Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Old-School Red Sox Fans Versus New

It comes with success in sports: the fair-weather fans. The bandwagoners. And the Red Sox certainly have their share these days, knuckleheads masquerading as chowdaheads, who know Youkilis but don't know Yazstremski.

Okay, give them a little credit for taste. Welcome to the party. Congratulations on knowing Youkilis, and not just Ortiz and Manny.

But there's a conundrum: how can you tell the difference between old school Red Sox fans and new?

As of this writing, the Red Sox are 63-40, 7-3 in their last 10, best record in baseball, and 8 games up on the second-place Yankee$. Their 8-game lead is by far the biggest division lead in baseball.

Here's how you tell the difference.

The new-school fans say, "All right! We're eight games up on the Yankees!"

The old-school fans say, "Oh, man. We're only eight games up on the Yankees..."

(Special thanks to Liz Blake for being a good listener while I figured this out last night.)

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem

I stole this blog title from ABC News because it was too good not to use.

Here's the AP report:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Despite safety warnings from its own doctors, NASA let astronauts fly drunk on at least two occasions, an independent panel said in a report released Friday.

The report gave no names and did not say when the drinking occurred, how many astronauts were involved, or whether they were flying on the space shuttle, the Russian Soyuz spaceship, or aboard NASA's training jets.

NASA officials let them fly even after flight surgeons and fellow astronauts raised concerns that safety might be jeopardized, according to the report, done by a panel created by NASA after the arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak in February on charges she tried to kidnap her rival in a love triangle.

In a statement Friday, NASA said that it is unaware of any astronauts who were drunk before a flight but that it is investigating. It said the panel failed to give the space agency any details of the allegations.

NASA has long had a policy that prohibited any drinking in the 12 hours before an astronaut flies a training jet. As a result of the panel's report, the space agency said the policy will be applied to spaceflights, too.

The panel said that astronauts and flight surgeons told the committee about heavy drinking by crew members just before flights. Also, the panel said alcohol is freely used in the crew quarters, where astronauts are quarantined at the Kennedy Space Center in the three days before launch.

Only four paragraphs of the 12-page report dealt with alcohol use by astronauts.

"Two specific instances were described where astronauts had been so intoxicated prior to flight that flight surgeons and-or fellow astronauts raised concerns to local on-scene leadership regarding flight safety," the panel. "However, the individuals were still permitted to fly."
The eight-member panel included experts in aerospace medicine and medical legal matters, and clinical psychiatrists.

The panel said that NASA is not set up in such a way to deal with alcohol use by astronauts.

"The medical certification of astronauts for flight duty is not structured to detect such episodes, nor is any medical surveillance program by itself likely to detect them or change the pattern of alcohol use," the panel wrote.

The panel recommended that NASA hold individuals and supervisors accountable for responsible use of alcohol, and that policies be instituted involving drinking before flight.

In another finding, the panel reported that flight surgeons' medical opinions were not valued by higher-ups. Several senior flight surgeons told the panel that officials only wanted to hear that all medical systems "were 'go' for on-time mission completion."

The flight surgeons told the panel that higher-ups in NASA were notified of "major crew medical or behavioral problems," but that the flight surgeons' medical advice was ignored.

"This disregard was described as 'demoralizing' to the point where they said they are less likely to report concerns of performance decrement," the panel wrote. "Crew members raised concerns regarding substandard astronaut task performance which were similarly disregarded."

Fourteen astronauts, all but one with spaceflight experience, were interviewed by the panel, as well as five family members. All volunteered to take part in the review. In addition, eight flight surgeons were interviewed.

First of all, daaaaamn.

Before the entire nation descends in fire and blades on NASA, I just want to say this: Do we really expect that NASA should have to tell anyone that drinking and driving a vehicle that costs four billion dollars a year to operate and which is full of enough highly-explosive propellant to melt Miami is a bad idea? Seriously, if I'm on tour for Richmond Shakespeare and I drive the van drunk and crash it, is it because Richmond Shakespeare didn't tell me I shouldn't, or is it because I'm a colossal dumbass?

I just hope we spend as much effort blaming individuals for their individual acts of galactic stupidity as we do labeling NASA's assumption that astronauts have common sense as "oversight."

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Iron Man Movie Updates

New main page from the official Iron Man movie site. And a new image.

From's Iron Man movie site, a shot of the cast.

Left to right: Terence Howard as James Rhodes, Gwyneth Paltrow as Virginia "Pepper" Potts, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane. (See, you can tell that Stane is evil by the way he's steepling his fingers. Evil fingers.)

Reportedly also in the cast are Hillary Swank as an unknown character and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Ultimates fans, go crazy. I'd like to take advantage of this opportunity to say that this is a hell of a cast for a comic book movie. You'd expect these names for a gritty crime thriller or period piece or something.

Marvel's site also has a really fun conversation between Downey and director Jon Favreau.

I am so jazzed about this that I'm adding an "Iron Man" label to my blog.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sports in Crisis

Believe it or not, July is known in American sports circles as a slow month. Basketball and hockey are long finished, football training camps are yet to begin, and baseball is in mid-season with pennant races still far enough away that the games still seem irrelevant. So July is a slow month.

Except, of course, this disastrous July of 2007.

Let's check in:

In the NFL, Michael Vick is about to report to court in Richmond for Federal indictments alleging unthinkable cruelty as the head of an interstate dogfighting ring.

