Monday, November 30, 2009

The Starry Messenger

A shaggy-haired student (Kieran Culkin) announces to his astronomy teacher (Matthew Broderick) that “overall I find your presentation very dry.” That’s exactly how I felt about Kenneth Lonergan's The Starry Messenger, which is having its world premiere by The New Group on Theatre Row.

I have learned over and over again through the years to avoid New Group productions, but I went to this one because my friend Merwin Goldsmith is in it. And I stayed for the whole, dull three hours because I wanted to go backstage afterwards to say hi to him. Friendship would be the only reason to sit through -- or star in -- this show, which is directed by Lonergan, (who went to school with Broderick) and also stars J. Smith Cameron, (wife of the playwright), Catalina Sandino Moreno (in photo with Broderick), Stephanie Cannon, Grant Shaud and Missy Yager. (Merwin replaced the previously announced Jonathan Hadary.)

As my friend Carolyn so rightly pointed out as we were riding home in a taxi, it’s a bad idea to make a boring person the main character of a play. Broderick is an astronomy teacher, Mark Williams, who shows no sign of spark in his teaching at the old Hayden Planetarium (just before it is torn down), in his marriage or even in his affair with a nursing student (Moreno). The playwright has said the idea sprang from a course he and Broderick took at the planetarium when they were in high school. He says he wrote the play specifically for Broderick, which makes me think of the saying, with friends like that . . .

Merwin plays an elderly hospitalized cancer patient who at the start seems on his deathbed but by the end appears read to go out dancing. I would say that’s not a hospital, that’s Lourdes! His daughter visits, and their relationship also takes major turns, going from strained to loving and back to strained. I have no idea what they have to do with the rest of the story, but at least they weren’t boring.

What spark the play does have comes from its set designer, Derek McLane, with the light shows he creates as part of the planetarium scenes and the lovely night skyline of Central Park above the set. He also does a nice job of establishing the four different location -- the classroom at the planetarium, Mark’s living room, his lover’s living room and the hospital. They remain set up across the stage, with the action shifting from place to place through the movement of the actors and Jason Lyons’s lighting.

For me, my reward was getting to talk to Merwin after the show. We met in 2001 when I interviewed him for the Ritual chapter of my book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors. It has been a blessing to know him.

The Starry Messenger is scheduled to play through Dec. 12 on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. (between 9th & 10th Ave.). Tickets are available by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kitty's Kisses

Lovers of old musicals will be thrilled with Kitty’s Kisses, a studio cast, world premiere recording of the 1926 Broadway musical, the latest in PS Classics’ forgotten musicals series. The jolly Roaring 20s score by Con Conrad (music) and Gus Kahn (lyrics) is sung by some of Broadway's finest, including the sublime Kate Baldwin, the It Girl of the moment thanks to her winning performance in the Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow and her sensational CD, Let’s See What Happens.

The recording, conducted by Sam Davis, also features Andréa Burns, Danny Burstein, Philip Chaffin, Victoria Clark, Christopher Fitzgerald, Malcolm Gets, Rebecca Luker, Jim Stanek and Sally Wilfert.

The songs are ballads and lively dance tunes -- think Charleston! -- and can be a bit corny, but they’re so cute I don’t mind. I particularly like “Choo Choo Love,” the train porter’s take on the romances he observes. “Goo-goo eyes, choo choo lies. Maybe he has a she. Maybe she has a he. What’s the difference? That’s choo choo love.” The love songs are sweet -- “Kitty’s Kisses” and “I’m in Love” are jaunty and pleasantly old-fashioned.

The plot sounds like perfect musical comedy farce, with a hotel full of guests, relationships pining, popping and fizzing, and lots of dancing. And, of course, a happy ending as the two who were always meant to be together finally connect.

Kitty’s Kisses received strong reviews and ran for 170 performances in the summer of 1926. That seems like a short run to us in this era of mega-musicals that play for a decade or more and tour extensively, but back then it was normal. The 1925-26 season saw 46 musicals on the Great White Way. Shows came and went and, for the most part, were lost to history. How commendable it is, then, that PS Classics has brought one of them back to life, at least to disk. And who knows what will come of it? The delightful whimsy of this recording proves that Kitty’s Kisses would be a fun musical to stage -- I can imagine the York Theatre doing a great job with it -- or to be given a go by City Center’s Encore! series of staged musical concerts.

As for Kate Baldwin, I’m looking forward to hearing her sing for my luncheon group, the Dutch Treat Club, on Tuesday at the National Arts Club. I love her voice, and I’m glad I’ll be able to tell her that in person.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wisdom from actors

Cyndi Ingle, creator of the wonderful LinkedIn group and web site Soul’s Code, asked me to write about what I learned from interviewing Liam Neeson, Vanessa Williams, Kristin Chenoweth, Dudu Fisher, Edward Herrmann, Phylicia Rashad and all the others I spoke to for my book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors. I learned a great deal and you can read about it at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I was deeply moved by Lynn Redgrave's new play, Nightingale, a solo show she wrote in homage to her maternal grandmother, Beatrice Kempson, a woman she barely knew, but one the actress felt needed to come out of the shadows and be given a voice.

For 90 minutes, with no intermission, Redgrave sits behind a little writing desk, script in front of her for occasional prompting, and creates a life for a woman who seems to have been dwarfed by those around her -- her older sisters, her husband, her successful daughter. Redgrave makes her a person in her own right, alternately telling her own story of an unhappy marriage, finding love in middle-age and fighting breast cancer. (It is because of the side effects of recent treatment that Redgrave sits at the desk and keeps the script for referral. This does not in any way detract from the performance.)

Redgrave is a wonderful storyteller, as anyone who saw Shakespeare for My Father -- the play she wrote about her lonely childhood and difficult relationship with her father, the actor Sir Michael Redgrave -- knows. Now, in Nightingale, she and her grandmother, who was called Beanie, share their lives as they never did in real life.

It was the cancer and the breakup of her long marriage that sent Redgrave on an exploratory mission to seek solace. She visited her grandmother’s grave and found her name had been washed away. Because she knew so little about her grandmother, Redgrave decided to imagine a life for her, using basic facts as the structure.

Beanie's had been an arranged marriage to a man she barely knew, and Redgrave allows her to voice her disappointment. “Marriage seemed like such an exciting idea until it happened,” she says in the voice she uses for Beanie. She parallels her own story of marrying a man she hardly knew -- they decided to marry having dated for only three weeks.

