Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 2

There’s much to like in Michael Weller’s solo piece for John Keabler, irrespective of what you think of the evolving political views of Ronald Reagan—from admirer of FDR to speaker for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Keabler has the mannerisms and physicality, playing Reagan as much as a gangly kid as statesman.

The framing device for the play is an imagined interview for a magazine, while the last moments of Reagan’s life slip away from him on his hospital bed. (In Reagan’s fever dream, he is still the good-looking young man who is Keabler.) This allows Reagan to control the flow, so his story unspools as a greatest hits compilation, with good mini re-enactments of his film roles. That is to say, when Reagan’s late life dementia allows him to remember. Unfortunately, the interview trope gets in the way, requiring Reagan for much of the work to maintain focus on the interviewer, who seems to be sitting in the aisle of Studio 112’s seating, about two rows back.

Weller’s script is salted with nuggets of current affairs irony, as when Reagan rails against the idea of a wall (in his case, the one in Berlin) being the solution to security problems, or when he despairs of Russians in D.C. guiding policy.

People and places from Reagan’s past are subtly suggested by monochrome screen projections by Christopher Erbe and Taran Schatz—very fine work.

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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 1

Bekah Brunstetter’s sugary, crinkly comedy could not be more contemporary: Jen (the effervescent Kelly Gibson), a young woman living in Brooklyn, returns to her family home in North Carolina. Engaged to the more bottled-up Macy (the poised, not strident Monet), Jen hopes that her wedding cake will be prepared by family friend and bakery proprietor Della. Della (the adventurous Erika Rofsrud), even more family than friend, holds to her traditional Christian religious mores; she has been brought up to “follow the directions until I die.” She balks at creating the confection—this despite her professed belief that the solution to war is to bake a personal cake for each combatant.

The Cake takes all of its principals through emotional journeys and change (for that matter, Lee Sellars’ dour Tim the plumber goes through some changes himself), but most strongly changed is Della. Her late monologue is harrowing, finding deep notes of aching and repressed feelings of shame. Della also gets the best comic lines of the show. No fan of gluten-free baking, she once tasted such a cake and says that it made the back of her mouth feel like it did after a good cry. And this, quoted by audience members in the lobby: when challenged by Tim that lesbianism is not natural, she replies, “Neither is confectioner’s sugar.”

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A milestone: 7

I happened to be checking a report and discovered that I had recently passed an important (to me) milestone with Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, formerly Recording for the Blind): 2,000 volunteer hours, the equivalent of one year of 40 hours/week service. It took me almost 24 years to get there, and I’m pretty chuffed about it.

I started with open reel analog recording, made the transition to digital, and moved into virtual studio recording. And the new editions of textbooks keep coming.

On to 2,500 hours!

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At the park: 96

My final report for the ducks and mergs team this season:

Well, our box score for the season shows a lot of at-bats but not too many runs across the plate. The mergansers started 10 clutches but only hatched 4; the Wood Ducks started 5 but only completed 1. We had evidence of predation in only 1 box (raccoon, #60). A possible hypothesis to explain the high rate of nest abandonment by the mergansers is simply that there were too many birds chasing scarce resources.

The egg and hatchling counts are similarly depressed: 139 eggs laid by the Hooded Mergansers, with 52 hatched (37%); 34 eggs laid by the Wood Ducks, with 7 hatched (21%). Summary worksheet from our monitoring.

A recap of the boxes: I applied some insulating foam to patch gaps in boxes #1 and #3. Boxes #4 and #7 should be replaced. A map of nest box locations.

box 5, duringbox 5, afterTiny little box #5 was put to good use this year! It was the site of our single successful Wood Duck nest. During (10 June) at left and after (24 June) at right.

Monitors, thank you for all your help!

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

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Maine birding recap

I put together a cumulative list for my two Maine birding festivals this year, and it’s not bad: 89 species. A surprising number of flycatcher species (six) and a respectable count of wood warblers (fourteen).

