic engine, are undervalued in the U.S., other countries see the contributions.  In 2019, they added more to the UK economy than agriculture–the Guardian reported that “the sector added £10.8bn to the economy.”  Currently, as discussed in The New York Times on 1/13, France and Great Britain offer aid geared to temporary or seasonal working conditions of arts workers.  Germany and Austria, with long histories of arts subsidies, implemented bonuses and insurance.  Other countries are working with cultural bailouts and long-term loans.

Our legislators, who recognize the economic engine of the arts, must champion delayed abilities and the powers of those who  continue to be oppressed in the field–yet, one area, arts-based education programs, has been in decline “for the past couple of decades,” according to Bloomberg.  Funding in a public-private partnership with the Mellon Foundation, though, which was also announced by Governor Cuomo, will “distribute grants to put more than 1,000 artists back to work and provide money to community arts groups.”

Better would be if such events were available, throughout the state, for those who need this pandemic year to establish footholds for themselves, not for others whose careers are already validated.  Students whose professional aspirations are stalled, beyond inconvenience, and who will now be competing with those younger than themselves and with more current school experience—these are the performers whom New Yorkers should be seeing, congratulating, and paying for.  Their time to shine has been curtailed.

Some would consider that the time of COVID might, in fact, be ripe for reevaluation and rethinking, where government, practitioners, and audiences must envision a new theatre for those who participate, based on improved working conditions and fresh ideas.

After almost a year, seeing the difficulties of others, and experiencing them ourselves, we have learned so much—sometimes about things that were being done wrong or couldn’t be heard at all. 

We can’t go back.

(c) 2021 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. 

 

Photos from top:

NY Times; BBC; Brandeis’

HOWLING IN THE DARK: LEE BREUER AND ‘THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS’, ‘PATAPHYSICS PENYEACH’, AND ‘LA DIVINA CARICATURA, PART 1: THE SHAGGY DOG’ ·

(Photos: Mabou Mines)

By Bob Shuman

Some of us had never seen Lee Breuer, who died January 3, working without a stocking cap—but what is probably most surprising is that we saw a playwright, this hands-on, at all.  In 2010, upon early audience entry, at New York Theatre Workshop, he clarified tech, behind a huge plywood board, for his double-bill of monologues Pataphysics Penyeach (Summa DramaticaandPorco Morto”).  In 2013, with La Divina Caricatura, Part 1: The Shaggy Dog, at La MaMa, there was a question as to whether he might even be seen, as press performances were canceled due to his illness.  He appeared, hustling through the impersonal subway tracks of the set, though, where a dog had been abandoned.  That animal, Rose, a puppet, also the star of the show, caused a visceral reaction, when she began eating “poop,” a polite way of naming the grotesque situation—one this reviewer categorized as an aberrant absurdist element, while still shuddering.  Much later, now the owner of two Jack Russell terriers, one who had been deserted on a highway in South Carolina, the truth of the writing emerged.  Although our dogs are now ensconced in Massachusetts during the pandemic, for several years, Breuer remained on my mind often, his visual observation about pets acute, disgusting, and pervasive.

He was part of the East Village zeitgeist—I should say he was our Peter Brook. Mabou Mines offered performance based on hard theatrical theory and experience, not simple propaganda, although clearly leftist. Breuer volunteered at the Berliner Ensemble, under Communism, worked with Grotowski, adapted Beckett, and more, to give his work an international edge. It’s impossible to think of the American avant-garde, without him.  Tracking our way back from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, along Seventh Avenue to Forty-Second Street, in 1988, someone, talking about the chorus, was saying how you weren’t “going to ask those big, mature Black women to do a lot of choreography,” as we understood musicals then, when someone noted the stately stage progressions, in The Gospel at Colonus.  The voices moved the audience, and caused them to dance, instead.  Lee Breuer was, almost inarguably, America’s finest theatre practitioner at the end of the twentieth century and early twenty-first, mainstream or otherwise. His aesthetic was so fully formed, centered, and grounded, in fact, that it seems an injustice to say that he was an experimental director. It’s better to describe him as a seminal one.

In a July 2020 Zoom interview from Segal Talks, hosted by Frank Hentschker, with Maude Mitchell, Breuer macrocosmically talked about playwriting, music: 

“I wanted to get this feeling of everyone contributing their melody to a larger whole, and that there would be a form that would arise from it.  I think music is the key to it.  I think if we can feel that all the currents–political, aesthetic—are joining together to make a statement–and if you can discern what that statement is–that you will have achieved a tremendous revelation about what our times and what our lives now are all about.”