In baseball, a BALCO chemist responsible for designing untraceable steroids has named Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield as users, this with Bonds two home runs shy of tying Hank Aaron.

Think those two are bad? They're nothing. The NBA is facing the single worst possible scandal in sports: the corruption of officials. Referee Tim Donaghy is under investigation by the FBI for fixing games to pay off a gambling debt to the mob.

The latest on Vick is that the Falcons were planning to sit his butt for four weeks, and had in fact already drafted the letter informing him of his suspension when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (whom I love more and more every day) interceded, ordering Vick not to report to training camp so that the league can hold their own investigation. I'll say this: Vick is done with the Falcons, and maybe with the NFL. Even if he's found innocent, dog lovers are always going to pick Fido over Vick.

It wasn't so long ago that Michael Vick was hailed as the future of the NFL, not just as a corporate face but as a style of play. Now the face is cracked, and it's been clear for a few years that a smart pocket passer will always be more successful than Vick's freewheeling style. Honestly, if Michael Vick ever plays in the NFL again I will be genuinely surprised. That's how bad this is.

The latest on Bonds is just now breaking. BALCO chemist Patrick Arnold invented "the clear," a steroid designed to be undetectable and coincidentally introduced around the same time sluggers' bodies began inflating like balloons. The link between Arnold and Bonds isn't direct, but runs through Victor Conte, BALCO's founder, whose defense in the face of evidence is just to deny, deny, deny. No one believes Conte and no one believes Bonds. This news naturally broke overnight as commissioner Bud Selig attended a Giants game just to observe Bonds potentially tying or breaking Hank Aaron's record.

What a mess this is. I don't believe that steroids in baseball are the be-all and end-all of scandal that they are presented as; pitchers are getting just as much advantage by juicing, and it takes much more than big muscles to hit home runs. However, the two most hallowed records in baseball (with apologies to Joe DiMaggio) are Maris' 61 and Aaron's 755, and it's clear that steroid users have already eclipsed the first and are on the verge of breaking the second. I don't believe in asterisks, but I don't know what baseball should do. Perhaps anyone who tests positive for steroids, corks a bat, etc. should have their records completely excised. One strike, you're out of the record books. Maybe that's the only penalty that fits the crime of compromising the game's integrity. Of course, neither Bonds nor Mark McGwire have ever tested positive. Much like Michael Vick has never been found guilty of operating a dogfighting ring.

But Bud Selig actually has it easy in comparison to Goodell and, particularly, his NBA counterpart David Stern.

An official fixing games on mob orders is the nightmare of all nightmares. The Black Sox scandal is a joke in comparison. I can not imagine a worse sports scandal than this. I feel terrible for Tim Donaghy, and hope he has loved ones near him to talk him down from the ledge, possibly literally, because he's clearly a victim of gambling addiction. This doesn't absolve him of responsibility for his actions, of course, but I feel tremendous sympathy for him. He is the most miserable man on the planet right now, and it's only just beginning.

Now every game Donaghy officiated over the past few years is under suspicion. Every championship comes with a question mark. This is the worst thing ever. It's going to hang over the NBA for years. If one ref can be fixing games, why not more? Bad calls that used to come with good-natured jeering of "Bought!" or "Fix!" now come with real and justified suspicion.

July really is a slow month in sports. The only big-league games going on are in baseball. But the sports pages still have column inches to fill, and the broadcasts have minutes to occupy. This is the worst imaginable time to have a scandal in your league, because it's going to be completely and totally exposed for the simple fact that there isn't much of anything else to talk about.

So where are we gonna go? Hockey? They shut down for a whole season a while back and can't even get on ESPN6 at this point. What are they on, OLN? I'm not even sure. All three above beleaguered leagues are in far better shape than the gasping, grasping NHL.

I recommend the Arena Football League, which has its championship game this weekend. AFL football is a blast, especially if you can see it live. But for pure sports bang-for-the-buck, most of America lives within an hour's drive of a minor-league baseball stadium. The Richmond Braves provide a really fantastic pure sports thrill 70 days a year. If you can find a single-A team to watch, that's even better. These guys are young and hungry, and the hot dogs are cheap.

If all this bothers you, I suppose you could watch the Tour de France, where half of the racers started late yesterday to protest the doping scandals that have made their sport more irrelevant than the WNBA.

(For the record, I like the WNBA.)

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"Style" Reviews "Henry IV, Part 1"

David Timberline's "official" review is published at long last. Not that I'm complaining about this ludicrous streak we're on of well-reviewed shows, but it seems like it's been well over a year since Style published their review earlier than week three of our four-week run.

Dave T sez (to start):

Richmond Shakespeare’s potboiler “Henry IV, Part 1” transcends history.
by David Timberline

The scholars call Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 1” a “history play,” but that classification seems way too stodgy for this mix of bawdy humor, political infighting, hand-to-hand combat and messy family dynamics.

From the moment Richmond Shakespeare’s production of this juicy classic begins, it positively crackles with energy, wit and bravado.

Go pick up Style Weekly and read the rest. It's free, for crying out loud.

P.S. I wonder how many of Dave's reader's know what "potboiler" means. It's one of those words that sounds like an insult but isn't.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bruce Miller on "Henry IV, Part 1"

It was a delight to see Bruce at the show on Sunday night, though I didn't get to chat. What a delightful surprise to read his post on Barksdale's blog Monday morning!

