Friday, September 28, 2007

My Favorite Mondegreen

Googling something the other day, I came upon the word "mondegreen," and it rang a bell. Looking it up, I remembered why: it's the term for "misheard" song lyrics.

That reminded me instantly of the Bernard Farrell play I produced at the Laguna Playhouse a few years ago called Lovers at Versailles, the title for which (one learns in the play) is a mondegreen of the Frank Sinatra lyrics "lovers at first sight" in the song Strangers in the Night.

A local donor to the Playhouse, Nina Brice, sent that in to the LA Times daily columnist who displays errors in signage and other such gaffes, and he wrote about it.

However, it makes me think of a dispute I had with Alison the first time we heard together the Joni Mitchell song In France They Kiss on Main Street, from her 1975 album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Here are the lyrics from the stanza in question:

The dance halls and cafes
Feel so wild you could break
somebody's heart
Just doing the latest dance craze
Gail and Louise
In those push-up brassieres
Tight dresses and rhinestone rings
Drinking up the band's beers
Young love was kissing under bridges
Kissing in cars kissing in cafes
And we were walking down Main Street
Kisses like bright flags hung on holidays
In France they kiss on Main Street
Amour, mama, not cheap display
And we were rolling, rolling, rock 'n' rolling

Alison heard me singing aloud the following lyrics:

Feeling the breeze
In those push-up brassieres

Hey, it made perfect sense to me--so I had never bothered to check the printed lyrics on the album jacket!

Anyway, mondegreen has an official entry in Wikipedia (well, as "official" as you can call anything on that site!), and there is another website I discovered called Am I Right - Making Fun of Music, One Song at a Time.
Both provide additional examples of mondegreens.

Feel free to share your own in comments to this post. I'd be interested to know what you've misheard! (And don't tell me there haven't been any!)

Until next time...


Comments on Yesterday's "Blowup" Post

Alison pointed out that one of the comments posted on Errol Morris' NY Times piece was a .gif file flashing on and off the two photos for easier comparison. Click here to view.

She pointed out to me that not only are cannonballs missing from the On photo, but some rocks as well.

My brother, Bob, wrote me from a business trip in Alaska:

"Funny you should write about it. I was captivated by Morris's piece as well and thought about it intermittently throughout the day. I loved the mystery of whether Sontag herself overblew the issue of the photographer commandeering the locals to move the rocks. With digital photography becoming ubiquitous, in a few years no one will ever believe in the authenticity of a photography."

Comments to this and my other blog posts are always welcome. Just click on the Comments link at the bottom of each post.

Until next time...


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Blowup" (Redux)

Who can forget the recently-late Michaelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blowup?

It starred David Hemmings as a photographer during the heyday of London swings (like a pendulum do) who comes to believe that an innocuous photo he shot reveals something more sinister, and seeks to uncover the mystery. The story came from the pen of Julio Cortazar, a highly regarded for his book Hopscotch. (In 1981, Brian DePalma made a film called Blowout that was loosely based on the concept of the original Blowup.)

Today's New York Times carries a piece by filmmaker Errol Morris about a truly fascinating Blowup-like mystery surrounding two photographs taken in 1855 during the Crimean War by a historically-important photographer, Roger Fenton. Though it's a bit lengthy, I highly recommend it.

The gist is that Fenton shot two photos of a road in what soldiers referred to as The Valley of the Shadow of Death--a place where the Russians routinely rained cannon fire. One photo shows this lonely road littered with cannonballs, the other shows only shells in the gulleys alongside the road. Writer Susan Sontag suggested in a book that Fenton faked the photo with the cannonballs in the road, and cited expert opinion on that in order to address the inauthenticity of artists who seek to alter photos for greater dramatic effect.

Errol Morris isn't quite so certain, and investigates further, uncovering more questions along the way.

It's a sort of brain-teaser worth taking the time to read.

Until next time...


Monday, September 24, 2007

Fuhrer/Furor at My Alma Mater: Jihad on Ahmadinejad

Raucous times have returned to my alma mater at last!

It only took 30+ years for everyone to get really riled up on what had once been renowned as the most politically outspoken of the Ivy campuses during the Vietnam War era.

And what was the catalyst? That pipsqueak from Iran who used this opportunity to verify that women are full citizens there, that his country has no homosexuals (neglecting to say why: they've executed them all), that they love Jews but the Holocaust was just a big figment of everyone's imagination to justify creating Israel on Palestinian land, that he is not interested in developing any nuclear weapons and has no intention of attacking America--even though it's evil incarnate.