She imagines the indignity and horror the marriage bed would have been for her Victorian grandmother, then alternately admits she had known little about sex and that her marriage had been unfulfilling in that regard.

One scene that particularly touched me was when the mature Beanie went with her husband to see their daughter, Rachel, perform on the London stage. After the show they went backstage to see her and were told that “Lady Redgrave” would be with them shortly. Beanie is indignant that her daughter, whom she had always treated coldly, would keep them waiting, and her own sense of inadequacy is apparent. “So strange to hear her called that,” she says. “To remember that little pinched face, the little sticky hands clinging to my dress. Now a lady. A married woman. A star.”

Joseph Hardy directs this reflective show, which is produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. It's billed as a play "about a promising woman stymied by society and all but erased by history, a touching personal tribute and a resounding song for all those people whose voices we've lost, or never known." I love that sentiment.

Redgrave is a special woman, as I learned when I met her in September. She was our speaker at Broadway Blessing, the interfaith service I founded and produce. She talked of how her faith had helped her through her cancer diagnosis (she is now Stage IV) and treatment. I was glad to be able to go backstage after Nightingale to give her a hug and tell her once again that I’m praying for her everyday. She was gracious and welcoming, a beautiful woman in every sense. Please keep her in your prayers.

Tickets for Nightingale are available at the New York City Center box office, 131 W. 55th St., CityTix at (212) 581-1212 and The show is currently scheduled through Dec. 13. For more information, visit

Monday, November 23, 2009

Zero Hour

I knew nothing about Zero Mostel before seeing this show, but Jim Brochu brings that theatre legend to life so vividly that by the time the play was over, I felt I had known Mostel personally for years. And that he was right there with us. That’s how convincing Brochu’s performance and appearance are in Zero Hour, which opened last night in the Theatre at St. Clement’s.

Piper Laurie directs this one-man biographical play, which was written by Brochu. Set in 1977 in Mostel’s painting studio (he was an artist as well as an actor), the play unfolds under the device of having Mostel tell his life’s story to a New York Times reporter who has come to interview him.

Brochu, with a white beard, full arched black eyebrows and ample girth, looks amazingly like Mostel. He sits at a table painting, recounting his larger-than-life story, moving to the side for intense flashbacks.

At first I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through an hour and 50 minutes. Mostel’s nonstop one liners grow tiresome quickly, but I wanted to hear what he had to say about blacklisting, that nightmare time that left him out of work and his dear friend, Phil Loeb, dead of suicide. “He died of a sickness called the blacklist,” Mostel says with fury.

“Why were they targeting actors,” he asks rhetorically. “Did they think we were giving acting tips to the enemy?”

In his mind it was anti-Semitism, pure and simple, an “intellectual firing squad” by those who equated communist with liberal and liberal with Jew. “It’s hard for you to imagine the climate of fear we lived in then.”

For 10 years he couldn’t work as a comedian, so he painted. “They can’t stop creativity itself,” he declares.

The greatest target of his wrath is Jerome Robbins, the Broadway director and choreographer who named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Interestingly, though, Robbins ended up having a positive effect in Mostel’s life once Mostel was able to resume his career after the decade away from show business. He was starring in the musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was bombing on the road. In Philadelphia, “The audience sat there like we were doing Death of a Salesman.”

The show was rewritten, but still wasn’t working when it moved to Washington. So producer Hal Prince and director George Abbott asked Mostel if they could bring in Robbins to fix the show. Mostel described the three as “Hear No Evil, See No Evil and Evil,” but he agreed and Robbins saved the show, which became a hit on Broadway.

This experience was repeated again when Mostel was starring as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. The show was on its way to being a flop until Robbins was brought in. “The little weasel, he’s a genius,” Mostel had to admit.

These and other showbiz stories make Zero Hour fascinating, but we also learn about Mostel’s childhood on the Lower East Side with his immigrant parents, Orthodox Jews who disowned him for life after he married a Catholic Rockette, and the chilling account of how he almost lost his leg when an M-86 crosstown bus skidded out of control on a snowy night, slamming into him as he was getting out of a taxi, crushing his left leg. He remembered the whole experience, seeing the bus head toward him and the horrified faces of the passengers when they realized what was about to happen. Then the sounds of metal crashing and bones breaking, and the blood everywhere. Amazingly, through 15 operations over six months, his doctors were able to saving his leg. And the bus driver visited him in the hospital, bringing ice cream, and the two became friends.

The play takes us only to the day in July of 1977 when Mostel is giving his final interview before leaving for the pre-Broadway tryout of The Merchant in Philadelphia, and doesn’t go into what followed, that Mostel only played one performance as Shylock before his unexpected death at the age of 62.

In his lifetime, Mostel won Tonys for his performances in Fiddler on the Roof, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Rhinoceros.  His film credits include “The Front,” “Rhinoceros,” “The Hot Rock,” “The Great Bank Robbery,” “The Producers,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

This extraordinary life is well captured by Brochu, with help from Josh Iacovelli’s nice set of the artist’s studio and Jason Arnold’s lighting, which shifts the time between Mostel’s present with the interviewer and his past. Zero Hour captivated me, who knew nothing of Mostel’s life, and it also charmed someone who did know him. I had been happy to see Frances Sternhagen, the esteemed actress and two-time Tony winner (and two-time Broadway Blessing participant), sitting behind me. We had a nice chat during intermission, but talked of other things rather than this play. As we were leaving, though, her companion said to her, “Was that the Zero you knew?” And she answered ardently, “Yes. Oh, yes, definitely.”

Zero Hour will continue at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St. (between Ninth & Tenth Ave.)  through Jan. 31.
For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"I did it, didn't I? Through muck and mud."
-- Mary Lou Williams

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Accepting change

"Initiate the heart to change for it is wiser so,

accepting the splendor of the hour

white with clematis or snow.

"Fortify the will with peace:

no season taking root, tranquil in mist, in warmth, in frost,

each bears fruit."