Here's an excerpt:

Word on the street is that Henry IV, Part 1 may be Richmond Shakespeare Theatre’s best effort to date. I know plenty of theatre lovers who would fight for their own favorite, but it's good to see that this new entry is so clearly joined in the competition.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen enough RST productions to assert which one may or may not be the best of all. But I can say this. Henry IV offers pleasures to spare, and if other productions have been better, then they must have been pretty sensational.

I love seeing theatre at Agecroft. I loved Henry IV, Part 1.

Thanks, Bruce.

The sterling reviews are all very nice, and all the patting is certainly helping my back spasms. But the houses are still pretty small for this very special show. Of course, most of the people reading this silly blog have already seen the show, or are, you know, in it.

I also want to put in a few words here in acknowledgement of Henry's Master of Play, James Alexander Bond, and Master of Verse, Joanne Zipay. These are two fantastic artists, and their work on this show has been nothing short of amazing. This play has a lot of strong characters elbowing each other for your attention, and we certainly have a double handful of big acting personalities playing them. It takes a deft hand and a clear vision to mold such strong performances into a focused story. Much of the best directing (and design, and, frankly, acting), in my experience becomes transparent in the process of getting the story across. The direction of Henry IV, Part 1 is like that.

Here's what's exciting: this is just the beginning. The Richard II production process has already begun, and we've got some very exciting plans for the rest of the History Cycle.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ian Robinson on Rubber Bracelets

This actually comes from a column in the Calgary Sun about the city of Calgary mandating "Support Our Troops" stickers on all city vehicles. That issue aside, this digression was funny enough to share.

from "Issue Transcends Bumper-Sticker Politics"

"What's that ugly yellow thing around your wrist, Bob?"

"Why it's a Lance Armstrong bracelet! It announces to the world that I'm against cancer! It says: Livestrong!"

"What's the pink one mean?"

"That I'm against breast cancer!"

"You find it necessary to announce that? Have you ever met anybody in favour of breast cancer? And besides, doesn't the yellow bracelet cover off the pink bracelet?"

"No! It's different!"


"I dunno! The colour, maybe!"

"And the purple bracelet?"

"That I'm against domestic violence!"

"Um, Bob. Isn't everybody against domestic violence and cancer?"

"I dunno, Ian. You're not wearing anything on your wrist, are you?"

"Just my Rolex. What's that say about me?"

"That you're a self-involved, shallow capitalist pig. And that you probably have a huge carbon footprint. And you also enjoy domestic violence and support cancer-causing pollution in the service of making money for large corporations raping Mother Earth."

"Nice talking to you, Bob. Enjoy your bracelets and your smug sense of superiority."

Har dee har har har.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Whitlock on Vick

Whitlock hits another home run. I think this piece of commentary is important enough to reprint in its entirety.

Vick Can Evolve from Hip-Hop Prison Culture

Honestly, I don’t wish jail on the people who despise me the most. Incarceration is that dehumanizing.

So forgive me for lacking passion about the guilt, innocence and/or punishment of one-time franchise quarterback Michael Vick for his alleged involvement in a dogfighting ring. Hell — given that the state, if inclined, can make a blind witness’ vision 20/20 — I’m even willing to give Vick his presumption of innocence.

Why not? He is an American citizen, last I checked, and we don’t need to look any further than Duke lacrosse to see what can happen to a prosecutor when the media spotlight descends on a criminal case.

Nope. My desire is to see Vick evolve as a human being and for his troubles to serve as yet another wake-up call for black athletes to reject the hip-hop/prison culture that glorifies much of the negative behavior and attitude that has eroded the once-dignified and positive reputation of African-American athletes.

As much as I love dogs — and I really do have an affinity for them — this case primarily repulses me because I believe Vick got involved with breeding vicious pit bulls because rap-music culture made it the cool thing to do.

Listen, I don’t want PETA supporters upset with me. Animal cruelty is intolerable. But I’m wondering what could turn a human mind and heart so cold that a person would find pleasure in breeding dogs for cruel destruction in 2007.

Seriously, Vick didn’t do it for the money. The Atlanta Falcons gave him all the money he could ever hope to spend. Vick was involved in pit bull breeding (and quite possibly dogfighting) because he enjoyed it. He’s a product of a culture that makes the “profession” acceptable and honorable. It’s the same culture that has turned the dope dealer into mayor of the neighborhood.

This is a human tragedy, too.

It speaks to the grip the negative aspects of hip-hop culture have on young people. Vick is a millionaire athlete who has spent most of his NFL career trying to maintain his street cred. Despite lifetime financial security, Mike Vick stayed on the “grind,” hustling for that paper with his Bad Newz Kennels. Idiot.

Well, unless he plans on launching a rap career and releasing a solo “Dogfighting Was The Case,” I don’t see any of this ending well for Vick. Even if he’s not convicted or reaches a jail-evading plea bargain, Vick has destroyed his athletic reputation while trying to keep pace with T.I.

This is a cultural phenomenon that has swallowed a small percentage of African-American athletes, but a large enough percentage to significantly damage the overall perception of black, American-born athletes. As Dr. Harry Edwards told me two weeks ago, it only takes a few key people to hijack an entire culture.

N.W.A., the late-1980s rap group, hijacked hip-hop years ago, and calls to return it to something resembling decency and self-respect have fallen on Def Jam ear$. Allen Iverson and his sneaker/jersey sales hijacked the image of black professional athletes years ago, and out of fear of being labeled a racist or a sellout, few have even dared question the sanity of it … until now.

