Nick Gandiello’s “The Wedge Horse”: notes and comments

I’m going to recommend you see a play that I haven’t seen — in fact I’m going to strongly recommend you see it. And I’m not going to tell you what it’s about.  I know what it’s about because I’ve read it.  But I won’t tell you.

The play is “The Wedge Horse” and it’s at the Fault Line Theater in NYC. And you should go see it.

I will tell you that I’m familiar with Nick’s work.  A couple of years back I attended a reading of Nick’s “Black Fly Spring” — a powerful piece of work about love and grief and self-deception. The play (at that time) needed development. Some of the characters were not as transparent as they could be, and the work deserves to be completely clear. Because above all Nick wants to audience to get the play, to go with the characters where they are going, to see the world from their eyes.

I will tell you “The Wedge Horse” is a powerful, beautiful piece of work.  The characters are so human — stubborn, willful, strong, needy.  They are fragile, and they suffer.  And they struggle to find their balance. They are full of compassion. And deception and heroism. They will break your heart — and give you tremendous hope.

And that’s the reason to go: because Nick is writes about people in a way that makes them seem so real — all the trivial mundane silliness mixed up with all the glorious marvelous aspirations to heaven and passion and oneness.  And he’s barely out of high school.

He delivers compassion and insight — and he’s not fully grown.  He’s perhaps 30, looks younger.  He’s a child — a kid.  And he’s writing with the kind of insights that strong mature adults possess.  This young man — this KID — is the real deal.  He works hard at his craft.  He teaches others.  He celebrates the accomplishments of others. He suffers for his sanity. You can tell this by the way he writes. No one as young as he is should be able to write the way he writes. But he does. He aspires to greatness.  And he wants you to go with him.

You should go see “The Wedge Horse” because you will get in on the ground floor of a talent that has the strength to get there –the there all writers want to get to — not just to be successful, but relevant.  He’s going to go to the the place where compassion and wisdom exist — and he wants you to go there with him.

A playwright’s playwright, who writes in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I’ve never met him.  No go see his play.




Posted in Commentary, Plays, Reviews | Leave a comment

Making Light Comedy Fest: notes and comments

Comedy seems to me to be an amazing cultural phenomena.   In what other segment of the natural world do we see “comedy” other then in human beings?  Not just that, how far along in cultural development does a culture have to be so that it can support a whole class of specialists whose job it is is to be “funny”?  And what is that, exactly — “funny”?


Making Light Comedy Poster

So I think the closest endeavour to “comedian” is probably “shaman.”  Any culture advanced enough to support shamans can probably support comedians.

But what about being “funny” — what is that?  What was it about the comedians who performed at the “Making Light Comedy Fest” that made them funny? I think it’s perspective.

Now my perspective was that I was in the second row and the stage was right in front of me so what I saw when I kept my head neutral was Alicia Dattner’s knees.  So that’s my view of Alicia Dattner, she has great knees.  Some of the the other performers were taller, so I got familiar with their shins.  Of course when I tilted my head a bit I could see a more complete person.  That’s kind of funny, isn’t it?

Anyway, perspective: when Swami Beyondananda says that “In the future time will be a thing of the past” the juxtaposition of the rational words and the irrational context is funny.  When DJ Blissballs strings together every possible new age cliché ever known into one long Wagnerian prayer cycle — it’s funny.  Kate Willet’s discussion of the cultural and biological issues of sex at Burning Man — a microcosm of gender relations without the inertia and confines of day-to-day life — is funny.  Ann Randolph’s allusions to the business cycle of fellatio as seen by a crack addict, as well as personal hygiene issues that go along with addiction, is funny.   When Scott Grace invokes Dr. Suess’s whimsical style as a wisdom-rap-anthology of our angst ridden culture, it’s funny.  Just to name a few.

The juxtaposition of the familiar rational with the unexpected irrational — the mixing and juggling of contexts — is funny.  Along with the insights, the metaphors and innuendos.  We recognize the connections of things that are not usually connected.  And it’s funny.

Every one of these people were funny. But not just “funny”, but so out of the ordinary that we need a word that describes a larger magnitude of “funny” — let’s say hilarious.

