Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chalice Nonsense

Having just seen the new Indiana Jones movie, we noticed that the third film was on TV and taped it, catching a few moments when setting it up, and hearing the word "chalice."

OK, you Catholics, that's not an unusual word for you to hear, but for us Jews...

Anyway, hearing that word always reminds me of the 1955 film "The Court Jester" starring Danny Kaye in which the "who's on first"-style tongue twisting lines about the "chalice from the palace" are recited with great hilarity.

I looked them up, and am delighted to share them with you:

Hawkins: I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?

Griselda: Right! -- but there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the palace...

Hawkins: They broke the chalice from the palace?

Griselda: ...and replaced it. With a flagon.

Hawkins: A flagon?

Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.

Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.

Griselda: Right.

Hawkins: ...but did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?

Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!

Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.

Griselda: Just remember that!


Until next time,


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Slave Market Thriving on Facebook

Arguably, the most popular application on the social networking website Facebook is "Friends for Sale," a mildly diverting game in which one "buys" and "sells" friends--and total strangers--for fun and "profit."

Having discovered it a number of weeks ago, only recently have I begun to intuit the "finer points" of amassing large amounts of capital in the form of "human pets" and "cash."

Any Facebooker can add the app free and, upon logging in, receive $10,000 in the equivalent of Monopoly money. Logging in every four hours (but not before) gains additional infusions of 10 Gs, so that's always a wise thing to do.

Every player has a "price" which rises as s/he is continually bought and sold (and which earns the "slave" a small percentage for his/her own pot of money).

The more actively one buys and sells, the faster the capital builds, but it's possible to get "stuck" with a dud whom nobody buys or who is much less actively traded.

Mostly, but not totally, mindless, "FFS," as it's affectionately known, says a lot about the attraction of connecting with strangers. While not entirely anonymous (most Facebookers post real profiles and real photos since it's regarded first and foremost as a means to keep in touch with real friends), there's certainly a sort of thrill when purchasing someone you don't know from some far away land and engaging in some free market commerce.

I've developed a strategy that seems to be working, as my FFS coffers have more than $1 million and I own several hundred thousand dollars in virtual "slaves."

But nobody is pleading to "let my people go." There's absolutely nothing you can make your FFS slave do for you anyway.

Until next time...


Monday, June 2, 2008

Story Theater

Sad news today from playwright/friend Jeffrey Sweet ("The Value of Names"), who reported on the passing of Paul Sills. I was shocked to learn that Sills was 80. He had that perpetually youthful demeanor that made you feel he'd never die, and while I never had the opportunity to work with him, Jeff said he was a real piece of work--not easy at all, but brilliant.

My only experience of his work were the two Broadway productions he created in the early 1970s: STORY THEATER and METMORPHOSES.

These had a profound influence on me in teaching me that a bare stage and talented actors and an imaginative director were all that was needed to create compelling theatre. I have emulated that example on a number of occasions as a director, and Sills is definitely one of the key reasons.

So, RIP Paul Sills, and I hope you look down fondly upon those of us who continue to perpetuate your style.

Until next time...


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Israel's 60th Birthday

I spent a semester of my sophomore year of high school at Alonei Yitzhak in a rural area near Binyamina, Israel. My arrival was delayed by the 6-Day War, Israel's greatest military and political triumph in 1967, but before the start of the term, a small class of Americans had arrived to join the international student body there. We were trucked and bussed all over Israel to see not only the traditional sights, but new ones like the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest, which had been inaccessible to Jews since 1948 when the Old City of Jerusalem was lost to the Jordanians. Also, we visited Gaza, and were encouraged by Israeli soldiers to climb into and on top of the Egyptian tanks abandoned on the beach during the recent fighting. We went to Hebron and Bethlehem and the Golan Heights as well. Later that year, my parents and brother visited, and we took a flight tour over the Sinai peninsula where we not only were able to see Mt. Sinai--but the detritus of the destroyed Egyptian army strewn between Gaza and the Suez Canal. There were many other wonderful experiences there for a 14 year old, imprinting in me a passion for Israel.

Six years later, a junior in college, the Yom Kippur War broke out, and I volunteered with my best friend to go to Israel and help. We would not be engaged in military work, but would pick grapefruits on a kibbutz to replace the men called up from the reserves to fight. Though not as brief as 6 days, and not a "triumph" (Israel was caught off guard by the attacking Arab armies), I was able to return after about 10 weeks. Not much of a sacrifice performing farm labor with free room and board (however rustic) at a Mediterranean seaside kibbutz adjacent to the lively city of Haifa, this visit nonetheless solidified further my connection to Israel.

In the intervenining years, however, I became, like many others with a love for Israel, gradually disillusioned at the Israeli government policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians who had been uprooted by three wars. No, the Palestinians were not blameless, and I always thought Yasir Arafat was a buffoon (I forgot who said that "he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity"), and their leadership continued to subscribe to a "destroy Israel" philosophy. But Israel seemed to do nothing but provoke more animosity by tightening its iron grip, fostering settlements on land seized from its owners, and turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians. That did not seem very "Jewish" to me, and as much as I longed to return to visit, I stayed away--for a very long time. 32 years, in fact.

