Saturday, April 25, 2020

“No Human Contact Required” ... A Darkening Media Circus Shadows Us All

I ask myself: Were I still in the workplace, how would I cope?  I would be horrified. I would be shaken to the core, humbled — wondering if I too would lose my job, and then how would I make my way through a decimated landscape?  I think of all the people suddenly without a pay check,  especially those with children.

This more intimate fear came to me from an aerial view on the nightly news of long long, evenly spaced lines in Dallas – well dressed people waiting patiently for hours for a box of food — a box of food — bringing dry tears to my eyes.  Millions of proud, hard-working Ameriacans thrown into chaos and disarray. 

Perhaps the one single factor that joins the nation is a shared preoccupation with “the curve.” When will it really flatten and stay flat?  And when will it slide down?  What I see is a line near a crest, stubbornly refusing to cooperate.

I am defaulting into food by delivery.  Safeway came yesterday morning.  And for lunch, I finally tried Door Dash, and ordered a Turkey meal from Boston Market.  Delivery a clean efficient pleasure.

Nobody knows how long it will take for this lonely plague to pass,  or how long it may take for the nation to fully recover. (The roaring twenties followed the 19l8 Spanish flu epidemic)  The most promising  news is that scientists are starting to find that far more people than originally assumed have already had the virus. This means, thus, that a much much smaller percent of those who die from Corona may only equal the annual flu rate, at around 0.1%.  

But then, the media hysteria can’t let go, (gleefully?) reporting that Corona will likely return come fall, and with greater vengeance.  Can you see them licking their chops over every new dark detail spelling more of the same?  ABC’s David Muir, who has always struck me if to be  riding a galloping horse while breathlessly delivering the news, must be deliriously charged.

Strangely, right and left wing are joining forces, louder and louder, behind one issue: We won’t take it anymore!  Even here, in blue blue Oakland, I see  people out on the sidewalks not wearing the now mandated mask.  Particularly dog owners and their dogs.  Can you blame anyone for wanting to get back to normal and to work?  I can’t.  They, too, must be respected.

To better understand a degree of the fear driving the anger, yesterday while walking to Piedmont Grocery, which I skipped -- the lines too long -- I ambled up the avenue, crossed the street to pass a  comforting landmark founded in the 1970s, Gaylord’s,  A funky coffee house that caters to students and creative types, at easy prices.  I spent many nights there in younger years, either with pen and paper or laptop.  Hold on ...

Ominously Dark. Ominously Empty.  All the furniture gone. The inside, a gloomy shell of a great  place thriving only weeks ago.  It can’t be.  This can’t have happened!  Not a single sign in the window.  The walls blank.  Nothing there. For a time, they had been offering front of the store take out.  I called their number, and got a recording --- the voice of the owner, I assumed:
Gaylord's has closed it doors. Thanks to everyone who has walked through the doors throughout the years.

These are the kind of small businesses having a hell of a time getting some of the money congress passed with fanfare, supposedly to help  them through.. Remember Mom & Pop, you DC scoundrels?  Too much, if not most, of your fake compassion ended up, in stead, in the coffers of regional and national chains.  So am I to take it that  “small” means anybody who is not a Facebook or a Google? 
Yes, I can better understand — and appreciate —  the rising anger of Americans aching for the status quo, demanding an end to shelter-in.  The lives of millions are at stake.  I now have a better idea of how it feels  to be regulated into a mind set of caution and restraint, and how it it can turn you afraid of your own shadow. How it might be under a totally different form of government. Have they gone to far? Or am I?

The still-functioning Piedmont Café, years ago good an old-fashioned American restaurant with wood booths, still —  without the wood separators —   offers the same sizzling fare --- bacon and eggs and toast leading the parade. Ironically, it’s been owned for many years by a lovely group of Vietnamese.  Sunday mornings can rock with crowds lined up for a sit down at this non-glamorous  but cozy space.  It bubbles.  And they are still hanging on, it would appear, for take out.  I went in this morning to take out a large croissant, and I handed the woman a bigger bill to keep, telling her how glad I was they were still there.  Her smile was bigger than her mask.

The loss of Gaylord's is a blow to Piedmont avenue, as would be the loss of the Piedmont Café and so many other homed-grown stores — another  blow to the binding social fabric of locally owned, served, understood, affirmed.   

No human contact required.

Monday, April 13, 2020

When a Broadway "Revival" Trashes the Revived: Oklahoma is Now Character-Revision Friendly to ADA, LGBTQ ... Small Crowds Cheer, the Masses Resist ...

Update, 5.28.30  The impression I lent of the 1998 Royal National Theater production of Oklahoma being true to the original 1943 stage show is somewhat misleading. Scroll to the end of this post for more. 

