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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hungry Like the Wolf: Mike O'Shay's

I was up north this weekend taking in a show. (Talented cast. Really rough production. I'm not going to give it a recommendation, but I may go see a performance later in the run to see if some of the "bugs" have been worked out.) Anyway, I stopped by a great little restaurant for dinner before the show.
Mike O'Shay's is a cozy little pub located on historic Main Street in Longmont. My companions and I started with the artichoke dip with toasted sourdough bread. We enjoyed it so much that we had to order more bread.
I had the Shepherd's Pie for my entree, which I loved (!!!), with a side of beet bisque, which had a unique flavor that was a bit surprising at first, but definitely grew on me. I would absolutely order it again. My friend Ali had the French Onion Soup. She really liked it, and I think that I will have that myself the next time I'm there. Billie Jo was less than thrilled with her Broiled Salmon Sandwich, which she described as "dry." However, in defense of the sandwich, it comes with a cucumber dill sauce that she elected to omit. Also, Billie Jo is a highly selective gourmet, which, where I'm from, we call a "picky eater." She did say that she enjoyed her fries, which, for Billie Jo, is actually the main part of any entree.
All in all, it's a restaurant I will happily visit again, perhaps on the night when I give a "second chance" to a show that may have opened about a week earlier than it was ready.

Many of you have let me know that you've been sending birthday cards to Shane, to which I usually respond, "Cool. Send another," which probably isn't the most appreciative response, I know. Let me take this opportunity to try again: "Cool. Send two more cards."
There I go again. I'll work on it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Peek at the Process

I think that one of the most important things in modern theatre is the development of new works. That’s not to say that producing a good ol’ reliable chesnut from time to time isn’t important, too, but if all we ever do is produce popular works from other decades, then where will the stories of our era come from, right?
Well, last night I got to see a couple of new works from young playwrights and an original film as well.
On the Auraria Campus in Arts Building Room 278, a handful of CU Denver students (with the help of a couple of generous pros) presented three very innovative and very personal projects.
Amanda Von Nostrand performed a very funny and touching piece about a young woman’s struggle with her identity, Bunny Loves Me, This I Know, co-written with Laura Grey and directed by Ariel Bradler. Von Nostrand’s talent as a playwright is surpassed only by her diverse ability as an actress.
Following Bunny was the screening of a beautifully moving short film by Danielle Mondragon: it will all be green. The plot description in the program is “A young couple must deal with the reality of one’s impending death . . . or do they?” To elaborate any further would be to spoil the story.
Finally, Josh Griffith presented a reading of his play Shake Your Spear at Shakespeare, about a production of MacBeth being rehearsed and performed at a maximum-security prison.
All in all, it was a very entertaining and varied evening, and I recommend seeing one of the two remaining presentations: Friday, April 27th, and Saturday, April 28th. Doors open at 7:30 pm, and again that’s in Room 278 in the Arts Building on the Auraria Campus.

On the subject of new works, I would like to re-print a letter here sent to me (via Denver playwright Marcus France) from Rick Bernstein, the Executive Director of Miner’s Alley Playhouse:

Dear Friends of the theatre,

I am sending this special invitation out to all of you to join us for a reading of Terry Dodd's new play "Home By Dark" this Saturday April 28 at 1:00pm at Miners Alley Playhouse. This production is scheduled to open at Miners Alley Playhouse in September, 2007. As a new work we are very interested in having you hear this first reading and getting an honest reaction to what you hear.

For those of you in the theatre world, as you know this is a most important first step in the workshop process to preparing a script for production. We value your input. For those of you who have supported Miners Alley Playhouse over the years as patrons, your feedback is most important as you are who we are ultimately telling the story to.

So if at all possible, please join us. You are welcome to email back with a confirmation or just show up around 12:30pm or 12:45pm and we will start promptly at 1:00pm. The play is a one-act that runs approximately 90-minutes. We will have a discussion directly after the read to hear your reactions.

Thank you very much for your support. We will hope to see you this Saturday!

Rick Bernstein, Executive Director
Miners Alley Playhouse

I would like to second Rick’s point about how important play readings are to the playwrighting process.
I would be willing to wager that every great play you’ve ever seen as well as all of my current recommendations for the week (Gypsy, Working, The Elephant Man, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg) all enjoyed this point in their development. What a great opportunity for theatre lovers to be involved in what could be the next Take Me Out or Proof or Anna in the Tropics!
I’m going to try to be there, and I think the more of you all that can be there, too, the better.

And, of course, let me throw out another reminder about the birthday cards for Shane, this time minus the ranting. (Guinness World Records are still wankers, though.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dum Spiro Spero (While I Live, I Hope.)

