Going beyond

Ed Yong has put together an excellent background piece about the outbreak of Proliferative Kidney Disease that has killed whitefish and threatens trout species. The fish kills led Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to shut down of 183 miles of the Yellowstone River. The coverage elsewhere that I saw simply repeated the FWP statement that a “microscopic parasite” was responsible and left it at that. But Yong did the reading, and used it to describe the peculiar morphology and life cycle of the infectious parasite Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae, a jellyfish relative and one of the myxozoans.

Myxozoans have performed a crazy evolutionary double-back:

In this free-swimming form, they look very jellyfish-like, with identifiable tentacles, mouths, and guts. Perhaps the ancestors of myxozoans went through a similar phase in their evolutionary history, when they were already devoted parasites, but still kept some obvious traces of their cnidarian heritage.

As they evolved further down the parasitic path, they lost these ancestral physical features. They did away with many genes too. “They have the smallest known animal genomes,” says [Paulyn] Cartwright [at the University of Kansas], “and they lack some of the genes that we consider hallmarks of animal development.” For example, the all-important Hox genes, which direct the construction of animal bodies… are simply missing in myxozoans.

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Along The Glade

first tripPractice shooting with a new camera. I’m usually down this stretch in winter. It’s much greener today.

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Enroute: 13

more coming downThe controlled destruction of 51 N Street, N.E, continues.

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Baltimore adventure

An afternoon in Baltimore, visiting an old friend, a new friend, and friends through Leta’s G&S qwert.

here comes the GreenwtfTravel by water taxi, light rail, Metro, and MARC. Hey, Metro, lose the cheesy music piped into the underground stations. And why are American ticket vending machines such a U/X train wreck?

fore viewaft viewMy newly-met friend is the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, views fore and aft. The wheel is positioned at the channelized mouth of Jones Falls, where it empties into the harbor. Floating trash and debris, man-caused and otherwise, is steered into the maw of the machine by the booms; trash is lifted and deposited into a dumpster. River currents, augmented by solar panels, power the gizmo. The googly eyes? Because Baltimore.

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Setback

Dogs as hosts are presenting an obstacle to eradication of Guinea Worm disease, reports Michaeleen Doucleff. There’s a possibility that dogs are being infected by eating frogs. Your parasitology WOTD is paratenic; the frogs would be paratenic hosts, not obligate for the development of the parasite but serving to maintain the life cycle.

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Still don’t get the “Birdhouse in Your Soul” reference

It’s National Lighthouse Day, people! Take a tour of lighthouses on National Wildlife Refuge lands.

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Enroute: 12

crossingAnother visit to our Boston office this past week. I like staying in a little boutique hotel at the Back of the Hill stop on the Green Line, in a spot between Jamaica Plain and Brookline. Alas, breakfast options are spotty in this neighborhood. But I squeezed off a verité shot of two trains meeting at the Brookline Village station. That guy crossing onto the tracks, ignoring the yellow safety zones, won’t get squashed by car #3800; it’s stopped and its doors are already open.

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Lessons

… there’s a second way to look at this. The violent opposition to the Vietnam War and the particular violence of May 4 [, 1970] also played a major role in ending the draft and thus insulated students and young people generally from many of the issues that had spurred such activism in the 1960s. Waging war today is a matter of finding the right price point at which sufficient numbers of young men and women will be tempted to risk their lives in service to their country. Arguably, too, it’s a matter of fostering economic conditions—underpaid and underemployed youth, hyper-expensive higher education—that make military service an attractive choice. What’s apparent, though, is that American troops have been in combat somewhere in the world almost continually since November 2001 with barely a whimper from the campuses that led the opposition to the Vietnam War.

—Howard Means, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence (2016), p. 220
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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2016: 3

This year’s festival delivered some solid and memorable shows and some disappointments. Such was Chisa Hutchinson’s The Wedding Gift, a play that doesn’t surpass the promise of its premise.

In this fairly transparent parable, Jason Babinsky’s Doug finds himself transported into an alien culture where he is the only fair-skinned humanoid. He is a shimseh, “like a pet, only more useful,” presented to the wife (Margaret Ivey’s Nahlis) of a newly married royal couple. Doug discovers the ways of this new world only gradually, because only two others (including the enjoyable Edward O’Blenis as Translating Attendant) speak any English; great swathes of dialogue are delivered in a language of Hutchinson’s invention. The conlang has the intended effect of disorientation, but it also means that small plot points are confused, and any subtlety of psychology is lost. How exactly is Doug to perform, in the eyes of Nahlis’s new husband Beshrum (Damian Thompson, with an impressive high leg kick)? We’ll never know.

Nevertheless, the play offers the tech teams the opportunity to go a little crazy, from Peggy McKowen’s costumes to Nathan A. Roberts’ and Charles Coes’ soundscapes. Director May Adrales establishes a movement and gestural vocabulary for this strange new planet, and then encourages each actor/character to invent within that framework: a gesture of mourning, expressed at the top of act 2, is both easily understood and unique to each player.

And if the denouement owes something to a certain series of dystopian films from the 1960s and 70s, at least we learn how the post-apocalyptic inhabitants of this world say, “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

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Enroute: 11

one more mysterycoming downAt left, a mystery slime mold busting out of the mulch, in my neighborhood on the way to the bus stop. At right, 51 N Street, N.E, being demolished ever so gradually.