I'm glad he got to speak because it only strips away any illusions people might have about whether what is being reported is what this guy really thinks. Ironically, he isn't the real power in Iran: that belongs to the Ayatollah--which is why so many of Ahmadinejad's election promises and post-election statements have never come to fruition. The ultraconservative clergy are determined to keep Iran an Islamastan, but they let their president perform their clerical duties.

Ah, well, free speech is a great thing, and detest him as I might, Ahmadinejad was humilated and derided during his appearance and in the introduction by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger. It only goes to show how stupid the Iranian president is that he didn't anticipate he was actually being "framed."

Bring on Hu Jin Tao of China to speak about the Olympics--and then nail him. And there are plenty of other despots out there who should be put on the dais at Columbia to reveal their true colors.

Until next time....


Angels Win AL West Division Title

Not having attended many of the games this year due to work and travel and lethargy, we've nonetheless kept close tabs on the Angels season and watched many of the games at home.

Yesterday was the final home game of the regular season, and the Angels had lost two straight games to Seattle, failing to wrap up their Division title as neatly as everyone seemed to expect.

They were just waiting for us to be in the stands when they did that, I'm convinced!

It was an exciting game, too. Even though there were no lead changes, the Mariners threatened several times, but we kept adding "insurance" runs.

The mood was ecstatic at the end, but now comes the tough part--playing against the 3 best American League teams in the playoffs--Boston, Cleveland and New York.

You can bet we'll be at those home playoff games!

Until next time...


Friday, September 21, 2007

Today's Addendum: "Scarcity"

Very mixed reviews for Lucy Thurber's Scarcity, and while I appreciate some of the criticisms, I find myself resenting their antagonism to what is an intelligent, visceral and highly entertaining piece. Here are links to the major reviews.

Flat Bunz

Whoever has directed Carl's Jr.'s advertising in recent years has been having his cake & eating it too, especially with the latest TV commecial for their patty melt.

It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission, as they say, and that's Carl's Jr.'s motto.

They opted to go forth with a sexy teacher in a high school class room, wearing a tight skirt that proves that she has, well, flat buns, which is then celebrated in a hip hop musical number by her (seemingly all male) class.

It was funny, clever and the tune was catchy--just what you want your TV commercial to be to get attention.

They got some unwanted attention when educators and parents objected to the depiction of the teacher.

What did Carl's Jr. do?

They edited out that part of the commerical--in fact, conveniently located at the top of the spot, it almost seemed like they had planned it all from the beginning, that is, anticipated the uproar, but moved forward anyway because the controversy would only get them more attention. Then they swooped in like heroes by eliminating the offending images in the blink of an eye, demonstrating how responsive they are to parental authority.

Their website has the edited version along with interviews with the artists.

However if you wish to see the unedited version, watch it here on YouTube.

Until next time...


Thursday, September 20, 2007


Thirty years ago, David Rabe's play by that name, was being produced and it was quite a sensation. Rabe had already made a name for himself with The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones--the latter production was broadcast on network television as I recall. All dealt with life in the military and its consequences during the Vietnam War era, as well as larger social issues America was facing at the time.

Well, the title came to mind because I was actually marveling at how great it is to be able to listen to my favorite jazz station on my computer through what's called "streaming." Reception in the Capistrano Valley for the Long Beach-based KJAZZ 88.1 is spotty, but it comes in loud and clear via the internet. I also discovered another jazz station I'd never received over the airwaves: KSDS 88.3 in San Diego.

The age of streaming is also making it possible to watch video clips a la YouTube and on theatre websites (in my blog yesterday about 100 Saints You Should Know, producer Playwrights Horizons' website carried a link to a streamed interview with author Kate Fodor and members of the cast as well as selections from the play in performance).

Thirty years ago, though, Streamers had nothing to do with internet technology of course. Rabe's title referred to the phenomenon of a parachute failing to open--an important metaphor in that play.

Until next time...


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"100 Saints You Should Know"

Kate Fodor's new play, 100 Saints You Should Know, which I mentioned here that I saw at Playwrights Horizons in New York last week, has opened and the reviews are out. (You can link to many of them via American Theater Web.)

