Friday, July 31, 2015

The Real Beauty and the Beast

This is Madeline and me tonight just after the Mill Mountain Theatre production of "Beauty and the Beast, Jr." Madeline was simply lovely in her polka-dot dress with the huge ribbon in the back and the beautifully-dimpled smile. Best date I've had in a looooong time. It was a dream for an old man and the kid seemed to like it a lot too.

A great topping to a marvelous birthday (mine).

Beauty and the Beast: A Show for Sharing

Mill Mountain Theatre's "Beauty and the Beast, Jr.," directed and choreographed impressively by Anna Kimmell, is a crowd-pleaser in every respect. On opening night this evening, the sellout crowd was rowdy, appreciative, and gave a standing ovation to the big cast of mostly local young actors.

It is a show with sparkling costumes (Amanda Phillips and Debbie Adler), solid sets (Karen Gierchak) and star-quality performances from Morgan Arrivillaga (Belle) and Jack Dunkenberger (Beast).

If you look below the marquis, though, you get the heart of the show from David Schultz (Gaston, the bad guy), Jacob Wadstrom (his flunky Lefou) and Mrs. Potts, whose singing was singularly excellent. Among the supporters, the always-expressive Anna Holland as Madame de la Grande Bouche (a chest of drawers), stood out. And, of course, one won't easily forget the squealing Silly Girls, Mackenzie Bowles, Peyton Conner and Abby Martin.

The package was quite good and is, of course, geared toward children, so it is short (a little over an hour), and normal theater etiquette does not apply. Mom and Dad have to take the young ones to the bathroom upon occasion, and that is understood.

This large, elaborate production is the theater's premier children's play of the season and it is one the kids will love, especially those having seen the Disney movie. My granddaughter, who is 10, sang along, whooped, yelped and even shed a tear when the beast became kindly.

Fun show for you and the kids. But don't go alone. This one's for sharing.

Maddie and Me: Hat People

Picked up these fun hats at Goodwill (GWLtd) yesterday and they seem to suit my grandgirl and me just fine, thank you.

I've always detested the kind of Frank Sinatra hat I have on here, but in my geriatric gasp, I think I like this. Mads looks great in the Flamenco top. And I like her in the blue one, too.

Quote of the Day: Supplicants United

Republican presidential candidate ATM Sheldon Adelson.
" ... all Republican hopefuls make pilgrimages to Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers, prostrating themselves before these billionaires like supplicants at an altar before they put themselves in front of voters."

--Steven Conn, Miami (Ohio) University professor in a story of the Republican money machine eating its own candidates alive (here)


Christianity Today: Goat Herders, No Sun

Christianity Today: The Republican view of America.
My friend Thomas Becher, a man who knows the power of words, commented yesterday on a Facebook Post of mine about how 57 percent of registered Republican voters favor trading in the Constitution of the United States for a Bible-based theocracy.

His response was that Christianity is "made-up tales created by goat herders who didn't know what happened to the sun at night." 

Awfully hard to argue that. 


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Adventure Continues: Off to D.C.

 Madeline at the Smith(sonian) castle, which I told her was named for me.
Outside my castle.
Madeline and I snuck off for a quick museum-ing adventure to D.C. yesterday and we got all the museums and adventure we could pack into a short (14 hours) day. I told her ahead of time that any trim with me is an adventure and that's not necessarily a good thing. "I know, Pampa," she said, cutting her eyes at me.

The goal was to see the Air and Space Museum, the Smith(sonian) Institution, The National Archive (I wanted to see if they had my books; they didn't); and the Museum of Natural History (to see the dinosaurs, which were hidden at the back of the second floor).

During the course of the day, got lost twice, took one wrong train and missed one major turn on the Interstate (I-81 to I-66). The food was lousy and expensive, but the company was great. Maddie enjoys adventure, people and new experiences and she keeps the conversation going with brisk commentary, good questions and always--always--an argument about the facts. She has few doubts about anything.

