Contemporary American Theater Festival 2024: 1

CATF launches a slightly simplified season for 2024, presenting only four plays (one in two parts), with no productions rotating out at the festival’s four venues. Sharp-eyed program readers will also note only one world premiere.

In the flagship Frank Center venue is mounted What Will Happen to All That Beauty?, by Donja R. Love. It’s a tender, multi-generational study of the effect of HIV/AIDS, with specific attention to Black communities in metropolitan New York (at the dawn of the crisis) and small towns (close to the present day).

As we enter the theater for Part 1, we see Luciana Stecconi’s handsome multi-playing area set with up to seven levels, faced on wood slats in shades of brown, with backing screens of the same slats. This same set, with some of the screens rearranged, serves for Part 2, albeit with more realistic dressing pieces—bedding is on the platform bed, the cooker and sideboard are visible, and there’s a practical chandelier. There’s no marked change in style in the text or otherwise in the storytelling, so we’re left to puzzle why.

Lengthy costume changes in Part 2 take some of the momentum out of the piece, especially after the penultimate scene, which felt like the play’s end to most of us.

Which takes us to the final step of the journey of Manny (the charismatic Jude Tibeau), the protagonist of Part 2, and his relationship with his grandfather, Rev. Emmanuel Bridges, Sr. (powerful Jerome Preston Bates). Bridges, Sr. is a traditional Mississippi preacher, leading off Part 1 with a sermon that sets two of the play’s themes, beauty and sacrifice; he claims a somewhat confusing dichotomy between the two. His descendants, however, profess no particular faith; a supporting character in Part 1 quietly espouses Islam, but is not taken up on it. At one meeting with his grandfather, Manny is openly resistant to Christianity. So we’re left with Manny’s ambiguous final monologue. Preaching beauty, has he (improbably) taken up his grandfather’s mantle in the church? Has he taken up a street corner pulpit?

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • What Will Happen to All That Beauty?, by Dorja R. Love, directed by Malika Oyetimein

Field marks

A comment by James on a somewhat recent Languagehat post introduced me to a term used by Duns Scotus and the Scholastic philosophers: haecceity. Haecceity can be rendered as “thisness.” By contrast, quiddity constitutes “whatness.”

Haecceity captures the characteristics that distinguish a particular individual: “Socrates” is a man “who lived in Greece.” Whereas quiddity refers to the universal qualities that a thing shares with all members of its genus: a man is a “featherless biped.”1

As a naturalist, I am always switching focus back and forth between a bird’s (or plant’s, or…) haecceity and quiddity, either in the particular instance or in the abstract. Haecceity: what are the characters (field marks) that distinguish this species from others? Quiddity: what is its gist? if you’ve never seen one before, what does it look like?

Haecceity is captured by the textual descriptions in your field guide, as well as the “Peterson system” arrows pointing to field marks in the paintings. Quiddity is best represented by the composite photographs in Crossley or Kaufman field guides. New birders usually gravitate toward quiddity, and I’ll flip open my Peterson or Sibley to show them paintings of a bird we’re talking about (and maybe have just missed seeing).

And here’s another concept that perhaps the Scholastics didn’t grapple with: characteristics that distinguish one taxon from another in the context of a particular dichotomous key.

Maybe I should stop here before I write anything more that’s unschooled.

1Dang, I recently read something good about dinosaurs being featherless bipeds and I can’t find it again.

Some links: 102

  • People movers (mobile lounges) at IAD are sticking around for at least 20 more years. I like ’em. Remember to hold on for when the lounge starts to move! (Eurgkkh, lots of clickbaity slop on this local TV news channel page.)
  • Why did Tom Lehrer give up writing, recording, and performing? Francis Beckett doesn’t really answer this question, but he does offer a nice recap of Lehrer’s oeuvre for the younger folks.
  • Jason Kottke reprises this lovely post about flying in a small plane with his father in the upper Midwest. Low on fuel. With a thunderstorm approaching.

    But the thing was, I was never scared. I should have been probably…it was an alarming situation. I’d been flying with my dad my whole life and he’d kept me safe that whole time, so why should I start worrying now? That’s what fathers are supposed to do, right? Protect their children from harm while revealing the limits of the world?