Breuer’s statements could expose internal horror about the American and human condition, combining humor with the monstrous, as he did with Pataphysics Penyeach, which used children’s storybook  and cartoon characters facing contemporary political and sociological existence.  Back in 2010, he seemed to pinpoint how we had been overwhelmed by the technological: “Reality is not real,” a distinguished professor, a cow, tells us “—it’s virtual.”  The play demonstrated a “spin” on French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics (a “send up of metaphysics”). 

According to Breuer, in a 2007 video conversation at Towson University,  theatre only exists half the time on the stage; the other half takes place in the head.  The viewer is choosing the play’s message after “balancing the work’s thesis and antithesis.”  The synthesizing process is apparent in a work like Pataphysics Penyeach because, through the ridiculous and cerebral, one attempts to decipher the meaning, to make sense of the divergent inputs, holding on in the hope of unmasking the secret of the piece.  Steadily looking for metaphor, in “Porco Morto,” the second one act in the evening, Breuer turned the concept of “capitalist pigs” into a playlet about a piglet, who talks like Porky Pig.

For those drawn to the stage of Lee Breuer, part of its appeal must be his interest in the viewer as thinker, not simply as blank page—he was an intellectual theorist himself, not only a defender of theory, whether Marxist, Feminist, Market, or other.  Breuer’s is a formidable intelligence to be openly missed; irreplaceable, still to be reckoned with, and learned from. 

Don’t cover it up.

© 2021 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit Mabou Mines.

 

Two Breuer Reviews from Stage Voices:

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TRIPLE THREAT: ANN REINKING IN ‘OVER HERE!’ AND ‘ANNIE’ (1949-2020) ·

More than forty-six years ago, the Sherman brothers’ Big Band musical Over Here! (they had written the scores for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, and the song “It’s a Small World,” for the 1964 World’s Fair) opened on March 26, 1974, at Broadway’s Schubert Theatre.  Hoping to do for the ‘40s what Grease had done for the following decade (that ’50s-inspired show originally opened theatrically in 1971), Patty and Maxene Andrews starred (LaVerne, the third and oldest of the trio, died in 1967). Directed by Tom Moore, with choreography by Patricia BirchOver Here! is about a trip, by train, across the contiguous United States, as well as through America’s heart, memory, and consciousness, and its cast included stars, who had yet to break out: John Travolta, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner, and Samuel E. Wright.  From the distance of so much time, however, what was most bamboozling for me, as a suburban teenager, was a transvestite bride, dressed in white and carrying a bouquet, who sat toward the rear of the mezzanine with her groom.  (Whether related or not, one song in the vehicle, is called “Wartime Wedding”—and the Vietnam conflict would continue until 1975.)  Under the proscenium itself, a young dancer  appeared to be swimming across the stage, like Esther Williams–we could barely take our eyes off of her.  Ann Reinking was her name, and she died on December 12, at age 71.

My brother and I had actually seen the future Tony winner before, in  Pippin (1972)—and, at a Wyoming movie theatre, ten years later, she appeared on celluloid, as what’s best, in Annie—a movie that was too big for its story.  In an interview with The New York Times, in 1991, Reinking comments on what theatre was like in the late 1960s and 1970s—she called it “sophisticated and adult.”  And among the shows, flowering in Sondheim’s “city of strangers,” were: Cabaret, Pippin, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Dancin’—five of which she appeared in. During that era, when we caught the theatre bug, dance was becoming a necessary part of the actor’s toolkit, as show people talked intimidatingly about triple threats—and Reinking was probably the best example of the breed, able to dance, act, and sing, with a smoky voice.  Before too long, we would be playing in those shows she helped define and create, in college and community groups. Performers were different then: tougher, alienating, and asocial, as was that transvestite. Theatre, was a societal revolt—and to Reinking, who could dance strong or elegant or shaded, every step was as meaningful as a word in a line of dialogue.

 

The superagent Robert Lantz told me a change occurred with the opening of Annie on Broadway (1977). The audiences would be younger now, the themes, in the work, less complicated.  Reinking’s talent is validated in that she could play in both spheres: the darker musicals, which the culture was moving away from, and those demarcating a new age (that would welcome the British theatrical invasion). Ironically, she might be remembered best for a movie that was antithetic to her most challenging roles (not unlike the actress Gloria Grahame, who today is best-known for being Ado Annie, in the film of Oklahoma!, rather than for her Oscar-winning role in The Bad and the Beautiful). Reinking probably bridged the genre gap better than the noir star, but the profound, hard cynicism and sarcasm of her working-class characters, may garner less understanding today.  Perhaps, for good reasons,we prefer comic escapism–and have lost too much of an affinity for Brecht.  Reinking’s likeable, balletic dancing in a “soft, floating” yellow dress in Annie, however, is a mirage.