And when something is “funny,” we laugh.  We are lost in the moment, tensions are released, and we feel better.  And even after the laughter is over, we can enjoy a sense that we know something more about who we are. We change our perspective, just a little, here and there, and we can see the world differently.

Thanks to all the comedians who performed. It was a great evening.


Posted in Commentary, Reviews | Leave a comment

Nicholas Thurkettle’s “Stages of Sleep”: notes and comments

Nicholas Thurkettle’s writing is finely tuned. Immediate, lyrical, and lean.  His work has elements of various American short-story masters — Damon Runyon comes to mind.  So does O. Henry. And particularly Ray Bradbury.

In “Stages Of Sleep” Thurkettle offers up 15 stories, some of them are absolutely brilliant and some of them are whimsical and some of them are farcical and far-fetched.  All of them are disciplined and well conceived.  All of them have a sense of immediacy, and involvement.

He manages to get a tremendous amount of force and emotion in the work without being cloying or reaching too far.  And he manages to convey the idea that he really, really, really loves writing. And he manages all this and still avoids the trap of self-indulgence.

Nicholas Thurkettle’s “Stages Of Sleep” is a triumph for self-publishing. Available on Amazon. You can see more of Nicholas Thurkettle on his Twitter page and Facebook page.

Please note that I received a review copy directly from the Author.

Posted in Commentary, Reviews | 1 Comment

Celebration Arts production of Mark St. Germain’s “Best of Enemies”: notes and comments

Celebration Arts production of Mark St. Germain’s “Best of Enemies” is full of vigor and energy — the word that comes to mind is explosive.  Two characters — a white racist named “C.P. Ellis” (Chris Lamb) and a black civil rights activist named “Ann Atwater” (Voress Franklin) are murderously hateful.  They are barely kept in check by “Bill Riddick” (Maszaba Carter), a professional facilitator and community organizer.  Occasionally C.P. is kept in check by his wife, “Mary Ellis” (Amy Williams), but not very often; at least not until the end of the play.

The story is based on real characters, circa 1971 in Durham, North Carolina (based on the book “Best of Enemies” by Osha Gray Davidson.)  Even if were completely fictional, the story has the ring of truth — a composite of all the moments of grief and anger and fear that human beings are capable of.  I saw it first hand growing up outside of Detroit in the 70s.

The setting is minimal — threadbare really.  When one considers how much big-ness is packed onto that tiny stage, with only a folding table, a couple of chairs, some old phones — that’s when it really stands out how really good the theater is at what it does.

Without giving away too much, what the plays reveals is how two people who would, if they could, would have ripped each other limb from limb, come to grips with their anger, and establish a working relationship, and eventually a mutual respect.

One could say the play is “about” racism, which is not untrue.  But for me the play was about identity.   There is a moment in the play when C.P. Ellis relates that, prior to meeting Ann Atwater, the defining moment of his life was been initiated into the KKK, and subsequently becoming a Grand Cyclops. For Ann Atwater, the “moment” was the revelation of how decades of emotional torment and heartbreak lead to the development of a fiery rage against the political forces of oppression.

What helps to  redefine the identity of both characters is the acceptance that each of them has a distinct history, a perspective, and something to contribute.  The catalysts are a patient, ambitious community organizer, and a wife who sees the good in a man that is really twisted around a flawed set of prejudices and fears.

Watching this happen on stage is good theater.

Posted in Plays | Leave a comment

Elisabeth Nunziato’s production of Maurice Robie’s “Stolen Moments”: notes and comments

Elisabeth Nunziato’s production of Maurice Robie’s  “Stolen Moments” has something every movie wants to achieve, but often doesn’t: authenticity and a natural in-the-moment feel.

There is something about this film I can’t quite express in words, except to say it has an “aura” — the city-scapes are mundane and beautiful at the same time.  The characters are common but extraordinary.  The story is familiar but really draws one in. And I think that’s the key to a great movie: the mundane is rendered into the sublime.

The acting is so natural and real that it’s fun to watch. No nonsense, in character, on time and in the moment.

