Thursday, June 29, 2017

When We Where Young...

...And Unafraid"
My second dip into the Keegan Theatre Company proves that they have a wonderful facility that creates an intimate and comfortable theater experience, AND that acting in a play is not easy. Another set of uneven performances with a couple of really lovely exceptions and one rather lack luster lead.

The play is set in the early 1970's on a small island north of Seattle. It's well written and the plot holds a surprise or two. The setting is a bed and breakfast run by a mother daughter duo that just happen to take in battered women who somehow find their way to their shelter. The mother Agnus is a no-none-sense sort of every-mother, and Penny, her 16-year-old daughter is in the midst of her transformation from a brainiak whiz-kids with visions of Yale to a cool girl virgin-no-more. In the opening moments a new arrival comes into their shelter, Mary Ann, who is physically bloodied up and has a hard time telling the truth. Add to this a somewhat lost guest from San Francisco named Paul who's life has just taken a turn south and a quirky radical lesbian feminist wanna-be handy-womyn named Hannah and you have the characters who populate this interesting story.

What you don't have is a lead actor in Sheri Herren (Agnes) who can convincingly sustain the role of flawed mother superior. So many of her lines were just recitations of memorized words with about every 5 or 8 one sounding real and believable. And it wasn't that the other lines where horrible...not at all. Just not cohesive in terms of a life being presented on stage that was at least interesting. The polar opposite of this was the performance of Nora Achrati (Hannah), who was damned good! Everytime she spoke, it was completely compelling, funny, poignant, and consistent. It was the standout performance of the play. Likewise Theo Hadjimichael (Paul) was true to his character's neurosis and hopelessly lost and kind heart. Kaylynn Creighton (Penny) really grew on me as the story progressed and by midway through the first act, once she was no longer just playing off of Agnes, she really blossomed--which was at the very least mirroring the flowering of her character's own life. And Jenna Berk (Mary Ann) had some moments of interest, but once she established the limits of her range in portraying the complex emotional roller coaster that was her character, I lost interest in her "acting". Perhaps I just expect too much for $45.00 bucks. Although only a bare few around me stood for the closing applause.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Blooming Mother-In-Law's Tongues!

Yeah, I know--sounds like a rock band!  But it's just an annual event in my gardens.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom @ 1st Stage

My self-titled "Year of Living Theatrically" is coming to a close.  After today's adventure, I have 2 more shows to see.  Today I went to see my first August Wilson play, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom".  It's one of the Pittsburgh Cycle of plays that defined Wilson's career.  In chronology it's the third member of the cycle, but it was the first one he wrote and the only one not set in Pittsburgh.  It is the story of a single recording session of the "Mother of the Blues," Madame "Ma" Rainey in Chicago in the mid-1920's.  The bulk of the plot is carried by her ensemble of musicians, but Ma also has a consequential role in the arc of the story-telling.

The theater company was new to me.  1st Stage Theatre is located in McLean, Virginia near to the Tyson's Corner shopping/office/high rise hub, but it's decidedly unremarkable.  The actual theater is found on the second level of an industrial strip mall made up mostly of various auto repair and body shops.  Once inside the operation is ticketless--I made my purchase online and they had my name on a printout to verify my attendance.  The actual theater space is intimate, and surprisingly adequate.  The set was beautiful!  It gave actors multiple platforms from which to inhabit the various scenes, and it maximized the sense of space.

As to the production, there's an old adage about how even gnats can befoul a jar of perfume.  So let me both begin with the gnats but preface them by saying it was a decent production, and I will speak of the positives, too.  To begin with, the play itself was completely new to me.  Therefore, I relied on the actors to bring its mean to the surface, but finding the path of the plot was often muddled and lost in the moments.  It would be like have each individual player know well their lines and when to deliver them, but not comprehending a higher level of meaning when the power of the ensemble kicks in and one person's dialogue becomes the compelling catalyst to the next person's dialogue.  About half of the cast failed to transition from competent line-readers to characters speaking real words in real time.  Most disappointing in this regard was Thomascena Nelson in the title role.  As Ma Rainey, she had a lot of really important stuff to say, but never convinced me that in saying these things the fact that there were other characters in the room with her matter at all.  She delivered the lines with great accuracy and even feeling, yet; who was she delivering them to?  Another easily rectified short-coming would have been to have taught Tendo Nsubuga in the role of Ma's nephew how to actually stutter.  It was kind of a key aspect to his character, an otherwise minor role.  The fact that he was bad at it, made it feel like a high school production when it was his turn to speak. Even those actors who delivered powerful moments or consistent characterizations were not able to rescue the overall sense of lethargy.

