North Lime and the Christians

I had a totally lovely experience performing Lucas Hnath’s The Christians for AthensWest Theatre a couple of years ago. The script was fine, the direction astute and focused, the cast alert and wicked smart, and the choir – ah, the choir – was on fire.

I could (and still might – just a warning) write a day-by-day description of the happy discoveries of our rehearsal process, but for the general purposes of this blog, let me simply describe the windows of our rehearsal space. Yes, the windows.

We rehearsed in the cafeteria of Sayre School, a room named “The Buttery”. Every evening we would rearrange the munchkin-scaled tables and chairs to create a space in which we could imagine ourselves in the epicenter of a mega-church. I say “we” but the overwhelming bulk of this furniture-moving was done by our stage manager and assistant stage manager (Paige Adams and Ben Otten) – champions……CHAMPIONS!

For me, the arresting parts of this rehearsal space were the huge windows overlooking the 200 block of North Limestone.

I strove to stay immersed in the religious crucible of The Christians, but I kept being pulled into another Lexington, of other times, by those windows.

  • I had learned long ago that Limestone was originally named Mulberry Street. It was the major artery carrying travelers from Lexington to Maysville, a key transportation leg before the Falls of the Ohio were made manageable.
  • It was also a major lane of vice during Prohibition. To paraphrase an account of the time; “Prohibition became so bad in Lexington that a thirsty man had to sometimes walk a block to get a drink on Mulberry Street.”
  • In the 1960’s and 70’s, it was a mecca for used books and comics. Dennis’s Bookstore and Whittington’s Books were there……what’s so important ‘bout dat? Well…
  • Dennis (MISTER Dennis to me on orders from my Mom) was reportedly diagnosed with a terminal illness in the late 1940’s. He was still going strong in the 1960’s. That’s the kind of terminal diagnosis I want.
  • When Mr. Dennis learned from my mom that I loved mysteries (keep in mind, I was not yet a teenager), he gave her about twenty Agatha Christie paperbacks that weren’t selling well. I proceeded to fall under the happy and gracious spell of Hercules Poirot (David Suchet’s perfect depiction of Monsieur Poirot later renewed that spell).
  • One blessed afternoon, I picked up (for ten cents each) a pile of Marvel comics at Dennis’s, including Journey Into Mystery #83, the first appearance of Thor, the Mighty. You coulda just killed me then.
  • The neon sign directly across the street from my current windows flashed me back. I recalled how many late night “Nighthawk Specials” were devoured by my bohemian hippie theatre friends at Columbia’s Steakhouse waiting for the delivery of the Lexington Herald to the newsstand just outside the restaurant with the opening night reviews (remember them?) of whatever local stage production we were currently reinventing for the world.
  • I recalled countless lunch breaks from my high school job at the library (now the Carnegie Center) truckin’ down for a $1.89 lunch special at Brandy’s Kitchen, steppin’ over the sidewalk plaque for Smiley Pete, the town street pup.
  • I recalled seeing a Lexington Repertory Theatre production of The Wager featuring an impossibly young Joe Gatton in a space that now is a fountain. Joe was good enough in the show to remember and receive his own sidewalk plaque – who could ask for anything more? Well, maybe a better fountain.

In my glass-enclosed time bubble at rehearsal, it was peacefully, blissfully, difficult to remain attentive to the job at hand.

Thank you, AthensWest, for that happy challenge.

Frettin’ ‘Bout Normalcy

Giddy.

There’s no denyin’.

That’s how I felt…

…giddy.

Janie and I, being fully vaccinated, felt secure enough to accept impromptu invitations to gather with old friends (fully vaccinated) and some long-missed acquaintances (fully vaccinated) three different evenings this week. There were wines and margaritas and tales…all potent, but non-infectious. We gathered around outdoor flames, and we gathered with rain on the roof. It was all fine.

The last year has been so tough for so many. And yes, Janie and I have seen death and the threat of death in our family. But we have hunkered down for a year with each other, and not “discovered” each other, but reveled in each other, and that’s been rich.

But this last week of jet-setting within a few blocks of our house spurred giddiness.

Giddiness is not my forte, fretting is.

This week we celebrated and discussed birthdays, surprise weddings, artistic achievements, job interviews, pet antics, current books being read, and Casa Amigos Reposado. What was missing from all of these world-renewing conversations was any mention of Trump. It was as if he never happened.

But he did…and still does.

Covid happened…and still does.

There is infection in our country and in our world. We seem to be holding it at bay, but it lurks and festers.

We must inoculate ourselves with vaccines and alertness and facts…

…and our friends.