I wish I had seen it on a bigger screen.  (ah well — 42 inch plasma just isn’t good enough anymore!)

So I’m a bit biased in my comments here, because I live in the vicinity where this movie was made.  And it was fun seeing people I know playing characters in the movie.  But I’ll take my chances.

The story is about a young man (Anthony D’Juan as “Eric”) with something of a dead end life; he has a job he doesn’t like, works for a man (“Clayton” played by Dave Pierini)  he knows isn’t trustworthy, he’s taking people’s money under false pretenses — people who really don’t have any money to spare.  His coworkers are harmless enough, but the emotional impact of their idiosyncrasies and self-absorbed clumsiness is making him crazy.  In other words he’s leading a petty existence, nickel and diming his way through his day, surrounded by mediocrity, and damning himself in the process.  Pathetic. But he has a light inside that starts to shine when he lands a job in an adult-education school.

The light gets brighter when he meets a really daring, outgoing free spirit named “Elisabeth” (Brittni Barger.)  He has a love affair with her, but the wind changes direction and the fire goes out, he meets “Erin” (Danielle Moné Truitt) and finds some compassion, and some honesty, but less fire. But the wind changes direction and the fire is back. And he makes a choice.

The style of movie-making is what one might call a collection of moments, viewpoints, and interactions, bound together by the common characters and their actions.  That can work, or fail.  I think for this film it works.

Stolen Moments” is now available on Amazon.





Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Virago Theater Company’s Production of Catherine Trieschmann’s Crooked: notes and comments

Virago Theater Company’s production of Catherine Trieschmann’s “Crooked”  at The Flight Deck in Oakland was outstanding.   The acting was spot on, vigorous, and relentless — made more so because one of the actors — Isadora Cass (as “Maribel”) is thirteen years old.  Her transformation into Maribel was astounding. Her counterpart, “Laney” was played by Jamella Cross, a young actor who captures all the nuances of prodigy, self-conscious pain, and exibits the kind of willpower one would expect from a more mature actor. Angela Dant plays Laney’s mother, “Elise.”  Dant’s portrayal of is vivid and natural: Elise is competent, hard working, rational, aware of social distinctions, and suffering from the emotional distress of having to deal with a marriage broken by her former’ husband’s deterioration.  Her desire to be nurturing is offset by her fatigue.

“Crooked” is a play about madness.  Not exactly raving madness, but the more quiet kind — the common madness that occurs in ordinary people who are mostly honest.  But for the characters in “Crooked”, their grip on sanity — which is to say their confidence in the sanctity of the world around them — is shattered by a combination of forces: puberty, Satan, mental illness, and finally, Jesus and salvation.

That last force being particularly brutal. Because the problem with salvation is this: it requires honesty.  Jesus loves you, and he dies for your sins, not just once but every time we harm each other.  But dishonesty not only prevents  salvation, it prevents even the very vision of the thing.

The title “Crooked” refers to Laney’s twisted spine, a medical condition caused by, as she puts it, “muscles working against each other.”  She has a sharp wit, a bruised ego, and a vivid imagination.  She has a gift for writing, which is her last defense against the world around her. Her mother, Elise, is a kind-hearted person exhausted by her ex-husband’s mental illness and her daughter’s pension for dramatic expression.  In turn Laney resents her Mother’s abandonment of her father.  Maribel, portrayed as a backwards simpleton with a childish religious fanaticism, falls headfirst into Laney’s world.

Once the two girls discover their mutual resentment at being outcasts, they enter into a mismatched friendship.  Maribel’s simplicity is offset by Laney’s brilliance.  Laney’s manipulative bullying is offset by Maribel’s desire to offer up salvation.  Maribel is obsessed with stigmata, Laney is obsessed with lyrical expression. Maribel’s concept of the healing powers of Jesus — actually quite beautiful in it’s honesty — is offset by Laney’s muscular cynicism.  And with all that emotional overhead they both struggle with the chaos of sexuality.