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Botticelli in the Fire

Woolly closes its distinctly uneven season with the sound Botticelli in the Fire, a fantasia on the life of 15th-century Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. In Jordan Tannahill’s reimagining, Botticelli (company rising star Jon Hudson Odom) is rampantly bisexual, carrying on with both his patron’s wife and a young gifted painter from Vinci named Leonardo. Sumptuous period costumes intermingle with overt anachronisms—text messages, peanut butter sandwiches.

Cody Nickell is well placed as the rich and powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici, while Craig Wallace is even more powerful as Girolamo Savonarola, imagined here as a street preacher elevated to savior of Florence, from the twin depredations of plague and licentiousness. Indeed, the power games played by both characters have unsettling resonances with current events.

Forced by Savonarola to choose between art and love, Botticelli makes the expected choice. But there’s something missing here, in the text or elsewhere: Leonardo is young and beautiful and talented, granted, but his gift seems insufficient motivation for Botticelli’s sacrifice.

Christian Frederickson’s excellent sound design is matched by Colin K. Bills’ chiaroscuro lighting.

  • Botticelli in the Fire, by Jordan Tannahill, directed by Marti Lyons, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
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Acadia Birding Festival 2018

on itJeepers, a great number of guides for ABF events to thank: Don Lima, David Ladd, Doug Suitor, Fyn Kynd, Fred Yost, Michael Retter, Bill Sheehan, Margaret Viens, Ed Hawkes, George Armistead, and the crew and staff of the Friendship V—as well as all the other guides aboard the boat.

target islandOur target birds for the pelagic trip out of Bar Harbor were pretty much the same as those for the trip out of Cutler the week before, and the alcids duly made their appearances. Guides also spotted a lone Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) at Petit Manan Island (lifer), and Marsall Iliff found a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) on the way there (tropical mega-lifer).

bonus bonus lightbonus lightOn the return, we scooted past Mount Desert Rock (its light, at left) and Great Duck Island (its light, at right).

one more lightWith a little time before lunch, to continue the theme, I drove my car down to Bass Harbor Head to photograph its light.

larderNear to Otter Cliffs, we picked up a couple of female Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra). I am gratified to report that I first saw (but did not identify) the birds fly into these White Spruces (Picea glauca), which look a little raggedy at the top with cones but no green branches. Apparently that was exactly the sort of tree the hungry birds were looking for.

getting the search imageI saw a lot of Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and eventually got the jizz of this rather common plant, with its single bare stem rising two and a half feet before sending out any leaves.

tricky focusMore bogs and bog specialty plants! This sketchy image of Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), a sedge, is from Orono Bog.

On the whole, the weather was very cooperative for both trips. I didn’t see rain until a layover in Boston on my return drive. Now that I look back at my trails map of Acadia National Park, I realize that I saw a lot of Mount Desert Island, but there’s still so much more to explore. I added nine birds to my ABA Area life list, running my total up to 423. Missed the Spruce Grouse, and I was disappointed not to find a Black-legged Kittiwake.

one for Callanand another for CallanOoh, and some Friday Fold candidates for Callan Bentley. These boulders were on the shore of Western Bay in the Indian Point Blagden Preserve.

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Enroute: 16

always stop for cable-stayedI should bumper-sticker Della with the warning, “I brake for cable-stayed bridges.” This is the Penobscot Narrows Bridge: I’m standing on the approach on the Verona Island side; Prospect is at the other end. You can just make out the windows of the observation deck at the top of the far tower.

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Enroute: 15

unexpectedBetween festivals, I stopped by Thuya Garden and Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor — two lovely spots. The framing of the views in Asticou is exquisite. I figured out that Moosewood is the Down East name for our Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). This was the first one that I’d seen in flower.