-- from "Initiate the Heart," Sr. Maura Eichner’s first volume of poetry, published in 1946.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ragtime: The Musical

Seeing the original Ragtime a decade ago was such a memorable experience that I kept re-seeing it last night during the greatly scaled-down Broadway revival at the Neil Simon Theatre. This new one is just fine, with its delightful characters from E.L. Doctorow’s epic 1975 novel and the thrilling Tony-winning score by Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music). But oh, how I missed the elaborate staging of the first, which quite rightly won the Tony Award for best musical in 1998.

I’m definitely a Ragtime fan. I read the novel during the summer of 1976, saw the movie when it came out, have the soundtrack album to that movie and loved the music from the Broadway version so much I went out the next day and bought the cast recording. I have listened to it so much over the years that I probably could prompt any actor on any song -- and then some since the original score has been trimmed a bit. So, of course, I’m happy to have Ragtime back on Broadway. It’s an excellent production and should be nominated for best revival of a musical (although Finian’s Rainbow is my choice for that award).

Like the novel, the musical, which is directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, starts with three families of different wealth and status -- the wealthy WASPS from “the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle,” the blacks from Harlem with their “strange new music” (ragtime) and the immigrants with their dreams of a better life in America. By the end the separations break down as the different lives merge, old ways fade and new expressions point to the future. Historic characters like Harry Houdini (Jonathan Hammond), J.P. Morgan (Michael X. Martin), Henry Ford (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), Booker T. Washington (Eric Jordan Young), Emma Goldman (Donna Migliaccio) and Evelyn Nesbit (Savannah Wise) are woven in and out of the sweeping personal tale, which begins in 1906. (The musical’s book won a Tony Award for Terrence McNally.)

Even pared down, the revival still clocks in at two hours and 45 minutes, but the show is so involving the time flies. The characters, brought to life by a 40-actor cast, are the story, and so many of the songs are spectacular that they don’t need scenery around them.

Christiane Noll plays Mother, and like all of the WASP family members except the young son, Edgar (Christopher Cox), she has no name. Quentin Earl Darrington is Coalhouse Walker Jr., the up and coming ragtime musician, and Stephanie Umoh is Sarah, the love of his life and the mother of his child. (Both in photo.) Robert Petkoff is Tateh, the Jewish immigrant widower who arrives from Latvia with his young daughter (Sarah Rosenthal) and achieves great success as a movie director, having invented the process of moving pictures.

The skeletal, tiered set is by Derek McLane and the lush costumes are courtesy of Santo Loquasto. Donald Holder’s lighting sets all the right tones. James Moore leads the 28-piece orchestra.

This production of Ragtime first had a successful run at the Kennedy Center this past spring year. Tickets are available for the Broadway run by calling Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100, visiting or at the Neil Simon box office, 250 W. 52nd St.

A lottery ticket program is also available. Two hours before each performance, people may enter the lottery drawing at the theatre for a limited number of $26.50 tickets to that day's performance. Names will be drawn 90 minutes before curtain time. Two-ticket limit per person; cash only. Winners must be present with valid identification at the time of the drawing.

For more information visit

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Remembering Sr. Maura

I lost a dear friend Sunday night. Sr. Maura Eichner had been one of my English teachers at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, but over the years she became so much more.

I met Sr. Maura in the spring of 1976 when I took her Five Modern Dramatists course and she introduced me to Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett and Pinter. We both loved theatre, and so our first bond was established. Over the school years we shared other playwrights -- Shakespeare, Shaw, O’Casey, O’Neill -- and we talked about the wonderful plays we saw at Baltimore’s CenterStage.

After I graduated, I continued to visit; I loved climbing the stairs to her tiny, sunlit office at the top of the English department. She always seemed glad to see me, coming from behind her desk to sit in a chair opposite me so we could talk friend-to-friend, not teacher-to-student as in the old days.

When her lack of physical stamina made it necessary for her to retire, our visits became even more intimate as we sat in the cozy living room of the suite she shared with other sisters. I cherished those times most of all. That big room with its unpretentious furniture was so comfortable and inviting, and Sr. Maura was like a mother welcoming me home. My own mother was not warm and nurturing. A severe childhood trauma had left her incapable of loving and caring for me the way a child needs to be loved and cared for, so all my life I’ve looked for mothers. I found one in Sr. Maura. I would give anything to sit with her again in that living room.

I’m blessed that what I shared with Sr. Maura had a specialness that was just for us. Many, many former students loved Sr. Maura and she loved them too, but we shared her history. She grew up at 528 E. 84th Street in New York, in one of those old-time brown railroad flat buildings, a few of which are still on the block. Hers, though, was incorporated many years ago into what is now my building, so I live on the very spot where Sr. Maura grew up. I hadn’t known this until I told her my new address. She was thrilled, and told me to look hard for traces of chalk on the sidewalk from her hopscotch games and to listen for the sound of her jump rope hitting the pavement.

I used to keep her informed about the neighborhood now, and for years sent her the bulletin from St. Ignatius Church, a place she held close in her heart. She loved to go there with one of the uncles who raised her. Her mother had died less than a year after she was born and her father remarried and took her sister, Marie, who was a year older, to live with his new wife and sent Sr. Maura, then called Catherine, to live with an unmarried aunt, two unmarried uncles and her grandfather on 84th Street. Sr. Maura told me once this arrangement was because her stepmother didn’t want her because she was such “a terrible little thing,” but how could she have been? She was just a little girl who wanted her mother and needed her father’s love. I’m sure it’s that pain and loneliness that shaped her into the nurturing woman she became.

She shared other memories of her childhood with me, and even wrote a couple of essays for our block association newsletter about what this part of Yorkville had been like in her day. She remembered a Miss Peacock who supervised the games in the park across the street (Carl Schurz), and she remembered concerts by Goldman's Band in the evening. I don’t think we have the equivalent of a Miss Peacock, but we have a cheery modern playground filled with children, mothers and nannies, and we still have concerts in the park on summer evenings.

Another from the cast of characters from Sr. Maura’s childhood that I like to think about is Joe, who ran the ice and coal shop on the corner. She wrote about that time, about 1925, for our newsletter, how Joe would deliver the ice, but it was her responsibility to keep the drainage tray at the bottom of the icebox emptied. Joe’s store is long gone, his profession made obsolete as refrigerators replaced iceboxes, and a luxury high-rise now sits on the spot. Sometimes as I walk by, I say a prayer for Joe and think I may be the only one alive praying for this man who died so long ago. I’m sure he would smile at that, and would enjoy knowing that a 21st century woman was imagining his little shop, keeping a bit of that world alive, thanks to Sr. Maura.