 Original cast, 1943

Along the Great White Way,  where directors love to re-conceive, they are at it again, this time messing around with the 1943 Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma!, which revolutionized musical theatre scripting and scoring.

But whether Dick and Oscar would delight in the extreme PC-driven casting, not just seen in last year’s revival of Oklahoma! at New York‘s Circle in the Square Theatre, but in other productions out there as well, is another matter.  To read the dazzling reviews for what transpired at Circle in the Square is to imagine a blockbuster darling charmed by full houses and settled in for a good long run. Alas, the Curly and Laurie trick did not last a year, and apparently limped into closing night. Boffo biz out of the gate gradually slumped into checkered patronage.   
In a radical restaging by director Daniel Fish, the musical had been stripped down to the bare  “essentials," so noted the experts, shrinking the ballet to a bald dancer skittering like a horse across the stage;  toughening down the characters into a darker world of bizarre depth.  No chorus, little dancing, and a Jud Fry whose death is not an accident at the hands of of his own knife, but of the gun he gives Curly as a wedding gift – which backfires.  All of which culminates in a “quivering, feel-bad ending, and the tears,” in the words of The Atlantic’s reviewer Todd Purdum.

   Circle in the Square Theater, production, 2019

This one got the critics in neon, but it did not get the box office in gold for very long.  In six months the show was doing only so-so, and would close in January after 9 months on the boards – some thought it should have closed sooner.  It lost money and is now headed for the road, where the producers hope to recoup their loses. 

In his largely laudatory notice,  Purdum nonetheless observed a number of  “smiling faces”seen in the seats who were missing after intermission.  And yet, more “repelled” attendees walking out during the second half.

There is, to be sure, a small and growing segment of the ticket buying public that hungers for a more timely realism in step with changing sensibilities – a realism that shuns traditional marriage and now even the two genders.  They will not be ignored, and at the annual Tony Awards, where TV ratings continue to fall, their voices are echoed by Tony medalists taking time to lecture — or so I’ve heard.  Close by in the shadows, awaiting there turn, is  the LGBTQ crowd.  They fared far better in another more radical staging of Oklahoma!, in 2018, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, of all placdes. Held in Ashland (how apt a word), in that groveling departure championed by director Bill Rauch,  Curly and Laurey were lesbians, Aunt Eller a  transsexual; Will Parker and Ado Annie a gay couple,  while peddler Ali Hakim filled out the bisexual slot. Anybody out there still not accounted for?  Yes, apparently the powers at Happy Talk sanctioned this travesty. Have they no shame?

From the 1955 film: Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae
The dream ballet.

In a scathing review of the Daniel Fish staging, attack dog Rex Reed began, “It had to happen. The miserable fools who are hell bent on changing the theatre world by destroying timeless classics in a misguided effort to make them relevant, trendy, and politically correct (whatever that means) finally got around to screwing up Oklahoma!

Reed blasted Fish for cheapening and vulgarizing the cowboy classic, none too impressed by such glaring incongruities as “the now handicapped Ado-Annie [who]  belts ‘I Can’t Say No’ in a wheelchair as a nod to disabled performers everywhere.” Another Reed rant: “Why is the most dramatic scene, when Curly encounters Jud in the smokehouse, staged in a complete blackout?” 

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization in recent years has condoned if not encouraged such extreme make-overs — do you smell the sound of money?--  whatever can get the works of Dick and Oscar back on a marquee, whatever it takes to keep their names alive and the royalties rolling in — to the point of ignoble denigration. The ill-fated 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song (with a totally new book by David Henry Hwang pushing an anti-Communist agenda), left the critics hissing, and was history in five withering months. Not so, South Pacific, which, true to the original libretto — how revolutionary! —  enjoyed a two year run in revival. I saw it twice and would have gone again had I the chance.  Will they ever learn?

 Hugh Jackman in the London production, 1998
For my money, a movie of the 1998 London production of Oklahoma! at the Royal National Theatre, staring Hugh Jackman, is  by far the best staging I have ever seen of the show.  Credit director Trevor Nunn, who dug deeper into the script, but stayed a sane, level course. 

On the road, can Fish’s Oklahoma! make up for losses on Broadway?  It should do well in blue cities.  There are plenty of ticket buyers in the San Francisco Bay Area who might lap up its pandering to their social politics.  Our California mayor’s  wife is not “the first lady” but the “first partner.”  And that special person in your home, once known as wife or husband, soul mate, best friend, or dearly beloved  — is now, in the words of Bay Area-based doctor, Jen Gunter, op-editing for The New York Times,  “household sex partner.”  Batteries included?

In wrapping his review, Purdum asks,  “So how is Oklahoma! doing as it embarks on its quarter century as the model American musical?... Just fine.”

Evidently, for  Mr. Purdum,”just fine” does not include ticket sales (aka: populist appeal).  In order to lure profit-raising mobs to the  windows,  the producers may need tons more “first partners” and “household sex partners.”

