Storytelling

And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That’s my suggestion.

—Ali Smith, Autumn, p. 119
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A mystery: 11: solved

Thanks to Cameron Binkley and his librarian contacts at the California Academy of Sciences, I now have confirmation that Laura White’s memorial to her husband, as specified in her will, was indeed realized at CAS. According to academy’s 1958 annual report, the Lovell White Hall of Man and Nature was part of the Hall of Science (along with the Alexander Morrison Planetarium).

The Whites’ daughter-in-law Ruth gave an oral history interview in 1976. She fills in some of the details of the White-CAS connection.

RB: So then I gave [the Garden of Allah] to the California Academy of Sciences and they had it for about three years, two or three years and they loved it. The reason I selected that to give it to is because the California Academy of Sciences has a memorial for Ralston’s father, Mr. Lovell White. His mother gave it to the California a memorial there, so I thought it would be very appropriate for the —

CE: The Academy of Sciences. Were they delighted with the bequest?

RB: They certainly were delighted but regrettably their income was restricted to be spent in the City and County of San Francisco so they had to give it up painfully.

A mystery inside a mystery: The Garden of Allah, Ralston and Ruth’s Marin County home, is not the Los Angeles resort of the same name that is the setting for Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah.

The Hall of Science was demolished as part of CAS’s rebuild in 2008, so maybe Laura and Lovell would have been better off with a plaque or a statue.

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Alone/Together

A meditation from ten years ago, in honor of our anniversary.

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Suddenly

Suddenly is a captivating dramatization of a suite of short stories (cryptic little tales, more precisely) by Edgar Keret, employing puppets, live video, and actors. Here, the puppets and scenery are scaled to the frame of a video lens: a ten-inch-long pair of legs, trudging through a streetscape of castoff, broken bits of frames and shutters, becomes the lonely man Miron walking down a shabby street. The moving video lens manipulates point of view. There is the the touching story of a dog named Tuvia, a puppet constructed from scraps of fabric. When Tuvia is abandoned on a street corner, we watch the dog recede from view as the camera walks away. The camera leverages perspective: a two-shot of the feet of a live actor and those of puppet Miron line up perfectly. In the piece’s most intriguing breakdown of narrative frames, the dog Tuvia chews on the cameraman’s cables and runs roughshod over the set for Miron’s meeting in a coffee shop. Narrator and listener exchange places multiple times over the course of the stories.

The philosophy of the piece is that it is more difficult, but more valuable, to make something out of something (not out of nothing). For indeed, in doing so, you learn that the something was there all along.

  • Suddenly, based on stories by Etgar Keret, adapted by Zvi Sahar and Oded Littman, The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, directed by Zvi Sahar, PuppetCinema, Clarice Center Kogod Theater, College Park, Md.
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Scalable

Lauren Gunderson on the most durable social media outlet: live storytelling.

Theater is not on demand. Rather it asks you to show up on time and focus in order to experience the intimate intensity of its medium.

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Respect for acting

Hilary Howard reports on the precarious state of independent acting conservatories in New York. To stay afloat, many have partnered with universities (at the cost of higher fees for their students). The Knickerbocker’s showcase is now online (which makes sense, because aspiring actors are gravitating to classes in auditioning and on-camera work and skipping classes in craft). Rents for Chelsea venues are climbing. At Stanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse,

“We are all afraid of the roof caving in,” said Ms. [Pamela] Moller Kareman, who had to pay $20,000 to fix the building’s out-of-commission elevator when she was first hired. “The elevator guys said we don’t even have parts for this anymore,” she recalled.

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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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