Saturday, September 09, 2017

Don't Miss Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Prairie Players

You will want to try and catch the Prairie Players production of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike this weekend  in Galesburg.  The Tony award winner for best play in 2013 has been making the amateur rounds for a while now, but this is the first area production I have become aware of.

Durang is most noted for his parodies and scathing satires (Witness his Sister Mary Ignatius)  but this one takes it down a notch. It moderates without eliminating the social darts while adding genial humor, plenty of wild belly laughs, and a helping of true winsome emotion. You do not really need to know your Chekhov, Greek tragedy,  or Tennessee Williams to access the show, yet it does help to bring some of the more delicious moments from The Seagull to the surface.  (i.e. Sonia's  (Kim Wakefield Bullis) constant references to being a "wild turkey."    

The cast moved through opening night with a refreshing pace and remarkably few slips in spite of some of the (perhaps too long) 2nd act monologues.   It is there that the play can seem more like a mildly connected groups of set pieces rather than a unified dramatic work.

This is more than made up for by the uniformly well cast ensemble.  I found Vera Fornander's Cassandra to have the most punch. I would love to see her as Madam Arcati in  Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit.   Also appealing was Zachary Lenell Foster's stripper toy boy.  As he did his warm-ups prior to setting out for a run, he reminded me of the similar character type in Edward Albee's The Sandbox 

In sum, get on the internet and order your tickets.  You will not regret it.  It is a fine and pleasant evening of live theatre.  

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Ah Wilderness at the Goodman Theatre

The Goodman Theatre's new production of Eugene O'Neill's Ah Wilderness directed by Steve Scott hits a sweet spot of balance all around.  As the odd comedy out in the work of  Eugene O'Neill it stands alone as a beacon of what kind of family life Eugene might have wished for had he not been cursed with the tortured family we see in works like  Desire Under the Elms andLong Day's Journey Into Night.

The audience enters to see a pleasant blue-sky like screen functioning as the front curtain.  That rises at the opening of each act to expose a full stage scrim that gauzes over our view of the sea front cottage that contains most of the action.  It is this opening visual that  colors our view of the action.   It imparts a slightly misty and nostalgic tone to the innocent world of 1906.  Even without the scrim the earth and sky colors predominate to reinforce that slightly faded sepia memory ambiance.

We then embark on the maturational pains (both literary and sexual) of young Richard Miller played to naive perfection by Niall Cunningham.  The Miller family definitely has problems. There is a father who can't really communicate with his son about sexual matters, an over protective mother, and an uncle who drinks more and more often then he should.  Yet it is not a family that is fully lost to dysfunction and addiction.  The alcoholism that will destroy O'Neill and his real family is here treated with humor.  Love and sex, (which for the real O'Neill was filled with cruelty, divorce, abandonment, and infidelity) is here moderated by sensitive satire and youthful romanticism. Young Richard blunders comically through his first sweetheart and a proverbial prostitute with a semi-heart of gold to come out of his hangover with a reservoir of hope.  The final tableau places his loving parents--arm in arm--gazing at his reclining form on the beach.  There has been some pain, yet lessons have been learned.  The happy ending was certainly not in the future for O'Neill, but clearly it remains the wish of every parent for their offspring.

In sum, director Steve Scott had his finger on every pulse. He guided a uniformly excellent cast of true professionals and backed it up with a visual ambiance that was perfectly attuned to the script. My wife and I loved it.      

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chicago R & R

Had the opportunity to take a short trip into Chicago earlier this week to visit with some good friends  (The Herolds's) who were on their way to a new job and home in Ohio from Hawaii.  You shall have to ask them why anyone would exchange Hawaii for Ohio.  :)

We had some good views at the Art Institute's just opening Gauguin  Exhibit.  It is fascinating and we hope to make another visit in a couple of weeks.  Beautifully arranged.

We had some good eats at Miller's Pub  (an Italian Omelet), the Greek Islands (Braised Lamb Shank), and the Art Institute Cafe (Lime Shrimp Taco's)  

Tuesday morning found us aboard Chicago's First Lady for a top notch architecture tour guided by a docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  We had not taken this cruise for a number of years and wow has the riverscape changed.  Lot's of new buildings, the expanded Riverwalk itself, and a pristine day made for a marvelous sailing.  Nothing still quite as impressive as the Chicago Skyline as viewed from the mouth of the river.

Hate to say it but the Trump Tower is an eyeful no matter your political leanings.

As is the European Renaissance inspired Wrigley Building.

Yet for just plain look at me originality the 1967 Marina City twin towers still get my vote for  a striking form that has lasted over the years.  

No doubt the older structures emanate  solidity and comfort,  but the new mirror clad behemoths  are just plain dazzling as they blend into and reflect the cloud puffy sky.  

 Flanked by some compatriots the Sears (or Willis) Tower still gets the prize for tallest of them all.

