In Martinsburg

Saturday morning I spent drinking coffee and reading a not-great short story anthology by a well-known American novelist, early-career efforts that were solidly mediocre, while I sat on Audrey and Charlie’s deck, listening to their neighbor running a backhoe across the top of the next ridge, scraping the pasture into what will become lawn. Along with the mockingbirds disputing territory and the goldfinches singing just to be singing, I watched a pair of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) visit Audrey’s sugar-water feeder. The feeder was close enough that I could hear the buzz of wings as the birds hovered. And I heard something new, as a bird decided to perch up, the better to slurp artificial nectar: small chip notes, like tiny sneakers on a basketball court.

Contemporary American Theater Festival, 2006

This year’s festival includes a pair of memory plays, both of them premieres, Kim Merrill’s Sex, Death, and the Beach Baby and Keith Glover’s Jazzland. Merrill tells of a young woman haunted by a betrayal and death by drowning off the Jersey shore, while Glover riffs on the tensions between jazz and rock and roll. In Jazzland, a young jazz trumpeter, Roderigo, in recovery from an automobile accident, pieces the story of his own life back together as well as that of his father, Ram, an alto saxophonist who, following popular sentiment, began playing rock gigs. Questions of artistic integrity and faithfulness to an idiom are raised, but the play’s high-flying abstractions leave us with characters not fully realized. The most inventive material in the piece, as well as the most successful, is the recreation of the gigs played by Roderigo, Ram, and Ram’s partner Twist. Rather than demand expert musicianship from his actors, Glover gives them spoken-word pieces that they perform over a recorded-music background: the air crackles when Ram (the rich-voiced Joseph Adams) and Miles-like trumpeter Twist (the electric Scott Whitehurst) start trading eights.

Christopher Durang’s student Noah Haidle brings us the published Mr. Marmalade, a twisted comic fantasy told through the eyes of four-year-old Lucy, played by the full-grown Anne Marie Nest. Lucy’s single-parented life is rather grim, so it’s not surprising that her imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, is as likely to smack her around or take cellphone calls during Tea Party as he is to take her ballroom dancing or cruising to Mexico. Sara Kathryn Bakker steals her scene as Sunflower, imaginary friend or Lucy’s new real-world friend, dweeby Larry (dressed hysterically by Margaret A. McKowen).

CATF veterans Carolyn Swift, Andy Prosky, and Kaci Gober return in the best show of the festival, Richard Dresser’s new Augusta. Dresser’s latest satire of life on the fringes of the corporate world has his signature dangerous bite: imagine chewing on a live electrical cord. Prosky’s middle manager Jimmy is in charge of teams of house cleaners, including the pair formed by just-hanging-on Molly (Swift) and just-getting-started Claire (Gober). Jimmy’s glad-handing smile, so disconnected from the small-minded manipulations going on behind it, is frightening. Swift’s Molly, ever blasted by life, has a posture when she’s being chewed out by Jimmy that looks like she’s being blown through a wind tunnel without Swift moving a muscle. Shaun L. Motley’s clever three-level set serves as the mansion that Claire and Molly clean, several restaurants and hotel rooms, and Jimmy’s office. The set cantilevers beds and divans into empty space, and its half-height floors remind us of the tilted world of Being John Malkovich. At the end of this play, proposed as the first of a trilogy on happiness (?!), after he is hoist by his own petty schemes, Jimmy is philosophical: “In this line of work, you learn to take the bad with the really bad.”

  • Sex, Death, and the Beach Baby, by Kim Merrill, directed by Karen Carpenter
  • Mr. Marmalade, by Noah Haidle, directed by Ed Herendeen
  • Jazzland, by Keith Glover, directed by Ed Herendeen
  • Augusta, by Richard Dresser, directed by Lucie Tiberghien
  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.

Don’t call them Amish

Via Arts & Letters Daily, Stacey Chase visits Sabbathday Lake village in southern Maine, home to the last four surviving members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, otherwise known as the Shakers.