Let’s Give a Big Hand to Orlac

Movie night!

We think of Hammer Films and we think of Dracula and Frankenstein and strawberry-red blood dripping on otherwise pristine sets in sunglass-required lighting that comes from everywhere and nowhere in particular. But even as these money-making machines were being crafted, Shepperton Studios was cranking a bunch of other films just as interesting…if not as lucrative.

This is one of them. THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960), directed by Edmond T. Gréville, is another retelling of the transplanted hands saga and not the best of that gruesome genre. That dubious award would go to Peter Lorre’s MAD LOVE (1935) in my book.

But THE HANDS OF ORLAC is a pretty entertaining flick. It is encumbered by a somnambulant performance by Mel Ferrer, but it features a nice turn by Christopher Lee as a blackmailing stage magician. Lee’s character shrieks a ridiculous wild laugh (always wisely off-camera) that sounds like a cross between Snidely Whiplash and the happily surreal cackle preceding the Ventures’ “Wipe Out,” (which, I understand was inspired by one of the Maddox Brothers). Whew, that last sentence should give everyone fun things to google.

Even better than Mr. Lee’s performance are the ladies in the flick. I thought I had never heard of Lucile Saint-Simon before, but I see that she’s also in a blade-filled Italian giallo from 1963; THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG (more tamely released in the US as HORROR CASTLE), directed by sanguinary maestro Antonio Margheriti and also featuring a murderous Christopher Lee. I remember being moderately engaged by the flick a few years ago, but I’m gonna have to watch it again now. Ms. Saint-Simon is sympathetic and rocks her negligee, though the backlighting in this effort is insufficient to satisfy my more demanding geezer cineastes. Dany Carrel, however, more than makes up for that technical deficiency. Her night club act with Chris Lee is eye-popping…literally. The white-haired guys in the audience are dropping their monocles and checking their pacemakers.

And in addition to those actors, a small appearance by the ubiquitous Donald Pleasence provides a coup de gross for the evening.

The ending ties things up in a way-too-convenient way. You might call it a deux-et-manicure copout.

But I liked it.

National Public Despair

I drove to Louisville today…and back…all in one day.

That sounds silly to those that don’t know me.

Those that do know me, know I’ve become a hermit who strives to not strive to be more than a Frisbee toss from the UK campus. A much-admired friend told me 20 years ago; “My wife and I realized that 90% of what we wanted in the world was within a one-mile radius of UK. We see no reason to live outside that.” He then chuckled to show me he was kidding. His eyes and a quick sip from his drink suggested he was ardently not.

The opera, the Guignol Theatre, the dry cleaners, the grocery store, Josie’s, the pharmacy, three wine shops, the bank, an art museum, football/baseball/softball/soccer/basketball, a library branch, Starbuck’s, pizza, pad thai, burritos, hot chicken, cheddar-burgers, reubens, omelets, hot browns……and vaccinations…are all my neighbors. The only things missing are an ocean and a major league baseball team.

But today I drove to Louisville and I anticipated a lovely day. It was sunny and cool. Traffic was light. I eagerly tuned the radio to NPR.

When I was driving all over Kentucky the last three years I worked, NPR was a joy; bright and positive, not yet sucked into the 24/7/365 reality show of the Trump debacle. Now, with Trump festering in relative silence in Mar-a-Lago (Florida’s iteration of Elba), I anticipated an afternoon drive listening to new books, new plays, new songwriters…who knows?

Instead, I got an earful of assisted suicide (legal and not so), stats on how many Kentuckians are currently hospitalized and clinging to survival on respirators, protest machinations in Myanmar, ecoside (what words we invent to soften, distract from, and just plain avoid saying climate change), royal racism, and the increase in the deportation of Haitians.

At least there was no mention of Trump or Dr. Seuss, though a few couplets from IF I RAN THE CIRCUS might have perked up things as I zipped past Waddy/Peytona.

I’m thinkin’ the nation may yet be in recovery.

The Good Doctor

Dr. Seuss did not teach me to read.

My mom did that…and Dick and Jane…and comic books.

On Tuesdays, before I started elementary school through about the second grade, the bookmobile would come to our neighborhood. It would park for the afternoon about five blocks from our house. Mom was then and is now a voracious reader. She and I would trudge to the bookmobile every week, toting our books we had checked out from the week before. It had to be done every week or our books would be overdue and there would be a fine to pay. Worse, the bookmobile lady would scowl. (Before you ask; no, her name was not Marion.)

We would trudge home and Mom would read my books to me or ask me to look at the pictures and tell her the story. I don’t remember any of the books being by Dr. Seuss.