Rest in Peace.

–Bob Shuman

(c) 2020.  All rights reserved.

LINN ULLMANN ON HER FATHER, INGMAR BERGMAN: ‘IT WAS AS IF ALL THE WINDOWS OF HIS MIND HAD OPENED’ ·

(Alex Clark’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/29; Ingmar Bergman with his daughter Linn Ullmann during the filming of Autumn Sonata (1978). Photograph: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri.)

When Linn Ullmann’s father was well into his 80s, he began to refer to the life that he was now experiencing as “the epilogue”. Lying in bed in the mornings, he would tot up his ailments, allowing himself one per decade: if there were fewer than eight, he would get up; if there were more, he would stay put. But these strategies denoted realism rather than appeasement, and his determination to continue work remained largely unshaken.

Ullmann’s father was the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, and the work that he fixed on in his last years was a collaboration with his daughter, a book that would capture something of his life and thoughts as he approached the end. Recalling the beginnings of the project as she talks to me from Oslo, Ullmann emphasises the centrality of the creative process to Bergman’s life. “When it’s work, you know, then we know what we do. We’re working: good. We had so much fun discussing when we were going to write the book, how, what form it would take.” His preferred title, he joked, was “Laid & Slayed in Eldorado Valley”, a phrase that he’d always hoped to use for the name of a film.

Instead, what emerged, over a decade after his death in 2007, was Ullmann’s sixth novel, Unquiet, a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

It is, she tells me, a work built on “the ruins of a book that I didn’t write”. As father and daughter delightedly planned their project in numerous letters, phone calls and meetings, Bergman “kept getting older”. By the time work began in earnest, in the spring and summer before his death, physical frailty had been joined by something else: “Things had changed very much; just in a few months, his language had changed, the memory loss was now very obvious to him and to me. It was as if all the windows of his mind had opened up so that things that were real and things that were imaginary or dreamlike – he didn’t always have the capacity to see the difference.”

The six conversations between them, recorded at Hammars, Bergman’s home on the Swedish island of Fårö, form a vital strand of Unquiet but for many years Ullmann didn’t even listen to them, believing them to be part of the “huge fiasco” that the unfinished project had become: “It was physically painful, almost, to listen to those tapes. So I just put away the tape recorder … I mean, I should have started earlier, I should have insisted that we do it earlier, I should have asked different questions when we sat there, I should have had a better tape recorder because the tape recorder was lousy. I shouldn’t have been so high pitched.” It was her husband, the writer Niels Fredrik Dahl, who prodded her into retrieving the recorder from the attic: “Don’t you want to just listen to it now that you’re writing this book? And then I listened to it. And I transcribed it. And I translated it from Swedish to Norwegian. And it was just delightful.”

These initial feelings, of course, are an acute form of the regrets that so often accompany death; the conviction that had we acted differently, we might somehow have mitigated our bereavement, or preserved something more tangible of our loved one. But in Ullmann’s case, there is a sense of something particularly heightened – almost primal – about the experience.

(Read more)

Read the Stage Voices review of the book, 2/20/19

 

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” (6) ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx. 

NARRATOR:  As Mary Jane suspected, the dog park was closed, on 4/6/2020, along with all runs throughout the city.  Fearing Coronavirus infection, and a fine of one thousand dollars, if caught keeping a social distance of less than six feet from one another, people, out of home isolation, seemed to act silently and in slow motion. The public pathways, where Juno and Jasper were taken, were often uncrowded, especially in the April mists and rains, although this could change when there was sun.  Lantern was glimpsed, one morning, looking out a back window, rolled down, as Mary Jane’s car drove by the elementary school and slippery fallen magnolia blossoms, heading south. In the afternoons, Christie walked his dogs by the Hudson, and he recalled a little-known, sometime playwright of the archaic, who had composed, years before, a one-act on themes similar to those voiced now, during the pandemic.

 

TRAVELERS

 Based on and adapted from Shakespeare and Boccaccio, a companion piece to As You Like It

 

CHARACTERS:

DUKE SENIOR: His royal’s possessions included land in the Ardennes, where, after being exiled, he now lives in dense woods. (50’s) 

JAQUES:  A melancholy lord and follower of Duke Senior. (40’s)

FORESTER I:  A lord and follower of Duke Senior. (30’s)

FORESTER II:  Another of Duke Senior’s men. (40’s)

TOUCHSTONE:  A court fool of Duke Frederick, brother of Duke Senior.  The clown followed Rosalind and Celia to the Forest of Arden after banishment, although he knows little of country ways. (20’s)

AUDREY:  An unsophisticated country wench. (20’s)

MARTEXT:  A country vicar. (50’s)

The forest setting includes rough-hewn benches and a table—a stone ring to make a fire.

