Monday, March 31, 2008

A first-rate consultant

Good news -- you now have the opportunity to benefit from an expert consultant. Harry Kavros is putting into practice what he learned from his foundation experience, along with his corporate and academic management experience to become a nonprofit management consultant. His specialty is strategic planning and organizational development, grant proposal writing and management coaching. Recent projects include:
a feasibility study for expansion
a strategic plan for marketing
board development
measurements, and other areas of a newly formed educational nonprofit
management coaching for the executive director of a branch of a national nonprofit
helping a small family foundation structure its grant giving for maximum social impact.

You may contact him at (917) 575 4851.

I can strongly vouch for his integrity.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Two Great Stories - BOTH TRUE - and worth reading

Merwin Goldsmith sent these lovely stories to me. They made me cry. Take the time to read them and you’ll see why.


Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn't famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed 'Easy Eddie.' He was his lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but also, Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago city block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son he loved dearly.

Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime,
Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong.

Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son; he couldn't pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al 'Scarface' Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great!

So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.


World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gage and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold: a squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another.

Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft.

This took place on Feb. 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29.

His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So, the next time you find yourself at O'Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch's memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It's located between Terminals 1 and 2.


Butch O'Hare was 'Easy Eddie's' son.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mother of the Year

Dudley Stone sent me this lovely account. Bless their hearts!
In a zoo in California , a mother tiger gave birth to a rare set of triplet tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to complications in the pregnancy, the cubs were born prematurely and due to their tiny size, they died shortly after birth. The mother tiger, after recovering from the delivery, suddenly started to decline in health, although physically she was fine. The veterinarians felt that the loss of her litter had caused the tigress to fall into a depression.

They decided that if the tigress could surrogate another mother's cubs, perhaps she would improve. After checking with many other zoos across the country, the depressing news was that there were no tiger cubs of the right age to introduce to the mourning mother. The veterinarians decided to try something that had never been tried in a zoo environment. Sometimes a mother of one species will take on the care of a different species. The only orphans that could be found quickly, were a litter of weanling pigs. The zoo keepers and vets wrapped the piglets in tiger skin and placed the babies around the mother tiger. Would they become cubs or pork chops?

Take a won't believe your eyes!!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jeff Daniels

Actor Jeff Daniels shares what he loves about the place he calls home — and why he chose to help his town make some big changes in his essay that appeared in Guideposts Magazine.

Let me tell you about the small town where I come from: Chelsea, Michigan, population nearly 4,700, just west of Ann Arbor. It has one hospital, three elementary schools, a high school, a train depot, golf courses, several churches and a tree-lined Main Street. And right out of central casting there's the lumber company (where my folks still work), Zouzou's coffee shop, a hockey rink and a first-rate theater (more about that later). With its small-town atmosphere and solid Midwestern values, it's the sort of place where an actor with both promise and ambition grows up and then leaves, never to return…unless he's the grand marshal in the annual Fourth of July parade and his agent or studio needs to buff up his image.

Well, I left Chelsea when I was 21 to try my luck in the theater, which was pretty good. I appeared on the Broadway stage and in a couple of Hollywood films, and after bouncing around between the East and West Coasts, my wife, Kathleen, and I asked ourselves where we wanted to raise our children — our one son was almost two years old. The answer was easy: "Michigan." We knew Michigan. And if it was going to be Michigan, it would have to be Chelsea, where we'd met. Even if the winters were as cold as the summers were hot and sticky and everyone knew everyone else's business, it was home. It was the one place I knew I could give my kids the good things I had growing up, things I believed in.

First, there were teachers like Miss DiAnn L'Roy. She taught chorus in sixth grade. One day she had us do improvisations. "Okay, Jeff," she said, "I want you to get up there and act like you're a politician giving a speech and his pants are falling down." I'd never done anything like that — standing in front of a class, tugging at my belt and making a pompous speech, but evidently I was pretty funny because everybody cracked up. "You were great," they said. Miss L'Roy saw something in me I'd never seen in myself.

She didn't forget, because sophomore year in high school when I had no intention of ever trying out to be in a school play, she caught me as I was coming out of basketball practice and stopped me by the auditorium doors. "Jeff," she said, "get in here." She was holding auditions for South Pacific and needed sailors. The next thing I knew she had me onstage doing this silly dance. My hair was still matted and wet from practice and I was singing a funny song, but it was good enough for Miss L'Roy. I was in the show. 

The next year she raised the stakes by casting me as Fagin in Oliver (I listened to Ron Moody on the record for hours to learn the accent and songs). From there it was Harold Hill in our ragtag community theater's production of The Music Man and Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof

Miss L'Roy gave me stage time, but I had to learn on my feet. She asked me to try things I didn't think I could do, like the villain Jud Fry in Oklahoma! "I want you to look into the psychology of this character, the material that's not written in the script," she told me. She wanted me to study the character and figure out his motives…but first I had to look up the word "psychology."

Make no mistake. Just because Miss L'Roy was teaching in a small town, there was nothing smalltime about her. Like a lot of teachers all over America she was opening my eyes to something new. She was giving me a chance to take bigger risks in a bigger world. She knew I'd learn something, even if I failed. When I had the opportunity to go to New York City I had to try because there was somebody back home who believed in me.