Life is funny. Life is tragic.
The fact that both of these statements can be true simultaneously is what makes a smart, biting black comedy like A Day in the Death of Joe Egg work so well.
A British couple’s life is changed when their daughter is born severely mentally handicapped – unable to communicate and unable to move apart from the occasional uncontrollable spasm. That’s the tragic part.
This doesn’t prevent the couple, Brian and Sheila, from having “conversations” with their daughter, or imbuing her with a personality: likes, dislikes, wants, etc. They joke with her endlessly, and, to them, she jokes right back. That’s the funny part. It would be sad if you spent too much time thinking about it, but Peter Nichols’s rapid-fire script allows very little time for deep contemplation on the part of the audience – except for precisely where he wants it.
The subject matter of the play is at times difficult, and it is a very brave production for any theatre company to mount.
Metropolitan State College of Denver accepted the challenge, and their Student Stage Ensemble (directed, designed, built, and performed entirely by students) met that challenge brilliantly.
Colin Ahern as Brian (“Bri”) commands the stage with the presence of Cyrano or Petruchio, but deftly gives us glimpses into the fact that Bri is a father who has never heard his daughter call him “Daddy.”
Elizabeth Edwards is thoroughly convincing as Sheila, the much put-upon mother who gleefully joins in her husband’s wise-cracking, but also hopes, beyond any available evidence, that her little girl will smile at her someday. Edwards’s performance reminded me of the mothers in the Autism Everyday video that I saw for the first time only a few days ago: hope, humor, and despair, mixed with emotional and physical exhaustion.
Jessica Evans is so convincing as the spastic daughter that it is somewhat jarring to see her stand and take a bow at the curtain call.
Sarah Crabtree, Jose Zuniga, and Nancy S. Evans round out the talented ensemble with broad (yet controlled) characterizations and precise comic timing. (On a side note, Zuniga played the scene-stealing Goat, and Evans the irascible and scheming Salome in last year’s Robber Bridegroom, which I raved about so extensively back when this blog was still just an e-mail list.)
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is funny, dark, intelligent, and as challenging for its audience as for its performers. In short, it’s good quality local theatre, and you all know how I feel about that.
Joe Egg (follow the link; scroll down) runs through April 29th at the King Center on the Auraria Campus.

Also running through April 29th is Performance Now’s Gypsy at the Lakewood Cultural Center.

Wrapping up one day earlier on April 28th, are Working - A Musical and The Elephant Man, running in rep over at the Tramway Theatre.

I highly recommend all of these shows. Of course I do. I wouldn’t mention them otherwise.

Don’t forget to get your birthday cards in the mail to Shane Bernier. He turns 8 on May 30th, but you can start sending cards now.
Which brings me to a comment that someone made to me yesterday. “What’s the point?”
That’s a valid question. Guinness Records won’t acknowledge the category anymore. (Wankers.) We’re not ending world hunger. We’re not even curing cancer. All I know is that there’s a little guy in Canada that loves getting cards so much that he wants to break the record (acknowledged or not, wankers) for most birthday cards received.
Now, I don’t know much about leukemia. I know it doesn’t feel very good. I know that you have to be kept in a pretty sterile indoor environment. I know that chemicals and radiation (which also don’t make you feel very good) are part of the therapy. I know that very, very painful transplant surgery is sometimes required. I also know that, when I was 7-years-old, I was climbing trees, falling off my bike, jumping over ditches, playing with my friends, and having more fun than I could have ever realized at the time.
You know what? If you don’t want to send this kid a birthday card, don’t send him a birthday card. Don’t put yourself out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eye of the Beholder

Being the noble philanthropist that I am, I gave away my umbrella to a group of nuns earlier yesterday. It was a big umbrella, and they were very small nuns. They might have been penguins. It was one of those days.
It was for that reason (and not because I left my umbrella sitting comfortably at home in a warm closet), that I was braving the elements somewhat exposed last night, all in the name of good quality theatre, when I went to see NTA's production of The Elephant Man at the Tramway Theatre. The fact that Maria-Christina Oliveras was part of the cast had only very little to do with it. Either that or it had everything to do with it. I can't remember. It was cold, and marauding penguins stole my umbrella.
Whatever the case, it was a very impressive and highly affecting production. Eric Laurits brings the deformed title character to life sans prosthetics or any other make-up effects, twisting his entire body in a remarkable and labor-intensive performance. I could feel my arms and legs getting tired just watching him. Equally skillful is his characterization of the simple but exceptionally astute John Merrick, lifted from the circus freak show into upper-class 19th century London society in a bizarre, but fairly true, twist on the Pygmalion fable. (Merrick's actual first name was Joseph. His doctor, Frederick Treves, mis-recalled it as "John" when he wrote his memoirs many years later. Nerd stuff. Ignore at your leisure.) Ivan Lopez deftly balances ardent emotion with English restraint as Treves, Merrick's deliverer, benefactor, and, ultimately, student. Anne Marie Nest is radiant as Mrs. Kendal, the larger-than-life stage actress and "love interest" for the hopelessly and tragically romantic Merrick. Ms. Oliveras takes a more minor role in the ensemble (much to my chagrin) than she did in Working, but still manages to bring a distinct sparkle to every second of stage time she is afforded.
It is difficult not to write also about the musical that the eight actors I saw last night are currently doing in rep with The Elephant Man, just as it was also somewhat difficult not to think about it during the performance, having seen it less than a week ago. However, the recent memory of the powerful experience of Working only further confirmed for me just how talented the cast before me really was.
The Elephant Man and Working are running in rep through April 28th. I suggest seeing them both if you can, and at only $16 per ticket, that is a fairly inexpensive possibility.

Another local show deserving of your attention is Performance Now's Gypsy, which runs through April 29th.