  • When I visited the Westmoreland Museum of American Art last month, I noticed that several works were labelled “artist once known.” Here’s an explainer from the Hood Museum of Art for that new convention.

I haven’t really decided whether I will continue posting at IEFBR14. In the meantime, here are two computing/math links:

Clifton Institute bioblitz June 2024 (Rappahannock bis)

The Clifton Institute held a second June bioblitz on private property in Rappahannock County, this time on a smaller site (about 50 acres). Still, there was a good mix of upland, meadow, and a bit of wetland habitat. And it was hot: by the end of the afternoon, I was knackered and I skipped the after-dark UV lights.

in the meadowHere’s the group starting off in the meadow. This is as tight a clump as we formed all day.

As our homeowner’s site has only been partly managed for natives, and (friendly) neighboring properties perhaps not at all, there were opportunities to meet new non-native invasive plants, like Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius): dig the superwide wings on the stem. The householder was disappointed when I told her that the Persian Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin) was one of the less-desirables.

On the native plant side of the ledger, I found a huge (1.5 meters tall) sedge, most likely Carex gynandra or C. crinita, and another monster, Soft Bulrush (also a sedge, but with a soft round culm) (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani).

Organizer Bert Harris went fishing in Beaverdam Creek (tributary of the Thornton River) and netted a Mountain Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus oreas), not showing off a red tummy, alas.

New crawlies for me! A Cherry Dagger caterpillar (Acronicta hasta); a sharpshooter (Graphocephala sp.); a False Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus turcicus) [I’ve been focusing on the red-and-black species this summer]; and the gloriously named Twice-stabbed Stink Bug (Cosmopepla lintneriana).

And—after three seasons of chasing after Larry Meade and Bert, who are always spotting Prince Baskettails (Epitheca princeps) patrolling a pond, I finally found one for myself. Dusk was approaching and I was ready to go home, but I took a little walk down to the swimming pond on my way to the car. I found my guy doing what he should be doing, and with five minutes’ patience I squeezed off a few smudgy photos, sufficient for one of iNat’s experts to confirm the ID.

Clifton Institute dragonfly/damselfly count 2024

Quite hot and muggy.

We started early and only surveyed for about 4 hours, skipping Silver Lake this time. Much of the Pickerelweed at our “secret” pond at the Farm Brewery had been cut back, so the damsels just weren’t there. Our newbies got good looks at some of the common species, so that’s a win. I recorded observations of Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) and Banded Pennant (C. fasicata), as well as a couple of butterflies and plants. I’m gradually, unintentionally, building up an interesting plant list for Leopold’s Preserve. Maybe I should be more intentional about that.

Clifton Institute bioblitz June 2024 (Rappahannock)

And one more trip report and I’m caught up until the weekend.

Clifton Institute is holding two bioblitzes on sponsor properties this summer. For the site visit on 15 June, we’re building on an established iNaturalist project. I was briefly on the leaderboard.

In the meadow leading up to the house, I found a Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus). Tiniest critter spotted turned out to be a White-margined Burrower Bug (Sehirus cinctus). On an adjoining property (friendly neighbors), a gneiss outcrop hosts a dryland specialty, Round-leaved Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius), very cool.

After dark at the lights we had several species of sphinx moth. I am still getting the hang of photographing under the UV conditions, but I did snap a pic of a handsome Virginia Creeper Sphinx (Darapsa myron). And the iNat community taught me that a Large Maple Spanworm Moth (Prochoerodes lineola) is not the same as a Juniper Geometer Moth (Patalene olyzonaria), seen on last year’s bioblitz.

Most of the birds remained out of sight, but I got some reasonable audio recordings.

The Borrowers were following me around in the field on this trip. The wrist strap on my point-and-shoot came undone and disappeared, and the glass element worked itself out of my loupe for the last time and dropped to the forest floor. I think I even heard it drop and I looked back, but clear glass is kinda invisible.

Road trip 2024: Maryland

And finally, a short stop at Finzel Swamp Preserve in Garrett County, Maryland. Maybe I was visiting at the wrong time of year, but I was not impressed. As a Nature Conservancy preserve, trail maps of this place are hard to come by and the trail is not blazed at all. I walked about a half mile in—maybe I covered the ground I should have? At the pond, the rough trail forks, with the path to the left wrapping around the pond and that to the left into a big muddy spot.

