Monthly Archives: June 2017

Absolutely!

I’m not much on absolutes – haven’t had much luck with ‘em.

I’m not sayin’ there aren’t any – but there’s certainly not many, and most of the ones I uncover seem to be negative.

There’s death and taxes…and of course, my dancing abilities. I think we can all stipulate to the absolute awfulness of those.

But practically speaking, it’s real hard to find principles that work every time in every situation.

That said, I have one modest, but useful absolute to offer that has never failed……thus far.

ANIHILATION PREVENTION STRATEGY (APS, if you must)

There are four steps;

  1. Identify and locate all things nearby that tend to explode and/or burst into flame.
  2. Don’t stand next to them.
  3. When implementing #1, err on the side of instant assumptions, right or wrong.
  4. When implementing #2, err on the side of alacrity and distance, right or wrong.

I know this sounds like a solid recipe for a dull and unadventurous life, but the key word here is “life”.

This has always worked for me……thus far.

By the way, it also works for emotionally combustible people.

Shriek of the Mutilated Musings

Movie night! Because…Tropical Storm Cindy?

What’s up with that?

SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is tonight’s delicacy. It’s so very bad and so very strange. In the extensive catalogue of “Yeti” movies, has any film been good? This critter seriously needs a better agent.

The best thing about the film is the title.

Which sets me to thinkin’.

I can think of about a dozen or more movies that totally waste intriguing titles on totally less-than-intriguing flicks. Here’s a few;

  • THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN immediately comes to mind (ouch!). This beauty actually had two titles, the other being; MADMEN OF MANDRAGORAS……I jes’ don’t know. Frankly, they coulda given it twenty titles and it wouldn’t have improved things a jot.
  • CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. This is a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wanna-be. Unfortunately, it’s not as interesting as NOTLD, though it does have the advantage of being shot in Miami instead of Pittsburgh.
  • THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE is a brutal giallo that actually is pretty interesting and features a brief but fascinating performance by Valentina Cortese.
  • KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. Clowns, aliens, circus tent rocket ships, demonic ice cream trucks…what’s not to like……or……what’s to like?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting you rush out to see these films, but aren’t those great titles? Besides, you don’t have to watch ‘em. I already have. Ew-w-w-w.

I Got Yer Frogs

Frogs.

I got yer frogs.

I’m sittin’ in our library. The windows in front of me overlook a decorative pool with a quiet fountain and four frogs, one of which is not quiet. He/she/it serenades with a repeated unsweet burp that lies somewhere between a croak and a rasp. It is scarily reminiscent of the prophetic sounds my 1963 Mercury Comet used to make in 1969 on I-64 just before it lapsed into a defeated silence that prompted some serious pavement pounding on my part.

Tonight, my feet flinch with each chirp of the frog.

Still, I like the sound.

It reminds me of other favorite frog moments…

  • The great frog hunt scene, deliciously narrated by John Huston in the film CANNERY ROW.
  • Mr. Toad in Kenneth Graham’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.
  • In the ridiculous film FROGS, Sam Elliott (long before he reassured us at the bowling alley bar that “The Dude abides”) rescuing Joan Van Ark from the thousands of frogs angrily erupting from the muck to run amok and deal out some vague, ill-explained environmental vengeance.
  • And of course…those Budweiser frogs. Ah, Louie.

I think I’ll open the window.

R-r-r-ibbittt.

A Guignol Meditation

I have been connected to the Guignol Theatre and the University of Kentucky Theatre Department in some way since my junior year at Bryan Station High School.

Playboy 03
Guignol Theatre; PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD (1969)

My high school English teacher arranged for our class to have access to discounted tickets to UK’s production of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. Jill Geiger played a major role in that production. Jill went on to perform with and later own The Dorset Playhouse in Vermont. She was a successful person. (Side note; Jill’s bridge-playing was precise but conservative).

The day before we attended the show, my teacher gave us instructions on how we were to behave in “The Guignol”. The quotation marks come from my remembrance of my teacher’s obvious reverence for this Temple of the Arts we were entering.

How quaint.

How helpful for me.

I wore my clip-on tie (my fellow Guignolite and playwright/screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue – a successful person – was not to teach me to tie a proper knot for another five years – how absolutely helpful for me). I applauded at all the proper places, and was mightily impressed by the show. So much so that I attended (on my own this time) UK’s next production in the Guignol of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s THE RIVALS. Bekki Jo Schneider (friend, mentor, and ex-sister-in-law) played a major role in that show. She became the owner/operator/director of Derby Dinner Playhouse in Southern Indiana – a successful person. (Bekki Jo’s bridge-playing was aggressive but distracted).

