Very few plays, barring the masterworks, merit viewing more than once. So why do Maine theaters insist on recycling the same oh-so-tired titles?
Listen up, artistic directors! Clearly, you have neither found the path to a full house nor achieved artistic excellence.
I have penned ten excellent full-length plays, each with a compelling plot and possibly the crispest dialogue ever written.
When, oh when will It be my turn?
COUNTIES WITH ONE ACA CARRIER DO JUST FINE
Let's get something straight. Do you get health insurance through your employer? Guess how many carriers you can select. ONE. Guess how many plans you can choose. ONE.
Let's say, instead, that you buy health insurance on an exchange in a county with one carrier. You will discover an array of plans from that single carrier. No matter the premium increase over last year, unless your family is very well off, your coverage will stay affordable under Obamacare.
Therefore, people who reside in counties with a single carrier have way more choice than people with employer coverage.
If no insurance carrier services your county - sadly true in a growing handful of places - yeah there's a problem. But where one solvent, well-respected insurance company operates?
Congratulations! Celebrate. Obamacare works just fine for you.
UNREALITY, I ONLY WISH IT WERE
What is going on with the FBI on the eve of this election? How can the FBI Director reopen a case he just closed? How could he share unfiltered case notes with a highly partisan Congress once he closed said case a few weeks ago? It's called work product, and it's none of anybody's business but the legal team.
She chose to use one server over another. We all know how tough - no impossible - it is to compartmentalize our own little lives amongst the electronic devices that rule us. That's all she did, put stuff on a different server - one already in place at the former president's residence - that was never hacked.
Nothing, but nothing will cause right-thinking people to switch to and vote for an unqualified, mean egotist instead of an incredibly accomplished and ultimately kind woman. Drown out the noise and stick with Hillary. America as we know it cannot survive Trump.
Am I alone in the universe?
This time I doubt it. What’s the outrage to which I fell victim, and who might join me in a class action plaint?
Maine's premier professional theater painstakingly nurtures its formal development process called the Clauder Competition. Every three years - used to be every two - we New England playwrights submit scripts. Then we wait and wait, well beyond the promised decision date.
Then said theater bypasses its careful process to rush a novelist’s first play into full production. You’d think said play, Monica Wood’s Papermaker, must be incontrovertibly excellent.
Anything but! She starts with narration, not action. She shamelessly pirates from her novels rather than presenting fresh, urgent material. Worst still, Wood slaps a happy ending onto the union workers’ struggle. Sure it's make-believe but in a region where, ultimately none of the players in the paper industry won, the writer's choice rings false and sour.
Alongside me in this sorry boat ride the likes of Callie Kimball, Karmo Sanders, Brent Askari, Carolyn Gage, Bruce Pratt, Cynthia Thayer, Claire Melley-Smith. We’ve each got multiple full-length scripts that are oh-so readier for prime time than Wood’s first effort. We don’t rely on the utterly improbable to put the CEO at the mill gate. And we know that pre-intermission tension’s achieved by not letting the car escape as the house lights rise.
Because Bangor must slavishly follow Portland’s lead, now Penobscot Theatre’s devoting its impressive resources and talented team to enacting this flawed play. Why not be original for once? And oh, by the way you inherited the respected Northern Writes New Play Festival. What about that?
Maybe my readers – the meager handful – won’t believe me when I say that Jack and I went to the Bangor Public Library last Saturday hoping to cold-read a wonderful new play. I wanted to be transported, a la Horten Foote in The Trip to Bountiful or August Wilson’s Jitney with its unmatched father-son confrontation.
I have penned ten excellent full-length plays! Each forms a unique and cohesive whole. I submit all the time. I’ve paid plenty of dues - backstage, serving on Boards, networking.
You bet I'm bitter. I've been disrespected mightily. Bitter, but surely not alone.
You just elected your despicable, ignorant crook. He asked you - yeah you too white boy - what do you have to lose. Boy, you're about to find out. Over and over and over.
Right-thinking people, for what minute consolation it's worth, we will have infinite opportunities to say we told you so.
Pollsters, crawl under a rock and eat crow. I was wrong too, but only because I relied on you and you failed. You failed us.
We have to live our lives, don't we? You too, Hillary. Thank you for your service. They would have made your presidency a living hell. You're well out of it.
December 14, 2012
Penobscot Theatre’s Annie – A Contrarian Review
Nobody reads my blog. So I can say stuff, stuff like that the actor who played Annie embodied the awkward age. Though spirited and well-rehearsed, she just didn’t appeal. Perhaps no Broadway ingénue could have overcome that ridiculous clown wig. It transformed Annie into her cartoon iteration in stark contrast to the dead-on authentic little girls who all outshone her.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything in this huge and demanding production was executed as intended. Set, orchestra, clever choreography, expansive use of space, costuming (red wig excepted) were all excellent and worthy of professional theater. Like most of the females in the production, Annie sang on key with pretty good diction in a strident tone. It’s not the cast’s fault that their songs were set in a sky-high key that made shrill
Here’s something else the careful local reviewers (God, I miss Judy Harrison!) dare not say. The script, that is the spoken lines or “book” in the musical “Annie,” - well, the script sucks. Principal characters like Miss Hannigan have but one dimension (mean!) with no redeeming features or emotional growth. Why Oliver Warbucks suddenly decides to bring an orphan into his home never gets explained. Still, there is a poignant story at the heart of this play. One key relationship forms and develops, that between Oliver Warbucks and little orphan Annie. Ultimately, the success of any “Annie” production hinges on their chemistry. They have to surpass the script or the play falls flat.