I didn't take to the city. It was crowded and noisy and you didn't know the people you passed in the streets. There were hundreds of actors from all over the country all going after the same jobs. I didn't see how I'd ever make it. After about six months I was desperate to come home. I called my mom and complained. She listened. At the end of my harangue, she said quietly, "Find a way to stay." My mom is a woman of few words and they're always well chosen — there was no room for argument. She'd seen what Miss L'Roy saw and knew what good people also know in small towns: There are times you have to leave home to grow.

I wanted to go home, but I stayed and had some lucky breaks. I got cast in some great plays and movies like "Ragtime," "Terms of Endearment" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo." But I never forgot home. I married my high school sweetheart and, after 10 years, like I said, Kathleen and I moved back to Chelsea. "What if you get cast in a movie or a play?" she asked.

"Detroit has an airport," I said. "I can fly from there to wherever I have to go." At least when I returned I'd be returning to a home that was really home, not some modern house tucked in the Hollywood hills.

Small towns might have a reputation for being set in their ways, not a good place to experiment or feel stimulated or inspired. Well, I have to disagree. Coming back to Chelsea I felt free to try things I hadn't done before — like writing. I wasn't sure how to make a play, but I figured if we had the space we could find the actors and experiment. Kathleen and I bought an old wooden warehouse. That was the beginning of what we called The Purple Rose Theatre — what I envisioned was a company for the 21-year-old kid I used to be, where he could explore and grow before he went to New York or L.A. Or maybe he wouldn't even want to go. Maybe he'd stay here and make great theater in Michigan. 

Michiganders love their theater. And that's what The Purple Rose has become… a place for actors, directors and playwrights from Michigan and the Midwest to get the training and breaks I did. We'll see the hunger in some young actors who have talent and we'll help them get as good as they can before they leave. We take pride in helping make talented people better. It's a matter of good stewardship, passing on the gifts God has given us. Small towns take pride in what they produce.

There're other things Kathleen and I have been a part of. There was an old school, a nice solid brick building that was going to be torn down and turned into condos. We bought it and saved it for a group called the Chelsea Center for the Development of the Arts. It was just a husband-and-wife operation in one room of a church, giving lessons in cello, voice and violin. Now, you go into the renovated building and there are people singing, rehearsing and playing instruments. Kids — the non-sports kids — have gone on to win university scholarships because of the training they've gotten.

Then there's the ballpark. We used to have baseball and softball fields at the high school that were in bad shape. My buddy, who's now the athletic director at Chelsea High, wanted something new. With a little money and a lot of imagination, he built a new stadium with box seats, a press box, dugouts and scoreboards. A lot of people got behind him. Pooling our resources and doing some fundraising we've built something great.

In Boy Scouts they say, "Leave a place better than you found it." Well, I think it's true of the towns and cities where we live. I can look at Chelsea and see the things my parents have done for it — like the adoption agency my dad started for hard-to-place kids in southeastern Michigan. I hope someday someone will be able to say it about me. In the meantime, I'm not leaving. Sure, I go to California to make a movie or fly to New York to appear in a Broadway show, but then I come back to Chelsea, where my roots are, where God planted me, you might say. It's where your roots are deepest that you grow the most.
Find more on Jeff Daniels at and his theater at

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Liam Neeson

I’m so glad Liam Neeson will be back on a New York stage for the Lincoln Center Festival this summer. I met Liam several years ago when he was doing The Crucible on Broadway. We sat in his dressing room and he shared with me the importance faith and prayer play in his life for my book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors.

This time he’ll be part of Gate/Beckett, presented by the Gate Theater of Dublin, comprising three short one-man Beckett works, playing July 16-27. Ralph Fiennes and Irish actor Barry McGovern will also be featured.

Liam will be in Eh Joe. Originally written for television, the work has been adapted for the stage by Atom Egoyan, who will also direct. "Joe sits alone in a room, prodded into uncomfortable thought by Penelope Wilton's disembodied voice. A projected close-up of his face is all the tortured expression the audience needs to understand the pain of a memory explored," according to press notes.

Also part of Gate/Beckett will be an afternoon of Beckett's poetry and prose on July 26. Liam, Fiennes and McGovern are scheduled to read selections from Beckett's work at 2 p.m. in the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, where Gate/Beckett takes place.

Tickets go on sale to the general public March 28. For tickets and further information visit

Monday, March 24, 2008

Marcia Gay Harden

This essay by MARCIA GAY HARDEN appeared in Guideposts Magazine.

Look up “struggling young actress” in the dictionary and you might see a picture of me, circa 1982. Rushing to open casting calls in between waiting tables, always worried about how to make the rent. Just about the only acting cliché I wasn’t fulfilling at the time was living in New York City. I was based in Washington, D.C., where I was waiting to get my Screen Actors Guild Union card. When I did, then I’d make the big move to NYC.

It was an uncertain time in my life, but one thing I was certain of: Acting meant everything to me. From the first part I’d played in high school (in Up the Down Staircase, thanks for asking!), there was a quality about acting that made me feel in touch with something big and mysterious and meaningful…. It may sound funny, but the feeling I got when I was playing a role I connected with was that God was using me for something good. When I was blessed with a role I was really passionate about, I felt like I was doing something I was truly meant to do.

Of course, most days found me hustling through a pair of swinging restaurant doors with a stack of hot plates on my arm. And that was fine too. I was paying my dues, doing what all young actors did.