Suggestion for introductory music: Huun Huur Tu “Sixty Horses in My Herd.”

 

 

SETTING:  In the forest.

PLACE: Duke Senior’s encampment.

TIME: The plague years.

 

AT RISE: DUKE SENIOR and MEN are putting out a fire, preparing to hunt deer.  JAQUES enters with excitement.

 

JAQUES:

(Entering.) A fool, a fool!  I met a fool I’ the forest.

 

FORESTER I:

(About Jaques.) Must herbs need.

 

JAQUES:

A motley fool; a miserable—

 

FORESTER II:

Valerian.

 

HUNTER I:

Will only make him more melancholy.

 

JAQUES:

Drawing a dial from his poke.  And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye—

 

FORESTER I:

Perhaps saffron and . . . eye of newt.

 

JAQUES:

It’s ten o’clock says the fool very wisely; Thus we may see, ‘quoth he, ‘how the world wags; ‘tis but an hour ago since it was nine—

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Without jerkin?

 

JAQUES:

Without gabardine.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Next to venison?

 

JAQUES:

On its path.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Come shall be retrieved.

 

JAQUES:

And after one hour more ’twill be eleven, he says . . .

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Perhaps shall we see your clown.

 

JAQUES:

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot.

 

(JAQUES laughs. Silence. A note of sadness—the joke is not as funny as Jaques intended.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Dost think that jocund?

 

JAQUES:

More there was.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Doth not of patched amusement seem.

 

JAQUES:

If ladies be but young and fair, They have the gift to know it.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

‘Tis better.

 

JAQUES:

And hereby hangs a tale.

 

DUKES SENIOR:

(Ignoring.)  Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile . . .

 

JAQUES:

I am ambitious for a motley coat.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Then you shall have it.

 

JAQUES:

I thought thou wouldst delight.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Returning to his speech.) Old custom hast made this life sweeter than painted pomp.

 

JAQUES:

(Thinking of the clown.) Oh, worthy fool.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court?

 

JAQUES:

As I do live by food.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Like Robin of old England, who ’tis said we live like . . .

 

JAQUES:

Motley’s the only wear.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

From the rich he steals–givest to the poor.

 

JAQUES:

Grant me leave To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of the’infected world.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Noticing that JAQUES has not been paying attention.) I can tell what thou wouldst do.

 

JAQUES:

If they will patiently receive my medicine.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Fie on thee!

 

JAQUES:

To expose the hypocrisy of the world.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin.

 

JAQUES:

Why, who cries out on pride? 

 

DUKE SENIOR:

If you cans’t earn your keep and help our endeavor instead of souring.

 

JAQUES:

That can therein tax any private party?

 

DUKE SENIOR:

There are spies from the court!

 

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

He is but a coxcomb, my lord.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Something more than that.

 

JAQUES:

A merry man of the woods.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Thinkest he hast no objective?

 

JAQUES:

To give mirth.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

For thyself has been a libertine. As sensual as the brutish sting itself; And all th’embossed sores and headed evils.

 

JAQUES:

(About himself.) Hast been a traveler.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(About Touchstone.) When you have robbed him, pillaged for our company, shall you find him and strip his clothes as demonstration!

 

(Silence.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Come, shall we go shoot us venison?

 

FORESTERS:

Yes, my Lord.

(Silence.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Waving negative thoughts away, as he exits.) It irks me the poor dapple fools being native burghers of this desert city should in their own confine with forked head Have their round haunches gored.

 

(DUKE and HUNTERS exit.)

 

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

(Thinking of the deer that has been felled earlier.) Poor deer, thou makest a testament as worldlings do, giving thy sum of more to that which had too much.

 

(ROSALIND enters as a man, as if from a dream.)

 

ROSALIND:

They say you are a melancholy fellow.

 

JAQUES:

I am so.  I do love it better than laughing.

 

ROSALI ND:

Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkard.

 

JAQUES:

Why, ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.

 

ROSALIND:

Why then, ‘is good to be a post.

 

JAQUES:

‘Tis a melancholy of mine own, composed of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplations of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

 

(Pause.)

 

ROSALIND:

Have you perpended tranquil canals in soft-hued Venice?

 

JAQUES:

Death.

 

ROSALIND:

The stately Nile on her course from south to north?

 

JAQUES:

Styx.

 

ROSALIND:

Woulds’t swim through the threadlike Hellespont?

 

JAQUES:

Drown.