Watching these two girls reminded me of the doomed friendship of George and Lenny in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Maribel’s abject sadness when Laney’s conversion and acceptance of Christ doesn’t seem to work is a marvel — she takes Laney’s sin on her shoulders.  And in a moment of remarkable insight, played almost as an aside to the audience, she sagely points out that Satan is a metaphor for the evil people do to each other, and from that arises all sin.

Through all this Elise struggles to maintain the will to think everything will turn out all right. That Laney’s power of observation and emotional cataloging can be controlled.  She does what every mother tries to do: forgive her teenage daughter’s rebellion.  She has a glass of wine, tries to be witty, wants to be her daughter’s friend.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Crooked” was expertly staged, marvelously directed by Robert Lundy-Paine, the acting was brilliant.  The show is currently closed, but rumor has it may get another run soon.

Posted in Plays, Reviews | Leave a comment

Virago Theater’s production of William Bivins’ “Ransom, Texas” at the Tides Theater: notes and comments

William Bivins’ “Ransom, Texas” reminds me of Oedipus Rex turned inside out– a Greek tragedy with a distinctly Western accent.  There are no women in the play, except as references, and it shows: not a hint of femininity anywhere.  The world condensed down to two men, fighting, as John Steinbeck once said, like terriers. In a very, very small, dingy room full of old papers, photos, and a very heavy, ponderous desk.Ransom_1_K45C7729_scale1

Like all power struggles, this one rests on the delusion that if you have control of some external thing, you have power.  Delusion begets delusion — the two men are drowning in deceit and treachery. It’s never quite clear who is actually lying, or about what, until the end, and then it doesn’t really matter, because the subterfuge is just another posture that hides the truth: a young man wants what an old man has, and the old man, steeped in pain, tries to warn him off.  And at the same time draws him in. And the young man goes willingly.  Is that fate? Or simply the nature of the beast?

Dixon Phillips plays the father, Vern  — by turns a wise man, a hateful  braggart, a liar, a man of deep truth, violent, tender.  A generation ago he had the same struggle with his father.  He knows the past and the future. He has a love-hate relationship with himself, and he sees himself in his son.

Damien Seperi plays Bruce, a deceptively gentile young man, Vern’s son.  He is by turns mild, cajoling, pleading, whining, violent, perceptive, a loving husband and father, treacherous and every bit as ambitious as Vern.  Full of desire. He knows little of the past, and his vision of the future is dimly lit.  His journey into himself is only beginning.  He loves his father, but wants to displace him. He naively believes himself to be different from his father.Ransom_2_K45C7803_scale1

And they do appear at first to be very different — Damien’s accent (which I took to be Castilian), soft demeanor, refined modernity.  Opposed to Vern’s roughness, his crude speech, his old world manners and combative nature.

No two men could appear to be less alike and yet be the same — possessed of a destructive need to rule. To be supreme.  The only difference is that one man knows the cost and the other doesn’t.

It’s that discovery of the cost that makes this play work.  At 70 minutes it feels like 15.  Tense, terse and unremitting.  The acting is brilliant, the staging perfect.

Produced by Virago Theater, directed by Jon Tracy.  “Ransom, Texas” will be  playing at the Theatre Asylum in Los Angeles, Jan 9-25, 2015.

Photos of  Damien Seperi and Dixon Phillips by by Luis A. Solorzano courtesy of Virago Theater. 

Posted in Plays, Reviews | Leave a comment

Living in a post CrossFit world

I think CrossFit has been discussed so much, and with such vigor, that we can finally say (or ought to be able to say) we’re done now let’s move on.  Which is not to say CrossFit is over, or passe, or it won’t continue.

But by now most people have heard of it, and seen “A” list publications talk about it.  It has become a fad, and now it’s time for that to stop.  Because there isn’t any real need (anymore) to create a fad for fitness.  We have, collectively I think, gotten the point.

Which is to say, we know we want “fitness.”  The larger problem is that “fitness” seems to be defined in different ways.  I’ve come to believe that “fitness” is metabolic conditioning plus mobility.  Metabolic conditioning is a glamorous way of saying one can do burpees without too much trouble.  Mobility means full range of motion in all four limbs and being able to squat.  Beyond that, I don’t think it matters.  How many burpees or how many squats depends on the individual.