One day, as I was finishing up a long hard lunch shift, I found myself in a particularly upbeat mood. I had reason to be. First off, I’d just finished a production of And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson for a local theater. We packed a small house every night, and I was confident that I’d done a good job. Plus — and more important — Oliver Stone was coming to town to do a casting call for his upcoming movie "Born on the Fourth of July," the story of paralyzed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. The call was just for crowd-scene extras, but I didn’t care. The way I figured, Oliver Stone would notice me, pull me out of the lineup and lo and behold, I’d have my big break. I guess you could say I was in one of my optimistic periods.

Two women came in, sat down at a table in my section and smiled like they knew me when I came up to take their order. Turns out they did. “We saw your performance in And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson last week. You were wonderful! We’d like to offer you a job.”

When is an actress not happy to hear those words? I asked what the part was. “Probably not what you think,” the other woman said. “Snow White.”

“Snow White? Where’s the production?” I asked.

“Georgetown University Hospital,” the first woman said. “We’re from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A seven-year-old girl named Bonnie is dying of pediatric cancer. She doesn’t have much more than a month to live. Snow White is her favorite movie. Our foundation grants wishes to terminally ill children. And Bonnie’s wish is to meet Snow White.” I gave them an answer before I’d even handed them their menus. The part felt right and the cause was good. I promised them I’d be available the day they needed me.

I’m not a big fan of irony. So you can imagine how I felt two days later when one of the Make-A-Wish ladies called to give me the date for my appearance at the hospital. You guessed it. Same date as my casting call. “Couldn’t you make it another day?” I asked, panicked.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Bonnie’s running out of time.” I hung up and called the casting agency in charge of Oliver Stone’s visit. Was there any chance I could audition on another day? “Oliver’s only in town for that day,” the casting director told me. “Marcia, this is a great opportunity. Whatever conflicts you have on that date, I’d advise you to find a way to reschedule them.”

I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I had to make a decision. What was right for me? Success had to be Priority Number One. It was as simple as that. They could get another Snow White. I might not get another chance like this. I’d call first thing in the morning and cancel the hospital job.

Yet it just didn’t feel right. I’d promised to make a sick little girl’s wish come true. How could I put ambition above that? The next day I called the agency and told them I couldn’t make the casting call. “I have another engagement I can’t back out of,” I said.

By the day of my performance as Snow White, I was as ready as I’d ever been for any role I’d played in my life. I had no lines to learn, but I’d gotten a good costume, reread Snow White for the first time since I was a kid, re-watched the Disney movie and buried myself thoroughly in the character. I could rattle off the names of all Seven Dwarfs without a hitch.

The only problem was I kept bursting into tears. I was positive this would’ve been my big break — my one chance to make it. And I was letting it go.

The morning of the performance I got into costume at home. I must have been a curious sight as I made my way to Georgetown University Hospital. How many times do you see a weeping Snow White at the wheel of a yellow convertible VW Bug?

On top of everything else, traffic was horrible. I got to the hospital late and flew in — stopping only to make one last call to the casting director to beg once more for a chance to reschedule. “No, Marcia,” the agent said. “This is it.” It was a pay phone, and as I spoke, I could see my distorted reflection in its metal surface. A pale woman with black hair and blotchy red patches from incessant crying. Some Snow White. Some actress.

I hung up, asked for directions at the information desk and went running for the elevator. Down at the end of a long hallway, a woman and a girl were standing outside the hospital room: Bonnie’s mother and 12-year-old sister. Bonnie’s mom recognized me (it would have been hard not to in my getup) and greeted me with a big hug. Then she handed me a bag with a Barbie and some other toys in it. “If you don’t mind, I thought it would be nice if Snow White gave Bonnie some presents. She’s having a bad day, but she is looking forward to this so much.”

“Sure,” I said, taking the bag of toys. Then I took a deep breath and steeled myself — the way I do before every performance — and walked into the room. What I found stopped me cold. All my doubts about whether this was the right thing to do vanished. I’d been prepared to meet a sick girl. But the girl sitting on a pallet on the floor was so small and thin. I knew Bonnie was seven, but she barely looked five.

Bonnie raised her eyes and stared at me. Her face, pale as it was, lit up like a candy store. “Snow White!” she said.

I stood there dumbly. Come on, something inside me said. Pull it together. You know what you’re here for. Then something clicked. I wasn’t just a struggling actress playing Snow White. I was Snow White. “Hello, Bonnie!” I said in dulcet tones. “I’m so glad to see you! I’m so sorry that Grumpy and Sneezy and Doc (I named all seven) weren’t able to make it!”

We talked for a while. I told her all about the handsome prince and gave her her gifts. “Snow White?” Bonnie said, grabbing my hand.

“Yes, Bonnie?”

“When I die, will the prince kiss me and then I’ll wake up again?”

The room fell silent. How do you answer a child’s question like that? It had never struck me that Bonnie wanted to meet Snow White to answer a life-after-death question. What could I say to this brave, beautiful, honest girl? I closed my eyes for a second and tried to imagine what Bonnie must be feeling. How lonely it must be to be this young and this sick. “No, Bonnie,” I said, “it’s even better. When you go to heaven, God will kiss you and then you’ll wake up again.”

