Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's May Workshop

"Auditioning for Shakespeare"
with Daryl Clark Phillips

Tuesday, May 13, 2008, 7:00-9:30 PM
$20 to participate/ $10 to audit
at Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street)

This workshop is designed to help actors develop focused and clearly understandable monologue material from Shakespeare’s plays. Actors are guided through the “how to” of finding a suitable selection from the plays, how to use the whole body of the play to create an environment which supports their delivery, and how to create an appropriate aesthetic distance and focus which can maximize their efforts. They are also guided through simple techniques for physical realization of the environment and tips on how the poetry in the language can aid them in the creative process.

Each participant must have a monologue either completely memorized or be VERY familiar with it with book in hand. High School seniors (seriously committed) and older. Previous experience performing Shakespeare is not important, just a love of the process. Actors should wear comfortable clothing in which they will feel free to get down on the floor, if needed.

Daryl has been a professional Actor, Singer, and Speech and Theatre Arts educator for 30 years. He has a B.A. in Speech, Communication and Theatre from Monmouth University and an M.S. in Speech and Oral Interpretation from Emerson College. The colleges, universities and private schools at which he has taught include: The Ranney School, Ocean County College, Northeastern University, Monmouth University and The University of Richmond. He was an Associate Artist at TheatreVirginia for many years and created the noted, “No Holds Bard” in-class teaching supplement program for TVA, which toured middle and high schools in Virginia for 10 years. Daryl is also a free-lance Theatre Arts and Voice, Articulation and Dialect Coach who has worked with actors and singers all across the country to prepare material for a wide range of audition situations. He currently lives in Richmond and teaches Theatre Arts at Prince George High School. He can be seen this summer in the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's production of Henry IV, Part 2, wherein he will reprise his critically acclaimed performance as Falstaff.

Email or call him at 804-232-4000 for more information or to make a reservation.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Taking a Break

It's going to be quiet around here for a time while I deal with some personal things, friends.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

NRO's Victor Davis Hanson on Campaign Casualties

You may have noticed, dear reader, that I have largely sworn off political commentary around here in recent months. I have become more and more disillusioned as genuine people of vision and conscience on both sides of the aisle have dropped out of the Presidential race in favor of a trio of political opportunists, none of whom I can vote for and look at myself in the mirror the next morning.

I have my problems with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, but the one thing I can't keep down is this: Barack Obama has said things about race and class in recent months that I find find infinitely more ignorant and offensive than anything Don Imus has said, and the only thing that disturbs me more than the potential of an Obama presidency is the fact that so much of America seems to want it, or to believe they do.

I realize that very few of this blog's readers are likely to peruse the National Review Online. But Victor Davis Hanson's column today is just brilliant, and I'm going to link to it and reprint it here. Hanson expresses my despair better than I could.

I'm not sure I really want to launch into a discussion of this nonsense as much as I just want an expression of why I don't want to launch into a discussion of this nonsense.

Casualties of the Campaign
Unfortunately, none of our nation's looming crises are among them.
By Victor Davis Hanson
April 17, 2008

It is only four months into 2008, but the presidential campaign — already too long and nasty — is still a long way from over. And the casualties are mounting.

First, George W. Bush’s popularity remains dismal — even though some of the complaints about his first term have gone by the wayside. The French and German governments are now staunchly pro-American. Violence in Iraq is still way down from a year ago. America has been free from a terrorist attack since 9/11.

No matter. Nothing has seemed to help the president. His approval rating stays at, or sinks below, 30 percent.

Why? The current gloomy economic news and the continuing human and financial costs of Afghanistan and Iraq explain a lot. But another reason is this present election cycle. For the first time in nearly six decades, no incumbent president or vice president is daily hammering back in defense of the recent four years.

We expect Democratic opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to trash an incumbent Republican president. But Republican nominee John McCain seldom endorses anything about the two Bush terms.

Again, the last time America witnessed anything similar was when Harry Truman left office with a 22-percent approval rating — under furious attack by Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower and yet shunned by his own party’s nominee, the maverick Adlai Stevenson, who had not been part of the Truman administration.

If the current president hasn’t been helped by the present campaign, look what’s it’s done to his predecessor. The Clinton legacy is wrecked. Left-wing bloggers, liberal columnists, and some Democratic politicians now despise Bill and Hillary Clinton — even more than did “the vast right-wing conspiracy” of the 1990s.