“Looking back,” she wrote for our Fall 1995 newsletter, “it seems to me to have been an urban Our Town. Everything happened here: the pain and joy of growth and change, the dailyness of life, birth, love, death, the season’s wheel. Even when I take off my rose-colored glasses, I look at the scene in my mind’s eye and I am grateful to have been part of it.”

Sr. Maura and I didn’t just share the neighborhood where we lived, though. We also for a time shared a workplace neighborhood and a job. Before my first book sold and I was desperate for money, I took a job as a secretary and worked on Fifth Avenue at 56th Street. When I told Sr. Maura, she smiled and said her first job had been as a secretary on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street. It was for a philanthropic organization that helped poor women learn to care for themselves when they were pregnant and also trained midwives in the South. “I learned more there about pregnancy and childbirth than I could have anywhere else,” she told me. Her boss was Hattie Hempsmeyer, another name that survives the years. Sr. Maura really cared for Hattie and the other women, but after a year she told them she was leaving to become a nun. They were upset and tried to talk her out of it, saying she had her whole life ahead of her and that she would be wasting it. She did leave, of course, but she was never able to let the women know how happy she was. In those days, the young novices and nuns could only correspond with immediate family at Christmas and Easter, so she was unable to write to Hattie and the others to let them know how blessed her life had become. I thought as I looked at her that day in 1995, telling me yet another wonderful story from her life, that it was such a shame those well-meaning women couldn’t see her then and know her as I knew her, so alive with her love for God, her fellow sisters, her students, literature and life at the College. She told me she had just celebrated her birthday and that she knew there wouldn’t be many more but she didn’t mind because her life had been so rich. I remember thinking she looked positively radiant, and I wondered how Hattie’s life had turned out.

I also wish those women could have known that Sr. Maura didn’t just “waste” her life as a School Sister of Notre Dame, she also had a professional life as a distinguished writer. Over the years, she published more than 350 poems in literary magazines, journals and newspapers including America, The New York Times, Yale Review and Commonweal. Many of her poems were collected in eight books of poetry including “Initiate the Heart” (1946), “The Word is Love” (1958); “Walking on Water” (1972), “What We Women Know” (1980) and “Hope is a Blind Bard” (1989). Her work was also recorded for the poetry collections of Lamont Library at Harvard and for the Library of Congress.

She received numerous awards for distinguished teaching including the Teacher of Year Award from the Maryland Council of Teachers of English in 1982; Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1985; and Theodore Hesburgh Award for Contributions to Higher Education from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in 1985.

And she helped others to become writers. Like Hattie, she became a midwife of sorts in her 50 years of teaching literature and creative writing at Notre Dame. Her students won many awards in national writing contests sponsored by The Atlantic Monthly, Lyric and other magazines. In the 21 years of Atlantic’s student-writing contests, Sister Maura’s students won an astonishing 297 awards, including nine first-place honors. Although I followed a different genre -- journalism was and is my great love -- I too won awards, six reporting awards, five of which were for first place. In her poem “What My Teachers Taught Me, I Try to Teach My Students,” Sr. Maura wrote that “in writing, nothing is too much trouble.”

I still have a great many of the letters Sr. Maura wrote to me over the years. I used to love to open my mailbox and see an envelope with that elegant, thin handwriting. I’m sad there will be no more, but I’m happy now for Sr. Maura. Dementia had already taken her from us mentally. Now, at 94, I like to think she has finally met her mother. I will just miss her so much as mine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The importance of living in the moment

A Sermon for Pentecost XXIV (B-RCL)
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
15 November 2009
The Rev. Canon Thomas P. Miller

Lord, teach us to number our days, so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom, Gloria Patri.

Every time I mail a letter or pay a bill, I am reminded of how confident and irrepressible we Americans can be. I am referring, of course, to that little patch of postage called the Forever Stamp, which is supposed to be good and hold its value for ever, no matter how much the postal rates increase. In fact, it’s marketed as a prudent purchase. And as postal rates increase over time, the Forever Stamp may even be a shrewd long-term investment.

Just think about it. Theoretically you could pass down forever stamps to your grandchildren and they to their children and sometime in a hundred years or so, when the cost of a stamp has reached astronomical levels, your heirs could make a killing on a future Forever Stamp exchange on Wall Street. The Forever Stamp could prove to be a gold mine down the road. Nevertheless, in the short term, the concept is not without peril. I can just imagine the faces of my next of kin when the lawyer reads my will in which I’ve left each of them 50,000 Forever Stamps.

Now, as a minister of the Gospel, I am not unfamiliar with the notion of forever, or its theological cousin, eternity. We usually think in terms of eternal life. The letter to the Hebrews talks about the eternal priesthood of Christ, and in the psalms we ascribe to the Lord honor and glory for ever and ever, amen. These are rather big and heady concepts, so I get a perverse little kick out of affixing my Forever Stamp with its eternal value onto the envelope that contains my check to Time Warner Cable.

The trouble with forever is that it tempts us to forget about today. And the irony is, it’s today when we encounter the forever of God. It’s here and now that the God of forever acts in our lives and in the life of the world. It might be said that, on one hand, nothing is forever, and yet forever is always at hand.

Consider today’s Gospel story. Jesus and his disciples are coming out of the great temple, which seems to the disciples to be just about as permanent, or forever, as anything on earth could be. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings,” the astonished disciples cry out to Jesus, as if to say, “Here is something built to last.” And Jesus, with an eye to history and a rather more developed sense of forever, replies, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

From our perspective two thousand years later, we can verify that Jesus was right. The temple that so astonished his friends was dismantled and destroyed within 40 years – and then for the second time in history. And we know what happened to Rome, then the capital city of the occupying power, unparalleled in monumental architectural bravura, now in our time a romantic vestige of lost imperial splendor.

The disciples, of course, consider the destruction of the temple to be a disaster, nothing short of the end of the world. Already looking ahead and speculating about something so cataclysmic, so apocalyptic, it is natural for them to ask, “When, when will this terrible thing happen and what will be the sign of the end?”