Who did I like?  I liked most of all William T. Newman as Cutler.  He was consistent in his portrayal of the ensemble's old-guard leader.  He play off of and with other's and dog gone it he was just believable and likeable start to finish.  I liked Joe Palka as Ma's agent Irvin.  (Full Disclosure: I know Joe in a very casual way--over 15 years ago I was one of his daughter's teachers.  We surely spoke on a couple occasions back then, but I honestly doubt that he would remember me.  I recall at that time knowing that dabble in acting, while his wife--the Emmy Award winning Weather Woman--was the real "star" of the family.)  Joe channeled to great effect the Meredith Burgess character from the "Rocky" films to present a milder everyman caught between competing interests and doing his damndest to make nice-nice.  I like Michael Anthony Williams as the piano player "Toledo".  Michael not only created an affecting counter-character (the black intellectual writ-small), but did so without being smarmy.  And he was a consistent source of comic interjection with his well-timed wordless reactions to others.  And finally, I really liked Clayton Pelham, Jr.'s portrayal of Levee.  However, I also found it lacking.  He held in the palm of his hand the key soliloquies of the play.  The first feeling like it came out of nowhere at the end of the first Act.  An utter gut punch...and that's my complaint.  How is the midst of such an abjectly dark spot upon his heart, was there no indication of such earlier in the show?  The opportunity was there, and it was ignored.  I sense in this man a profound desire to act at a superior level--it came out at times and rather than being profound, because there was no sufficient foundation, they were a little odd, a little off.  No greater representation of this was than the final scene.  What should have been a psychological tour de force of regret and realization was just confusing and half-baked.  While many others stood at the end in ovation--this time, I remained seated.  A good show deserves nothing more.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hostas in the Rain

More Asiatic Lilies

 I often take multiple pictures of the same subject from nearly the same angle looking for subtle differences.  Can you see any?

Rainy Day Humps and Bumps!

The Bactrian Camel has humps and bumps...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Romeo, My Love

Isn't this picture just lovely?  My truest friend and constant companion.  My Romeo!
For those new to my blog, here's a relevant timeline that will give you a sense of just how precious this beautiful creatures advent in my life is.

1984 - I lived in Costa Rica and taught high school at Colegio Metódista

2012 JULY - I reconnected with one of my former students on Facebook.  He now lives in Berkeley, California and works for a major bank in their IT dept.

2012 OCTOBER - He shared his participation in a dog rescue organization called "Animal Rescate" that saves street dogs from San José and finds them homes.  He explained that some of the dogs were imported to the United States.  He asked me if I would be interested in adopting such a dog.  I declined.  My schedule makes living with a dog very difficult.  

2013 FEBRUARY - In a new conversation, he shared the pics of a dog that his parents had rescued and that dogs story.  A scrawny little beggar who had shown up in their neighborhood and stayed in hopes of meeting the next door neighbors pet dog who was in heat.  Silly little horny dog!  I commented on the fact that he was a real "Romeo".

The next picture was of "Romeo" with his cousins hanging our in his parent's yard and a fervent resume of the dog's amazing qualities...  Like, what was I supposed to do now?  Without meaning to, I had christened him!  

2013 MARCH - Consultations began on the process of Romeo's emigration to the United States.  It was absurdly easy.  The Animal Rescate clinic managed all of the medical procedures and immigration documents for a flat contribution that didn't even cover the cost of air fare!  You know I gave them more than they suggested.

2013 APRIL - 5 weeks from commitment to adopt this beautiful foreigner I traveled to Dulles International Airport and claimed him as my own.  

As a street dog (stray) the particulars of his birth are a mystery.  The vets in Costa Rica gave his age as one year during their initial examination.  And clearly he was still a pup when he arrived.  The picture is of a beautiful 55 lb dog.  His weight at dis-embarkment was 34 lbs.  So best we can tell, he was born in the mid-winter of 2012.  Thus his birthday is 14 February, 2012.  Makes perfect sense to me!

2017 JUNE - My 5 and a half year old bestest boy ever is the joy of my life.  How amazing this web in which we live.  You never know how one moment in time will lead to another, but you must be open to what is possible.  

Speaking of "Zoo's"

Besides the little plastic animals...The real ones are all around us!
 Getting ready for work on this past Friday morning, I glanced out my guest bedroom window and saw something in my neighbor's garden that didn't make sense.
And then a closer look!  She looks good.  Healthy...perhaps even pregnant.  It's likely given that she is on her own here and not among the little herd that calls our neighborhood home.  

More Little Garden Zoo Critters...

From today's photo shoot: European Red Deer, Sloth Bears, African Wild/Painted Dogs, Clouded Leopards, and a Fennec Fox.  And remember, admission is always free at my zoo!

Avocado Pesto Pasta

 Inspired from a Facebook video of Michael Bolton making this dish, but modified by me, of course!

The Pesto is made in a blender by combining the following ingredients:

1 Avocado
1 cup of shredded Parmesano Cheese
1/2 cup chopped Walnuts
1 cup of fresh Basil leaves
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
3 cloves of Garlic
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Once thoroughly combined into a paste, mix with the pasta.  I ended up only using about half of the paste and you can see how it covered the pasta, so use your judgment on this.

Separately I cut 8 oz's of Cherry Tomatoes in half and mixed them with one small container of black olives and one small jar of capers which I added to the pasta once the pesto was mixed in.  It was delicious!
And I served it with Shrimp Scampi.

Happy Father's Day!

Yup.  My Dad!  circa 1975?  It's not from our home at all...and so the location stumps me.  But that's my dad in all his glory.  Cheers!

Another Lily Blooms!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

My Garden Zoo: Blue Poison Dart Frogs

My Summer Room

Saturday is always cleaning day! So after the bathroom and kitchen were well sanitized and tidied up, I turn my attention to the most important room of the summer--the deck!