Monthly Archives: February 2018

Grandpa Vonn

I know little of Lindsey Vonn’s late grandpa, only the few minutes NBC featured before tonight’s event.

Maybe he was a member of the NRA. Maybe he taught Sunday school. Maybe he voted for Trump. Maybe he liked anchovies. I just don’t know.

I know he served our country in Korea building roads and lived in Wisconsin cornfields building ski trails for his kids and grand-kids. And I know he compiled reams of scrapbooks about his granddaughter. And I know that he could barely speak of the immense pride he felt watching his granddaughter ski.

Last night, I spent a few minutes with a friend and new grandmother. I saw for myself the beginnings of that same grand-parental pride.

Grandpa Vonn’s pride contributed to giving us a planet-enhancing young lady and I fully expect my friend’s pride will give us a planet-enhancing young man.

I know little of Grandpa Vonn, but I think I know enough to add another hero to my world.

We are different.

All of us are different.

There are those (people and parties and clubs and networks……and now it seems…countries) among us that profit by shining a harsh light on those differences – pitting us against each other.

We might be closer to our best self if we take their harsh light and turn it back upon them, exposing and blinding them…yes…blinding them while we focus another light on those same differences; a celebratory light that entertains and inspires.

So…this gray-haired geezer guy who detests cold and snow will thrill tonight watching the blond and impossibly young Ms. Vonn slide down a snowy hill, and will hold my breath as Nathan Chen does quad after quad on ice (quel horreur!) and Yuzuru Hanyu demonstrates precisely what a wonderful world it can be.

Vive la difference!

Ma Vie En Bleu

Well…the pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report tomorrow.

Normally, today would be a day of hopeful anticipation. Spring will come and the voice of the turtle will be heard over the land. The boys of summer will go back to work…playing a game…THE game. The geography of grass and chalk lines – the textures of leather, and horsehide, and stitches – the susurrus of a shirt-sleeved assemblage, the crack of a bat, and the primal scream of a winter-rested umpire – will all hint that some un-urgent sense and poetry might still redeem us.

But no…

It’s gray and rainy.

Mr. Trump inhabits the one house he can never own but only continue to degrade.

We allow 19-year-olds to slaughter our children with AK-whatevers.

And tonight, many Kentuckians fear the end of the world.

The Kentucky basketball team is favored to lose their fourth straight game. If that’s not the end of the world, I don’t know what is.

My advice to the pitchers and catchers? Delay packing for tomorrow until the UK game is decided. Tomorrow’s reporting may be cancelled due to the end of the world.

But on the other hand…

It’s not snowin’, the house is snug and dry and warm, and inhabited by Janie on this Valentine’s Day.

I’m gonna vote and vote loud and the results of my winning vote will not be able to spell “NRA”.

And…

AND…

And we might win tonight. Frankly, I like our chances.

Maybe that’s all just me lookin’ at the world through blue-tinted glasses. Ma vie en bleu, n’est-ce pas?

Maybe I’m just jonesin’ for baseball.

I gotta start workin’ on World Series tix.

Olympic Thoughts in the Bluegrass

Olympic thoughts for my friends in Frankfort.

Arirang.

Korea’s historic anthem.

Very cool and mightily moving.

But…

In Kentucky, we have artists as well, and they have things to say.

We have Jean Ritchie…and Zoey Speaks…and Dwight Yoakum…and Everett McCorvey.

We have Michael Shannon…and Ashley Judd…and Joe Montgomery…and Jennifer Lawrence.

We have Frank X. Walker… Robert Penn Warren …Charles Edward Pogue…and George Ella Lyon.

We have storytellers…and stories…and dreams…and hopes……and more than a few suggestions.

Throw them away, ignore them if you will. Discard them, and discard a path to success – a path to wonder.

Yes, it’s useful and good to pursue and master the employable skills of today.

But why?

In the theatre, we consider the whence, the whither, and the why; whence have we come, whither are we going, and why are we making the journey. These questions match up remarkably with Kentucky’s historic place in the life-arc of our nation. Great questions and great possibilities have flowed through Kentucky, why should today be different?

…only if we continue to choose to be small…

The arts can provide the “why”.

There is a saying;

“If you have two pennies, spend one for bread and one for wine; the bread so you can live, and the wine so you will want to.”

The arts are the second penny.

Spend it.