Oh, I just found a map. Yes, I covered everything. There are some audio notes as well; if I return, I’ll use them to locate the protected larches on the property.

I did turn up a mystery spreadwing. Maybe a teneral?

Road trip 2024: Pennsylvania

the bird's eye viewwindow detailTurning toward home, I paused for two days in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania to take in four houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright: the bucket-list Fallingwater, two homes in Polymath Park, and Kentuck Knob.

outsideThe super surprise of the Kentuck Knob visit was the suite of sculptures and land art on the grounds, headlined by Andy Goldsworthy’s Room (date?).

openingThe openings are a bit of a squeeze.

insideway outKentuck Knob is currently inhabited; the residents are Brits (cozy with Margaret Thatcher [hmm]), and so much of the art is by British artists.

Road trip 2024: Michigan

The primary objective of this road trip was two visits to nesting grounds of Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), on tours led by Brant Georgia for the Michigan state bird alliance, to see this lifer bird. Success!

young jacksmaturing jacksBrant explained that, as ground nesters, KIWAs are not dependent on youngish Jack Pines (Pinus banksiana) for food, but rather for the thicket of branches at the base of the stem, providing cover from predators. Blueberries also like to join the thicket party, and these fruits do provide warbler food. At left, you can see planted jacks (along with Red Pines for the loggers) that are about the right size for the birds (heard briefly here); at right, an older stand that reforested itself after an unintentional fire. We spotted our quarry at this location.

With some cropping, I also concocted a nice observation of Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

The bracken fern in this part of Michigan reminds me of Maine; the sandy soil (we’re on a glacial outwash) suggests the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

quick stopI had an unscheduled afternoon, so I scooted over to Traverse City to visit The Dennos Museum Center, with its wonderful collection of Inuit art (three cheers for motel literature racks!), a delightful piece of cherry-raspberry pie at Grand Traverse Pie Company, and a quick stop at Grand Traverse Light.

Road trip 2024: Ohio

Continuing chronologically, next up was a trip to the northern end of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, about which more presently. I did an overnight in Port Clinton, Ohio, followed by a walk at Magee Marsh Wildlife area, after all the crowds of birds and people had passed through.

i got some decent images of a friendly Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia). June is apparently the month for huge hatches of Hexagenia mayflies in this part of Ohio, up on Lake Erie. Utter carnage in the motel parking lot. A Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) snacked on the critters at Magee Marsh.

no, I can't fix your cameraGotta stop for the lighthouses.

Rappahannock County dragonfly/damselfly count 2024

So many field trips, such a backlog of trip reports I have! I’ll start with the first annual Rappahannock County dragonfly/damselfly count on 8 June, organized by Bert Harris and the Clifton Institute. Big thanks to Nik and the team at The Farm at Sunnyside for hosting one of our stops. My best photo is a Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes) obelisking.

This was also the trip in which I learned that wading streams with lots of small boulders covered in algae is not my forte. I took a tumble into the Rush River and gave a spiffy new camera a slight dunking. I let it dry, and here’s hoping that it will bounce back.

At the park: 148

We’re almost done with nest boxes for the year, but not quite.

We checked 4 boxes with open activity. Box #61 hatched, 7 out of 10 eggs fledged. Box #6 does indeed have a second clutch, which we expect to hatch in early July. Box #5, the snake-predated box, showed no egg or shell remnants, which is what we expected.

I will check box #6 solo in early July: it’s a quick hop off the boardwalk….

Thanks for a good season! I’ll send summary reports once we have all the data.

Limberlost Trail loop

Ken Rosenthal of Reston’s Walker Nature Center led a birding walk on the Limberlost Trail loop in Shenandoah National Park. Most of the birds remained high-high in the canopy, so most of our observations were heard not seen. We did hear Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius) often, and got got some fleeting looks from below. American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) were also common.

On the botany front, we found a few mountain-Piedmont specialties: American False-hellebore (Veratrum viride), Fly-poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum), and (probably-maybe) Dolls’-eyes (Actaea pachypoda). Ken also pointed out a Panorpa scorpionfly and a Half-wing Moth (Phigalia titea) caterpillar. We’re pretty sure that we turned up an Appalachian Azure (Celastrina neglectamajor).

This trip counts for Master Naturalist continuing ed hours, so there’s that bonus.