To get more information on The Chicago Architecture Foundation's walks and cruises go to

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Baseball is Here

Nothing like a little of America's pastime to ratchet up our summer excitement.  We traveled to see to our grandson play in a few games last weekend and I brought my camera along.

He plays a bit of first base.

and catcher.  

Then to top it off he pitched two innings.

  He did walk a couple, but only gave up one run so we counted it as a success.

It was also a pretty good day in the batter's box. 

Here he is legging out a double.

Going for second


He's my man!  Congrats.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

THE BERTIE PROJECT—a perfect summer read!

When the events of the world seem to be spiraling into a sewer, there is no greater calming factor than a quick read novel by Andrew McCall Smith. In his 2016 The Bertie Project, he offers a lovely trip into and through the beguiling lives of the folks around 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland

Bertie's mother has returned from her stay in a Middle Eastern harem to reassert her iron-fisted control of Bertie and his father Stuart. Bertie is handling the return to language lessons, yoga, and analysis with equanimity but Stuart has begun an extra-marital fling as a tiny little sign of independence. Meanwhile handsome Bruce is getting a makeover from his new found Australian Amazonian squeeze. Big Lou, the local coffee house proprietor, finds that the MD she has met seems to want her to wear a matron’s uniform  to more than a costume party. And then to top it all off Angus, the artist and part-time poet gets defenestrated in his own home.

Domenica, his wife, handles the philosophical twist on all of these events while the absurdity of the situations puts lip gloss on the faces of all. Serious as it may be, we can’t but help laughing at the predicament of Angus sailing out of a window and landing upside down in a tree for instance. In another comical situation, we have Bruce and Aussie superwoman Clare in a tiny clothing store changing room trying to stuff Bruce into too-tight “hipster” jeans. Meanwhile Bertie moves calmly through the storm without telling a single fib and proving once again that naïveté is charming when coming from total innocence and a generous heart.

Of course it’s old hat for McCall-Smith, but it’s more like a a nice old Harris Tweed cap than a silk topper. The ending once again ties all up and leads to a poem by Angus at one of Domenica's dinner parties. It continues to reinforce that love in the small moments with your friends may be all there is to keep you sane amidst the swirl of hatred and gratuitous violence of the world at large.

Read it if you need a bit of a lift from depression.

Some Additional Nuggets
p.106  We need people to wear their uniforms of identity  from policemen to head waiters. It helps preserve order and confidence in the pillars of civilization.

p 134  We need rituals that make us members of something.  Once again they affirm the order of the universe. "Acts make you pause for thought. . ." but ritualistic performance moves beyond you as an individual and into the corporate. There is no immediate purpose to it other than binding you to others doing it and to the species as a whole.

p 197  The problem with doing the right thing is that it spoils all the fun.

p. 240  The Winston Churchill martini.  "Pour in gin and bow in the direction of France."

Angus’ poem

Innocence glimpsed in others reminds us
Of the time when our own consciences were clear.”

When we lose we think we lose forever, but that is not true.  Think of love at those times because it always returns to say that I was always there but you just didn’t hear me at the moment

Sunday, June 04, 2017

London Sorrow

The beasts are abroad and they kill and maim with no regard. The London Bridge/Southwark terrorist strike on London has come far too close to my heart—even for  a guy who was shepherding  students around the city years ago during ‘the troubles.”  My heart goes out to the victims whether they be British citizens, expats, immigrants, or tourists because this is a signature route that I have taken at least a hundred times over the past fifty years. It is to a theatre person about as sacred a walk as any in the artistic universe.

Crossing  London Bridge is a  part of the first chapter in my London Theatre Walks book,  You are asked to pause in the middle of the (latest) London Bridge and imagine the medieval bridge and its view upstream toward old St. Pauls and downstream toward the Tower. You are asked to  see the men of Will Shakespeare’s company carting the timbers of their old Theatre across the river and using them to assemble a new theatre on Bankside, which is now remembered as The Globe.
The walk then takes you into Southwark and past the Borough Market and into Southwark Cathedral, where you might now feel obligated to leave a prayer.  

You will learn that Shakespeare paid there for a funeral bell tolling for his dead brother and you will also find there a handsome memorial to Shakespeare.  You will leave the church and walk along the shore for more views that the Bard would still remember.

 And finally you would come upon the re-constructed Globe itself.      

 We mourn the lives taken here by a slaughter in the name of holiness and we mourn all destruction of human life and culture wherever it might occur.  William Shakespeare walked this path and the killers have befouled his  memory.