The Shane Bernier birthday card campaign continues. The little man turns 8 in just over a month (May 30th), and even one card makes a difference. (But two make more . . .)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lost Children

It feels almost as though my blog has transformed into a magnanimity announcement board of late. We've got the Shane Bernier birthday cards campaign, the Gabby Krause Foundation, and my brief article on Earth Day. If not for my enthusiastic recognition of the fine-looking females in Gypsy in my last entry, one might think that the Wolf had gone on vacation and left the care of this blog to some bleeding heart good Samaritan. Not so, my hairy-chinned little piggies, not so.
It just seems that lately I've had a number of things brought to my attention, often by beautiful young women (ensuring my undivided attention), and then I find myself thinking about these things later on in the day. I think, if I were a better person, I'd do something about this. Then I remember that there are better people who read my blog. I post the information so that some do-gooder can take up the cause, and I have used my blog to facilitate the occurrence of a good deed or two. I figure that's got to shave at least a couple of weeks off of my purgatory time, as long as I can avoid the black smoke and the polar bears. (I know. I know. The island isn't purgatory. Yeah, sure. Whatever.)
Well, anyway, an attractive woman I encountered on the internet (who, yes, might in actuality be a large, hairy man named Murray) brought another bit of information to my attention. I was not aware of this (and I'm a little late in finding out), but April is Autism Awareness month.
Now, I must confess that my exposure to autism consists primarily of Dustin Hoffman's performance as an autistic savant in Rain Man, a role that I know was heavily researched, but, like most things in Hollywood, still only moderately accurate. I was also under the impression that autism is extremely rare. This apparently is not true. Here are some facts about autism that were something of a surprise to me:

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls.

Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.

1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism.

1 in 94 boys is on the autism spectrum.

67 children are diagnosed per day.

A new case is diagnosed almost every 20 minutes.

More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined.

Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.

Autism costs the nation over $90 billion per year, a figure expected to double in the next decade.

Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases.

Let me just repeat that last one just in case you were "skimming."

Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases.

There is no medical detection or cure for autism.

Now, as troubling as these statistics are, they’re still really just factoids. To put a more human face on this disability, take a look at this video on the Autism Speaks website. It's called Autism Every Day. It's thirteen minutes long (yes, you do too have the time) and follows several mothers of children with autism through their every day lives. The movie has been expanded to 44 minutes and is currently touring film festivals.
I thought it was interesting. Watch the video and draw your own conclusions.

Uh-oh, here comes that altruistic feeling again . . . If Keanu Reeves and Andie MacDowell share more than five minutes of screen time, the talent vacuum created is enough to swallow the entire population of Rhode Island!
There, I feel better now.

Birthday cards are making their way to Shane. Look at the smile on that kid's face.What the heck else were you going to do today? Let's keep those cards rolling in.

Current recommendations for theatre around town:
Working is at the Tramway through April 28th. Great, great show.
Gypsy closes April 29th at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Definitely worth seeing. I could go on about Alisa Vaughters and the others in her trio, but I vowed never to use the word "bootylicious" in this blog.

Aw, nuts.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

You gotta get a gimmick . . .

Performance Now’s latest show, Gypsy, is currently playing at the Lakewood Cultural Center through next week-end. I managed to huff and puff my way into a sold-out matinee. (Matinee: Latin for “blue hair.”) Among the chorus of oxygen tanks and the oft-repeated and not-quite-whispered, “What did she say?” from various members of the audience, I got to see a pretty darn good show, which is no small task considering Gypsy had to stand in the formidable shadow of Performance Now’s previous effort, 42nd Street.
Director Nancy Goodwin is known for painstakingly trying to recreate the original Broadway experience in the shows she brings to the stage, whereas, I, as a director, usually seek to differ from the original as much as I can. I think that both are valid approaches, but it should be noted that Nancy Goodwin is the artistic director of a highly successful theatre company while I have, on more than one occasion in this business, been “shown the door.” Ah well, like the sailor said, “I yam what I yam.” (It could also be my sparkling personality.)
In any case, I was a little surprised (pleasantly) to see that this particular Gypsy did vary somewhat from the frequent incarnations of the show. Most actresses taking on the role of Rose hit the stage with a full head of steam and don’t let up until somewhere around the middle of the second act, effectively rolling over everything in their path.
Emily Macomber’s Rose, on the other hand, is slightly more internalized, affecting a far darker and more vulnerable version of the world’s most famous stage mom. I really liked it, myself. The other effect of this more subdued Rose is the opportunity for a few of the secondary storylines and characters to have their moment as well. There’s more to this story than I was aware of previously, especially an interesting dynamic between the characters of Herbie and Louise in the first act. Now, make no mistake, Macomber takes the stage as well as the best of the brassy belters who’ve tackled the role before, she just effectively “reins in” the part at times.
As Herbie, Gary Hathaway, adds a third dimension to a role that is so frequently a mere “throwaway” part. The effect is powerful.
Alexandra is enchantingly adorable as little Baby June, and Brianna Tracy absolutely shines in the role of Gypsy Rose Lee (nee Louise). Burke Walton gets a much-deserved opportunity to demonstrate his considerable chops as Tulsa, and, if you look closely, you may notice Denver favorite (and mine) Maddi Long in the Newsboy chorus.
In a bit of interesting casting, the three tacky, somewhat-over-the-hill strippers in the “Gotta Get a Gimmick” number are played by three very beautiful and very sexy younger actresses: Susan Varady Walters, Kelly Van Oosbree, and Alisa Vaughters. Hey, I’m not complaining. Yowza! (That’s a . . . um . . . technical term.)
This show only runs for two weekends which basically leaves it flying under the radar of the “Big Three” papers in this town, and that’s a shame, because it’s a very good show.
There’s just one weekend left, so I highly recommend that you make plans now to see it.
Unfortunately, you probably won’t get to have the same experience I did, which included two very talkative elderly women in front of me who seemed just a little bit obsessed with Herbie. (Watch your back, Kristin Hathaway.)

Two reminders:
Working runs through April 28th at the Tramway Theatre, and it really is one show not to be missed.
Shane Bernier’s 8th birthday is May 30th. Get those cards in the mail.