You remember what I was saying earlier about how the real mystery of acting came when I was playing a role I knew I was meant to play? Well, at that moment in that hospital room with Bonnie, I got that feeling. I got it like I had never gotten it before in my life. I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be, playing exactly the role I was meant to play.

Bonnie died just a week later. Was I able to make her passing a little easier? Hopefully I was part of that plan. And Bonnie was definitely part of the plan for me. She taught me that acting is about connecting, not about union cards and red carpets and ambition. Eventually I got my SAG card and moved up to New York City. After a couple more years of acting classes and waitressing and temping and living in crummy apartments and all the rest of that stuff, I got it. My big break. Two upstart young brothers, directors Joel and Ethan Coen, cast me in their movie "Miller’s Crossing." I was on my way.

In 2001 I received an Academy Award for my work as the painter Jackson Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner, in Ed Harris’s film "Pollock." Last year I played the mother of Chris McCandless in the film "Into the Wild." Wonderful roles in wonderful movies. Roles that, while I was playing them, made me know I was where I was meant to be. That all the struggle and uncertainty was for a reason. It’s a wonderful feeling. 

The hope of spring

O God,
As creation springs to life
during this season of hope,
we pray that your light
may penetrate the darkest
corners of our heart,
and the saddest places
in our world.
Be there to comfort
our brothers and sisters in need,
and inspire our courage
to go forth and proclaim
the Good News of Easter
in joyful word and deed. Amen.
--from the Sisters of Charity of New York

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

“Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

--From the Good Friday service in The Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams would be so disappointed if he could see this limp production of what he considered the favorite of his plays. He might appreciate its historic aspect -- it’s the first time it’s been done on Broadway with an all-black cast -- but he couldn’t help but find fault with Debbie Allen’s direction and the cast members’ performances.

The biggest problem is with Anika Noni Rose as Maggie. In the first act she sounds more like a hyper teenager talking on a cell phone on the subway. You want very much to tune her out. Yes, Maggie does talk a lot in this scene as she tries to get Brick’s attention, but she’s supposed to do it in a calculated, needling way. Rose talks so fast she sounds manic.

She looks a bit manic too. For some reason Allen has her take off her stockings and slip and put on new ones after one of the little “no neck monsters” has soiled her dress with a buttered biscuit. But all I could think was, why doesn’t she just change her dress? The stocking and slip were fine. I imagine Allen was trying to give her something to do while she did all that talking, but it just makes her seem like a wind-up toy in overdrive. This keeps her from seeming even the least bit sexy, even when she’s parading around in her underwear.

On the other hand, Terrence Howard as Brick, appears comatose. Brick is supposed to be trying to be indifferent to Maggie, but he can’t help finding her amusing. Howard has the indifferent part down pat, but he comes off closer to a corpse than a former star athlete turned TV sports announcer.

That was the first act. The second is even worse, and seemed interminable. James Earl Jones as Big Daddy also seems lethargic, which he shouldn’t be in his confrontation with Brick. This scene should have tension sizzling up, but it had none.

Phylicia Rashad is miscast. Acting-wise she’s an effective Big Mama, but not appearance-wise. She looks far too glamourous, and actually comes off as sexier than Maggie.

I wasn’t the only one disappointed. A young woman two seats away from me was complaining during the first intermission. She kept comparing it to the original, which confused me. She was much younger than I and I wasn’t around for the original. Then I heard “Elizabeth Taylor” and I knew she was talking about the 1958 movie. I told her the original had been produced on Broadway in 1955 and she was surprised. She thought she was seeing a new play based on the movie. Oh, dear, don’t they teach Tennessee Williams in school anymore? During the second intermission I could still hear her talking about how much better the “original” was.

As I said, I missed the original, but I saw all three previous revivals. The first, in 1974, was blessed with Elizabeth Ashley, who was the gold standard of Maggies. I also saw Kathleen Turner, who was appropriate, and Ashley Judd, who wasn’t.

Thank heaven cats have many lives, and may poor dear Maggie reincarnate real soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Conscientious Objector

Waaay tooo loonggg! It was like sitting through a history lesson -- I learned some things, but the presentation was dry and completely lacking in theatricality. A man a couple rows behind me snored loudly during the first act.

I’m surprised the Keen Company put on such a lifeless show. Their productions are usually first rate, but not only did this play need work, the acting and directing did as well. It seemed more like an early read-through than a show in final previews, a press performance, no less. I actually wondered if the cast had received some really sad news just before the curtain. That’s how off the mark they were, even two-time Tony winner John Cullum, who plays President Lyndon B. Johnson, seemed distracted.

This was the world premiere of Michael Murphy’s play, directed by Carl Forsman. Certainly the basis of the play should have made it compelling. In early 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. informed his advisors that he intended to play a major role in the antiwar movement, advocating immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam. No major figure of Dr. King’s stature had yet been willing to take such a dramatic stand, even those thought to oppose the war, such as Senators Kennedy and McGovern. Dr. King, played by DB Woodside from the hit television drama “24” in his New York stage debut, knew he would be turning past allies like President Johnson into powerful enemies and reviving the animus of old enemies as well. Dr. King’s inner circle feared he would trigger a political backlash that could undo the progress made in civil rights. The play draws upon the historical record, including the FBI’s relentless surveillance, often illegal, and the White House’s infamous secret telephone recordings. It’s a troubling story of dissent in America during a time of war and one man’s struggle to do what he feels is right against much opposition.