A furious Hillary keeps charging the media with the same sort of bias that the Republicans used to routinely claim always favored her husband. Apparently the Left has become infatuated with Barack Obama and does not want another eight years of the once-iconic Clintons — especially after their use of the race card, the hardball politics, and Hillary’s chronic exaggeration and misstatements.

Globetrotting Bill Clinton spent seven years crafting a legacy as a post-partisan senior statesman. Now he’s thrown that away by devolving into a political henchman assigned to take down the Democratic Party’s first serious African-American candidate.

Whatever the final result of the 2008 campaign, the image of an above-the-fray Bill is no more — shattered somewhere between the disclosure of the $109 million Clinton tax returns and his finger-shaking lectures to the press about its supposed unfairness to his wife. Democrats once were enchanted that their party might usher in the nation’s first woman president. Now many of them fear Hillary is a bothersome obstacle in the way of an even more hip and novel breakthrough candidate.

Racial relations also soured from the campaign. Obama promised to be our post-racial healer. But so far, even if it weren’t his intent, he is proving the most racially contentious candidate in recent American history.

African-Americans still line up behind Obama, even as whites keep voting in large majorities for Clinton.

The more Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, keeps sounding unhinged, the more Obama can’t quite free himself from this hateful albatross.

And when Obama talks down about middle America’s fondness for religion and guns; or suggests that small-town America is “anti-immigrant” and “clings” to “antipathy to people who aren’t like them;” or quips about the “typical white person,” he only increases racial polarization — cementing the image of someone who sees America in terms of “they,” not “us.”

The Bush and Clinton legacies, Obama’s “new” politics and race relations are all casualties of a wide-open election without incumbents. But the greatest casualty has been our inability to figure how to deal with looming crises.

So far we haven’t heard specific workable proposals from the candidates about how exactly they would solve energy dependence, soaring food prices, illegal immigration, or outdated farm subsidies.

There has been no new solution offered about the looming Social Security crack-up. Few candidates have expressed novel ideas of stopping staggering deficits or bulking up a sinking dollar — much less exactly the sacrifices necessary on all our parts to restore American financial solvency. No one has offered a better way of dealing with an ascendant but lawless China, an unhinged Iran, or the ongoing war against Islamic extremism.

In 2008, everything and everyone has fallen victim to a nasty campaign — except America’s nastiest problems.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Times-Dispatch: Andrew Hamm is "Cultivating Richmond Theater"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Cultivating Richmond theater
An insider is devoted to fostering a vibrant local art scene

Sunday, Apr 13, 2008 - 12:03 AM


"There's no shame in wanting to be a big fish in a small pond," observes Richmond Shakespeare's new associate artistic director, Andrew Hamm, "if you recognize that a big fish in a small pond has big responsibilities to care for the pond."

An intense 35-year-old with a shaved head, glasses and an earring, Hamm is sitting in the theater company's quiet office in the Fan, drinking coffee and discussing, among other matters, the importance of nurturing a vibrant local theater scene. It is a subject he feels strongly about: His voice is emotional, almost tremulous, as he deplores the inclination of certain big fish (talented Richmond thespians) to relocate to a larger pond (New York City).

"Smaller-city and small-town art scenes need great artists to stay there: That is what makes art healthy," the Virginia native stresses.

Since he began working with Richmond Shakespeare in 2004 -- his first freelance assignment was to supervise music for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- Hamm has done his part to cultivate the pond that is Richmond theater.

For 18 months, until his promotion in March to associate artistic director, he served as Richmond Shakespeare's director of training, coordinating career-enrichment classes (such as the upcoming clowning intensive) aimed at local actors. "I felt a responsibility to do what little I can, not only to put on a good show, but to help the other artists in town to put on good shows," he says, explaining his perspective on the job.

He has also directed for the company, most recently mounting "As You Like It," running at the Second Presbyterian Church through April 20. Hamm has followed the five-actor template that's a Richmond Shakespeare hallmark: Between a clothes rack and a flower-draped piano, the performers ricochet from character to character, frantically donning hats, aprons and the like to signal their identity.

"I've been calling it a love letter to the five-actor format," says Hamm. "We're not trying to hide the costume changes or the character changes -- we're absolutely glorifying in them!"

All the same, he'll be expanding the cast, to a dozen or so, for the comedy's run at Agecroft Hall July 3 through July 13.

