Sunday, March 31, 2013

Measure for Measure at the Goodman

We saw the Goodman Theatre's production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure last week. It was well done and technically flawless as usual , but I wasn't bowled over and did have some concerns which will come out in my comments below.

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure  has been a problem play for 400 years and director Robert Falls manages to reinforce that feeling in his current Goodman Theatre production in Chicago.  First of all  Falls falls for the old  “if you don’t have the actors over-design it”  and hope the ever moving scenery will  cover up the cast.   I wish it were not the case but no one in the company, aside from a few of the comics,  seemed  to rise above the  stew-- i.e. nothing in this production is bad but nothing got my blood flowing either.   James Newcomb’s Duke returns to  eavesdrop  and meddle not as a Friar but as a Barry Fitzgeraldish Irish priest.  He is amusing yet has bothersome problems with keeping his accent consistent.   The same could be said of Isabella who pronounces only her name in dialect while sounding straight mid-western the rest of the time.  

The selection of the New York Times Square of the pimp ridden porno polluted 1970’s is a pertinent setting for the play,  but its  gaudy neon signs,  shiny steel  fence cages,  and too neatly positioned piles of garbage come off as too sanitized for anyone who  actually saw those years.  It was never glitzy; it was dirty,  drug ridden,  and wretchedly seamy.  

Notwithstanding things do keep moving.  Falls accelerates the scene transitions by starting entrances in slow motion as the previous scene winds down and then bumping up the lights and the movement to full speed as the next scene begins.  In another nice moment he highlights Angelo’s  lust for Isabella by having her enter in low light stop motion and rush forward to embrace him.  The audience gasps and laughs.  There is a quick blackout and the lights come up again to see them both apart and ready to play the scene as written but with an indelible comment made visually about an undercurrent in both characters.

And then there’s the ending.  Directors often search  for the right visual and movement metaphors to reinforce or clarify the action of a play and I have just noted a successful  example of one such choice.  Yet when directorial search extends into choosing an action that is not even vaguely suggested by the  text, I must draw the line.        

Falls’ decision to have the freed convict Bardardine sneak back during the jazzy final curtain love fest  and stab Isabella  just seems ludicrous rather than meaningful.  Barardine’s short comic appearance as the death row inmate who refuses to cooperate in his execution is milked nicely by actor Joe Foust,  but his short re-appearance in order to be pardoned  by the Duke gives us not one remote shred of reason as to why  barely a minute after his release he would somehow acquire a knife and return to the party and butcher the lady the Duke has just invited to be his wife. 

Shakespeare gives us plenty to think about  in the play.  Power is beguiling and sinister in its reach.  Justice seldom manages to be just and can be arbitrary.   Yet there is a difference between seeming arbitrary and being arbitrary.  While admitting Euripidean  deus ex machina endings are possible,  it remains my thought that this was not what Shakespeare set out to say in this still problematic work.       



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Illinois Creative Economy Initiative

Illinois Creative Economy Initiative
I have been writing about the economic importance of the arts in recent posts and was pleasantly surprised to see Governor Guinn's latest newsletter mentioning the same statistics and launching the following initiative. 

"On March 19, Governor Quinn launched the Illinois Creative Economy Initiative as part of his commitment to creating jobs and driving Illinois’ economy forward. The initiative will explore innovative strategies to grow the $2.7 billion creative economy in Illinois, which employs thousands of people and is a key driver of tourism to our state. The Creative Economy Initiative will be led by Ra Joy, who will work to bring all stakeholders together to identify and deploy strategies to boost a variety of arts and strengthen their role in the state’s economy. Joy has served as executive director of the Illinois Arts Alliance since 2007, and has been an advocate, community organizer and coalition builder for various arts causes for more than 15 years. For more information about the Creative Economy Initiative, visit"


Friday, March 22, 2013

Make Art Work Meeting in Peoria

We drove to Peoria's new Riverfront Museum yesterday (3-21-13)  to participate in a program called MAKE ART WORK sponsored jointly by Arts Alliance Illinois and ArtsPartners of Central Illinois.  The purpose was to explore how the arts support jobs, generate revenue for governments, attract tourists, and spark human creativity on all levels.  