The next year, my senior year in high school, I attended DARK OF THE MOON in the Guignol and UNDER MILKWOOD in the Laboratory Theater which is now named the Briggs Theater (Wally Briggs spent his adult life teaching theatre to UK students. Yes, he too was a successful person – Wally’s bridge-playing, by the way, was ultra, ultra conservative). DARK OF THE MOON featured Julieanne Pogue. Julieanne has gone on to a strong regional acting career, become an award-winning reader of books for the blind, and an uber-caring psychologist. Julianne is another successful person. Her bridge-playing? It was occasionally brilliant when she bothered.

Both of these shows also featured a freshman in leading roles.

This explains why I attended UK to study theatre. Where else could I possibly want to go? UK offered an immediate opportunity to act…..in major productions…..in real costumes…..on beautiful and exciting sets…..in front of real audiences.

I remember those audiences as being drawn from all of Lexington. John Jacob Niles (another successful person and a legend to me) sat in the middle of the first row every opening night I can remember. Teachers from all the Lexington schools were there. Mary Agnes Barnes reviewed for the Lexington Herald. John Alexander reviewed for the Lexington Leader. Betty Waren wrote a theater page for the Herald every Sunday. The Theatre Department faculty was there…usually multiple nights. One memorable Sunday matinee was attended by Jose Ferrer (he was successful too).

I attended UK for two and half years, performed in seventeen shows, and became an adult; a thinking, listening, caring, evaluating, listening, tax-paying, voting, listening adult.

The arts do that for you.

They make you whole.

They make you reason.

They make you listen.

By all means, teach our children to add and subtract…please. Teach them to write a logical paragraph. Teach them to tell a whimsical story. Teach them their country’s history…all of it. Teach them the scientific method. Teach them to sing. For God’s sake, teach them civics so they know how their government works and are thus less vulnerable to the lies filling the air about them.

Make them whole. Make them successful.

Last year I spent a lot of time with the students at UK as a small part of RAGTIME. I was frankly thrilled and intimidated by the talent and work ethic of the cast and proud to be associated with them.

Last Spring I attended the UK Theatre Department’s production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. This is not my favorite show, but I was again impressed by the talent and cowed by the revelation that the cast’s closing performance was to be followed by a week of finals before graduation.

These millennials have no bridge game at all…they’re workin’…they’re becoming whole.

I’m OK with that.

Annoying “Reflections”

I just watched an annoying movie; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE.

I had such high hopes.

It’s based on a novel by Carson McCullers. Ms. McCullers is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are quite “of the South”, even when she writes of New York City. Her characters are literate in their self-selected, tightly-bordered turfs. They are flawed, usually fatally (if not to them, then the other people in their lives). The lands and times outside their intellectual stomping-ground plumb evade them. Ms. McCullers’ southern tales range from warm to hot in any way you’d like to take that. If you have not read THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE BALLAD OF SAD CAFÉ, or REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, I would suggest you mosey with dispatch (no need to run, we’re in the South here) and do so.

The film is directed by John Huston. Depending on what day you ask me, THE MALTESE FALCON might be my favorite movie. As far as establishing Mr. Huston’s greatness as a director, he could have stopped right there…but I’m glad he didn’t. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, KEY LARGO, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN all bring my channel-surfing to a complete and completely happy halt.

The cast of REFLECTIONS features Julie Harris, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brian Keith.

Holy moly!

So, with all this going for it, what’s annoying?

Well…

Each scene in the film is shot in a golden haze except for one element of color in each scene. Essentially, that makes it a black and white film. I don’t mind black and white, but dark gold and light gold? Annoying.

Every shot seemed stretched beyond its value. At first, I thought the director was going for “languid”. S’okay, we’re in the South and it’s a McCullers tale. But soon the pacing became rhythmic and predictable to no redeeming benefit I could discern.

I had steeled myself for the horse-beating scene, but not adequately. It was more and longer than I was comfortable with (my problem perhaps, not the director’s).

Marlon Brando mumbled and whined incoherently. To be incoherent with words of Carson McCullers is a mighty waste in my world. I found this rivaling Brando’s worst performances and, fan that I am, Lord knows that’s a well-stocked swamp.

The story is set in the 1940’s. Ms. Taylor caught the intent of her character with buxom gusto, but she looked as though she had just stepped over from a TV taping of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” (now there’s a cogent geezer reference).

So…what did I like about the film?

Brian Keith is really interesting and complex. He loudly and drunkenly man-splains to his fellow officers that polo produces better military men than the fields of Eton. He sits his horse well and rides with the wife (Taylor) of his fellow officer and friend (Brando)  each afternoon through the woods to the blackberry bushes where he then is ridden by said wife. He is exasperated by the nervous frailty of his own wife (Harris) and is brought to blue lethargy by her death. It’s a load for an actor to bear and Mr. Keith handles it with aplomb.

Ditto for Julie Harris. Ms. Harris has an advantage here. She was born to speak Carson McCullers’ words. We want to root for her character, but given more visual evidence of the shenanigans of this military community than anyone else, Ms. Harris’ character draws one egregiously wrong conclusion after another and is as much to blame for the final debacle as anyone.