I found some of the reviews harsh, but was pleased to read Linda Winer's praise in Newsday and Michael Sommers's in the Star-Ledger.

I found 100 Saints You Should Know a thoughtful play with modest ambitions that it mostly achieves through believable characters sincerely played. It's biggest failing, I thought, was that it needed to be trimmed a bit.

Anyway, the playwright has already been declared by many to be one to keep on eye on, and I suspect she's already got commissions she's working to fulfill on myriad subject matter.

Until next time...


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Clock Never Runs Out in Baseball

Boy, was that ever true last night as we nodded off on the couch well past three hours into the Angels-Devil Rays game and it was only the seventh inning.

Well, it was a high-scoring game (Angels won 10-7), and the early scoring necessitated pitching changes galore (though Tampa Bay didn't change their starter until well into the game).

Angels fans earned their wings, though, last night. (For the past several seasons, Hooters has offered a free order of spicy chicken wings appetizer whenever the Angels score 10 or more runs in a home game. But who goes there for the food?)

As zzzzz-inducing as was last night's game, the Angels are near to winning their 3rd Division title in 4 years with only two weeks left in the season. So, we're pretty well assured of making it into the playoffs.

They've had an amazing season, really, leading almost all the way--despite numerous injuries to key players. But whenever they had to replace someone with a player from the minor leagues, that substitute would prove to be as good if not better than the original!

Still, after the All-Star Game break, our pitchers who were so invincible early in the season are showing they're only human.

There's also a lot of debate over how it's decided which team plays which in the playoffs. Angels fans pray it won't be the Red Sox at Fenway Park because they've proven hard to beat there. We'd prefer the team everyone else fears--the Yankees. In the Joe Torre-era at the Yankees, the Angels are the only team with a winning record against them (including this season).

But baseball's the only major popular sport in the U.S. that has no clock. As Yogi Berra said, "it ain't over till it's over."

Until next time...


Monday, September 17, 2007

iRick (or is it eRick?)

I was browsing for theatre podcasts this morning to see what might turn up (never having accessed any before), and came across a site called The Barestage Theatre, which includes new works and radio plays. It required that I install iTunes, which I've certainly heard of but never thought to add to my computer previously. I knew that iTunes charges 99 cents a song, but didn't realize that its podcasts are "100% free".

Anyway, everything seems to be turning i-This or e-That in this age--until the next "lower case letter phenomenon" is created.

But does an "i" before my name imply I'm an Apple product or user? Is an "e" too generic or ubiquitous? Please help me decide which letter I should be...I'm at a total loss and my entire identity is at stake here!

Until next time...


Sunday, September 16, 2007


Having traveled to London annually on business for more than ten years, often extending my stay to explore many parts of England, Scotland and Wales--I guess I'm what you'd call an anglophile.

Of course, having friends and distant relatives in London contributes to the feeling of home when I'm there--as does the lack of a language barrier, the sense of a shared history and, perhaps, a shared destiny.

Compared to when I first visited in 1972, one now finds extraordinary food everywhere in London (Brits being mocked for the blandness of their food since time immemorial!).

And while it certainly rains far more there than here in Southern California, it's not much wetter than the Eastern U.S. if truth be told, and I've experienced some extraordinarily beautiful weather during most of my visits--in all seasons.

Our local PBS station, KOCE has broadcast for years many of the popular British TV series, and we've sampled just about every one of them. But we're partial to that soapish institution East Enders, and KOCE offers two episodes each week (though it's still a couple of years behind the real schedule over there).

It's not brain food, just local color that brings me back again and again to the show. We watched 4 episodes last night, catching up from my recent travels, and one can do a crossword puzzle and check email and engage in other tasks all while watching the inhabitants of this fictional working class neighborhood in London where life revolves around The Vic, it's local pub.

Is it really any better than a typical American daytime or evening soap? Probably not. But it's fun to watch and reminds us of how much we enjoy the English.

Until next time...


Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated"--Mark Twain

When I was in New York, I was discussing with my brother the recent article about me in the Orange County Register. I mentioned Mark Twain's oft-quoted statement, and told him how I'm one of the few people who got to read their own obituary while they still live.

Of course, that assumes I won't do anything worthwhile from this point on that might ever be worth talking about.

Don't best on that.

Until next time...