Tomorrow, I will talk about my return and my reasons for it.

Meanwhile, an opinion piece in the Washington Post by the head of the new J Street advocacy group is something I recommend reading.

Until next time...


Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I learned that I'm estimated to save 30 some odd dollars if the "summer federal gas tax holiday" is put through. Some states are, apparently, also considering a concurrent bye on their tax--here in California, I'm told I could then save a total of $80. Of course, since both of us work from home in this "connected" era, I think our savings is more likely to be about the price of a cup of coffee. Keep it, I say, and start fixing those potholes!

Until next time...


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who knew?

When I was young, I had a strong interest in things Jewish and became observant, initially pursuing a path I thought would lead me to become a rabbi (but led instead to a different religion: theatre!).

Over the years, I certainly retained some interest in the subject--but not much more than reading reviews of books in the New York Times Book Review section or keeping tabs on Israel. I attended the rare Passover seder, and I certainly had an affinity for some plays (which I directed) that had Jewish characters in them. (For a time, I joked that I was an expert in "old Jewish man" plays). And I directed an Israeli play last year in its American premiere, too.

Since that time, though, I've been increasingly invited to participate in Jewish-related projects. From speaking at the IsraDrama 2007 in Tel Aviv to dramaturging a new Jewish-themed monodrama for a small theatre in Melbourne, Australia, to having my piece on Israeli theatre featured as the lead in a special section in the new issue of AMERICAN THEATRE magazine, to being invited to speak about that at the Association for Jewish Theatre conference later this month, to being invited to consider involvement in an international Jewish theatre festival, to being invited to help produce a "King Lear" with Israeli and Palestinian actors, and being invited to join some Middle East peace-related organizations.

I'm not complaining. (So, stop kvetching!)

I don't contemplate this dominating my professional and personal life in the future (though one never knows, of course), but it's one of those interesting twists of fate that regardless of how far you stray from them, your roots are still your roots.

Until next time...


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Who Can Speak for Me?"

Below is an excerpt from my article in the May/June issue of AMERICAN THEATRE (AT) magazine. It is the lead feature in the special section: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict On Stage. AT does not usually post the entire content of its magazine online, so I don't think this will be accessible that way, but you can check after May 1st on (If you are unable to obtain a copy of AT for purchase or at your library, feel free to email me and I will email you the full text of my article.)


"Who Can Speak for Me?"
Israel’s vibrant theatre scene boldly assays the
Palestinian conflict—but with authentic voices
from the other side mostly missing

We compound our suffering by victimizing each other. —Athol Fugard

It seemed at first that Nurith Yaari had bent over backwards to demonstrate that Israel’s theatre scene is not shy about self-reflection, self-criticism and, perhaps, even self-flagellation, based upon the plays she selected for inclusion in IsraDrama 2007.

Surprisingly, half of the plays staged in this November–December showcase in Tel Aviv were political dramas taking dead aim at Israeli-Palestinian relations in ways that often reflect less-than-flattering images of Israel’s official policies and the attitudes of many of its citizenry. Yaari is a professor of theatre at Tel Aviv University and artistic director of IsraDrama, sponsored by the Institute of Israeli Drama and designed to encourage production of and scholarly attention to the work of Israeli dramatists.

Despite its relative youth as a modern nation, celebrating its 60th anniversary on May 8, Israel has an immensely vibrant theatre scene, with among the world’s highest per-capita attendance. According to Gad Kaynar, another professor of theatre at the university and head of Israel’s branch of the International Theatre Institute, “The data is rather astonishing: On any given evening one can watch in Tel Aviv alone, with its population of more than 350,000, no less than 40 theatre performances in mainstream
theatres as well as on fringe and festival stages.”

Some might see this phenomenon as making up for lost time. “Drama’s origins in pagan myth, its growth within Greek culture and its development within Christianity have ensured the hostility of the Jewish religious authorities to theatrical manifestations throughout the ages,” former Oxford University scholar Glenda Abramson has written.

In fact, Kaynar points out that this historical antipathy took a new turn when several modern Israeli theatres started pushing boundaries, beginning with Hanoch Levin’s 1970 play The Queen of the Bathtub, which “dared to question the moral stance of a power-drunk Israeli society following victory in the Six-Day War (1967),” a production that provoked “massive demonstrations.” The role of theatre also reached Israel’s national parliament, the Knesset. In 1986, the Israeli Censorship Board decided “to ban the staging of Shmuel Hasfari’s The Last Secular Jew, a satirical cabaret depicting the apocalyptic vision of Israel as the tyrannical theocracy of Judea,” says Kaynar. A public outcry led the Knesset to abolish play censorship. In 1988, Kaynar reports, playwright Joshua Sobol was accused “of ‘self-hatred’ and ‘destruction of national and religious morals,’ following the violent interruption by right-wing fanatics of the premiere of his 1988 The Jerusalem Syndrome, which compares the devastation of the Second Temple and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.”

