Julia Franz visits the 8,000 acre Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest.

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Come from Away

Come from Away is a celebration of the profound act of kindness performed by the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, when 38 aircraft were diverted to its airport on 11 September 2001. For nearly a week, this community of fewer than 10,000 souls opened its homes and shelters to the stranded passengers from those flights.

The ensemble-driven musical tells, by composites, some of the many tales that these travelers have to tell; it doesn’t shy away from stories of loss (the penultimate number “Something’s Missing”) or of irrational fears (an Egyptian sojourner is eyed nervously), but it is fundamentally a play about sharing and hope. Generally fast-paced (the transition into a brief scene set in the maelstrom of an air traffic control tower on that horrid day is electric), there are brief moments when everything comes to dead stop for comedy—as you would, for instance, when a moose ambles in front of your bus. A revolve is used to good effect, giving the characters of Nick and Diane a way to stroll along the cliffs of the Dover Fault (“Stop the World”) while the cast scurries about placing chairs for them to step to. Most importantly, it’s a show that calls for an ensemble of mostly character actors, notably Astrid Van Wieren’s welcoming schoolmaster Beulah, Joel Hatch’s suite of local mayors, and Geno Carr’s slightly befuddled local constable.

The music is traditional Maritimes folk music with a strong rock and roll bottom—if not particularly challenging, it’s certainly rousing. It stirs the emotions.

  • Come from Away, book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley, Ford’s Theatre, Washington
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Allison Considine drops in on Contemporary American Theater Festival’s flurry of five plays in repertory each summer, with emphasis on the tech elements.

As playwright [Ronan] Noone put it, “One play is collaborative. Five plays is just…I don’t know if there is a word for it.”

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Applying market-oriented techniques to allocate resources where there is no market: how can we get food bank donations to the charities that need them most? Sendhil Mullainathan summarizes a points-based approach.

Markets report such dispersed information in the form of prices. Feeding America, for example, was surprised to see pasta at one point trading for 116 times the price of fresh vegetables. That was revealing data. In hindsight, it made sense: Vegetables spoil rapidly, which is why food companies donated them freely; pasta, with its longer shelf life, was a rarer commodity, as far as donations go.

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Angels in America

A short post to call out just a couple of the exceptionally strong elements of the Round House/Olney Theatre Center joint production:

Jon Hudson Odom is delightful as Belize; Dawn Ursula’s keening as the Angel is other-worldly. The production relies much on fun projections by Clint Allen and lights by York Kennedy: the arrival of the Angel, the alien streetscape of San Francisco, the talking dummies at the Mormon visitor center.

  • Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, by Tony Kushner, directed by Jason Loewith and Ryan Rilette, Round House Theatre and Olney Theatre Center, Bethesda, Maryland
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Quoted in this blog several years ago, even more apposite now:

ROY COHN. So send me my pills, with a get-well bouquet, PRONTO, or I’ll ring up CBS and sing Mike Wallace a song: (Sotto voce, with relish) the ballad of adorable Ollie North and his secret contra slush fund. (He holds the phone away from his ear; Martin is excited.) Oh you only think you know all I know. I don’t even know what all I know. Half the time I just make it up, and it still turns out to be true!

—Tony Kushner, Angels in America: Perestroika, Act 1 (“Spooj”) sc. 5
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Happy and healthy

Jennifer Diaz is the first female head carpenter in IATSE Local 1. Caitlyn Kelly watches her load in to the Walter Kerr.


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In transit

Joe Palca takes a ride on the personal rapid transit system on the University of West Virginia campus at Morgantown. The system was built in the 1960s-70s.

The concept feels strangely familiar. Somewhere in my boxes of files from B school I may have some lecture notes from Russell Ackoff. I seem to recollect that he had done some consulting on the psychology of transit riders that led him to promote the idea of small transit pods. In his view, what transit riders valued more than speed, or reliability, or short headways, was the ability to control who they shared a vehicle with. Hence, big city busses, not so popular; private automobiles, very desirable.

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The key

Now I know what those gizmos stuck to the sides of office buildings are for, and what they’re called: Knox boxes.

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“Why Some Wars Get More Attention Than Others,” by Amanda Taub.

Conflicts gain sustained American attention only when they provide a compelling story line that appeals to both the public and political actors, and for reasons beyond the human toll. That often requires some combination of immediate relevance to American interests, resonance with American political debates or cultural issues, and, perhaps most of all, an emotionally engaging frame of clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys.

Most wars — including those in South Sudan, Sri Lanka and, yes, Yemen — do not, and so go ignored.

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W is a mystery until you zoom in

From Molly Young and Teddy Blanks, a periodic table of New York street trash.

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Wild and scenic

Dan Pletscher remembers wildlife biologist John Craighead, in conversation with John Burnham.

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And then there’s this

Artists are repurposing Solari boards.


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VNPS 2016: Wildwood Park

very wet meadowsharpRyley Harris led last Sunday’s walk through Wildwood Park in the City of Radford. The park lies on both sides of Connelly’s Run, as it flows roughly north to the New River; the stream lies at the bottom of an abrupt gorge that once separated the two halves of the city. Seeps and other flows provide wet meadow conditions along the hike-bike trail. At left you can see Impatiens capensis (I. pallida is also found here), a Solidago, an ironweed (Vernonia), Queen-Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), and Cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior) (and in closeup). Also along this path were the remnants of the preposterously-leaved, square-stemmed Cup Plant(Silphium perfoliatum).

lushlush, tooOn the far slope of the gorge, it was another day for looking at lush, leafy green ground cover: Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) (left) and Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) (right).

mystery lepThis mystery caterpillar (maybe an Banded Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha fasciatus): the book says that they show a lot of color variation as they prepare to pupate) also made an appearance.

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Birdchick remembers Dr. Paul Strange.

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