To which Jesus, with his feet on the ground and his eyes wide open, offers not a terrifying prediction – though this passage is often interpreted as a warning – but rather a fair description of how life always is: war, the upheaval of nations, earthquakes, famines. In any case, the end that they fear is perhaps not that unfamiliar. And curiously enough, as the disciples are asking about the end, Jesus tells them that this is just the beginning. These conditions of life on the planet are birth pangs in which the kingdom of God is continually arising from the world as we know it in all its threatening complexity and danger. All is passing away, even as God continues to renew creation.

Things are passing away, but that doesn’t make them unimportant or unworthy of out attention now. The times in which we live are passing away, but our times are the ground on which we encounter God. Jesus was born into this world, not another. Our lives may be passing away, but every moment is precious as a gift from God, and every mortal breath we take is a conversation with the divine. And that may be the key to this business of forever: we can know forever in every moment of time.

And seeing God among us is something of the essence of our faith in Jesus Christ, who was born into the human family in this world; who was acquainted with sorrow and knows what human suffering is, and what death can do. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ, who joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven, is confirmation that God works in and through history. We can encounter God even now. And, in fact, here and now is the only means we have to enter into that fullness of life with God, which is truly forever.

T. S. Eliot expressed this sublimely in the “Four Quartets:”

A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

And in that moment, God arises, for Eliot and for all of us who live our particular pattern of timeless moments.

I find the idea of a Forever Stamp at best naive, and at worse more than a little delusional. I mean, there is no guarantee that the United States Postal Service is going to survive rapid changes in communication and information technology. And though I might be branded a party-pooper by super-patriots, it is reasonable, given the history of the world, that even the United States will at some point in history, even thousands of years down the road, cease to exist or even be remembered, along with whatever remnant of the Post Office might still exist. So, the idea of this little stamp of mine keeping its value forever is just silly. I’m not even remotely tempted to think this little patch of petroleum by-product is going to endure forever.

But that doesn’t really matter at all. We are here now. This is our time, our only time, and what a time it is! History is now, and God is now. As it was in the beginning is now, and the present moment is all we know, or need to know, about forever. And so, to bring Eliot back to mind, while the light shines on an autumn morning, in a not-so-secluded Cathedral, history is now and New York, and God is now, only and always now.

With that in mind, you may want to pay particular attention to the second verse of the Offertory hymn we will sing in just a few minutes:

Mortal pride and earthly glory
Sword and crown betray our trust
Thou with care and toil we build them
Tower and temple fall to dust
But God’s power
Hour by Hour
Is my temple and my tower.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Passage of Time, a new CD by Liz Callaway

I like to listen to Liz Callaway. She has an easy, comfortable voice that makes me feel I’m spending time with a friend. Her new CD, Passage of Time, offers songs that deal with various stages of life, some serious, some playful.

"Nothing to Lose (But Your Heart)" is by two of my favorite contemporary songwriters, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who are currently represented on Broadway with Ragtime. This song, which I had never heard, sounds like the kind of support you’d give to a friend who’s just lost her boyfriend and is ready to give up on romance. Callaway sings of knowing that pain well, but encourages her friend to go on. “The world calls your name. I can see your breath on the window of life. Take my hand. I promise something new will start. You have nothing to lose but your heart.”

For two older songs, she does some nice pairing. I like "Make Someone Happy" with "Something Wonderful,” both sounding full of warmth and light.

And I was delighted to hear “Better.” I love this Edward Kleban song -- and so does Stephen Sondheim who put it on his list of songs he wishes he had written. I’ve never heard anyone record it; I listen to it on the cast recording of A Class Act, the musical about Kleban’s life. I used to put it on my answering machine and callers really liked it. It’s a cute song, and good to hear it here.

Another song I’ve always liked is Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” which Callaway sings with her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway. A rich, exciting duet.

One song I could do without is John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby." I know loneliness is a part of life, but this song, although beautifully and hauntingly sung, is depressing. I usually skip past that one.

The other selections are "I'm Not That Girl"/"Just Another Face," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head"/"Singin' in the Rain," "Children Will Listen," "Patterns," "Secret O' Life," "The Perfect Year"/"Memory," "A Child Is Born" and "Being Alive."

Passage of Time, with music direction by Alex Rybeck, is produced by Tommy Krasker for PS Classics. It’s another good one to keep in mind for holiday shopping.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend . . . if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill.

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second . . . if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jazzical Spirit!

I love this CD of sacred jazz piano by Joel A. Martin. It brings me peace whenever I listen, which is often. With his background as a preacher’s son who has spent more than 20 years as a music director for various religious institutions, Martin knows these beautiful hymns, and has soulfully recreated them here.

It’s so comforting to hear his interpretations of such works as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Ave Maria.” This CD is a real spirit-healer and restorer. It can be lively, as in “Sermonette,” solemn and meditative in “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and reverential for “Amazing Grace.” “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” is prayer set to music.

In his liner notes, Martin says he thinks of himself as a minister of music. “My charge is to create peace and happiness through music,” he writes. “In doing so I serve The Man Upstairs. I hope He is smiling.”

I’m sure She is, Joel. Your CD is a blessing.

(Visit to listen and purchase.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kate Baldwin's "Let's See What Happens" is a gem

Kate Baldwin bursts with warmth and personality in Let's See What Happens, her solo debut CD, which is devoted to songs by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg (together and with other collaborators). She reminds me so much of the late Nancy LaMott, who I and many others consider to be one of the best cabaret artists of our time.

Baldwin had not been on my radar screen until I listened to this CD, but now I am utterly charmed. I want to hear her in concert now, and I want to go back to see her in the current Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow. She seems to possess a natural sparkle that makes her such a standout in that show and makes this CD one of my favorites of my vast collection. I’ve been playing it over and over and it gives me a lift every time.

“Kate is an excellent actress, which is important, because lyrics are of primary importance to me, and she infuses all this material with intelligence, and a crystalline theatre voice,” writes Hal Prince in the liner notes. “Plus, she has taste.”

That acting talent is reflected in her range of interpretation of these classic songs. She’s sassy for “Have Feet, Will Dance,” sultry for “Moments Like This,” funny with “I Like the Likes of You,” moving for “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (hearing her sing that song in Finian’s on Broadway is one of the highlights of the show), and she’s oh, so romantic with “Let’s See What Happens/Open Your Eyes,” “Where Have I Seen Your Face Before?” and “He Wasn’t You.”