Israel’s contemporary theatre clearly serves as a national moral
conscience, though that fact is little known elsewhere. So it made great sense for Yaari to expose 63 theatre practitioners from 21 countries to a strong dose of drama that, according to Kaynar, is “a ritual of existential value.”

These were works produced not only by low-budget fringe theatres; included among their creators were Israel’s two largest theatres, the Habima National Theatre and Tel Aviv’s municipal theatre, Cameri, major companies with significant government subsidies, large audiences and strong philanthropic support. And since IsraDrama was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising the curtain on these unvarnished depictions of life in Israel today received an official imprimatur as well.

The first reaction of many attendees was that it is commendable
for Israeli theatres to be unafraid to tackle head-on the most explosive political issue dividing their country today. Some of these visiting theatre professionals, including Americans, quietly lamented a lack of similar courage in their own nations’ theatres.

Yet there was also something a little self-congratulatory about
this demonstration.

In their desire to prove themselves free and outspoken in a
proudly democratic society, the organizers of the event were unable
to conceal the fact that these provocative works still represent just one side’s perspective. Regardless of their honorable intentions, what’s disturbing is not just the ironic point that Israeli theatre artists are attempting to serve as mouthpieces for the Palestinian people. It’s that Palestinian theatre artists are largely unable—or unwilling—to speak for themselves."

Until next time...


PS-Please excuse funky line breaks that blogspot inevitably creates.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

For art's sake (not because it makes them better at math)...

I was so happy to read Ann Hulbert's piece in today's New York Times Sunday Magazine, entitled "Drawing Lessons."

For several years, at the Laguna Playhouse, I cast my lot with those who argued that arts education should be advocated on the basis of proven studies of improved test scores and performance by schoolchildren. In the hostile climate for the arts (and funding for the arts) that emerged during the Reagan administration and "trickled down" to state and local government as well as corporate funding, it seemed like we were mounting a last stand to fend off the barbarians.

But that rationale turned out to be a specious one, according to Hulbert's article today, and frankly, I'm relieved to know that. I never took pleasure in justifying support for arts education because it could make a kid a whiz at math. And I bemoaned the lack of courage and honesty--not to mention, ("hello!") actual belief in the intrinsic value of the arts--that led our field to abandon forceful, convincing arguments for what we do in favor of suggesting that art is only of value when it teaches us to do other things well. (It's the same way that many organizations "follow the funding" when making strategic programming decisions, creating new programs to qualify for grants and straying from their institutional mission to do so.)

I'm perfectly comfortable in believing that some students who receive exposure to the arts in school may benefit by gaining an early appreciation for the arts, but I'm hopeful that we can now lay to rest the strategy of advocating our cause on such a flawed basis.

Until next time...


Friday, April 25, 2008

"J Street"

I first read about this a few weeks ago, then heard somebody mention it at a meeting I went to, and then today's New York Times buried a piece about it pretty far back in the front section.

"J Street" is a new American political action committee to support Israel, but one that will also take a critical eye at Israel's steps towards peace. It's inteded to be a counterweight (unlikely) to AIPAC, the America Israel Political Action Committee, that is well-funded, strong and is widely known to exert considerable influence on Congressional representatives.

"J Street" sounds like it's "Jewish" street, and I'm sure that's partly intentional. But the streets in Washington DC are lettered, "K Street" is the euphemism for lobbying organizations (since many are headquartered there), so "J Street" is playing off that as well. Ironically, there is actually no "J Street" in DC for some reason.

As someone who is pro-Israel, but have been uncomfortable with many of that government's actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians, I am looking forward to seeing what influence "J Street" might develop. AIPAC is often criticized as being monolithic in its support of Israel, believing that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

Perhaps "J Street" can contribute to a more balanced dialogue leading to peace. I've registered on their site to receive informational updates, and invite you to consider that too.

Until next time...


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spring Has Sprung

After last year's frost (a few consecutive days of 28 degree temperatures damaging the plants in my north-facing back yard), this year our garden is looking sensational. Almost everything has come back with a vengeance, telling the world "it's too early to write me off."

Here are just a few shots...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Final Day in Lake Arrowhead

4 more miles of hiking around a portion of the lake brings our total for the week to 20 miles. Tonight we celebrate with our only fine dining experience (we hope!).

Until next time...


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Top Down/Top of the World

On the north slope of Lake Arrowhead, facing the high desert, we enjoyed 50+ degree sunny walks in the woods and on a trail overlooking the valley below, and drove back into town with our convertible top down. Still, it was a chilly 38 degrees when we headed out this morning for our hikes!

Until next time...


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spooky Walk Through A Burn Area

Heaps Peak Arboretum is a one mile nature trail along the Rim of the World scenic highway that faces down upon the LA basin. This time of year the basin below is covered in fog but the mountain tops are above it all in sun. Not today. The fog rolled up the mountain and shrouded this trail in eerie smoke-like billows among deciduous trees that have not yet sprouted leaves and sections of devastation from last year's fires.