In addition to directing "As You Like It," Hamm has written the production's incidental music, and he serves as pianist for the montage of 1980s pop songs (Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," etc.) that introduces Act I. "Once alternative and grunge became mainstream, you couldn't have love songs without irony," Hamm said, of the choice of tunes.

"The '80s were really the last time in history where you could have love songs that were really just kooky love songs." (His Virginia Commonwealth University graduate thesis was a theater piece built from Joe Jackson albums.)

As if he didn't have enough to do, Hamm also depicts Hymen in the production, adding that tiny role to a list of previous Richmond Shakespeare acting credits.

"He has a great energy," said James Alexander Bond, the New York-based artist who directed Hamm in "Measure for Measure" and in "Julius Caesar."

"He does his work fast and well, and if something's not going in a direction that feels right, he has no problem letting go and trying new things. He's very specific -- and the more specific a character is, the better it is."

Grant Mudge, the company's artistic director, is equally enthusiastic. "He can work as a teaching artist, he can work as an actor -- his versatility is incredibly valuable to me, " he said. "At any small not-for-profit theater company, if you've got someone who can handle more than one area of emphasis, that's incredibly valuable."

If Mudge sounds a note of pragmatism, Hamm takes an idealistic view of his work. "I view this thing of art-making as mission and vocation," he said.

And for that mission, he thinks, Richmond is an ideal location. "You can perform in front of bigger houses if you wish, in bigger towns," said Hamm. "But I guarantee: You're going to touch people so much more deeply here."

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Fifteen Fabulous Fictional Females

I assure you, it is quite unlike me to have such a man-heavy top ten list. I didn't even know it was happening until a day after I published, and I had been working on that list for two weeks! Insert your generic "That just proves you're a servant to the male chauvinist hegemony" comment here.

So here is my penance: a list of my top fifteen female-only characters from fiction. I am so lame. To accelerate the healing, I am going to post the list in early stages, long before I even have time to do proper write-ups. Feel free to comment.

Karla Sofen, A.K.A. Moonstone/Meteorite (Marvel Comics' Thunderbolts): Cosmically-powered psychologist villain turned cosmically-powered psychologist... well, anti-hero is probably the best she ever managed. Karla is pretty much a full-on baddie again in Warren Ellis' reboot of the Thunderbolts concept, somehow managing to be the moderating voice to director Norman Osborn. She's a master manipulator willing to use sex, violence, mind games, or power to achieve her strange ends, but somehow in the company of her near-lover Clint Barton she is justthisclose to being a hero. For just a moment.

Melissa Gold, A.K.A. Songbird (Marvel Comics' Thunderbolts): My favorite Thunderbolt. How she missed the first list is a mystery. Beginning her career as the small-time supervillain Screaming Mimi, Melissa has grown from the meekest, most needy of little things into a full-blown leader and hero, perhaps the one unquestionable good guy on the team right now. Adding interest is the fact that, in the time-traveling miniseries Avengers Forever, we've seen that at some point in the future she's an Avenger.

Evaine MacRorie Thuryn (Katherine Kurtz's Legends of Camber of Culdi and Heirs of Saint Camber): Every bit the scholar her father was, Evaine is cursed to see her husband die and her people oppressed, scattered to the winds in the wake of a reactionary racial purge. Still, she fights, even making the supreme sacrifice for just the chance for her father to live on in some way.

Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens): Let's pretend the third and fourth films just don't exist, shall we? And frankly, I can even do without the first one, James Cameron's Aliens is so magnificent. The motherhood allegory becomes stronger every time I watch this film, right down to the climactic battle of Ripley and alien queen. "Get away from her, you BITCH!"

Sarah Connor (Terminator films and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles): I agree with my friend Linda and blogger Diana: the Sarah of the television series is an even more rounded character than Linda Hamilton's excellent performance. A woman constantly on the edge, another Cameron motherhood allegory, but this time with a dash of Kassandra thrown in for good measure, bursting with passion of the knowledge of the future that no one will believe.

President Laura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica): From Secretary of Education to President of (what's left of) the Twelve Colonies in just a few hours, Laura Roslin is gloriously portrayed by Mary McDonnell, whom I love so much from Grand Canyon and Dances With Wolves. She's gentle but strong, extremely feminine but capable of pragmatic violence almost approaching cruelty. As much as I love Eddie Olmos' portrayal of Bill Adama, it is Roslin's savage protection of the dwindling human race that moves me most in this show.

Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls): Here's the thing I love about Lorelai: she is intolerably cruel to her parents. For all the crap they put her through, for all the mind games and guilt trips, I constantly expect Lauren Graham's character to show just a speck of mercy once in a while, and she just never does. In a way, Lorelai has never grown up beyond the age she was when she had daughter Rory, and her manifest and frequent mistakes and gaffes are what keep the sub-rural fantasy of Gilmore Girls grounded. She's completely competent in half of her life and wildly out of control in others, and cleverness can only extricate her from so much. In a show that never asks the question, "How can these girls eat so much and remain so tiny?" Lorelai makes real-person mistakes. I haven't seen season seven yet, so don't spoil anything for me, please.

Sarah Jane Smith (Doctor Who): The greatest of all companions, Sarah Jane saw the end of the third Doctor and the beginning of the fourth. Despite a tendency to shriek annoyingly when endangered (which happened frequently), Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah is actually a female character years ahead of her time; smart-ass and spunky with a journalist's eye for detail and nose for trouble. At times, her empathy for the plight of the various peoples endangered throughout time and space rivals the Doctor's, and her courage may even exceed his. Whether romancing a giant robot or facing down the creator of the Daleks, Sarah Jane is the companion all others are measured by. Speaking of which, have you seen the end of last week's "Partners in Crime" yet?!!!

Mathilda (Leon [The Professional]): Natalie Portman, age 12, in what I still consider to be her seminal role. Mathilda is an abused pre-teen whose parents are brutally killed in Luc Besson's ultra-violent opus. By all means, get yourself the extended European version, Leon, much longer and a much deeper film. Leon himself, played by Jean Reno, should probably have made the male character list, but this is Mathilda's story. She's fragile and small (did Portman ever get any taller than this?) but capable of steel and murder as she trains to become a hit man under the tutelage of the milk-drinking, plant-loving Leon, who she, of course, falls completely in love with. Mathilda turns this from a story of violence to a story of escape from abuse, of fatherhood and first love and liberty.

Amelie (Amelie): Amelie is just the best.

I love Amelie.

It is impossible to not love Amelie.

Dana Whittaker (SportsNight): I do love characters who balance extreme competence with equal incompetence, and no one writes them better than Aaron Sorkin. While I love the whole cast of characters of SportsNight, my favorite TV show that isn't Firefly ever, Felicity Huffman's Dana just always captures my attention. She has so much passion and absolutely no idea in the world what's supposed to be done with it. There would be no CJ Cregg without Dana, who juggles TV executives, highlight clips, and anchor egos with tremendous grace, always bringing the show in for a perfect landing. I want to work for Dana.

Leeloo (The Fifth Element): "Leeloo Dallas multipass!" The pure embodiment of love with kickass kung-fu moves, Milla Jovovich's "perfect being" may be the most vulnerable character I've ever seen on screen. When she's not on the verge of killing, she's on the verge of tears, overwhelmed with love for all living things and in desperate need to be loved herself. No kidding here, Jovovich's performance in this film is one of my favorite in history; Luc Besson is good at many things, but creating female characters may be the best. Yes, she's an alien superbeing on a quest to find four stones of power to fend off a nameless planet-sized evil that wants to devour all living things, but I also believe she's a sad, frail girl. Actually, Jovovich's performance is the only thing that makes Besson's The Messenger even a tiny bit watchable.

Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye (Firefly, Serenity): Most of my friends are into Inara; I'm a Kaylee man. A simple farm girl with an instinct for mechanics, she's innocent and homespun yet boy-crazy and horny as all hell. I love watching her fling herself at the clueless Simon Tam almost as much as I love her wearing the dress that makes her look like a layer cake in "Shindig." Actor Jewel Staite put on some pounds for the TV series, bless her, and I actually prefer the more womanly Kaylee to the model-slim (Staite is actually a model) film version. Kaylee is probably the fictional character I would most want to be my girlfriend. Shiny.

River Tam (Firefly, Serenity): I just love Summer Glau so very much. Watching her make the transition from scared, naked, helpless girl-in-a-box to crazy perplexing madwoman to mindreading emotional wreck was interesting enough, but when she goes all ninja killing-machine in the bar in Serenity it's over the top. Yes, I'm sad when Book dies, and crushed when Wash is impaled in mid-sentence. But it's two words in Serenity that make me weep every time: "My turn."

Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager): Okay, yes. I'll get it out of the way: the costume and her body are pure science fiction. But it's Jeri Ryan's performance, so arrogant and strong yet subtly conflicted even in her greatest positions of power, that make her character great, and that frankly redeems Voyager in the end. I had stopped watching after season two, bored of the same nonsense and really annoyed with Jennifer Lien's Kes. But I'm a big Next Gen fan, and when they brought a Borg on as crew, I was fascinated. The result was the most interesting Trek character since Spock, a detached Borg with suppressed memories of her humanity who doesn't particularly want to be human. The mother-daughter relationship that developed between Captain Janeway and Seven was the show's anchor through its floundering conclusion. I'll say this: seasons four and five of Voyager are of Next Gen quality, primarily because of the through-line of Ryan's performance. The rest of the series? Not so much.

There you go. That's fifteen. Pictures and all.

Penance complete?

Friday, April 11, 2008

My Ten Favorite Fictional Characters

I started writing this weeks ago, after the "Top Ten Albums" post. It seemed like a fun idea. I had no idea it would be so labor-intensive. Mainly, it's just an excuse for me to talk about Iron Man anyway...

I have omitted characters from dramatic literature for some reason. Maybe that's another list, of favorite characters from theatre: Rakitin from A Month in the Country, Prince Hal, Cherdyakhov from The Good Doctor, The Inspector General, Freddy Trumper from Chess, etc.

In no particular order:

Tony Stark, A.K.A. Iron Man (Marvel Comics): Genius inventor. Billionaire industrialist. Dashing playboy. Despicable control freak. Rampaging alcoholic. No character in all of comics mixes the admirable with the detestable as equally as Tony Stark, my favorite superhero of all time. You always get the sense that Iron Man is much closer to being Doctor Doom than Captain America.

He's been a captain of industry, a founding member of the Avengers (twice), clinically dead, a criminal on the run, a drunk literally in the gutter, U.S. Secretary of Defense, paralyzed from the waist down, and now Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., in charge of all the world's registered superheroes. All the while he's arrogant and addictive, brilliant and blind, and the best and worst friend you could have in the world. You can tell just how brilliantly-created this character is by how many comic geeks post-Civil War hate him as if he's a real person. And he's easy to dislike, just like a real person; more like a real person than almost any other character in comics. If I was brilliant enough to design that armor, I'd probably be an insufferable ass, too.

Check out the great runs by Bob Layton from the 70s and 80s for golden-age Stark. I hear a rumor that there just may be an Iron Man movie coming out some time soon.

Clint Barton, A.K.A. Hawkeye, Goliath, and Ronin (Marvel Comics): On the other end of the spectrum from Stark is Clint Barton, a second-generation Avenger armed only with a bow, a set of trick arrows, and balls the size of cantaloupes. Hey, if you were frequently on the same team as Captain freaking America and the actual god of thunder, you'd overcompensate, too.

He's romanced an ex-KGB agent (the Black Widow), an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (Mockingbird, whom he married, left, and reconciled with just in time for her to be killed), and an ex-Master of Evil (Moonstone). He started as a loudmouth a-hole and grew into the loudmouth a-hole chosen to lead the West Coast Avengers. When the former Masters of Evil decided they wanted to try their hands at being heroes, the Thunderbolts, Clint left the Avengers to go on the lam with them and lead them. The best of brash Barton is in his early Avengers days (post-issue #16), but my favorite stuff is the first few arcs of West Coast Avengers and the Busiek and Nicienza runs of the first Thunderbolts series.

Brian Michael Bendis wrote a fantastic monologue from Clint in this month's New Avengers: "When I first joined the Avengers as Hawkeye, I thought: Okay, it's me and my little arrows right next to the real life god of thunder. And I'm going: What the @#$% is my exploding arrow going to do that lightning boy with the hair can't do? But then... There's this moment. Something happens. You could be on your own, or part of the team, when all of a sudden... you are the exact right person for the exact right moment... and you take your best shot. And all of a sudden you know. You're an Avenger."

Clint Barton makes me believe anyone can use the talents they've been given to save the world.