The Crash-Test Dummy…My Hero

Did you ever envy a crash-test dummy?

This afternoon, for about 20 seconds, I did.

Then I smacked myself and came back to my senses (which, of course, a crash-test dummy, lacking senses, can’t do).

I flipped on CNN this afternoon expecting another episode in the 24/7/365 Trump Reality Show. I was curious to see if Turtleman and Honey-Boo-Boo might be opening for Stormy Daniels at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. Instead, a giant rocket loomed on the screen and an amplified voice droned; “ten…nine…eight……”

My happy assumption was that I had stumbled onto Turner Classic Movies during a surprise screening of DESTINATION MOON (1950, with John Archer and Warren Anderson). But no-o-o-o. This was another kind of reality show…real reality (imagine that)…heroic reality…not the fake kind.

I instantly became a fourth-grader again, on a morning in May of 1961, listening to the PA speaker in my classroom broadcast Alan Shepard’s 15 minute flight in his Mercury Freedom 7. Our school lunch that day featured Shepherd’s Pie in honor of the feat. It was an impressionable time.

“seven…six…five……”

And today, Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa was about to put the US back in first place in the space race.

“four…three…two……”

Today there was no Alan Shepard or any other astronaut on board. Instead, Mr. Musk had loaded his cherry-red Tesla with a crash-test dummy in the front seat. I suspect if you Google “panache” you will find Mr. Musk’s bio there.

“one……”

Whatta roar!

Like a spear hurled into the sky, that rocket ripped into space, and that dummy began his billion-year cruise around the sun and Mars. I hope they included a big playlist.

To be that dummy…

SMACK!

I’m OK now…well, maybe the concussion protocol might in order.

I had forgotten the thrill and inspiration of a US rocket launch and US space exploration.
I don’t want to ever forget it again.
And I still wanna be an astronaut when I grow up.

 

Don’t Just Move…Stand There!

I’ve been pondering mobility, or rather the lack of it, as an important element in some horror films.

Normally, we’re a lot more a’feared of a terror whose current location is uncertain and moves mysteriously and quickly (ala the alien in ALIEN or Zika-carrying mosquitoes) than we are of a known and fixed enemy like…say…a patch of poison ivy. I don’t fear poison ivy, I avoid it like the plague that it is. I can’t outrun much on this planet, but I can outrun poison ivy. It can’t “cut me off at the pass”. Mosquitoes however…those little suckers are everywhere! This is the stuff of most horror flicks.

But there are a number of horror films that feature stationary menaces or menaces that move at glacier-like rapidity. I happen to have viewed a couple of these recently; THE LIVING HEAD (Mexican), and THE HEAD (German). Two other previously viewed films; THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN and DONOVAN’s BRAIN (both USA), would also fall into this sedentary and thus far inadequately studied category; films about living heads with no bodies (no legs, arms, wings, or driver’s licenses). The writers of these films are required to strive mightily to make these threats plausible since anyone could escape by simply falling down and crawling.

So, how do they do it?

Well, in THE LIVING HEAD and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN, we are shown mesmerized worshipers of the head toting it about from place to place. No one seems to notice or care until it’s too late.

In DONOVAN’S BRAIN the title brain (aka the leading lobe) enforces its desires through emanations (wouldn’t that be a great name for a baseball team or a doo-wop group?) In THE HEAD it’s as if the writers don’t even try. The threat simply exists as a sideshow to be gasped at. Meh.

Until Brendan Fraser, mummy films had much the same problem. Bandage-bound Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee were not precipitous critters. Writers on these films worked hard to either trip or trap. They would trap their victims in a corner, or just trip them repeatedly, or paralyze them with fear. Fainting was a popular and useful (to the script writer) response. Plausibility fled as the mummy shuffled.

Two films come to mind that actually turned this lack of mobility into a positive. In THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, those malevolent pods can’t move, but are placed where they are most effective by previous victims of the pods. This is effective because of the mathematics of the situation. One victim begets two. Two beget four. Four beget eight. Eight beget… You see the problem. The rapid and devastating multiplication of zombie-fied neighbors and public officials is completely plausible and scary.

I hate pods to this day. I look at sugar snap peas and tremble.

In the beginning of the film THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, the title plants apparently cannot move. But after the Earth’s population is blinded by a handy meteor shower, the plants pull up their roots and reveal their slow, but inexorable mobility. The fright factor soars. Kudos for the writer! BUT, look how hard it was to make effective – handy meteor shower? Please.