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

Did’st not see the years wane, or calculate the height of waves.  Yet plagues I’ve seen . . . a pestilence so powerful that it attacked robust and vigorous strength–the way dry or oil close to fire will catch aflame.  Was’t living among the dead but dids’t not recognize it . . .  Just from the touching the clothes of those of the sick or anything felt or used by them.

 

ROSALIND:

(To herself.) Must pray harder think I often, if knowest how to.

 

JAQUES:

Fear filled us so complete that no one cared about the other.   Dost thou know what it’s like to in terror quake?—no, thou are still too young.  Brother abandoning brother, uncle abandoning  nephew, sister left brother and very often wife abandoning husband, and—even worse, almost unbelievable—father and mother neglecting to tend and care for their children, as if they were not their own.

 

ROSALIND:

You have great reason to be sad.

 

JAQUES:

Yes, I have gain’d my experience, boy.

 

ROSALIND:

I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

 

JAQUES:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s which is politic; nor the lad’s which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these.

 

(ROSALIND has exited; TOUCHSTONE enters.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Come apace, good Audrey; I will fetch up our goats, Audrey.  And how, Audrey, am I the man yet?  Doth my simple feature content you?

 

JAQUES:

Shh, shh.  The jig-maker.  It is him.   (Jaques believes that Rosalind is still nearby.)

 

AUDREY:

Your features! Lord warrant us! What features!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) O knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a thatched house!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.

 

AUDREY:

I do not know what ‘poetical’ is: is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.

 

AUDREY:

Do you wish then that the gods had made me poetical?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I do, truly; for thou swearest to me thou art honest: now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign.

 

AUDREY:

Would you not have me honest?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, truly, unless thou wert hard-favoured; for honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) A material fool!

 

AUDREY:

Well, I am not fair; and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.

 

AUDREY:

I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Well, praised be the gods for thy foulness!  Sluttishness may come hereafter. But be it as it may be, I will marry thee, and to that end I have been with Sir Oliver Martext, the vicar of the next village, who hath promised to meet me in this place
of the forest and to couple us.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) I would fain see this meeting.

 

AUDREY:

Well, the gods give us joy!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Amen. A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; for here we have no temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) I must have liberty withal, as large a charter as the wind, To blow on whom I please, for so fools have.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

But what though? Courage!

 

JAQUES:

They that are most galled with my folly.  They most must laugh.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

As horns are odious, they are necessary. It is said, ‘many a man knows no end of
his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and knows no end of them.

 

JAQUES:

He that a fool doth very wisely hit Doth very foolishly, although he smart,

Not to seem senseless of the bob.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Well, that is the dowry of his wife; ’tis none of his own getting. Horns?
Even so.

 

JAQUES:

If not, The wise man’s folly is anatomized

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Poor men alone?

 

JAQUES:

Even by the squand’ring glances of the fool.  Invest me in my motley.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, no; the noblest deer hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man
therefore blessed?

 

JAQUES:

By how much defence is better than no skill, by so much is a horn more precious than to want.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No: as a walled town is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a
married man more honourable than the bare brow of a bachelor; Here comes Sir Oliver.

 

JAQUES:

Doth pride not flow as hugely as the sea Till that the wearer’s very means do ebb?

(SIR OLIVER MARTEXTenters.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Sir Oliver Martext, you are well met:

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.)What woman in the city do I name When that I say the city-woman bears

The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders?  Who can come in and say that I mean her. . . .

 

TOUCHSTONE:

(To Martext.) Will you dispatch us here under this tree, or shall we go with you to

your chapel?

 

JAQUES:

When such a one as she such is her neighbor? Or what is he of basest function That savest his bravery is not on my cost, Thinking that I mean him—But therein suits his folly to the mettle of my speech?

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

Is there none here to give the woman?

 

JAQUES:

Then he hath wron’d himself; if he will be free.

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

There then!  How then?  What then?  Let me see where in

My tongues hath wrong’d him: if it do him right

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I will not take her on gift of any man.

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

Truly, she must be given, or the marriage is not lawful.

 

JAQUES:

(Advancing.)  Proceed, proceed I’ll give her.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Good even, good Master What-ye-call’t: how do you,  sir? You are very well met: God ‘ild you for your last company: I am very glad to see you: even a
toy in hand here, sir: nay, pray be covered.

 

JAQUES:

Will you be married, motley?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling.

 

JAQUES:

And will you, being a man of your breeding, be married under a bush like a beggar? Methinks you’re more than that.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

(Aside, but AUDREY overhears.) I am not in the mind but I were better to be
married of him than of another: for he is not like to marry me well; and not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife.

 

JAQUES:

Dost not intend to stay?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Now am I in Arden; the more fool I; when I was at home I was in a better place.