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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2016: 2

Festival veteran and favorite Joey Parsons takes on the epic role of Medea in the intimate space of Studio 112, as reworked by Allison Gregory in her Not Medea, a version that overlays Euripides’ tragic figure with a modern-day pediatric nurse who is desperately trying to keep her shit together. Called simply Woman in the program, Parsons portrays her with a flexible acting instrument imbued with yogic control.

While the play, with its fourth wall breaking worthy of early Stoppard, is generally effective in arousing our empathy for Woman’s loss (due to an ill-timed [self-inflicted?] distraction), it is on surer ground in its re-enactment of the old Greek tale. There are moments of magic conjured out of the mundane (body lotion from the shopping mall that becomes a shield of invincibility), and the rock-lined pool of water on Jesse Dreikosen’s set actually has a purpose—indeed, multiple ones (even though it is the cause of a scripted cleanup by the running crew).

Ben Chase as Jason provides stalwart partnering, while Rachael Balcanoff as Chorus nicely rides the text’s half-sung, half-spoken sections with a sweet singing voice.

Susan Miller’s 20th Century Blues is an insipid undertaking. Photographer Danny arranges a reunion of her three Boomer-generation friends for the culmination of a long-running group portrait project (cf. Nicholas Nixon’s photographs of the Brown sisters). Trouble is, she’s never arranged for her friends to sign release forms. The unnatural dialogue among characters who represent types, not real people, rarely rises above what OTC Leta calls a certain “scriptiness.” (Although nimbus-haired Kathryn Grody brings a little oomph to Gabby.) Imagine the leaden heart of Return of the Secaucus 7 further dragged down by discussions about paperwork.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Not Medea, by Allison Gregory, directed by Courtney Sale
  • 20th Century Blues, by Susan Miller, directed by Ed Herendeen
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Through the zone

Zach Schonbrun laments something else that has gone missing from modern baseball: the distinctive batting stance.

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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2016: 1

Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship starts with some interesting materials — a black man in charge of a former whaling ship in 1896, bound for a somewhat mysterious expedition to Liberia; a free-thinking woman willing to challenge and assume authority — and the play features some committed acting performances. But much of the action is static, featuring the rather tired device of a character reading his own journal entries. The play reads as an academic exercise. The design choice to cover the deck of the Marinoff stage with an inch of water, requiring the four actors to perform in bare feet, comes off not as a metaphor but rather as a self-imposed restriction.

The Second Girl, by Ronan Noone, begins with an equally intriguing premise: the action plays in the kitchen of the home of Eugene O’Neill’s Tyrone family, simultaneous with the events related in his Long Day’s Journey into Night. We meet the cook Bridget Conroy (Jessica Wortham) and the chauffeur Jack Smythe (Ted Koch), both of them offstage in O’Neill, as well as the titular “second girl,” Cathleen Mullin (Cathryn Wake), common to both plays. Kris Stone’s kitchen set is meticulously dressed and fitted with a working stove and sink. Noone’s delicate drama is gradually unfolding, underscored by simple (and grinding) household tasks like food preparation and loading coal into a stove. The ambiguous ending offers some hope of escape, some chance for dreams to be realized — at least for some of the characters.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • pen/man/ship, by Christina Anderson, directed by Lucie Tiberghien
  • The Second Girl, by Ronan Noone, directed by Ed Herendeen
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Clybourne Park: an update: 2

So we closed the show yesterday afternoon, and I’m pleased, overall, with the way it went. (There’s always something that you wish could have been better. Like I wish that I’d had a coach to help me fine-tune the brief bit of stage combat.)

Every so often I use music as a way to get into the world of a character. (My friend Lisa suggested this trick a long time ago.) Now, the little Bobby McFerrin riff that Roger used as transition music at the top of Act 2 was all I needed to help me find Tom Driscoll. But for the well-meaning, somewhat feckless, gentle parish priest Rev. Jim in Act 1, I needed a complete playlist. Some of this music I already had on hand, and some was newly-purchased. Here it is, Jim’s Jam, all songs pre-1959 as far as I can tell:

  • Perry Como, “Accentuate the Positive”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Bubbles in the Wine”
  • Patsy Cline, “Walkin’ after Midnight”
  • Glenn Miller orchestra, “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo”
  • Mel Tormé, “Moonlight in Vermont”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Beer Barrel Polka”
  • Perry Como, “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You”
  • Mantovani orchestra, “Charmaine”
  • Patti Page, “Old Cape Cod”
  • Glenn Miller orchestra, “A String of Pearls”
  • Perry Como, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra, “Village Tavern Polka”

Mantovani’s version of a 1926 waltz by Rapée and Pollack is most everyone’s idea of soul-evacuating elevator music. (I remember an ironic modern dance troupe performance from about 20 years ago, set on this song, that consisted of the entire company queueing up as if at the DMV.) But for Jim, the lush, pillowy arrangement is pure bliss, his idea of what God’s grace must feel like. Is that a zither in the mix in the last chords? Plus, you can do t’ai chi stretches to it.

Jim and Judy danced to Glenn Miller when they were courting.

The Lawrence Welk recordings, all from the pre-TV days, are astonishing. Joyful, energetic, inventive, not slick at all—nothing like the bland music I heard when I was a kid in my grandfather’s living room watching the TV show. I used to worry that I was turning into my mother. Now I should worry that I’m turning into her father.

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On deck: 16

on deck: 16Fresh arrivals from Powell’s, and some interesting choices from the freebie shelf at work. I picked up the DeLillo at our new indie bookstore, Scrawl Books. Plus, I’m doing a book exchange at Vanessa’s in a couple of weeks: who knows what that will bring?

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