Spaceship Earth

"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."
~Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Well, it's around 4 a.m. Sunday morning, and I can see that the Earth Day celebrations have begun. There's a guy across the street hugging a tree. Oh, wait. Now he's hugging a lamppost. And now he's hugging a mailbox. And . . . oooh, now he's hugging the sidewalk.
Well, anyway, it is Earth Day. A day to look with gratitude and appreciation upon this planet that has provided so much for our species since before we first started acting in insurance commercials. (Side note: Geico, that gag's been old for a couple of years now. Let it go.)
It's also a day to think about ways that we can show our appreciation for our mother Earth and to work to preserve the bounty of her resources as well as her beauty. Really, though, we ought to be demonstrating that appreciation and awareness every day of the year.
I grew up on the Southern Ute Reservation here in Colorado, and I remember one day in kindergarten that we were visited in class by one of the tribal elders who told us that the Earth was our mother, and we must protect her and keep her beautiful. For years after that I used to drive my actual mother nuts, because I would come home with my pants pockets full of paper, gum wrappers, bottlecaps, and other bits of litter that I picked up off the ground when I was out playing.
I wish that I could say that I took the same care in conservation now that I did back then, but I fear I don't. If you're anything like me, maybe you could use some of the resources I found at If you have kids, and you would like to inspire them to become more Earth-aware, the way that that tribal grandfather did for one little wolf cub many years ago, the folks over at Kaboose have some fun activities that you and your progeny can do together. If you are a kid who's been reading my blog, then, boy am I sorry. Turn off the computer. Go find mommy. Tell her you've been COR-RUP-TED and she needs to get you into THER-A-PEE right away. (Yes, I said "PEE." Stop laughing and go find your mom, you little rugrats.)
If you haven't already seen it, I suggest putting An Inconvenient Truth in the DVD player today, but don't spend all day on the couch. At some point, go outside, spread your arms wide, look skyward, and, no matter what the weather, just "feel" the wonder of the nature around you. Hey, the guy across the street is up and he's doing just that! . . . and now he's feeling the sidewalk again. Oh well.
Happy Earth Day, everybody.

See if you can find a birthday card on recycled paper to send to Shane Bernier today, too.

And remember, Working runs through April 28 over at the Tramway Theatre. Don't miss it!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

2 Legit, 2 Legit 2 Quit

Whoah! I thought I was the cynical one!
I've already had a number of people say that they think this Shane Bernier birthday card thing could be a hoax.
Like I said, I tend to assume everything is a hoax, so I checked this one out. It's legit.
Here's a news video on Shane.
You're so skeptical. Next thing I know, you all will start being self-centered and sardonic. That's my job!
Just for that, go out and buy him two cards . . . bunch of doubting Thomases, really!

Look at that face. Three cards! Do it!

And don't forget to check out Working at the Tramway Theatre.

Calling all Do-gooders . . .

I have been described as cynical, pompous, ill-mannered, self-important, self-serving, acerbic, overbearing, arrogant, and surly. (And that was just in the last birthday card I got from my mother.) I don't deny it, but I would like to point out that I do have at least two soft spots. One is for Kristen Chenoweth, who keeps ignoring my phone calls, by the way. (Don't make me go all "Alec Baldwin" on your voice mail, kitten!) The other is for kids with personality (just not too much.)
Well, today I heard about this little guy in Canada who is battling with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or A.L.L. and has decided that, while conquering his disease, he also wants to take on a Guinness World Record. His name is Shane Bernier, and it seems that Shane has a birthday coming up at the end of May, his 8th birthday, to be specific. Shane would like to beat the current world record for number of birthday cards received before his next birthday, which is May 30th. (Thanks to Jamie Tolen for the info on that.)
Now, I checked out the story in case it was a hoax (cynical, remember?), and it's legit. Shane needs to get 350 million cards to beat the current record. I think we can do that, don't you?
So, here's a link to the webpage about this, but there aren't a lot of details. Jamie said something to me about "no home-made cards," and I don't know whether the cards ought to have separate postmarks, or if you and your friends can throw several in a box and mail them all together. My suggestion would be to err on the side of caution and mail your "store-bought" cards individually. This kid's facing the possibility of a bone marrow transplant. Spring for the stamp, jerky! (Nobody's ever going to confuse me with Danny Thomas, are they?) If the thought of knocking out a world record doesn't quite float your boat, then try this on for size: in an interview, little Shane said that seeing his name written on paper brings him joy. (I've got you now, don't I?)
Here's the address in case the link doesn't work:

Shane Bernier
Box 484
Lancaster Ontario
K0C 1N0

This has been a long week for the world, folks, and I don't know about you, but I could sure do with spreading a little sunshine, how about you?
For those of you who are so inclined, Shane's favorite thing in the whole world is legos. Of course it's Canada, so it might be legoos. (I'm a bad, bad person . . .)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