Elizabeth Taylor has a scene in which she describes the food she’s providing for her garden party. She does so with a childish relish Martha Stewart only wishes she could generate. It was delicious.

But I expected so much of the flick and it was overall…not so much.

Annoying.

Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic

I’m reading a script these days that was originally performed to some acclaim as part of the Humana New Play Festival at Actors’ Theatre Louisville. It reminded me of another Humana New Play Festival experience Janie and I had years ago that was, shall we say, “differently acclaimed.”

I subscribed to Actors Theatre of Louisville for about 24 years. I love this theatre and have enjoyed a number of transcendent evenings over the years. Susan Kingsley and Ken Jenkins in “Childe Byron” was magical. Likewise, “Tobacco Road”, “The Three Musketeers”, “The Sea Gull”, were wonderful, and their production of “The Tempest” was the best I’ve ever seen. There were some head-scratchers along the way (“King Lear” in burkas bewildered me), but overwhelmingly most of the shows were inspiring and entertaining.

So…why did we stop subscribing?

I was working almost every Saturday then. The only performance we could count on attending was the nine o’clock curtain on Saturday nights. I would get away from work about five, we would drive to Louisville, have dinner at the Bristol, make the curtain at nine, get out of the theatre about midnight, and drive home.

Ah, there’s the rub.

That late night drive home became increasingly burdensome. Before dogs took control of our lives and clocks, sometimes we would snuggle in after the show at the Seelbach, have a languorous brunch, and get back home sometime Sunday afternoon. Well-l-l-l, you can fergit dat, O Keepers-of-the-Kibbles!

Janie and I began to question how much pleasure we were getting out of our Louisville theatre habit. Impetuous kids that we are, we debated it for a couple of years. Then there were two productions in that last subscription season that finally convinced us to drop the commitment.

The first production was actually quite well done. It was a gospel concert nominally disguised as theatre. Now, I can enjoy gospel music (or bluegrass, or German lieder) for about fifteen minutes just as well as the next guy, but this was two hours and forty-five minutes more gospel music than the Geneva Conventions probably allow. That night’s drive home was glazed in bitterness and that is the gospel truth.

The other show…

(…shudder, squint, tears begin to flow…)

The other show…

The other show was titled “Beyond Infinity”. It was part of the Humana New Play Festival.

The play consisted of three intertwined (sorta) stories set in the same desert at three different times in history.

One story was of an ill-fated wagon train. Beyond sad. I found myself expecting Ward Bond to come out wailing “Bring out your dead!” (100 trivia points for identifying the geezer reference.)

The second story was told in a sporadic monologue in monotone by one of ATL’s regular actors whose name eludes me at the moment. He was a gaunt, Sam-Waterston-Abe-Lincoln-Harry-Dean-Stanton-looking fella. For this show he was dressed like Tonto. I don’t mean he was dressed like a Native American. I mean he was dressed like Jay Silverheels in “The Lone Ranger.” Whenever the show’s innate hilarity moaned towards out-of-control, the lights would come up on Tonto. He would gaze at a spot about ten feet over my head (looking for what?…inspiration?…his light?…his lines?…his agent?) and drone. I caught occasional words (kemo sabe, walla wah walla walla walla wah, bibbity bobbity boo) but we were never EVER in the same time zone as a coherent thought.

The third story…

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

(Imagine that having just been said by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu. Go on. Go back and repeat it just that way. You’ll love the way it feels and sounds and you’ll work it into your personal dialogue tomorrow. You’ll owe me.)

Ah YES-S-S-S-S, the thir-r-rd story…

The third story involved J. Robert Oppenheimer and his merry pranksters in the desert working on the atomic bomb. At one stretch in the second act (second act of twelve, as I recall), Oppenheimer is standing in the desert night, holding a smallish volume of the Bhagavad Gita (you can’t make this up!) and a cigarette. His assistant is standing next to him. For ten minutes Oppenheimer reads aloud, translating on the fly, from his tiny book by the light of his assistant’s Bic lighter…you can’t make this stuff up!!

Wait…someone did, didn’t they?

About this moment, Janie, who had shed her shoes and was curled up in her seat in the fetal position, tugged on my sleeve, leaned near and whispered “there are 87 lights up there.” Why not count the lights? What else was there to do?

It ended…as all things eventually must (except baseball games).

We shook the sand from our shoes and shuffled out of the theatre.

Now, one of the rituals involved with living in Lexington, two glasses of wine at dinner, and attending shows in Louisville is the obligatory pre-drive-home bathroom visit. Well, I’m there, at the urinal, “inflagrante delicto” as it were, when the bathroom door is banged open by a three-piece-suit type who angrily announced to the room; “Well, I have been to the desert on a horse with no name!”

I just about missed the urinal.