The keynote speaker was Randy Cohen, Vice President for Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts.    His primary purpose was to highlight a major national economic study on the  contributions of the arts to our national economy.  The three county area around Peoria, IL was a part of this study and to localize his talk he concentrated on the figures from the state of Illinois and the Peoria area. 

If you need a couple of key statistics to insert into a grant application or to offer in a conversation with someone enamored with cutting the so called "frill" areas out of budgets, here are a few items.    Non-profit Arts Organizations  contribute around  20.4  million dollars to the Greater Peoria economy and 2.75 billion dollars to the Illinois economy each year.  In the Peoria area over 14 million dollars of this comes in direct spending by arts and culture organizations in creating events, constructing and maintaining their buildings,  and paying their employees.  Another 6 million comes from ancilliary spending by consumers as they buy fuel or take public transport to get to places, purchase food and beverages,  shop at other commercial retail outlets, or pay for lodging during their stay.

The national study covered over 33,000 arts related businesses in Illinois and also pointed out that those businesses employ almost 80,000 people statewide and  account for 850 full time equivalent jobs in Peoria.  The study also emphasizes that most of the spending by arts agencies and their customers stays local and thus returns tax revenues to states and municipalities.

When cuts to the arts are proposed,  I suggest you stop trying to depend on the emotional arguments about cutting the arts as a cut in the quality of  people's lives and instead argue that cutting the arts cuts needed revenue for your community.   Yes the arts may give you an emotional lift and something to live for, but the real key is that "It makes economic sense to support the Arts!"

The crowd files in at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI last summer.
How can you help?  Tap into any or all of the organizations mentioned at the beginning of this article and give them some support.  I am a proud member of the Art Alliance Illinois and the Americans for the Arts. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hiroyuki Fujita Advises Monmouth College Students.

We attended the Whiteman Lecture this morning at Monmouth College. The speaker was Hiroyuki Fujita, a 1992 graduate of the college. 

After graduating from Monmouth Fujita went on to get a PhD in Physics from Case Western Reserve University.  Academia certainly called,  but business won out and he has since become the President and CEO of one of the fastest growing medical technology companies in the USA--Quality Electrodynamics.  

But it was not his vita that caught my eye as much as his speech. He spoke directly to the current student body and his message was clear.  Do not think that you go into business only to make money.  You also have to have a desire to make a difference.  You are not put here to do things to the world; you are here to do positive things for the world.  If you can put that into effect, you will also make enough money.

Asked how he measures his own background and how he looks at potential employees in his company he stated that everyone has ABILITY in something and needs to cultivate it.  Cultivation of that talent always requres EFFORT.  You score anywhere from 0 to 100 in the first two areas and find it wiped out if you do not have the right ATTITUDE because attitude can be scored from -100 to +100.   Bad attitudes impinge on effort and without effort ability can be squandered. 

Another idea he cited was "Always look at the doughnut, not the hole."  Be thankful for what you have. Don't spend valuable time whining or complaining about what you don't have; instead do something to fill the hole.

Simplistic. Sure.  But it seemed like practical advice coming from a foreign student who came to America and made the American Dream come true. . 

Although I never knew Hiro or his future wife when they were students, several of my fellow faculty members did and they were on hand to re-unite with him and to celebrate his accomplishments. All told an impressive day for the efficacy of a liberal arts eduction in providing knowledge and a moral compass to encircle it.    Thank you Hiroyuki.     


Friday, March 08, 2013

Homeward Bound

With a mindful eye on the weather forecase, we decided to leave a day early in order to avoid a predicted snowfall in Flagstaff.  That part of our plan worked perfectly.