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Down East Spring Birding Festival 2018

winkLots of sights and sounds and smells at the festival. A Maine-sized thank you to trip leaders Fred Galenski, Amy Zipperer, Woody Gillies, Maury Mills, Amy Meehan, Bill Kolodnicki, Susan Cline, and Capt. Andy Patterson of the Barbara Frost, who took us on a safe but thrilling ride to Machias Seal Island for the first lifers of my trip.

best shoton the wingMy big target for this trip was Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), but upon further inspection, I find the thin white lines on a Razorbill (Alca torda) more appealing.

hanging outI’ve seen Common Murres (Uria aalge) before, but only in the Pacific, so the bridled form (peculiar to the Atlantic) was new to me.

looking for flycatchersBack on land, Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) was new to my ABA Area list (#419), a pleasant surprise when I compiled my notes from a visit to the Edmunds Unit of Moosehorn NWR. Guides pointed out the bird along this alder-lined stream. In the Barings Unit of the refuge, we heard Whip-Poor-Will (Caprimulgus vociferus) responding to recordings (no tick for me, since I don’t count heard-only birds).

unseenon the beachI was prepared to see craggy shores and tumultuous headlands, as at West Quoddy Head

foreground for scaleand Campobello Island, but

yumdrinkI wasn’t expecting an abundance of bogs and bog-specialty plants: Baked-apple Berry (Rubus chamaemorus) and Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). Nor was I expecting to see bluets blooming like weeds in people’s yards.

target speciesthere you areI was looking specifically for Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and found it in several places. Guides also pointed out Starflower (Trientalis borealis), as well as

little guysa clump of Alder Leaf Beetles (Agelastica alni). A rather larger animal, a Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), crossed the road in front of me on my way to the dock at Cutler. In the category of even-larger mammals, we saw Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) and one or two Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) on the way back from Machias Seal Island.

strongly interruptedInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) is common here (as at home): I’ve never seen such strong color difference between the spore-bearing part of the plant and the rest of it.

Mystery lichen of the trip was a bright orange species, particularly fond of calcium-rich stone, like those used in the Lubec town cemetery.

Bonus francophone music for the road provided by ICI Musique.

Still working on a cumulative bird species tally for the trip.

nice tealyipes stripesAnd I do like my lighthouses: Little River Light at left, West Quoddy Head Light at right.

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A mystery: 13

Our American Cousin, by Tom Taylor, Act II, Scene 2:

Enter, from R. 2 E., SIR E., MRS. M., … two servants in livery, carrying tray and glasses, a wine basket containing four bottles to represent champagne, knife to cut strings, some powerful acid in one bottle for ASA—pop sure. (p. 31, Samuel French ed.)

What in Fox’s name is meant by pop sure? And, unless I missed something, that bottle of acid is never used.

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DeLillo decoded

If ever there was a book that needed an explanatory wiki, it’s Ratner’s Star (1976):

He was watching her bend the edges of a paper plate someone had left on the table. Again and again she folded the plate so that a different point on the circumference of the circle touched the same ketchup speck every time, a small stain located well off-center. She kept studying the resulting creases. (p. 53)

The creases form an ellipse, as Dr. Math explains.

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At the park: 95

From my most recent report:

The not-so-good news is that five of our boxes showed no evidence of incubation, with eggs that had been laid four weeks prior — so we cleaned out those boxes. The much-better news is that we have new nests started in box #6 and our studio apartment, box #5. Box #6 would be a second brood, if it comes to term — it’s only one egg at present. We also have two, possibly three, nests still incubating.

* * *

A recent BirdNote featured Frank Bellrose and one of our favorite ducks: https://www.birdnote.org/show/frank-bellrose-and-wood-ducks

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Ka-chunk

Languagehat takes on the naval neologism geedunk. My post to the comment thread:

I had a colleague who was in the Navy in the 1990s; he was stationed, among other places, on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. He taught me “gee-dunk” (pronounced as a spondee) as a word for a break room, a place with a coffee machine, a table or two, and a couple of vending machines. Not at all the ice cream parlor of swankier years. His etymology, or perhaps the etymology that was handed down to him, was that “gee-dunk” was the sound of working the vending machine: the sound of pulling and releasing the knob, and the ka-chunk sound of the sweet and salty treat falling to the bottom tray.

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Fifth member of the quartet

The role of sound design in professional live theater, a podcast episode produced by James Introcaso.

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