Friday, September 14, 2007


I just read in today's American Theater Web , a daily digest of theatre news from the U.S. and the U.K., a story in the San Jose Mercury News that Timothy Near, artistic director of San Jose Rep for the past 20 years, will step down after next season.

I had the pleasure of working there when I directed Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie, which the Laguna Playhouse co-produced with SJ Rep. They have wonderful theatre facility, built in the past 10 years and located in downtown San Jose. They also have a terrific staff who made everything easy for me.

Interestingly, during my week there to tech the show, which began & ran in Laguna for 5 weeks, SJ Rep was also doing a workshop of a new musical by my favorite composer Craig Bohmler. Coincidentally, the leading actor they had for the workshop had dropped out, and Timi (as she is known) phoned my cohort Andy Barnicle to see if he could fly up there and fill in, which he did. So, both of us were in San Jose that week, working at the Rep!

Timi's had many accomplishments there, and the Rep's heyday coincided with the boom of the hi-tech Silicon Valley industries. When it went bust, it hit her theatre very hard, and they are in the midst of a recovery period. Still, I've seen several fine productions there, and have many friends who have worked there, and it's a wonderful company.

Timi has been a charismatic leader of that theatre and was an insightful artistic colleague in her work with me during my visit.

Timi's announcement is the second I've received in the past week (the other by another nonprofit executive in Laguna Beach) from a leader giving up the reins.

Did I start a trend?

Until next time...


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Love/Hate Technology

The laptop I ordered arrived and I spent the better part of yesterday setting it up, figuring out things (and failing to figure out things!) and transferring some files onto it.

It was maddening to discover that no matter how simple the instructions seemed to be--online or in quick set-up charts--they didn't match the visual figures and they didn't work correctly. This forced me to (oh, no!) have to phone the support lines.

You can't find the support phone number of Netgear anywhere in the product materials or packaging--they reaaalllly don't want you to call them.

Microsoft's product key (required for registering the product) is combined of letters and numbers and printed in such tiny type on its package that certain numbers appear to be letters and vice versa. Only after phoning Bangalore and reviewing this with their Indian support representative did we figure that out.

The Netgear router problem turned out to be a hiccup in my Cox cable connection. When I phoned Cox, I followed their automated prompts which use voice technology to address routine problems like this. It was actually pretty impressive and fast working with what was essentially a robot. Problem solved.

Of course, I also phoned brother Bob, our family's resident computer guru. He has always been on top of the latest technology dating back to the advent of PCs in the 1980s when he worked closely with a man who conducted regular seminars enabling people to assemble their own DOS-based PCs in a classroom for a fraction of the retail price. It de-mystified the guts of the hardware and saved us a lot of money.

However, Bob told me to phone support or the Geek squad, saying that most of today's technology is beyond him now too.

Well, the laptop is up and running and I can connect via wireless to our home's main internet connection. My final task will be to figure out a way to have a real email account on this rather than using webmail--but that's for another day. No need to get frustrated and angry over setting this up two days in a row!

Until next time...


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Two Remarkable Plays and a Star

Just returned from a short business trip to New York. My Sunday was free, so I met up with my brother Bob and we attended two new plays that had been suggested by Ed Herendeen, artistic director of the Contemporary American Theatre Festival.

The first, at the Atlantic Theater Company, entitled "Scarcity," was a visceral and intelligent study of a nuclear family that is imploding from alcoholism and near-poverty--yet love each other in deep and desperate ways. It's also raw and funny, well-acted by an ensemble cast that includes Kristen Johnston ("Third Rock from the Sun").

Later, we saw "100 Saints You Should Know" by Kate Fodor at Playwrights Horizons. Like many productions at PH, which specializes in developing new work, there was an unfinished quality to this play that signaled it's still likely to experience further refinement in subsequent productions. Nevertheless, "100 Saints" is a fascinating and thoughtful piece about people struggling with their faith in God. Janel Moloney ("West Wing") was making her New York theatre debut as part of the ensemble cast.

Returning from a day-long meeting at the Theatre Communications Group, I rode the subway back to my hotel with another TCG panelist staying there, Joan Schirle,co-Artistic Director and a founding member of Dell’Arte International, the North American center for the exploration, development, training, and performance of the actor-creator. It was the tail end of rush-hour, around 6:45, but the number 1 train was packed. I noticed a handsome tall man standing a couple of riders over from us and he looked at me--we both gave one of those expressions of "don't I know you?"