What I remember clearly is the dagger I carried home in my chest from my first day of school. I had been assured that I would learn to read when I went to school. That was a big falsehood. We’ve heard a lot about “the big lie” lately. I experienced it in 1957. I had been to school for the day. I had not yet learned to read.

Shoot!

(I had also not yet added “damn!” to my vocabulary.)

Dick and Jane began to rectify that deficiency…the reading part, not the cussing.

Mom had lit a fire, Dick and Jane added the fuel, but comic books were the accelerant for my personal reading eternal flame.

The bookmobile wasn’t enough for Mom’s addiction. We would make regular foraging trips to Mr. Dennis’s bookstore on North Lime; once known as Mulberry Street – how ‘bout that. Mom would carefully choose her treasures while I would plunge into the comic book table. Archie and Veronica and Batman and Superman and Aquaman and Casper, the Friendly Ghost gave me stories to imagine and tell and later read.

I didn’t really discover Dr. Seuss until I was in high school.

I took a part-time job in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library all through high school. I shelved books, checked them in and out, read just about all of them, and guided kids, parents, and kiddie-lit students from Transylvania University.

I loved Dr. Seuss. I dove into McElligot’s Pool. I loafed in awe down Mulberry Street. I improved on the zoo and the circus. I heard Who’s with Horton. I scrambled to thwart oobleck and deal with half a thousand hats along with Bartholomew Cubbins. I fretted about how to corral the Cat in the Hat’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 before the parents returned. I loved the rhymes, the nonsense words, and the drawings. But mostly, I was captured by the wide-eyed wonder of the stories’ participants.

I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Seuss books were a hot item in the library when I worked there. They were constantly checked out. They were read to pieces. Their tattered covers were repaired or replaced every year. Many a child would drag themselves through other books imposed on them by teachers and parents just to be rewarded with a romp with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who.

That Mister Grinch may been a “foul one”, but I’m sure he taught a goodly number of children to read.

They didn’t seem to be offended or hurt by the drawings, but the readers then were overwhelmingly white and didn’t think much about those that might be.

I certainly wasn’t offended or hurt…and…ditto.

Actually…I’m still not hurt or offended. I’m also not hurt or offended by Hugh Lofting’s drawings in his Dr. Doolittle books. I’m not hurt or offended by Harper Lee’s depiction of the white racist father in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I’m not offended or hurt by Charlie Chan, or Archie Bunker, or Stan Laurel, or the Three Stooges.

I do however, have people in my life I care about who are stung by these things. I care about these people and would not have them hurt. I don’t mind at all if they choose to not watch or read these artists and works. And if their non-watching and non-reading reduces the financial viability of the works and causes them to be not be published or reproduced, that’s the way it goes. That’s business.

The government didn’t do it. The Left didn’t do it. The Right didn’t do it. The Church didn’t do it. The Proud Boys didn’t do it. The deep state didn’t do it.

The market did it.

I collect books. I cherish the feel of bindings and pages. I always want every book to be always published.

The market dictates otherwise.

Sigh…

OK.

Can we now know better and be better?

It’s Not Wickedness, It’s Just a Choice

A famous writer of horror novels was supposedly asked; “You’re such a good writer, why do you write horror novels?” He supposedly answered; “Why do you think I have a choice?”

We watch people do stupid or wicked or evil things and wonder why they choose to do such things. Why do we assume they could choose to do anything else? Have we considered their options? Maybe their other choices are worse.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example.

Suppose a political party was faced with extinction. Their demographic was generally older and getting still older, generally white, and generally male. Their country was becoming increasingly younger and increasingly diverse; racially and sexually. The political power of their numbers was fading with no real prospect of preventing the eventual loss of monopoly of control. What are their choices?

Choice #1;

  • Change the party to enlarge the membership.
  • They could reach out to women; leave women’s health decisions in the control of the women involved, pay equally for equal work…
  • They could reach out to non-white people; support immigration reform, equalize access to medical services and equalize educational opportunities…
  • They could reach out to the LGBTQ population; end discrimination, stop talking about bathrooms…

It might work. It might gain voters. It might renew the party. It might.

But it would be a lot of work and it would take time and it would change the party.

The current membership of the party might not have the time or energy…or incentive to change the party. What’s in it for them?

Survival?

Perhaps…

But at this stage of maturing life, maybe long-range survival of party…or even country… isn’t as pressing an issue as clinging to the “bird-in-hand” for just a few more years. It’s good to be a senator. It’s good to be a majority leader. The offices are nice. The perks are killer. The stock tips are most highly useful. The dinners in Moscow on July 4th are real nice clambakes. Limos are nice. Insurance is great – better’n ObamaCare – hell, better’n Medicare – and a whole bunch better’n nothin’ at all. Pay’s good. Lots of time off. Hate to give it up.