Until next time...


Monday, April 7, 2008

Settling down

Just a 2 mile hike today, feeling worn out from 10 miles of hiking our first two days. Then took a touristy boat ride on Lake Arrowhead past movie stars' homes with Cap'n Jim as our guide.

Until next time...


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Breathless II

Today's hike was longer--3 hours/6 miles--on the Exploration Trail near Running Springs, a trail that is mostly north-facing, and therefore quite a bit is still covered with snow. Spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains and below across the cloud covered LA basin. Rewarded ourselves with lunch at Rocky's--don't you love the archetypal carvings of bears out front of this little roadhouse?

Until next time...


Saturday, April 5, 2008


Our first morning in the SoCal mountains, we took a good "starter" trail: Cougar Crest Trail on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. That's the view from this trail down onto the lake and at Snow Summit where they continue skiing today.

Temperature was in the low 40s when we began our hike, but easily felt like 20 degrees more in the sun. This is a great trail! Only 2 miles, its several hundred feet of climb is so amazingly gradual that after about 15 minutes I felt warmed up and ready to move forward full tilt to the top, where it meets the famed Pacific Crest Trail that one can hike from Mexico to Canada.

The breathlessness is not just due to the views, however. The hike begins well above 7,000 feet altitude, so even if you are in good shape aerobically, it does take getting used to. Tomorrow our plan is to take a longer hike.

After this one, we stopped at Paoli's in Big Bear Lake's village, sat outside at a sunny table and ate basic but good Italian lunch. We drove around the lake with the top of my convertible down until we reached Arrowbear (returning to Lake Arrowhead where we're staying) as a chilly fog was rolling up the mountains from below.
The top photo by the way is a view of the Los Angeles basin this morning--totally clouded in below us.
Until next time...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Glass Houses

Unbeknownst to most of my blog junkies, I appear to have unwittingly spawned an enormous controversy.

My article, "Who Will Speak for Me?," about the strong focus of Israeli drama on the Palestinian situation, was selected to run in the May/June issue of AMERICAN THEATRE magazine, the national publication of the Theatre Communications Group. I felt honored that they selected it, and it is a significant feature article.

Senior Editor Randy Gener decided to augment it with commentary about the cultural boycott against Israel advocated by some Arab nations and others, soliciting opinions from a diverse group of theatre practitioners, among them Ari Roth, artistic director of Theatre J in Washington DC.

Ari sent his commentary to his entire email address book, it seems, prompting many more comments.

I first learned about the cultural boycott commentaries from Najla Said, the daughter of of the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, with whom I met recently about a project I'm involved in: producing South African Yael Farber's staging of "King Lear" with Palestinian and Israeli actors, with her executive producer Tommy Kriegsmann. Najla told me she had been solicited to send in a written commentary.

I've become a sort of master of the adage "no good deed goes unpunished," and my well-intentioned piece about how Israeli theatre artists (most of whom are left-leaning, human-rights protecting advocates) seem to be promoting the cause of Palestinians under their nation's occupation, has exploded into something much bigger and more portentous.

We'll all have to see the issue of AMERICAN THEATRE to see where it lands initially, and then the following issues for the repercussions.

Until next time...


PS--many thanks to my friend Deborah Leiser-Moore of Melbourne, Australia, who took the photo from which I ripped off my nice new headshot!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boneyard Redux

Alison told me the other day she saw it in a sattelite image on, and brother Bob just told me it's visible on Google Earth at the following address: 777 Las Vegas Blvd N, Las Vegas, N.V. 89101.
If you paste that into G.E., you will see from quite high altitude the large skull from Treasure Island casino. This image is not totally up to date, as it shows the parts of the La Concha motel lobby disassembled near the skull. That has now been rebuilt and placed to the northwest portion of the site. So even though I'm "prohibited" from posting photos of the neon signs there, you can check it out anyway!

Until next time...


Monday, March 17, 2008

Neon Boneyard

Last weekend in Vegas, we finally did something we've heard about for a long time...we visited the "boneyard" owned by the nascent Neon Museum on Las Vegas Blvd. north of downtown in what is emerging as a sort of cultural district. (Yes, yes, "culture" and "Vegas" seem like an oxymoronic combination!)

On a gusty, sandstorm of a day, we trudged with about 20 people around two multi-acre fenced-in lots with a member of the museum's staff for about an hour.

Unfortunately, you're only allowed to take photos if you sign a form saying you won't post them on the web or sell them. That seemed a bit strict, but it was explained that some of the signs in the boneyard are old ones from existing casinos that fear trademark violations. So, they only donated their old signs under these conditions.

My Mom's favorite casino, Stardust, was demolished this year to make way for a new casino development, and the boneyard contained its old sign. One thing I never knew about that sign was that the image was supposed to seem like a nuclear bomb mushroom cloud--commemorating the n-tests 70 miles outside of Vegas! Back then they thought it was something to celebrate. Its futuristic lettering and diamond-like stars seem so cliche today--almost like watching "The Jetsons."