Rob Berman, music director of Finian's Rainbow, serves that role here. The orchestrations are by Jason Robert Brown, Sam Davis, Joel Fram, Steve Marzullo, Joshua Rosenblum, Georgia Stitt, Joseph Thalken and Jonathan Tunick. The album, which is produced by PS Classics, also features a special appearance by Jonathan Tunick and His Broadway Moonlighters.

“There’s something for everyone -- even a song or two I had never heard,” Prince writes. “But one thing is clear: every choice is choice, and Kate Baldwin is a protean talent at the beginning of a spectacular career. Of that I’m certain.”

So am I.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Understudy

As a theatre critic and Drama Desk voter, I see my share of bombs. The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck is the latest. It goes right onto my list of worst plays I‘ve ever seen -- the short list.

Making the evening even more miserable is that two of the three actors -- Julie White and Justin Kirk -- are screechingly, painfully over the top. White plays Roxanne, a high-strung stage manager and Kirk (left in photo) is Harry, an understudy with a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder. For some reason Roxanne is conducting an understudy rehearsal, something the director normally would have been doing. But then it’s appropriate to have an absent director since the director of The Understudy, Scott Ellis, also seems to have been absent for his rehearsals too.

The one worthwhile performance, partly just by contrast, is from Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Jake, a high-paid star of Hollywood action movies who has come to Broadway to do a play.

The play they are rehearsing is a three-hour work by Kafka. The play we were watching, which was only 90 minutes with no intermission, began to feel three hours long. Had I been on the aisle I would have left halfway through. I don’t know why the two people sitting next to me, separating me from escape, stayed because they never laughed and looked at their watch as if they couldn’t wait for it to end either. If they had only left I would have been right behind them, like white on rice.

The Understudy, a Roundabout Theatre Company production, is at the Laura Pels Theatre through Jan. 3.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Your choice

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
Albert Einstein

Monday, November 9, 2009


“The appearance in life of a new possibility, the hint of a new self, can be challenging, frightening, and confusing . . . Life is always a mixture of creativity and destruction.”
~Thomas Moore

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Faith, Hope and Love

“Faith lifts the staggering soul on one side,
Hope supports it on the other --
Experience says it must be
and Love says let it be.”
-- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Friday, November 6, 2009

Finian's Rainbow

I don’t think anyone will care about how things are in Glocca Morra when they can be in the delightful world of Rainbow Valley as the mythical state of Missitucky bursts forth in this joyful revival of Finian's Rainbow. Certainly the audience won’t want to be any place other than at the St. James Theatre for this first open-ended Broadway revival since the original closed in 1948. It's going be one of the not-to-be-missed shows of the season.

And Kate Baldwin’s performance as Sharon McLonergan (left in photo), a lass newly arrived from Ireland, is not to be missed. I could go again and again just to hear her sing “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and “Look to the Rainbow.” When she’s joined by the always appealing Cheyenne Jackson (photo, right), as local boy Woody Mahoney, for “Old Devil Moon” and “If This Isn’t Love,” it’s heaven.

Warren Carlyle directs and choreographs a flawless production -- the dancing alone is a treat. The songs -- music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Yip Harburg -- are timeless, and the book, by Harburg and Fred Saidy, proves to be still relevant today. Unlike that other 1947 fantasy hit, Brigadoon, which is enjoying a first-rate run by Blue Hill Troupe at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, Finian’s Rainbow mixes satire of racism and capitalism with its good fun in this story about an Irishman, Finian McLonergan (Jim Norton), and his daughter, Sharon, chasing a dream in the American South of the 1940s, bringing with them from the old country a stolen pot of gold that can make wishes come true.

This production has one especially meaningful scene -- when Terri White, as Dottie, sings “Necessity,” a song about wanting to play but needing to work to pay the rent. White gives it all the gusty, bluesy punch it deserves, but for her it has a special meaning. In the summer of 2008 she was evicted from her apartment of 14 years after she broke up with her girlfriend and couldn’t pay the rent. For three months she slept on a friend’s couch or in Washington Square Park. It’s no wonder that having made the long journey back to Broadway, where she had appeared in 1980 with Glenn Close in Barnum, that she smiles from ear to ear at her curtain call.

Another standout performance is given by Alina Faye as Susan Mahoney, Woody’s sister who was born unable to speak and who expresses herself through dance. I also enjoyed Christopher Fitzgerald as Og, the leprechaun whose pot of gold Finian has “borrowed”, and the way he appears and disappears, becoming more human all the time and, of course, singing that famous song “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love.”

And I got a real kick out of the scene where the racist Senator Rawkins (David Schramm), who is trying to evict the sharecroppers -- blacks and whites who work harmoniously together -- for failing to pay all of their taxes, is magically turned black (Chuck Cooper taking over), much to his horror at first, until he finds a new talent singing in a gospel quartet. Cooper is a riot. And what a voice!

A musical satirizing racism was unheard of in 1947, as was the original staging that had blacks and whites dancing together for the first time on a Broadway stage. Still, it was a hit that ran for a year and a half.

I saw a charming production of Finian’s Rainbow at the Irish Rep in 2004 that should have moved to Broadway but didn’t. This current effort is an offshoot of the lavishly praised Encores! concert version, which Carlyle directed in March. It features John Lee Beatty’s colorful scenery, which is winningly cartoonish, just right for creating that mythical world. Toni-Leslie James’s costumes and Ken Billington’s lighting add perfectly to the spell. Conductor Rob Berman provides music supervision and vocal arrangements. Blessedly, the music is not in any way overly amplified, which is unusual for Broadway or even most Off-Broadway shows, for which I always wear earplugs because they are painfully loud.

On a personal note, I was pleased to meet Cheyenne Jackson when my friend Phil Hall and I went backstage after the show. Cheyenne had been in Phil’s group passage many years ago. Phil said he always knew it wouldn’t be for long because Cheyenne was so talented he was just bound to make it big. When we congratulated him on his performance and all the success he has enjoyed he said he was having a great time and was grateful for all that was coming his way.

Tickets for Finian’s Rainbow may be purchased by visiting, by phoning (212) 239-6200 or at the St. James Theatre box office at 246 W. 44th St.

For more information visit

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I walked home last night through the street of Manhattan singing “The Heather on the Hill.” Not just in my head, but out loud, so charmed was I by Blue Hill Troupe’s enchanting production of Brigadoon. In our age of darker, more cynical musicals, Brigadoon could seem dated and silly, but this cast, under the direction of Tony Parise, makes it fresh and alive.