Oh, what a beautiful orgy.


UPDATE:  5.28.2020:  My lending the impression that the 1998 British version by Trevor Nunn of Oklahoma! followed the original script with fidelity was not exactly right. I had based this on the misleading comments of the late Mary Rodgers and the Rodgers and Hammerstein office, offered in the Extras that came with the DVD. 

Turns out, according to an in-depth review of the production by John Heilpern in  the New York Observer,  that director Trevor Nunn  "added dialogue" from the original source, Green Grow the Lilacs, upon which Oscar Hammerstein II had adapted his libretto.  I had wondered why the film of the show is so long -- a good half hour longer than the 1943 production. So, out of curiosity,  I followed the script in book form, of the original 1943 production, as I listened to the movie of the Nunn staging. Virtually impossible at times. There are many revisions (or possibly new lines), some of them giving more attention to the character and menace of Jud Fry. In fact, Curly obsesses over him with Aunt Eller earlier in the Nunn staging,  before rather the after the song Kansas City.  Lines or sections of dialogue have ether been re-positioned or cut. Someday, somebody might make this a major project.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Face Masks ... Hit Show Grocery Stores ... Rotten Bananas in Demand ... My Fun House Gets a Reboot ... Ringling's Return Gets Ignored ...

Now I’m starting to feel guilty even going out for a walk. I’ve been using a turtle neck for a make-do face mask, I’d hate to be too tightly wrapped in those hospital things, fearing no escape. 

I’ll go to a nearby 7-11 to get the Saturday Wall Street Journal and grab some bananas  — if they have any. Yesterday, I wanted to buy all four left, a sorry lot, and got them for only a buck. No wonder;  By the time home, one had already turned thoroughly rotten on me.  Going to the Piedmont Grocery, the lines are so long, grocery shopping is the new waiting in line for tickets to Hamilton.

T. Paper is not an issue with me.  My nephew blames the national stamped on  “rear end paranoia.”  I predict a Broadway musical.

Inside, luckily I have things to do.  Such as renewing work on my model fun house, now that, at last, I’ve secured the Walking Charlie figurines I need for the moving platform above Laughing Sal

This project was begun  nearly two years ago.  It took about a year alone to find someone to create  Sal.  In desperation, I turned to working with and from a plastic figurine, to try shaping her into Sal.  You can see the barbaric surgery I subjected her to for arm repositioning.  And then I pasted a photo copy of the real Sal's face on her face.  Impressive?

 A nice lady in San Jose, doll house and miniatures enthusiast Ruth Heisch, had been following my quest, now and then e-mailing to see how I was doing.  And when she saw this monstrosity, out of pity or respect, she offered to dress Sal herself.  Bingo!  There was the magic breakthrough! Ruth gave Sal her hairdo and red shoes as well.

Yes, if the arms look short, it was NOT my surgery that did it.   (And, please, don't report me to the AMA)  The wavy card-stock you see: over it rides a pin attached to Sal, so that as the pin goes up and down, Sal moves forward and backward.  My nephew proclaimed it an "invention."

It took about another year to find somebody to make the Walking Charlies.  In this case, from Japan, puppeteer artist Nao Kobayashi. I had to keep pressing and pushing her through draft images to make them thinner – before sending them to an oven to bake.  I am pleased with the result, pleased enough, even though her Charlies are not  exactly as gaunt and lean as the real ones.  Below, I'm placing small thin platforms under their shoes, to make it easier to move them into place on the round turntable before securing.

While Sal rocks in half-deimented laughter back and forth, calmly above, the Charlies will move in a slow circle of  austere propriety. I never thought about this contrast in character until now.

And then there is  the Greatest Show on Earth.  Remember?  Although Kenneth Feld made known his plans to revitalize the show, you  will not learn a thing about it if you read  the insufferably elitist PC perfect Circus Talk, or go to the  CFA website. Not a word from either.

Shame on them both.  With Circus Talk, a house organ for the academic-based circus deconstruction industry, I can understand their revulsion over anything bearing the name  Ringling.  After all, didn’t they and their disdain for real circus  help fuel the campaign to run it off the road?  In a new issue, sent my way, as I am Covington Connected, they cover the flu influenza pandemic  of 1918, of how it affected “showbiz” Every venue is covered, except for circus.   We know that Ringling ended the season a bit early. 

As for the CFA: Knock Knock! Is anybody there? Does anybody care?  What do you think Kenneth Feld is to think when he can’t get even a rise from YOU?


Not only is circus dying, so too, apparently the fan base that would have once cheered such news.

Post script: I went to the 7-ll, and got some fresh bananas!  But no WSJ. Drats. I hope columnist Peggy Noonan, pending Corona test results, was okay.