Thomas Covenant (Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant): Yes, my favorite character from contemporary fantasy fiction is a rapist leper who spends most of his time refusing to use his limitless power to help people for whom he is their only hope. (At least I didn't pick Donaldson's other brilliant creation, Angus Thermopyle, a rapist cyborg who refuses to use his limitless power to help people for whom he is their only hope.)

The facts of Thomas Covenant's survival techniques, the rules by which he must live or die, are so brilliantly drawn that I find myself rooting for him even when I know his desires are at their most selfish and impure. Even as he flails, stumbles, and disappoints the people of the Land over and over and over again, there are always people who are willing to trust him, to believe in this self-styled Unbeliever. Donaldson draws a complex and terrible picture of just how impossible the act of having mercy on each other actually is, and Covenant pays the price of receiving grace with every breath he takes. He (and Thermopyle) were often in my thoughts during Measure for Measure. It's a terrible, beautiful story, and it's like nothing else you'll ever read.

Samwise Gamgee (J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings): As much as I thrill to the magic of Gandalf, the friendship of Gimli and Legolas, and the regal heroism of Aragorn, it is the Hobbits who are the center of The Lord of the Rings.

Frodo's sacrifice is the crux of the story, but Sam is the character who captivates me; Sam, the most faithful friend in all of literature (except possibly The Iliad's Patroclus), who chooses to follow his friend and master into the very mouth of hell for no reason other than because he loves him and can't bear to see him do it alone. In a way, Sam's burden is heavier than Frodo's, because he must watch his friend suffer more with every step. When Sam says "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you," I am simply destroyed.

I've got news for you, dear reader: the real hero of The Lord of the Rings is Samwise, and what gives him his power is the purity of his love, not for home or duty but for his friend. Do I have friends like that? Am I a friend who would make that kind of sacrifice? God, I hope so.

Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce (M*A*S*H): Here's where having the entire run of a TV show on DVD becomes real magic: For all the wacky antics, for all the self-righteous preachiness of later seasons, a devotee of M*A*S*H develops an entirely new perspective on Hawkeye Pierce after watching the finale, wherein our hero is literally put in a sanitarium. All the jokes of early seasons are cast in a different light once you know just how close he always was to the edge of actual madness.

Hawkeye is a mass of contradictions too big and passionate for sanity to contain; a hard-drinking womanizer by night (he really does treat women abominably for such an otherwise progressive-minded man), a brilliant artist of a surgeon by day, surrounded by the hell of a pointless war, staving off the demons of reality with jokes, gags, and fantasy. He's an officer in an army he despises, cleaning up dirty work he objects to with religious intensity. His eyes too open, his mouth too wide, Hawkeye is too small to hold it all in his mere mortal flesh. He may be the fictional character in whom I most see myself reflected.

Camber MacRorie (Katherine Kurtz's Legends of Camber of Culdi): Father and friend, scholar and mage, king-maker and priest, Camber MacRorie is the central figure of Katherine Kurtz's fictional world of Gwynedd. Born to power and influence both secular and magical as a Deryni lord, Camber serves the human Haldane kings until they are deposed by the tyrannical Deryni Festils, then attempts to serve the people by working with the usurpers. Eventually Camber and his family engineer the coup that returns the rightful human king to the throne, but at great cost to a society which then turns on his people.

Politician and poet, soldier and saint, Camber seems to sell pieces of his soul away bit by bit, assuming another man's identity when his influence wanes and finally making an arcane sacrifice to be transformed into something between life and death, all for the love of his king and his people. One of the most complex characters I've ever read, Camber still manages to make perfect human sense at all times despite his many contradictions. Kurtz's writing has dropped off severely in quality in recent years, but the three-volume Legends of Camber of Culdi is a wonderful, harrowing read.

Hellboy (Dark Horse Comics): Born of a demonic father and a human mother, summoned by Rastputin and Nazi magicks, and raised by a man devoted to fighting the forces of darkness, Hellboy is, like most of the characters on this list, a study in opposites. The single greatest thing about writer/artist Mike Mignola's greatest creation is the contrast between his appearance and manner: a hulking red demon with cloven hooves chomping on a cigar and beating the hell out of vampires, werewolves, and demigods with the attitude and language of a plumber trying to unclog a particularly obstinate toilet.

Ron Perlman is perfect in the first movie, and the second looks just as promising, but it's the original Mignola paper version that you owe it to yourself to read. Hellboy is probably the greatest new creation in comics in decades.