At the start I was afraid I would be seeing a Blue Hill production that fell short of the excellence I’ve come to expect from this group. The Scottish accents are so heavy I could hardly understand a word of dialogue. Luckily either I became accustomed or the accents lighten and for the rest of the show I understood most of the words. Still, I wish Parise had sought just slight accents so all of the words and songs could be understood.

That, though, is my only complaint. Brigadoon, which premiered on Broadway in 1947, is a delightful story -- with Frederick Loewe’s music and Alan Jay Lerner’s book and lyrics -- of two American men who stumble on a wee village in the Scottish Highlands that only comes alive for one day every 100 years.

On this particular day, a wedding is to take place between Jean MacLaren (an appealingly girlish Alison Plotkin) and Charlie Dalrymple, brought to thrilling life by Matt Hughes. It is a joy to watch him sing and dance “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” with the men of the company and hear his tender duet “Come to Me, Bend to Me” with Plotkin. A magnetic performance.

The two men who happen upon this mysterious little world, Tommy Albright (John C. Taylor) and Jeff Douglas (Geoff Gaebe) are nice foils for each other. Gaebe, playing the more cynical of the two, displays nice comic timing and Taylor brings to life two of the shows most beautiful songs, “The Heather on the Hill” and “Almost Life Being in Love.” He is joined on these by Jennifer Dorre as Fiona MacLaren, Jean’s sister. As in last year’s Into the Woods, when she played the Baker’s Wife, Dorre is a standout, with her clear, soaring voice and sparkling personality.

It’s not just the principals, though, who are strong. Every member of the company sings well and, with Parise’s excellent choreography, moves and dances fluidly around the tiny stage at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. And they even give us a rousing jig for the curtain call!

Good work also by Cristina Milleur (set design), Sarah Mahr (costume design) and Gordon R. Stanton (lighting design).

The behind-the-scenes orchestra, with musical direction by Matthew W. Rupcich, is first rate. And, what a treat -- a bagpiper from the New York Scottish Pipes & Drums.

Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd. is the only musical theater group in New York City to donate its net proceeds to charity; it has given more $3 million to local charities since its inception in 1924. This year, its 86th season, the recipient is a cause close to my heart, the New York Foundling’s Mott Haven Academy's Arts and Music Program, which enables students to participate regularly in dance, music, visual arts and theater. The New York Foundling, begun and run by the Sisters of Charity of New York, of which I am an associate member, has evolved over the last 140 years into one of the city's oldest and largest social service agencies, today serving more than 13,000 of New York's neediest children and families.

Brigadoon plays through Saturday at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 46th Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues. For more information about the Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd., contact Joanne Lessner at (212) 222-7436 or visit

(Photo by John Sutera/Blue Hill Troupe, (c) 2009.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Emperor Jones

I was curious to see how director Ciaran O'Reilly would present this 1920 haunting expressionistic play by Eugene O’Neill. I had read it, but never seen it. It’s a heavily psychological drama and one that is challenging to stage. O’Reilly rises to the test, mounting an exciting, fast-paced production at the Irish Repertory Theatre, one that is well served by John Douglas Thompson in the title role.

Thompson plays Brutus Jones, a conniving African-American man who fled to a Caribbean island after escaping from a prison in the United States. With his charismatic ways, he charms himself into a position of power and then holds onto it through intimidation. When the natives rise up, he tries to escape through the jungle, but finds himself lost and under attack from his own personal demons. Under O’Reilly’s direction and with Brian Nason’s eery lighting, this is a nightmare come to life with puppets and masks closing in. With Thompson’s amazing performance, I really felt Jones’ inner torture and decent into madness. He is powerful. Drama Desk nominations are in order for both Thompson and O’Reilly.

The production includes set design by Charles Corcoran; costume design by Antonia Ford-Roberts; original music and sound design by Ryan Rumery and Christian Fredrickson; puppet design by Bob Flanagan; and choreography by Brian McNabb.

O'Reilly, the Irish Rep’s producing director, staged a memorable production of O'Neill's The Hairy Ape in 2006.

Performances of The Emperor Jones have been extended a week and now run through Dec. 6. Tickets are available at the box office, 132 W. 22nd St. and by calling 212-727-2737. For more information visit

Cynthia Scott's Dream for One Bright World

I love discovering a new artist, in this case one who not only sings the songs spectacularly, but who wrote them as well. After listening just once to Cynthia Scott’s new CD, Dream For One Bright World, it was clear to me why it was the first all-original female vocal recording to hit the JazzWeek Chart, making it the first time JazzWeek had included a singer performing all new material rather than classics. With its blends of jazz and gospel, it’s soul stirring.

Right from the first number, “If the Shoe Fits,” I was in love with her voice and her superb accompaniment -- thrilling Etienne Charles on trumpet. “You’re caught up/in self pity./ Release you pain./ Let it go./ Set it free.” I love her no-nonsense delivery.

A former Ray Charles Raelette, she pays tribute to that great artist, who gave her her big break in 1972, in the song “Shades of Ray,” and to others who came before her and left their mark on the jazz world -- Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrae, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington -- in “Just A Singer.”

Scott’s roots as a preacher’s daughter prompted her to create ”Vision on High,” a song about looking into our hearts to avoid the same mistakes of wars and lies.  “Listen to the heart/of a child that can see/. . . the visions of love from on high.”  She also pays homage to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “I Have a Dream,” a bonus track of a song written by her late brother-in-law, the Rev. Clifton Levert, Jr., right after Dr. King was assassinated.

Her songs also consider the darker side of contemporary life. “The Man in the Street” is about encountering the homeless and “Did I Know You?” is about trying to talk to an elderly loved one who no longer knows you, something I can relate to now that my mother no longer recognizes me. Scott knows this too -- mother suffered from Alzheimer's -- but what is special is that she wrote it from the perspective of the person who suffers from this disease.  Scott knew what she felt, but wondered what her mother was going through and feeling.

My favorite song is the title track, in which she is backed at the end by third, fourth and fifth graders from PS32 in Brooklyn, NY. They sing of a better day and a desire for unity. “There’s a new day dawning./ The time is now./ The world is ready for a change.” It made me feel the joy and hopefulness I felt the night Barack Obama was elected president. She asks us to teach the children to work together, the children who never had a chance, but whose time is now “to share a dream/for one bright world.” “Can we shift from serving war/to the brotherhood of man,” she asks. “Oh, children of the world,/your voices will be heard.”