All The Live-Long Day

Back in 1974, author and historian Studs Terkel published a collection of stories of the American worker called Working. In 1978 Stephen Schwartz and others adapted the book into a short-lived Broadway musical. (Yes, Stephen Schwartz, “the Wicked guy”. He wrote even better stuff than that, you know.) However, Working was only short-lived in the sense that it ran on Broadway for (including previews) just one month. In actuality, the musical has had a healthy life in regional theatre, was adapted for television in 1982, and was recently revised again in 1999. The show’s "underground" success is due in no small part to the universality of the stories. Struggling to get to the top, finding one’s place in the world, taking pride in a job well done, working for idiot bosses, and wanting a better life for one’s family are themes that resonate with all people, regardless of geography, wealth, or culture. It is a sometimes sad, sometimes proud, and often very funny celebration of the human experience, and, when it is done well, it is a powerful theatrical experience.
This was especially true of the performance that I saw tonight by the talented ensemble cast in the National Theatre Conservatory Program’s production of Working at the Tramway Theatre.
The crowd (and I along with them) was moved to an immediate standing ovation at the curtain call, and I don’t mean one of those sycophantic, “look-I’m-a-bigger-fan-of-theatre-than-you-are” inspired ovations that one sees all too often for shows that really don’t deserve it. This was an "it-would-be-obscene-to-remain-seated-after-so-great-a-show” ovation. The versatile cast of nine deliver these songs and stories with such enthusiasm and virtuosity that they are a walking (and dancing, and singing) billboard for the quality of the American National Theatre Academy here in the heart of Denver.
A particular stand-out is native New Yorker Maria-Christina Oliveras whose vivacious presence probably should have earned her a lighting design credit for the illumination that her winsome smile alone brought to the stage. Oliveras goes on my “names to watch” list.
On that subject, I have received some mild criticism (and by “criticism” I mean that objects have been thrown) for the fact that the actors who go on my “list” are all very comely women. My first reaction, is to cry, “Untrue!” Look at the list: Michelle Merz, Courtney Capek, Emily-Paton Davies, Jennifer Forsyth . . . okay, so it is true, but it is also true that these women are extremely talented performers.
Oliveras is no exception as a brilliant comedic and dramatic actor and an engaging and powerful vocalist. That having been said, of course: Hubba, Hubba, Hubba.

Working runs in rep with The Elephant Man through April 28 at the Tramway Theatre. Tickets are a bargain at $16.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Stop. Stop!
Put on the brakes for just a second. A terrible, terrible thing has just happened, and right now we want to be angry and we want to know who to blame and we want to enact laws and file lawsuits, but there will be time for that soon enough.
Right now, as is the nature of the universe, this tribulation has also provided us with an opportunity.
Look around you. Look at the other people around you, or on the T.V., or on the internet, or wherever.
Don’t you feel just a little more connected to them today? Do you care as much whether they are Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Jew, Christian or atheist, white or black, gay or straight? Do you care how much money they make or what they do for a living? You don’t, do you? Notice this. Notice this now! Feel it. This is what it means to be human. We tend to forget this. We are too eager to define ourselves by how we are different from one another, when the fact is we are all of us connected.
Sometimes it takes something big to happen for us to see it, but, fundamentally, we know it’s true. We are each of us connected to those families, those victims, the police who responded, the campus staff who made decisions we’d all like to second-guess, and, most importantly, we are all connected to that young man, whether we like to think so or not. We can call him a “monster” or a “coward” all we want, and we will because it makes us feel separate from him. We know that we aren’t, though. We’ve all felt angry and helpless and alone on some level. I’m not saying that we should excuse his choices or his actions, by any means, but I think we ought to recognize that he’s one of us.
We all carry hurt around with us. We have our “lists” of “should have’s” and “ought to’s” that eat away at us on the inside. The “wrongs” that we bear in our lives bubble just beneath the surface. Would most of us do what this young man did? No, probably not, but haven't we all done or said things that we regret?
What happened yesterday is an extreme and tragic case, but is it any different than flashing our high beams at somebody who cut us off on I-25 or snapping at the check-out clerk who charged us twice for the avocados? At the basic level, no, it isn’t any different. We could have chosen better responses as well.

I am easily as guilty of this as anyone. I have a long list of people (specifically and generally) who really irritate me. I could not feel any less connected to these people 99% of the time. However, on days like yesterday and today, it’s a lot harder for me to remember why that is. I know that in a couple of days I’ll remember. Someone’s cell phone will go off in the theatre, and it will all come rushing back to me.
I sort of wish it wouldn’t. It may make for less-humorous blog entries, but I might just live longer, or at least better. I would like to retain this feeling of connectedness also on days that are not filled with tragedy, anger, fear, or helplessness.
So today I will notice this feeling. Today I will recognize that I am not separate from the rest of the world. Maybe, if I pay very close attention, I can remember in a few weeks what it feels like to be less selfish, less bull-headed, less supercilious (yeah, that one will be hard), and less agitated.
Maybe we all can.
Imagine what that would be like.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Movies: Starstruck, Zorro's Fighting Legion

Starstruck (1982)

Plot synopsis from Star Struck is a light, frothy pop-culture musical comedy from Australia, where Jackie (Jo Kennedy) dreams of becoming a singing star and her cousin Angus (Ross O'Donovan) thinks he has what it takes to be a successful manager. After a spot at the hip club in town (wearing a kangaroo suit) fails to win Jackie any paying gigs, Angus enters her in a major talent competition to be held on New Year's Eve. If Jackie wins, her career is assured, and the $25,000 grand prize will help keep her parents' cafe open. But can Jackie stand the pressure? Will the band get it together in time? And will Angus ever get a girl? Star Struck plays like a mid-1980s "New Wave" variation on an old "Let's Put On A Show!" teenage musical, with tunes by Phil Judd and Tim Finn of the popular New Zealand band Split Enz. Keep your eyes peeled for a bit part played by Geoffrey Rush, 14 years before he would win an Oscar for his work in Shine. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Remember all those corny MGM musicals with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and the “come-on-gang-let’s-put-on-a-show-and-save-Uncle-Jasper’s-farm” storylines? Now imagine them transported to the New Wave counterculture of early 1980’s Australia. Can you imagine that? Good. Now you don’t have to see this movie.
In all fairness, though, the movie’s just meant in good fun, and it accomplishes that. Mostly. The music’s not bad (considering it was the 80's), and the choreography will make you giggle.

Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939)

Plot from The masked hero leads a fighting force to fight a villain who plots the conquest of The Republic of Mexico.

This 2-DVD set contains all 12 parts of the early Republic Pictures serial starring the (literally) tall, dark, and handsome Reed Hadley as the masked avenger. This, too, is just pure entertainment. There’s lot of daring stunts, shoot-outs, horse chases, and, of course, sword fights. (Though there only appear to be a few skilled swordsmen in the film. The rest look like they’re having a slap-fight with sticks.) The hero is dashing, but the metallic villain, Don Del Oro, looks like he may have been the inspiration for the Rock’em Sock’em Robots game. Don’t look for much depth, continuity, or logical plot progression here. This is simply a western swashbuckler featuring the legendary Zorro.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Theatre Etiquette for Dummies

I caught the closing performance of NextStage’s latest show, Frame 312 last night at the Phoenix. I thought it was a good show and perhaps a little unfairly judged by the critics. The script had its weak points, sure, but the performances were quite good. I got a particular kick out of Jennifer Forsyth, who I had last seen as Dorine in Germinal Stage’s Tartuffe: Born Again.
However, I am not writing a recommendation about Frame 312. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend it, but, as I said, it was the closing performance.
Instead, I would like to go over a few guidelines of behavior in the live theatre setting that some people may have forgotten. Certainly they were forgotten by a few patrons of the Phoenix last night.
Rule #1: Timing is everything.

Sometimes on the poster for a show or on the ticket, you will find a series of numbers in addition to the play’s title. If there is a month before the numbers or perhaps also a “th” immediately after the number, this indicates a calendar date for the performance. If there is a “$” symbol in front of the number, that is the price of the ticket. Now, the number to which I would like to draw your attention most closely will usually have a “:” symbol somewhere in the number or perhaps a “pm” or “P.M.” after the number. (eg.: “7:30 pm”) This number indicates the time of day that the performance is scheduled to begin. Sometimes there may be five minutes grace built into this, but don’t count on it. Acceptable reasons for showing up for a performance, say, twenty minutes after this time include:

Extremely unfortunate traffic.
Extremely unfortunate weather.
Extremely unfortunate Biblical plagues.

An example of an unacceptable reason would be:

Ordering just one more gummy-bear-flavored martini “for the road, bro.”

This brings us to Rule #2: Live theatre is not the same as a movie.

While, in real life, Keanu Reeves may be easily distracted by shiny objects and “like, thinking, dude,” no amount of talking, belching, or stumbling into the movie theater will throw him off of his undoubtedly stellar performance. The reason for this is that he’s not actually there and cannot see, hear, or smell you.
The actors in a live theatrical performance, however, do not enjoy the same luxury. It is, therefore, considered uncouth to loudly agree or disagree with what the actors say, particularly when they are quite obviously (one would think) not talking to you.
If you feel that you must speak to the person next to you about something in the play, well, you’re wrong. However, if you insist upon being wrong, then make every effort to keep your conversation as brief and as quiet as you can, and just for kicks, you might consider turning in the direction of the person to whom you insist upon speaking. (Hey, they brought you. They should have to put up with your breath.)

Rule #3: Just because it’s called a “play” does not mean that you’re on a jungle gym.

If you look very closely, you may notice that the big footrest in front of you is not, in fact, a footrest, but the back of one of the seats in the row in front of you. Occasionally, there is the additional clue of the back of a person’s head. Even if there is no one sitting in that particular seat, there is often someone sitting in that row, and, again, if you will observe closely, the seat that you are assaulting with your feet and legs is attached to all of the other seats in that row. Therefore, your percussive tae kwan do demonstration on the seat in front of you is actually being felt by people all the way down the row, and is probably interfering somewhat with their ability to enjoy the show which they, too, have paid to see. Now, I know that your seat is uncomfortable. So is mine. So is everyone’s. This is sometimes the sacrifice that the discerning theatre-goer must endure for quality live theatre. You know what is comfortable? Your sofa. At your home. Perhaps, if you prioritize comfort over, I don’t know, decency, you should consider renting 2 Fast 2 Furious for the eleventh time and spend next Saturday night on your couch.

Rule #4: Hang it up. Turn it off. Put it away.

Even though this is Colorado, Rule #4 does not, in fact, refer to handguns. It’s about your cell phone. That’s right, the little device you can’t live without, not even for an hour at a time. There are lots of things written about cell phones these days; many of them on large pieces of paper or cardboard called “signs.” Many theatres have these “signs” outside their doors that say “Please turn off your cell phone.” Sometimes, if you manage to get to the theatre before the start of the show, you may see someone who will politely address the audience and remind everyone to do what the sign requested. Now, hard as this may be to believe, turning your cell phone off does not kill it. You see, Timmy, even though your cell phone seems like a living, breathing thing, it really is just a very small machine. If you turn it off, you can turn it right back on even several hours later.
Turning the cell phone off in the theatre helps to prevent things like electronic interference with the sound system and loud, unexpected phone calls in the middle of important scenes. (Ooopsie!) If, however, that fifth White Russian has impaired your ability to remember to turn your cell phone off, and a surprise call from your parole officer causes your Flock of Seagulls ringtone to chime loudly through the theatre, the best thing to do is to try to cover the phone with something thick, like your coat or your girlfriend, to muffle the sound. You might also try refusing the call and, as quickly as you can, turning it off. The wrong thing to do would be to answer the phone and say, “Dude, I’m at a play, what is it?”
This could prove just a little distracting to the actors on stage. Remember: Keanu Reeves isn’t really there, but Janelle Christie is.
As a side note, I have so far only seen this happen in a movie theater, but if I should ever see during a live show that electric blue hue of an ongoing text-message exchange, there is a very good possibility that someone will be eviscerated.