Alison & I had a favorite sign that we used to drive by north on the "Strip" going towards downtown, but that hotel was torn down quite some time ago. Imagine our delight to see the "Tam O'Shanter" hotel sign in the boneyard--complete with the 3 foot diameter illuminated "tartan tam" that sat atop a tall pole and revolved. It was so kitchy, you just had to love it!

Until next time...


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Not a Cross Word in the House

I've always enjoyed doing the occasional crossword. Once a week, tackling the Sunday New York Times puzzle, which I rarely completed, was typically all I would do--except when traveling and completing the puzzles in the in-flight magazines the airlines publish.

For months now, though, I've been beginning my day with the daily NY Times puzzle, and picking up three puzzles on Sunday from the LA Times website to supplement the NY Times magazine puzzle.

As any junkie knows, the more you do, the more you need to do, and I've now supplemented my puzzle completion with daily LA Times and daily Washington Post.

I can't start my day reading the paper until I've finished the NY Times puzzle, which I usually am able to do except on Friday and Saturday, when even consulting's marginally helpful crossword solver application won't make the critical difference. Mostly, though, I do complete the Sunday NY Times puzzle these days--a rarity in my earlier years.

(By the way, there's a puzzle fanatic and creator who posts daily to his blog the answers & thoughts behind the NY Times puzzles--sometimes praising them, sometimes critiquing them.)

But there is a knack to crossword puzzles, and no matter who writes them (and there are many different creators), they seem to rely on the same playbook at times. For example, can someone tell them to stop using Stephen Rea's last name? How about Mel Ott?

Then there's the trick of clues that state "Log beginning"--it's usually "ana" or "dia", but you spend precious minutes thinking about where does a log begin? Is this about a tree?

It's emblematic of how crossword puzzles rarely are that difficult in the words within them, but their real difficulty is figuring out the clues, which are written in the most obtuse fashion to throw you off the scent.

Of course, many puzzles these days follow "themes", usually stated in the title of the puzzle. This is where they are typically more fun and clever. I did one today from the Washington Post in which the stated theme was "The Naked Truth" and you had to solve an "observation" (as it was characterized) which wound up being "Men and women in nudist camps can air their differences" over three long lines in the puzzle. Not bad.

I'm determined to take some time to compose a few puzzles of my own--and you can be sure I'll make every effort to avoid the "stock-in-trade" words that other puzzle writers seem to rely on. We'll see if I can be successful.

Until next time...


Saturday, March 1, 2008

How to Build a Nuclear Bomb (or Bathe a Cat)

A friend called me "brave" for saying I had bathed my cat, Bob, the other day. (That's not Bob in the photo--I would have needed an extra pair of hands to take a picture.)

Let's just say it's about as challenging as building a nuclear bomb.

Until next time...


Friday, February 29, 2008

My Voice on a Steely Dan Album

During my daily workouts, while I'm ellipticalling (or whatever one calls walking/jogging/stairclimbing/pumping on the so-called elliptical machine), I often listen to my favorite Steely Dan album, Alive in America, the live album of their tour umpteen years ago (1993-94) when they proved 1) they weren't dead yet, and 2) that they were not just a studio band (actually, they had toured in the early days and still do, but it became a legendary truism that "Steely Dan never tours").

They visited the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in The OC, and I snapped up a couple of tickets for us as quickly as they went on sale. There's just something about their music I've always connected with, and I was screaming my lungs out with cheers at this outdoor concert venue when they performed, particularly on their hi-test version of "Bodhisattva."

Like many live albums, Alive in America is peppered with the crowd's reactions--at the beginning of a song, when the sneaky intro gives way to a few recognizable bars and sends the audience into paroxysms of joy, and at the end, to reward the band for besting the concertgoers' embedded memories of the tune.

At the end of "Bodhisattva," I am thoroughly convinced after many listenings and won't be dissuaded otherwise, my own "whoo-hoo" cheer during a nanosecond lull in the other cheers, can be distinctly heard on this album, digitized for posterity.*

Until next time...


*(Alas, according to their notes on, the album's "Bodhisattva" was recorded at a concert in Detroit. So what! That doesn't prove a thing. I know they mixed it with the Irvine concert crowd response.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pleonastic & Sesquipedalian

Don't you love it when you learn a new word?

Perhaps you already knew what "pleonastic" or "sesquipedalian" mean, but I didn't until I read the New York Times obituary of William F. Buckley this afternoon.

(But of course, you say! Now I know what they mean! Context is everything!)

Like my mother (and probably your mother) said: go look them up.

Until next time...


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hello, Goodbye, Thank You and *$&#^@

I learned to read at a younger than usual age (for that time, at least), and when I was still a child we moved for a couple of years to Morocco, where I learned to speak French (how fluently at age 7 is questionable). Instantly, my mother declared that I was a whiz at languages. I then learned enough Hebrew for my bar mitzvah. A year later I took German for one year from a stunning German blonde emigre I fell in love with. Then we moved to a place where the schools didn't offer German--and I was told I had already fulfilled my entire language requirement for graduation so I stopped learning a foreign language. Before entering college, I spent several weeks in a Hebrew "ulpan" (intensive language course) and continued studying that language for a couple of years, never becoming fluent but achieving slightly more proficiency with it than my supposed fluency in French (tell that to the French people I tried speaking with last time I was there).