 

JAQUES:

This fellow will but join you together as they join wainscot; then one of you will
prove a shrunk panel and, like green timber, warp, warp.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

By my troth, we that have good wits have much to answer for.

 

JAQUES:

Go thou with me, and let me counsel thee.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

‘Come, sweet Audrey: We must be married, or we must live in bawdry.
Farewell, good Master Oliver: not,– O sweet Oliver, O brave Oliver,
Leave me not behind thee: but,– Wind away, Begone, I say, I will not to wedding with thee.

(Exit AUDREY.)

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

‘Tis no matter: ne’er a fantastical knave of them
all shall flout me out of my calling.

(MARTEXT exits.)

 

JAQUES:

Brazen enough to wear motley among bumpkins?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

My weeds, sir.

 

JAQUES:

Think they wouldst not suspect thine purpose?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

To be married.

 

JAQUES:

Wilt see the duke again?

 

(Silence.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Doth thou know him?

 

JAQUES:

What wilt thou tell him of a rustic’s life?

 

 

TOUCHSTONE:

If thou never wast at court thou never saw’st good manners; if thou never saw’st good manners, than thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation.  Thou art in a parlous state.

 

JAQUES:

Why wouldst examine?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

It is a good life, in respect of itself; but in respect that it is a shepard’s life, it is nought.  In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life.

 

JAQUES:

Must be companion to others from the court.

 

(Silence.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Come Audrey, let us make an honorable retreat.

 

(But AUDREY is gone.)

 

JAQUES:

Are you not solitary?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Single, to this day.

 

JAQUES:

A base, countryman and wife.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Am here to wed.

 

JAQUES:

Courtiers in disguise.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Wouldst not presume–

 

JAQUES:

Methinks you know something more.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Nothing, Sir.

 

JAQUES:

Know thou the look of informants?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I’m looking for naught.

 

JAQUES:

What does the Duke want?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I know not.

 

JAQUES:

Hey, fool?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

He wants his duchy peaceable.

 

JAQUES:

You know then.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

What else could he want?

 

JAQUES:

More!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I know not more, I tell thee.

 

JAQUES:

Hast betrayed thyself.

 

(Jaques attacks Touchstone, tearing off his clothes.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, sirrah.

 

JAQUES:

Live to be watched, not live to be free. Canst not tell woman from man?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Thinkest so, Lord.

 

JAQUES:

Think we’re daft?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Players is all.

 

JAQUES:

Spies.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Conceit in lusting spring.

 

JAQUES:

Shalt show thine major-domo?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Nothing is wrongly done.

 

JAQUES:

Give me thine garb.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

We’re travellers.  Travelers– young.

 

JAQUES:

Then thou shalt know the cost.

 

(Touchstone has been stripped naked, exhausted.)

 

(JAQUES flees with the clown’s clothes.)

 

(END OF SCENE)

(“Travelers”: (c) Copyright 2016  by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. This free adaptation of As You Like It includes material from Shakespeare and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

(c) 2016, 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” 4 ·

(Photo of Jasper)

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx.  Today, it is warmer—and there is sun.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog park. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, LANTERN. Today, CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is standing at the beginning of the scene, but because of social distancing, he will be sitting on a second bench in this part of the run. JUNO and JASPER are CHRISTIE’s two Jack Russell terriers.)                        

(LANTERN is digging a hole to lie in; JUNO and JASPER are at the far end of the run.)

 

MARY JANE:  What are these dogs eating? Mud?

CHRISTIE:  Jasper you come over here!

MARY JANE:  What are they eating? Lantern was eating mud yesterday.

CHRISTIE:  You come over here, Jasper.  You, too, Junie.

MARY JANE:   I don’t mind if he eats a little mud.

CHRISTIE: (Suspecting Jasper is going to eat poop.)  Jasper, you get away from there.  

MARY JANE:   If he’s eating a lot of it, I care.  Is it poop?

CHRISTIE: I don’t know what it is.

MARY JANE: (Standing.)   I’ve heard about a powder for dogs who eat their own poop—makes it taste bad and they stop. But that wouldn’t help your dogs, because they eat other dogs’ poop.

CHRISTIE: Probably mud. (CHRISTIE kicks the ground where Jasper has been.)

MARY JANE:  (About a small piece of dog poop on the ground.) See, that’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t normally pick up.

(CHRISTIE picks it up anyway.)

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.  Lantern’s going. (Lantern is pooping.)

CHRISTIE: (Moving straight into action.) JASPER!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE: I have a bag. (Chasing Jasper.) No!

MARY JANE:  Come on, Jasper, you come up here by me.

CHRISTIE: (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that, Jasper!  Drop that.

