Top Girls

Keegan Theatre delivers a solid production of this story of the accomplished businesswoman Marlene (Karina Hilleard), recently promoted to managing director of her employment agency, who may be having second thoughts about the sacrifices she has made to ensure her success. The trippy opening scene, a dinner party to which Marlene has invited five women from history and legend, crackles with energy, a mashup of the real and the imagined.

The core drama, set in early Thatcherite Britain, hasn’t lost any of its bite in today’s world of grabby reality show hosts, underserved people in need, and open secrets. Caroline Dubberly is a standout as Angie, a special needs young girl who’ll likely never finish high school, but who understands things that none of the adults in her life ever will.

  • Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Amber Paige McGinnis, Keegan Theatre, Washington
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Passings: 4

I received word that Steven Mead Johnson, whom I portrayed in The Laramie Project in 2004, has passed away, by way of a friend of Steven’s. In reply, I wrote,

I was saddened to learn of Steven’s passing. He was such a gentle, dear man. We had the very good fortune that he was living in Reston at the time of our production, as he was pastor of a local Unitarian congregation. He was able to meet with us and thus to deepen our understanding of the people of that rugged, remote place in Wyoming. And I rather think that he was good-natured about my borrowing of some of his physical mannerisms.

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The Pajama Game

The standouts in this frothy entertainment are old school Eddie Korbich as Hines, the officious time and motion man, and Prez, played with gawky grace by Blakely Slaybaugh. Korbich gets his taps on for “Think of the Time I Save” and takes a turn with Broadway éminence Donna McKechnie in “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again”—two dance breaks that aren’t frequently seen. Slaybaugh gives us a comically acrobatic “Her Is.”

Which is to say that the choreography by Parker Esse and its execution are top notch: we loved the tape measures as streamers and hula hoops for “Once a Year Day.”

  • The Pajama Game, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, directed by Alan Paul, Arena Stage Fichandler Stage, Washington
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Blockhouse Point Conservation Park

dying backOn a drizzly Sunday morning, Carole Bergmann led a walk through Blockhouse Point Conservation Park. Fall colors were quite good, the Pawpaws getting ready to drop their leaves. This Sensitive Fern is packing it in for the season.

cespitosebeardyFellow walker Tom was our fungi maven. At left, he ID’d this cespitose cluster of stipes as Pholiota squarrosoides. And for a second non-polypore fruiting from the trunk of a tree, he also called Hericium erinaceus, at right.

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Our Town

Aaron Posner’s production of Our Town relaxes some of the strictures of its traditional presentation, without losing the spirit of Wilder’s play. Instead of a pair of ladders, there are set pieces for the Gibbs and Webb houses, facing one another in a galley configuration. There is the same direct address, perhaps all the more effective because we are watching the other half of the audience, as well as the play.

The town of Grover’s Corners has grown more ethnically diverse than it was in Wilder’s time. Lest we miss the point, the Stage Manager (archly played by Jon Hudson Odom) takes a knee for the passage that honors New Hampshire’s Civil War dead.

Perhaps the most effective departure is the use of half-size bunraku-influenced puppets (designed by Aaron Cromie) to portray the dozen of so minor characters. At the top of Act 3, the cast brings each puppet on, cradled in their arms—a most moving stage picture.

Todd Scofield gives us an appropriately bemused Mr. Webb. Megan Anderson’s Mrs. Gibbs is a tidy package of charm and practicality; Anderson’s plummy Prof. Willard is delightful.

  • Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, directed by Aaron Posner, Olney Theatre Center, Olney, Md.
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Serendipity, again

Another piece by one of our journalists was cited in one of the textbooks that I’m recording for Learning Ally: Neda Ulaby, “Sapiosexual Seeks Same: A New Lexicon Enters Online Dating Mainstream,” cited in James M. Henslin, Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, 13/e, 2017.

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Human capital

When and how did GDP and other money-based metrics replace all other measures of well-being in this country?

Until the 1850s, in fact, by far the most popular and dominant form of social measurement in 19th-century America (as in Europe) were a collection of social indicators known then as “moral statistics,” which quantified such phenomena as prostitution, incarceration, literacy, crime, education, insanity, pauperism, life expectancy, and disease. While these moral statistics were laden with paternalism, they nevertheless focused squarely on the physical, social, spiritual, and mental condition of the American people. For better or for worse, they placed human beings at the center of their calculating vision. Their unit of measure was bodies and minds, never dollars and cents.

Eli Cook provides some history and perspective.

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To do

The next time I’m in Connecticut, I gotta check out Stew Leonard’s.

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Some links: 79

And two pieces about what’s happening with water in the West:

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Connected

Pulling on our bootstraps, we discover that someone else made the boots and the straps, and fed and nurtured us until we were ready to pull.

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Some links: 78

A short roundup of theater links, as I clean out my Instapaper queue:

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Not so fast

Mark Seidenberg takes apart a recent paper’s claims for a biological (specifically, retinal) explanation for the complex spectrum of behaviors that we call dyslexia.

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Vehicle

I don’t consciously avoid metaphors, or similes for that matter. If they don’t happen in my writing, it may be because I find the thing I am writing about compelling enough without comparing it to something else. Maybe I don’t want to introduce some completely different world or image. For instance, in the case of the cornmeal making little drops of condensation in the story “Cornmeal,” I could say, “like little nipples on the underside of the plate,” but then you introduce nipples into the story. Or dew drops—“like little dew drops”—but then you introduce the outdoor landscape. If I avoid metaphor, and if I have to think of a reason why, it may be that I don’t want to distract from the one thing that I’m concentrating on, and a metaphor immediately does that. It introduces some completely, even incongruous, other image and world. And it can work very beautifully, but maybe I don’t want to leave the scene of what I’m describing.

—Lydia Davis, Art of Fiction No. 227, The Paris Review no. 212
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The answer is “shoe”

Paula Poundstone nails it.

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Succession

Footnote of the month:

La tête d’un homme [by Georges Simenon] was adapted again in 1949, to lesser effect, as The Man on the Eiffel Tower. A clunky color spectacular starring Charles Laughton as Maigret, it is mostly notable for its location shooting in Paris, and for being directed by co-star Burgess Meredith, who took over after Laughton had the original director fired.

—Jake Hinkson, “Georges Simenon: The Father of European Noir,” Noir City no. 22

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