All of this should have made for a dramatic presentation, but any tension that Dr. King’s soul searching and speaking out raised was lost in the wordiness of too much talk. The direction appeared nonexistent; the actors didn’t seem to know what to do as they spoke all that dialogue. They’d sit in a chair, get up from the chair and stand or walk across the minimalist set, then sit again. The whole production had the amateurish feel of a school play.

It’s a shame the production isn’t sharper because of the prophetic message that comes across most strongly at the end through Rachel Leslie’s effective presentation as Coretta King sharing “The 10 Commandments of Vietnam” that Dr. King had in his pocket when he was shot. These are especially important today because we have no leaders like Dr. King speaking out about our current misguided war:

“Thou shalt not believe the people we claim to be fighting for love us.
“Thou shalt not believe they are grateful for our support.
“Thou shalt not believe they consider the insurgents who kill our soldiers to be ‘terrorists.’
“Thou shalt not believe they support the government we have given them.
“Thou shalt not believe our goverment’s figures on casualties and deaths.
“Thou shalt not believe our generals know best.
“Thou shalt not believe even our most sympathetic allies think what we are doing is right.
“Thou shalt not believe that our enemy’s victory means our defeat.
“ Thou shalt not believe there are military solutions to social problems.
“Thou shalt not kill.”

Sadly, these could be read today. They are so powerful, it’s a shame it took an hour and 20 minutes to get to them.

  This is Murphy’s second collaboration with Forsman and Cullum. The first, “Sin (A Cardinal Deposed),” received an Obie Award and a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play. Now that was riveting theatre. It also was only 90 minutes with no intermission, thus avoiding the talkiness that plagues “The Conscientious Objector.”

Murphy has recently finished a second play set in the civil rights era, again collaborating with Forsman, entitled “The Asset.” He is currently writing a third play in what now appears to be shaping up into a trilogy.

The civil rights era is certainly a promising idea for dramatizing, but interestingly enough, present day history in the making last week was much more involving than this play. I saw the show Wednesday night after our governor, Eliot Spitzer, had just resigned following revelations that he spent many thousands of dollar for trysts with high-priced prostitutes. I could have stayed home and watched the news and seen a much more intriguing drama unfold.

“The Conscientious Objector” plays through Saturday, April 19 at Keen Company’s Off-Broadway home, The Clurman Theater @ Theatre Row (410 West 42nd St., between 9th and 10th Avenues). Tickets are $40 and are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or visiting

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mandy Patinkin

It was Mandyland Saturday night at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts as hundreds of fans, me included, nearly filled the large auditorium to hear Mandy Patinkin sing songs from Broadway and the American songbook for close to two hours -- with no intermission! Patinkin is a performer who holds nothing back.

Most of the songs he sang, accompanied by the marvelous Paul Ford on piano, I have on several of his recordings. I’ve been listening to them for many years, so it was nice to finally hear them live. I also listen often to his Broadway cast recordings of Evita and The Secret Garden and especially Sunday in the Park with George.

I was happy when he started with two songs from Sunday, “Children and Art” and "Sunday." He sang them with all the appropriate feeling and emotion they deserve. Then he sang a string of classics like “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” into which he inserted his characteristic shouting of a few verses. He did this for several songs in a row and I began to wonder if he was going to do it for every song. Luckily when he came to “Bring Him Home” from Les Miz he sang it with all the soulfulness it deserves and from then on the shouting was kept to a minimum the way it is on his recordings.

Even though the performance hall, on the campus of Brooklyn College, is huge, Patinkin made it seem intimate with his relaxed comments to the audience. He also gave us some good laughs, talking about all the “assimilated Jews” who wrote some of our best music, but never in Yiddish. Except the ones he said he had unearthed. He then sang “God Bless America,” “Maria” and others in Yiddish. The audience loved it -- and him. He returned the respect by offering such a long and rousing concert, stopping only to mop his face with a black towel and sip from his water bottle. It was great to be there.

Just in case the name Mandy Patinkin isn’t instantly recognizable to you as it is to all of us New York theatre folks, I’ll fill you in so you can look for him if he’s appearing in your neck of the woods. A Tony and Emmy Award winner, Patinkin has an extensive list of theatre credits that include Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theater.  He won a Tony Award for his 1980 Broadway debut as Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita and was again nominated in 1984 for his starring role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park With George.  He returned to Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical The Secret Garden in 1991 and appeared as Marvin in Falsettos the following year.  His other stage credits include The Wild Party, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, The Shadow Box and Henry IV, Part I/.
If you’re a television watcher, which I’m not, you may know him as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on the critically acclaimed CBS television series, “Chicago Hope,” a role that won him an Emmy Award in 1995.  He starred in the acclaimed Showtime Original Series “Dead Like Me” (2003 – 2004) and in the CBS drama “Criminal Minds,” which debuted in the fall of 2005.  His other television credits include the starring role of Quasimodo in a live action remake of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a version of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, Showtime’s “Strange Justice,” and episodes of “Touched By An Angel” and “Boston Public.”  His numerous feature film credits include:  “The Princess Bride,” “Yentl,” “Ragtime,” and “Dick Tracy.”
His accompanist, Paul Ford, was the original pianist for the Broadway orchestras of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George and the Off-Broadway production of Assassins.  His other Broadway credits include Tom Sawyer, High Society, Steel Pier, The Rink, Rags, The Secret Garden and Falsettos.  In addition, Ford was the pianist for the acclaimed Follies concert at Lincoln Center and the Carnegie Hall concert performances of A Sondheim Tribute and Anyone Can Whistle.   