Of course, I've had the chance to visit a number of foreign countries and to familiarize myself with the basic tourist phrases you should say prior to lapsing into English and expecting them to understand you. Hello, please, thank you, goodbye, toilet, etc. Never more than a handful of words, of course (though it's always practical but depressing to discover how many English words are used in other tongues these days).

Twenty years ago, the International Theatre Institute of the U.S. sent me to Seoul, Korea for some research and exchange purposes. I'll save the long version of the story for another post (or series of posts). But one night, I was taken out on the town by some Korean theatre artists, and by the end of the night (and after a few drinks, I'll admit), I insisted that they teach me a dirty word in Korean--but that it should be only one word, the worst possible word, since it was unlikely I could remember several. After great deliberation, they taught me that word. Upon my return, I was talking with a Korean-American playwright I knew and telling her this story. "There are no dirty words in Korean," she said. I then spoke the word I had learned. "Except that one," she replied.

As a result, one of my great ambitions became to learn one dirty word in every language I encounter. I don't exactly apply myself diligently to this endeavor, so I haven't amassed a voluminous collection of foul language. But there's no denying that knowing one can be as essential a tool to the foreign visitor as any of the other phrasebook words we memorize before our trips.

Until next time...


Friday, February 22, 2008

Faceless on Facebook

Back in the summer, someone convinced me that I really needed to sign up on MySpace. Eventually I did. Then someone else told me that MySpace is "so last year," and that Facebook is where it's really at. Eventually I signed up for Facebook.

I hardly gave a thought to either after the initial process of signing up, until recently--for reasons I'm not really sure of.

Anyway, I began to figure out some of its features and to search for and discover that some people I know are on it, too. So, over the past few days, I've wrangled up a whopping 22 "friends", all marked by "avatars" on my Facebook "friends list." (Avatars are icons representing a person or group, usually that person's photograph.)

But my book of faces has one friend who is, well, faceless. On Facebook, that means the avatar is a big calligraphic question mark. Interestingly, my faceless friend is someone I have never met personally and know only from the Trip Advisor Israel Forum as a regular fellow contributor. Perhaps one day I will see what she looks like!

Oh, and I've posted some favorite recent photos on my Facebook page--but the only way you'll ever get a chance to see them is if you are a Facebook member and invite me to be your friend.

I guess I'll be waiting, but I won't hold my breath!

Until next time...


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is America A Dumb Blonde?

Today's New York Times has a review of Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason.

The article begins by talking about a YouTube clip featuring Kellie Pickler on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Based on the Times review, it sounds like Jacoby is both rehashing long-standing criticism of America's anti-intellectualism and suggesting that there's a particularly venal convergence of it right now with the rise of religious anti-rationalism. And she's as critical of the left as of the right for their respective roles in exacerbating the situation.

America's archetypal dumb blonde, Marilyn Monroe, was really a lot smarter than her roles or image would suggest, but Kellie Pickler is no Marilyn Monroe.

Until next time...


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"The Meet Cute is a Rom-Com Staple"

This morning, in a theatre review, I had a meet cute with "meet cute," that ubiquitous jargon term of screenwriters pitching their wares to producers.

Actually, I'm lying...I first encountered the term about ten years ago when producing a play called "Who's Hot, Who's Not," by Sherwood Kiraly, adapted from his book by the same name. "Meet cute" is discussed by two of the characters in the play who, as I vaguely recall, have just met cute. (This play, by the way, is about the editor of a gossip magazine by the same title, whose only joy on the job is having secured his publisher's permission to write a last page column called "Where Are They Now?" about people who once were hot, like his own personal favorite, Clu Gulager.)

Wikipedia has an entire entry devoted to "meet cute" and I picked up the title of this post from another blogger's entry on the subject--now, I'll never be able to think of "romantic comedies" as anything but "rom-coms," I'm afraid.

I suppose that, in honor of Valentine's Day, it's also entirely appropriate for me to mention that Alison and I met cute--and we've been married 26 years.

If that ain't a "rom-com," what is?

Until next time...


Friday, February 8, 2008

Lowbrow Guilty Pleasures

In light of my recent posts about the New York Times's Bernard Holland encouraging audiences to lighten up while admonishing musicians to tighten up, and about the Wall Street Journal's piece on lowbrow subsidizing highbrow, I got a real kick out of reading this morning's Times oleo charting their music critics' guilty pleasures. Anthony Tomassini declares his fondness for slumming with Leroy Anderson--anyone who is familiar with his music is sure to agree how much fun it is to listen to, and how much of a virtuoso he was.

But, boy, on the Letters to the Editor page, Holland takes a beating for beating up on musicians showing any hint of emotion when performing.

To quote Ricky Gervais on "Extras": "Are you havin' a laugh?"