As we headed toward Flagstaff we began to pick up some snow but most of it was in the higher elevations.
We made the junction to I 40 with ease and soon the mountains were in the rear view mirror. 
New Mexico's high plains red rocks were now etched on the horizon. 
We stopped that evening just past Albuquerque with the thought that we were out front of the weather.  At Tucumcari we headed off on the diagonal cut-off that goes through a little piece of Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle into Kansas.  At that point the world started to turn whiter. The wind picked up, the clouds closed in, and soon we were struggling to see the road in a nasty mix of swirly snow and freezing rain.   We crept into Meade, KS about 2:30 in the afternoon.  The Moon Mist Motel appeared out of the fog and we decided that we had lost the race with the storm. It wasn't fancy but the heat, the TV, and the WI FI worked.  So we hunkered down.  As the day wore on even  the truck traffic dwindled to a few ice covered bravehearts.  When the behemoths get off the road, it's time for the mere mortals to give up as well.  That evening we found out that the restaurant in the truck stop across the road had closed because their evening shift couldn't get into town.  More proof that we had made the wise decision.  That left the Pizza Hut as the only restaurant open in town, but it could have been a whole lot worse.  We spent a pleasant hour and a half there and had a nice chat with a local guy who was a WWII vet and had been a school bus driver for 22 years after he retired from ranching. Even he said it was bad out there.
So there we were for the next two days. 
On Friday  morning we scraped off the car and headed east once more.  
The snow wasn't really deep but the freezing rain had made for slippery going along with the bad visibility.  It put a glitsy patina on the trees,  
but I'm sure the guys who were using the morning to get their jackknifed rigs out of the ditches weren't too much into the beauty. 
To make a long story short, the sun burned through the haze quickly and the temperature shot above freezing.  Soon it was a clear crisp day with plowed dry roads and gorgeous vistas.
We sailed all the way to Topeka and enjoyed a lovely dinner and evening with Sue H, her husband Dave, and a crazy cadre of cats--some shy and one so bold that she wanted to jump up on the table and look you in the eye whenever she had the chance.  
Blueberry pancakes courtesy of Dave fueled our breakfast on Saturday morning and we set off on the last leg of our return. When we headed out on Feb. 6th, we had no snow in Monmouth and didn't see a lick of it until we hit the mountains of AZ  Our return was white almost all the way and winter was clearly still with us when we turned into our driveway on Saturday afternoon.
4000 miles and ready for a rest.
Thanks again to all of our hosts. You made the trip well worth the effort.






Thursday, March 07, 2013

Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix combines the best attributes of the Southwestern landscape (fauna and flora) in an accessible package. Your can immerse yourself in it without ever being more than a few minutes from clean restrooms and fresh water. Some may feel this is a copout, but I tend to feel that the holder of a Medicare card ought to have a few chances to appreciate nature  without joining a survivalist  brigade's ten mile trek into the back country. 

I'll take just one feature of the garden to highlight.  It could have been the great docents and educational programs, the gift shop and restaurants,  or the art work interdispersed with the plantings, but I have chosen the magnificent variety and beauty of the cactus.  From the mighty Saguaro on down they're all here in all of their spiny splendor.  Enjoy but don't get too close.
Red rock formations of Papago Park visible from most of the garden.

How tall is a saguaro?  Pretty tall.
There are more than 20 varieties of Prickly Pears


Organ Pipes
Crested Saguaro

Looks like a snake
Think these are Hedgehogs


Banana Yucca

Another barrel


On the left foreground a barrel, then some beavertail prickly pears, then some Cholla. On right is a cu of a Teddy Bear Cholla.  Definitely not to be cuddled however.

 Just like the light on these last two.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Phoenix Eats and Arts

Our final stop in this year's Arizona trip was at the rented home of our friend Sue. It is in a gated cluster of modest houses and was familiar to us as we had visited her at the same place two years ago.  It even has a nice little pool for the residents to use though the weather was not quite warm enough to sample its pleasures. 

On our first evening there we made the pilgrimedge to Bel Italia.

I believe it was discovered by Sue's son Mike and now this family run restaurant and pizza parlor in a strip mall has become the go to stop for every visitor Sue has.  I think you can see why. And you can actually take some of their sauce home in a bottled version. It's delicious.

Another great eating spot we re-visited was Joe's Grill at the Farm.  It's a family oriented mainly outdoor establishment with an attached produce sales area.  It was featured on the Food Channel show Drive-ins, Diners, and Dives a few years ago.  You order at a window and then wait for your number to be called.  Then you usually find a spot out under the trees and enjoy.  Their grilled salmon sandwich plate is a winner, but for a truly sinful experience you should probably go for one of their special flavor milkshakes. 