Patinkin and Ford are just two of the gifted performers who are part of this season at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. For schedule information, visit

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Where are you headed?

“The important thing in this world is not where we stand, but in what direction we move.”

Sunday, March 9, 2008

In the Heights

This is a pleasant little fairy tale. I doubt the real-life residents of Washington Heights would recognize their neighborhood; it seems more like an urban Mayberry than the barrio. But in this season of plays about angry, highly dysfunctional people it’s enjoyable to watch a show in which everyone gets along great. The Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican immigrants seem so happy, spending their days and nights dancing in the streets, that I almost wanted to put my Upper East Side co-op on the market and move up there with them.

The real-life Heights residents are probably more creative in their dancing, though. These performers are all very good dancers, but they’re not given much to work with. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography just repeats itself over and over with each number.

“In the Heights” ran successfully for six months Off-Broadway, which I think would be a more appropriate venue, although it seemed most of the audience wouldn’t agree with me on that. They responded so enthusiastically I began to wonder what they saw that I didn’t. Whatever it was, other critics saw it too, or at least in the Off-Broadway production, which “New York Magazine” named best musical last year and Drama Desk, of which I am a voting member, gave awards for outstanding ensemble and choreography, to mention just some of the show’s critical recognition.

Story-wise, not a whole lot happens, which is OK. The characters are all likable, as are the actors who embody them. Usnavi (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the main character, runs the corner bodega he inherited from his father. (Mr. Miranda, by the way, not only stars in the show, but also conceived it and wrote the music and lyrics.) The bodega is the main hangout, when they’re not dancing in the streets, for most of the others -- Nina (Mandy Gonzalez), the college girl who is the hopes of her parents who run the neighborhood car service; Benny (Christopher Jackson), her boy friend who dreams of opening his own car service; and Vanessa (Karen Olivo), who actually wants to move out of this jolly community, but that’s mostly because she wants to get away from her alcoholic mother -- who never makes an appearance to spoil this harmonious scene.

And, of course, there’s Usnavi, who serves as focal point for everyone and everything. He experiences the biggest -- only, really -- hardship when his shop is looted during a blackout. But not to worry, a winning lottery ticket appears, not the least bit surprisingly, to save the day.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Hallways: The Songs of Carol Hall

This is a treasure of a new CD, an interesting selection of love songs -- ranging from warm, to humorous to rueful -- gospel, and country-lite, sung by terrific singers and backed up by fabulous musicians.

As usual, having covered show business for so long, I know some of the singers featured. My favorite selection is “Do You Know What I Mean?” It’s sung powerfully by Carol Woods, whom I don’t know, but backed up by Broadway Inspirational Voices, the gospel choir I first encountered when I interviewed founder and director Michael McElroy for my book Working on the Inside. I love BIV, both in concert and their CDs. We were blessed one year to have them sing at Broadway Blessing. The song they sing here is about keeping faith in the midst of uncertainty:

“Some people say
That the glory of God
Is a sky that’s sprinkled with stars
All twinkled up with stars
Or a moon that’s risin’ bright
Yes, I know what they mean. . .

But I say the glory of God
Is just one human person
Facing the unknown
Feelin’ all alone
But singin’ Hallelujah
Do you know what I mean?
Yes, I say the glory of God
Is just one human person
Hungry to believe
Grateful to receive
And singin’ Hallelujah
Do you know what I mean?”

I also was touched by the soulful lyrics of “The Two Lonely People,” which offers gorgeous music by Bill Evans, piano solo/arrangement by Hubert “Tex” Arnold, and is hauntingly sung by Laurel Massé, another singer who has blessed my life. Laurel, one of our new members at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, sang with the Broadway Blessing Choir last year. (Her solo CD, “Feather & Bone,” is fabulous.)

Another Broadway Blessing singer, going back a decade, is Scott Coulter who sings “War on Christmas Day,” a moving song about soldiers and sailors at war. Singing with him are Tim Di Pasqua and Tom Andersen; the music is by Robert Burke.

The CD closes with Hall singing “My Circle of Friends,” a lovely tribute to friendship. The other selections, also entertaining and different, are “Hard Candy Christmas,” performed by Hall and Susannah Blinkoff; “It’s Only A Broken Heart,” performed by Sally Mayes; “Dublin In The Rain,” performed by Farah Alvin, with music by Hubert “Tex” Arnold; “Change In Me,” performed by Johnny Rodgers; “This Is My Birthday,” performed by Halland Rick Jensen; “Tattooed Boy In Memphis,” performed by Amanda McBroom; “Hungry For You,” performed by Lesley Gore, accompanied by Wendy Lane Bailey, Massé and Hall, with music by Lesley Gore; “Jenny Rebecca,” performed by Bobby Gosh; “Nana,” performed by Hall, with lyrics by Carol Hall and Jane Hall); and “I’ll Imagine You A Song,” performed by Steven Lutvak, with music by Steven Lutvak.

