Small beauties

Bas Bleu contemplates grace:

The corollary to this—something I also frequently fail to recognize—is that I can be a grace in the lives of those around me, by being kind, by being attentive, by showing recognition and appreciation. By picking up the litter someone else has tossed. By making room for the baby stroller on a crowded Metro car. By letting someone merge into traffic.

When you feel you have little to contribute, it’s heartening to think that you can give grace. It doesn’t require great wealth or grand gestures; it only needs awareness and willingness. I don’t get to choose when to receive grace, but I can choose when to give it. And by giving it, I can choose to be it. That is within my power.

My Twitter profile describes me, in part, as in favor of “that which is mindful.” That bit sometimes feels inauthentic to me, because I don’t have a regular practice. I am only once in a while mindful myself. Other words or phrases that I have considered for my profile: compassion, sharing, awareness, care for the natural world, thoughtfulness, quality. Maybe the word I am looking for is grace.

Posted in Personal Development | Comments Off on Small beauties

Banality

Nikhil Sonnad, Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason:

[Facebook] has its own grand project—to turn the human world into one big information system. This is, it goes without saying, nowhere near as terrible as the project of the thousand-year Reich. But the fundamental problem is the same: an inability to look at things from the other fellow’s point of view, a disconnect between the human reality and the grand project.

Posted in Annoyances | Comments Off on Banality

For Leta: 8

“A Letter from the End of Days (Come In. Clean the House. We Have Died.)” by Malachi Black, at Poetry Daily.

… there is nothing else

to help you. There is no one here
at all.

Posted in In Memoriam, Poetry | Comments Off on For Leta: 8

Or,

Forgettable or preposterous? Elisabeth Vincentelli looks at names of plays these days.

Posted in Theater | Comments Off on Or,

Upcoming: 50

The Hirshhorn has acquired its first Tino Sehgal performance art piece, This You. Plans call for it to debut on Labor Day weekend.

Posted in Art and Architecture | Comments Off on Upcoming: 50

Enroute: 17

machineSo this pavement milling machine has been hanging out near the building entrance. I wonder what it has on its mind.

Posted in Local News and Views | Tagged | Comments Off on Enroute: 17

Baltimore businessman processed hams, led by 25% of NaCl (1,4)

It’s been a while since I watched broadcast TV that featured ads from local meatpackers, so I missed the passing (I don’t follow the AP style book) of Nathan Mash in 1998. Something I read or heard reminded me of his customary spiel, which was two parts talking about ham curing and one part cryptic crossword puzzle setting, so I looked up his obit.

Posted in Local News and Views | Comments Off on Baltimore businessman processed hams, led by 25% of NaCl (1,4)

Orobranche uniflora

Back in New York, Dave Taft offers this botanical and etymological love note to one of the broomrapes.

Posted in Botany | Comments Off on Orobranche uniflora

Mortal coil

Mark Memmott has one of the most important jobs in our newsroom: he’s the designated noodge who makes sure that we get our facts right (as ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen details) and our language unvarnished and clear. He quotes Rick Holter from member station KERA on avoiding euphemisms for death:

“Any time you use one of those euphemisms on air or online (except in a direct quote) to ease the pain of the family or respect the person, you’re basically saying this death is different from others; it could be heard or read as this person’s death is more sensitive or valuable than others.

“We shouldn’t be making those judgments.

“Also, we follow Associated Press style, which is unequivocal about this:

“‘Don’t use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote.’

“So remember: People die. And we respect all those deaths equally.”

Thank you, Mark, for keeping us in line.

Posted in This Is NPR | Comments Off on Mortal coil

The scoop

The photograph of the Munsell soil color chart book pulled me up short. As I read Richard Schiffman’s piece, my thoughts bounced around from “wow, this is cool that soil scientists are getting profiled in the Times” to “New York has a soil brokerage clearinghouse so that good fill dirt from a construction site can be used to rebuild a wetland? That’s bananas—no, that’s brilliant!”

While the idea might seem obvious, Dr. [Dan] Walsh maintains that this is the first soil exchange anywhere in the world that is run by a city government. It is currently being watched by officials from New Orleans and Los Angeles as well as municipalities in Germany, China and Australia, which are considering implementing similar programs.

* * *

“We’re essentially matchmakers,” Dr. Walsh said. “We don’t stockpile the soil, so both a donor and a recipient have to be ready at the same time. Our job is to coordinate the transfer.”

The NYC Urban Soils Institute has plans to establish a soil museum in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery—something for my to-see list in New York.

Posted in Gotham, Natural Sciences | Comments Off on The scoop

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 5

A young woman carries a heavy portable crib up a flight of stairs, bumping it on every other step; her actions echo those of a teenager seventeen years before, banging a suitcase down a different flight of stairs (metaphorical baggage reified). Two young women have an uneasy reunion, a decade and half after a shattering trauma that destroyed a family has split the two of them apart; they interchange playing scenes with their younger counterparts.

In a program note, playwright Amy E. Witting says that we all are living in a “post-traumatic stress environment.” In this play, the most effective and challenging of this year’s festival, Alexandra (Joey Parsons) and Frankie (Jessica Savage) and their younger selves Alex (Sam Morales) and young Frankie (Ruby Rakos) hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves generally and the specific impact of this particular trauma.

It is clear from the early moments of the play that broody Alexandra has endured some sort of loss, to be revealed in the course of the narrative. What is more subtle is the impact of those past events on Frankie; she is, in a sense, the forgotten victim.

Does the unfolding of the play provide the healing to Frankie and Alexandra that they want, or the healing that they need?

A quibble: the play’s climax, the big reveal by Alexandra, a chthonic explosion by Parsons, is played on that staircase, halfway up from the main playing space to an unseen second story. So there’s a good reason for director Ed Herendeen to put her there. But as a result, sightlines for some of us during this sequence are less than optimal.

Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 5

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 4

Providing an origin story for a prison work song (Berta, Berta) is a wobbly foundation for a full-length play. The actors are skilled and committed (Jason Bowen as the haunted Leroy and Bianca Laverne Jones as Berta); the stakes are high (a murder); the dressing of Luciana Stecconi’s set is first rate; but there’s something missing. Perhaps the piece relies too much on Leroy’s tell-not-show accounts of why he’s on the run, and of the heavy injustice laid on him that was the driver of events. It’s a risky business to suggest recasting an artistic work into another medium, but opening up this play as a film would strengthen the story that it wants to tell.


Playwright C. A. Johnson says her program interview,

Maybe Thirst is about politics, maybe it’s about gender, maybe it’s about special preferences, maybe it’s all of these things… or maybe, it’s just a play about how hard it is to let go.

And it’s the play’s stubborn refusal to decide what it wants to be about that is a challenge. Once again, the stakes are high: in a post-apocalyptic landscape still bursting with violence, Samira (Monet) and Greta (Jessica Savage) care for their adopted son Kalil (newcomer Jalon Christian). The local warlord Terrance (Ryan Nathaniel George) has risen to power because he controls the water supply, and water in this community is a precious resource indeed. The rub: Terrance and Samira were once married, and his entrails are still consumed with rage that she is now with Greta. Is is because Greta is a woman? Because she is white? Or just because she is someone else? Terrance is incapable of telling us.

Terrance explodes with gunplay, against his better judgement and surely not in the best interests of his people or himself. (A leader with doubtful skills, thrust onto the public stage, behaving irrationally to a bizarre degree? Why, that would—oh, never mind.)

There is a loose end introduced towards the end of the play, that is never picked up or resolved, i.e., a suggestion that the water supply has been contaminated.

Jessica Savage has the juicy opportunity to show us how excruciating it is to suffer a close-range gunshot wound, and she makes the most of it.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Berta, Berta, by Angelica Chéri, directed by Reginald L. Douglas
  • Thirst, by C. A. Johnson, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 4

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 3

From the other side of the Iron Curtain comes this timebending story, set in multiple places and times in the Soviet Union: in Kruschchev’s era, and before and after the rise of Stalin. Stalin’s purges take on a particular specificity in this work.

In the 1930s, Alexei (David McElwee), synesthete and memory savant, is a newspaper reporter, and apparently a poor one, because he takes no notes. He doesn’t need to, because he can remember speeches word for word. This becomes problematic for him, when certain speakers he has heard (Bukharin, Kirov) are dropped into Russia’s Memory Hole.

He himself disappears from official records, but a 1950s-era bureaucrat (Kreplev, Lee Sellars) takes a special interest in his case and in the psychologist who treated him (Joey Parsons)—a treat for us to see two beloved CATF regulars together on stage.

There are two frames around the story, one of them a rather odd carnival act whose significance will be made clear, and the other a (sometimes distracting) direct address to us by Kreplev. Ultimately, the play is Kreplev’s journey, as he learns the personal cost of “accommodation,” both in the form of forgetting and being forgotten.

Gregory gives Alexei’s synesthesia a poetic turn. The color magenta, for him, has the roar of a train; a politician’s words bounce around meaninglessly like so many rubber balls.

Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 3

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 2

There’s much to like in Michael Weller’s solo piece for John Keabler, irrespective of what you think of the evolving political views of Ronald Reagan—from admirer of FDR to speaker for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Keabler has the mannerisms and physicality, playing Reagan as much as a gangly kid as statesman.

The framing device for the play is an imagined interview for a magazine, while the last moments of Reagan’s life slip away from him on his hospital bed. (In Reagan’s fever dream, he is still the good-looking young man who is Keabler.) This allows Reagan to control the flow, so his story unspools as a greatest hits compilation, with good mini re-enactments of his film roles. That is to say, when Reagan’s late life dementia allows him to remember. Unfortunately, the interview trope gets in the way, requiring Reagan for much of the work to maintain focus on the interviewer, who seems to be sitting in the aisle of Studio 112’s seating, about two rows back.

Weller’s script is salted with nuggets of current affairs irony, as when Reagan rails against the idea of a wall (in his case, the one in Berlin) being the solution to security problems, or when he despairs of Russians in D.C. guiding policy.

People and places from Reagan’s past are subtly suggested by monochrome screen projections by Christopher Erbe and Taran Schatz—very fine work.

Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 2

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 1

Bekah Brunstetter’s sugary, crinkly comedy could not be more contemporary: Jen (the effervescent Kelly Gibson), a young woman living in Brooklyn, returns to her family home in North Carolina. Engaged to the more bottled-up Macy (the poised, not strident Monet), Jen hopes that her wedding cake will be prepared by family friend and bakery proprietor Della. Della (the adventurous Erika Rofsrud), even more family than friend, holds to her traditional Christian religious mores; she has been brought up to “follow the directions until I die.” She balks at creating the confection—this despite her professed belief that the solution to war is to bake a personal cake for each combatant.

The Cake takes all of its principals through emotional journeys and change (for that matter, Lee Sellars’ dour Tim the plumber goes through some changes himself), but most strongly changed is Della. Her late monologue is harrowing, finding deep notes of aching and repressed feelings of shame. Della also gets the best comic lines of the show. No fan of gluten-free baking, she once tasted such a cake and says that it made the back of her mouth feel like it did after a good cry. And this, quoted by audience members in the lobby: when challenged by Tim that lesbianism is not natural, she replies, “Neither is confectioner’s sugar.”

Posted in Reviews, Theater | Comments Off on Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 1