Now we can all see the stupidity. Gangsta-wannabe rappers masquerading as professional athletes is a public-relations nightmare waiting to tear apart sports franchises and leagues.

Vick’s employer is in an impossible position. The right thing for the Falcons to do is support Vick through his legal proceedings. But how can the organization? Vick is a human distraction now. Atlanta has a new coaching staff that will find it nearly impossible to operate smoothly in the environment/media circus Vick has created for the organization.

Heck, even Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons joined in the castigation of Vick and dogfighting, penning a joint letter with PETA that was sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and all of Vick’s corporate sponsors. True, the letter wasn’t all that harsh, but the fact that Sharpton would in any way publicly hold a black person responsible for any action is historic. And, if you have a scorebook at home, we now know that Russell Simmons is adamantly opposed to the killing and brutalization of dogs, but he is in favor of the glorification of killing black men in music. I’m just passing that along without any editorial comment.

OK, where was I? Yes, the Falcons might as well name Paris Hilton cheerleading captain.
If Vick were to play this season, the fan hostility directed at Vick will engulf Atlanta’s home stadium.

Vick needs a paid leave of absence to sort out his legal problems. He shouldn’t be suspended or denied pay because the Falcons and the NFL have invested too much in Vick to treat him like Pacman Jones.

That’s right. I don’t believe in treating everyone the same. I believe in treating everyone fairly. Suspending Vick would be too prejudicial (legal term, not a race term) and inhibit his ability to receive a fair trial.

If he’s convicted of a felony, the Falcons probably have provisions within his contract that would grant them the right to release him and go after a portion of his signing bonus if they so choose.

Ray Lewis was at the scene of a double murder, failed initially to cooperate with police and eventually pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges. Ray used to be in love with his street cred, too. It took double-murder charges to knock some sense into one of the game’s best linebackers.

He evolved, and he’s certainly been an asset to the NFL ever since his evolution. Will the same thing happen to Michael Vick? I doubt it, but I certainly hope so.

How delightful it will be to live in Richmond, Virginia, the legal center this story. [/sarcasm]

A couple years ago, I was in the market for a Virginia Tech jersey. Holding fond memories of the season they played in the National Championship game, I searched for a #7 jersey, but never found one. I settled for a nice hat. Good thing, too, because burning those jerseys releases all kinds of toxins into the air, and burning that jersey would have been my only option. Hell, I'm thinking about buirning the damn hat.

I guess I lack Jason Whitlock's ability to have mercy, at least today.

Karen isn't allowed to watch animal cop and animal rescue shows on our favorite networks, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, because she gets really upset. I've told her that she's not allowed to view the details of Vick's indictment for the same reasons. The ways these monsters (I won't dignify them with the term "animals") execute losing dogs is beyond the pale. There just aren't words for how reprehensible the charges in the Vick indictment are.

Yes, Vick is innocent until proven guilty, and should be treated as such by the state. However, there is no denying that all of the activities listed in the indictment took place at this address. They have the equipment, the dogs, and the bodies. (Almost all of the surviving dogs had to be euthanized.) The only question is whether or not Vick was actively involved in it or completely ignorant that the entirety of this mansion-like property he owned had been extensively converted for use in illegal activities.

Funny thing about serial killers: They almost always start with animals. Psychologists have drawn direct lines from the point where a person switches off the idea "animals shouldn't be tortured and killed" to the point where they switch off "people shouldn't be tortured and killed." I'm not suggesting that Michael Vick or any of his alleged dogfighting associates are on the road to being serial killers. But there's a certain disregard for life here that is among the greatest crimes I can imagine. Killing dogs is worse than just the earthly activity of killing dogs. Training them to kill each other is a whole other level of evil. Yeah, I said evil.

Whitlock's article, when seen on its original web page, features a picture of a man at an Atlanta baseball game holding up a sign reading "Michael Vick Is Innocent." The man is black, and a Georgian. I'm so looking forward to the race-ification and sports-ification of this trial. How thrilling it will be to watch otherwise intelligent African-Americans and Falcons fans raise the ghost of O.J. and root root root for the home team. (Whoops, I forgot the sarcasm tag.) Please pardon the hyperbolic racism of the preceding statement, but you have to see where I'd be frustrated by this. Whitlock is dead on: "the fact that Sharpton would in any way publicly hold a black person responsible for any action is historic." The attorney for the state better make sure there are no Virginia Tech fans on the jury.

We've known that this might be coming for a while. There have been hints, rumors, leaks, and speculation for months. But the degree of cruelty engaged in on this property is so far beyond my ability to imagine that it shocks me.

A few months ago, I said I was "done with Vick" on this blog. That's too tame. It's anti-Vick from here on out.

EDIT: Noticeably absent from Michael Vick is any statement asserting his innocence.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dave T (and Me) on "Henry IV, Part 1"

David Timberline caught the first preview of Henry IV, Part 1, and couldn't wait for next week's publication of his Style review to let people know how much he liked it. Thank God for blogs.

My favorite comment is actually a couple posts down, under the title "Sicko," where he says:

I wrote a pretty peppy little 300-word rave about Henry (which won’t appear in Style until 07/25 – sorry!) but, as I told our friend in the lobby of the Westhampton, what I really wanted to say was, “You know all of those other plays that I said were awesome? Forget all that, this one is REALLY awesome!”