“I don’t know the mind of God,” [Brother Arnold] Hadd says. “However, I do believe that if we live in faith—as we do—that, as we have been called and chosen, there will always be others who will also be called and chosen to this life.”

Well, that clears that up

Kee Malesky chooses not to choose:

All transliterations of Arabic will be approximations, especially for vowel sounds. The NPR Foreign Desk prefers not to enforce one particular pronouncer for “Hezbollah” at this time. Our goal with pronouncers is clarity, and I don’t think that the variations cause anyone to be confused about what the word is, so I hope listeners are not distracted.

Old junk in new bottles

A new variant of Spanish prisoner/Nigerian 419 scam spam showed up today:

Good day to you, my name is Bill Jeffers, I am an artist with my wife Susan
Jeffers, and we are the owner of PORTFOLIO ARTWORKS INC I am from London,
United Kingdom with my two kids, four cats, one dog and the love of my life my
wife. It is definitely a full house. I have been doing artwork since i was a
small child.

* * *

…I’ve been
selling my Art and Craft works for over 3 years now and have had my works
featured on trading cards, prints and magazines.
I’m always facing serious difficulties when it comes to PAYMENTS, This is
because most of my customers in AMERICA are always offering to pay me with U.S
POSTAL MONEY ORDERS OR CASHER’S CHEQUE, and it is very difficult for me to cash

* * *

I am looking for a reliable commission agent who can help me receive payments
from my esteemed customers that I supply goods to in America.Your tasks are;
1. Receive payment from Customers
2. Cash Payment at your Bank
3. Deduct 7% which will be your percentage/pay on
Payment processed
4. Forward balance after deduction of percentage/pay
to any of the offices you will be contacted to send
payment to.(Payment is to be forwarded either by Money Grame or Western Union
Money Transfer).

It seems to me that if Bill doesn’t want to deal with a pesky CASHER’S CHEQUE, he could make arrangements with American Express. I even think they charge less than 7%.


As part of a gradual sprucing up, they’ve installed new tables in the Friendship Heights Booeymonger. In place of the funky butcher block tables with irregular tops that suggested organic molecules or a game of Pac-Man, there are tables with faux-stone laminate tops of various colors and textures and sturdy, rolled black edges. The new tables are very, very rectangular—uniform, characterless 4-tops throughout the place.

Four Mile Run Trail

This afternoon I finished my traversal (on foot) of the short but interesting Four Mile Run Trail. The trail is one of two connections for cyclists looking to get from the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail to Purcellville.

The path covers widely variable territory along its 7.5-mile length. The trailhead is in the neighborhood of the East Falls Church Metro station. In this stretch of Arlington, the trail serves to connect several county parks: ball fields and back yards. Although it’s very pleasant here, the trail can be hard to follow, because it intertwines with the W&OD as both trails cross and recross Four Mile Run, a rocky stream at this point—and the signage is inconsistent. Distance markers were once set every half mile, but a couple of them are missing. At points the trail is no wider nor any more level than a hiking trail, and this serves to divert bike traffic to the much busier W&OD.

At about mile 5, there is a complicated diversion onto city streets at Shirlington to take you to the overpass that spans an interchange of I-395 (the Shirley Highway), the multilane transitway that connects the heart of the city to all the suburbs to the south. Beyond that, the trail follows streets around the cozy brick community of Parkfairfax in Alexandria.

The last mile and a half of the trail follows the north shore of the channelized Run, which gradually widens out into an impressive floodplain. Before passing under U.S. Route 1 and Metro’s Blue/Yellow Lines and its connection to the Mount Vernon Trail at the airport, the trail passes a Dominion electrical substation and, perhaps most instructively, an Arlington County wastewater treatment plant. (Fortunately, the plant was nearly odorless on this hot summer day.) The Run, perhaps 50 m across now, entices a few shoreline fishermen, as it empties into the tidal Potomac River.