Our tasty meals were interspersed with another viewing of  Maggie Smith in Quartette, Sunday night's final episode of Downton Abbey, lots of bookstore browsing, and a visit to catch up with Sue's son's twins. Here's Jan with the girls.

One major Phoenix outing was to the Heard Museum. 

We broke up our visit with lunch in their fine outdoor restaurant.  I had the opportunity to taste my very first bison burger.  

The Heard Museum, as usual,  offers a varied fare. Classic southwestern pieces are nicely mixed with contemporary artists who are putting their own modern takes on traditional arts and crafts.    Food, food harvest, food storage,  and growing things remain one of the central subject areas, but the take can get truly fanciful when the younger folks take over..

I found this modern mask a particularly nice melding of the ancient and modern.

Comtemporary weaving can also move from traditional homage to the natural world  into pop culture iconography.  


Not sure what to say about this one!



The final entry before we head home will be from the Desert Botanical Garden.  Look for it in a day or two.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Tom Mix, Scottsdale, and my Birthday Cake


We left the chilly precincts of Saddlebrook mid-morning and headed north on friendly Hwy 79 toward Scottsdale and the home of my cousin Bill and his wife Val. . 

Not far along we made a quick stop to pay respects to  radio and movie cowboy,Tom Mix, whose monument is in a little highway pulloff.

 We'll let Wikipedia take up the story here. "On the afternoon of October 12, 1940, Mix was driving his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton near Florence, Arizona, (between Tucson and Phoenix) on Arizona State Route 79. Mix had been visiting Pima County Sheriff Ed Nichols in Tucson [4] and had visited the Oracle Junction Inn, a popular gambling and drinking establishment, where he had called his agent. Heading toward Phoenix, he came upon construction barriers at a bridge washed away by a flash flood. He was unable to stop in time. The car swerved twice then rolled into a gully, pinning his body underneath.[4] He had placed a large aluminum suitcase containing a large sum of money, traveler's checks and jewels on the package shelf behind him. It flew forward and struck Mix's head, shattering his skull and breaking his neck. The 60-year-old actor was killed almost instantly. Eyewitnesses said Mix had been traveling at 80 mph.[4] A small stone memorial marks the site of his death on State Route 79, and the nearby gully is named "Tom Mix Wash". The plaque on the marker bears the inscription: "In memory of Tom Mix whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the old West in the minds of living men."   

I knew Mix (or the actor playing him)  along with his faithful mount, Tony the Wonder Horse, best from the fifteen minute after-school radio serial that featured his adventures.  The program started in the 30's and went on into the 40's when I would have been listening. Instant Ralston cereal was the sponsor and you had to have boxtops from that fowl smelling and fowl tasting brown stuff to order some of the special premiums he hawked on the program.

 Mix made and lost several fortunes as he worked his way through five wives and over two hundred silent westerns in the 1920's. He also made some sound films in the 1930's that I saw in the 40's on Saturday afternoons at the old Pearl Theatre on Lincoln Ave. in Milwaukee. In any case here's  to Roy. Gene, Hopalong, and Tom.   Thanks for the memories of the romantic old west that only existed in the movies and the imagination of novelists.  

Less than two hours later we were comfortably settled in at cousin Bill's place in Scottsdale.  Not much to tell other than lots of family talk, plenteous Scotch, and a trip to a marvelous restaurant.  The next morning we looked out of their kitchen window and saw a colorful  balloon wafting in the cool mountain air.  Val said that she had never seen one so close and on their side of the mountain.

 Later we drove down into the valley for a visit to the  Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art. 

This is an annual event that features aisle upon aisle of booth in a series of connected tents.  For a very nominal admission fee you can stroll around and look at the art and talk to the artists who are actually working right there in front of you.

 It's a lovely way to spend some time.   

That evening Val cooked a scrumpious meal for my 75th Birthday Party.  There was roast duck in a tangy orange sauce, lots of Pinot Noir,  and to top it off a cake that a potentate would kill for.  

I blew out the symbolic candle in finer fashion than than a  wolf working on a house of straw.


And here we are all primed to dig in.

We even left some for you.  Grab a fork!

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and we head for Phoenix.