That means a lot more coming from Dave T than it would coming from, say, Daniel Neman.

One of the best details of the two reviews is the one that neither mentions: the fact that the play and intermission run nearly three hours. With a less engaging show that becomes a liability; with this one it's just more awesome to enjoy. This is a very special show going on out there at Agecroft, just a wonderful combination of amazing text, actors, director, and designers. Kudos to Grant Mudge for putting it all together. Every day I work with Grant I have greater respect for just how much work he does and how well he does it.

I agree with Dave: this production is REALLY awesome, perhaps the single best production of Richmond Shakespeare since I've been connected with them. I better like it; I have to watch it from behind my drum twelve more times.

I have a fear, however. I'm terribly afraid that people aren't going to see this show because of two things: 1) Roman numerals in the title, and 2) it's a "History" play. The fact that the Times-Dispatch ran its review in Monday's "Metro & State" section under the title "A History Lesson That Entertains: City Production of Henry IV, Part 1 Is an Ambitious Success" is not helping. That's right, nothing brings the kiddies out to see a play more than calling it a "history lesson." (Also, what the heck does "City Production" mean, and why is that necessary to put in the title? It makes it look like a production directed by Doug Wilder and starring Manoli Loupassi.)

So let me go on the record here as saying this: the second quartet of history plays that Shakespeare wrote, Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V are my absolute favorite Shakespeare plays. The late Dr. James Parker, head of graduate studies at Theatre VCU, once said that you don't really get Shakespeare until you appreciate the sublime beauty of Richard II. Patrick Stewart, noted Shakespearean actor and Starfleet captain, is on record as saying that his favorite play is Henry IV, Part 2.

It just doesn't get better than these plays. And that's not because I have any great love for English history, it's because everything great about Shakespeare is in these four plays in massive amounts. With the exception of the stately and foreboding Richard II, they're loaded with comedy; Falstaff may be the single funniest and most clever character in the canon (with apologies to Mercutio). Prince Hal, later King Henry V, has three full plays to develop his character, easily Shakespeare's most heroic, multifaceted and fascinating. From the moment Henry Bolingbroke arrives at Ravenspurgh, it's non-stop war and action, first civil war on the island and later war with the French. There's romance, drunken comedy, action, honor, victory and defeat, and the fact that the major characters and events are based in history makes it more engaging, not less.

So as we embark on this ridiculously ambitious project of putting the entire History cycle on our stages, it's very important that we artists, audience, writers, and editors remember that they are History plays, not the History Channel.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Scott Wichmann Rules

I want to tell you a story from Sunday night's performance of Henry IV, Part 1.

I was standing at the Richmond Shakespeare table at the theatre entrance with Shawn Smith, board member. Being who we are, a Shakespearean actor and an English professor, we were of course talking about baseball. In the midst of a rhapsody about the existential nature of the game, as if on cue, Scott Wichmann appeared up the road with his arms wide for a hug. We hadn't seen each other in person since Shrew, so it was a lovely reunion.

I didn't have a long time to chat with him, but as usual with Scott he made the whole thing about me, not himself. He asked about what I'm up to, and asked about Richard II, coming soon this Fall. As I was about to break off to go get in my place for the show, we were approached by a couple who had seen Scotto the week before in The Odd Couple. They wanted to tell him how great he was in that show (big surprise there). Scott was kind and gracious, all thanks and toothy smile. I had to leave to set up my drums.

A few minutes after the show began, I noticed that Scott, who had come to the show alone, was sitting with some people in the house. Of course, it was the pair who had chatted him up.

At intermission, I caught him just long enough to ask, "Do you know those folks?"

He answered, "I do now. I was like, 'let's hang out.' "

See, this is why I want to be Scott Wichmann when I grow up. This is why Scott rules.

And this is why theatre in Richmond rules, why it's so important for great artists to be supported in this town enough to keep them here. There can be a small-town accessibility here that in larger towns qualifies as "celebrity sightings." Scott's a big-town, big-time talent, guys, and he's far from the only one in town. We're blessed to have him here while we do, not just for his talent but because he comes to the show alone and sits with a pair of fans who just wanted to say they liked his performance.

And he gave the actors a heartfelt one-man standing ovation in a tiny first-Sunday house.

Scott Wichmann rules.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Times-Dispatch Review of "Henry IV, Part 1"

Link to the review.

The text:

City Production of Henry IV, Part 1 Is an Ambitious Success


Young Prince Hal may be lacking in ambition, but Richmond Shakespeare Festival surely is not.

Having put off the staging of the Bard's history plays, Richmond Shakespeare now plans to mount the whole canon in the coming years. Difficult for audiences who are not familiar with the arcana of Plantagenets and the like, the histories nonetheless are loaded with pleasures for all who love theater.

This first part of "Henry IV" features a familiar figure -- the wastrel son of a powerful man. King Henry has seized power in England but is embattled on many fronts, and it doesn't look as if he's going to get much help from his son Hal.

We meet Hal as he's wenching in a tavern, attended by his instructor in debauchery, Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is that great Shakespearean character that goes well beyond comic relief -- he's a lovable rogue and a feast for an actor. And in this production, the terrific Daryl Clark Phillips eats up the role with Falstaffian gusto. As good as most of the other actors are, we long for Clark when he is absent and are as delighted as Falstaff's own pals are when he appears again.