Why did I never for one moment buy into the story? I fault the directorial decision to go big at every juncture. With some notable exceptions (Warbucks, Grace, Roosevelt, the adorable Molly), people overacted to the point of buffoonery. Dominick Varney as Rooster, from the moment he stepped onstage, did nothing but perform his own standup antics. Of the three players who share the stage during “Easy Street,” Lily alone did not severely overdo the moves. I far preferred A.J. Mooney’s earlier rendition of “Little Girls” where the repressed hatred bubbled just below the surface. Later on, she morphed from credible curmudgeon to grotesque caricature.
Contrary to current theatrical thought, going bigger does not always help. Big does beget laughs, and it’s hard for those who present plays, myself included, not to measure success by the quantity and volume of laughs achieved per minute. Big works just fine till it wrecks emotional content. At some level, no matter how silly or fantastic the story, the audience has to believe in the people onstage. In Penobscot Theatre’s 2012 production of “Annie,” overacting obscured character far too often.
All that crap said, I want to say a huge thank you to Bari Newport and her capable team for pulling off this heroic dramatic feat. Bangor loves this production, and people are flocking to the theatre. I have never been privy to the backstage administrative goings on at PTC. However, to this outsider it appears that order and harmony rule to an extent not seen there in years, if ever. And I can’t sign off without a shout to the very best voice in the production, not the able equity actor's who did a creditable job as Warbucks, but the versatile Ben Layman, who should be the 4th tenor.
We were so looking forward to a sublime theater experience! We did not find it at PTC last night, but we will definitely keep on looking.
MITT AND ME
Cards on the table: I didn’t vote for Mitt Romney. I’m among those repelled by the extreme social agenda to which he sold his soul. I
disagree that military spending stands sacrosanct (unless we bring our organized, disciplined troops home to rebuild America.) On balance, I went with the incumbent who came in with a thin resume and still doesn’t get that no smart company ever hired a worker it didn’t need just to claim a tax credit, nor should it. I voted in favor of gridlock and less bad legislation.
Mitt’s an odd duck, but I kind of like him. I definitely admire him. He stayed remarkably unflappable during an interminable primary
campaign where everybody else had a flashy star turn. He’s fit and faithful and obviously cherishes his wife. He reputedly irons his own shirts. There are moving tales of his personal generosity when no political motive could possibly be impugned. He gave a prompt, brief, gracious concession speech in contrast to – yes the circumstances were way different, but still – to Al Gore.
The mainstream media did not cover Mitt fairly. What other candidate got widely quoted only when someone secretly recorded him in a
private setting? On many an occasion I watched a newsperson assume a puzzled frown and inquire why Mitt never spoke about this or that issue when Mitt had addressed exactly this or that issue on the campaign trail that very day. I know because I translated Mitt Romney’s speeches into French as part of the PBS NewsHour’s all-volunteer project to translate the election.
The Democrats’ speeches got chosen first by my fellow translators because, yes, the PBS audience leans liberal. Still, PBS invites all players to the table. Abolish its federal support? What a silly, symbolic pittance of a gesture! That’s not real money and business-savvy Mitt knows it.
America has vast rural regions where no profit-seeking enterprise will ever lay cable and there is no internet, I mean zero bars. The relevant question is not, as Mitt posited, whether it’s worth borrowing from China to pay for amazing resources like PBS. We should ask whether a unique voice that reaches Americans who lack access and clout is worth our paying for. The answer is yes.
However, he’s right that we have a creeping culture of dependency that the government unwittingly promotes. Action: A single mother works a few more hours per week. Result: She loses her food stamps. Action: An unemployed teacher volunteers at the animal shelter two days a week.
Result: He loses his unemployment check because he isn’t available for fulltime work. And why should a middle manager who showed up on time every day, who adapted to technology, who played well with others, and still got fired for no other reason than that he reached age fifty with a decent salary go to work for $8 an hour, when he’s getting the equivalent of $10 per hour in benefits? Programs that pit the work ethic against
common sense – that’s our current system.
There are moments that stick with me from Mitt’s speeches, snippets that epitomize the right – by which I mean right-on - kernel
of truth in the conservative economic message. “In our best days, we can feel the vibrancy of America’s communities, large and
small. It’s when we see that new business opening up downtown. It’s when we go to work in the morning and see everybody else on our block doing the same thing.” That’s from his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention.
Before the NAACP (Obama sent Biden to speak, remember?) Romney said “You understand the deep and lasting difference the family makes. Your former executive director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, had it exactly right. The family, he said, ‘remains the bulwark and the mainstay of the black community. That great truth must not be overlooked.’ Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal.”
Of course Romney went on to expound policies I don’t support – defending traditional marriage and aggressively promoting charter schools. The point is that he did present a coherent plan directed at improving the lot of the poor. Yet all that the mainstream media replayed from his NAACP speech were the boo’s that sounded when Mitt told them he opposed Obamacare. That too is wrong-headed in my book, but Mitt stood there and courageously said it to the NAACPA. For that he deserves a considerable amount of credit.
Most of all, I marvel at the astounding confidence Mitt radiated in the face of such an enormous endeavor as leading this wild and crazy country. He said that he could turn around the American economy. For that, too, he had a little-covered plan whose central pillar - North American
energy independence - struck me as pretty strong and substantive. Could he really muscle the country into robust-achievement mode? I’d sure like to know.
Mr. President, give this man a mission! Tell him to compel the grand economic bargain, to forge that plan. Send him to Israel to direct development in the West Bank where the moderate PLO leadership must become better rewarded than Hamas with its bombs and rockets. Or let him consolidate the disparate job-training programs into an efficient employment engine. That subject, by the way, comprised another key point in Mitt Romney's economic plan.
Give Mitt a job. He has earned that challenge. After all, as Mitt once pointed out - only to be labeled insensitive, he’s unemployed too.