Is there another choice?

Sure.

Choice #2;

  • Change the election rules. Suppress the vote.
  • Reduce the number of voting machines and locations.
  • Restrict absentee voting.
  • Reduce early voting.
  • Gerrymander voting districts to protect party members.

Or even;

Choice #3;

  • Launch an insurrection and kill a few people.

Whoa!

One can’t make good choices when every available choice is bad.

It’s not wickedness.

It’s just all that remains.

And one must choose.

A Martian Dune Buggy

Today, after toting it for six months over 290 million miles, we parked a dune buggy on the surface of Mars.

A dune buggy!

I expected the first pictures transmitted would show Arch Hall Junior racing and bouncing over a red terrain rescuing Marilyn Manning from the clutches of Eegah while playing a Strata-Caster and chanting in various mismatched keys. I admit to a little disappointment when the first two snapshots showed a bleak, guitar-less, Richard Kiel-less horizon broken sporadically by a few solar-wind-blasted pavers.

Still…we’re there…on another planet…looking for life.

How foolish.

How wonderful.

I’m so proud.

Our Martian dune buggy will gather samples of rock and soil that it can only send back to Earth if we go and get them.

If we go and get them! And, I gather, we have plans to do so.

What imagination!

I’m so proud.

The last four years have been dominated by resistance. Now, I suggest we let perseverance rule.

Let our imaginations persevere. Let our scientists persevere. Let our children learn and persevere and become the best and brightest they can be. The best teachers, scientists, writers, plumbers, actors, policemen, dancers, farmers, senators, singers, mayors……astronauts………the best.

The best.

We’ll need‘em on Mars.

Hell, we need’em here…now.

The Thrill of Opening Night

Once upon a time long, long ago, theatre was invented. About 15 minutes later, I was cast in a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion.

Peering back through the nainsook scrim of geezer memory, it seemed like a real good time.

The planet, at the time, was lousy with hippies…when hippies were still hippies and not yet freed from the specter of the Selective Service. Student loans and Aids had not yet been invented. Ways were free, which was good ‘coz we didn’t have much money. But, as Bob Dylan explained; “When ya got nuthin’, ya got nuthin’ to lose…How does it feel?” Well…actually…it felt pretty good.

There was no snow ever. I didn’t own a coat. For a buck-ninety-nine you could get a 21-shrimp plate (plus fries and a drink) for a vegan (as defined in those days before we learned to spell keto and sushi) lunch at the Kampus Korner. Two more bucks would get you a burger and a beer at the Paddock Club for dinner. I didn’t need the beer so I was left with some change for the pinball machine. Besides, I had rehearsal for Androcles and the Lion to navigate and needed a clear head.

Androcles and the Lion featured an actor in a floppy lion suit growling and crawling about the stage.

You just know that’s gonna be cool.

I remember I played a beggar/criminal type in rags and scabs. I remember I yelled a lot. I remember I was definitive. I was excellent. I was the reason to buy a ticket.

I remember being shocked that the play’s review overlooked my six lines. I assume it was a rigged review.

I recall there was a character named Ferrovius; another poor person destined to be devoured in the arena. Ferrovius would come to the theatre each night, put on his make-up, and dress for the show. He would then report to the costume shop, where the costumer would tease and spray his hippie-ish hair into a foot high maelstrom of chaos. Ferrovius would then leave the costume shop, march directly to the full-length mirror in the green room, whip out a comb, and fiddle with his “do” until he had a Troy Donahue thing happnin’ that Troy woulda envied.

In those ancient days, this is what we called a Proud Boy.

I learned from watching this routine.

I knew that as a species, we lie.

I learned from this observation that within the spectrum of deceit we practice, we lie most fiercely to ourselves. We preach against vanity and we teach against vanity as a cautionary tale in the theatre.

But then we put a full-length mirror in the green room.

(sigh…)

But in a world of modern Proud Boys, and coronaviruses, and children in cages, and the designated hitter, this vanity and self-foolery seems more charming than destructive.

One night I watched the rehearsal of the first scene of our show. It was a lively and erudite scene between Androcles and his harridan wife. It ended with the wife slapping Androcles.

I knew Androcles, and I had done a couple of shows with the actress playing his wife. After his scene, Androcles and I were chatting and I decided to be helpful.

“You know, I’ve worked with your wife. She’s a remarkable actress.”

“Yes. I’m glad she’s playing the part.”