Hal's conceit is that his low habits are beneficial in that they'll provide extra contrast once he reforms and takes his rightful place as son and heir, but we're meant to doubt this. Fortunate, then, that the intense Phil Brown makes this eventual transformation absolutely believable -- we see the sudden evolution of Hal from callowness to nobility. Brown gives a delicious performance: sexy, funny, and heroic.

And that's not the last of the acting delights to savor here. James Ricks does a powerful take on Hotspur, the challenger to Henry's throne who's so noble and valiant that Henry openly longs that Hotspur and Hal had been switched at birth. Ricks' performance seems oddly modern, perhaps due in part to his relentlessly American accent in the face of the English accents around him.

And then there is Grant Mudge, playing the rogue Ned Poins as well as Owen Glendower, the Welsh magician, and the Scottish warrior Douglas, with enough of a burr to power two productions of "Macbeth."

Jack Parrish is both regal and thoroughly human as the king, anguished over his rebellious son as much as over the rebellious factions facing him. Jacqueline O'Connor's jocular turn as Mistress Quickly, the tavern owner, is well balanced by her strong cross-gendered Captain Blunt, and Robert Nelson, John Witkiewicz and Brian Vrtis are excellent in various secondary roles.

James Alexander Bond, as Master of Play, keeps the emotional pitch and the pacing ideal, but fight director Drew Vidal's battle scenes are not fast-paced enough to thrill. Joanne Zipay's work as Master of Verse is obvious in the finely tuned diction and the beautiful rhythms of the poetry, which make the language shine throughout.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Looney Tunes + Shakespeare = Surprisingly Interesting

It just occured to me how well Henry IV, Part 1 could be played with Bugs Bunny as Hal and Daffy Duck as Hotspur.

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Whitlock on "Burying the N-word"

I love Whitlock's column so much I'm just going to reprint the whole darn thing:

Burying the N-word a Big Event

Thanks again, Don Imus. And this time I really mean it.

Your ignorant attempt at humor in early April seems to have awakened us. You called a group of mostly black women’s college basketball players nappy-headed hos, setting off a national controversy and costing yourself a cushy talk-radio job.

But you also did much more. You inadvertently and undeniably made us examine what Ebony magazine labeled in its July issue a “culture of disrespect,” a destructive self-hatred that has been preventing us from taking advantage of the freedoms won by Dr. King and the civil-rights movement.

Thanks, Don Imus. History might remember you and your stale radio show fondly.

I know I will. You played a role in one of the most significant days in my life — Monday, July 9, 2007. That’s the day the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word at its national convention in Detroit. I was only there in spirit, but I was there nonetheless, a most enthusiastic supporter.

“Today we’re not just burying the N-word, we’re taking it out of our spirit,” Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick told “mourners” and media gathered at the funeral. “We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the pimps and the hos that go with it.”

I’m done with the N-word. I’ve spoken it for the last time. I’ve rapped it for the last time. Spoken with an “er” or “a,” delivered by a black or white person, I’ll be offended every time I hear it. The word serves no useful purpose. It cannot be remade into a positive. It was invented to aid in our enslavement, kept around to prevent our advancement and distinguish us from the mainstream.

We have embraced our own use of it foolishly and recklessly, much like a long-living, lifetime smoker who believes all the other lung-cancer victims smoked the wrong brand of cigarette.
Only the ignorant will pray for the N-word’s resurrection. And only the ignorant will minimize the importance of the symbolic funeral. It was necessary. We needed the funeral to sound the alarm that we’re pushing for a new day, a new level of self-respect.

I’m very proud of the NAACP, an organization that has struggled financially and philosophically over the last decade. The NAACP, with its long, respected history, is the perfect institution to call for a heightened awareness and end to the destructive behaviors we visit upon ourselves.

“While we are happy to have sent a certain radio cowboy back to his ranch,” NAACP National Board Chairman Julian Bond told an audience at the 98th annual convention Sunday night, “we ought to hold ourselves to the same standard. If he can’t refer to our women as hos, then we shouldn’t either.”

This is basic common sense. Obviously, just because the NAACP says we shouldn’t use such words doesn’t mean that those words will be immediately eliminated by all black people from regular use. This is going to be a process. There has to be an intellectual awakening to the damage that is caused by maintaining a verbal “culture of disrespect.”

Monday was important because it put the conversation at the forefront. It helps make it possible for people to raise an objection when black people use the N-word. I know teachers and coaches — both black and white — have struggled with this dilemma for years. The N-word is tossed around nonchalantly by black athletes (and some white athletes) in mix-raced locker rooms. Visit just about any college or high school weight room and you’re likely to hear rap music blaring that uses the N-word, “bitch” and “ho” liberally.

Now you can object strongly, and you’re backed by the NAACP and every sane black person I know.

“We don’t believe it’s a violation of the First Amendment to say to somebody you ought not to talk that way, you ought not denigrate women, you ought not condemn people because of the color of their skin,” Bond told reporters on Sunday. “I heard somebody say that when Jay-Z talks about hos, he gets a gold record. When Don Imus talks about hos, he gets fired. We believe in equal justice and equal justice for everyone.”

Thank you, Don Imus. Thank you for being the idiot who made us confront our own foolishness.

Rock on, NAACP. I join Jason Whitlock in being through with the idea of "reclaiming" this reprehensible word and glorifying a culture of institutional misogynism. Julian Bond's quote says it all: "If [Imus] can’t refer to our women as hos, then we shouldn’t either."