Josh Lyman (The West Wing): Okay, we all love Jed Bartlett, and Alison Janney is the coolest tallest woman in the world, and the ladies certainly love some Rob Lowe, but let's get real here. The West Wing was Josh's show, start to finish, from the pilot's speculation about his imminent firing through his inauguration as President Santos' Chief of Staff.

Bradley Whitford was just there in the perfect moment: the marriage of writer, character, producer, actor, and project, like television hasn't seen since Hawkeye Pierce. Josh is so smart and passionate and righteous that he doesn't believe he's capable of failure; this of course makes him irresistible and unlikeable all at once. He's clearly brilliant, and is a brilliantly-drawn portrait of how brilliance can make you insufferable and flawed as the flipside to its benefits.

Optimus Prime (Transformers): "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," says Optimus Prime, the most awesome robot-that-transforms-into-a-truck in the known universe. On my MySpace page, Optimus is the only person listed that I'd like to meet; not because I wouldn't like to meet Gandhi or Jesus or Pete Townshend, but because meeting Optimus Prime would be so awesome!

Seriously, there's something about this character that captures the imaginations of boys from my generation. He's a warrior-king, but he's also incredibly gentle; he's an unwilling (but extremely skilled) soldier in a war he didn't choose, marooned on a world that isn't his home, and he puts his life on the line over and over again for people (humans) who are just as likely to shoot at him as his enemies. Optimus Prime's death in the 1986 Transformers: the Movie (Whoops, did I spoil a plot point of a 22-year-old movie for you?) made me cry at age 14, and moves me even now. It's hard to qualify why Optimus is such a huge part of my childhood. All I can figure is that he fills the space that early Spider-Man did for the generation previous: an icon of the honorable, responsible use of power for right regardless of what the world at large thinks of you.

Also, he's a robot that transforms into a truck.

The Doctor (Doctor Who): There are Doctor Who fans with much more depth of knowledge than I; David White, for example, can speak intelligently about the work of all ten actors who have played the regenerating Time Lord, whereas I have only seen half of them. I don't care. Doctor Who is the freaking greatest sci-fi show ever, and despite being over four decades old it is the best it has ever been right now.

I want to be David Tennant when I grow up. I want to fit in that suit. I want that hair; frankly, I'd settle for Chris Eccleston's hair, or even Tom Baker's. I want a sonic screwdriver. I want K-9 to follow me around at one-quarter my speed but somehow to magically show up right at my heels after the camera cuts. I want a TARDIS, and I want it to be bigger on the inside than on the outside. I want to hail from the planet Gallifrey, and I want to be equal parts irrepressible humor and inestimable sadness. I want to be an excited little boy and a wise old man all at the same time. I want Daleks to tremble at the sound of my name. I want to not have a proper name. I want an endless stream of interesting, beautiful women to follow me around for my mind and my adventures. I want to risk my life for people I just met twelve minutes ago. I want a theme song. I want to invent new science, making up new kinds of physics as I go along. I want to be saved by totally implausible deus ex machina over and over again. I want to be nine hundred years old.

Doctor Who does something that no other science fiction manages, and it does it on a regular basis: Doctor Who delights me. Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, all these are great thrilling shows, but they don't make me smile like this. It makes me grin and laugh and cheer at the sheer audacity of the writing, the silliness of the ideas, the total commitment of the show's creators. But it only works with an actor committing himself completely to the show's absurdity; it works best with a Tom Baker, a Christopher Eccleston, and by God with Tennant, who is absolutely the best of an excellent bunch.

Honorable Mentions:

George Bailey (It's a Wonderful Life): Happy New Year to you! In JAIL!

Severus Snape (JK Rowlings' Harry Potter series): Because I always knew he would end up a hero.

Odysseus (Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey): Because he's Captain Kirk.

Senator Barack Obama (Democratic presidential candidate): Equal parts JFK, MLK, and Jesus. Why do I feel like I'm the only one who sees that the image is just totally implausible?

Spock (Star Trek): A logical choice.

Spider Jerusalem (Vertigo Comics' Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson): Pure filth, ultra-violence, and compassion in equal measures. Makes me miss living in New York City.

Rorschach (DC Comics' Watchmen): Ronch ronch ronch.

Arthur Putey (Monty Python's Flying Circus): Deirdre... That's my wife...

Belgarion, King of Riva (The Belgariad, the Malloreon): I grew up with Garion.