Maddie crashes.
At Air and Space, which every kid in the universe should see, we got into some brisk discussions--Maddie is nothing if not opinionated--on several topics, notably, who invented the airplane. We were standing at the Wright Brothers' first powered airplane when it came up. "This is the first powered airplane," I said.

"But it wasn't the first airplane," she said. "Galileo did that."

"Actually," said I, "Galileo designed gliders, helicopters and parachutes, but never made any of them work." I also mentioned that a bunch of people built airplanes that flew before Orville and Wilbur Wright did so in 1903 (notably Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport, Conn., a German immigrant to the U.S., whose plane flew in 1901), but the Wright plane was powered, controlled and had sustained flight. Most of the others were gliders and most of those crashed. Maddie was not convinced. She wanted to Google "Galileo, flight."

D.C. hairdo, exiting the Metro.
I was especially delighted that she was so interested in the people we met and the people who were kind to us. She asked them about themselves in a way that was more than polite; it was real interest. She loved talking about them--where they were from, where they were going, what they did for a living, what they thought about things--and about her own life in Spain.

We met Ina and Klaus Weichel of Germany (she a homemaker, he a "mechanic," read engineer, with BMW's experimental cars division) when we were looking for a place to sit and eat our awful little cold turkey sandwich for lunch. They were friendly, accommodating and interesting. Nice interlude.

Popcorn truck.
The kid can also relax, I discovered. She slept most of the way to D.C. and most of the way home. She has a good sense of who she is and that doesn't include being a little kid. She wouldn't even consider riding on the carousel.

Of course, like most 10-year-olds, she believes the world revolves around her and her dimples. When I asked if she saw that pretty popcorn tuck, she said, "I don't want any popcorn, thank you, Pampa." I said, "I don't think I offered any. I asked if you saw the truck. It's pretty."

At one point, following Pampa's lead, Maddie couldn't find her Metro card and wound up sitting in the station, pouring out her large purse and going through all its zippered compartments. The card was in her back pocket.

Back and forth all day. When I put us on the wrong Metro on the return to Daisy (my Punchbuggy), she insisted it was not the right one. I dismissed her. When we got to National Airport, I figured out she was right and we got off and backtracked, looking for the orange line. We were on the blue. "I told you so," she said, delicately.

First men on the moon used this.
Most of the day was spent with me fretting because the"check engine" light on Daisy came on about 50 miles from D.C. My pal Mark Dearing had told me to bring it by his shop (Salem Imports) if that happened again--and that it would. It had come on a couple of weeks ago, but I thought I fixed it with fuel treatment. He said I hadn't and that it would come on again in "about 300 miles." That was on the money.

Anyhow, what's a trip without a little mis-adventure? I simply don't know. Probably never will.

Pals on the Metro.
Loved this piece of modern art.
Maddie with capitol dome behind her.
These women were protesting selling of human organs in China.
Lunch with our new friends Ina and Klaus Weichel of Germany.
This guy made his percussion instruments and sounded great.
One of the Wright Brothers (center, lying down) on the plane that was first in many respects.
The National Archive (blue mood here) interested me, not so much Maddie.
Drone: Creepiest of all killing machines.
Photographer Maddie inside a plane.
We found the dinosaurs. They were hidden.
Grandboy Oz's NASA birthday suit.
Mall Maddie and the Washington Monument.
Hmmmmm. Did we get on the wrong train? ...
... Yes, Pampa, we did. But another train will be along soon.
Sophisticated traveler.
Can you name that monument in one note?
We had four minutes left on our six-hour meter when we got back to the car.

Maddie poses inside the Smith(sonian) Institution.
Selfie of moi (in orange) in a Hughes Aircraft fuselage. 
Spirit of St. Louis and an early  space capsule.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's Obama Done for Us Lately? This

Obama signs; VP Joe Biden watches.
The following is from a website called HubPages and it is a list of 14 accomplishments of the Obama Administration, presented simply here and with more detail here. These are properly sourced and are not partisan. They are simple facts.