So CrossFit is dangerous.  So is farm labor — which is really what CrossFit is: an abstract form of farm labor for people who have desk jobs.  It’s “functional fitness” — all that running, stepping, rowing, sledge hammer swinging, and lifting of heavy objects.  Well yes, it is functional, which doesn’t confer anything special.  But one does notice that moving about and lifting heavy stuff does seem to have a reward.  It’s merely a question of what one is after.

And perhaps because of that particular style of  functionality — which tends to fly in the face of “exercise”, which seems to have a specific purpose but nothing to do with “function” — CrossFit is said to be dangerous. And (furthermore) it has been said — over and over — that CrossFit cannot be made safe because the activities are inherently dangerous, or the idea of adding the dimension of time creates danger, or the idea of “constantly varied” is wrong, and there are safer ways to get “fit.”

Well I would agree with one thing for sure:  saying the CrossFit Games defines the “fittest” people on Earth is misleading.  I think what it defines is some really talented athletes.  I suspect that the fittest people on Earth are the acrobats in Cirque du Soleil.  But that’s just my opinion.

But I wouldn’t say CrossFit cannot be made safe.  Because CrossFit is a list of physical attributes:  accuracy, agility, balance, coordination, cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, flexibility, power, strength, speed and stamina.  What is “unsafe” is how those goals are being met. But CrossFit isn’t dogmatic on that point.  A person is free to construct their own workout methods to meet those goals.

Which brings us around to my version of “CrossFit.” Most of the work I’ve been doing for the last year or so has been more like physical therapy then anything anybody would call “CrossFit.” A combination of back problems, shoulder problems, and weak core required me to step away from weights, and some body- weight, exercises. So I had to figure out what works for me. It took a a while.

These days I do some really simple workouts:  ski-erg, a stationary bike, some heavy ropes, light kettle-bell, slam balls, wall balls and some rowing.  In other words I focus on whole-body exercises.  I could use any number of variations of these basic exercises to achieve the intensity I’m looking for.

I found that a series of  3-2-1 of: flipping heavy ropes 15 times, 10lb wall ball 10 times, then 500m on the ski-erg and a half-mile on the stationary bike, (then back to ropes and wall-balls) is quite a work out. It took me 37 minutes.  Not that I was in a hurry.

I also do a variation of “Cindy”: 3 pullups, 6 pushups, and 9 squats (with a 8kg kettlebell), then some  variation of heavy rope flipping or ski-erg, or slam balls or rowing.  Anything that gets me 20 to 40 minutes.

None of these activities requires any particular skill, and as long as I apply basic ideas on keeping my core tight I won’t get hurt.  Risk is absolutely minimal. And yes it’s CrossFit. And even if it’s not, I don’t care.

I’m moving, using my body to it’s fullest extent, and I’m improving my overall conditioning. That ought to be enough for anybody whose ambition is get strong and stay injury free.

CrossFit has raised awareness to the possibilities, got people off their couches and into a dynamic physical space. and generally opened up useful discussions.  I think that’s a good thing.  What comes next is up to the CrossFit community.


Posted in Crossfit Diaries | Leave a comment

Celebration Arts production of David Mamet’s “Race”: notes and comments

I’ve been thinking lately that it’s really quite easy to convince someone of something they already believe to be true.  The reason I came to that conclusion, and why such an obvious truism should need to be restated, will be come clear in a moment.

But let me offer up a comment about belief.  One of the most iconic movies about race and racism was Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” — and one might think (as I did for years) that it served as a beacon of reason, of passionate regard for our need to change.  I’ve come to doubt that it was that at all; but rather it was a piece of propaganda — and for all it’s glory it did not change anyone’s mind about anything.  I think it’s quite rare that anyone is ever reasoned out of a belief.

Which is not to say it wasn’t useful: it served to allow a whole generation of people to say — “that’s how I feel!”, and then politicians could use that as an exit poll of sorts to craft legislation that responded to the mass of feelings uncovered — a wall of desire to change the way people regarded each other.  As it so happens I enjoyed the movie, and “believed” in it — but I think time has revealed not everyone did.  And some things have not changed.