Kris Kristofferson had this to say about her work: “Carol Hall is a beautiful surprise. One of the lucky experiences that comes along when you’re past expecting anything new under the sun. She is one of the best writers I’ve ever heard. Her songs are beautiful and unmistakably her own, with the paradoxical unpredictability and haunting familiarity of real and creative imagination. Sauce for the soul.”

The first person ever to record one of Hall’s songs was the young Barbra Streisand. Subsequently, her songs were performed by Tony Bennett, Barbara Cook, Margaret Whiting, Julie Wilson, Chita Rivera, Michael Feinstein, Mabel Mercer, Amanda McBroom, Lari White, Olivia Newton-John, Maureen McGovern, RuPaul, Miriam Makeba, David Campbell, Frederica von Stade, Kermit the Frog, Big Bird and many others.

Hall is one of the few songwriters to have a hit Broadway show. Her classic musical, The BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, entertained Broadway audiences for almost five years, received a Grammy nomination for its cast album, and became a popular film starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. Dolly’s recording of Carol’s song “Hard Candy Christmas” won an ASCAP Most Performed Country Song Award, and the film generated an Acadmy Award nomination for Charles Durning, singing “The Sidestep” as the slippery Governor of Texas. A recent national tour of WHOREHOUSE starring Ann-Margret enjoyed a run of more than a year and a half.

As if that’s not enough, Hall also does a lot of writing for children. Her “It’s All Right To Cry,” and “Parents Are People” continue to be favorites of generations of children. Recently she created the score to the theatrical version of the popular children's series MAX AND RUBY. Four tours of the show are presently playing across the country, after a successful debut opening Off-Broadway in December.

You may order Hallways here.

Feather & Bone

Laurel Massé gave me a copy of her CD, “Feather & Bone,” one Sunday after Mass at our church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I had fallen in love with her singing when she sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow” several weeks earlier. She has a way of reaching right to the soul of her listeners, and that is apparent on this CD as well.

Beginning with the lovely old Quaker hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing,” through “I am the Mountain Singer,” a poem by Joseph Campbell she put to music, and mystical selections including a 12th century hymn by Hildegard von Bingen, Massé in 12 largely a cappella tracks gives expression to spirituals and Celtic folk songs, ragas and Bach, millennium-old French hymns and modern pop songs to create what the Absolute Sound called "a recording of extraordinary sonic and musical value."

This CD has a deep, earthy quality that feels both ancient and eternal. It could easily lead someone into prayer, either at retreats or for silent times alone. Check out Massé’s web site at to order this beautiful CD.

Friday, March 7, 2008

C.S. Lewis

“So it was you all along --
Everyone I ever loved, it was you.
Everything decent or fine that ever happened to me,
Everything that made me reach out and try to be better,
It was you all along.”
--C.S. Lewis

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cutting edge theatre

Much is being made about the historical nature of the current New York revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” When it opens tonight it will be the first time an all-black cast has appeared in an American classic on Broadway. For me it’s yet another proof that if you want innovation, you’ve got to go Off-Broadway or to regional theatres like Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE. It was at CENTERSTAGE in 1972 that I saw the first all-black cast of “Death of a Salesman,” another American classic. Arthur Miller came to the opening.

That was just one of my powerful theatrical experiences over the years at CENTERSTAGE. A junior in high school at the time, it was my first encounter with Miller’s classic. I was a volunteer usher -- my way of getting to see good theatre for free -- and was so moved I went back a couple more times.

That performance, like so many I saw, became my point of reference for all others I would see in the future. As a theatre critic now in New York I often refer to something I saw all those decades ago, first in the old Oriole cafeteria on North Avenue and later, after that building was destroyed by an arson, at the present home on Calvert Street. I recently reviewed a mime artist and described how I first fell in love with the form. Sophie Wibaux and Bert Houle, who as I recall were husband and wife, choreographed “Julius Caesar” in the 1972-73 season and included their mine. It was spellbinding to watch them perform their wordless dialogue of Shakespearean drama. They were part of CENTERSTAGE’s resident company and were incorporated into shows over several years. That was in keeping with CENTERSTAGE’s creative approach to theatre. It certainly had an influence on me.

Through the years I was to experience my first performances of many Shakespeare plays there. And I also encountered new works. It was at CENTERSTAGE I discovered my first Tina Howe play, “Painting Churches.” I was so impressed that many years later when I was working on my second masters thesis, at N.Y.U., I decided my topic would be Howe and her plays. I interviewed her for that, and several times years later for newspaper and magazine features. I then taught a course in her plays one summer at Brooklyn College, all because of that first encounter at CENTERSTAGE.

Seeing all those plays was so important to my development. I ushered all through high school and college and during my years working as a reporter at the “Carroll County Times,” a small daily newspaper about 30 miles outside of Baltimore. I also volunteered at opening night parties, for the annual auction on the air and painting faces at the City Fair. The seeds of my current life were firmly planted at CENTERSTAGE.