Rule #5: Asking for half a million dollars for a beloved neighborhood theatre, knowing that it will probably be razed to the ground by a developer, instead of selling to a patron of the arts at a fairer price is tacky.

Tacky. Tacky. Tacky.

That’s all for today, boys and girls. Remember to always look both ways when crossing the street, never run with scissors, and, if a stranger offers you candy to get in their car, ask to see the candy up front.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Final Night! Denver at the DRTC

Okay, this is short notice on my part since the show will be closing tonight, but I highly recommend Denver, The Denver Repertory Theatre Company's production of Denver playwright Johnson Kuhn's latest play.
Okay, that's a lot of "Denver"s. The theatre company is the Denver Rep. The playwright, Johnson Kuhn, is a Denverite. The play is called Denver. Are we all up to speed? (Just nod your head.)
This is an amazing piece of work! Kuhn has created an absurdist allegory for life and debt in the modern world. ("Life and debt." Ain't I the clever one?) The story follows Baby Boy (compellingly played by Jude Moran), a "dreamer" (clairvoyant of a sort) who battles (literally) with a horde of debt collectors for the right to live and dream.
Again, the play is an absurdist vision, so the plot runs far deeper than the brief description above, and it is definitely a show that ought to be seen. The story is funny, moving, shocking, and thought-provoking. The acting is extremely good, particularly by Moran, Mark Muehlberg and Amy Adams. This is the first foray into theatre for both Adams, a film actress, who moved here from New York City about six months ago, and Muehlberg, a blues musician (Curly "No Shoes" Jr. Band) and local film actor. However, I'd never have guessed that this was a new medium for either of them. You can add Amy Adams to my running "actresses to watch" list. (I don't really have an "actors to watch" list. I'm just like that.)
I really wish that I had seen this show sooner, so I could have recommended it weeks ago, but I didn't. I just saw it last night, and I'm kicking myself. This is a very fun and very interesting show. I also don't have a "playwrights to watch" list, but, if I did, Kuhn would be on it. Marcus France, another local playwright (Reckoning With Marlowe, Czar Reed) has been raving to me about Kuhn's work and this play in particular for some time now, and Marc is right on the money. Kuhn is perhaps the most promising young playwright this area has seen in recent memory. (He's 23!)
If you like to think of yourself as supporter of local theatre, then you just can't get anymore local than this.
The final performance of Denver is tonight, April 7th at 8pm at The John Hand Theater in Lowry. The address is 7653 E. 1st Place. (Colorado Free University at Lowry.) Tickets are available at the door (no credit cards), or on TicketWeb (credit cards or paypal.) Prices are $15 for adults and $12 for students & seniors. Box office is (303)803-0456.

A couple more notes of interest:
I ran into award-winning director Terry Dodd at the show as well, and he's got a couple of things coming up soon. First, he will be directing Lobby Hero at Miners Alley Playhouse, featuring Denver's Jude Moran, opening May 11th. Second, his original play, From Dusk 'til Dawn at The Sunset will receive a staged reading on June 18th at the Aurora Fox as part of Colorado Theatre Guild's New Play Reading Series. This is an opportunity for you, the audience member, to be a very vital part of the playwrighting process. Dialogue in a play is largely "theoretical" until the author has had a chance to hear it spoken aloud, and audience feedback is equally, if not more, important. Staged readings can be invaluable to the playwright, particularly with your help. Again, this falls under the heading of "Supporting Local Theatre." We all need to do our parts both to continue and to expand upon Denver's tradition for quality live theatre.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Movies: She's the Man

She’s the Man (2006)

The plot (from IMDb): When her big brother decides to ditch for a couple weeks in London, Viola (Amanda Bynes) heads over to his elite boarding school, disguises herself as him, and proceeds to fall for one of her soccer teammates. Little does she realize she's not the only one with romantic troubles, as she, as he, gets in the middle of a series of intermingled love affairs.

This is not the first time that one of Shakespeare’s plays has been used as the basis for a teenage romantic comedy. Just a few years ago The Taming of the Shrew provided some twists for a movie call 10 Things I Hate About You, which starred a talented young Australian actor named Heath Ledger. Unfortunately, he was never heard from again. This is not even the first time that Twelfth Night has been used as the source material for just such a teen comedy. One may recall the 80’s masterpiece Just One of the Guys that launched the brilliant and illustrious career of an actress named Joyce Hyser. (Stop scratching your head. I'm being ironic.)
Amanda Bynes, who got her start doing tween sketch comedy on Nickelodeon, is given a great outlet for her comedic talents as the cross-dressing Viola. At times her performance, like much of the rest of the comedy in the movie, devolves into dumb physical humor, but it is rare enough to be forgivable. There are also some moments of pure comedic brilliance, both from Bynes and her supporting cast, that raise this above the average teenage comedy. Like 10 Things, this movie pays loving homage to its inspiration, occasionally even borrowing the Bard’s own lines here and there. There are also a lot of little in-jokes. The school is Illyria Prep. Duke’s friends are named Andrew and Toby. There’s a character name Malcolm who wears yellow socks and has a pet spider named Malvolio. (There's even a nod to King Lear. See if you can find it.) While it doesn’t hold a candle to the original work (nor does it try to), this is still a pretty good movie, and one that I’ll probably add to my collection.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Gabby Krause Foundation and Bags of Fun