And that’s my point. Writing is hard work. Why make it harder? Writers should unleash their terrors, not nail their feet (or whatever might pass for feet) to the floor.

Indulge me one more example.

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS featured mountains that grew quickly (stay with me, now) and fell on you if you were foolish enough to stick around and watch.

Let that sink in…but don’t let it fall on you.

This film reminded me of my one and only visit to Phoenix, Arizona. I looked out the window of my hotel room and saw, not too far away, a butte. Is that the correct term? There were two impressive houses built snugly into the base of the butte. I remarked to the bellman that I would be fearful of living in those houses because of the possibility of gigantic rocks falling on me. He replied that the rocks never fell.

Let that sink in.

I gazed again at the butte surrounded by the Greyhound-Bus-sized boulders that formed the 60-70 foot high slopes of the butte. It reminded me of my California-living friends who blithely dismiss earthquakes as a factor in their lives with; “But the weather’s so nice all the time.”

Blissful denial…perhaps that’s the key to the monolith monsters’ path to success. Well, it might work for malevolent mountains but it’ll never get you elected president…or…

Give me a moment, I’m letting that sink in.

A Dream Cast…in a Nightmare

I read an article about Woodford County’s latest show; ENCHANTED APRIL. It looks like a dream cast. I can’t wait to see it next week. It reminded me of another dream cast.

Imagine, if you will, a show in Lexington with a cast consisting of Trish Clark, Jane Dewey, Eric Johnson, Kevin Hardesty and Paul Thomas.

Sweeter than sweet. If you’re the director of that cast your duties are basically to turn on the lights at rehearsal, yes?

Now imagine that show being not so hot.

In fact, imagine it being thoroughly shredded by the Herald’s reviewer.

As Tom Waits so elegantly says,

“Impossible you say?

Beyond the realm of possibility?

Nah!”

It can and did happen. I have the scars.

All it takes is a director with little directorial experience, even less experience with improvisational farce, and no real vision beyond “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” (I’m reminded of Mickey Rooney’s immortal query; “Hey! Why don’t we put on a show!!”).

If you’re lookin’ for a director of your production of BULLSHOT CRUMMOND with exactly that resumé, I’m your guy.

This was back in the early, early years of Actors Guild when they were performing in the basement of Levas’ Restaurant on Vine Street. The cast worked hard. Kevin played about eight different characters. Eric played two, including one duet scene with himself (a dream come true for him, I’m sure). Trish was ultra-sultry. Jane was innocent and dizzy. Paul was checking out the locations of the exits. All were trying to figure how to get new agents when they had no agents to begin with.

What can I say?

The show seemed funny to me. (BUZZER! Thank you for playing, Mr. Leasor.)

Then came opening night and we played our farce to an audience of seven (7) (VII)…plus the reviewer (Tom Carter).

It was a long night’s journey into sad.

(Fade to…)

The next morning I awoke to the devastating review. Tom summed things up by saying “Leasor has done his friends the disservice of casting them in roles for which they are not suited.”

Harsh.

My wife, Janie removed the poison/razor/gun from my hand and convinced me that though life was obviously no longer worth living it was still necessary to do so as we still owed a lot of money on the house.

Therefore, my next concern was how to help my cast through this undeserved (on their part) catastrophe.

I called an acquaintance who owned a t-shirt shop, set the wheels of foolishness in motion, and that night each member of the cast found, at their make-up station a bright red t-shirt that read “I am NOT Roger Leasor’s friend, please cast me”.

It seemed to help break the ice.

After that evening’s show, Eric went out for his post-show “snack” to Columbia’s Steakhouse (that Steak-for-Two and a Diego Salad always serves well when it’s time for a little something to take the edge off at midnight) resplendent in his new t-shirt. Guess who was standing at the bar…none other than the reviewer himself. Eric, of course, diplomat that he is, made sure Tom saw the shirt…less than 24 hours after the review was written!

Lexington’s a small town at heart. I saw Tom at lunch the next week at the Saratoga (the “Toga” always served well when a wedge and a chicken-fried steak was needed to take the edge off at noon). He was gracious and impressed with the alacrity of our response (if not our show) and life in our small town went on.

Sometimes it all falls into place, deserved or not.