Javan Haldane (Katherine Kurtz's Legends of Camber of Culdi and Heirs of Saint Camber series): The clubfooted younger twin to sickly Alroy, all heart and courage in the face of odds he can't possibly surmount. Making his story more tragic is the fact that Kurtz publishes genealogies in the backs of her books; before you even meet Javan you know he's going to die very young, a king for only one year.

Captain Mal Reynolds (Firefly, Serenity): How did he not make the top ten??! Call him 10A. Truly, I could have picked any character from this show, my favorite in television history. Hey, that's another top ten list!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Style Weekly: "As You Like It" is "vibrant, witty"

From Style Weekly:

Contract of Breeches
The Richmond Shakespeareans sign up for a lot of costume changes in a play already full of mistaken identities.

by Mary Burruss

I confess: Richmond Shakespeare’s concept of five people playing all the parts in a Shakespeare play is often distracting, and at times I find the prop/costume changes awkward. But the five-actor version of “As You Like It,” playing at Second Presbyterian Church, has made me a convert to this type of production.

Director Andrew Hamm has done a masterful job of choreographing a vibrant, witty homage to this prototype of romantic comedy. The transitions were seamless, and the onstage costume changes mostly worked well.

The many characters who romped through the forest of Arden, celebrating the rites of spring with music and dance, could threaten to get mixed up — especially considering the multiple identities already at work within the story — but there was an ease and confidence to the production that precluded any disorientation.

Hamm warmed up the audience with a piano-accompanied set of contemporary love songs. It set the tone for a breezy show, delivering a cast of characters that exuded playfulness. Frank Creasy (as Charles, the Duke’s wrestler) pushed the limits of kayfabe during the better-than-WWE wrestling scene with Patrick Bromley’s Orlando.

Sunny LaRose was adorable as the love-struck Rosalind (disguised as the youth Ganymede in the forest). LaRose’s onstage relationship with Julia Rigby’s Celia portrayed a connection whose bond was “stronger than that of sisters.” And despite the wonderful silliness of Creasy’s dancing and Bromley and Adam Minks in women’s roles, the gender-bending performances of the two natural girls were the strongest overall.

The beautiful costumes designed by Rebecca Cairns blended soft, earthy tones of creams, gold and floral prints that intertwined through all the costumes like ivy on a tree trunk. The effect was a cohesive, well-tailored look that added a dash of sophistication and sumptuousness to the show. Cairns not only designed a whimsical collection of costumes, but also managed to define characters with minimal pieces that functioned well for those quick transformations.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jayson Stark on the 2008 Red Sox

An excerpt from

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Unless you're older than Eddie Joost, older than Dom DiMaggio, older than Zsa Zsa Gabor, you've never lived in a world like this.

You've never lived in a world where a baseball season was about to begin and the Boston Red Sox could be described with a word millions of New Englanders were once completely unfamiliar with:


Red Sox fans can be found in many of the world's faraway places, but especially in Japan.They're not your grandfather's Red Sox anymore. They're not your great-grandfather's Red Sox anymore. They're not the tragic, accursed figures of not so long ago anymore.

Winning one World Series didn't change all that. But winning two in four years -- yup, that did it.

The Boston Red Sox, as we know them now, are not expected to choke, or gag, or fizzle. They're expected to win. They're built to win. And they're darned sure good enough to win.

"The story has changed now," says Tim Wakefield, now in his 14th season with this team, a man who has witnessed this transformation from the best seat in the house. "It's changed from tragedy every postseason -- from: 'They did it again. Blahblahblahblahblah' -- to something different."

Something different, huh? Does that describe it?

Repainting your living room -- from white to tan -- that's "something different."

But watching the Red Sox go from "A Team Doomed by Fate, Curses, Sunken Pianos and Assorted Bucky Bleeping Dent-Type Villains to Never Win a Stinking World Series for the Next 8,000 Centuries" to "Only Franchise in History Not Named the Yankees to Sweep the Series Twice in Four Octobers" -- that supersedes "different," doesn't it?

It's kinda like waking up one morning and finding your family just moved to Mars. That's how unfamiliar we are with this universe -- a universe where even the Yankees are trying to catch the Red Sox. Where everybody, in fact, is trying to catch the Red Sox -- except, possibly, Hank Steinbrenner.

It's a fun read if you're a Sox fan.

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