(Pause. JASPER does not listen.)

MARY JANE:  Did he get it?

CHRISTIE: I don’t think so.  Junie, you get up there, too.

(Silence.  CHRISTIE cleans up LANTERN’s poop.  JUNO sits by Mary Jane.)

MARY JANE:  Thank you for picking it up.

CHRISTIE: No problem.

MARY JANE:  I don’t think he’ll go again, but you never know–he’s been going a lot lately.

CHRISTIE: (To Jasper.)  No eating.  You know full well you’re not supposed to be eating that!  The last thing I need is a sick little dog.

(LANTERNsettles down with his ball and begins “woofing” seven or eight times.)

MARY JANE:  (About the barking.) Lantern.  Stop being so loud!

(MARY JANE coughs and uses her launcher to play fetch.)

MARY JANE:  I’ve been coughing for four weeks. (since) March 1.  I take my temperature every day—I’ve never had one.  Cuomo says this is going to peak in 21 days—he changed it from 45. 

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: Prince Charles has Caronavirus. (CHRISTIE is throwing balls to the dogs, as well.)

MARY JANE:  He does?  That must have just happened.  I listen to the news when I’m getting ready in the morning.   

CHRISTIE: Junie, don’t you go down there.  I don’t want you eating mud. 

MARY JANE:  A lot of people around here say they’ve already had Coronavirus. Coughing, headaches, sniffling, diarrhea, they’ve been doing that all winter. They have chapped hands from washing so much.   They need to put hand cream in the bathroom, and use it. If not, they’ll forget. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  This cold I have–I think it saved my life. My friend Jerome tested positive—after waiting two weeks to receive the results. He texted me he’s getting better, but he’s still in quarantine.  If I didn’t have this (cold) Jerome and I would have been going out a few times a week. He has money, doesn’t mind paying. Getting lunch at Smashburger, riding up to Dobbs Ferry for drinks on the water. I would have gotten it. 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Jasper always puts the ball between feet, like croquet.  Lantern learned that from him. Now he does it too.  Is it the game called croquet where they aim the ball through a (she curves her arms and hands.

CHRISTIE:  (Seeing that JASPER has done this to CHRISTIE’s feet.) Yes.  Croquet.

MARY JANE:  (To LANTERN.) Now you want the orange ball.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t know what this is.  Last week everybody wanted the green ball.  Now it has to be orange.

MARY JANE:  (Lantern’s coloring is orange.) An orange ball for an orange dog.

CHRISTIE:  Trends can change at a moment’s notice.  Turn on a dime.  Everyone was fine with the green bacon ball until 11:17 this morning.  Then you couldn’t give it away. They got tired of it. No one will touch it. 

MARY JANE:  More and more I notice Lantern doesn’t like me leaving him.

CHRISTIE:  (Still talking about balls for dogs.) Jasper won’t even pick it up. Look at him. It’s right next to him. 

MARY JANE:  (About LANTERN.) He gets restless at night, can’t make himself comfortable.  Doesn’t want to be petted very long—and only when he’s lying down.  

CHRISTIE:  Lantern never likes to be petted.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  He has arthritis of the spine. He’s getting old fast.  He’ll be my last dog. He’s already eleven. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.

CHRISTIE:  (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE:   (Running to pick up poop.) How long do you say you’ve been doing this?

MARY JANE:  I’ve had dogs since I was sixteen.  That’s when my father felt he could trust me to take care of one–when I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after them and taking them outside.  But I wanted one longer than that—I have the dog gene.

(End)

(c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES) “AT THE DOG PARK”3 ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A wet dog park in the Bronx.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, Lantern—although CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is throwing most of the balls today (to LANTERN and one of CHRISTIE’S two Jack Russell terriers, JASPER. The other, JUNO, sits on the ground near MARY JANE. ) 

CHRISTIE: Come on, Lantern, come back.  Don’t go down so far.

MARY JANE: Lantern, come back.

CHRISTIE: Jasper got it.

MARY JANE: He knows not to go very far when I’m throwing the ball!

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.)  I’m trying to get it to you.

MARY JANE: I used to think he was smart.

CHRISTIE: I can’t throw it that far.

MARY JANE: Lantern, Christie’s wearing two pairs of gloves and has the ball in a plastic bag!

CHRISTIE: He missed it.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: Lantern, come back this way.

MARY JANE: A hospital ship is being sent to the East Coast.

CHRISTIE: (Explaining to Lantern.) Jasper will intercept it if you go too far downfield.

MARY JANE: Another one is going to the West Coast.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t have the arm for that.

MARY JANE: The problem is they only have 5,000 ventilators in New York.

CHRISTIE: How many do they need?