As soon as I heard this song I thought how appropriate it would be for my church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with our message of love and inclusiveness. I’ve proposed Scott sing it for our annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace. I hope it happens!
Scott was inspired to create the song “Dream” because of the difficulties children have in understanding the decisions made by adults. She wanted to write a piece that would speak for the children that allowed their voices to be heard, including the child in her. She has traveled widely as an artist and as a jazz ambassador and has observed children all over the world.  She believes they should be allowed to just be children, knowing that adults are making the right decisions on their behalf.  The song conveys the children’s pleas to make a positive change. This song speaks for them, that one day they can wake up to a beautiful world.

She is accompanied on the CD by such great musicians as Lonnie Plaxico on acoustic bass, John di Martino on piano and keyboard, Bill Easley on tenor/alto/soprano saxophones and flute, Yoron Israel on drums, Jeff Haynes on percussion, Wayne Escoffrey on tenor, Andrae Murchison on trombone and Etienne Charles on trumpet.

A native of Arkansas, who developed her love of music early on while singing in church, Scott talks about being a jazz ambassador. “My goal is to try to lift the world with my music and to encourage and inspire all of us to treat each other as equals, trying to connect soul-to-soul to audiences worldwide.” 

She said she recently received a phone call from the owner of a funeral home. He had finished a service and was driving back in his hearse when he heard her song “Did I Know You?” on the radio. He said he had to pull over to the side of the road and cried like a baby.  “I knew then that the stories were getting through, being heard and felt,” she says.

“Dream for One Bright World” is a blessing of a CD. Order one for yourself, and get copies for holiday presents. It is truly a gift.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Superior Donuts -- TV on Broadway

I’ve seen this show dozens of times before. Not this particular play by Tracy Letts, but many, many similarly themed, formulaic comedies with their familiar characters and predictable outcomes. This one is mildly entertaining in parts, in a sitcom sort of way.

The tried and true plot features a white disaffected aging hippie (will writers ever retire this character?) and the gifted, smart aleck young black man who comes to work for him. Bet you can guess what happens. A bond develops between them and the old guy becomes human and the young one benefits from his help. Ever heard that story before?

Michael McKean (in photo right) and Jon Michael Hill (left) do a good job with their characters, stereotypical though they be. McKean is Arthur Przybyszewski, a 60-something former draft dodger who runs a donut shop started by his Polish immigrant father in a rundown, but slowly upgrading, part of Chicago. Hill is Franco Wicks, the 21-year-old dreamer who comes to work for him and who just happens to carry around an unpublished, handwritten first novel, which, you guessed it, is beautifully written and ripe for publishing.

An assortment of TV-type characters swirl in and out of the shop. One of these is Lady Boyle (Jane Alderman). After one of her visits it was mentioned that she was homeless. I was stunned. With her gorgeous porcelain skin she could be a model for Lancome ads. In Ana Kuzmanic’s costume, a large tweed coat, she resembled the oversized chic look favored by the Olsen twins. When she gestures -- excessively -- she displays smooth, fine-boned hands that don’t look as if they’ve ever done a dish, much less survive the harsh Chicago winter we see through the windows. I thought, Homeless?” She looked more like a Park Avenue eccentric on her way to a lecture at the Met.

Two others who stretch credibility are the loan shark, Luther Flynn (Robert Maffia), and his thug, Kevin Magee (Cliff Chamberlain). When they’re displeased with someone they call him a douche bag. This is coming from violent men who are merciless to anyone who gets on their wrong side, yet they talk like eighth grade boys.

The most obnoxious character is Max Tarasov (Yasen Peyankov), a Russian immigrant who owns an appliance shop next door. He’s a busybody with a thick accent who resembles the most annoying of TV sitcom characters.

Kate Buddeke is likable as Officer Randy Osteen, a beat cop who has a crush on Arthur. Arthur, of course, also happens to be smitten with her, but they’re both too shy to do anything about it. You know how this works out -- a little nudging from Franco and they’re dating happily.

This is Letts' first play produced since he won a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County. Don’t look for lightening to strike twice with this one, which had its world premiere last year with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Both were directed by Tina Landau and feature the same casts.

James Schuette did an excellent job with the set, a luncheon counter with those stools we all liked to spin around on when we were children. Windows look out onto the bleak Chicago street, which really looks cold and snowy. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting is effective, as is Rick Sordelet’s fight direction.

Tickets for Superior Donuts can be purchased at Music Theatre box office, 239 W. 45th St., through or by calling (212) 239-6200.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Changing your thoughts can change your experiences

This delightful and timely essay by Mary Ann O'Roark appeared in Daily Guideposts.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Proverbs 25:11

For years, when daylight saving time ended in the autumn, my heart sank. As every day got darker earlier, so did my spirits. “It’s depressing. I hate the dark in the winter,” I told my sister last year.

“Oh,” Jeannie said, “I think it’s cozy.”

Cozy. I’d never thought about it like that. Suddenly I saw my winter blues in a whole new light. Now when it got dark at four thirty in the afternoon, instead of feeling sad, I clicked on lamps with a warm glow and pulled a nubby blanket over me while reading or watching TV. It was cozy.

The power of words never fails to amaze me. A few months ago when I was bemoaning a difficult work project, an acquaintance surprised me by saying, “That sounds like fun!” Once during a European trip, the airline I was traveling on went on strike and I was about to panic, until my traveling companion announced, “Guess we’ll be having an adventure.” Hmm, a different way of looking at things.

Best of all was several years ago, when I was making changes in my life from a nine-to-five office job to freelancer. I e-mailed a good friend and told her several times how scared I was. When I later reread the e-mail, I was shocked to see a recurring typo: Instead of typing scared I’d typed sacred. Once again my perspective took a turnaround: from being scared to opening my horizons to a whole new sacred dimension in my future.

In fact, that’s why I sometimes write words to myself on index cards and tape them around my apartment. This morning I woke and through my bleary eyes saw the word Rejoice taped to my bedroom wall—another sacred fun adventure of a cozy winter day coming up!

Holy Spirit, keep me aware and renewed by the words that influence and nourish my life.