Until next time...


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Act now

I just mentioned the other day in a post here that the National Endowment for the Arts experienced its first significant increase in budget in many years (still below the pre-"arts wars" level, though).

Well, days afterward, President Bush presented a FY2009 budget in which not only is almost all of that increase taken back but draconian cuts to public broadcasting are proposed as well.

I won't go into the wastefulness of the Bush administration in so many other areas.

Suffice it to say that arts & public broadcasting lovers need to act now and communicate their support for funding these valuable assets to their representatives in Congress.

Here is a link the Americans for the Arts advocacy page, where you can click on the top link under Action Alerts (Federal: President's Budget Released).

After entering your zip code, the site obtains the contact emails for your Congressional representatives and provides you with sample messages you can clip & paste or you can write your own message.

I have done this and hope that you will join me in fighting for continued and increased funding for the arts and public broadcasting. There is also additional background information on the Americans for the Arts main website.

Until next time...


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I was shocked to read Bernard Holland's article in today's New York Times, "When Histrionics Undermine the Music and the Pianist."

In it, he derides musicians (pianists in particular) who express any signs of feeling during their performances as being distracting to the audience. To Holland, the music itself must take precedence over any visual experience. He is appalled by any Glenn Gould-like ideosyncratic movements and suggests that young prodigies be forced to perform in robotic sublety to avoid any taint to the audience's pure experience of listening to the music.

Is this the same Bernard Holland who just a few weeks ago chastized audiences for failing to give in to their feelings and demonstrate their approval at what purists consider to be inappropriate moments during classical music concerts? I posted a link to that article, and regarded it as a breath of fresh air within a field that is so mired in archaic conventions that it has driven away many concertgoers.

I can't imagine putting manacles upon musicians any more than a gag-order upon the audience. Those seeking as pure a listening experience as might be achievable can lie in their beds in the dark and listen to their CDs on Bose Noise-Defeating headphones! Concertgoing experiences are meant to be feasts for all the senses.

Until next time...


Monday, February 4, 2008


Caught this article ("When Lowbrow Subsidizes Highbrow") in today's Wall Street Journal. It's notable for such a pro-business publication to question nonprofit cultural organizations for adopting business models that place their missions at risk in search of money they feel they cannot attract on the basis of their missions alone.

Among nonprofit resident professional theatres, public conversations about this subject rarely take place.

Sure, there are plenty that sell their souls for the almighty dollar, detouring them from devoting 100% of their resources to their missions, but the subject only crops up during frequent quiet laments about the dwindling audience for serious theatre in the U.S.--the raison d'etre of the regional theatre movement. That's when managers ask colleagues privately for the theatre equivalent of a "stock tip," a small, inexpensive, commercially successful show they can put on their stage to pay the bills.

Few theatres today have the resources to remain 100% true to their missions, and plenty are justifying what they know to be questionable artistic choices on the basis of audience development when there is little evidence to show that lasting bonds are created with commercial theatregoers who are simply not interested in the more serious fare for many reasons (partly because they have not been trained to be interested since arts education has long been removed from our public schools).

Of course, the best example of this is the ubiquitous holiday presentation "A Christmas Carol," offered annually at so many of the nation's regional theatres--even some with outstanding reputations and high artistic aspirations. It's rationalized as being a classic--after all, it is Charles Dickens--and even highbrow arts lovers enjoy seeing it. And it's not as crass as offering [insert the name of any contemporary commercial hit here] that rival theatres find themselves forced into putting on their stages to make a buck.

But just as virtually no ballet company can survive without its annual "The Nutcracker," many theatre companies are heavily dependent upon the annual shot-in-the-arm from "A Christmas Carol." (This situation was hilariously lampooned in "Inspecting Carol" by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, which I produced at the Laguna Playhouse quite a number of years ago."

The dilemma of financing high culture is one that is timely.

The National Endowment for the Arts just received a $20 million increase in President Bush's 2009 budget (it's still below its pre-Reagan-arts wars level, and $170 million for the entire U.S. still remains below that famous benchmark--how much the federal government spends on military bands) and the Arts Council of Britain has received a significant increase in funding (but then mired itself in controversy when it sought to cull hundreds of worthy groups from its roster).

Is selling one's soul to keep the doors open the answer?

For the arts organizations that fly "without a net" (i.e. adequate endowment), the answer is probably "yes."

But as we witness universities' tremendous success in building endowments--some so outrageously large (and targeted for criticism) that they are starting to offer drastically reduced tuition, even to affluent students--the only long-term solution is indeed a major endowment thrust.

This is not a new idea, but few cultural organizations have made it a priority.

It's far from easy (much easier to raise capital for visible bricks-and-mortar projects and even for annual operating expenses), but I think prospective donors who care about an organization can be convinced that this is the most important way that they can ensure the long-term financial health of that institution.

And for the institution, the freedom from abrogating its mission and the ability to expand access to our civilization's collective cultural legacy should be of paramount importance.

Until next time...