And that brings us around to Celebration Arts production of David Mamet’s “Race.”  Four actors — Rob Anthony Gray, Gregory Smith, Chis Lamb and Alana Matthews play three attorneys and one man (Greg Smith) accused of raping a black woman.  The white man, one Charles Strickland, is a hapless patsy who seems to have a fetish for black women.  The lead attorney is a Jewish white man, Jack Lawson, a man with what one might call a streak of idealism tempered by a wider streak of cynicism, Rob Anthony Gray plays the junior partner Henry Brown, a black man with no idealism but a marvelously healthy pragmatism (and some righteous indignation.) Alana Matthews plays a young attorney, Susan, recently brought on board to start her career.  Her idealism has a very slow burn, but when it ignites it’s quite hot.  White hot, as it turns out.

As the evidence is presented in the play, it appears that Charles Strickland didn’t rape anyone.  It’s not clear that he didn’t, but it’s less clear that he did.  But the very idea that he was having a relationship with a black woman, made all the worse that she might be a prostitute, is a formula for bad press.  Which the play is full of.  Because it’s bad enough for a white man to have a fetish for black women, but to pay one to submit to one’s carnal ambitions is — well, racism.  Isn’t it?

The play was well staged and very well acted.  A marvelous fun thing to watch, in spite of the content — terse, quick, well timed, intense.  I really enjoyed it.

But I couldn’t quite say that the play was about race or racism.  Then I would tell myself, well yes it has to be.  Because there are some black people who are angry with a white man.  Then I would argue myself out of that and say, well really what we have here is really lies, deceit, and betrayal. Happens all the time, right? How is that racism?

And the betrayal is so outrageous, so patently detrimental to the law firm, the case, the defendant, and the various officers of the court that are involved, that it transcends race. It surely did, and it is quite common that people are that venal and exhibit bad intent and race has nothing to do with it.

So I next asked myself, would this have happened were the participants all of one color?  It certainly could.  Did the situation require the outcome? No.

But that doesn’t change what happened — and the attitudes expressed are so believable, so visibly true even today (see Donald Sterling et al. Or “The Last White Knight“)  — that Mamet’s “Race” is about race after all.  Didn’t need to be, shouldn’t be, but was.

All those beliefs, assumptions, all those passions, and those unmet needs, are not subject to reason. Convinced is as good as truth.


Posted in Plays, Reviews | Leave a comment

Big Idea Theater’s Production of Jeff Talbot’s “The Submission”: notes and comments

Sometimes a play comes together in such a way that it doesn’t feel like theater, it feels like there isn’t any difference between the audience and the actors.  Big Idea Theater’s “The Submission” was one of those moments — there was no “audience”, there was only the event.

Jeff Talbott did an outstanding job (I would say incredible) of crafting a piece of work that is totally common and totally sublime.  The words are familiar, the people are familiar, the ideas are familiar, and yet the whole thing had the kind of uncommon clarity that makes for the very best kind of drama. A dark comedy that is so terribly painful and heartfelt.  It wasn’t watched — it was experienced.

Benjamin Ismail, Imani Mitchell, Joshua Glenn Robertson and Eason Donner were transformational.  I know that sounds trite or cliche, but that’s the best way to describe it. As individual characters and as a team they got to an incredible level of articulation and timing and dramatic effect.

Another word I would use is “giddy” — as in excited to see the thing unfold.

The four characters showed every nuance of ego, vanity, love, selflessness and venality.  The ambition was raw, tempered by decency, then undone by jealousy, then revealed for what it was and accepted.  The characters were stripped down, rebuilt, stripped down again, rebuilt and finally left in a numb stasis.  Not exactly forlorn, but not quite forgiven either.

How can people be so heroic and vile at the same time?  Well they can, and they were.  And I suppose the “they” is actually “we.”

A great evening of theater.  Many thanks and best wishes to the entire cast and crew, and congratulations to the entire BIT company


Posted in Plays | Leave a comment