“You may not know…uh…she…uh…gets very…uh…pumped up…on opening night. You…might want to be prepared.”

“Oh, I get excited too! It’ll be great.”

I watched the opening scene from the wings on opening night. The big first moment came. The wife’s eyes grew eggs-over-easy. Her hair began to rise like Sigourney Weaver’s in Ghostbusters. Her face ruddy-fied to borderline ruby. She inhaled and several audience members fainted from the dip in available oxygen.

She swung.

It was titanic.

Her heels were firmly planted. Her hips opened in front of her shoulders. The arm came through after the hips with flashing bat speed, and the launch angle was a pure 30 degrees.

Androcles dropped straight to his knees on contact and spun 180 degrees, which was good: it left him aimed in precisely the correct direction to slither off the stage.

There were several seismic centers in the region that measured the event and one even issued a tsunami alert before realizing the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek was completely underground in Lexington.

No one was seriously hurt and the play went on and I was great.

I don’t really remember what I did.

Probably, after that first scene, Androcles didn’t remember either.

Wanted: Tree Planters

It doesn’t take long to plant a tree, but after you’ve done it, you’ll have a goodly wait till you get the full benefit of what you’ve planted. When I was in my twenties and thirties I planted trees and shrubs. Then I sat back and waited.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act. It was for me.

I had time.

Now…maybe not so much time.

I planted trees where I could see the result.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

I had time.

Now…maybe…

I’ve visited places that people gush about; Arizona, Alaska, Mexico… I liked ‘em, but there were few trees and of few varieties. I missed my trees.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Hollies, tupelos, dogwoods, chincopin oaks, ginkgos, maples, magnolias, spruce, birches…

I cherish them all.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Now, at this certain age, I know planting trees is for the pleasure of others. I will still plant them. They still fill me with hope for what will come. It is still a selfish act.

Yesterday, I saw hooligans and terrorists rampaging in our nation’s capitol.

I didn’t see any tree planters.

Tree planters have hope.

From Istanbul with Fangs

Movie Night!

Dracula in Istanbul – a Turkish delight from 1953.

That’s about all that needs to be said isn’t it?

What can we surmise from the title alone?

  • It’s probably not gonna be good. But that’s never stopped me.
  • It’s not gonna be in English and the subtitles are probably gonna be…novel.

True on both counts.

The film’s female lead is played by Annie Ball (about the only pronounceable name in the cast). Ms. Ball’s character dances a lot for Red Cross charities (seriously) behind a stage curtain that trumpets proudly the show sponsor’s name; The Minerva Sewing Machine Company (seriously!). The Muslim background of the film is reaffirmed often, which makes you puzzle over why Ms. Ball’s performances aren’t for the Red Crescent instead of the Red Cross, especially since no crucifixes are used in the struggle against the vampire.

On the clearly positive side, had there been such an award in 1953, I’m sure this film would have won the Oscar for “Best Use of Diaphanous Costuming”. You don’t even need those high-tech eyeglasses that used to be offered for a buck on the back of 1950’s comic books.

Truth in advertising warning; Istanbul only appears in a long-distance twilight skyline shot over the strait. For this it gets a title credit? Good agent.

I liked it.

Meal-Planning in the Time of the Cholera

… or a kind of compulsory tailgating.

I’m gonna steal this term from my friend Tyler Madison. He used to live quite near to Commonwealth Stadium (as do Janie and I). During home football games, we get barricaded by game traffic and can’t easily leave the house. This mostly pleasant imprisonment initiates a scouring of the pantry for sustenance. Sometimes the results are, shall we say…creative?

These internal foraging skills have served us in good stead during this year of “sheltering at home” (euphemism for “occasionally being too lazy to go out”).

Hunting and gathering in the wilds of the kitchen cabinets…

Tonight we were, shall we say…fortunate?

Janie had recently made a Trader Joe’s run. With demonic glee, she announced the night’s menu;

  • Asparagus Risotto.
  • Misto alla Griglia (Marinated Grilled Eggplant & Zucchini)
  • Garlic Naan (Indian Bread)

Wow.

Just wow.

Be still my bleating tummy.

I have a couple of thoughts about this roster of edibles.

  1. Tonight’s meal is comprised 100% of delicacies I had never heard of much less eaten until I was deep into my twenties. Growing up, my dad considered a meal pretty much complete as long as it contained pork chops, brown beans, and fried potatoes. You could add more if you wished, but those dishes were basic sustenance.
  2. It would not have surprised me to find that this meal was accompanied by a disclaimer; “No animals were hurt or destroyed by this meal”.

Now, all that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the feast.

I am a lucky guy.