Also, today is my birthday.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Scoring "Henry IV, Part 1"

With Henry IV, Part 1 opening tomorrow (and with Dave T already having seen a preview for review), it's probably about time I wrote a few words about my (very small) part in the show.

First of all, I need to say that I absolutely love Shakespeare's history plays. In fact, the only play in Shakespeare's canon that I like better than 1 Henry IV is Richard II, and that's only by a hair. Watching these fantastic actors attack this piece has made me terribly hungry for this Fall's Richard II, which I'll be acting in.

Normally, there's no way anyone would do work on both shows of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, what with the closing of show 1 and opening of show 2 only separated by three days. With all the songs in The Tempest, I knew that the best contribution I could make to the Festival was in my role as Master of Music for that show, and I'm very pleased with how that went. But it broke my heart to have to sit on the sidelines for Henry. I eventually realized that maybe I could be involved in the show if my contribution was fairly modest-sized and self-contained. It's a long way from the epic scope of the Midsummer Night's Dream soundtrack of 2005 (CDs still available, by the way) or the three-piece Tempest band, but I think the scoring for Henry adds something unique to the production.

For this show, I've opted to go with more of an Asian theatre musical aesthetic. Obvioiusly, the themes of fathers, sons, family honor, and war lead the mind a bit in the direction of Asian drama, but it was really the visual of having one big war drum (my djembe) as the main instrument that led me that way. I started thinking of how many different ways I can get sound out of that supremely versatile instrument.

The sound, again taking the example of music in Asian theatre, is very sparse, with every sound carefully chosen. The djembe is known for a big center boom and high pitched ping on the rim, so I've extended that duality to the two sides of the civil war. The boom in the center is the sound of the king, with high pitched rim rattles or the click of the claves representing the quickness of Hotspur. The show opens with a warlike rhythm which builds in complexity through the king's entrance. Audience members with excellent memories may recognize that the same rhythm returns during King Henry's closing lines, leading into Part 2 and the building Wars of the Roses. Whether that comes across to the audience is debatable, but it makes me happy.

So last Saturday, 96 degrees and humid, we spent the entire afternoon in the hot Agecroft sun running the show as I muted my drum with a cloth, played it with my hands, hit it with mallets, sticks, and claves, on top, on the sides, straight, on angles, and on and on. I brought a big suitcase full of percussion doodads and ended up keeping only a handful to use: the djembe, a cotton cloth, sticks, mallets, claves, a cabasa, goat toes, and a wicker shaker. It's more than I need; the cabasa may be going home tonight.

This cast, by the way, is flipping amazing. You have got to see these actors play together.

If only the bugs didn't like my music stand light so much.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Historical Quotes About Music in Worship

My brother Peter, whose new blog, P-Squared, just went live, sent me this url from Expository Files today. Reprinted here:

Historical Quotes About Music in Worship

The following is a series of quotes and their sources that I think that some readers will find enlightening, others will find them disturbing, and others interesting. I imagine all will find them a little ironic. I am not going to comment on them at all. They really speak for themselves.

Thomas Aquinas, Catholic Theologian; 13th century: "Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize." Bingham's Antiquities, Vol. 2, p.483, London

John Calvin, Reformation Leader, Founder of Reformed & Presbyterian denominations: "Musical Instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law." Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 33, see also commentary on 1 Samuel 18:1-9

John Wesley, Founder of Methodist Denomination: "I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen." Cited by Methodist commentator Adam Clarke; Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 4, p.684

Catholic Encyclopedia: "Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice. Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments even at Christian banquets." Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, p. 652

Martin Luther, Reformation Leader: "The organ in the worship service is a sign of Baal." Realencyklopadie Fur Protestantische Theologie und Kirche, Bd, 14, s.433 cited in Instrumental Music and New Testament Worship, James D. Bales, p. 130.

Charles Spurgeon, Baptist Author/Pastor: "We might as well pray by machinery as sing by it" and "Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her learn; but in these days when Jesus gives us spiritual food, one can make melody without strings and pipes... we do not need them. That would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto Him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice." Charles Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 42

FINAL QUOTE (this is really the MOST important one on the whole page): "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (Colossians 3:16,17).

By Jon W. Quinn
The Front Page
From Expository Files 4.2; February 1997

Thanks, guys. That's just great. Guess all that stuff in Psalms about the lyre, harp, drum, tamborine, etc. was just skipped over in your consideration.

Good thing all of these guys are dead, or I'd have to open a can.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Review: "Transformers."

Michael Bay + giant alien robots? It's gotta suck, right?

Wrong. Wrongwrongwrongohsowrong.

After seeing Transformers this afternoon, I really can't understand what I ever saw in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer or Pirates of the Caribbean 3. (Spider-Man 3 was still great.) The last time I felt this elated after a movie was The Fellowship of the Ring.

Transformers may be the best Summer blockbuster ever. If you think giant transforming alien robots are cool, guess what: they are. They are so very cool.

I was expecting train wreck. I was expecting to enjoy the nostalgia and the sheer whiz-bang of seeing frickin Optimus Prime on the big screen, but to give the story a pass. No need. The story is simple but fun, the action is unprecedented, there's actual human interest in an earnest and believable performance by Shia LeBeouf, and the movie is quite funny.

It's all about adults being reminded of childlike delight; thrills, chills, spills and 50-foot-tall robots. It feels like a triumph for my entire generation.