It was Bob Stillman, and we had a great catch-up chat before we arrived at his stop. Bob starred in my production of "The Last Session" in 1998, the Jim Brochu/Steve Schalchlin musical. We had heard about it, so Andy Barnicle and I went to New York to see it (in which Bob was playing the central character) and to meet its producer Michael Alden.

Bob is one of those "triple-threat" performers--he acts, he sings, he plays piano. In "The Last Session," he had to do it all.

A couple of years later, he did it all again for Claudia Shear's play "Dirty Blonde," a comedy about two people obsessed with Mae West. (When I saw the play, however, I missed him because he had the day off.)

And most recently, I saw Bob in "Grey Gardens," the highly acclaimed play about Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier, cousins to Jacquie Kennedy, and their eccentric lives.

Anyway, as I commented to Joan after Bob descended the train, "New York is the center of the universe and I always run into people unexpectedly there."

Until next time...


Friday, September 7, 2007

A nice article about me

A couple of weeks ago, Orange County Register critic Paul Hodgins emailed me asking me to answer some questions for a piece he was writing about the new season at the Laguna Playhouse, as he wanted to include some information about my tenure there. I was a bit reluctant to respond because I really didn't think it was my place to comment on my own work. Fortunately, the phrasing of the questions Paul emailed me were such that I was mostly spared having either to toot my own horn or be falsely modest. His article appeared online yesterday, though it won't hit the print edition until this Sunday. Alongside his article, which you can read by clicking here., he has added a sidebar with my verbatim answers to his questions, which you can read by clicking here.

Until next time...


Thursday, September 6, 2007

"I Can See Clearly Now"

Yesterday, the lens in my left eye was removed and replaced with an implant due to a cataract, and an hour later I was singing the Johnny Nash song of the '70s:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin' for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies

One of the things the medical staff tells you is that your color perception might change. It's really amazing to me that I not only see almost perfectly out of my left eye, but I can't ever recall perceiving all colors as vividly as I do now.

Seeing clearly is wonderful...but it does have its downside: I can now see clearly things I wished I didn't, like blemishes, like how hair grows in places I wish it didn't (and there's less of it on my head).

The right eye will have its day, too, later this fall.

Until next time...


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Been Too Busy To Blog

I know...I've neglected my blogging--and you'll just have to live with that!

First, I spent a few days putting together a relatively modest website for Alison in order to display her designs. You can visit it here I think you'll find it interesting if you have never seen my wife's work. I am amazed by her talents and by her ability to create such varied images. (Officially, her site is Unfortunately, .com was already taken, but these days there are so many "dot options" that it really shouldn't matter.)

Then I flew to Virginia to visit my brother and his family and my mother (where I stayed). They live in Winchester--a historic city with a lovely "old town" comprised of restored buildings, a pedestrian mall, shops and restaurants. Some of that city has been made less attractive by overdevelopment along its I-81 and US-11 corridors, and which seem to choke the adjacent streets with traffic worse than here in my "freeway-close" town of San Juan Capistrano!

It was typically hot & humid in Virginia, but not as unbearable as I had feared. Instead, upon my return to SoCal, I was slapped in the face by 100 degree weather and higher than normal humidity. I'm not complaining: this has been one of the coolest, most pleasant summers in our 20 years here, and it's only in the past two weeks that we even turned on the air conditioning.

This week promises to be equally busy, with deadlines looming on some projects.

Plus, I will be having eye surgery on Wednesday (yeah, yeah, I know you can't wait to hear all the details about that). At the young age of 54, it seems that I have cataracts. I found that a bit odd, but when the doctor asked me if I'd ever had asthma and used inhalers (I did), he said that there has been a direct correlation drawn between the steroids in those medications and early onset of cataracts. I guess to assuage my unhappiness, he added that cataracts are also congenital, and that he has operated on children--even infants--with cataracts. My mother had cataract surgery when she was in her 70s, but my father never needed his eyes done, so while I'm mystified by it all, I'm not losing sleep over it (there are better things to lose sleep over). At least, I'm told by everyone, cataract surgery is not only painless and fast and with an almost instant recovery period, but you wind up with near-perfect vision afterwards for the rest of your life. Having worn glasses since the age of 7, I'm looking forward to that. Actually, though, I lied: the "perfect" vision only applies to distance, and I will likely need reading glasses.

There's always a catch.

Until next time...