1. We've now had 65 straight months of economic expansion.

2. We are enjoying the longest period of private sector job creation in American history.

 3. Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 5.4% by Spring of 2015.

 4. The stock market continues to set new record highs since President Obama took office.

5. The Federal budget deficit is shrinking. It’s been reduced by two-thirds since 2009.

6. Under President Obama, government spending has increased only 3.3% annually, the lowest rate since Eisenhower was president.

7. For 95% of American taxpayers, income taxes are as low or lower than they were at almost any point in the last 50 years.

 8. Dependence on foreign oil has shrunk due to record domestic oil production and improved fuel efficiency standards.

9. At least 10 million more Americans now have health insurance than before.

10. The Affordable Care Act has added years to the life of Medicare.

11. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, we are seeing the slowest rate of increase in healthcare costs since 1960.

12. We currently have fewer soldiers, sailors, and airmen in war zones than we did at any time in the last 11 years.

13. There have been zero successful attacks by al Qaeda on U.S. soil since Obama became president.

14. We now successfully catch and deport more illegal immigrants than ever before.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Delightful Day With My Grandgirl

Maddie shot this of my feet upon my exit from the water slide.
Madeline's turn on the slide.
Although my grandgirl Madeline has been in Roanoke for the past few weeks visiting for the summer, I haven't been able to spend a lot of time with her because of previous commitments. For the past two weeks, she's been at Camp Alta Mont. Today, we made up some ground.

Chocolate malt and blowing hair.
We swam and sailed down the water-slide at Green Ridge Rec Center, sang a duet ("Margaritaville"), turned somersaults, talked philosophy and I bought Maddie her first chocolate malted, which she consumed with considerable gusto.

Fun day that was proceeded by a run with my bud Janeson at Carvins Cove, where I got to show off my new Piggly Wiggly T-shirt, which I immediately stored in my "favorites" drawer.

Here's some of what we did.

Maddie and me at the slide.
Madeline's somersault.
New T-shirt ...
... already a favorite.
Bright summer view of the cove from one of the peninsulas.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taylor Grenloh's Star Continues to Shine

The players (from left): James Wise, Ed Sala, Neil David Seibel, (the superb) Shannon Robert, Mary Ellen Apgar, Elizabeth Hedrick, Michael Mansfield.
Tonight marked the third Taylor Gruenloh play I've seen in a little over a year and they just keep getting better. "A Sun-Wet Field" is a dazzling tale of the after-effects of the drug-induced suicide of a young girl. It was a suicide basically caused by fraud in the drug industry.

Gruenloh spares nobody in his script: the pharmaceutical companies, the marketers, the academic community, so eager to get in on the big money by signing off on drug tests, and, of course, Congress. This is a big story told small and tonight's sold-out reading at Mill Mountain Theatre in the second night of the Hollins Playwights Festival was beautifully performed and directed (by Katie Mack).

Roanoke's bench of solid actors has become so strong that putting on 10 plays in three days has not only become possible, but it is pretty much a lead pipe cinch. This one had a big case, featuring equity actor David Seibel and locals Shannon Robert (whose performance in this one was my favorite), Michael Mansfield, James Wise, Jr., Ed Sala, Mary Ellen Apgar (Hollins' Horizon director, who has been re-discovered as an actor) and recent Hollins grad Elizabeth Hedrick.

But it was Taylor's play that carried the evening with its personal touch to an international problem, one that could easily touch each of us--and kill many of us--in the name of mega-profits. It is a cynical and deeply serious work that has a small amount of development ahead before it is loosed on the world. One man in the audience suggested after the performance that it should open in Washington so Congress could see it. Good point.

The festival winds up with four more plays Sunday, beginning in the morning and going through to a windup at 8 p.m. with Will Coleman's musical. I highly recommend this event to those who love theater because it IS theater. The very best kind, in my world.