MARY JANE: 30,000.

(Pause.)

MARY JANE: Do they give one to the 40-year-old—or do I get it, with underlying conditions?

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.) Stay up here.

MARY JANE:  It used to be a disease would wipe out segments of the population—but we’re not used to that.  We got too smart in eradicating disease.

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.) Forget it, Lantern—I’m not a professional quarterback!

MARY JANE: They were looking at the people who died in Italy.  The largest group had cases in the elderly population with three or four underlying conditions.  The second group had two–

CHRISTIE:  It’s like fires out West.

MARY JANE: Exactly. 

(The dogs suddenly begin to bark at children outside the fence.)

CHRISTIE: (To the dogs.) That’s enough, that’s enough. (About the dogs, to the children.

MARY JANE:  Lantern, stop barking.   

CHRISTIE: (To the children and nanny.) They’re just saying good morning.

MARY JANE: All the children are off from school.

CHRISTIE: (To the children, about the dogs.) They’re just saying hello.  You don’t have to be scared of them.  They’re just big talkers.

(The nanny and children move on and the dogs stop barking. Silence.)

MARY JANE: How is your son?

CHRISTIE: Still in Edinburgh. Going on lockdown.  He doesn’t want to come home. Says it’s as bad over here as it is there.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: You know in Venice, without all the tourists there, the canals are like glass.  Crystal clear. Blue. You can see all the way to the bottom.

CHRISTIE: Lantern, you got the ball!

(End)

(C) Copyright 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

‘THE MIKADO’ FROM THE NEW YORK GILBERT & SULLIVAN PLAYERS (NYGASP)—REVIEW FROM NEW YORK ·

By Bob Shuman

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) brought their production of The Mikado to the Kaye Playhouse over the holiday season (12/27-1/5)—perhaps especially topical now since it is about a prince who runs away from his family.   The larger issue concerning the operetta is thornier than that, though, and has been since its premiere, in 1875, because of characterizations of the Japanese (a random list of role names is telling, and includes, Nanki-PooPish TushPooh-Bah, and Yum-Yum). The dramatist G. S. Gilbert, in defense, explained that “[The Mikado] was never a story about Japan but about the failings of the British government.” Even so, the work would be impossible to create today.  

Attempting to minimize the offensive, the NYGASP spoke to the Asian-American community in 2015, upholding “The Mikado’s musical score, setting, characters, storytelling, and most of its universal Satire”—you can see the difference in multi-racial, if primarily non-Asian, casting and costumes by Quinto Ott that make use of shoulder ornamentation and flow—even gowns with their backs cut out–but which are only suggestive of the East.  Director and choreographer David Auxier-Loyola, interprets the piece openly; how a Westerner would imagine Japan, in innocence and ignorance.  He has also penned a prologue—apparently based on an almost-true story, which gives a rationale for a departure into the make-believe.

New material elsewhere injects mention of the disastrous film version of Cats, presidential hopefuls, and even Trump, but the creators ensure that the cultural misinterpretation is never as outrageous as in Mel Brooks’s The Producers, for example.  NYGASP, which might be compared to a family of loving, ardent supporters, treats the work of Gilbert & Sullivan as treasure, not merely a gold mine. They may, in fact, be giving the team more accommodation than others would, as even contemporary writers, working sensitively, are typically not allowed to give voice beyond their own race and ethnicity, in the entertainment and publishing worlds.

Still, The Mikado is considered “the most popular piece of musical theatre of all time,” and today NYGASP is a needed outpost in the arts— important for students in understanding the range and history of theatre.  The organization also allows audiences to get away from cold, hyper-tech Broadway and, beyond it, stage work that is created without access to a repertory group. For those who find Gilbert & Sullivan’s Victorian sensibilities too eccentric and psychologically weightless (The Mikado actually has a stronger storyline than The Pirates of Penzance,  which relies on counting age by leap years), there is the music–which may, in part have influenced Frederick Loewe‘s score for My Fair Lady.   Tuneful, pleasant, and rousing, the songs, choruses, recitative, trios, quartets, madrigals, and more, are all ably performed by the NYGASP orchestra, ensemble, and principals, who include David WannenJohn Charles McLaughlinDavid MacalusoMatthew WagesDavid AuxierSarah Caldwell SmithAmy Maude Helfer, and Rebecca L. Hargrove.  Cáitlín Burke brings strong emotion to her role, as an elderly lady, in love with the prince—taking this Mikado from operetta to opera.

Conducted by: Albert Bergeret and Joseph Rubin.

Look for The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, at the Kaye Playhouse,  April 18-19 2020 with The Gondoliers.

Visit The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Press: Sean Katz, Katz PR