When Broadway finally presents its groundbreaking staging of a major work with an all-black cast, I’ll be there to review it. And I’ll remember that CENTERSTAGE took the risk first -- 36 years ago.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

True Success

Winston Churchill said success “is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Keep your spirits up this week. That’s important. As Zig Ziglar said: “Others can stop you temporarily -- you are the only one who can do it permanently.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Salt N Pepa

I had a lovely phone chat last week with Cheryl James Wray, the Salt of Salt N Pepa, the wildly popular female rap duo. We spoke about her hot new show on VH1, but mostly we talked about her Christian faith, which has been deepening over the last several years.

In case you don’t know about Salt N Pepa, and I confess I didn’t, let me fill you in. They were the first female rap act to have gold, platinum, or multi-platinum albums, and although they were inactive for the five years prior to the launch of their new show last month, they were still the best selling female rap act in history. They disbanded in 2002 because Cheryl had grown tired of the music business after a 17-year run. She also questioned whether, having devoted herself to her faith, she should still be singing the same provocative songs with their sexual innuendo.

“There’s so much negativity in the music industry,” she told me. “That’s so much more popular than being responsible. People don’t understand if they haven’t transformed their lives.”

But transformation is just what she needed, she says.

“The reason I left was that I was sick. I had unresolved issues from childhood that were eating me up. My career became my god. I was pursuing everything but God.”

One of the ways this manifested was in bulimia, acerbated by the need to be thin for public appearances and all the wear and tear of traveling and performing.

“I came to a place I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to step away to find out who I was under the image I had created. I asked God what I had to do to be healed. It was a revelation moment.”

I asked Cheryl, now 41, what made her turn to God and she quoted the old saying about no atheists in a foxhole. “It’s innate,” she said. “It’s in us to call out to God when we’re desperate. A lot of Christians try to act like they’re not suffering, but I still suffer. It’s just before it would be a downward spiral. You have to do the work, to pursue God daily to be healed.”

So in 2000 she joined a Bible study and a “word-based church.”

“I grew up in church. I always believed, I just never knew I had to have a relationship with God.”

Through the years that followed, as “a suburban soccer mom” on Long Island, and now with developing the new show, she continues to work on this relationship.

“Change is not an event,” she says. “It’s a process. It’s a daily challenge to have convictions.”

This effort becomes part of “The Salt N Pepa Show,” a “reality” program in which Cheryl and Sandra Denton (Pepa), work out there relationship, which suffered after Cheryl decided to quit the business and Sandy took it personally, Cheryl says. Now the relationship is getting back on track.

Although it appears they are “total opposites,” much of that is just a pretense for the show, Cheryl says. “She does have her convictions. Pep is at Bible study every other Tuesday. She’s studying the word in a way she comprehends and is not threatening.”

And while Cheryl has led Sandy to Bible study, it seems they are really helping each other. “Pep is teaching me patience,” Cheryl says. “She’s stretching me and pulling me out of my comfort zone.”

She’s also helping Cheryl discern whether she should again sing the songs she sang before. “I’m uncomfortable with some of the words and lyrics, but I haven’t closed the door. I haven’t figured out how to make it valuable. I’m not confident to do it now.”

But she does realize she can influence more people through her high-profile role as an artist.

“I’ve definitely been appointed. I might not reach everybody, but I can reach certain people. Pep pulled me out of my box. She said, ‘If you think you’ve got a message, you’ve got to be out there.’”

“The Salt N Pepa Show” is on VH1 Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times; 9 p.m. Central time. (The posted photo features Cheryl on the left and Sandy on the right.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Jazz Age

What a disappointment. I was looking forward to this play about Ernest Hemingway and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald because I have such good memories of discovering those two writers when I was in college. I loved their work and reading about their lives lived on such a large scale. But in this new play by Allan Knee, only Zelda is alive. The men are one-dimensional wimps who don’t seem capable of doing more than pouring another drink and certainly could never have produced some of the most memorable fiction of the 20th century.

Yes, I know both men drank too much and had ego problems -- either too little or too much of it. And I know about the prospect of homosexuality underlying their bravado, but they were also blessed with creativity and the ability to envision characters and stories we never forget. I wish their genius had been presented to balance their extraordinary weaknesses. All we got was vulgar talk of sex and obsession with their manliness, most annoyingly presented with their whose-is-bigger groping of each other’s crotch. The play seemed a whole lot longer than two hours.

Only Zelda, played by Amy Rutberg, was fully diminutional, whether in her glamorous and flirtatious period, or in her decline at the psychiatric hospital where she appeared vulnerable and fragile. The play only worked when she was on stage. Dana Watkins as Fitzgerald was somewhat convincing when with her; PJ Sosko as Hemingway never was. For one thing, Hemingway was a large, robust man, which Sosko is not. But Sosko never even conjured the spirit of a vibrant man; rather he resembled in appearance and behavior a small town insurance salesman.

Mr. Knee had been inspired by Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” and went on to read several biographies about Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Zelda. Unfortunately, he didn’t recreate the atmosphere of “A Moveable Feast,” a book I’ve read two or three times and loved because I could feel Paris through Hemingway’s writing. None of that comes through in this flat production of “The Jazz Age.” For this absence, director Christopher McElroen needs to share some of the blame.

The Jazz Age began previews February 8 at 59E59 Theaters and closed Sunday.

Lynn Redgrave

I received a lovely note from Lynn Redgrave on Saturday. She’ll be joining us for Broadway Blessing this year, so mark your calendars -- 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 8 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 112th and Amsterdam. More news about other guests will be appearing, so stay tuned!