The jolly workshop elves over at Pterodactyl Ptoys sent me an e-mail about the Gabby Krause Foundation which managed to tug a bit even at this old wolf's frozen heart-strings. It seems that there was a beautiful young lady who made a big difference in her less than seven years on this earth named Gabby Krause. Gabby had a backpack full of toys and activities (a "bag of fun") to keep her entertained and occupied during her frequent and long hospital stays. Now this big-hearted kid made a habit of always sharing her toys with the other kids in the hospital to the great appreciation and delight of the other families there. (She apparently also loved to tell bad jokes, which, I must say, endears her greatly to me.)
Gabby is no longer with us, but her generous spirit lives on in the foundation that bears her name and fulfills Gabby's wish to provide a Bag of Fun to every child who has to stay in a hospital because of cancer or other long-term illnesses.
If this sounds like as cool an idea to you as it did to me, drop in at the Gabby Krause Foundation website to learn more.

In other news, April 5th is a big day for the Wolf as it marks the birth date of two very important people in my life. My younger, smarter, and more handsome brother, Damon Darnell, turns 30 years old today. Happy Birthday, little brother, and sorry again about that incident with the lawn dart. Also celebrating a birthday today is my life-long friend and adopted brother, Jeff Jefferson, Jr., who is one of the disturbed minds behind my lupine sobriquet. Hope it's a happy one, JR, and go easy on the cake.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pete Nelson's passing

Denver actor Pete Nelson passed away Sunday morning after a battle with colon and liver cancer. John Moore's article in the Denver post is here. I'm sorry that I never got a chance to work with Pete. He was an impressive actor. I was particularly moved by his performance in last year's The Weir at The Denver Vic. I didn't know him particularly well, but what little I did get to know him, I'd say he sure seemed like a hell of a nice guy.
The funeral is today at 2pm, and there are more details about that in John's article.
Please keep Pete's memory in mind and support local theatre . . . and cancer research.
Thanks, Pete, for all the great performances.

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." -Troilus and Cressida, William Shakespeare

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Movies: The Lady and the Highwayman

The Lady and the Highwayman (1989)

The plot (from The young lady Panthea Vyne (Lysette Anthony) falls in love with the handsome highwayman (Hugh Grant) who saves her from her brutal husband. He kills him in a fair duel. Later on when Charles the 2nd (Michael York) is reinstated as King of England she attends the royal court. But here she becomes the enemy of the king's former mistress (Emma Samms) and the plot against her thickens.

This was a made for TV movie back in 1989, and has all of the ingredients of a great swashbuckling romance: star power in the persons of Oliver Reed and Michael York, a dashing young hero played by Hugh Grant, Emma Samms as the beautiful and scheming villainess, and a story filled with lively sword fights and suspenseful pursuits.
All the ingredients are there. Unfortunately, the whole is far less than the sum of the parts. Hugh Grant (in a pre-Four Weddings role) is uncharacteristically stoic and emotionless. His masked hero is more Batman than Zorro, and it is really a waste of the young actor's natural wit and charisma. The script also makes this "clever" hero just a bit on the daft side. Emma Samms is more whining than scheming. Michael York is good, but sadly underused. Oliver Reed chews scenery as the Highwayman's Sheriff of Nottingham-like nemesis, but is not enough to save the silly plot. Lysette Anthony is beautiful, talented, and very watchable, but is hampered by the stupidity of her character.
The swordfights are very good, as is much of the action, but it pales next to The Princess Bride, which was in theatres two years earlier.
Oh, and did I mention that the story is stupid?
This should have been a hit but is a terrible miss instead.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Broadway in your living room

The Broadway Theatre Archive videos have been around for a while, but I'm not sure that everyone knows about them. Basically, they are televised performances of Broadway shows from the 60's through the 80's. Unfortunately, you're not likely to find them at your local video store, but I'm happy to say that I have found them on Netflix.
Last night I watched the 1977 Circle in the Square production of Moliere's Tartuffe. That was a lot of fun. Not all of the original cast are in the videotaped version (most notably missing is Swoosie Kurtz as Marianne), but Alias fans may get a kick out of seeing a very young Victor Garber as Valere. Sometimes in television and movies we get used to seeing actors cast in the same kinds of roles over and over.
That's called "typecasting," boys and girls. Can you say "typecasting?" I knew that you could.
(Sorry, had a Mr. Rogers moment there.)
Anyway, many actors well-known TV and film actors will go to the stage to get away from just that sort of thing. (Of course, since TV and film pay better, they usually go right back.)
The Broadway Theatre Archive provides an opportunity for those of us outside New York to see actors like Victor Garber, Ray Wise, and Tammy Grimes in roles unlike we are used to seeing them.
Anyway, I thought I'd share that with those of you who enjoy seeing good theatre as much as I do.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

My favorite joke

It is April 1st, a traditional day for tomfoolery and whimsy. Rather than try to hoodwink you with some sort of an elaborate prank (some guy on a message board I sometimes visit posted "USA drops atomic bomb on Iraq." . . . wanker), I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite jokes. It's not my favorite joke. I can't post that one here.

Prince Charles is on a hunting party with his entourage one brisk morning when a villager happens across their path. Prince Charles raises his rifle and points it at the villager. The villager waves his arms frantically and yells, "No, no, Your Majesty! I am not a moose!"
Prince Charles immediately shoots the villager. The Prince's chief advisor turns to Charles and says, "Sire, did you not hear that man? He said he wasn't a moose!"
Prince Charles put his hand to his head and laughed. "Oooooohhhh. I thought he said 'I am a moose."

No, you read it right. I have a very strange sense of humor.