Courage and comfort,
All shall yet go well” 

King John

Friday, June 02, 2017

Objects in the Mirror at the Goodman Theatre

I have been critical of some of the Goodman Theatre’s recent offerings because of what I have deemed   “over-producing.”    They have seemed to want to make a visual splash just because they have a big stage and can afford fill it with lavish set pieces and rock and roll lighting.   
It is with pleasure that I can report that the current Goodman production of Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith (Not Chuck Smith, who is the director) allays my fears.  Objects is a small show (only five cast members) that uses magnificent but simple visuals to support and deepen its multiple meanings.  
The plot is as old as the Bible and as current as today’s headlines. A young Liberian refugee flees horrific violence and corruption, finds himself much safer physically in Australia,  but still tormented as to his real home and his human identity.  And therein lies the nub.  The objects in the rear view mirror always remain “closer than you think.”   Your former life cannot be erased by re-painting the foyer multiple times.  ZaZa nee Shedric can still see the original  color even if his helpful Aussie lawyer can’t. 
The play pulsates with this conflict.  The African finds a peaceful scenic vista of sky, shore, and sand  in his new home, but also finds residual colonial racism.   The set design is spot on.  Two modern spare scenes glide in on wagons. A roof line descends from above.  Behind them are two huge sliding panels that are used for projections. When narrowed they serve as a central entrance; when opened fully they expose a giant drop of shore and sea fronted by a narrow pit of real sand.     The views whether interior or exterior expose brilliantly the small lonely soul adrift in sea of modern sterility or a cosmos that offers vast hope but no real answers.   Immigrants opines Smith, will always remain immigrants.  They cannot lose their previous lives or paper over the violence of the journey.  Integration, as the white western world like to think it might be, is not simple and may indeed not even be possible.  The objects in the mirror don’t go away and are always closer to the surface than they seem.  The motives of all the characters are shifting as their stories shift and we cannot ever know which of their stories is true.  In the final image the sliding panels open to full width as the roof rises leaving Shedric full back and alone on the shore with arms raised to the sea.  Will Shedric stay in Australia or flee to another new place with his uncle?  As the curtain falls we don’t know.  What we do know is that this young man will never be able to snuff out his past; it is a part of him for the rest of his days.
The cast is superlative and so beautifully balanced that to separate out any one of them would be unfair.   

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Another Week of Traveling

We have just returned from another lovely road trip.  This time it was a journey east to visit my sister in South Carolina.  Here she is with one of her grandaughters.  

Highlights were a tasty dinner at an English Pub and a visit to the Carolina Raptor Center where their main job is to treat injured birds. They also have a large educational program for area schools.

 Sunday featured a get-together with my nephew, his wife, and his family.  Their three girls have grown quite a bit since we last saw them.

On Monday we set off for Greer, SC to spend some time with an old friend Tom Kent.

We go way back with Tom who came to Monmouth to work on an engineering project and met and married Anna Marie Davison, one of our college librarians.  Some years later, Tom was assigned to a large water project in Egypt and we were able to visit them and do the big Nile Cruise experience.  Anna Marie passed away some years later, but we have kept up our friendship with Tom and his new wife Katie.  Again it had been three years since we had seen them and our two days there were filled with all sorts of re-living old times as well as discussions of the new political world.

Back on the road again Thursday morning.  Sunshine and clear views made the scenic drive through the Blue Ridge on I 40 a true delight.

Wednesday night saw us settled in at a motel in Shelbyville, IN.   We were lucky to have a tasty dinner at an Italian  restaurant within walking distance.  We both took boxes back to the motel to deposit in our cooler.

We were up and at em Thursday morning for the short three hour drive to Urbana, IL to visit George Waltershausen and his wife Cindy.  They have just recently moved there from La Crosse, WI to be nearer to their daughter Peggy and her family.

It just happened to be George's birthday so  afternoon cocktails were followed by a visit to a nearby eatery for a lovely meal.  Friday morning saw us continuing to eat well with a visit to a renown Urbana bakery.  The Walterhausens had Omelets; I had an Almond Croissant and Jan a Blueberry Lemon Scone.  We washed down our sinful sweeties with Cappuccinos.

Then it was off for the last three hour trip back to Monmouth. Thanks again to all our hosts.  And right along with Rick Steves we urge readers the world over to "keep on traveling."

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Little Walk on an Easter Afternoon in Monmouth

I suddenly realize that it has been almost a month since I have posted on my blog. What is it that fires up the neurons to document one place and not another?  Probably that Arizona still seems a bit exotic and home seems not so.  Home is so familiar that the notice becomes subliminal.  This is unfortunate because even in the familiar there are things worth documenting and looking at and remembering.

For a start let's take a thirty minute walk around a few blocks in our home town of Monmouth and just look at what I pointed the camera at.  It is spring and tulip time.  Multi, purple, red, and yellow.

Tiny little wild flowers and violets, each one smaller than a dime, seem to be peppering all the lawns.

Saw a woodpecker and heard him, but he didn't stay put long enough for me to capture him at work.
Just this guy fat and sassy checking up on things.

Every yard seemed to have at least one bloom.


Or a flowering tree

Little oddities abound from books to mail.

And watched over by kind little gnomes.

Oops!  Back to reality. 

Happy Easter 2017!