Director Katie Mack, Writer Taylor Gruenloh, Hollins' Todd Ristau.

Will Murdoch Besmirch Harper Lee's Name?

Harper Lee
“I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.”

--Harper Lee in 1964, four years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published

Harper Lee's only book until recently was just about as perfect as an American novel gets, so it was with considerable sadness that I read Joe Nocera's column in today's NYTimes (here), essentially saying Go Set a Watchman, allegedly her new novel, is, in effect, a fraud.

That it is published by HarperCollins, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publisher, gives the accusation considerable credence. My guess is that the frail and very old Miss Lee had little or nothing to do with the publishing of what Nocera insists is a much weaker early draft of Mockingbird, one where Atticus Finch is something less than the icon of goodness he has become.

Everything the Murdochs touch turns to mud and this is simply disgusting.

Quote of the Day: Correcting the Correction

The following is the last paragraph (in italics) of a story by Sam Levine on HuffingtonPost (here) that was about Hillary Clinton correcting a NYTimes story on her e-mails:

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of inspectors general from the State Department who had referred an investigation to the Justice Department. It was one inspector general from the State Department and one from the Intelligence Community.

Apparently, the subtlety of language used by the Justice Department is a bit much for everybody concerned. It is not investigating Hillary Clinton. It is investigating ... uh ... something else.

Forgiveness: The Very Definition of Grace

Annette Patterson: "Let's get to work reaching out, opening doors, correcting wrongs."
My friend Annette Patterson doesn't just talk grace, she lives it.

Her cousin Ricky Schmid (46) was recently robbed and murdered on a Philadelphia street by two 18-year-olds. He was shot in the head July 14 and was left in a parking lot. His phone had been taken.

Annette reacted the way you would imagine her to, if you knew her:

"How very sad is our world that these two young people thought his life was worth less than a phone. Proof positive that we can not continue to turn a blind eye to the poor, suppressed and abused. These kids (barring mental illness) have been brought up in a world that let them down and now they lash out in ignorance.

"We are all drinking out of the same pond, so let's get to work reaching out, opening doors, correcting wrongs, eliminating the need for welfare by teaching and empowering citizens! Hope and dignity are the key."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hollins Playwrights Fest Selling Out

A capacity house tonight was one of at least five for the weekend.
Emma Sala (from left), Will Coleman, Linsee Lewis.
It was just a couple of years ago, as I recall, that the Hollins Playwrights Festival had a hard time getting a quorum, let alone selling out the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre.

This weekend, the festival, which has entered a rich maturity, has at least five sellouts among its 10 new play readings and that could easily soar beyond the trio of 8 p.m. features on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and two others.

Tonight's reading, "Coupler," by the perceptive and talented Meredith Dayna Levy (she wrote the wildly popular "Decision Height" two years ago), was a marvelous comedic diversion, featuring Bob Moss's direction and a sparkling cast of locals. One of the cast members, Will Coleman, is the writer of Sunday's sellout.

This one dealt with the interconnected lives of a group of train travelers (and of the train, as a character), sprinkled with laughter and Shakespeare.

Erica Musyt and Owen Merritt.
It is not a finished play, but a work in progress, a script-in-hand presentation without costumes or sets. Like so many of these works, this was pure and delightful theater in the raw, a story that didn't need props to be effective.

The cast--Coleman, Erica Musyt, Emma Sala, Owen Merritt, Bonny Branch, Linsee Lewis and Debora Schwartz (wonderfully diversionary as the train)--is delightful and at times electric.

My guess is that many moments of theatrical adventure are to follow this weekend at the Waldron Stage.

You can be part of some of it, but you'll need tickets. They won't cost you anything and are available online here. This is your chance to be part of the development of individual plays (there is a talk-back session at the end) and of overall live theater in Roanoke. I can assure you it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Hollins guru Todd Ristau (left), writer Meredith Levy, director Bob Moss.