Saturday, February 2, 2008

On Theatre Critics & Criticism

The cover story and two additional related articles in the new issue of American Theatre are devoted to this topic.

While much of it is dispiriting commentary, reflecting not only age-old tensions between the creators of theatre and those who critique it, but the sea-change in how theatre lovers access information about theatre, including criticism, owing of course to the rise of the pluralistic internet and the decline of the monolithic newspaper.

Still, the opportunities for greater dissemination and discussion of ideas about theatre as a result of the internet were also explored, and offered a ray of hope for those who truly care about theatre's future ability to attract and engage audiences.

One of pieces is accessible online at: Otherwise, you should pick up a copy if you don't already subscribe.

Until next time...


Friday, February 1, 2008

A Rose by any Other Name...

مُمْتاز، رائِع
aukščiausios rūšies

These are some of the words you can use to describe this Sunday and next Tuesday to people in foreign lands.

I am of course referring to SuperSunday and Super Tuesday.

Until next time...


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Due to some writing deadlines and participating in a conference that took me to Baltimore and DC, I'm afraid that I've neglected posting here.

My visit back east reacquainted me with frigid weather and snow, which was shockingly refreshing.

It also enabled me to attend performances at two highly regarded theatres whose work I knew of but had never seen previously: Centerstage and Theatre J.

Centerstage is one of the Ur-theatres of the American regional theatre movement, founded in 1963 and led for about 40 years by Peter Culman, now retired, who gained respect as one of the most skilled managers in the nation. They were just closing a production of August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," which I was able to get in to see (along with my niece Daria, a freshman at Binghamton University). I had seen its original staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwrights Conference twenty years ago, which featured Charles ("Roc") Dutton, fresh from his triumph as Levee in Wilson's first major production at Yale Rep, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." But "Joe Turner..." is a less-produced work of Wilson's, and I never saw a full production of it until now. It possesses some of the raw genius of his writing, while showing some of the "seams" of a playwright still learning his craft. Centerstage did an admirable job of making it work. The performance I attended was sold out which, I later learned, is typical of August Wilson plays produced there.

My friend Ari Roth, whom I'd met previously but became better acquainted with during the recent IsraDrama festival in Tel Aviv, is artistic director of Theatre J in DC. We had the chance to chat, grab a bite of dinner with his young daughter Sophie, and he treated me to see his current production "Schlemiel the First" by Robert Brustein. This was an utterly delightful Klezmerized compendium of tales about the wise men of Chelm, the legendary shtetl in Eastern Europe populated entirely by fools. Silly fun, it was nonetheless quite a slick production. When I mentioned this to my mother, she reminded me that she had actually performed on that stage in 1943 in "Night Must Fall." Theatre J is located at the DC Jewish Community Center on 16th Street NW, a few blocks from DuPont Circle, and is one of the largest Jewish-themed theatre companies in America.

I also took a quick swing by the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river. It is located in a stunning new village complext of housing, retail, dining and the public library, and boasts two theatre spaces for its mostly musical theatre fare. Eric Schaeffer, who co-founded the company 17 years ago, remains its artistic director and has won kudos as a director of musicals, including on Broadway. They've become one of the most important theatres in the DC area, and now have a facility that matches in quality the work they put on stage.

In prior visits to DC, I've been to Arena Stage (now undergoing its own physical transformation), Studio Theatre (a daring company with multiple stages located near Theatre J) and the Kennedy Center, but DC and environs is teeming with great theatre. Many believe it is America's second city in theatre (though Chicagoans argue the contrary).

Until next time...


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

If you feel terrorized at the prospect of responding spontaneously during a classical music concert, I urge you to read a very provocative piece by Bernard Holland in today's New York Times.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Conundrum

During my recent visit to Israel, I saw a proliferation of politically-themed plays and engaged in discussions about them with the creators and with colleagues from around the world.

Interestingly, this has led to invitations to become involved in a number of theatre projects in various capacities--writer, producer, director, dramaturg, shoulder-to-cry-on, 5 cent psychiatrist, etc.

Well, after all, the 'Doctor is in.'

One of the projects involves a collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian artists under the direction of an internationally acclaimed director in a play by Shakespeare.

Sounds like a worthy endeavor and one that can promote understanding between the two peoples and by outsiders who have little grasp of the roots of the conflict.

But there are formidable challenges to uniting such a group of artists in light of the mistrust that exists between Palestinians and Israelis today--even among those who would like to see a peaceful solution respectful of both sides.

Many people know of the renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim's East-Western Divan Orchestra, comprised of young Arab and Israeli musicians. Much has been written about its creation, a joint project of Barenboim, who is an Argentinian/Israeli, and the late Edward Said, who was a professor at Columbia University and an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights and critic of Israeli policies. As controversial as was their pairing together to establish this ensemble, the orchestra has won world-wide praise for its admirable goals of bringing these young people together to make music and, in so doing, detoxifying their preconceived notions of each other.

I know we will be looking to that model as both inspiration and for some practical solutions to our new project, and I look forward to sharing more information about it here in my blog at the appropriate time.

Until next time...