And Peter Cullen is still the voice of Optimus Prime. Perfect.

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6 Thoughts on 7/3.

With Independence Day this week, I’m thinking about America and about freedoms of various kinds. And I’ve taken in the past year’s worth of discussion, debate, and research involved in maintaining this stupid blog and let it stew into a few things I think Americans absolutely must do. So between bites of your hot dogs and sips of your American microbrewed beer (I have a fridgeful of Saranac Adirondack Trail Mix), feel free to take a moment to read, comment, amend, and add to the list.

1. Examine our leaders and their methods. I think I’ve decided that I’m finished with leaders who divide for the sake of dividing. Ask yourself: How does this person benefit from raising the level of animus? How much money and power is there to be had by inciting hatred, anger, resentment, and mistrust? Is it possible that the rabble-rousing is an end of its own rather than actual righteous indignation? More and more I believe it is.

I’m pretty sure I’m finished with Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, and Ann Coulter. Done. There’s too much “hate who I hate” happening on both sides of the aisle. I’m sick of so-called “dialogue” that really only consists of two sides who are waiting for their turn to vilify instead of listening to each other. The more I listen to and read Glenn Beck, the more I want to focus on uniters I don’t agree with above dividers I do, and independent thinkers I doubt rather than party-liners I believe.

Stop giving power and money to people who chose a career in leadership to get power and money.

2. Have all elections 100% publicly funded. Scotto mentioned this, and the more I think about it the more ills I see it solving. Give every candidate for every office the same moderate amount of campaign funds and disallow private contributions of any kind. This removes a lot of the influence of corporations and special interests. Eligibility would be based on grassroots volunteers’ ability to gather signatures by a certain date. This would most likely result in a number of candidates in the party primaries numbering in the dozens, instead of a chosen few with enough corporate connections to raise the cash. Lincoln, for example, would never have made it above local government on today's system.

With the internet (a series of tubes invented by Al Gore) as prevalent as it is, it would be very cheap and cost-effective for every candidate to build a website with massive amounts of multimedia content. And every candidate gets the same exact amount of dollars to spend in each media market for radio, print, and television.

Obviously, the sharks would find ways around this. But I think it would change our electoral process in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Money is not free speech. Cashing in favors is not representative democracy.

3. Register as an Independent. This is Lou Dobbs’ idea, and it’s BRILLIANT. Get yourself out of the “win” column for both parties. Make them state an argument and back it up. Make them earn every vote. Let them know they can’t take you for granted.

4. Refuse to respond to opinion polls. Make our elected officials pick a stance they believe in instead of licking a finger and sticking it in the air. This is a republic, not a democracy; we elect people to represent us, we don’t drop ostrakons in a jar for every decision. I want my elected leaders to gather information that I don’t have access to and make decisions based on their intelligence and integrity.

5. Seek out people who take unpopular stances. Think John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two men who have crossed swords with their parties and refused to back down. Both have taken positions that their bases abhor, and both have been consistent. It is the mark of a person of integrity that they stick to what they believe even in the face of popular opinion. I want leaders who stick to real beliefs in good conscience rather than Clinton-esque (either one) testing of the wind vane every two weeks.

And test your beliefs by checking out the opposition with an open mind. Michael Moore fans, check out Dubya fans, peruse occasionally. Try, really try, to read with an open mind. Talk to each other and listen. Listen more than you talk. Aaron Sorkin wrote: “If you feel that strongly about something, you have a moral responsibility to try and change my mind.”

6. Question political correctness. You know where the term “politically correct” comes from? It comes from early Soviet Russia. If your opinions were out of line with Lenin, you were taken away to gulags and other lovely vacation spots until you were made “correct.”

Yes, there is a certain level of genteel sensitivity that modern political correctness has brought to America, and it’s good. Racial, homophobic, and sexist slurs are indeed unacceptable. But we’ve crossed a line at this point, and genuinely edgy, independent thought is being squelched. Provocative questions and statements are being suppressed because they might “offend” someone. Satire is close to career suicide. All it takes is for someone to call you the dreaded R-word, racist, and your career is DONE. There are few appeals in the court of public opinion.

We're dangerously close to legislating thought, and we've long since crossed the line into genuine programming. No one should get to tell you what to think, feel, or believe. That's kind of the whole point of this country.

When people ask me how I define myself politically, it’s a hard question. I’m far right on some issues (abortion, national defense) and equally far left on others (death penalty, gun control). I’m a registered Independent who tends to vote for Republicans, but I’m nearly as pissed at those knuckleheads as I am at the Democrats on any given day. I have to say that I’m (to quote Robert Guillaume on Saturday Night Live) a “Radical Moderate.” I believe what I believe hard, but I really want to hear the other side as well.

So happy Independence Day. You’re free. You’re independent. You have choices to make. Make them good ones.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Pet Peeve #0704: "The Fourth of July."

The holiday is called Independence Day. It takes place on the date July 4.

We don't call Christmas "The Twenty-Fifth of December." (Not yet at least.) We don't call Thanksgiving "The Last Thursday in November," and I don't call my birthday "The Fifteenth of July."

Names are important. Calling Independence Day "The Fourth of July" passes over a chance to remember the brave, crazy, brilliant, flawed people who founded this great experiment we call America. For all the crappy things America and Americans have done, Independence Day is a moment to remember that the idea of a representative democratic republic was a pretty good one.

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